Cocoa almond surprise

I like chocolate just  as much as the next person. If you don’t like chocolate, we clearly butt heads. In my efforts to try relatively healthy foods, I recently stumbled across cocoa-covered almonds. Fan-freaking-tastic! So, naturally, I’m pretty sure I ate about a pound of them, if not more.

Healthy Me = 0, Food Demons = 1.

As I was gorging myself on almonds, I thought to myself: ‘I’m pretty sure anybody with a brain could make these.’ Any time I have a thought like this, I should really have a red flag pop out of my forehead with sirens blaring warning the kitchen police to come haul me away.

But I don’t, so here we go with another brilliant endeavor.

Cocoa-covered Almonds.

Not only are these relatively healthy, they are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and vegan. Score.

They have minimal ingredients which fit seamlessly with my kitchen requirements, and, of course, and super yummy. Double score.

All you need are raw almonds, agave nectar, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt.

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Cocoa-covered almond ingredients

Here is the recipe that I used.

The recipe calls for 2 cups of almonds to start, however, since I’m pretty sure that would last me a whole half hour or so, I decided to double the batch.

Turn the oven on to 350ºF. The first step is to blend the agave nectar with salt on medium heat. I used ½ cup agave nectar and 2 pinches of salt -whoever came up with this whole ‘pinch’ measurement clearly didn’t have people like me in mind. Not only are my hands the size of a middle-schooler, my kitchen skills aren’t particularly solid; I prefer exact measurements.- The mixture started to bubble and that’s when I figured it was ready.

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Agave nectar & salt

Toss in 4 cups of raw almonds (for the doubled recipe) and stir until the almonds are completely coated.

Agave-covered almonds. Yum!

Agave-covered almonds. Yum!

Spread the agave almonds on a cookie sheet with wax paper. Put the almonds in the oven for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn.

Agave almonds on cookie sheet

Agave almonds on cookie sheet

My Mom wanted to help!

My Mom wanted to help!

Put 3 tbsp of the cocoa powder in a large ziplock bag – you’re going to put the almonds in there and shake it all up.

Easy, right?

JUST KIDDING!!!

I know all of this sounds very simple, but it turned out to be a little harder than I thought. When you pull the almonds out of the oven, they start to cool very fast which makes them stick to everything! I started putting the almonds into the ziplock with the cocoa powder. Conveniently, the ziplock started to melt through because the almonds were extremely hot. I quickly dumped everything in to a plastic bowl and tried my best to get the remaining almonds off the cookie sheet, off the counter, and off of my fingers.

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Melted Ziplock

Cocoa almonds in bowl

Cocoa almonds in bowl

I put a lid on the bowl and shook them up in the cocoa powder. They looked very slimy, unappetizing, and not exactly covered or ‘dusted’ with the cocoa powder. So I added more.

Bam! It worked! They turned out looking somewhat like I’d hoped! I spread them on another cookie sheet to cool.

Cocoa almonds on cookie sheet to cool.

Cocoa almonds on cookie sheet to cool.

What I didn’t realize is that the wax paper from the first cookie sheet also melted and came off in little bits either on the almonds or somewhere else. I’m not really sure. It also made it stick to the cookie sheet itself and became impossible to peel off.

Melted wax paper. Yikes!

Melted wax paper. Yikes!

What was supposed to be an easy project turned in to:

Cocoa-covered-wax-paper-surprise almonds!

Yep, I’ll eat them anyway.

Getting cultured: Take 2

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. — Albert Einstein

Well, there you have it. According to Mr. Einstein, I’m a crazy person. I like to think that I’m a crazy person with high standards, though, which just goes to show that if you believe in it enough, do zero additional research, and try the exact same method…..you’re certifiably psychotic.

