How To Make Pie Crust

I am a total sucker for seasonal fruit desserts, and pies are no exception, especially in the summer and fall.  But we know each other well enough by now to know that I’m not a big dessert pusher.  I think overdoing sugar and refined foods like white flour can really compromise your health.  But,  during the holidays when the apples, pears and pumpkins are at their peak, I rationalize it all by adding a hefty dose of love to my pies!

What is nice about seasonal fruit desserts is that the fruit should be naturally sweet enough that we don’t need to add too many sweeteners to make them taste fabulous.  Typically, I use 4-6 Tablespoons of sweetener in a whole pie which can serve 8-10 people, and I don’t think that’s over the top.  Many cakes call for 2 cups of sugar just to provide you with a reference point.

Looking on the bright side, I love how “homemade” pies are.  The fruit is peeled and cut by hand, and if you make your own crust, that too is rolled and shaped by your loving hands.  In fact, I think pies look better and more special when they have that imperfect crimping and uneven glaze – a telltale sign that this came out of my kitchen.

Many people have told me that making pie crust looks intimidating.  But if you’ve ever made and rolled out cookie dough, it’s actually easier than that!  Even though I have a pie recipe posted on the site, I thought it would be helpful to include a step-by-step post for how to make pie crust.  Here are a few tips to help:

  • Necessary tools  You don’t need much, but a food processor or a pastry blender are very helpful.  If you have neither, I have used 2 knives with success.  On the other hand, besides an empty win bottle in a pinch, I haven’t found a good substitute for a rolling pin, which you’ll need to roll out the dough.
  • Cold Keeping everything cold is half the battle in making excellent dough.  If the butter warms up, it can make your dough too soft and it can melt on you.  Butter can be cut ahead and put back in the fridge.  Even your flour can be refrigerated.  And it is essential that the water you add is ice cold.  Some people like to make their pies in the morning, before the kitchen heats up.  And keeping this tip in mind, if you have to take a break from making your crust, or if your pie is ready to go in the oven but it seems a little soft and sticky, place everything into the refrigerator to firm it all up.
  • Butter  I know there are many people who can argue that a combination of butter and shortening or butter and lard make the tenderest, flakiest pie crusts, but you couldn’t pay me to eat Crisco or hydrogenated oils and I don’t have access to organic lard from grass-fed cows, so that’s not an option.  Organic butter is a natural, whole food and I’m ok with it in moderation.
  • Flour  Here’s the problem.  I hardly ever use white flour.  It’s refined and processed and basically a dead food with no nutrition.   I love using whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flours whenever I can in place of white flour, but not in pastry dough.  Whole grain flours tend to result in a much drier, more crumbly dough which isn’t very easy to roll out.  It also tastes more “whole wheat-y” which my family doesn’t care for when they’re eating an apple pie.  If you must include some whole grain in your dessert, you can make the dough with half white and half whole wheat pastry flour.  I used to make half my pies like this for Thanksgiving and my sister-in-law and I were the only ones who would eat the wheat ones.  What’s the point of that?  Another option is to use white spelt flour, which is more water soluble than wheat flour, is a little more digestible and has a sweeter flavor.  White spelt flour makes very nice pastry.  If you just can’t go there, fruit crisp is always an option!
  • Water  Pie crust recipes should give you a range for how much water to use because it’s impossible for every cook to be working under the same conditions.  Moisture is something that will vary in the air, flour and butter that we use.  Always start with the lower range of water listed and increase as needed.
  • Don’t over mix  Pie crust is not like cake batter.  You actually do NOT want to completely blend the butter into the flour.  In fact, it is ideal if you have little pea-sized pieces of butter in your dough.   When the crust bakes in the oven, the heat will cause the moisture in the butter to steam up, creating the wonderful flakiness you want.
  • Give it a rest  This is a step you don’t want to skip since it accomplishes two important things.  Allowing your dough to chill out in the refrigerator helps the gluten in the dough relax so you don’t have tough pastry and it also firms up that butter again (see second tip above.)  30-60 minutes is enough time to do this, however you can absolutely refrigerate the dough for a couple of days or freeze it for a few months, if necessary.
  • Rolling it out  If your dough has been in the refrigerator for more than an hour, you may need to let it sit on the countertop for 15 or 20 minutes so that it will be easy for you to roll out.  If the dough starts cracking, it’s likely because it’s too cold.  Lightly flour your countertop and your rolling pin and start rolling from the center out, regularly checking to make sure your dough can always move around on your countertop without sticking.  If you really have a hard time rolling out the dough, you can stick it between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll it out that way.  To know if you’ve rolled it out enough, invert the pie plate over the rolled out dough.  If you have a good two inches beyond the rim of the plate, you’re good to go.
  • Moving the dough to a pie plate It sounds trickier than it is.  I usually gently fold the dough in half and transfer it to a pie plate that way, but you can also roll the dough around the rolling pin and then unroll it onto the pie plate.  Fit it into the plate.
  • Blind baking Sometimes a recipe will tell you to prebake the pie crust before filling it.  This is common with liquidy fillings such as custard or pumpkin, or if you cook the filling separately and you won’t be putting the pie in the oven.  With the crust inside a pie plate, prick the crust all over the place with a fork.  Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the crust and fill the parchment with pie weights or dried beans (the beans won’t be edible after you bake them, though.  Just keep them for the next pie.  I’ve been using the same dried beans since college –swear!)  This prevents the crust from puffing up.
  • Finshing  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Do your best and have fun.  I seal the top and bottom crusts together and use my thumbs and pointer fingers from both hands to pinch the dough.  Or an easier method is use the tines of a fork and press the crust all along the rim of the plate.  Lastly I cut a couple slits in the center of the top crust so steam can escape and you won’t have a watery pie.  Glazing with an egg wash makes the pie look beautiful, but if egg is out of the question, you can use a little cream.

