Almond Milk — Homemade?!

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I hosted our very first Thanksgiving dinner. In order to make this dinner as special as possible, we decided to make our own (vegan) ice cream. But not just any ice cream. Ice cream with a homemade almond milk base.

Was it ambitious? It sure seemed like it!

In actual fact: it wasn’t that hard! I was stunned to discover that making almond milk was not only pretty easy, but also kind of fun. Something about squishing that bag of warm-ish water soaked nut mash was kind of cathartic. And the resulting milk was so rich and flavourful!

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It was so awesome, that we even decided to try to make it on a regular basis, instead of always buying our almond milk with its additives.

And for those of you who are thinking “But what about the calcium and vitamin D fortification?!” — fear not! It is entirely possible to just throw a couple of supplements into the milk while you’re blending it up!

I haven’t even gotten to my favourite discovery in this process, though.

The ice cream recipe with its homemade almond milk called for a very high percentage of almonds (almost 1 to 1 with water). Which seemed very expensive to do in the long run. I compared it to other recipes and found that most recipes are closer to 1 cup almonds to 4 cups water, which seemed much more affordable. What was the difference?

Look at all that almond meal from that concentrated milk!

Look at all that almond meal from that concentrated milk!

Having that high concentration of almonds rendered an ultra-thick creamy, rich almond milk. The “cream” of almond milks. It was so rich that I didn’t want to drink it. You see, I decided at the age of 2 that I didn’t like anything other than skim milk, no joke! And I’ve never felt differently after all those years, I just don’t like the rich/thickness of it on its own (in hot chocolate or ice cream, that is a different story…). I had to dilute that ultra-rich almond milk way down until it seemed drinkable. And voila, my own skimmed-almond milk.

But it blew my mind–the fact that you can make almond milk according to your richness preferences! Does that blow your mind or is it just me?

The moral of the story: homemade can be better, and fun. And, of course, customizable!

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Book Review: Vegan Ice Cream

Image courtesy of amazon.com

  • Author: Jeff Rogers
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press
  • Publish Date: May 13, 2014
  • 144 Pages

I cannot quite emphasize how much I love ice cream. Dairy ice cream was one of two reasons I held onto vegetarianism as long as I did before making the jump to veganism. If I had been presented with ice cream made from one of the recipes in Vegan Ice Cream, I would have given up that reason in a heartbeat.

The ice creams in this book are divided into two categories: “Ice Cream” and “Raw Ice Cream”. The regular ice creams are cashew-based and usually sweetened with maple syrup (my favourite!). The raw ice creams are true to the raw manifesto and don’t contain any kind of processed ingredients–they are sweetened with dates (or other fruit). Overall, the ingredients are mainly easy to find in this household, except the non-alcoholic vanilla flavouring. I had to go to whole foods for that, and I gave up on finding a non-alcoholic almond flavouring altogether. (The alcohol content in regular flavouring interferes with the freezing process.)

After poring over all of the recipes and trying to decide among the endlessly delicious options, I finally made Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip ice cream. This ice cream was wonderful. It was rich, full of flavour, and had that airy quality that a lot of vegan ice creams are missing (I’m looking at you coconut-based ice cream). My only issue was that the ice cream was a bit too sweet for me. If I were to make it again, I would use a 3/4 cup of maple syrup instead of a whole cup. I suspect the same sweetness level will be found in all of the recipes, but there’s only one way to find out…

I would definitely, definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves making delicious ice cream. Even the non-vegans. Because the world needs more delicious ice cream. And I am seriously considering buying a copy of this for myself–after all, it’s almost time for fresh, local peaches, and there are 3 different recipes just for those…

Rating: 4.5/5

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation for this post. I did receive a free preview copy for review from netgalley, which will expire and force me to buy the book for myself!

May Contain Traces of Sarcasm

I get a lot of questions about veganism. Some are more about lifestyle, but most are about food, and what is and isn’t vegan. I appreciate these questions, because usually it is someone either trying to understand, or even better, trying to include my dietary preferences in something they’re making.

One of the most common that I get is whether a food that “may contain [traces of]” something non-vegan (milk, whey, egg, etc.) is vegan or not. (“May contain” means that the given food item was made on the same equipment that also handles a different food item containing that non-vegan ingredient.)

My answer is usually, “it is to me!” Why do I make this distinction? Because this is one of those borderline issues, where it’s really a choice for each person to decide. Some people aren’t comfortable with (or, are allergic to) cross-contamination. And that’s totally fine. For me, I decided to let this one pass, after I read someone say, “If vegans avoid all products that “may contain” non-vegan ingredients, no one will make them, because it won’t be financially worth it for them avoid cross-contamination.” It makes sense for me, because I really want people to make vegan things! More vegan items facilitates a possible transition into a state where it is financially viable to avoid cross contamination.

And now, some of my favourite vegan items, which may (or may not) contain traces of non-vegan ingredients.