Psychosis works for me. Suits me, in fact. However, instead of proving the rule this time, I am the exception.

~~~~~~~~I MADE YOGURT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!~~~~~~~~

For real. Edible, too! I’m actually going to go ahead and toot my own horn: It was absolutely delicious!

Because my first attempt was such a disaster, it took me a while to muster up the desire to try it a second time. Then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day. -yogurt, Rome…whatever-

When something goes wrong the first time, typically you assess and adjust the process for any subsequent trials. I say typically, because I didn’t. Too much effort. Wait, that’s a lie: I did not put towels on the stove for charring purposes this time. Yay me. I did look at additional yogurt-making recipes, the majority of which called for either powdered milk, yogurt cultures, whole milk and whole fat yogurt, or yogurt machines. Fabulous. Couldn’t find powdered milk -it was probably right in front of me at the store; I obviously don’t do well in grocery stores-; didn’t want to use yogurt cultures since I felt it was pointless because yogurt cultures are in the yogurt you add to the mixture already; wanted a reduced-fat yogurt — I don’t buy whole fat yogurt or milk at the store in the first place, so why would I make it that way? –; and I clearly do not own a yougrt-making machine.

Back to square one. So what did I do? The same damn thing I did the first time…with slight adjustments. I bought fat-free yogurt, 2% milk (last time I used skim – I don’t recommend that), and just talked nice to it. I had everything at my fingertips. When I decided to give it another go, I re-created my double-boiler, got out my trusty thermometer, and was ready to face the yogurt fates. -OH, I decided I didn’t learn my lesson the first time and bought another half gallon of milk to make another unnecessary half gallon of yogurt for this one person. I amaze myself at my intelligence sometimes-

Step 1: create double boiler

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Double boiler

Step 2: pour milk into pot
………….Step 2: pour milk into pot

This gets slightly complicated when the top shelf of your refrigerator has decided to imitate the Arctic and make one giant ice cube out of your milk. -insert background laughter from the yogurt fates here- I’m off to a spectacular start. Step 1 has now turned in to: thaw your giant ice cube of milk any way you can – this may take a good half hour or so. Probably longer.

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Well, that was fun.

After your milk cube is thawed, pour into the top pot and bring up to 180°F for minimum a half hour, stirring frequently. During this process, I did notice that my milk frothed quite a bit more than the skim milk for the first attempt.

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After about a half hour, cool down the milk to approximately 110°F, stirring occasionally. I did this with an ice bath in my sink. You can do it by leaving it on your counter, it will just take much longer, and goodness knows (and my family, and my friends, and my boyfriend) that I am not a patient person.

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Ice bath to 110F

Add 1 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt (yes, you use yogurt to make yogurt) to your cooled milk. I used FAGE Total 0% for mine. Stir this in well to your milk.

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Add yogurt to cooled milk

Now, you have sour, hot, yogurt milk. Congrats! Think of it as your yogurt embryo. This little guy needs some TLC, and a warm, quiet place to incubate for 7+ hours. You want to keep it between 100°F and 110°F during this time. The site I originally got the recipe off of suggests a heating pad. Uh, don’t try to get super creative and invent your own if you don’t have one. It won’t work. Trust me. This time, instead of putting it on top of the oven, I decided to put it in the oven! ………I can hear your negative thoughts you cynics. Ok, ok, I deserve them. I did not turn the oven on. Instead, I put a lid on my yogurt embryo mixture, wrapped it in towels, and put the bottom of the double boiler (the pot that had the boiling water in it) next to it in the oven. I heated up more water in a tea kettle and added that to it as well. I checked on the temperature every now and then and added more hot water only once.

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The oven ‘incubator’

