Rosemary Honey Cashew Butter | An Ode to Homemade, Edible Gifts

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For a brief yet impressing moment in time, I thought about starting a nut butter company. That was certainly one of the biggest curve balls of my life to date: coming out of a year devoted to completing my Masters in Contemporary Art Theory with a desire to become a fancy flavored nut butter entrepreneur.

It made as much sense to me – in context of my life at the time – as it was absolutely crazy. The part that made sense was this: Making nut butter from scratch was one of the most magical endeavors I undertook that year, during which I not only achieved my MA but also taught myself how to cook. Witnessing the nuts transform from solid to liquid astounded me, their natural oils releasing and completely altering their physical composition due to nothing more than an aggressively spinning blade. (Clearly I had no idea how much oil nuts contain.) What's more, it felt empowering. This food product that I had understood comes from a jar at the supermarket much the way an apple comes from the branch of an apple tree, I could make at home?! This meant I could not only control the quality of the nut butter but also the additional ingredients that defined it. The opportunities for creative deliciousness were endless! Maple cinnamon almond butter! Chai spice pecan butter! Or even something sweet and herbal, like...rosemary honey cashew butter.  

The part that was absolutely crazy about my nut butter entrepreneur pipe dream was, well, everything else.

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All of the holiday gifts I gave that year were food related. Educational. Homemade. I wrote out instructions for my parents (on graph paper with a wealth of colored pens) on how to make my favorite Oilve Oil and Maple Granola – customizable and refined sugar-free! – along with a "voucher" for a lesson where we would make it together. I made variety after variety of nut butter, some based on my preferences and some based on theirs. The gifts may have taken a bit more time than purchasing things online, but I could tell that they were deeply appreciated and meaningful. Unique. Imbued with creativity and care. 

The other great thing about gifting nut butter is that, if you are looking to give small gifts to many people, you can make a big batch with no more effort than making a small batch! Just saying.

While my dream of bringing inspired nut butters to foodies everywhere eventually fell by the wayside, I would be remiss to not mention that when I gave my former housemate a taste of this Rosemary Honey Cashew Butter the first time I made it, she literally freaked out and insisted that I start selling it at farmers markets immediately.  Even if you're skeptical and rosemary is not typically your thing, I encourage you to approach this one with an open mind. You may just find yourself surprised.

I hope everyone has a joyful and delicious holiday season – one that is nourishing in every sense of the word. Take time for yourself when you need it. Relish the sweets and listen to your body so you know when you should maybe ease up a little (that's, erm, some advice to myself that I thought maybe some of you may also relate to). Stretch in the mornings. Return to your breath in stressful times. Sink into the beauty of the season, in actions, words and things. Take good care. 

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Rosemary-Honey Cashew Butter
Makes about 1 cup.  Scale up for a larger batch.
Originally published on my 2012 blog, which I am not linking to because looking at it is like looking at your old yearbook photos, but which I am mentioning because, citations. 

Ingredients
2 cups raw cashews
2 tsp. fresh rosemary
2 tsp. raw honey
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
1 tsp. cold-pressed sunflower oil, optional (for more runny cashew butter; it is quite thick otherwise)

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 300°F.
2.  Spread cashews on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant. Stir a few times during roasting.
3.  Let cool for 5 minutes.
4.  Place cashews in food processor fitted with an S-blade and blend until the nuts turn into a smooth 'butter'. This could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5.  Add rosemary and salt and process for another minute or two.
6.  In a small saucepan, melt honey over low heat until it is completely liquefied – much thinner than its syrupy state. Add to nut butter and process for another minute until fully combined. The nut butter will clump up again; keep the blade running until it returns to its smooth state.
7.  If you prefer your cashew butter even creamier, add the 1 tsp. of a sunflower oil.
8.  Carefully remove blade from food processor. Transfer nut butter to a glass jar with a lid and store in the fridge.