Although I have made many pies in my day, I still love learning how to do things better.  Please share your favorite tips and tricks for making pie crusts and pies.  I’d also love to hear what desserts you are all making for Thanksgiving!!!!


5.0 from 1 reviews
Pie Crust
Serves: makes enough for a 9-inch double-crust pie
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour or white spelt flour
  • 1 teaspoon cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 5-8 Tablespoons ice water
  1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse a couple times until blended.
  2. Add the butter to the flour and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas.
  3. Pour 5 Tablespoons of ice water on top of the flour mixture and pulse about 10 times. Avoiding the blade, carefully grab a small handful of dough and squeeze together. If the dough holds together without crumbling, it’s ready to be formed into a disc. If it’s too dry, pulse in another few teaspoons of ice water until dough holds together.
  4. Transfer dough to a piece of parchment and bring dough together to form a ball. Divide in half and shape into two disks. Wrap each disk in parchment and refrigerate at least 30 minutes at which point it will be ready to roll out. Or you can keep the dough refrigerated for 2-3 days, or in the freezer, well wrapped for 2-3 months.

Planning a Happy Thanksgiving — 4 Weeks and Counting

This post was originally published on October 27, 2011.  I adore Thanksgiving.  I love the traditions, the food, the Macy’s parade on television while I am making my pies, the football games.   I love moving the family room furniture after the last football game is over to extend the dining room table.   I love hearing everyone share why they’re grateful.  I have cooked every Thanksgiving for the last 16 years, as well as dozens of Thanksgiving-themed cooking classes.   I have made lots of mistakes and in the process learned a thing or two about how to execute and enjoy  a very happy Thanksgiving.  Every Thursday from today until the big day, I will share my best tips, strategies and a few good recipes to set you up for a successful holiday.  Let’s get started!