I intended to pull it out of the oven at 7 hours. But I went to dinner with a friend and lost track of time. I got home when it had been sitting there for at least 9 hours if not longer. Knowing me, and my relationship with the yogurt fates, I was figuratively crossing every limb, fiber, and hair strand I had that this would not be my downfall again. I pulled out the pot, unwrapped it from the towels and lifted the lid to reveal:

Yogurt.

WOO HOO!!!

WOO HOO!!!

I did it! It worked! I couldn’t believe it. It looked like yogurt, and even kind of smelled like yogurt. I was giddy with pleasure and the satisfaction that the yogurt fates and I had become friends come to an understanding. I put it in containers to refrigerate over night -NOT on the top shelf of my fridge-. The real testament would come the next morning with the first sample.

Morning comes. I’m excited and slightly nervous to try it, considering it was something I made. From scratch. In the kitchen. And you just never know how that’s going to turn out. –If it works out, you ideally never have to buy yogurt again; you can use a few tablespoons from your homemade yogurt in the milk to make a new batch.- It was actually, surprisingly very good. Not as tart as I’m used to, but I was ok with that. The consistency was perfect, maybe a little less solid (is that the right word?), but definitely not runny.

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Homemade Yogurt

HECK. YES.

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So good even Klondike wants some 🙂

I’ll just go ahead and give myself a pat on the back for that one.

Rainbow Salad

So….obviously cooking has never really been my thing. You’re shocked, I know. However, one of the very few things I do like to do in the kitchen is make salad. -ya cuz THAT takes an iron chef-

As long as there is minimal chopping to be done, I’m all for it.  I like it so much, in fact, that I decided to name my salad Rainbow Salad! Yep, claiming it as mine. …And THIS is where I understandably lose the majority of you readers right now.

But, for you poor, poor souls who are determined to continue reading, let’s get colorful!

Everyone knows what a rainbow looks like. Uh, almost everyone. Unless you’re colorblind, which is just extremely unfortunate considering my favorite color is red. Back to rainbows. The bottom line: there are a lot of colors. That’s what I think a salad should look like, too. Not only should it blast my tastebuds with goodness, it should be a flamboyant, cocky array of delight to my eyes as well. That’s right. A salad should be flamboyant. What can I say, I like pretty things.

I confess, though, I’m a hypocrite. One of my kitchen requirements is minimal ingredients. For Rainbow Salad, this is a lie. The more ingredients you have, the more colors there will be, hypothetically.

This is my take on Rainbow Salad. I suppose you could have a different approach. But why think outside the box?!

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Rainbow Salad ingredients. Some of them, anyway.

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RED

  • I use grape tomatoes. Do I cut them in half to make life easier when I go to eat this scrumptious bowl of healthy delicousness? Of course not.
  • Dried cherries. Because they’re delicious.
  • Sometimes I use red peppers. I say sometimes, because more often I use:

ORANGE & YELLOW

  • Bell peppers. Mmmmmmmm. Unfortunately these do not come already pre-cut at the store, but I’ve been managing so far. They add the perfect pop of flavor.
  • Sometimes I add carrots, but not very often.

GREEN

  • This is where you can get CrAzY! Use your imagination. Go wild. Be dangerous,  you salad innovator, you.
  • I typically use spinach and kale for my salad base. Already pre-cut and packaged, of course.
  • Green onions. Did you know if you leave the base of the green onions (the white part with the roots), you can put them in some water and grow your own?! Nah, I haven’t tried it either. I should, though.
  • Cilantro. For some zip.
  • Avocado. If they’re affordable, which doesn’t happen very often in Colorado.

BLUE

  • Blueberries. CHA-CHING! I love blueberries on salad! No cutting, chopping, or hacking required. This is the moneyball to any salad, in my extremely humble opinion. You doubt me? Try it. Then maybe we can be friends again. Maybe. -I also thouroughly enjoy strawberries on salad, too-

PURPLE

  • Red onion. Ok, so they’re called red onions, but they look pretty purple to me. So I’m going to leave it at that. If you’re like me, chopping onions is one of the least lucrative kitchen tasks known to man. Every time I do it, I end up looking like I just finished watching some moving, heartfelt movie with a sappy ending. Complete with puffy eyes and runny makeup. But, they taste fantastic, so bring it on.

