Thai Spiced Cashews and Almonds

Thai Spiced Cashews and Almonds

Do you like spicy snacks? If so, you should try Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s cashews and almonds seasoned with Thai spices. They have a medium heat level. Since they are a bit expensive, I waited for a special occasion to share with friends and got these tasty morsels to make a little platter. All of the flavors were so popular, I am surprised there were any left!

Whole Foods vs Trader Joes

Trader Joe’s Thai Lime and Chili Cashews and Almonds are so delicious, they might be addictive. If they are in the house, I cannot keep myself from snaking on them except by sheer force of will. These are definitely a repeat purchase. The spices are a finely ground, but you can see little bits of Thai lime leaves, lemongrass, green chilies, and powdered lime, creating a unique and balanced blend. I like these so much, I tried to make my own at one point. My cashews looked similar to TJ’s but were not nearly as hot or tangy.

Thai Chile Cashews

It seems like TJ’s Thai cashews were so popular, the company decided to create a delightful version with almonds, too. Believe it or not, the almonds are even better! The mix includes whole chilies and Thai lime leaves, which lend a bit of extra heat and crunch. Maybe I will have to try making these, too. Until then, I’ll just have to make a few special trips to the store.

Thai Chile Almonds

It is a bit odd Whole Foods only carries one variety of nuts seasoned with Southeast Asian spices: Thai Curry Cashews. Unfortunately, they are flavored with a mix only loosely based on actual curry. Personally I find them too salty and strangely sweet; you can see the salt and sugar encrusted on the nuts. They are reminiscent of spicy Doritos covered in sugar, which is not a good taste in my opinion. Many other people did seem to enjoy them at the party though.

Thai Curry Cashews

Beef Sukiyaki Hot Pot

Beef Sukiyaki Hot Pot

I love sukiyaki! It’s so delicious with the rice noodles, but my favorite part is the broth. The only other great sukiyaki I have ever had was at Kyoto, a small local family-owned, family-run Japanese restaurant in Rohnert Park, which has tasty, tasty sushi, and I love their dobin mushi,  which is another soup I must make. Kyoto is the only restaurant where I have seen it served. I highly recommend their food! I like all Kyoto’s sukiyaki soups (chicken, seafood, beef, and combination) so much, I went to Japantown in San Francisco to buy the special ceramic clay pot to make sukiyaki soup for myself at home.

Donabe Pot

Last year my mom asked for a new ceramic casserole dish for Christmas. So when a girl friend and I went to San Francisco in December to visit the Ferry Building Farmers Market and Japantown, I knew exactly what I wanted to get my mom. A ceramic donabe or Japanese hot pot. It was my understanding that you can cook with them on the stove and in the oven, so I thought it would act as a two-in-one. She could make hot pot soups and oven-baked casseroles. Alas, I didn’t realize glazed ceramic pots crack and break if you bake them; the unglazed ones can go in the oven after soaking in water for two to three hours. (The soaked up water prevents cracking in the oven; the walls of the glazed pots can’t absorb water, which is why glazed ones can’t go in the oven.) I got the wrong kind. Thankfully this type of pot is still usable on the stove and easily cleaned with boiling salted water (kind of like cleaning cast iron pots with oil and salt to preserve seasoning and remove food bits).

Beef Sukiyaki Hot Pot
Adapted from Setsuko Yoshizuka’ Beef Sukiyaki and Beef Sukiyaki from Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat
Originally posted on Three Chicks Talking about Food in May 2012.

Serves 4 to 6

Sukiyaki Sauce Ingredients
3/4 + 3 1/4 C Filtered Water
1/3 C San-J Gluten-Free Tamari Soy Sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
3 T Hakutsuru Junmai Sake
5 T Sugar, Turbinado or Sucanat
2 tsp Gluten-Free Beef Bouillon
2 T Aji-Mirin
Hot Pot Ingredients
1 lb Sliced Beef Rib Roast, cut into 1″ squares*
1 Bunch Chinese Cabbage or Bock Choy, cut into 2″ lengths
1 Bag Wild or Spring Mix Salad Greens
1 Leek, ends trimmed, cut into 2″ lengths
8 Shiitake Mushrooms, stemmed, sliced**
6 3″ wide Portobello Mushrooms, sliced**
1 pkg Maifun Rice Noodles, soaked, rinsed, cut into 3″ lengths or kelp noodles, rinsed

*Cutting the meat slices so small is not necessary, but they shouldn’t be bigger than 4″ across.
**If your mushrooms are small enough, you don’t have to slice them; I just wanted ours bite-size. You can use Enoki, like the original recipe called for, but we couldn’t find them at the store.