Black Sesame Tahini Banana Bread

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Banana bread is an American staple. A big time comfort food. Un-fussy, un-pretentious and utterly delicious. But also, it’s basically cake.

This banana bread is not basically cake. It’s whole grain, higher in protein than usual (thanks almond flour! thanks tahini!), and has an incredible crumb and depth of flavor from the tahini…which I’m beginning to be convinced should be added to every baked good ever.

I feel very passionately about tahini. Don’t love it? It’s probably because you’re buying tahini that is mechanically ground, which most tahini is these days. This results in a bitter taste—which is not tahini’s inevitable fate! I encourage you to seek out stone ground tahini, which is the traditional processing method. This results in a suuuuper delicious, not at all bitter, eat it straight from the jar tahini. You’ll also want to make sure to get whole sesame (dark) tahini rather than hulled (light) tahini. This is also harder to find, but well worth the search, as it contains much higher nutrient values than tahini made from sesame seeds that have had the hull—the outer shell—removed. THIS IS MY FAVORITE BRAND. (Sorry, emphatic.) If you’re curious to learn more about tahini processing and nutritional values, check out my post here.

I made and photographed this tahini banana bread over Labor Day and took it to two potlucks that weekend…where multiple people from each gathering asked me for the recipe. Just saying. In case you needed any more convincing. :D

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Black Sesame Tahini Banana Bread
Makes one 9"x5" loaf or two mini loaves
Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Ingredients
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or spelt or regular whole wheat if you can't find the white varietal)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds (or brown), plus more for sprinkling
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup muscovado sugar (unrefined brown sugar)
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. tahini
4 ripe bananas, 3 mashed & 1 sliced lengthwise

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line a loaf pan with parchment. Set aside.
2. Mix flours, sesame seeds, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.
3. In a separate medium bowl, mix coconut oil and sugars together until the sugar begins to dissolve. Whisk in egg and vanilla extract until mixture is smooth and thickened.
4. Add tahini and the mashed bananas to the wet ingredients. Stir until thoroughly incorporated.
5. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet. Gently stir together until just combined (it's okay if the batter is a bit lumpy).
6. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle additional sesame seeds on top, then place the two long slices of banana on top, cut side face up. Push them down into the batter so they settle a bit.
7. Set pan on baking sheet (it's easier to pull out of the oven this way). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour.

Blistered Snap Peas with Miso Butter

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In all honesty, this is kind of a non-recipe—which is often what summer calls for, when produce is bountiful and flavorful even with little to no preparation. It’s a recipe for those times when you’d rather be outside than in your kitchen, or taking your kitchen outside (to the grill).

This recipe is simply charred snap peas slathered in miso butter—which is miso paste mixed with butter. Simple, simple, simple but whooooa is it delicious. I made it in a cast iron pan because I don’t have a grill, but if you do have a grill, go ahead and throw the snap peas in a grill basket and go to town. It’s the perfect appetizer for a low key evening of entertaining or side dish to a weekday meal.

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Blistered Snap Peas with Miso Butter
Serves 4 as a starter or 2-3 as a side

Ingredients
1 lb. snap peas, woody ends cut off
3 Tbsp. room temp butter, organic and pastured if possible
1 Tbsp. sweet white or mellow yellow miso paste
flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions
1. If you have a grill, place the snap peas in a grill basket and grill until blistered. If not, heat a cast iron skillet on medium high. Place a third of the snap peas into the skillet and, using tongs, spread them out so that each snap pea is touching the surface of the pan. Cook until blistered, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side for 1 minute. Repeat with remaining snap peas.
2. In a small container, cream the miso together with the room temperature butter. You will have leftovers (you're welcome).
3. Take a generous spoonful of the miso butter and slather over the warm snap peas. Finish off with a generous pinch of flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus | On Overhauling Thanksgiving

Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't bat an eyelash at seeing some roasted squash hummus on a Thanksgiving table (yes, even if it had miso in it). Growing up, my family always made pretty traditional items for Thanksgiving: smashed sweet potato rounds hidden beneath a thick blanket of singed marshmallows; overly soft green beans tossed with store bought, oven refreshed bread crumbs. It was as All-American as All-American gets. The first Thanksgiving I shared with my family after living abroad for two years and falling in love with food, I made this amazing, bold, and very Middle Eastern dish of roasted butternut squash and red onions with tahini, parsley and za'atar for the Thanksgiving table. Some members of our party were skeptics, but the undeniable deliciousness of the dish won them over. (I also, after quite a contentious argument, persuaded my parents to make the stuffing with whole wheat instead of traditional white bread. They may remember differently, but I'm pretty sure no one noticed.)

It's a hard time to be an American, for many people, right now. It's a hard time to celebrate what this country stands for. A hard time to even know what this country stands for anymore. (Though truthfully, we've always been a divided nation, although not always one so blatantly shameful.) It's also, for many, a hard time to feel grateful. The weight of a Trump administration is a frightening and heavy weight to bear.

When I first brought distinctively un-American flavors to the Thanksgiving table it was because, quite frankly, I thought they tasted better. But now that choice is striking me as a subtle political act, too. Not that it needs to be, by any means. I'm just curious about the metaphor that could rest within such a gesture of cultural diversity and inclusivity at a gathering in which we express thanks for our nation, our abundance and independence.

Instagram, food blogs and official food publications have been awash with Thanksgiving related recipes for days, if not weeks. I'm a little late to the game—but hopefully not too late for you to consider including this Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus as part of your feast (or as a starter before the main event). I made this hummus for the Rosh Hashanah dinner I hosted at the beginning of September—the Jewish new year, another celebratory gathering of family and friends—and literally at least three of the ten people who attended asked me for the recipe. If it doesn't end up making the final cut for this Thanksgiving, that's totally chill. It's hummus, so you are literally justified in making it whenever you want (or whenever winter squash is available).

The cool thing about making things from scratch that you often buy at the store—like beans, salad dressings, or hummus—is that once you know the formula and process, you can get really wild with your flavors and mix-ins. Winter squash, chickpeas and tahini are a no-brainer together; the secret, wow-factor ingredient here is definitely the miso.

Miso: Your New (Probiotic) Secret Weapon Flavor Bomb

Miso, probably most familiar to Westerners in the form of miso soup, is a traditional Japanese paste made when soybeans, barley and/or rice are fermented with a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. After hanging out with the fungus in a very dark spot for some months or years, miso is born and we get to reap its many benefits. If you hate kimchi (like I do), miso is a great fermented ingredient to incorporate into your diet. (I also encourage you to incorporate it into your diet even if you like kimchi, because it is far more delicious [subjective opinion] and far more versatile [objective fact]). As a probiotic, it helps support digestion and maintain (or enhance) the health of the bacterial flora in your gut—which is super important in our overall health! Additionally, miso has a unique blend of salty, sweet and umami (savory) flavors, which makes it an awesome staple ingredient to add depth of flavor to vegetarian cooking.

Because miso is a probiotic food, it should be stored in the refrigerator and never boiled or heated in the oven—else the live, active cultures, enzymes and nutrients will be decimated. For this same reason, be sure to buy organic, unpasturized miso paste when you shop for it. Miso comes in a variety of flavors or colors depending on its ingredients and the length of its fermentation process. Varieties range from "white" to "dark brown," with the lighter colors leaning towards a more mild, sweet flavor and the darker colors being more salty and pungent (you can get a complete guide here). Because of its lighter flavor, I find the sweet white or yellow miso to be best in recipes where no heat is involved, like dressings and dips.

