Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Daring Cooks - Nut Butters

Photos of nut butters by Margie of More Please

This month the Daring Cooks dabbled in Nut Butters! Who knew how delicious and versatile a theme this would be? Margie was amazing, heading this fun and nutritious project and challenging people to go beyond what they thought they knew about nut butters and pastes and venture into new and uncharted nut and seed territory and hopefully end up with a few new techniques for their kitchen repertoire.
The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.
Notes
* The process for making various types of nut butters is essentially the same. Pour nuts into bowl of food processor. Grind the nuts in the processor until they form a paste or butter. The nuts first turn into powdery or grainy bits, then start to clump and pull away from the side of the bowl, and finally form a paste or butter. The total time required depends on the fat and moisture content of the nuts; grinding time will vary from roughly 1 to 4 minutes (assuming a starting volume of 1 to 2 cups [240 to 480 ml] nuts). Processing times for a variety of nuts are described below.
* You may add oil as desired during grinding to make the nut butter smoother and creamier or to facilitate grinding. Add oil in small increments, by the teaspoon for oily nuts like cashews or by the tablespoon for dryer/harder nuts like almonds. You may use the corresponding nut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like canola.
* The inclusion of salt in the nut butters is optional and to taste. If you make nut butters from salted nuts, peanuts or cashews for example, you will not need additional salt. We recommend making unsalted nut butters for use in the challenge recipes (and other savory recipes) since the recipes call for salt or salty ingredients. You can then adjust the salt to taste. If you are making nut butter for use as a spread, you should add salt according to your preference.
* Roasting the nuts before making nut butters is optional according to your preference. To roast nuts in the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and a shade darker in color. Allow nuts to cool before grinding. Roasted nuts will make butter with darker color than raw nuts.
* It’s helpful to keep in mind that the yield of nut butter is about half the original volume of nuts. If you start with 1 cup nuts, you’ll get about ½ cup nut butter.
* The consistency of nut butters varies from thin & soft (almost pourable) to very thick and hard depending on the fat content of the nut. (See links below for nutrition info on variety of nuts.) Homemade nut butters will probably not be as smooth as commercial products.
* Homemade nut butters are more perishable than commercial products and should be stored in the refrigerator. The nut butters harden & thicken somewhat upon chilling.
* See links at bottom of post for additional information about making nut butters at home.

Approximate Processing Times in Food Processor for Nut Butters:

* Almonds: form a thick butter in about 2 to 3 minutes for slivered almonds, or 3 to 4 minutes for whole almonds; the skin of whole almonds will leave dark flecks in the butter
* Cashews: form a smooth, spreadable butter after about 2 minutes of processing
* Hazelnuts: form a firm, thick, and grainy butter in about 2 to 3 minutes; to remove the skin from whole hazelnuts, roast in a 400 degree F oven (200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6) for about 5 minutes or till skins loosen, then rub hazelnuts in a clean dishtowel to remove some of the skin; the remaining skin will leave dark flecks in the butter
* Macadamias: form a soft and smooth butter in about 2 minutes
* Peanuts: form a thick, grainy butter in about 2 or 3 minutes
* Pecans: form a very soft, oily, pourable butter in 1 or 2 minutes; the skins give pecan butter a slightly tannic and bitter flavor
* Walnuts: form a very soft, oily, pourable butter in 1 or 2 minutes; the skins give walnut butter a slightly tannic and bitter flavor
* Pistachios: According to the Nut Butter Primer from Cooking Light, pistachio butter is dry and crumbly with a tendency to clump during processing; they recommend combining it with softened cream cheese for easy spreading and report a processing time of 3.5 to 4 minutes. Please note, we did not test pistachio butter.

ASIAN NOODLE SALAD WITH CASHEW DRESSING
Yield: 4 servings

Recipe notes: Customize the salad by adding or substituting your favorite vegetables. Shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and slivered carrots would make nice additions. Obviously, you can omit the shrimp, or substitute chicken or tofu or the protein of your choice. The dressing is equally as good with peanut butter rather than cashew butter. We tested the dressing with nut butters made from salted cashews & peanuts with good results.