Congrats, ladies and gents. We’ve successfully completed a rainbow -like every other toddler on the planet- . If you decide to pretensiously argue with me about skipping out on Indigo, we’re going to have words. Specifically: Really!? You’re correcting me on a food rainbow! Get over it.

The rainbow may be complete, but the salad is not. *Gasp* That’s right – it gets more colors!

BROWN/GRAY

  • Portabella mushrooms. Surprisingly, I don’t buy these pre-sliced. Instead I opt to save 50 cents and slice them myself at home. I know they are a love/hate food, but I happen to love them. I could talk for a while on truffles…but I won’t. I love the mushrooms in the salad, but you could also drizzle truffle oil on the entire thing. YUM! Truffle oil just happens to be expensive and something I don’t necessarily think about when I go to the store.

BLACK

  • Black pepper. I’m slightly addicted. I put pepper on everything. Even if it already has pepper in it, it probably isn’t enough, so I’ll drench it with some more.
  • Sometimes I add chia seeds as well. *Self promotion: for my article on seeds, click here.

WHITE

  • Sliced almonds. If I had the oomph to glaze or candy them I would. Instead, I just buy pre-sliced almonds and generously add them in. You could add in any type of nut or seed.
  • Cheese. I often don’t add cheese to my salad right away. If I feel like it later, I’ll add either blue cheese, goat cheese, feta, or parmesan.

Dressing

  • You can add any sort of dressing to this. I usually do the same thing every time:
  • Olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. OR
  • Sea salt, olive oil, and lemon juice. -if I’m feeling exceptionally enthusiastic, I’ll add crushed red pepper-
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One rendition of Rainbow Salad

I think we’ve almost run out of colors. Well, there you have it. That’s my basic Rainbow Salad. Obviously there are thousands of variations -but mine’s the best-. You could always add chicken, shrimp, steak or any sort of protein to it as well. I could go in to the health benefits of everything listed, but I think I’ve bored you enough already. I make a giant bowl of this weekly, that way whenever I want some I can just go to the refrigerator and grab it without having to do any more chopping.

-sidenote: if you cover the salad, make sure it can breathe. It has mushrooms in it, which can get slimey if there’s no airflow-

For those of you who think this was a ridiculous post, I completely agree. But, you did finish reading the entire thing…

Dear Skittles: Taste the rainbow? …NAILED IT!

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Tofu pie

No, really. I mean it. No bake blueberry pie. With tofu.

I scrunched my nose up at first, too. Tofu is NOT my thing.

But, it got my attention; I became intrigued. It has a few of my kitchen requirements: minimal ingredients, and minimal time spent in the kitchen. PLUS it’s a no bake concoction. And that’s even better. With the mixture of very interesting ingredients, I decided I just had to try it out for myself! I figured I’d be like a healthy, vegetarian, red-headed Betty Crocker.

Onward to the grocery store.

For those of you who know me, you know that I HATE the grocery store. Everything about it. Couldn’t tell you why, either. I avoid it at all costs; my food supply gets ridiculously low before I decide that a breakfast of condiments isn’t going to do it and I give in to the Evil Food Fortress (aka the grocery store). My goal, if I have to go to the store, is to spend as little time as humanly possible there. I try to pretend I’m a contestant on Supermarket Sweep and have a time limit to grab anything I need. This often results in forgetting items, and running in to things. Or people.

Let me set the premise for you:

I decided to go to a bigger store than I normally do, because I figured they would have a better selection of everything. For a blueberry pie, I needed blueberries. Not a problem. Unless you’re me. I’m calm, cool, and collected, circling the produce section again, and again. And again. There are zero blueberries to be found. I very nicely ask a gentleman stocking fruit if they have blueberries.

“Ah, gosh. I don’t know. We didn’t get an order in this week for them somehow. We’ve got blackberries over there if you want blackberries.”

My immediate, non-censored reply would have been: “If I wanted blackberries, I would have asked you for those! In fact, I wouldn’t even have to talk to you at all because I would have found them on my own in the first place!” But instead, I politely said: “No, thank you.” And walked away.