Kabocha Squash: Butternut's Cooler Cousin

I had never heard of Kabocha squash until I worked at a farm-to-table online grocer two years ago. Once I first learned how to say "kabocha," my mouth could no longer articulate the word "kombucha". (I've since been cured of that particular affliction.) Once I first baked it, my taste buds refused to let me cook butternut anymore. It is somehow just a bit richer, a bit denser, a bit sweeter, and a bit more flavorful, cumulatively creating the most amazing winter squash experience I've ever had. To be fair, it is a pain in the ass to peel and cube. But if you are puréeing a squash for any reason, kabocha is the way to go. (And if for some reason you are unable to find kabocha at the market, you may sub Butternut in this recipe.)

Of Japanese origin, kabocha squash finds common ground with its winter squash kin as one of the most substantial sources of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene in our entire diet. These carotenoids are primary antioxidants, which help fight free-radicals in our bodies and have anti-inflammatory and immune supporting properties.  

Suffice to say that between the protein packed chickpeas, calcium and omega rich tahini, chock-full-of-probiotic miso and carotenoid crazy squash, this is one health supportive dip. I don't know whether it's a good or bad thing that no one will be thinking about how healthy it is when they taste how delicious it is. But hey, both nutritional health and real food flavor are small yet mighty things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving...even when our world feels like it's falling apart.

 

*Sources: SF Gate, My New Roots & WH Foods.

Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus
Makes enough for a small crowd

Ingredients
Hummus
1 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 1/2 cup dried chickpeas, cooked following this method) (If you don't have time to cook your own, canned are fine. Just rinse them off first!)
2 cups kabocha squash purée, from one large squash
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup tahini, preferably unhulled
1/4 cup sweet white or mellow yellow miso, organic & unpasturized
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (from about 1 large lemon)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. ice water
oilve oil, to finish

Maple Sesame & Pepita Sprinkle
2 Tbsp. raw, unhulled sesame seeds (brown or black)
1 Tbsp. raw pepitas
1 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. pure maple syrup
pinch salt

Directions
Hummus
1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Carefully cut the kabocha squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Smear a dab of coconut oil or ghee along the rim of each side.
3. Place both halves of the squash face down on the baking sheet and bake until tender, about 40-55 minutes. You will know it's ready when the top of the squash has deflated/collapsed in on itself. Once done, remove from the oven and carefully flip upside down to cool.
4. Place cooked chickpeas in a food processor and blitz until they have formed a stiff paste. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.
5. Once the squash is cool, scoop out the flesh and measure out two cups. (If you have any left over, it's great to add to porridge or waffle mix!) Add the two cups of squash to the food processor and blend with the chickpeas until thoroughly combined.
6. Add garlic, tahini, miso, lemon, and salt. Blend until thoroughly combined.
7. With the motor running, slowly stream in the ice water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, stopping after 4 Tbsp. Let the food processor run for about 5 minutes, until the hummus is super smooth and creamy. Taste and assess the consistency and flavor. If you'd like it thinner, add more ice water. Add more salt, lemon and garlic to your taste preference and blend until smooth.
8. To serve, spread in a bowl or on a plate and garnish with quality olive oil and maple, sesame and pepita sprinkle.

Maple, Sesame & Pepita Sprinkle
1. Pre-heat toaster oven or big oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix together all ingredients.
3. Spread mix in an even layer onto parchment paper. Bake until fragrant and slightly browned, 15-20 minutes.
4. Let cool completely before handling or tasting. It will be very hot straight out of the oven and not completely hardened yet!

Bright Beet Hummus with Bee Pollen, Hemp Seeds and Fleur de Sel | On Cultivating Trust & Intuition

There's this great website that I was introduced to earlier this year called Mystic Mamma. It's a wellspring of wisdom, housing resources for reflection, reverence, healing, and tuning into our interconnectedness with our incomprehensibly expansive world. At the start of each month, the site offers insights about the month's energetic theme. I'm still on the fence about how deeply I believe that the themes presented, which are based on celestial phases and other such scientific/mystical readings, are actually true, but I do find them to be provocative food for thought. 