Veggie Prep Plate

Directions
Arrange your cut-up vegetables on a large platter into separate piles in order to make organizing your ingredients easier later on when it’s time to add them to the donabe. In a small sauce pan, combine 3/4 cup of water, the tamari, sake and sugar. Heat the sauce through on the stove over medium.

Meat&SukiyakiSauce

Warm up some of the sauce over medium heat in the donabe. Add the meat, and saute it until it reaches medium doneness. Dissolve the bouillon in the remaining water, sauce and mirin on medium-high heat. Deglaze the pot with a bit of sauce, scraping off any meat stuck to the bottom if needed.

MakeRoomforNoodles

Push the meat aside, and add the bok choy. (Cabbage always goes on the bottom of the donabe when you are adding your groups of soup goodies.) Arrange the other vegetables and noodles in separate sections in the pot on top of the cabbage. It may not look like they will all fit, but just wedge them in. Pour in the rest of the sauce. Remember the lid is domed, but if you have to, wait a few minutes for some of the greens to wilt before you add more. (If there still isn’t room, add more after the first four bowls of soup are served.)

PressDown

Cover the pot with the lid, and cook the sukiyaki over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Remove the lid to check on the ingredients. Push any ingredients down that are sticking up out of the broth, so everything cooks evenly. Return the lid, and cook the soup for another 3 minutes. If necessary, press the ingredients down again. Recover the pot again. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat; cook it for 30 seconds. Turn the off the burner. With hot pan holders or oven mittens, transfer the hot pot to the dining table, placing it on a trivet. Under the trivet I spread out a thick towel (or you can use an absorbent placemat, in case of spillage while ladling the servings). The trivet only covered half of the towel, so that I had room to put down the very hot donabe lid. Make sure you keep a hot pan holder or oven mitten at the table with the hot pot, so you don’t burn your hands.

ServingBeefSukiyaki

Serve the soup into bowls with a ladle and cooking or plating chopsticks or tongs. Make sure you get a bit of everything in each bowl. If you have any additional vegetables that are still uncooked and didn’t fit in the pot before, you can add them now to the still hot broth. Returning the lid to maintain the heat in the donabe and keep the steam in.

Here’s a video of “The Aimless Cook” on Youtube, which I used as a reference for cooking the meat directly in the donabe. It has some vegetable preparation ideas to make the vegetables look fancy, as well.

Donabe recipes are so flexible, you can really be creative when assembling your soup. Treat the recipes like guidelines when combineing flavors; you can add or omit most any ingredients. Just make sure you pay attention to the ratios each ingredient type (e.g. protein, vegetables, carbohydrates). An overstuffed pot can boil over during cooking, and you want to make sure the piled meat and vegetable piles are not so high they lift the lid away from the pot. The lid needs to stay completely closed. Remember you can add more ingredients while the remaining broth is hot as well as other soup bits after you make some room by serving portions to your dinner mates.

If you are concerned about sodium and sugar, they are adjustable. You can use low-sodium or sodium-free tamari and omit the mirin or use less sugar, adjusting the flavors afterward. If you want to add a garnish, you can sprinkle on furikake or shichimi togarashi, which come in several different seasoning mixes, as shime or garnish. You can even make your own.

Red Velvet Beet Cake

Red Velvet Beet Cake

This is attempt number two in efforts to create a more cake-like red velvet with beets. The first attempt was a tasty mishap, which actually turned into dark chocolate brownies. This time, my adaption was a big success! The chocolaty confection had a nice cake consistency and sweet flavor without a strong earthy beet flavor or a significant loss of color. The folks at my work greatly enjoyed it (despite mostly being unaccustomed to gluten-free or vegan foods; some even asked for my recipe). Unlike the brownies, the cake batter has more fruit puree, no chocolate bits, and less cacao and beets, so it is not as dense. I also used the same cream cheese frosting as before with the brownies, because it is so gosh darn delicious.

Red Velvet Beet Cake
Adapted recipe from my Chocolate Chip Beet Brownies.

Yields 15 to 20 Servings

Ingredients
2 T Chia or Flax Seeds, course ground
6 T Warm Filtered Water
1 C Cacao Powder
1/2 C Unsweetened Apple Sauce
1 1/2 C Unsweetened Pureed Pears
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 – 1 1/2 C Sucanat or Turbinado Sugar
1 3/4 C Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 tsp Xanthan Gum
1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
2 Medium Beets, scrubbed, trimmed
1 T Fresh Lemon Juice
2 oz Gel or Liquid Red Food Coloring
Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
Red Sanding Sugar, optional*

Red Beets

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub the beets clean with a vegetable cleaning brush under cool water. Trim off the end of the tail and the top. Foil-wrap beets and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Roast 45 minutes. Cool slightly on wire racks away from heat. Unwrap and quarter. Puree in food processor with lemon juice. Set aside.