4 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Guest list  Now is a good time to invite family and friends for the holiday, even if they are regulars.  I send an email out to all our guests with the schedule for the day, especially when we will sit down for dinner.  We live on the West Coast, which means the last football game is over at 4:00.  Anyone that wants to come for the earlier game is welcome to do so.  There’s coffeecake, fruit and coffee in the morning.  A mugful of soup and cornbread around noon; hors d’oeuvres at 3:00 pm and dinner is at 4:00 or whenever the game is over.  You know that I pray for no overtime!
  • Plan your menu Planning the Thanksgiving menu requires a bit of strategy and balance.   Make sure you have a balance of cooked and raw food (One thing I have learned is no matter how big your kitchen or how many ovens you have, it’s never enough on Thanksgiving!); protein, starches and vegetables (I find most Thanksgiving menus to be too starchy;) and ingredients (make sure not every recipe has dried fruit and nuts in it.)  Know what dishes need an oven and when because if you’re making turkey and you have one oven, you won’t be baking too much in the hours before dinner.
Also, know your audience.  I love trying new recipes, but my family looks forward to the same traditional standbys every year.  There was almost a revolution when I took Breaded Cauliflower off the menu in 2007 ( I now serve it as an hors d’oeuvre.)  So I compromise by making the classics (traditional roast turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie), but I also try out a new salad or vegetable side dish every year.
But just because you’re cooking overtime for Thanksgiving dinner, doesn’t mean your household won’t be needing dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of.  Instead of ordering takeout pizza on Wednesday night, make and freeze a casserole in the weeks ahead or plan for your easiest 20-minute meal.  The same goes for Thanksgiving day, especially if you have young children in the house.  You can save your appetite and get by on a piece of fruit for the day, but your four-year-old cannot.  I always make a pot of butternut squash soup the day before and a pan of cornbread to be served around noon to tide anyone over until the big meal.
  • Outsource    Do as I say here.  Don’t do as I do.  You don’t have to make everything yourself.  In fact, most people would be delighted to contribute something to the holiday which will alleviate the pressure on you.  But you must be specific otherwise you’ll end up with 4 pumpkin pies and no green vegetables and we all know what I think about that.  “Thank you, Caitlin for your offer to bring something.  I think I’ll take you up on it.  We have neither stuffing nor apple pie yet.  Would you like to tackle one of those?”
  • Write out a schedule Take the time to plan everything that you need to do over the next four weeks and put it on the computer so you have it for future holidays.  By taking a little time now, you will save yourself stress, anxiety and HOURS later.  Trust me on this.  You can see my detailed schedule as an example.
  • Photocopy your recipes from books and magazines I remember my first Thanksgiving with a stack of cookbooks and magazines taking up valuable counter space and my wasting so much time looking up each recipe multiple times.  Ugh!  Put your photocopied recipes in sheet protectors and create a dedicated Thanksgiving or holiday binder organized by category.  This just might be the most useful tip I give you.
Here’s what I am probably making this year:
Coffeecake, fruit, coffee and tea
Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup and Cornbread
Hors D’oeuvres:
Breaded Cauliflower with Tomato Dipping Sauce
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole
Whole Grain Stuffing with Mushrooms, Leeks and Herbs
Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Shallots and Thyme
Harvest Chopped Salad or Butternut Squash Salad
Apple Pie
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Freshly Whipped Cream
Fresh Seasonal Fruit

How to cook beans from scratch

This is the time of year when I start to make more bean-based soups and chilis.  And as soon as it stops being 80 degrees around here, I’ll get right on that.  Actually, regardless of the season, we are a bunch of bean eaters in this house.  Besides chili, I use beans in Mexican dishes, salads, pastas, veggie burgers, with braised greens or in dips.  There are many varieties of beans that we eat — from garbanzos to black to pinto to Cannellini and more.

Beans are incredibly versatile and they happen to be a great low-fat source of fiber and protein.  Beans are one of those low-glycemic foods that gives you long-lasting energy without spiking your blood sugar.  Hooray!  No insulin surge!  And what’s more is that several types of beans including kidney, pinto and black are off the charts in antioxidants, as in a whole heck of a lot.

Beans are quite affordable, especially if you make them from scratch.  A pound of dried beans can cost anywhere from $1 to $1.50 and that will yield the equivalent of 3-4 15-ounces cans.  If you buy high-quality organic beans from a company like Eden Organic, which doesn’t line their cans with BPA, one can costs approximately $2.30.  You can do the math here and realize that you would save a lot of money buy cooking your beans from scratch.  Not only that, most cans are lined with BPA, which is a carcinogen that is not easily detoxified.  And wouldn’t you feel better about not throwing all those cans into a landfill?  Yes indeed.  

I am teaching a black bean and pumpkin soup recipe this month in my classes and I have noticed my students furiously scribbling my instructions for how to cook dried beans.  I realized this would be a good thing to post, so here are a few of my tips for preparing beans from scratch.