October's theme of balance does indeed feel appropriate for this time of the year, as we teeter through the seasonal shift that I was bemoaning in my last post. It's interesting to think about the myriad physical/mental/emotional/temporal/behavioral states that pepper our days, which can all be in or out of balance at any given point in time. We can easily assess our personal balance of work and play, activity and rest, social and solo time. Our energy levels and mental states send us clear signals letting us know if and when these need some adjusting. But there was one particular commentary in Lena Stevens' writing about this month's theme that really gave me pause. She shared:

Another area of balance is the relationship you have with trust and intuition vs needing to know. The need to know can cause severe anxiety when the information simply is not available yet.

As a recovering control freak/perfectionist with a highly active brain and a lot of question marks in my life, I suddenly felt like Stevens was talking directly to me. Like, Hey, Meredith, I know what's been going on in that noggin of yours and you really just need to LET IT GO. Sit with the uncertainty. Continue to trust your intuition and deep knowingness that all will be revealed and work out in time. Relax. "You will sleep better," Stevens wrote at the end of the paragraph. So damn pragmatic. After taking a deep breath and letting the all too resonant advice sink in, I couldn't help but smile.

Finding patience in the unfolding of my life and sitting comfortably with uncertainty are two of the biggest psychological shifts that I've been working on strengthening throughout the latter half of my 20s (which are, needless to say, nearing a close). Residing hand in hand with those two mental/emotional states is a strengthened trust in my intuition. The more you learn to tune into, trust and operate from the truth of your intuition, the more you will be both challenged and able to sit comfortably with uncertainty—especially if your intuition is guiding you along a path that is not what is expected (by you, your family, society, or whomever), traditionally respected, or "safe".

So how does one cultivate this trust, this radar for noticing and identifying one's intuition? And then have the courage to operate from within it? It's like a muscle. The more you flex it, the stronger it becomes. 

My personal journey with noticing my intuition started out unconsciously—compulsively, even. I found myself making choices that were potentially risky but that I absolutely had to pursue if I wanted to do more than simply survive. Moving from Los Angeles to the Bay without a job or a home and only a tiny network of friends was one such choice. That choice, that gut feeling of needing to get the hell out of LA to try and create a better situation for myself, I suppose sprung from the deep and difficult work of learning to love and value myself, even in the worst of times. It was a decision that seemed completely nonsensical—irresponsible, even—to some people in my life, but I didn't feel like I even had a choice in the matter. I trusted it. I knew it had to be done. And here I am, over two years later, making it work. Still striving for more but also so much more myself.

Another one of those "this is probably irresponsible but my gut is telling me I have to do it" decisions I made just over a year ago when I chose to leave a job at an incredible non-profit because my role and responsibilities didn't align with what I knew I truly wanted to be doing professionally. I left behind the very real possibility of a full-time job with benefits and a decent salary at an organization whose work I deeply believed in to nanny part-time (while relying on the savings I had built up to cover the balance of my expenses), practice yoga, and regroup. To figure out what it is I am truly passionate about. Reading over that sentence, I am struck by how charmed that situation sounds. Let me assure you, though: it was fucking hard. I felt so lost for the first few months. I set unrealistic goals for myself (practice yoga five times a week! eat healthily all the time! become a self-educated holistic nutrition expert!) and was unreasonably hard on myself when I wasn't able to realize them on a daily basis.

But you know what happened? With patience, self-compassion and self-awareness, things began to fall into place. That fall, I started this blog. That winter, I found out about and enrolled in an entrepreneurship course for wellness practitioners. I began to practice meditation on my own for the first time. I slowly developed some clarity around the content that I want to engage with personally and offer to the world. I met the friend with whom I devised and facilitated my first food and wellness workshop this past August. I am woefully strapped for cash but I am discovering how resourceful and resilient I am. Above all, I am becoming ever more grateful for all of the things that make my life full, in spite of its hardships, and trusting of the way the details unfold.