  • Annies Gluten Free Snickerdoodle Bunny Cookies – okay, they’re not quite like snickerdoodles, but they’re tasty and highly portable
  • So Delicious Coconut-Based Ice Cream – Definitely the type we get when we are too lazy to make ice cream in a pinch! Also, I’m just noticing how many delicious-looking flavours aren’t available here. For shame.
  • Camino Fair Trade Drinking Chocolate Mix – Chocolate. So much chocolate.
  • Larabars – I have been off these for awhile, but recently rediscovered them. They are awesome, wholesome, and portable.
  • Daiya Cheddar Cheese Slices – no gluten, no soy, and it melts. However, don’t go in expecting an exact cheddar cheese replica, or you will be sorely disappointed. Think Kraft Singles and Cheez Whiz. (Do they even still sell Cheez Whiz?)
  • Earth’s Own Almond Fresh – this almond milk is hands down the best out there. It’s fortified and it doesn’t have any of those weird bad-tasting chemical thickeners. Their chocolate milk makes me all kinds of happy, but usually I stick to unsweetened.

Do you have a favourite vegan product? And, for the non-vegans–when’s the last time you had Cheez Whiz?

Starting From Scratch

I am a dessert person. I love dessert.  There is no doubt that I got my love of desserts entirely from my mom. My dad is not a “dessert person”, at all. Apparently, when it came to dessert at a restaurant, they did the “she gets the dessert, he tastes a couple of bites” routine. And I don’t mean “he actually eats half”, I actually mean a couple of bites. If I let my husband share my dessert, I generally cut it in half first because a) I don’t share well, and b) he also loves dessert (although slightly less than me).

Since it was my dad’s birthday a few days ago, I wanted to make him a cake that was, well, healthy. Something he would actually eat. I wanted to make a super fancy raw cake, but didn’t have the time to do all the prep (i.e. learn how to make 8 cups of almond milk from scratch). I resorted to making a “regular” cake. I figured an apple cake. Between applesauce and apple bits, if I searched for a healthy vegan apple cake, there would be something, right? Wrong. Apparently “healthy” includes at least 1/2 cup of oil, usually more like 1 full cup. After nearly an hour of searching, I gave up. I did some research. I built my own recipe from scratch. Nearly 1/3 of the recipe volume was applesauce.

And it tastes and looks delicious!

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Except for one itsy bitsy problem…it’s super dry and crumbly. Half of me wants to just try upping the applesauce, as it was a pretty thick batter. The other half of me is fairly sure I will have to increase the coconut oil from 2 tbsp to 3 or 4 tbsp. The tragedy! Unfortunately, until this fiasco is resolved, I will be keeping this recipe to myself. I don’t think there’s a huge demand for healthy, crumbly apple cakes.

I suppose the problem could be covered up solved by slathering it in icing…but where’s the fun in that?

What’s your favourite “healthy” dessert recipe?

Natural Vegan Rainbow Cake

My sister turned 19 this past week. Much to my relief, she didn’t immediately go out and get drunk (19 is the legal age in BC). I like to think she had a good birthday anyway.

I realized a few days beforehand that a rainbow cake was the perfect type of cake to make for her. If you knew her, this would make sense to you. If you don’t…well, she’s a very special 19 year old. One thing I’ve discovered in the past year, though, is that what they make the food dye out of is nasty business. Not only what it’s made from, but how they test it…pass, thanks. It’s not to say I never buy premade food with food dye in it, because that wouldn’t be true. But I do try and avoid it when possible. Besides, it’s much more exciting to try and colour things naturally.

After a lot of research, I decided to double a 9″ white cake recipe and split the resulting batter into 5 parts.

  1. Pink / Red – Raspberries
  2. Orange – Carrot juice
  3. “Yellow” – Mango (It wasn’t very yellow at all)
  4. Green – Matcha powder
  5. Purple / Blue – Blueberries

For the raspberries, blueberries and mango, I put 3/4 of a cup (approximately) worth of frozen fruit into a mug and threw it into the microwave until everything was thawed and mushy. Then, I squished the fruit into a fine-mesh strainer with a spoon, draining all the juice out into the batter.

Because I was putting extra liquid into the batter, I cut out 1/4 cup of milk for each layer. Then add in 1/4 cup of milk to any layer that isn’t getting extra juice put into it (i.e. the Matcha layer).

It was SO much fun, watching the batter turn colours and then seeing how everything turned out in the end!

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The best part was that the berry layers actually tasted like blueberry and raspberry!

The worst part was, my measurement skills sucked, so the layers are 3 different sizes. I don’t even know how I did it, I was using a scale.

Also, the icing job went very poorly, since there just wasn’t quite enough. I shaved down the cakes since somehow, despite being baked in the same pans, they were different sizes. Regardless, I think I covered it up nicely.

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All I can say is, thank goodness for large coconut shavings. And cake shavings, I guess?

