A look at cooking freely within constraints –be they environmental or culinary or other.

Having major food allergies (all things cow related, shellfish, mushrooms and beer), I have had to adapt how and what I cook in order to eat “normally” – this in turn cultivated a love of cooking and feeding people.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Almond Milk

In the US, I had become used to having a variety of milk options - almond milk, soy milk, hazelnut milk, rice milk, even goat's milk.....  All I had to do was walk into either Wild Harvest of Whole Foods and there was almost a half of an aisle from which to choose my milks.  I was so spoiled.

Here in Buenos Aires there is.... cow milk.  Lots of it.  And if you are lucky and go into one of the larger markets like Disco, you can find a carton of soy milk that is not bad.  Or you can trek to Barrio Chino (again, not really China Town, more like China Block) and go to Casa de Soja and buy some really wonderful, fresh soy milk.  Which is great, but if you don't use the entire liter within 5 or 6 days, it solidifies into ghetto tofu.  Not good.

Plus I have read all the details on how lots of soy in your diet is not that great for you, especially for women, so I did not want to limit my consumption to only soy milk.  Plus I missed almond milk, it was perfect for baking with and tasted really yummy with my morning granola.  So I went on A Search.  All over Buenos Aires.  Asking every health food store about almond milk.  Most of them looked at me as though I was asking for milk made from meteorites or something equally silly.  Although to their minds, maybe it is that silly....  regardless, a friend finally mentioned that I should make my own - my guess is that this was an attempt to stop my whining... which worked...


I can make it?

Yes - and it is so easy I don't know why I have never made it before!  And I am told it works with any nuts - my next try is going to be hazelnuts, but those are super expensive here, so I need to source them first.

Here's what you need
filtered water
honey or agave nectar (optional)
vanilla (optional)
a blender
and a cheesecloth strainer - like the one below*

(* - yes, this is a link to Amazon, one of my favorite go to sites for odds and ends - and yes, if you click here and buy this item, I get a few pennies. I am unemployed and living in a foreign country on a very thin budget, so monetizing my blog with items that I myself use or recommend seemed like a good idea.)


First, soak your almonds for at least 4 hours in the fridge.  I use a 4 (water) to 1 (nuts) ratio for the soaking.

Ratio for making almond milk - 1 cup almonds to 2 or 3 cups of water.  2 cups makes a thicker milk, 3 cups makes a thinner one.  I like the thicker milk, but you can play with it and find what you like best.

Then rinse the almonds thoroughly.  Place in a blender with water, 1 tsp honey or agave and splash of vanilla (if you choose to use these).  Blend thoroughly.  Then strain through your cheesecloth sieve into your container.

there will be all sorts of almond pulp goodness left over after you strain your milk - KEEP IT!!! This is amazing stuff that is a wonderful addition of cookies, pastries, pancakes, etc. I am currently testing a variety of vegan cookies using this happy leftover and will post that soon. The pulp will stay fresh in your fridge for about a week, or you can freeze it indefinitely.

Store your almond milk in the fridge and it will keep for about a week to 10 days. Also, it will separate while sitting, just give it a really good shake and all will be well. :-)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cereal Gnomes strike in Argentina

What what what?!?!?!?

A box of cereal that is simply a box????

Yes, its true.  i thought that we had cereal, I had bought several boxes of granola (which is insanely expensive down here) and was just settling in for a post night out snack of granola with home made almond milk, and.... voila.  Naught but a box.
I turned to Sorin, empty box in hand, and he suddenly became veeeeerrrrry busy with something on his laptop.

I had to laugh though, because he threw away the plastic bag in the box containing the cereal, and put the empty box back on the shelf.

Its a damn good thing he is cute.

So, thoughts turn to the fact that we seem to go through 2 or 3 boxes of cereal a week, and at 15 to 18 pesos a pop, that adds up fast.  Soooo....  time to make granola.  I can buy the ingredients for granola for a little over half the cost of one box, I can control the sugar and make it to my taste.

So here is the recipe I ended up using, which was altered according to what nuts (almonds) and dried fruits (papaya, raisins and coconut) that I could find and afford.  I was craving pecans, but down here, pecans are difficult to find and when I did, they were $120 pesos per 100 grams....  gulp.  No pecans this time.  But almonds are just as good, and I was so excited to find papaya "en cubitos" - cut into tiny cubes - that I had to add it to the mix.  And at $13.80 pesos for 100 grams, absolutely affordable.  But you can use whatever nuts (pecans, almonds, walnut, hazelnuts, etc) and dried fruits you like.  Heck, you could even throw in some chocolate chips at the end and get really decadent!

 And yes, I needed the oven for this recipe.  So the gas needed to be lit.  But I made Sorin do it, and I hovered nervously nearby, but not too nearby......  you know, just in case one of us needed to call for help....