Then, a miracle happened. As I was passing the clementines, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. That’s right, 3 little cartons of blueberries, staring straight at me. Since I so conveniently forgot to write down how much this particular recipe called for, I grabbed all 3 and put them in my cart. Thank you, blueberry karma. -I ended up only needing one little carton of blueberries for the pie-

Next stop: tofu land. I have never in my life bought any sort of tofu. Ever. I’m not a fan of the texture or anything about it. It’s a block of something that tastes like nothing. And that’s just wrong. The recipe calls for ‘Lite Firm Tofu.’ Easy enough. I finally find the tofu selection and search through them. I see ‘Soft,’ ‘Firm,’ and ‘Extra Firm.’ Those are my options. Wtf. At this point, I’m thinking of canning the entire thing, throwing a tantrum, and going home. I talk myself out if it, though, and sit there staring at the tofu for a good 5 minutes. I have zero idea which one to get. So I start poking them to see how ‘soft,’ ‘firm,’ and ‘extra firm’ they really are -like I really know what I’m doing-. That is until I catch a lady in the yogurt section next to me trying not to stare. I opt for the ‘soft’ one and head on my way to find Kefir.

I have no idea what Kefir is, but the recipe calls for it. I try to find it on my own for a while. Remember, more time spent in the grocery store is time that I’ll never get back. I find an older gentleman who works there and ask him. He has no idea. Perfect. We find someone else, and she thinks she may know what it is but calls someone on the intercom anyway. And then there were 4. This guy knew where it was and starts leading us there….right back to the tofu section. It, of course, was sitting right there. It’s a probiotic drink in case you’re interested.

The bright side is that I had everything else I needed for the pie at home, so I could get the heck out of there.

Tofu pie.

Ingredients: blueberries, tofu, kefir, lime juice, stevia, sliced almonds, vanilla extract, vanilla whey protein powder (not pictured), and pie crust.

For specifics, this is where I got the recipe.

No bake blueberry pie ingredients

All the fixin’s

Measure it all out, throw it into the blender, blend, and pour into pie crust. Easy as…well, you know.

-sidenote- I had no idea tofu is kept in water (or something liquidy) to preserve it. I had tofu water everywhere in my kitchen when I tried to open it up. Gross.

Ingredients in blender

Appetizing, no?

I topped mine with sliced almonds. There is an almond crust recipe, but I just bought a pie crust instead.

No bake blueberry pie

The final result!

It needs to sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The pie is delicious. I got confirmation from 3 other people as well that they liked it. No, it does not have the consistency of tofu. In fact, you can’t even tell. The pie could essentially be made with any sort of fruit or fruit combination. I might play around with the recipe next time I make it. After the first slice, I put it in the freezer, and it came out almost like an ice cream pie. I liked it better than just the refrigerated one and will probably do this in the future.

Slice of pie

No bake blueberry pie

Combining a bad grocery store trip with tofu inspired pie turned out not to be so bad after all. …Who knew?

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Watch out, Betty Crocker!

Come on baby, light my fire

Now, you’re probably thinking: she just got done burning a towel, what in the heck is she doing with fire?!?!?! Well don’t worry, I’m here to reassure you. Comforting, I know. I’m not necessarily playing with fire….just with boiling water and hot wax. Much better, right?

For a fun Monday afternoon project, I opted on candle making. There’s not much that beats a good candle. They’re nice to look at, they smell good. -that’s pretty much my criteria for people, too- Candles can be awfully expensive in stores, though, and people pay for them, myself included. With a little wax, some nostril-pleasing scents and a Pinterest tutorial, I’m well on my way to being a supreme candle maker. -in addition to a bomb yogurt maker…stop snickering-

