Going Raw

Sometimes, it’s just good to try something new.  Our something new was, at the urging of our friend Kristie, Jan and I attended a raw foods class.  Our friend said that eating the food at a previous class had given her so much energy, that we just had to try it.  Since part of our blogging journey has been about trying new things, we couldn’t exactly say no.  Besides, we didn’t know anything about the raw food diet, so it was time to learn.

The class was held in the home of the instructor, Chef Naomi Hendrix, who recently worked together with another local business to open Revive Café, an organic raw vegan restaurant in downtown Fresno.  We began the class with introductions, and I started by getting things out in the open: we were here at the recommendation of our friend (who was beaming at us from across the table), and I would describe both me and Jan as being on the opposite end of the raw—cooked foods spectrum.  We had, after all, just cooked over 30 pounds of corned beef the week before.  But, I explained, we enjoyed trying new things, and we wanted to learn (and taste) as much as we could.

Naomi and her co-host, Rio, explained their own journey to becoming raw foodists, explaining that it wasn’t their mission to push this type of diet on anyone, only educate and tell their own story of the health benefits they’d achieved.  For a raw foods diet, no ingredients are heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit, any higher and the food begins losing its nutrients.  Foods are all plant-based, meaning fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  Overall, raw foodists avoid all processed foods, though some eat dairy products, keeping in mind that means unpasteurized milks and cheeses.

To begin the dinner, I wasn’t off to the best start with my first sip of Kefir water, which is a drink made from grains, providing beneficial bacteria (think probiotics), and similar to kombucha, which I have also tried but not favored.  But the people that swear by these drinks do agree that they’re an acquired taste, so I just left if at that.

Appetizers and Kefir water

For appetizers we had a basil parsley cashew pesto, in which we dipped carrots and cauliflower pieces.  While we snacked, Naomi used her VitaMix (an essential tool for raw foodists) to blend cashews, lemon juice, water, apple cider vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, and dill to create raw dill ranch dip.  I was surprised by the flavor, and might have thought it a “regular” ranch dip if I hadn’t known the ingredients.

As Naomi began preparing our main entrée, I began to take a closer look around.  I hadn’t noticed it right away, but the kitchen, custom-designed by Naomi and Rio, did not contain a stove top, oven, or microwave.  It also contained two side-by-side refrigerator/freezers.  Also present were the three essential tools for raw foodists: Cuisinart food processor, VitaMix blender, and Excalibur dehydrator (a dehydrator designed for raw foodists since the heat setting could be specifically set not to go above a desired temperature).

Naomi shows us the collard leaves

I asked a lot of questions.  What do you do when you travel? They take a lot of food with them, and take along their VitaMix or Bullet mini-blender.  What do your pets eat? The cat eats special raw cat food containing meat and purchased from Whole Foods, and the parrot eats cooked eggs (heated on a portable hot plate), and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Does the raw food diet include alcohol? No.

Enough questions from me, it was time for the main course: Caribbean tacos.  The taco shells were collard greens and they were topped with a pâté made of sunflower seeds, carrots, olive oil, lime juice, salt, cumin, taco seasoning, chili flakes, and water, all combined in the Cuisinart (I was starting to see why they couldn’t live without their turbo blenders and food processors.)  The pâté was topped with a pineapple-mint salsa, shredded cabbage, and the dill ranch dip.  The food was bright, and the flavors were crisp (see photo at the top of this post).  I was pleasantly surprised.

When it came time for dessert, Naomi used pecans, macadamia nuts, vanilla, and maple syrup to make a graham-cracker-like crust.  After pressing the crust into the pie pan, Naomi showed us how to whack the coconut in the right place in order get out the milk and the meat.  The pie was filled with the key lime filling, which contained lime juice, coconut milk, coconut oil, more maple syrup, and, to my surprise, avocados.  The pie was chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.  Luckily, there was a demonstration-version pie, and a pie that Naomi had made in advance of our class, and we didn’t have to wait long for a slice of pie.