Foil-Wrapped Beets

In a small bowl, beat chia or flax seeds and water with a fork until smooth to create “egg” substitute. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour-dust a glass 9″ x 13″** baking dish. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix cacao, apple and pear sauces and vanilla. Set aside.

Into a medium bowl, sift flour, xanthan gum, 1 cup sugar, soda and salt. With an electric mixer, gradually add in cacao-apple mixture. Blend in “eggs,” beets, and food coloring. Beat until fully incorporated. Adjust batter to desired level of sweetness with remaining sugar, mixing in a quarter cup at a time.

Bake for at least 30 minutes (mine took 70) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack.

Red Velvet Cake Slice

Frost and decorate as desired. If you are using frosting that was chilled, let it soften at room temperature to prevent separation. Make sure to stir it thoroughly before spreading it on the cake. Serve and enjoy!

Cake with sprinkles

Notes
*To include a colorful decoration without adding extra sugar, even out the cake with a long serrated knife, carefully slicing off the top and trimming the sides to make them flat and level. Crumb the cut-off potion in a food processor. Use the crumbs in lieu of sanding sugar to decorate the cake after frosting.
**If desired, bake the cake in two round cake pans. Use the frosting as the cake topping and filling.

Carrot Pineapple Cake Bars

Carrot Pineapple Cake Bars

Thankfully, I have my own walnut tree, which I have luckily been able to reshape into an actual tree rather than letting the local “arborists” continue to butcher it into a sad, ugly twig-like thing. For a while, it alternatively looked like an overgrown shrub with leafy English walnut branches on the top and black walnut on the bottom until I learned out to properly trim it. Three years ago, we got only six walnuts and thirteen the following year. Last autumn, I picked over five gallons worth (about two minus husks). Unfortunately due to holiday preparations and other obligations, I could not take care of all of them before they started getting buggy, so I left the unprocessed ones out for neighborhood crows. (I do not recommend this. Leaving the nuts out was a big mistake, since the crows have chased away many other birds. I sincerely hope they have not crammed walnuts between my roof shingles and buried more in the backyard. Note to self: Make time in autumn to process all of the nuts. I might have to minimize the work with a walnut shucking party.)

Edit: This year, the walnuts are huge, about the size of small apples. I hope this means the nuts actually have more meat and not just thicker husks. There are possibly more walnuts this year, too. It looks like the crows are already testing them for ripeness. I noticed some of the walnuts on the tree have large gouges in their skins. I’m going to have to get new gloves for harvesting, and I might try a double layer of gloves this time to avoid staining my hands black.

Double Walnut Tree

As black walnuts are readily available during the autumn harvest season and I had not worked with them before, I was feeling daring and thought I would give them a try. If you are up for a challenge, go for it, but be forewarned: black walnuts are much harder to open than their English cousins, and I recommend using a vice to avoid powdering the meat when trying to remove it from the shells. The labor and time are well-worth the tasty flavor provided by this native variety. Alternatively, you can also buy shelled chopped black walnuts at the store when they are in season. If you are lucky enough to end up with lots of nuts, you can always freeze them for later.

I made a delicious carrot pineapple poke cake as an alternative to chocolate for a friend’s recent holiday party. The original recipe was very glutenous and scrumptious, but I have included a gluten-free vegan version below. If you want frost the cake bars, please see the frosting recipe link below.

Carrot Pineapple Cake Bars

Carrot Pineapple Poke Cake Bars
Adapted from Carrot & Spice Bars in The Great American Cookie Cookbook by Publications International.
Originally posted in February 2016 at Three Chicks Talking About Food.

Yields 40 – 50 Bars

Ingredients
1 C Unsweetened Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 C Earth Balance
1 C Oat Bran
2 T Flax or Chia Seeds, course ground
6 – 8 T Filtered Water or Pineapple Juice, room temperature
2 1/2 C Pureed Carrot
3/4 C Grated or Pureed Carrot
1/3 C Chopped Raisins
1/3 C Crushed Pineapple, optional
1 tsp Orange Zest
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 C Gluten-Free All Purpose or Oat Flour
2 tsp Xanthan Gum
3/4 C Evaporated Cane Juice or Sucanat
1 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 C Pineapple Juice
Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting, optional
1/4 C Prepared Chopped Black or English Walnuts

Directions
In a small bowl, thoroughly beat the ground seeds into six tablespoons of the juice. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes to prevent clumping. If the “eggs” are too thick, stir in more juice or water, one tablespoon at a time.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and dust 9-inch by 13-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.