The icing was very very sweet, so in the end, it was a good thing there was only a thin layer on everything. It was delcious though, and you can find it over on instructables. The cake recipe turned out amazingly, even with my tinkering (we ran out of butter so I subbed in some applesauce, and I also used nearly 1/2 c less sugar). It is the Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from The Joy Of Vegan Baking, which is a cookbook I highly recommend. The recipes aren’t “healthy versions”, but they are accurate vegan replicas of the classics, which is really useful to have on hand. And I must confess, the colouring ideas weren’t my own (except for the mango…which didn’t work…), I found a lot of helpful information on Growing A Green Family.

Verdict? I highly recommend making this cake; it’s fun to make and to eat!

 

First Married Christmas

This is going to be the first year that I have not slept at my parent’s house on Christmas Eve.

We decided that if we were ever going to come up with a holiday situation that didn’t involve stressful planning and then travelling all over the place, this year was the year to “take a stand”. So this year, we will be spending Christmas Eve and morning in our own home.

It will be a transition, but it will be a good one, I think.

What I don’t love is how stressful it is to be a full adult at Christmas. There is just so much to DO! You have to buy presents, plan meals, buy groceries, pre-make food, wrap presents, get a tree, decorate a tree, decorate the house, make sure you fit in seeing everyone, go to holiday parties…and it’s not like regular life really stops to fit all those things in.

I think the main difference between this year and previous years is that this is our first full-vegan Christmas. So we have to be in charge of finding and making dishes that we can eat. Because many people find the concept of vegan too intimidating to attempt on their own. I try to tell people it’s not that hard, it’s just a different set of ingredients, but that doesn’t seem to reassure them. (Does anyone have some good recipes / recipe books that are for the omnivore trying to feed a vegan?)

There’s also something missing when you celebrate Christmas with no kids around who are so excited with the magic of the season. It’s hard to generate that enthusiasm on my own.

Nonetheless, I am still pretty excited to eat breakfast and open a few gifts in our living room with the fire place turned on (assuming the downstairs neighbours don’t have theirs cranked up again!). And there are much worse things to do on Christmas morning than baking!

Happy holidays everyone!

What are your Christmas morning traditions?

A Very Vegan Thanksgiving

I thought I might feel left out, when at our first Thanksgiving (lots of family means multiple feasts!), there was turkey we would not be sharing. But my partner made a delicious casserole, that everyone tried and said was good, and all was well.

For second Thanksgiving, however, with two vegetarians also in attendance, veganism got to rule the show. Yes, my dad made a few faces, but he had himself a turkey the previous weekend to make himself feel better.

What does one eat for a fully vegan thanksgiving? Well, honestly, we didn’t really know until the day before, when we started looking up recipes (the internet is a glorious thing). But the menu took shape pretty quickly, and I started to get excited.

So excited, that I helped cook. That’s right, I looked past my normal dislike of cooking for this special occasion.

It started with a fake chicken. How many times does a story start like that? Not often, I bet. Anyway. It was made out of bean curd, textured like chicken and shaped like a bird. Fake chicken needed to be cooked, so he was placed reverently on a heaping mound of chopped veggies (with a bit of oil and some spices).

Weird, right?

Weird, right?

Next up was a replacement for my family’s traditional dish of sweetened mashed yam, topped with marshmallows and baked. If you haven’t had it, try it, it’s delicious. However, it’s also a big, super-sweet sticky mess that is a challenge (to put it mildly) to clean off of the dish. Instead, I found Oh She Glow’s Sweet Potato Casserole–and I knew that was the recipe. But by the time I’d put finished the sweet potato (okay, I confess, I actually used yams instead) part, the topping seemed like way too much. I kept it simple, instead. I sprinkled on some pecans, and some sugar, and left it at that.

Next was the mashed potatoes and gravy aspect. Can’t give up gravy because we’re vegan, that would just be no good. The mashed potatoes were mixed with unsweetened almond milk and some earth balance. That was pretty easy. And it turned out, so was the mushroom gravy.

So far so good!

So far so good!

To round out the meal, we (my husband) made a rice pilaf, also from Oh She Glows. It turned out very tasty, and very purple. Something to do with the particular type of rice we used.

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A more flattering photo of the rice pilaf

I also concocted some cranberry sauce, with the easiest recipe ever: 1 (12 oz) bag of fresh cranberries + 3/4 c water, in a sauce pan. Put on high heat until it boils, then turn the heat down. Try to remember to stir it frequently, instead of letting half the cranberries burn onto the bottom of the pan. When it’s getting pretty thick, add in maple syrup for sweetness, to taste. Why add the sweetener later? Well, it allows it to be really customized for the taster. Like it sweeter? Add more. Like it less sweet? Add just enough that the bitterness goes away but you can still taste the pop of the cranberries. That’s what I did, and it was awesome.

Mmmmmmmmm

Mmmmmmmmm (I swear it looked more appetizing in person than it does in the photo)

Are you jealous? No? Well, you should be. Especially since we had lots of pie (pumpkin AND apple-raspberry) for dessert.

What’s your favourite Thanksgiving feast dish?