2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar - I prefer dark brown, but you can use light
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup  almonds- I crushed them as I find whole almonds a little much in a spoonful of cereal, but you could keep them whole if you wish
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried papaya
1/3 cup coconut - I could only find the finely ground coconut, but I bet coconut slivers or shavings would be tasty too.

Preheat your oven to 325 degree and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, brush the parchment paper lightly with some vegetable oil for ease of removing the granola after baking.  (I guess-timated what 325 degrees meant in my oven, and hovered over it constantly, determined not to burn my first attempt in the oven.  The smell was an excellent way of "watching" my batch, it let me know the moment it started to burn so I could save it from a carbon-y death.) 

Mix the oats, cinnamon and salt in large bowl.  Here, it was a game of Try To Find The Large Bowl, which apparently was being used to hold the orange carcasses from Sorin's late night snacking, under his desk.  Once the bowl was located and held out to Sorin, who again became intensely immersed in something on his laptop screen, I could continue to....
In a separate bowl, mix the honey, brown sugar, oil and vanilla.  Whisk until completely integrated.  Add to oats along with the coconut and fold together until all the oats are completely coated.  You can use a spatula, or do as I do and use your hands.  Dump onto parchment lined baking sheet and spread evenly, but not too evenly, you want some clumps for texture.
Here, I have no cookie sheet, and the oven is too small for one, so I am using a pie plate, which works, and thankfully, Sorin has not discovered yet.... although I am guessing after he reads this, it will be stolen as a fruit carcass container soon enough...
Bake for 10 minutes.  Then flip the granola, add the almonds, and return to oven for another 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and toss in the dried fruit and allow to cool.  Make sure to keep it in an air tight container.


Oh, and the home made almond milk will be posted soon, I'll need some more in a couple of days, and it is so easy to make and so much tastier than anything you can buy in the store.  Plus, there is almond pulp left over after wards that makes some AMAZING cookies, pastry dough and pancakes....  those recipes coming soon too!  :-)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bienvenido a Buenos Aires! Here's your Cooking Cubicle. Now get cooking!

This is the kitchen that I have for the next three months.

Challenging, for sure. Although I know others here in Buenos Aires who have smaller, so I should not complain. Instead, I am going to take the challenge and use it beyond what it appears capable of.

Right now I am trying to focus on one-pan meals. It makes my life a lot easier to do this, and my boyfriend Sorin is happier when there are fewer dishes to wash. Of course, he would be happiest if there were no dishes to wash, but there is a rule in my kitchen - who ever does the cooking does not wash the dishes. I have offered to switch roles multiple times, but he for some reason has never taken me up on that…. Strange…. ;-) I am hoping to get brave soon and try using the oven. The stove is gas and has no pilot, so it is light a match and time it right to light the stove top and oven. So far I have mastered the stove top, the oven however, is slightly more difficult and therefore potentially more exciting that the stove top. The heat is also not regulated, making baking almost sport like, so that post is going to be very interesting, especially if I fail miserably.

Being in Argentina makes my life in the kitchen a little more challenging in ways not associated with the size of my “kitchen” – I can’t even call it that without laughing – let call it my “Cooking Cubicle” instead. So, I am in Argentina, the land of the cow. Where all things are beef and dairy. Not easy on a girl who can’t eat those things. Although I am able to find goat’s milk cheese at my local (thank god) Arabe Confiteria, they sell their version of Feta cheese. It’s not in brine, it’s not crumbly yet smooth, and it does not have that lovely lemony sense that made me fall in love with Feta. But, it is Goat’s milk cheese, it tastes good, and it works. They also sell really wonderful nuts and dried fruits, albeit slightly pricey, so I no longer have search for those.

I have also found Leche de Coco – or coconut milk – but I have to trek to Barrio Chino (Chinatown, which is more China Street that China Town, but I digress) to buy it at a reasonable price, which is about a 20 minute bus ride. If I want fresh Leche de Soya (or Soy milk), this is also where I must go. I can find pasteurized Soy milk in the large market in my area, but it is not as good as the fresh stuff. Spices are also slightly challenging to find, but again, Barrio Chino to the rescue. I have discovered that no matter where you are in the world, find China Town and you will find spice. Although on this trip, I ended up bringing my own spices from North America, which made my luggage smell marvelous! Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Cardamom, Turmeric, Whole Peppercorns, to name a few.

So, finding ingredients can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. I buy all my veggies and fruits from a green grocer (Verdulería), and it is whatever has come in fresh from the farm, and it is FRESH. It is often not pretty, but who cares when it tastes amazing. Often when I have a specific dish in mind, they may not have all the ingredients I need. Welcome to South America. Adaptation is essential. I no longer go to the green grocer with something in mind, instead I go to be inspired by what is fresh and looks good.

Tonight I am going to make Chicken Curry over Rice. I’ll take pictures and post the recipe tomorrow for you and let you know what my boyfriend, also known as “The Grumpy Romanian” thought of the dish. :-)

Chau Chau!