Monday, January 14, 2013

Zucchini Bites and Perfect Almond Flour

Today's weather pretty much matches my mood. It's gray, it's raining, nothing feels very lively or quick. If the sky could experience gluten hangovers, this is probably what it would look like.

Not that I ate gluten yesterday or anything, but my body is very much recovering from all the delicious debauchery that I participated in over the past month's holiday season. It's going to take a little while for me to start feeling clean and sunny again. I've noticed that going back to my old eating habits made my weight increase and my mood plummet. I'm not sure how much of that is mental (as in when I see something I don't like in the mirror, it puts me in a bad mood) and how much is a physical reaction to the processed food ingredients. But I have felt pretty emotionally unstable for the past few weeks and I don't think that it's disconnected from what I've been putting in my body.

So, let's get on with the clean theme.

Last post, I mentioned that a lot of success with keeping the dirty stuff out of your system is to make sure you have snacks that you like on hand, readily accessible. Some of you (some of me) may not be ready to embrace the kale chips and you may be missing your baked goods.

I have great, sun-shiny news.

I kind of wanted to name this recipe "Zu-clean-i Bites", but my husband has told me before that I'm only allowed one terrible pun per day, and I've sadly used that up today.

This recipe is actually a two-fer, as it requires the use of almond flour. I had a very difficult time with almond flour when I came back to Virginia. I go to school in a fairly small, Southern town. There are health food stores here, but almond flour gets very expensive, very quickly. I am a college student, and a newly wed as well. Ten dollars for a pound of almond flour just doesn't really work for me!

I quickly took a page out of my sister's book and learned to make my own almond flour. She has a wonderful nut mill made by L'Equip that is (sadly) no longer produced. I bought an inexpensive model (around $30 on Amazon) made by Krups that has served me very well, so far. You can get a coffee grinder at WalMart for less than $10, but I highly discourage it. Your results will be frustrating and chunky. It's much better to spring for a nicer coffee grinder/nut mill combo. Forgo your Starbucks for a week and try some of my Clean Coffee Concoctions. You should be able to save more than $20.

Do-It Yourself Almond Flour

Since I don't actually do a lot of baking with almond flour (it's high in calories and heavy on the wallet, so I use it as a treat!) I have not had any need to buy my almonds in bulk. I buy about one bag a month from my grocery store and find that it usually produces plenty of flour for my needs. For those of you who do a lot more baking, you may want to look into buying almonds in bulk, either through a store like Costco or Sam's Club, or even online.

The finer you can get your grind, the less grainy your almond flour will be. If you're serious about texture, blanch your almonds by immersing them in boiling water, then running cold water over them after about a minute. The skins will pop right off after this treatment, leaving you with a beautiful white nut. Once the almonds dry, they're perfectly ready to be turned into a very smooth almond flour.

I choose not to blanch my almonds because a lot of the fiber is in the skins. I acknowledge that almond flour texture is just going to be different and it's never bothered me to have that grainy feel. I'd rather have that extra fiber to get me through the day!

Once you have dry almonds, blanched or not, pour a handful into the nut mill. My nut mill is pretty small, so I don't put a ton in.

Put the lid on the mill or grinder and pulse it until the majority of the nuts are ground up. You're not going to get everything ground up. Don't sweat it. Grab a mesh strainer and a bowl and dump the results of your first grind into the strainer. 

Now, burn some of those calories! Shake the strainer back and forth. The fine "flour" particles are going to go right through and your large pieces will stay in the strainer. 

Like magic. Awesome, tasty magic.
Sometimes I will hit the rim of the strainer against my palm, over the bowl, to speed up the separation process. Once you've only got your big pieces left, return them to mill or grinder with another small handful of new almonds and repeat the process. Eventually, what you will be left with is no more large chunks, and a bowl of very fresh almond flour.

Playing with this basic process will yield different results. I know some people who buy packaged almond flour (Bob's Red Mill, for instance) and then go through this same process once they get it home just to get a finer particle. The finer your grind, the more like regular flour your texture will be. I'm obviously not overly concerned about my grind size as I've intentionally left my almond skins intact. I need all the nutrients I can for my rainy days.

Now that you have your almond flour, let's use it for something awesome:

Zu-clean-i - I mean, Zucchini Bites

1 cup zucchini (grated)
1/2 cup almond flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cheese (I prefer feta and cheddar)
3 shallots (diced)
salt and pepper
coconut oil (for pan)

Preheat oven to 400F.

Grate a zucchini (I like the texture of a bigger grate) until you have about a cup, maybe a little more. Wrap the result in paper towel or cheesecloth and squeeze the excess moisture out of it. Your result is going to be watery if you skip this step. 

So don't skip it.
The beauty of this recipe, once again, is the simplicity. If you don't like feta, you can use a combination of cheeses. I usually toss in a bit of sharp cheddar. The feta works particularly well because it's a bit moister. Originally I used to do this recipe with parmesan, but the result was a little too dry for my tastebuds. The feta will add a bit of softness to the bites, while a harder cheese like cheddar will help hold it together and make it not so salty. I usually do more cheddar than feta, since it's a bit cheaper for me.

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Grease a mini muffin tin with coconut oil. If you don't have  a mini muffin tin, you can use a regular size muffin tin, but I can't promise your resulting zucchini bites will be adorable. You'll also have to adjust cook time to a wee bit longer. 

We promise you adorable muffins. No lie.
Fill the muffin tin. The zucchini bites will only rise about another 25%, so if you fill up the spots a little over half, you shouldn't experience bite-blowout. Cook for around 25 minutes. I tend to err on the side of overly-done since there's a bit of egg in these and my husband cannot tolerate egg-y things that aren't well done.

Two bites got sacrificed to the photographer's hunger.

This was one of the earliest recipes I ever tried when my sister first introduced me to Maximized Living, and it's still a staple for me. I make a large batch so I can store them in the fridge and just grab a couple when I'm on the run. They're great additions for breakfast, wonderful appetizers, and fantastic sides for a bowl of soup. Most of all, it means that I have a convenient, clean option to go to instead of my hubby's stash of white bread on top of the fridge.

I think I feel the rain letting up already. 

Happy baking!

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