Ultimately, that's one of the most valuable qualities that I have cultivated throughout this journey, and that I wish for all of you: trust. That's not to say that I don't feel disappointment or frustration or anxiety, or that I don't obsess about the outcomes of any variety of efforts I make, whether personal or professional. But that's where the balance comes in. Knowing when to push for something and when to let go. Trusting that, if I've acted in ways that are aligned with my intuition and my true self, the outcomes will be in service of me and my wellbeing, even if I can't immediately see how. And in the meantime, practicing being fully present and accepting of things as they are. Trusting that they will change or reveal themselves when they are ready, when I am ready. When the intentions and efforts that I have put forth and the mysterious flows of the Universe synchronistically collide. 

So, I made some hummus. And I put beets in it because who doesn't want to eat food that is beautifully and naturally bright pink?! Also, some may argue that it makes the hummus extra delicious (and undeniably extra nutritious). I originally assembled this hummus for its glamour shots in a bowl with some minced parsley, swirls of olive oil, and the company of crackers and crudités, while snacking on some leftover brioche that I had in the freezer from an earlier project (because photographing food whilst hungry is dangerous business and I do not recommend it to anyone). The styling and shots were mediocre at best. As I glanced over at the leftover toast, the synapses in my brain fused together its playful shape and pallid palette with the fuchsia hue of the hummus, imagining the eye candy taken even further by the addition of bright yellow pellets of bee pollen and greenish white hemp seeds. Suddenly my party appetizer dip turned into a breakfast toast that was visually suggestive of white cake with pink frosting and sprinkles! 

Sometimes it's good to shake things up a bit. Trust your intuition. Sneak vegetables into your breakfast. Make your food look like a party because it engages your creativity, it's a simple pleasure, it makes life more fun. If you don't have bee pollen or hemp seeds, don't sweat it. Sprinkle some other things that you do have onto this toast and see how they taste. Or stick with the classics and eat the hummus with crackers, cucumber sticks, pita, whatever. Either way, you'll still be eating a food that is delicious, super nutritious and bright frickin' pink, so at the very least you can marvel at that!

Bright Beet Hummus with Bee Pollen, Hemp Seeds & Fleur de Sel
Serves 6-8 as a starter, or enough for many mornings of toast

Ingredients
Hummus
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 3/4 cups dried chickpeas, cooked following this method)
2 medium beets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tahini, preferably unhulled
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (from about 1 large lemon)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. ice water

Toppings (get creative!)
Bee pollen
Hemp seeds
Fleur de sel, Maldon or other finishing salt
Parsley
Mint
Toasted walnuts

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Chop stems off beets, scrub thoroughly and wrap beets in tin foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast until they are tender and can easily be pierced with a fork, 45-60 minutes. Carefully flip beet parcel over halfway through the roasting to make sure the bottoms don't burn. Once they're tender, remove from oven, unwrap foil and set aside to cool. (You can do this step a couple days in advance.)
2. Place cooked chickpeas in a food processor (if you're using canned ones, make sure you rinse them off first!) and blitz until they become a stiff paste. You may need to start and stop it a few times to scrape down the sides with a spatula until the desired consistency is reached.
3. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, use your thumbs to push/slide off the skins. Chop them into medium sized cubes.
4. Add beets to food processor and blend until thoroughly combined with the chickpeas.
5. Add tahini, lemon, garlic and salt and blend until combined, stopping to scrape down the sides when necessary.
6. With the motor running, slowly stream in the ice water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, stopping after 4 Tbsp. Let the food processor run for about 5 minutes, until the hummus is super smooth and creamy. Taste and assess the consistency and flavor. If you'd like it thinner, add more ice water. Add more salt, lemon and garlic to your taste preference and blend until smooth.
7. Garnish with whatever fits your fancy and enjoy!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

This is a guest post written by Jill Hammond.

I didn't grow up eating ricotta, so I have been in the dark for most of my life. Once I discovered that it basically tastes like cream cheese but better, I've been completely obsessed with it. I put it on everything—savory or sweet—and I regret nothing.