The texture of the pie was smooth, and the combination of the filling and the crust delicious.  While I enjoyed trying all the dishes on the menu, the pie was my favorite, and something I could see myself making at home.  After all the raw food, Jan and I were stuffed—both with food and information.

When the meal was over, Rio brought out the Green-Winged Macaw, Buzzy, to greet all the guests
Buzzy enjoys his dinner

I was happy we went to the class, and I was pleasantly surprised by the food, as it was tastier than I expected.  Then again, I had left my mind open with few expectations or assumptions prior to attending the class.  What filled that was a new knowledge and appreciation for a different way of eating.  I thanked both Naomi and Rio for being such great hosts and providing an open environment where everyone was free to ask questions.  Even though Jan and I won’t be converting into raw foodists, we were able to learn from what they do, and who knows, maybe we’ll even incorporate some of their ideas in our own preparation of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

A Tostada Time Out

So much tiling, so much corned beef!  Phew!  Last week was exhausting!  With so much going on, Jan and I needed some delicious, quick, and easy-to-prepare food.

Enter the tostada dinner, an amazing meal that requires minimal time and effort.  When Jan brought home tostada shells (shortcut #1), we took a few more shortcuts to cook up a batch of tostadas in a matter of minutes.  It was such a surprisingly tasty dinner that we ate the same meal twice in the same week.

I started by sautéing some onions in a little bit of oil in a pan.  Once the onions started to become translucent, I added ground beef (didn’t grind our own this time, so shortcut #2) and spices to make my own blend of taco seasoning.  The blend included garlic powder, California chili powder (it’s not too spicy, but gives you that great reddish-brown color usually only achieved by pre-mixed taco seasoning), cumin, oregano, chili flakes, and salt.  I combined the meat with the spices, added a few tablespoons of water, and cooked over medium heat.

While the meat was cooking, I began heating up the beans (shortcut #3 is canned beans.  Jan prefers the refried beans while I prefer black beans, so we compromise by alternating which one we choose.)

This is also the time to start getting all the toppings ready, so we finely chopped lettuce or green cabbage (we usually stick with iceberg lettuce for beef tostadas or tacos, but use green cabbage on occasion, and definitely when making fish tacos).  We also got out sour cream and salsa from the refrigerator to add to our tostada-assembling station.  We shredded some Colby Jack cheese and made guacamole from a fresh avocado (there’s room for another shortcut here if you use the pre-made guacamole, I recommend both the Trader Joe’s and Costco varieties).  The last piece was the Tapatio.

Ingredients prepped, tostadas ready to assemble

Once the meat was done and beans were heated, it was time to assemble the tostadas.  Atop the shell, I started with the beans, then added the meat, then the lettuce and the rest of the toppings.  Inevitably, my tostadas were overloaded, and I had to break out my fork.  Then I enjoyed my tostadas and debated when I should tell Jan about his sour cream mustache (think milk mustache, but thicker).  In the meantime, we reflected on a successful corned beef and cabbage celebration.

Our first guest to arrive found a four-leaf clover in our front yard walking up to the front door (unfortunately I didn’t capture a picture of our good luck charm, but thanks to a lovely thank-you note from my friend Sarah, I have an image that looks pretty close to the original).

Jan cooked the massive amount of corned beef in a 15 gallon pot outdoors, and it was enough to fill one 2-foot by 1-foot wide chafing dish.  Our other full-size chafing dish was filled with green cabbage and potatoes.  I was amazed that everything was eaten pretty quickly—either everyone was starving, or the food was pretty good!

Despite both the orange of my carrot cake cupcakes not being the orange I desired, nor the green cream cheese frosting (I was going for the orange and green of the Irish flag but instead got the two unappetizing colors of rust orange and Easter egg green), those all got eaten too.  And lastly, for those dying to see what all the fuss over the tiled floors was about (see last week’s Prepping for St. Patrick’s Day), a picture of the newly installed tile.

