Homemade Almond Milk – Easy, Stunningly Delicious, and Completely Gluten Free

I try to eat healthy. And for the most part I succeed. But I have a weakness for dairy products. Particularly cheese, especially melted, and crème fraiche.

Blanched Almonds waiting to be shelled for Almond MilkI learned how to make crème fraiche from a blog I love, and its been all over since then. I keep a jar of it in my fridge more days than not, which is amazing considering how quickly it gets eaten. The ingredients of crème fraiche are very simple: for every one cup of cream, add one tablespoon of buttermilk with live cultures. Let sit two days and voila, creamy buttery goodness… that I eat waaaaay too much of.

Its not just the calories.

Casein, a protein in milk, is being found to be very bad for you. In the documentary, Forks Over Knives, they site many studies that show that casein (and indeed all animal protein) can lead to major health problems including cancer.

I eat a lot of casein, aka dairy products. Its not just the cancer thing. Its also about staying gluten free. Many dairy products nowadays have fillers – thickeners like gums which might be made with gluten and added fats like glycerides which might be contaminated in the manufacturing process. It is very hard to find dairy products without these additives, and almost impossible to find dairy substitutes that don’t have them.

So any substitute I can find that I will actually eat and that is truly gluten free is a great thing.

Almost as good as creme fraicheThe bits of almond left over from the straining is, let’s be honest, not as good as crème fraiche. However, if crème fraiche is a ten this is a seven. Pretty darn good. Even better with a spoon of vegan plum butter.

But the almond milk? This almond milk is so delicious that I don’t miss cream. It is so spectacular that when I spilled some on a cutting board, I licked it off! It is so tasty that when it is done, I don’t even wait to pour it into a cup, but pick up the bowl and drink.

It is more than worth the effort.

Everybody will like their almond milk a little different. Some may add nutmeg, or leave out the cardamom. Honey can be expensive, so I sometimes use half brown sugar, half honey. Others may like maple syrup as a sweetener, or nothing at all! Experiment and play around to find the perfect milk for you!

I would strongly suggest that you use unsprayed or organic almonds. They taste way better and don’t have any nasty chemicals – imagine adding RAID to your almond milk! Ugh! (thanks to Momnivore’s Dilemma for the analogy!)

When removing the almond skins, I usually plunk myself down in front of the TV or talk with a friend so I have something to do while shelling them.

You could just soak the almonds overnight, but I find the quality and milkiness of the final product is much improved if I let it soak at least 24 hours.

For straining the mixture, you actually can NOT strain it if you want! But its kind of gritty. When straining it, a fine mesh strainer is usually not fine enough (and even if it was, it would need to be BIG, and squeezing it out would be hard). I went to my local co-op – they sell linen cloth bags to use in their bulk section for less than $3 that work perfectly.

Almond milk and gluten free rice cerealYou can also not strain it all the way. When it is still moist enough to be firmer than sour cream but softer than ricotta cheese, this stuff makes a lovely creamy replacement for those types of dairy products. (As the milk is a great replacement for cream or milk)

Tools needed:
Saucepan
Bowls
Blender
Cheesecloth or a linen/muslin bag

Ingredients:
1.5 Cups Almonds (unsprayed or organic are best – better tasting and no nasty chemicals)
3 Cups Water for boiling

1 Cup Water plus another 1 Cup Water for blending

2 Cups Water
2-3 TBSP Honey
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Cardamom

1 Cup Water for sprinkling on almond mix

Blanching/Skinning the Almonds:
Bring three cups of water to a boil. Add the almonds. Let boil about three minutes, then drain. Let sit until cool enough to touch. Remove the skins. I just squeeze them and let them pop out into the bowl.

Soaking the Almonds:
Add filtered water to the almonds. I usually use the rule of adding enough water to double the height of the almonds (so if you have an inch of almonds, add water to the two inch mark). Let soak at room temperature, preferably 24 hours.

Blending the Almonds:
Drain the almonds, and put them in the blender. Add one cup of water. Blend on med high setting. Soon the mixture will be so thick it stops moving. Keeping the blender running, remove the little insert in the lid (or if you don’t have one carefully lift the lid part way) and drizzle in about ¼ cup of water. It will likely start to move and then stop again. Keep adding small amounts of water until it is just barely enough water to keep the mixture moving, but no more water than necessary. Keep blending it until it is a very fine puree. Turn off the blender.

Adding the rest of the Ingredients:
Add two more cups of water. Put the lid on, and turn on the blender. Remove the little insert in the lid, and add the spices and the sweetener. (I do it this way rather than putting them in then turning it on because that way spices don’t end up on my lid rather than in the milk) Taste. Adjust.

Milking the Almonds:
Get your linen bag wet with filtered water, squeeze out. Over a bowl, pour the mixture into the bag. Let it drain for a minute or two. Tilt the bag so that one of the corners is pointing down (like a icing bag for a cake), then gently squeeze over and over for several minutes until it is as dry as possible (unless using the almond mixture for something else). Open the bag and sprinkle with water, the try squeezing again. Repeat until you are satisfied.

Stunningly delicious and creamy almond milkDrink the Almond milk:
Try to share. It’ll be hard, but your friends and family will love you for it.

