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Yogurt goes fast in our house.  It’s eaten for breakfast and snack, mixed into dips and dressings, and topped on chili and soups.  My favorite way of eating it is unsweetened Greek yogurt with berries and bananas or raisins and slice almonds.  The thing is Greek yogurt is more expensive than its runnier counter parts.  And most chain supermarkets don’t carry the full fat variety.  So it’s non-fat or low-fat yogurt mixed with some other gunky fat-replacer or stabilizer.  They also have lots of sugar.  After seeing AndreAnna’s yummy post on homemade yogurt at Life as A Plate, I figured I can make it myself, hopefully save some money and get a pretty decent product.

When searching for yogurt making methods, I had no luck finding one that didn’t require cooking the milk first.  All the recipes start with pasteurized milk which is followed by further cooking the milk.  Why?  I imagine it’s because you are killing off any unfriendly bacteria that may compete with or impede the friendly, yogurt-making kind, but no where does it say so in any of the recipes or blogs I found.  Even more curious is that all the buttermilk or sour cream instructions I dug up just have you mix the milk or cream with the starter and leave it at room temperature to culture.  I totally get why you’d need to heat the milk if you were using raw milk since it has yeasts and other organisms not found in pasteurized milk.  I tried using raw milk, without cooking it, and I don’t recommend it.  It turned out more like kefir and a bit cheesy.

There are two reasons I don’t want to cook the milk, the most important of which is I don’t want to go through the extra step.  I’m on a path to simplify.  The other reason is I don’t see the need for it.  I’m already buying pasteurized milk and there is no fooling around with it between the time I open the carton to the time it meets the other ingredients, so I am not worried about contamination.  I was determined to skip straight to the culturing part and see what happens.  The worst is the milk doesn’t magically turn into yogurt or it smells funky and I won’t do it again.  But that didn’t happen.  I made perfectly good yogurt with the first batch and every one after that (well, except for the kefiry batch).

There are several methods for preparing your own yogurt and they all require time and a warm place.  That can be done with a heating pad, an insulated cooler, a slow cooker, a yogurt maker, a warm oven or a dehydrator.  I have a dehydrator so I opted for that which is a very good thing because it has a setting for yogurt.  If I had to guess at the right temperature, my first batch either would have still been milk or probably baked.

No-Cook Yogurt

2 cups organic, pasteurized milk

1/2 to 1 cup organic heavy cream

1/4 to 1/2 cup starter yogurt (purchased or from a previous batch)

  1. Mix milk, cream and starter yogurt together in a bowl.
  2. Cover and place in a dehydrator or warm place (105  to 115 degrees F) for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.
  3. Chill yogurt in refrigerator to set up, a few hours to overnight.
  4. Strain yogurt using a paper towel or cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl.  The whey will drain out.
  5. Transfer yogurt to air tight container once it reaches the desired thickness.  Keep in refrigerator for up to a week.

I have made this so many times now that I don’t even bother to measure anything out.  I make the biggest batch that will fit in the dehydrator and just eyeball the ingredients.  Feel free to adjust the ratio of milk to cream or omit the cream all together if you don’t mind a thinner yogurt.  This unsweetened version is a blank canvas for all kinds of mix-ins: honey, jam, fresh fruit, granola, and more.  My daughter loves tart yogurt and doesn’t need any sweetener to enjoy it.  How will you eat it?

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I’ve mentioned before how much I like using bananas in making espresso banana muffins or the cocoa banana loaf, but this one just might be my new favorite simply because it doesn’t use any sugar.  All the sweetness comes from the bananas and dates.  There isn’t any stevia, either.  So if you hesitate to use stevia because you don’t love how it tastes, this could be the banana bread for you.  I use two bananas that are pureed to help sweeten the batter and a third that’s chopped up and mixed in because I like to taste the chunky pieces.  The number of bananas or dates can be adjusted to suit your sweet tooth. 

Date Sweetened Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf (7¾ × 4½ × 3)

3 ripe bananas

1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted (5 – 6 dates)

5 eggs

1/2 cup butter or coconut oil, melted

1 /2 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

1/2 cup of pecans or walnuts, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease a loaf pan.
  2. To a blender add two peeled bananas, pitted dates, eggs, and melted butter or coconut oil.  Puree until smooth.
  3. Sift all dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.
  4. Add wet ingredients to the dry and stir until there are no lumps.
  5. Chop the remaining banana and add to batter along with the nuts. 
  6. Pour into loaf pan bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Let cool completely on rack before serving.

If making these into muffins, bake for 22 to 25 minutes.  For even more sweetness and some melted gooeyness, mix in some dark chocolate (72%) chunks.  It’s all good.