For the moment, we’re taking at least a month’s break from tiling and large-scale entertaining.  We’re going to be lazy for a while.  Good thing we discovered the perfect lazy-night dinner.  I have a feeling we’re going to be eating a lot of tostadas.

Prepping for St. Patrick’s Day

If someone questioned our sanity right now, I wouldn’t blame them.  About a month ago, Jan and I began a serious home-improvement project.  Fed up with carpet and linoleum that didn’t stand up to our frequent entertaining and furniture re-arranging, we opted for one of the most durable and low maintenance flooring surfaces we could find: porcelain tile.  With the goal to replace all the floors in our house with beautiful 18”x18” tiles, we began in the living room/hallway/dining room, since all the other rooms in the house branched from that central axis.

Gung-ho to complete the project ourselves, we delved right in, and since Jan had installed tile before and I’d installed laminate flooring, we had great confidence in our ability to get it done quickly and efficiently.

The tiling was a lot more work than we’d anticipated, and a month into the project, it still feels like we’ve only just begun.  We started with enthusiasm, but after working at our jobs all day, it was difficult to get motivated to come home only to do some seriously strenuous physical labor.  In addition, as I’m sure many can relate, working harmoniously on a DIY project with your significant other is one of the biggest challenges a person can undertake.  While well-meaning friends shared statistics in jest about DIY projects being a contributing factor in many a divorce, I started to wonder if there was more merit to the numbers than I’d previously thought.

Choices, choices, choices.  Tile, or relax?  Spend the evenings and weekends happy and peaceful, or engaged in a heated debate over the “levelness” of one particular tile?  The project didn’t always win out.

But sometimes the only way to get things done is with a deadline, and we definitely had one looming.  Hosting a big celebration for St. Patrick’s Day has started to become a tradition at our house.  Right around this time, Jan gets excited and antsy, scanning the grocery store ads for the exact moment when corned beef goes on sale for $1/pound.  Last year, Jan cooked 10 pounds of corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, and last week, he came home with 33 pounds of corned beef ($.99/lb at Fresh and Easy, and with the “Limit 2 per customer” difficult to enforce at a store that only employs self checkout lines, Jan may have gone overboard.)

Mountains of corned beef

With guests expected to help eat the corned beef, I knew we couldn’t welcome them into a halfway-tiled space they had to tiptoe over.  The corned beef would make us finish, whether we wanted to or not.

Corned beef and cabbage used to be one of those things I liked to have once a year, and once a year only.  You wouldn’t catch me thinking, hmm, I’m craving corned beef and cabbage for dinner (like Jan does).  But it might be one of those dishes that grow on you.  I’m starting to think I could have it about twice a year and be OK.

Good thing too, since Jan was so excited to celebrate, he decided to do a test run of the corned beef and cabbage.  Besides, it was a welcome break from tiling, and with our approaching deadline, we were actually making good progress.  We opened up one of the packages and after trimming off as much fat as we could, cooked according to the package directions using the included spice packet.  The general rule is to cook for one hour per pound, adding the cabbage and potatoes in the last half hour of cooking.

Green cabbage, corned beef, and red potatoes

To wash it all down, we made Black and Tans, using Guinness Draught and Harp Lager.  To prepare, we filled the glasses about 1/2 of the way with the light colored beer (Harp Lager), then poured the dark beer (Guinness Draught) over an upside-down spoon to fill the remainder of the glass without splashing and mixing the two layers.

Pour the Guinness over the Harp Lager
Much-needed refreshment

We sat together in the hallway (dining table moved there in order to tile the floor of the dining room), eating our corned beef, sipping the beer, and admiring our newly laid tile.

“It looks so good, I think it was worth it,” Jan said.  I gave him a sideways glance.  “Worth the amount of work, and worth almost getting divorced,” he said with a smile.

I had to agree with him.  It did look great.  In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad.  Apparently we agreed on more things than we thought, including that the corned beef and cabbage was delicious.

While we might have only completed a fraction of our big project, and probably won’t lay another tile for another six months, we’ve got everything we need: a completed dining room, a completed living room, and 31 pounds of corned beef.

