Tuesday, July 29, 2014

goodbye zucchini plants, we hardly knew ye

My zucchini plants all died. :(

I think it was a two-part problem. One, the hellish, unrelenting heat of the Phoenix desert. Once the temps started hitting the 100s every day and not cooling off below the 80s at night, the plant leaves started looking drier, browner, and wiltier. I watered as much as I was able, but my research showed me that most people who get their plants to survive the summer around here have a combined approach of constant watering misters and shade cloths, all stuff I'm too much of a cheapskate to shell out for.

Secondly, in the last couple weeks of their lives, the zucchini plants had a growing squash bug problem. I killed them when I saw them, but I'm sure plenty hid from me, and I saw they were laying eggs everywhere. And, apparently, no poison can kill them? The zucchini had stopped producing fruit at this time so I decided the best thing to do was just rip them all up and try again in the fall, once it's cooler. And I'll try to see if there are any squash bug preventative measures I can take.

Also, here's a fun fact about growing your own zucchini that nobody ever tells you: the fruit contain a substance that secretes when it is cut, and this substance, if it gets on your skin, dries it out and makes it tight-feeling, and eventually it peels. Almost as if your fingers are coated in dried glue, but it's just your skin. I haven't been able to find much info about this reaction from the zucchini, because a lot of my googling led to crazy talk about how it's the pesticides that cover the zucchini or it's a result of GMO or whatever. Considering I grew this myself and put no pesticides on it whatsoever, I know that's a falsehood. I saw a lot of people think it is a allergic reaction/contact dermatitis, but I've been eating zucchini bough at the store for a long time and that never happened to me before. It was only with my own zucchini. I managed to find a few sane people who put some thought into it, and their conclusion is that it is some sort of defense mechanism from the fruit. It turns out the fresher the harvest, the more likely the fruit is to have this reaction. So eventually I learned to keep my zucchini in the fridge for a week or two before cutting into it. (And that explains why store-bought zucchini never does this, since store-bought probably sat in a crate for three weeks before hitting the shelf!)

My zucchini and I had some educational and delicious moments. Here is a small photospam of the good times we had together, in memoriam:

a typical harvest off my plants. so pretty!
the first meal made with the first harvest. a chicken leg and herb-roasted zucchini
made "zucchini boats" with tomato sauce, sausage, and cheese
unbelievably delicious. and also, super filling. i could barely finish this.
me with the first harvest. RIP zucchini

Monday, July 21, 2014

such biscuit. very crave-satisfying.

I admit to being only human and sometimes I get cravings for things I don't eat anymore. One of the most prominent things I miss is biscuits. But I figured if once in a while I want biscuits, it's better to do something that's at least grain-free and sugar-free, than to just indulge with regular wheat biscuits. So I went on the hunt for a suitable biscuit recipe and have spent the last couple weeks dialing it in.

I'd seen this biscuit recipe floating around the low-carb/paleo/primal-sphere for a while, and the final product looked most appealing of most of the recipes I've seen, so I decided to try it.

My very first batch was a total failure. They looked ok coming out of the pan, but they tasted terrible. This is mostly due to the fact I was out of baking powder, so I substituted with an equivalent amount of baking soda + cream of tartar in proportion (2 parts cream of tarter to 1 part baking soda, according to Chef Google). All that lead to was baking-soda flavored biscuits. They were also exceedingly greasy and I'm not sure why. Maybe some weird reaction with the baking soda and cream of tartar? Either way, into the trash they went..

For the second batch, I actually went to the store and bought some damn baking powder. I followed the recipe exactly, and they were pretty good. They tasted great - not very almondy. They were rather crumbly, though. I think this is partially due to the fact I just put them straight into a muffin tin. Though it was greased, it was still very difficult to remove the biscuits without them falling apart. But even still, they didn't hold up well to attempted applications of butter, or cutting in half, etc.

For the third batch, I consulted my boyfriend (who actually can cook) and together, we reformulated the original recipe into something that held up better and we both enjoyed.

muffin cups would prove to be an integral part of the process
The biggest changes we made were to reduce the amount of baking powder - 2 tbsps is an unnecessarily high amount - and to replace the sour cream with almond milk (slightly less amount, since sour cream is so thick). Additionally, we added in flaxseed meal to give a bit more stability and keep the biscuits from crumbling. Flaxseed meal is like magic glue. And, lastly, this is a small point, but I feel like the amount of butter in the original recipe is a tad high (blasphemy, I know) so I toned that down a bit. We also doubled the whole recipe to make great big batches in one go so as to have biscuits to last a while. 

These biscuits hold up well; they can be cut in half and used for sausage sandwiches or the like and don't crumble. Their texture is actually fairly similar to corn bread, just without the corn flavor of course. I find the almond milk makes them taste slightly more almondy than the version with sour cream, but once you've slathered butter on there you don't notice anymore. 

biscuit sliced in half
The texture inside is moist but not soggy, fluffy, slightly craggy, and very reminiscent of cornbread.

Here's the full, modified, doubled recipe:

"Reminds Me Of Cornbread" Biscuits

makes 24 biscuits in regular-sized muffin tins


3 cups almond flour (I use Anthony's Almonds blanched almond flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
4 eggs
1/2 cup almond milk
6 tbsp melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 400 deg, put some muffin cups in a muffin tin. Or use a fancy silicon muffin tray, I bet those would work fabulously. Or just grease a regular muffin tin if you're not inept at using them like I am.

2. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly in a big bowl, being sure to break up any almond flour clumps.

3. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, and put all wet ingredients in there. Just crack the eggs into the well, dump in the almond milk, and pour in the melted butter. (I like to let the butter cool a bit before putting it in, just to prevent any chance of cooking the eggs with hot butter.)

almond flour seems very forgiving, this is not too exact of a science
4. Mix it all together like crazy. You can't over-mix almond flour like you can wheat flour, so just mix until all the wet stuff is incorporated and there's no obvious egg strings showing.

5. Drop heaping spoonfuls into each muffin well. This should make 24 smaller biscuits, or you can put everything into just 12 wells and they will be bigger and more muffin-y.

I just used a big soup spoon and eyeballed it, but I'd guess there's ~2 tbsp of mix per well
6. Bake for 15-17 minutes. (It needs more time due to the inclusion of flaxseed meal.) When you press on the top of a finished biscuit, it should give slightly, but not feel squishy. If it's squishy it needs more time.

7. Enjoy! 

Carb break-down according to the ingredients used in my recipe (be sure to check your own ingredients, your almond flour or milk may have different carb amounts):

24 total biscuits: 40g net carbs
Per single biscuit: ~2g net carbs (rounded up)


Tips for enjoyment:

sage sausage + slice of cheddar

i missed you, sausage sandwich
Obviously they're great for breakfast. I love sausage sandwiches and it's been like a year and a half since I had one, so getting to eat this was like having a chorus of fluffy, biscuity angels descending onto my tastebuds from on high. I've also tried the biscuits just warm with some butter and sugar-free jam and they're marvelous that way too. 

the sweet variation
For a lark I also tried sweetening a half batch to make dessert biscuits. I just put about 1 cup equivalent of sugar-free sweetener in the mix, as well as a splash of vanilla. When they came out, they reminded me sort of a muffin-poundcake type of texture/flavor, so I cut some in half, topped with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream for a ridiculously delicious and indulgent dessert. The picture above is three biscuits cut in half and if you were less gluttonous than me (or if you are being strict about your carbs - I estimate that whole plate was about 26 carbs) you might share that with someone else. Or if you're just as gluttonous as me, you'd eat it all yourself. Yum.