Happy April folks.  I am trying to catch up on posting my recipes as my photos are gathering digital dust.  I’ve embarked on a new workout program – Insanity – and it’s run me ragged.  I hate cardio and this is all cardio, dang it.  I’m in the first week of the second month and it’s absolute foolishness.  Insanity, or as I lovingly refer to it as “torture”, is hard.  It makes me tired.  And sweaty.  Hungry, too.  Need more carbs.  Less typing.

Just kidding.  Not about the crazy workouts though as they are, hands down, the toughest cardio exercise I’ve ever done.  But I am starting to see some results.  My abs are tighter and my core and back are stronger.  I’m hoping to be a tight little package of muscle and strength at the end of this.  I need to be.  We’re going on vacation in May and my bikinis are coming with us.  Enough said.

So all this working out makes me want to eat more and, I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired and hungry, I WANT CARBS.  Raw egg shooters a la Rocky Balboa, while perfectly acceptable forms of protein delivery, are not really my style.  So I’ve opted for a more palate pleasing dish.  Sweet potatoes are a great source of natural carbs and make a comforting meal after a workout.

Sweet Potato Hash

Serves 2 – 3

2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1/2 of one onion, chopped

1/2 of one red bell pepper, chopped

6 – 8 slices of uncooked bacon, chopped

1 tablespoon of 21 Seasoning Salute (or your favorite herb blend)

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Par boil sweet potatoes for about 5 minutes. Do not overcook or potatoes will become mushy.
  2. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool.
  3. Fry bacon pieces in skillet over medium-high heat until brown and crispy and fat has rendered.
  4. Move bacon to side of skillet and cook onion and bell pepper in the bacon fat until softened.
  5. Add sweet potato to skillet and toss everything together.  Season with 21 Seasoning Salute, salt and pepper.
  6. Cook another 5 minutes or until potato is crispy.
  7. Serve with a fried egg on top.  Enjoy with a side of toasted coconut flax bread.

Mark Sisson offers his take on sweet potatoes and yams in a primal diet here.  The crispy starchiness is just enough to get me through the rest of the day and ready for another monstrous workout tomorrow.

Happy new year!  I know it’s the third week of January and my greeting is a little late but I have to be honest – the holidays wiped me out.  I must have fallen into the old age time warp or something because time is speeding up on me.  Once Halloween hit, Christmas was right behind and before I knew it, it was time to take down the tree.  It doesn’t help that the Santa Ana winds are blowing right now either.  One day it’s a frigid 55 degrees outside (don’t laugh) and then all of a sudden it feels like summer.  I’m quite happy with the  warmer temperatures, though, it suits me just fine.  All the rain we’ve had this year has kept us indoors a lot and made us a little cuckoo.

So now that I’m back to do a bit of blogging, I want to first say thank you.  THANK YOU!  2010 was a good year for my little webdom.  I managed to post some stuff people actually wanted to read and got many more visitors than I could have imagined.  Thanks for checking out “What I Crave” and giving me your feedback – keep ’em comin’!

My first recipe for the year is a simple one and requires no cooking.  I’m sure there are a ton of people out there who’ve not yet fallen off the new year’s resolution health wagon, so this is one food that can keep them on for a little while longer.  I’m a big fan of chia and I created this for my husband who is a cereal junky.  He was getting a little burned out on the Nutty Granola, so this was a good change of pace.  There are chia-based cereals that you can find in the health food stores but they’re kind of pricey and contain more sugar than I’d want to eat.  You can add cold milk and enjoy it right away, like hubby does, with some crunch.  Or, if you prefer, and I do, you can add warm milk, let it sit for a few minutes and have something more akin to a pudding.

Chia Cereal

Makes 5 1/2 cups

2 cups chia seeds

1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

1 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped

1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins

pinch of salt

Toss everything together and store in an air tight container.

The cereal will keep for at least a couple of weeks.  You can add any type of nuts or fruit and flavor it with any spices you crave.  I kept it simple and didn’t add any sweetener because the dried fruit was plenty sweet for us but a tablespoon of coconut sugar with some cinnamon would probably taste really yummy.  Try it out and let me know how you like it.

Over the weekend, my sister, brother-in-law and their two kids came up to stay.  We wanted to have our cousin Elsie, resident family photographer, photograph the kids so that we could surprise my parents for Christmas (shhh..).  I see my sister fairly often and when we get together, it’s a zoo.  I always imagine that the mornings will be leisurely, where my sister and I lounge around with our coffee cups and chit chat about this and that.  In reality, the kids go nuts and run around in circles until someone barfs or drops from dizziness and we get to clean up the mess.  But it is fun.  And we do get to talk a bit over coffee.