In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, simmer the non-dairy milk and spread until the spread completely melts, stirring often. Remove from heat. Stir in the oat bran and set aside for 5 minutes to absorb some of the liquid. Whisk in the “chia eggs.” Add the carrots, raisins, zest, crushed pineapple (if desired), and vanilla.

Combine the flour, gum, sugar, soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add in the carrot mixture, using an electric mixer to thoroughly incorporate the ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula.

Bake the cake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and the cake edges come away from the sides of the dish. Remove from heat. Poke the cake across the top with a fork in one-inch intervals. Pour on the juice evenly over the top. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Frost if desired. Sprinkle on the nuts, and lightly press them into the cake. Slice the cake into bars about one by two inches big. Serve and enjoy!

Moist Carrot Cake

This cake is very moist. Store it in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator.

Slow Cooker Four Bean Chicken Chili

Slow Cooker Four Bean Chicken Chili

If you on a regular exercise regime, protein is an important part of your diet, and chili is a great meal for that. You can use any beans and or meat you want, and you can add vegetables, like carrots and celery. The flavor profile is up to you, as well. Plus, making chili can be really quick and easy with canned beans and salsa, or you can make it from scratch by soaking the beans and getting all fresh vegetables and herbs. I have made it both ways, and will post a few variations. If you make it all from scratch and forgo meat, chili is a really inexpensive dish, as well.

Wind McAlister’s Sonoma Spice Queen is a wonderful spice shop in a cute Victorian house in downtown Petaluma. She and her company make small batch spice mixes and rubs, which you can find every Saturday at the Walnut Park summer farmers market. No only do they have seasonal favorites, but they are constantly working on making new mixes, like their Diablo Chili Verde, which is spicy and tangy with flavors of lime and tomatillos. All of blends are free of sugar, salt, gluten, and fillers and smell amazing. If you needs some flavor help and are not sure which herbs and spices you want to use, stop by the farmers market booth or the shop. Wind is super knowledgeable and can offer some great suggestions.

Soaking reduces the cooking time.

Soaking reduces the cooking time.

Slow Cooker Four Bean Chicken Chili
Based on my Black and Red Bean Turkey Chili, this chili would go really well with my Paleo Cornbread.
This recipe makes a lot of chili, so feel free to reduce it by half.

Ingredients
1 C Dried Red Chili Beans
1 C Dried Black Beans
1 C Dried Black Eyed Peas
1 C Dried Navy Beans
Water
1 T Olive Oil
1 lb Ground Chicken
1 Medium Sweet Yellow Onion, finely chopped
8 Large Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
6 Stalks Celery, sliced
4 Large Carrots, optional
1 – 2 C Corn Kernels, optional
16 oz Medium-Spicy Salsa
2 Large Dried Bay Leaves
2 T Sonoma Spice Queen’s Diablo Verde Chili Mix
1/4 C Lime Juice
7 C Hot Chicken Broth
2 C Hot Water

Optional Garnishes
Cilantro
Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds
OR Daiya Pepper-Jack Style Shreds
Crushed Corn Chips
Salsa Fresca
Chopped Avocado
Sliced Scallions

Directions
Sort your beans, discarding any pebbles and misshaped, discolored, or underdeveloped beans. In a strainer, rise off any dust. Soak the beans for 8 to 12 hours or overnight in a large pot with enough water to completely cover them after they double in size, adding more water if necessary. Drain and rinse.

Rinse the beans really well.

Rinse the beans really well before cooking.

In a very large crock pot, place the oil, chicken, onions, garlic, vegetables, salsa, herbs, spice mix, lime juice, and beans in order, so if you run out of room when adding the beans (like I did), you can put the rest of them in another pot to cook for on the stove. It is easier for flavor balance if the broth and hot water are mixed together in a large measuring cup or mixing bowl. Pour in the broth until the liquids cover the beans in the slow cooker. (If you had to put beans in another pot, add the rest of the liquid to them, making sure the broth is at least two inches above the beans. Add more water if necessary, and have more ready to add as the beans cook.) Set the crock pot to cook on high for 6 hours or until they are tender. Garnish as desired and serve.