Tutorial Tuesday #7–Storing and Preserving Nuts

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If you are lucky enough to live in a region of the country (or world) that produces tree and ground nuts, you have cause to celebrate! Nuts are high in protein, fiber and nutrients and while some may pack a wallop of fat, that fat is typically good for you and your body (as long as you are not allergic!). Some nuts, like pine nuts, pecans and walnuts can go rancid quickly when stored, especially in warmer climates. So how do you make the most of your local nut harvest and save your harvest for the future? Here are some great ways to make the most of locally and/or sustainably produced nuts.

Freeze ‘Em!

Did you know you can freeze nuts for about a year? Put shelled nuts into freezer bags, label them with the date and tuck them into your freezer for later! No need to blanch them or do anything special–just pop them into bags! I do this with our local pecans all the time. Freezing them prevents that “off” taste when they’ve been sitting too long, and the ease of freezing them encourages me to stock up with new crop pecans when they are available at my farmer’s market.

Make Nut Butter

If you are fortunate to end up with, say, 10 pounds of local almonds (I WISH!), one way to keep them at the ready is to make your own nut butter. When I was a child, peanut butter was the only nut butter around, but now you can easily find cashew butter, almond butter, sunflower butter and more. Some are even flavored. Did you know it takes about 30 minutes to make your own healthy nut butter at home?

Here is how to do it:

Put 1-2 cups of nuts (I use raw nuts, but roasted will work, too) in a food processor. Process at high speed, giving your food processor a break every minute or two, for anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes or until the nuts release their oils and you have something that is spreadable. This will vary widely depending on the type of nut and how much oil it has in it. you will end up with something amazing. And healthy. And delicious. Add some nut oil to hazelnuts (they can be a bit dry) and salt, if you like. Sometimes I add a bit of coconut oil to nut butters that end up on the dry side. Nut butters are very forgiving–if you add too much of a flavoring, just add more nuts. Need more flavoring? Add more and blend again. Easy!

I don’t refrigerate my nut butters–they are gone quickly, and I find refrigerating them makes them difficult to spread. However, you can refrigerate or freeze most nut butters. You will probably eat them up long before they go bad, but refrigerated nut butters will keep for several months. Frozen nut butters for at least a year. The oil may separate during thawing, but just mix it all up and you’re good to go!

Need some inspiration? Here are some ideas I’ve seen (and several I have tried):

  • Choco-peanut butter (peanuts + raw cacao + touch of honey + pinch of salt)
  • Cinnamon Almond Butter (almonds + cinnamon)
  • Almond Joy (almonds + non-sulfured coconut + raw cacao)
  • Heathier Nutella (hazelnuts + touch of hazelnut oil + raw cacao + touch of maple syrup)
  • Maple Almond Butter (almonds + touch of maple syrup + bit of vanilla)
  • Smoked pecan butter [my creation] (pecans + smoked paprika + touch of salt)

So go out there and harvest those nuts! Then squirrel them away for the future 🙂

For more great nut butters and yummy ideas for using them, see www.mywholefoodlife.com. Another blogger with some awesome, healthy recipes!

Yellow Squash Muffins

There are some food combinations that immediately speak to me–chocolate and hazelnut, tomato and garlic, bacon and, well, anything. Other combinations make me wonder–is this a joke? This recipe falls in the latter category. Yellow squash and applesauce? Blech. Since I had some homemade applesauce and large, lovely yellow squash on hand, I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and give this a try. This recipe is from Food.com, but was shared with me via our weekly Produce Box. How was it? Abso-freakin-lutely delicious. These taste more like corn muffins, but they don’t have any corn in them. We loved them. They are moist and light and not too sweet. Perfect with our acorn squash and apple soup and they would be delicious with chili as well. We ate our fill and froze the rest for some future fall soup nights!

Yellow Squash Muffins (makes 18)

2 lbs. yellow summer squash
2 eggs
1/2 c. melted butter
1/2 c. applesauce (we used our crock pot applesauce)
1 c. sugar
3 c. flour (we used whole wheat pastry flour)
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners or lightly grease cups.
2. Wash squash, trim the ends and cut into 1-inch slices.
3. Put squash in a medium saucepan along with 1/2 cup of water and cook for about 20 minutes or until very soft.
4. Drain squash very well and mash with a potato masher.
5. Measure 2 cups of the cooked squash into a medium mixing bowl and add eggs, butter and applesauce. Stir well and set aside.
6. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of mixture and add wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.
7. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
8. Bake about 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Cool 5 minutes in the tin and remove muffins to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Whole Wheat Linzer Muffins

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Monday mornings beg for something special and delicious, don’t they? Like maybe a cookie? Just as a rule, we don’t eat cookies for breakfast. I know, I know, some mornings that sounds pretty appealing, but we try to keep breakfast focused on protein and away from sugar as much as possible. These muffins are based on the flavor profile of a Linzer cookie–you know, those pretty almond cookies with raspberry jam in the center? I found a recipe on Epicurious for these Linzer muffins and, after some adaptations, we found them to be a delicious and fairly healthy way to start the day or have a snack.