Knowing it would be a little chaotic to whip up a big breakfast the next day, I made a cream cheese coffee cake the night before.  I served it at room temperature the next day and it was good but it would be great warmed up.

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Makes one 8-inch round cake

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 egg

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1/8 teaspoon stevia

Cake

6 eggs

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup yogurt

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon stevia

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon coconut flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

1 tablespoon coconut sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease one 8-inch round cake pan.
  2. Beat together all ingredients for cream cheese filling.  Set aside.
  3. Combine wet ingredients for cake then add the dry ingredients through the salt.  Mix well.
  4. Toss pecans, cinnamon and coconut sugar together in a separate bowl.
  5. Pour cake batter into pan and drop bits of the pecan mixture throughout batter.
  6. Top with cream cheese filling and use a knife or tooth pick to swirl it around.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool slightly before slicing.

There’s something about blueberry muffins that feels so homey and comforting.  When I was eating wheat, I had a favorite blueberry streusel muffin recipe that I made frequently.  It was simple to put together and the crunchy, sweet topping made eating the muffin feel very indulgent.  Now I’ve adapted the recipe using coconut flour and I got to keep the topping with some changes.

Blueberry Crumb Muffins

Makes 9 muffins

6 eggs

6 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey)

1/4 teaspoon stevia

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup coconut flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup frozen blueberries

Crumb Topping

1/2 cup walnuts

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter, softened

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease or line muffin cups.
  2. Prepare crumb topping by placing walnuts, coconut sugar and cinnamon in food processor and pulse until walnuts are chopped.
  3. Add butter and pulse until mixture is roughly combined.  Set aside.
  4. Mix wet ingredients together.  Mix dry ingredients separately.
  5. Combine wet and dry and mix thoroughly then fold in blueberries.
  6. Fill muffin cups and top with crumb topping.
  7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

What is an accidental pumpkin biscuit?  Well, it’s what you get when you are reworking your pumpkin cookie recipe while talking to a friend and suddenly realize, half way through baking, that you forgot to add the sweetener.  That sort of mishap, my friends, occurs on a fairly regular basis in my kitchen and doesn’t normally make it onto the blog.  But this one had some redeeming qualities.  Enough so that it became something altogether different. What makes this a terrible cookie is what ended up making it a pretty good biscuit.  Out of the oven, it’s tender, a little crumbly and ready for some butter slathering and honey drizzling.  The pumpkin and spices were a nice departure from the standard buttermilk variety.  As for the pumpkin cookies, that post will come a little later.

It’s a good thing that this became a biscuit recipe because, for once, I didn’t use room-temperature eggs.  When the melted coconut oil was mixed in with the cold eggs, I got little solid lumps of fat.  That cold fat and a hot oven are what make steam during baking to provide a tender and almost flaky biscuit.  The biscuit is not exactly flaky and is a little dense because, after all, this is grain-free so the texture won’t be the same as that of a wheat one.  No matter, though, this cookie endeavor was destined for biscuitdom.

Accidental Pumpkin Biscuits

Makes 13 biscuits

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 egg, cold

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.
  3. Mix wet ingredients together.  Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Alternatively, cut cold coconut oil into the flour mixture, then add the wet ingredients, so that there are lumps of cold coconut oil throughout the dough.
  5. Use cookie scoop to portion out the dough onto a cookie sheet.  Flatten the top of each scoop.
  6. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes.
  7. Serve while warm.

The dough does not spread so you can place them fairly close together.  The biscuits are crumbly and hold together better if kept on the smaller side.  Next time I might try adding some xanthan gum or an extra egg and perhaps increase my oven temperature to see what difference it makes in texture.  These are best served warm and any leftovers can be reheated slightly.  Make sure to have plenty of butter and runny honey on hand.

On leisurely weekend mornings, I like to make a nice breakfast that feels a bit indulgent.  Belgian waffles certainly feel that way to me so I was eager to try this special recipe from FreeCoconutRecipes.com.  The waffles are made with cashew flour but since I didn’t have any, I took out the Cuisinart and made my own.  Cashews are one of my favorite things to cook and eat.  Contrary to popular belief, it is a seed from a drupe, and not a nut, that comes from the end of a cashew apple.  It has a slightly sweet flavor and is higher in fat compared to other nuts.  That high fat content, and creamy texture when blended, makes it a great ingredient to use in sauces and as a substitute for dairy.