  1. Buy beans from a store with a high turnover to ensure you don’t get very old beans which take longer to cook.
  2. Plan ahead since you need to soak beans for at least 6 hours and then cook them for an hour or more.
  3. Pick through the beans before soaking and look for any small stones or debris.
  4. Place beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with a generous (4-6 inches) of cold water.  If you have a piece of kombu (kelp), add that to the beans for additional digestibility and alkalinity.  Leave the bowl on the countertop or in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.  Check to make sure all the beans stay below sea level!   I usually start soaking in the morning when I’m making breakfast.
  5. Drain the beans in a colander and transfer (with kombu, if using) to a large pot.  Sometimes I add some onion and celery if I know I’m going to use the beans for a salad, but I usually don’t add vegetables.  Fill with fresh cold water to cover by at least 4 inches and bring to a boil over high heat.
  6. Lower heat to a simmer and skim off any foam from the top.  Maintain a gentle, active simmer.  Boiling the beans rapidly can make them lose their shape.
  7. Start to test the beans for tenderness after 50 minutes.  Continue to taste them until desired tenderness is achieved.  This can take an hour or more depending on the age of the beans.
  8. Turn the heat off and if you have time, add some kosher salt to the beans and allow the beans to cool in their cooking liquid.
  9. Drain and now they’re ready to eat!  Or store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Update 4.30.13:  I have had great success cooking dried beans in a slow cooker.  Whereas the beans are more digestible if you presoak them, they will still cook to perfect tenderness without soaking.  I put 2 pounds of dried beans in my slow cooker and filled it up with water (an inch or so under the lid.)  Set it on LOW for 7 hours and they will be perfect.  So exciting!

How to Seed a Pomegranate

Eating seasonally means that when Mother Nature closes one door, she opens another.  I came home from the farmers’ market the other day with good news and bad news for the kids.  This would be the last of the peaches and nectarines.  “What????  OMG!  That’s so sad.”  But guess what I found?  Pomegranates!  “They’re back?  OMG!  Can we have some right now?  Did you buy a lot?”  What peaches?

During the fall, my family goes through about 7 pomegranates a week and sometimes more if the kids’ friends come over.  There’s something so addictive about these juicy and crunchy little seeds.  I very often find empty pomegranate bowls on the girls’ desks in the morning because they snack on the seeds while doing their homework.  I know, pinch me.  They aren’t the only ones who love pomegranates.  Mr. Picky eats them while he watches football and baseball games on tv.  I toss them into my morning yogurt, muesli or for a fun crunch in salads.  So good!

I will gladly support any addiction to something so super healthful.  Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir here, but let me remind you how rich in antioxidants pomegranates are.  The juice in the seeds contain ellagic acid and punic alagin which scavenge free radicals in the body and help preserve the collagen in your skin (pssst, that means they help you stay looking young!)   Pomegranate seeds also contain vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and plenty of fiber.  All good news!  The only bummer about pomegranates is that you have to take the time to seed them, which is a little more effort than washing a piece of fruit and taking a bite, but it’s worth it!  Sure, you can buy containers of the seeds from the supermarket, but I find them to be a tad soggy.  Just do what I do and teach your kids how to seed them!

There are several strategies for releasing pomegranate seeds from the shell.  For example, I’ve seen recommendations to cut a pomegranate in half and whack it over a bowl to release the seeds.  Don’t do that.  Pomegranates stain like heck and you’ll inevitably spray red juice on your favorite shirt as well as the kitchen walls.  Here’s what I consider to be the best way to seed a pomegranate for maximum ease and minimum seed burstage (is that a word?):

  1. Put on a dark colored apron.  (Read above.)
  2. Fill a large bowl with cool or room temperature water and set aside.
  3. Place the pomegranate on a cutting board and carefully make a slice from the top to the bottom.  Separate the pomegranate into two halves.
  4. Submerge one half in reserved bowl of water and gently push the seeds off the membrane.  Break apart the pomegranate further to access more seeds, but do it under water.  Repeat with other half.
  5. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and pieces of the white membrane will float to the top.  Just skim those off and discard.  Drain the seeds and pat dry a little before storing in a container in the refrigerator.

Even though it’s the beginning of the season, I have gotten some beautiful pomegranates thus far.  In selecting a good one, in my experience, the heavier the fruit, the juicier it is.  Also, the ones that seem to be cracked (see above) tend to have the reddest and most flavorful seeds.  Check out some delicious salads which use these ruby jewels — Fennel and Green Apple Salad and Butternut Squash Salad with Pomegranates and Pecans.  Please share how you like to eat pomegranates!