The original recipe uses an obscene amount of sugar, which we cut way back (and never noticed). We also substituted whole wheat flour for the regular flour and homemade, low sugar raspberry jam from last summer for the filling. And we did not top them with confectioner’s sugar, although I know that is a hallmark of Linzer cookies. The end result was a nutty, crunchy, satisfying muffin with a sweet jam interior. I could have used more jam in the center–I was worried about it leaking out the sides. Next time, I’ll add a little more jam, but the amount we used was still more than enough to give us that sweet raspberry flavor. Definitely, even with the reduced sugar, these muffins were sweet enough to make everyone happy!

Improve your Monday morning (or afternoon tea) with a muffin that is just sweet enough, but still packs some good antioxidants and protein!

Linzer Muffins (makes 12)

Each muffin has approximately 240 calories and 4.8 grams of protein.

  • 1 cup whole, toasted almonds (no salt)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup organic milk
  • 6 tablespoons organic butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 large farm egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup low sugar raspberry jam (NOTE: not with sugar substitute)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease cups of a 12 cup muffin tin.
  2. In a food processor, add almonds and sugar and process until almonds are finely ground (about 20 seconds).
  3. In a large bowl, mix almond mixture, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  4. In a smaller bowl, whisk together milk, butter, egg and extract.
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just to combine (don’t overmix!). This batter will be rather thick.
  6. Add about 2 tablespoons of batter to each cup and flatten a bit, if necessary, so batter covers entire bottom of cup.
  7. Add 1 teaspoon or so of jam to the top of the batter in each cup.
  8. Top with the remaining batter, making sure the jam is covered.
  9. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Tops will just barely be golden.
  10. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn muffins out onto a cooling rack. I dare you not to eat one while they are still hot. I.Dare.You.
  11. Serve while warm. These will store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Healthy Sport Snacks–Fruit Kabobs

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Ok, parents, can we have a huddle?

Because I am not really understanding why, when we sign our children up for sports, we insist on bringing cookies and chemical-laden “sports drinks” for post-game snack. I know these snacks are cheap and quick, but why, when we spend about a kazillion dollars on sports equipment to keep them safe on the outside, do we collectively cheap out when it comes to what goes inside our little athletes?

Did you know that what an athlete eats and drinks in the first 45 minutes after exercise is the most significant nutrition they receive all day?

Let’s have a new game plan. Let’s agree that we are not going to offer snacks that have ingredients you cannot pronounce or have never seen growing in real life. I promise to never feed your child something that has chemical additives, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup after a game and you do the same. Deal? Deal! Now, play ball!

Here are some suggestions for quick, healthy post-game snacks:

Whole apples (or cut up, especially for smaller children)
Whole or halved bananas
Half a whole grain bagel with peanut or almond butter (watch for allergies)
Cheese sticks or string cheese
Orange quarters
Clean energy bars

I made these fruit kabobs for Ellie’s softball team and they were fun and yummy. Along with water and string cheese, they made for a quick, but healthy snack. Total time to put them together was 15 minutes, so they didn’t take all day and the total cost was $2.00 per girl, which I can manage since I only have to bring snacks twice the entire season. Those girls are worth it!

Clean Energy Bars

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We’re all looking for clean energy, aren’t we?

My 10:00 snack monster is getting me in trouble. Since we eat breakfast early (6:00), by 10:00, I am usually a little hungry. Not ravenous, but hungry enough that I am tempted by poor choices. Enter, our volunteer check-in desk. This area where our volunteers come and check in before beginning their work is usually laden with cookies, candy, cupcakes and crackers. It is an area of sabotage, and I have fallen prey more times than I care to admit. I fuel up on sugar and processed flour and am hungry again in no time. So, I am committed to stay away from that trap of highly processed food and refined sugar, and come prepared with healthier alternatives. Like apples, cheese and these energy bars!

I love the energy bars sold at Trader Joes and Whole Foods, but many of them have preservatives and filler carbs that aren’t so great. But when I’m craving something sweet, an apple doesn’t always cut it for me. These energy bars are terrific–they taste good, give me the sweetness I crave occasionally and have only three ingredients! The secret is using pitted dried dates. They add fiber and sweetness with no refined sugar. You can switch out the nuts and the other dried fruit, but keep the dates–they bind everything together.

Depending on your preference, you can cut these into 12 squares (2″x2″) or 6 bars (2″x4″). Each square is 120 calories and each bar is 240 calories. So, these are not something you want to chow down on, but they are very satisfying, with more protein and fiber than a brownie–and NO refined flour or sugar.

This recipe idea came from The Kitchn!

Clean Energy Bars (makes 12 squares or 6 bars)

1 cup dried, pitted dates
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup dried tart cherries

Add the dates to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the dates are sticky and chopped fine.

Add the almonds and pulse again until the almonds are finely ground.

Add the dried cherries and process at high until the mixture is completely chopped and is sticking together in a ball.

Remove the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and press into a square about 8″ x 8″. Wrap and put in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Remove from the refrigerator, unwrap, and cut into squares or bars. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week in an airtight container.

NOTE: You do not have to keep these refrigerated, but if left at room temperature, they will have a softer texture.

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