I first made the waffles according to the recipe as written, minus the chocolate, and they were really delicious but also pretty dense.  Half a waffle later and I was really full.  Because I don’t make waffles too often, I like to make a bigger batch and freeze leftovers that can be toasted later on a busy morning.  Even though the first batch I made was tasty, it didn’t toast as crisply as I would have liked, most likely due to the denser texture.  So I made a few modifications and came up with a version that freezes well and toasts to crispy perfection.

Cashew Belgian Waffles

Makes 4 large round waffles

2 cups cashew flour

1/4 flax seed, ground

2 tablespoons organic raw honey

6 eggs

6 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1/3 to 1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

  1. Preheat and grease waffle iron.
  2. Mix all ingredients together and let sit for a few minutes to thicken.
  3. Ladle just enough batter to almost cover the iron.
  4. Cook until golden brown.

Having honey in the batter makes the waffle brown fairly quickly.  With my iron, it took no more than 2 minutes for the waffle to be done.  I have also omitted the honey, using stevia instead, in another batch and the color wasn’t as dark and took about 3 minutes to cook.  The fresh waffles will not be crispy first out of the iron – they’ll have more of a cakey texture.  The crispy part comes when they have been frozen then toasted.  Fill each little square pocket with butter and pure maple syrup and the heavens will open up and shine tasty happiness upon you.  Ahhh… yum.

I was so excited when I found Girl Gone Primal’s granola.  It meant that I would be eating cereal again.  More importantly, my husband would be eating cereal again.  When it comes to breakfast, my husband has to eat the second he rises from bed.  Naturally, cold cereal was his go-to food, until I had to go all primal on his diet.  But hooray for grainless granola!  This is super easy to whip up and many a family member has requested this tasty cereal/snack.  No one seems to miss the oats.

Nutty Granola

Makes 9 – 10 cups

1 cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup cashews, chopped

1 1/2 cups sliced almonds

1 cup pepitas

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg white

1/4 to 1/3 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup raisins

1 cup banana chips, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Whip egg whites until frothy, then mix in maple syrup and vanilla.
  3. Toss nuts with cinnamon and salt.
  4. Combine egg mixture and nuts and coat thoroughly.
  5. Spread nuts on 2 lined cookie sheets and bake for 25 minutes.
  6. Let cool completely then break apart.  Add the raisins and banana chips.
  7. Store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

The ingredients I have listed are the ones I use the most, but I have also made the granola with pistachios, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, shredded coconut, dried cranberries and blueberries.  The possibilities for add-ins are limitless.  You can also adjust the amount of sweetness if you use a lot more of the dried fruits.  For an eggless version, dates pureed with a bit of water can be used to bind the nuts but it will require a longer cooking time.

This is a quick breakfast alternative to bacon and eggs and will satisfy the craving for something crunchy in milk.  Truthfully, though, I like it best by the handful.  And, sometimes, when no one else is looking, I’ll throw in some dark chocolate pieces and call it desert.

One of my favorite things to do is thumb through cookbooks and, while my collection isn’t large, each book is treasured for the adventures that it can bring.  I flip through the books when I’m trying to decide on a grocery list or in between sips of coffee on a weekend morning, or when I am waiting for the oven timer to go off and am putting off washing all the dirty dishes I just made making something else.  The inspiration for these muffins comes from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways to Incorporate Whole and Natural Foods into Your Cooking which I got several years ago from my cousin Michael.  The photographs are beautiful and the food all looks so tantalizing that I am surprised I didn’t come across this recipe sooner.  Need to schedule in more cookbook time, for sure.

Nevertheless, this recipe showed up just in time because I was armed with ripe bananas, ready for the next cooking project.  Most people make dishes with bananas because there is one too many close to their expiration dates.  I’m just the opposite.  I love using nanners in all kinds of things so I buy them in bulk and look for reasons to mix them in.  Because I had to make the muffins grain-free, my adaptation is quite different than Heidi’s but hopefully the essence of the muffins remains.

Espresso Banana Muffins

Makes 12 regular sized muffins and 1 large one

4 eggs

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon stevia

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed (about 3)

1 tablespoon espresso powder (or 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules)

2 cups almond flour

4 tbsp coconut flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease or line muffin pan.
  2. Mix wet ingredients together with the bananas and espresso.
  3. Mix dry ingredients together.
  4. Combine wet and dry thoroughly and fold in half of the walnuts.
  5. Fill muffin pan and sprinkle remaining half of nuts on muffins.
  6. Bake for 18 minutes.  Large muffins will take closer to 25 minutes.

The result is a really fragrant and moist muffin full of chunky pieces of banana and scented just so with coffee.  So good!

Thanks, Miguel!