I'd love to tell you ricotta is full of wonderful health benefits, but the truth is, it's still cheese. If you are on a low calorie or vegan diet, read no further. If you're in, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy and rewarding this quick recipe is. So much so, in fact, that you'll also be embarrassed you've been buying ricotta from the store your whole life. But don't sweat it too much; you're here now and once you've made this, you'll see the light.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
yields two cups
Recipe from
The Kitchn

What You'll Need:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk

  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 4-quart stock pot

  • Instant read thermometer

  • Cheese cloth

  • Strainer

  • Mixing bowl

  • Slotted spoon

Instructions:
1. Pour the milk into a 4-quart pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer. The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from heat if it starts to boil.
2. When it reaches 200°F, remove the milk from heat and add in lemon juice and salt.
3. Let the pot sit for 10 minutes. The milk will separate into curds and whey. If you still see a lot of un-separated milk, add another tablespoon of lemon juice and wait a few more minutes.
4. Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer.
5. Let the mixture drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.

Use or store the ricotta:
Fresh ricotta can be used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. This recipe yields two cups of rich, delicious ricotta. I enjoy it on toast as a cream cheese replacement with literally any other ingredient (jam, olive oil, chili oil, smoked salmon, etc.)—the options are endless.

Notes:

  • Don't ditch the whey! Whey is considered a complete protein with amino acids and low lactose content. If you want to use it, which you totally should, you can add it to smoothies or use in any baking recipes in place of water.

  • Avoid using ultra high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk, since this may impact how the milk separates.

Tahini Honey (Halva) Macaroons | On...Tahini

It's a little crazy, how many years I had been eating hummus before I knew what tahini was. It was never a part of my childhood pantry and, as I only ever encountered it blended into a delectably creamy mess of chickpeas, lemon and garlic, I suppose it makes sense that I hadn't heard of it until I started getting into food in my mid-20's. 

I remember discussing tahini with a friendly employee at my local independent market when I was living in London and how enthusiastically this young, bearded, flannel-wearing Canadian man extolled its virtues. My brain struggled to wrap itself around the fact that A) there was an equivalent of peanut butter made out of sesame seeds and, B) that it was the second main ingredient in a culturally relevant dip that I had been enjoying my entire life. I hastily bought a jar, trotted home, opened it, dunked in a spoon, put the creamy paste to my mouth and—BLEH!!—almost spit it out. It was SO BITTER! I could not comprehend who would voluntarily eat this stuff, let alone recommend it to other people.

Needless to say, I eventually wholeheartedly boarded the tahini train. The turning point came almost a year later when a new friend (incidentally, also Canadian) asked me if I wanted some halva—a Middle Eastern treat which I had also never heard of. Shaped into a bar with the consistency of snappy nougat, this mysterious dessert is traditionally made with two ingredients: tahini and honey. Little did I know it, but this was a watershed moment. Halva changed my life.

Let's just take a moment to appreciate the divine relationship of these two ingredients. Have YOU ever mixed tahini with honey (and a pinch of salt) and spread it on toast…or eaten it with a spoon? Game changer. For real. (On a side note, don't ever buy the commercially packaged halva you typically see in grocery stores or Middle Eastern markets, as it's loaded with corn syrup and other junk. If you're curious to try it—which you totally should—make sure the only ingredients on the package are sesame and honey. Or get it from an outdoor market in Israel, where it is a whooooole other level of cloud-like, melt in your mouth deliciousness.)

A Tale of Two Tahinis

As I began to fully integrate tahini into my life, I quickly learned that there are two different types of tahini: hulled and unhulled. But what does this even mean? What is the difference in flavor, consistency and nutritional value?

The easiest way to understand it is to liken the sesame seed to a grain of wheat, as they both have an outer shell that contains a hefty portion of their nutrients. When this outer bran is removed from a grain of wheat, we get white (or "all purpose") flour; when the outer shell of the sesame seed (called the "hull") is removed (as shown in the middle sesame seed photo above), we get a lighter, more refined version of tahini. This is hulled tahini. Unhulled tahini is like whole wheat bread: thicker, darker, maybe not as sweet and tasty, but packed with way more nutrients.