Ingredients
Cashew Butter:
1 cup (240 ml) cashews*

Cashew Dressing:
½ inch (1 cm) slice of fresh ginger, chopped
8 cloves garlic, more or less to taste, chopped
½ cup (120 ml) cashew butter
¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) sugar
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) vinegar
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) toasted sesame oil
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon (75 ml) water
Hot sauce to taste (optional)

Noodle Salad:
1/2 pound (225 g) linguine or thin rice noodles
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
1/2 pound (225 g) small or medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into thin strips
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced
1/4 cup (60 ml) sliced green onions
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) chopped cashews (optional garnish)
Lime wedges (optional)

Directions:
1. Make cashew butter: Grind cashews in food processor for about 2 minutes until smooth. (*Or start with ½ cup (120 ml) prepared cashew butter.)

2. Prepare cashew dressing: Combine ginger, garlic, cashew butter, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water in food processor or blender. Process/blend until smooth. Be sure to process long enough to puree the ginger and garlic. The dressing should be pourable, about the same thickness as cream. Adjust consistency – thinner or thicker -- to your liking by adding more water or cashew butter. Taste and add your favorite hot sauce if desired. (If the cashew butter was unsalted, you may want to add salt to taste.) Makes about 1 ½ cups (360 ml) dressing. Store any leftover dressing in the refrigerator.

3. Prepare noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Rinse and drain noodles. Set aside.

4. Heat oil in large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add shrimp to the pan and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes or until opaque throughout. Alternately, cook shrimp in boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes or until done.

5. Slice basil into thin ribbons. Combine noodles, bell pepper, cucumber, onions, and basil in a large bowl. Add about ½ cup (120 ml) cashew dressing; toss gently to coat. Add more cashew dressing as desired, using as much or as little as you’d like. Scatter shrimp on top. Squeeze fresh lime juice over salad or serve with lime wedges. Sprinkle with chopped cashews if desired. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

CHICKEN WITH PECAN CREAM & MUSHROOMS
Yield: 4 servings

Recipe notes: Substitute your favorite pasta or rice in place of the egg noodles. Use fresh rosemary or parsley in place of thyme if you prefer.

Ingredients
Pecan Cream:
3/4 cup (180 ml) coarsely chopped pecans*, toasted
1 cup (240 ml) water
¾ teaspoon (3 ml) salt, more as needed

½ pound (225 g) egg noodles or pasta
4 (6-ounce / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
Salt & pepper to taste

Sauce:
1 tablespoon (15 ml) deglazing liquid (water, broth, wine; optional)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped shallots
½ pound (225 g) mushrooms, sliced
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
Chopped pecans, (optional garnish)

Directions
1. Prepare pecan cream. Grind pecans in a food processor for about a minute or so until smooth, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed. Add water and 3/4 teaspoon (3 ml) salt; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Set aside pecan cream. (*If starting with prepared pecan butter, blend ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons (90 ml) pecan butter with the water and salt until smooth.)

2. Cook noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Drain, rinse, and keep warm.

2. If desired, pound chicken to ¼ inch (6 mm) thickness to promote even cooking. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Set aside cooked chicken on a clean plate, cover to keep warm.

3. Add deglazing liquid to pan if using and stir up any browned bits. If needed, add another teaspoon (5 ml) of oil (or more) to pan for sautéing the shallots and mushrooms. Sauté the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and starting to brown. Add fresh thyme to the pan. Stir in pecan cream; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 minutes till reduced slightly.

4. Slice chicken into thin strips. Divide the noodles among serving plates. Add a scoop of the mushroom pecan sauce on top of noodles. Lay sliced chicken on top. Garnish with fresh thyme and/or a pinch of chopped pecans if desired.

More Nut Butter Recipes:

CHICKEN WITH CURRIED TOMATO ALMOND SAUCE
Yield: 4 servings

Recipe notes: Substitute the protein of your choice for the chicken. This is a smooth sauce, so the onion is removed before serving. If you prefer, dice the onion and leave it in the sauce or substitute a bit of onion powder.