Vanilla and chocolate chia seed pudding recipes

Have you ever bought something that you heard people talking about, that you thought you should start eating and would figure out how to get it into your diet soon but never did, only to have that something sit in your pantry forever?  That would be a scenario with me and chia seeds a few years ago.   I kept reading about these little nutritional powerhouses and I was easily convinced about all their benefits and that I should be incorporating them into my diet, but I hadn’t the slightest idea how to actually eat them.  Chia seeds are super high in Omega-3 fats (which many of us don’t consume enough of) and antioxidants.  They have almost double the fiber of flaxseeds, as well as lots of protein, calcium, iron and magnesium.  What is unique about chia seeds is their gel-like consistency when they are soaked in liquid.  They become thick like tapioca and that gel actually helps to keep everything moving very smoothly throughout our bodies.

Most suggestions that I originally encountered for consuming chia seeds were to “sprinkle” them on food, such as oatmeal or yogurt.  That was fine for me, but the kiddos and Mr. Picky Sr. weren’t going for it.  My next idea was to add chia seeds to cookie dough, which did make for a delicious almond butter and chia seed cookie.  But a cookie isn’t going to give you a heck of a lot of chia seeds/nutrition.  Finally I heard about chia pudding – an instant, raw, thick and silky pudding of chia seeds soaked in a barely sweetened liquid.  Sold!  Not only is chia pudding even easier to make than tofu chocolate pudding, but I think it’s even more delicious!

I have two versions to share with you because even though I love the plain Jane vanilla version, Mr. Picky thought it looked like tiny eyeballs and wouldn’t try it.  So I added a little cocoa powder to make it chocolate-y and less like, well, eyeballs.  Both versions are great.  I eat vanilla chia seed pudding for breakfast with berries or diced banana on top and it fills me up for a good long while.  Mr. Picky and his buddies love the chocolate pudding after school with lots of different toppings like coconut, raspberries or sliced almonds.  Check out the video I did below for The Chalkboard on how to make this delicious concoction.  Naturally I used date-sweetened Pressed Juicery almond milk to make it, but you can follow the recipe below.

Now that we’re hooked, I’d love to hear your favorite way to eat chia seeds!


Vanilla and Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
Serves: 2
  • 1 ¼ cups almond milk
  • 3 pitted dates or sweetener of choice, to taste
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2-2 ½ Tablespoons raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder (if making chocolate pudding), depending on how chocolaty you like it
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  1. Place almond milk, dates, vanilla and cacao in blender and process until dates are pulverized. A Vitamix does a great job with this. If your blender leaves the dates too chunky, you can strain the mixture before adding it to the chia seeds.
  2. Pour chia seeds into a medium container and add almond milk mixture. Stir immediately to combine otherwise you may end up with blobs of chia seeds. Allow to sit on countertop and stir every 5 minutes. After 15 minutes, it should have thickened.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. I usually do this the night before. Stays in the fridge for as long as your almond milk would. Fun to add toppings like fresh fruit, coconut or chopped nuts.

How to Make Pita Chips

One of our favorite snacks is chips, whether it be tortilla or pita.  We enjoy them alone or more often as a dipper for spreads like hummus, white bean dip, tapenade, or my favorite — “Greek Nachos”— which is pita chips and a whole mess of feta, yogurt, finely diced tomatoes, cucumber, olives, red onion, olive oil, lemon juice and oregano piled on top.  That’s a good one for summer entertaining!

In general, I don’t love buying too many packaged snacks, though.  They are very often processed, refined and contain ingredients I would never want to eat.  This is especially true when it comes to fats and oils.  I am not saying I don’t eat added fats, but more importantly I am picky about choosing higher quality ones.  I have yet to find a food on a grocery shelf that uses unrefined olive or coconut oil.  Further, when oil is heated over and over again at high temperatures, toxic trans fats and free radicals are created.  Not good for you at all.

I certainly don’t have time to make all my own food from scratch, but some things are easier than others.  Pita chips (although I’m not making my pita from scratch anymore) are just that — dead simple to make and just as (if not more) delicious than anything you can buy in a store.  It really hadn’t occurred to me for many years to make pita chips at home until I actually paid attention to how much money I was spending on the packaged variety.  That and I knew the ingredients couldn’t be as healthful as I would like, even the ones we were buying at the farmer’s market, which I found out later were deep fried.  Ugh.