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“AbFab Gravy” aka the best vegetarian gluten free gravy evah!

Gravy is yummy. Gravy is luscious, decadent, salty, umami goodness. Potatoes or rice pasta are just the carrier to eat gravy. Thanksgiving is really an excuse to put gravy on everything. And this gravy you will want to eat with a spoon. Best. Vegetarian Gluten Free Gravy. Evah.

My partner made this for me one Thanksgiving when she was determined that I would have the equivalent of what the rest of the meat-and-wheat-eating family was having. Honestly, I didn’t care that much and as she was busily chopping mushrooms and intently adding herbs, I thought it was sweet but that I really could do without.

I didn’t tell her that.

And boy was I glad I didn’t!!! This gravy is divine ambrosia of the gods. I recently discovered it also makes an amazing alfredo like sauce. This is very dangerous knowledge. As is the fact that I can now make it for myself.

Up until now, I only ate this when my partner made it for me. Why I never learned, I don’t know. Probably some latent instinct to protect myself from consuming it in quantities vast enough to bathe in.

But its all over now. I learned how to make this because of a comment by Sparrow Grace (who has the most adorable blog, you should really check it out) about not having a good vegetarian gluten free gravy recipe. I could not stand by and see such a travesty when I had access to such fantastic deliciousness!

I think gravy is one of those things that everybody likes it a certain way – their way! Usually the way they had it as a child. I like it salty, creamy and thick with some chunky bits. Other people like it sweet and thin. You can tweak this recipe however you want.

For instance, I do not like celery much, but if you like it, add it! If you’re not wild about mushrooms, maybe use white button mushrooms. If you love them, try portobello, morel, or chantrelle. If you don’t have fresh herbs, use about 1/4 tsp dry herbs. If you like bits in your gravy, chop less fine. If you like smooth, put it in the blender. If you want it sweeter, add sugar (brown sugar will give more depth).

Watch out for the cream – a lot of places nowadays are adding thickeners and mono and diglycerides (aka fat!) to cream and other dairy products as fillers. Any of these could be contaminated in the manufacturing process. I stick to organic only and always read the label, even if I’ve bought the brand twenty times before.

To thicken the vegetable broth, just put two cups into a flat saute pan (more surface area is good!), bring to a boil, and watch it, stirring occasionally until it has a syrupy type consistency. Like warm honey. You don’t have to do this, you could use store bought bullion, but I encourage you to try for a couple of reasons. First, it is DELICIOUS!!! Omg, I-was-licking-the-pan-afterwards-delicious. Secondly it is EASY. So easy. Seriously, it took maybe 5 minutes. Thirdly it is CHEAP. Really good bullion is expensive. This is better than any fancy stuff you can buy. Fourthly, and most importantly, assuming you start with gluten free broth, it is entirely gluten free. I use a brand that Safeway carries that is kept free of all cross contamination. All of the dry/reduced bullion that I can find has things like “maltodextrin” in it (which is from gluten). If you really don’t want to going through reducing the broth, just use however much of your bullion you would use to make two cups of broth.

Without further ado, here is Ally’s AbFab Gravy, aka the best vegetarian gluten free gravy evah!

Ingredients:
4 medium crimini mushrooms minced fine
1 TBSP butter
1/2 tsp fresh sage minced fine
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary minced fine
1/2 tsp fresh thyme minced fine
1/4 tsp fresh black pepper, ground
1 medium clove garlic minced fine
1 cup cream
2 cups vegetable broth, reduced to a syrup consistancy
Salt to taste
1/2 TBSP potato or tapioca starch

Add the butter to a saute pan and over med heat let it melt. Add the mushrooms, stir to coat. add the sage, rosemary, thyme, pepper and garlic. Cook until the mushrooms have released their juices (as soon as it looks like the liquid level is going back down). Add the cream and veggie broth syrup. Mix. Taste it. Do you like it more salty? Add salt. Do you like it more creamy? Add more cream. Let it cook for a bit, merging the flavors. I usually do about 10-15 minutes. When you’ve got the tasty goodness you want, remove 3 tablespoons of the liquid into a small bowl. Add the potato or tapioca starch and mix well. With the heat on med, add half of it back to the pan and stir immediately and constantly. Wait a few seconds to see how it firms up. Keep repeating until you reach the consistency you like (you might need more starch than this).

This is my lab note book for recipes that my sweet chemist partner bought for me to keep track of my experiments in the kitchen. I love it!

Recipe: Al fresco lunch

Sweet red bell pepper

I suppose this isn’t a recipe per se, but it is a easy lovely lunch. It is a simple lunch that relies on the freshest of ingredients, allowing each to shine. Everything should be bought as ripe and in season as possible, preferably organic and grown nearby – the food will have more nutrients and will fill you up much better. Continue reading

Hidden gluten, cross-contamination, and celiac disease, oh my!

It’s been two weeks since I started this.

Two weeks since I realized that I was generally feeling ill and had a host of problems over my life that the doctors could not figure out the cause, and oh yeah!, maybe cutting out more than just bread and pasta versions of wheat might help, aka finding and eliminating hidden gluten (not that any doctor suggested this. Ever >.<). Continue reading