1 Tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
4 (6 oz / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt to taste

Spice Blend:
1.5 tablespoons (20 ml) garam masala seasoning
1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) black pepper

Sauce:
4 tablespoons (60 ml) butter
1 large onion, cut in half pole to pole
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce/425 g) can tomato sauce
? cup (80 ml) almond butter
? cup (80 ml) milk
½ to ¾ cup (120 to 180 ml) chicken broth or water, more as needed
1 cup (240 ml) frozen peas (optional)

Hot basmati rice for serving
Chopped parsley (optional garnish)
Sliced almonds (optional garnish)

Directions:
1. Cook the chicken. If desired, pound chicken to ¼ inch (6 mm) thickness to promote even cooking. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Dice chicken into bite-sized pieces; set aside on clean plate and keep warm.

2. Prepare spice blend. Stir garam masala, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper together in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. Melt the butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook gently for several minutes to infuse the butter with onion flavor. Keep the heat low to avoid burning the butter; a little color is fine. Add the spice blend and garlic and cook for 1 minute or till fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the tomato sauce, stir well, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Whisk in almond butter and milk until thoroughly combined with tomato sauce. The almond butter is thick so it takes a while to make a smooth sauce. Return to simmer. Add broth (or water) to sauce to reach desired consistency; return to simmer. Add more broth (or water) as needed to thin sauce as desired.

4. Remove onion from sauce and discard. Stir frozen peas (if using) into sauce. Transfer sliced chicken to sauce. Simmer gently for a few minutes until peas and chicken are heated through.

5. Serve chicken and sauce over rice. Garnish with chopped parsley and/or sliced almonds if desired.


WALNUT WHITE BEAN DIP WITH ROSEMARY & SAGE

Recipe notes: Canned beans tend to be salty, so you may not need additional salt. Taste the dip after blending and add salt as needed.

½ cup (120 ml) walnuts*
1 (15.8 oz/448g) can Great Northern, Cannellini, or other white beans, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 Tablespoons (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons (10 ml) fresh rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons (10 ml) fresh sage, chopped
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) lemon zest (optional)
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) black pepper
salt to taste

Directions:
Make walnut butter by grinding ½ cup (120 ml) walnuts in food processor for about a minute until it forms a nut butter or paste. (*Alternately, start with ¼ cup (60 ml) prepared walnut butter.) Add beans, garlic, lemon juice, rosemary, sage, lemon zest (if using), and black pepper to the walnut butter in the food processor. Process the mixture to a smooth consistency. Taste and add salt as desired. Garnish dip with chopped walnuts and/or chopped fresh rosemary or sage, if desired. Serve dip with pita wedges, crostini, or assorted vegetables.

Additional Information:

  • Click here for a summary of nut nutrition from the University of Nebraska extension. Scroll down the page for a helpful chart comparing nutrition facts for both peanuts and tree nuts.
  • Click here for a detailed table of nutrition facts for a variety of tree nuts from the International Tree Nut Council. Click here for a detailed table of nutrition facts for dry roasted peanuts from The Peanut Institute.
  • Here’s a helpful video on making peanut butter at home in a food processor.
  • Here’s a helpful video on making macadamia nut butter at home in a food processor.
  • We tested this recipe for homemade toasted sesame seed butter (or Tahini) from this website featuring Middle Eastern cuisine. It was definitely not as smooth as commercial Tahini, but tasted fresh and intensely nutty. If you’re looking for a good recipe in which to use your homemade Tahini, we recommend Mollie Katzen’s recipe for Tahini Lemon Sauce.
  • Click here for a recipe for sunflower seed butter from Gourmet Sleuth online. Please note, we did not test this recipe.
  • If you are interested in fruit butters, check out the Pear Butter and Apple Butter recipes at the Simply Recipes food blog.
  • For inspiration on cooking with nut and seed butters, check out these recipes from Futters Nut Butters, a company that sells a variety of jarred nut and seed butters.