The technique I use on pita is the exact same method I use to make baked tortilla chips, both savory and sweet.  Take your favorite pita bread (gluten-free folks can try this with brown rice tortillas — super delicious!) — here I used an organic whole wheat pita with no preservatives or scary additives — and split it so you have two thinner discs.    I prefer a thinner chip, but you can keep the pita whole and get a thick chip, too.  Brush both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning or just salt, cut into wedges and bake until crisp.  Are you so excited thinking about all the fun flavors you can come up with?  The possibilities are practically endless!  You can add lemon zest to the olive oil, or sprinkle with sea salt and cumin.  Garlic powder and paprika are great, too.  You can even do a sweet version with cinnamon, sugar and butter or coconut oil.  My favorite way to flavor these is with a Middle Eastern spice blend called Zahtar or Za’atar.  It’s a delicious combination of dried thyme, sesame seeds and sumac, which is a dried berry (not the poisonous kind) with a tart, lemony flavor.   Because Zahtar is a blend of spices and herbs, you might find some  which contain ground hyssop leaves or oregano.  I bought some on Amazon, but you can find it at a spice shop like Penzeys, Middle Eastern grocery stores, or from my friend Talia who brought me some from a recent trip to Israel.  How sweet is she?

With Father’s Day coming up (um, hell-o? It’s tomorrow and I haven’t bought a gift yet!), as well as a whole season of entertaining in front of us, I thought it would be nice to have a pita chips recipe in your back pocket.  This recipe will not come in handy however, when your husband tells you he volunteered an appetizer for Mr. Picky’s end-of-season football party.  In 30 minutes.  Awesome.  Happy Father’s Day to all you amazing dads out there! We love and appreciate you every day of the year!

Pita Chips
Serves: makes 48 chips
  • 4 6-inch pita pockets
  • approximately ⅓ cup unrefined olive oil
  • about 4 teaspoons of Zahtar
  • sea salt to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper.
  2. Split the pita bread by inserting a thin knife into the side of the bread and cutting all around the circumference until you have two separate pieces. You can leave the pita bread whole and get thicker chips, but you’ll also have half the amount.
  3. Brush each pita round on both sides with oil. Sprinkle one side of each pita round with ½ teaspoon Zahtar. Cut into sixths.
  4. Arrange in one layer on prepared baking sheets and sprinkle with a couple pinches of sea salt
  5. Bake until crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for a few days.

How to Make Almond Butter

Why would you need to know how to make almond butter?  After all, you can buy it very easily at the supermarket or even via amazon.  You can pick your pleasure — with a hint of sea salt, lightly sweetened with honey or maple syrup, laced with chocolate, raw or roasted.  But what if you have an intense craving for a spoonful of this creamy, heavenly spread and you enter the kitchen only to see your younger daughter scraping the last bits of it from the jar?  Nooooo!  Don’t panic.  You’re organized.  You have a well-stocked pantry.  Except today.  Drat.

This was my sad reality a few weeks ago.  As my daughter scooped up the last drop of almond butter with a crisp wedge of apple, she very nonchalantly suggested, “Why don’t you just make some?  It’s just almonds, right?”  She had a point.  So I took out my Vitamix which can basically grind rocks into flour (don’t take my word on that one), and threw in some beautiful raw almonds from Organic Pastures.  Didn’t work.  All the ground almonds got stuck on the bottom of the blender.  Shoot.  So I transferred everything into my Cuisinart and with a lot of patience and optimism, I made almond butter!  And it was fantastic!  And I almost ate the whole cup!

We go through a lot of almond butter in this house, more so than any other nut butter.  We like it slathered on toast with jam, sliced bananas or a drizzle of honey.  It makes a high quality breakfast or snack spread on cut apples or stirred into oatmeal.  Almond butter has even found its way into some unexpected places such as flourless chocolate cake or these delicious cookies.  Besides the fact that almond butter is so yummy, it is also pretty good for you, way better than peanut butter (which is high in inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids and very often contains a toxic mold called aflatoxin – yikes!).  Like all nuts, almonds are high in protein and fiber.  But unlike all nuts, almonds are alkalizing to the blood and cells and contain lots of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.