Because I’m lazy and didn’t feel like going to a craft store -not to mention I find them extremely overwhelming-, I did the next best thing and searched Amazon.com for supplies. Boy, do they know how to entice you to buy stuff on there. I originally was going to go for a 5lb bag of soy wax flakes…but then I saw the 10lb option for a better value. Yep, you’re right, Amazon, 10lbs of wax is exactly what I need. Thank you for suggesting that. Additionally, thank you for suggesting the 100 yard roll of wick and the 100 metal wick holders. OH, and as an addendum, you thought I might need some scents at $8 for 4oz? I’ll take 2. Good point: While I’m at it, I should probably buy a DVD to watch/listen to as I’m candle making… Additionally, I picked up 12 8oz mason jars and some crayons for color at the store. Apparently, I’m on the right track to open Melissa’s menagerie of candles.

-sidenote- Let’s be honest: who doesn’t love a project that involves crayons?!

Alright team, let’s do this candle thing.

Materials: wax flakes (I opted for soy wax flakes – they have a long burn time and are non-toxic – yay inner tree hugger), wicks, wick holders, jars of some sort, glue, scissors, stirring spoon, measuring cup, crayons (optional), scents (optional), and a double boiler.

Materials for candle making

Candle-making swag

First things first, I cut the wicks from my giant roll of them and placed them in the wick holders. After not doing it myself the first candle go-round, I highly suggest gluing the wick holders to the bottom of your candle so they stay centered while you pour the wax. It’s much easier than pouring the wax, trying to center the wick holder, and doing your best not to burn yourself all at the same time. Trust me. Also, get scissors that aren’t extremely dull. Or use a knife. I imagine it would’ve made my life a little easier.

Candle wicks in wick holders

Candle wicks in wick holders

Next, melt the wax in a double-boiler pot. This looks eerily like the set up of the great yogurt fail of 2013, so that was on my mind the entire time. After a little experimentation, I found that I needed 3 cups of wax flakes to make 2 8oz candles. I decided to do 2 mini batches so I could change the color and scent halfway through; however, I wasn’t exactly sure how to do it. I know, I know: add it to the wax, dummy. Yes, I got that part. The issue is how much to add. Amazon so kindly gave me the gentle encouragement to buy 2 different scents: peppermint eucalyptus and lavender. In hindsight I probably should have looked online to see how much one would normally add. Instead, I thought a half bottle would do the trick nicely. As a result, I’ve been able to smell nothing except lavendery eucalyptusy peppermint for the past 2.5 hours. That being said, I may have over-done it.

Soy wax in double boiler

Soy wax on stove

Melting wax

Melting wax

As for the color, I used green for the eucalyptus peppermint and purple for the lavender. Well, I attempted it anyway. I only used a little bit of the crayon in the wax because it turned a vibrant green color right away.

Green candle wax

Green candles…almost

The wax had a personal vendetta against the color purple, though. No matter how much crayon I put in, the wax hardly changed color. It just sat there, mocking me, as I tried to figure out what to do. So I went back, way back, to my kindergarten days and found the answer. RED + BLUE = PURPLE!

Eureka! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, wax!

Green and purple candles

Green & purple. Reminds me of jello.

Now, the site that I used for this project said the next step is to pour the wax into the jars, center the wick, let it solidify, and you’re all done!

Green and purple candles.

Almost there!

They lied. The wax poured great. The candles looked pretty. Centering the wicks is another story. I don’t know what kind of wicks they were using, but mine didn’t want to stay centered and upright, they preferred to go limp and wilt off to the side. My first thought was ‘how in the heck am I going to hold 12 wicks for the next hour until the wax is set’?! After some mild panic and one ruined candle, this was my solution:

Genius? I think so.

So proud of myself, making green and purple candles. Mission accomplished.

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But wait! The candles weren’t going to let me off the hook that easy…What I didn’t realize is that when the wax hardens, the color fades. They got me, and they got me good. My ‘green’ is about the color one turns right before they go get up close and personal with the porcelain throne, and my ‘purple’ is more of a dirty mop water gray.

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Uh, the ones on the left are ‘green’ and the ones on the right are ‘purple.’

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Or not.

You can’t even tell the color difference in the picture.

Well played, candles. Well played.

…At least you can smell them from a mile away.