For such a tiny thing, sesame seeds are actually an incredible source of copper, calcium, magnesium and iron. While the hulled seed still contains some of this nutritional value, it is no longer a whole food and much of it is lost. Take the calcium, for example. According to WHFoods, one tablespoon of unhulled sesame seeds contains about 88 milligrams of calcium (for perspective, one tablespoon of whole milk only contains 17 mg of calcium; maybe we should start feeding our youths sesame milk instead?). Once the hull of the sesame seed has been removed, the calcium content plummets to about 37 milligrams, which is 60% less! 

Unfortunately for us, most commercial brands of tahini are made out of hulled sesame seeds because they blend more smoothly and are less bitter in taste. Unless your jar of tahini says "unhulled" or "whole" in front of the word "sesame" on the front or in the ingredients list, it's safe to assume that you've got the refined version. I picked up a jar of Al-Arz Whole Sesame Tahini in Israel which was the sweetest tahini I've ever tasted. When I returned home, I was able to track it down at a Jewish market in LA (yes, okay, I emailed the manufacturer to find out if they had US distribution, shhhh). Sadly, I haven't found a single brand of unhulled tahini in the Bay. But the good news is that if you can't find it in your area and don't want to buy it online, you can always make your own. Just make sure you buy raw, unhulled (brown) sesame seeds when you do!

Halva is the New Healthy [Macaroon]

I knew I wanted to create something to share with you all in time for Passover (in case that's your jam) that would also be non-denominationally delicious. Running through the list of traditional dishes in my head, it wasn't too long before lightning struck: halva macaroons! Most of the macaroon recipes I've seen and tested use condensed milk as the primary sweetener and binder, which yes, is delicious, and is also pretty terrible for you. Halva spread (tahini + raw honey, not turned into candy-nougat-treat) is delicious, super nutritious, AND basically the consistency of condensed milk! I felt like I was onto something big, and guess what? It totally worked! 

I made these macaroons on the larger side because I was feeling excited about them and was feeding them to grown adults, not small children (mostly; hi Sadie and Theo!). I invite you to make them whatever size feels right for your crowd, just be mindful to adjust the baking time accordingly. I also drizzled the chocolate because I thought it would look pretty, but I encourage you to dip the tops of the macaroons in it if you want a richer party in your mouth. 

Tahini Honey (Halva) Macaroons
Adapted from Danny Cohen's 'Danny Macaroons' recipe
makes 26 1" cookies

Ingredients
2/3 cup tahini (preferably unhulled) 
1/3 cup raw honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
14 oz. (4 1/4 cups) unsweetened, shredded coconut
2 large eggs, whites only
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp. coconut oil
Flaky sea salt (like Maldon), to finish

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, melt honey over low heat until entirely liqueified.
3. Add tahini and whisk together until the mixture becomes like the consistency of condensed milk, thick but still runny.
4. Whisk in vanilla.
5. In a large bowl, mix together the shredded coconut and salt.
6. Pour the tahini honey mix into the coconut and, using your hands, blend together until the coconut is entirely covered. The consistency will be sticky and crumbly, almost like a crumb cake topping.
6. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or with an electric beater/whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
7. Gently fold egg whites into the coconut mixture.
8. Using your hands, form 1"-2" balls with flat bottoms out of the coconut mixture and set on parchment. They can be set close together, as they will not expand when baked.
9. Bake macaroons for 13-18 minutes, depending on size, until the tops and bottoms are golden.
10. Once the macaroons are done baking, remove from oven and set aside. Cool completely on tray.
11. Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil in a double boiler. Drizzle chocolate over macaroons with a fork or, once the macaroons have cooled, dip the tops or bottoms of them into the chocolate. Finish with a pinch of flaky sea salt.
12. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to set. 

Macaroons will keep refrigerated for up to a week.