But here’s the deal with nuts, and I hope this doesn’t send you over the edge:  nuts which haven’t been soaked or lightly roasted (at home) contain enzyme inhibitors which makes these suckers really rough on the digestive system.  In a perfect world, you would either soak the almonds overnight and dry them out in an oven on its lowest setting or in a dehydrator, then process them into almond butter.  Or you can lightly roast them on a baking sheet at 300 degrees for about 15 minutes and then process them into almond butter.  I don’t advise buying already roasted almonds from the supermarket as generally they have been roasted at way too high a temperature, damaging the natural fatty acids and oftentimes cooked with nasty refined oils.  Yuck.  Roasted almond butter tastes different from raw and has a richer, nuttier flavor.  Which brings me to my next tidbit of info about raw almonds.  Guess what?  The USDA allows nut producers to label almonds as RAW even if they’ve been steamed and pasteurized.  So unless you buy your almonds DIRECTLY from the nut grower, like I do from Organic Pastures at the farmer’s market, you’re not getting raw nuts no matter how big the lettering on the package.  Call me crazy, but I think that should be illegal.

If you don’t eat nut butters frequently or if you don’t notice digestive problems after eating nut products, then feel free to do what’s easy for you.  Sometimes when I mention soaking or sprouting in my classes, I here a few sighs and a comment like, “Pamela, please don’t tell us we have to do one more thing.  Isn’t it enough that we’ve gone from Jif to natural, organic peanut butter?”  The answer, of course, is yes.  Yes, it is.  I’m just here to provide food for thought and inspiration to have fun in the kitchen, not cause undo stress over something as scrumptious as almond butter.   If any of you have good internet sources for raw almonds or have fun ways to enjoy almond butter, please share!!

How to Make Almond Butter
Serves: makes 1 cup
  • 2 cups almonds, either raw, soaked and dehydrated or roasted
  • optional add-ins: a pinch of sea salt, a spoonful of pure maple syrup or raw honey, ground flax seed, or a spoonful of raw cacao powder
  1. Place almonds and optional add-ins in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Turn motor on and process, scraping down the sides occasionally until desired consistency is achieved. This can take up to 15 minutes, although roasted almonds take a little less time than raw. Keep in a covered glass container in the refrigerator.

How To Freeze Fresh Fruit

Two wonderful things are happening right now:  One is the abundance of glorious fresh strawberries and mangos on the scene right now, with cherries, stone fruits and berries on the way.  The other is that the weather is getting warmer, which means I need that same fruit frozen for SMOOTHIE SEASON.  Oh, yeah!  Even in sunny Southern California, it isn’t always warm enough to warrant icy, cold shakes in the morning.  Most school days, I prefer to get everyone started with a hot breakfast to keep toasty.  But just about this time of year and throughout the dog days of summer, we pull out the blender and frozen fruit to whip up our favorite smoothies.  Of course, frozen fruit also allows us to enjoy delicious crisps and crumbles in the off season for a very special treat.

Believe it or not, there is actually a method to freezing fruit.  I’ll share with you here my tips and tricks for doing it right the first time so that you don’t end up with a big solid mass.

What can you freeze?

Anything you’ve seen in the freezer section at the supermarket is fair game, including:

  • berries
  • cherries
  • peaches and nectarines
  • pineapple
  • bananas
  • mangos
  • pears
  • papaya
  • fruit purees

How to freeze fruit:

  • wash and dry fruit;
  • remove any peels you don’t want to eat such as banana, mango, papaya and pineapple (if you don’t do this before freezing, you won’t be able to do it after — this is experience talking here);
  • remove stems from strawberries, cores from pears, and pits from stone fruits and mango;
  • cut fruit into chunks so it’s easier on your blender later;
  • arrange fruit in one layer on a baking sheet or dish that will fit in your freezer, making sure pieces of fruit aren’t touching each other;
  • freeze until completely firm and solid;
  • once frozen, transfer to container with a lid that is just large enough to hold your fruit or in a ziploc bag.  Anything too big can result in freezer burn.
  • You can store frozen fruit for 6-12 months.

Freezing fruit does not affect its nutritional profile nor its enzymes.  In fact, if freezing fruit immediately after harvest, the nutritional content is likely higher than fresh fruit that has been off the vine for a few days.  Enjoy!