The Best Banana Bread

Ever since I was a kid, there have been a few people who’ve called me Anna Banana.  It’s not a nickname I mind, though I always found it funny that because my name is pronounced ah-na (the first “A” as in also vs. a short “A” as in and), it means pronouncing banana like you’re sipping a cup of tea with your pinky finger pointed up to the sky and a very serious expression on your face: buh-naw-nuh.

Maybe this helps explain my love for banana bread.  It’s so comforting and delicious, I have a hard time eating a reasonable amount in one sitting.  Because I once read the nutrition facts of this bread, I tried making a lighter version using egg whites and apple sauce—but never again—so not worth saving a few calories!

I’ve also tried versions including chopped pecans, as well as dark chocolate chips, but I think the plain version better highlights the gooey banana taste and texture.  Just be sure to use ripe bananas that are turning dark brown (the bananas in the picture at the top of this post are on their way to a banana bread in the far future, they need at least a week more of sitting on the kitchen counter top).  Here’s the original, and best recipe, and I highly recommend my new and improved spelling and pronunciation.

The slices were going quickly

“Bananna” Bread (Banana Bread)

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

print recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 medium)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease the bottom and sides of a 8”x4”x2” loaf pan, set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (except the sugar): flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, combine the egg, bananas, sugar, cooking oil, and lemon zest.
  4. Add the egg mixture all at once to the dry mixture, stirring to until just moistened.  The batter will be lumpy.
  5. Pour batter into loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees F for about 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing loaf from pan.  Can be served hot, or wrapped in aluminum foil and chilled prior to slicing and serving (if you want smooth, neat slices).

Big Fat Success: Fat Tuesday Buns

If a dish has the word “fat” in the title, you know it’s got to be good.  Granted, in the case of Fat Tuesday Buns, the reference is to Fat Tuesday, a day allocated to gluttony and overindulgence, not the bun itself, but this Swedish treat still lives up to its name.

When you bite into a Fat Tuesday Bun, you will inevitably get whipped cream everywhere.  But the messiness makes it better.  And finally, after one disastrous attempt at making this dish last week, I achieved Fat Tuesday Bun success!

The first time around, I just couldn’t get anything right.  I’m still working on perfecting my recipe, but here’s what I did, just in time for Fat Tuesday (coming up next Tuesday, March 8).

Fat Tuesday Buns, or Semlor as they’re called in Sweden, are cardamom-spiced rolls filled with whipped cream and almond paste.  As a kid, the cardamom flavor was too strong for me, so my mom and I made plain rolls and followed the rest of the recipe.  I have a feeling that as an adult, (and the much more open-minded about different flavors person I’m slowly becoming,) I would probably feel less strongly about the cardamom as I did with my young taste buds.  But considering the baking disasters of last week, I didn’t want to take too many chances.  I thought, this time, I’ll make it the plain, old way, and do more experimenting on the next go around.

I used a recipe for plain dinner rolls from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  I’m thinking that even the Pillsbury Crescent rolls should work well as another shortcut.  Just before putting the rolls in the oven, I brushed the tops of the buns with egg to make they would have that beautiful, golden crust on the top.  After baking and allowing to cool slightly, I cut the tops off the buns, making sure to keep the matching top with its corresponding bottom.  I scooped out the inside of the rolls, leaving a little less than ½” around the sides and bottom (think mini bread bowl).  Putting the scooped-out bread in a bowl, I moistened that with milk and combined with almond paste (you can also use marzipan, the outcome will just be sweeter).

Plain buns just out of the oven
Prepped and ready for filling

The filling went back into the hollowed-out buns, which were topped with whipped cream I sweetened with powdered sugar.  Each bun’s top was then placed atop the whipped cream, and the bun got a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  I didn’t wait long to take my first bite, but the remaining buns kept well in the refrigerator for several days. After enjoying this batch that stayed true to my memories from childhood, I’m ready to try making the more authentic cardamom version next.

One messy bite
Ready to enjoy