For many of us, milk is reminiscent of our childhood. A glass of milk is what was served with meals and warmed up when the sandman is nowhere to be found. Then we grow up, move on to coffee and lattés instead, but it still remains a household staple. Over recent years, I have tried other kinds of non-dairy milk but overall found that their taste lacked some kind of richness comparable to that of the cow’s milk I grew up on.
I recently starting making my own nut milks and I will never go back to the processed kind. Homemade nut milks taste just the way you want them because you can tweak as you please. The best part is that you have a non-dairy milk beverage, that is also free of preservatives and other unpronounceable ingredients.
Here are the nut milk making basics:
- 1 cup raw nuts
- 3 cups water
- 1 pinch salt
- ½ tbsp. spices of choice
- 1-2 dates soaked and/or 1 tbsp of sweetener of choice
The first step is to soak your nuts for about 8 hours. Put them in a contained filled with enough filtered water to allow the nuts to expand (some may double in size!!). You can do this before going to bed or before heading out for your workday, and by the time you wake up or come home, you are ready to start milking! This is an easy way to fit it into a routine if you want to have fresh nut milk readily available.
Why soak nuts you ask? I wondered the same thing for a long time, but the difference in taste between an unsoaked nut and one that is plumped up is quite surprising. With brown nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts…) you do not get that bitterness you usually taste. Aside from taste, soaking nuts helps remove the enzyme inhibitors and bring the nuts back to life. What this essentially means is that the nuts become more easily digestible and the nutrients more readily available to your body. (Reference: Uncooking101, a great raw food ressource!)
So now that your nuts have been soaking for about 8 hours, rinse them thoroughly and place in a blender with 3 cups of water, pinch of salt, spices of choice, soaked dates and/or sweetener if desired. Blend until smooth and strain with a sieve, cheese cloth, or a nut milk bag (can be found in health food stores, are reusable and are fairly inexpensive). Some nuts milks don’t need to be strained, such as cashews and macadamia.
Now here is how you can play around with this basic recipe: For a creamier texture, use less water. Try different spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg or even cacao powder to make some chocolate milk. For a little sweetness, try different types and amounts of sweeteners to find the right balance that works with your palate – honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.
Making your own nut milks at home is so simple and taste better than anything that comes in a carton that it is definitely worth incorporating into your routine. The leftover nut meal can be reused for a variety of recipes: You can mix it with chopped dried nuts and make some raw energy rolls. You can also use it to make a raw pie crust… but more on that later.
The highlight of any homemade lasagna – aside from the homemade cheese of course – is the sauce. This sauce hides generation after generation of ingredients, methods, tweaking and most importantly tradition. Whether it is your mother, father, aunt, grandmother, etc…. most of us have at some point in our childhood, clenched someone’s apron and helped stir the family recipe on the stovetop. These recipes that have no specific list of ingredients and are handed down from generation to generation, and the only way you remember how to make them is by standing by the process and hopefully getting to taste it hot from the pot before anyone else gets to. Now that, just that, makes the recipe memorable. That is the moment that your taste buds will remember forever, until one day you put those ingredients together for your family and friends to pass on the tradition.
This is how my sauce originated. Une vraie de vraie sauce à spag! It is a meat and tomato sauce that my mother made over and over, while I stood by paying attention to every ingredient every step of the way, until one day I finally made my own. I have decided to share my version of this sauce with you, but by all means feel free to stick your own because at the end of the day, that’s the one that matters.
Kristel’s Meat Sauce
- 2 medium onions, about 2 cups chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, about 1 cup chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 8 oz of crimini (brown) mushrooms, stems removed and chopped, caps cut in quarters
- 300 grams lean ground pork
- 700 grams lean ground beef
- 2 cans diced tomatoes (28 oz each can)
- 2 cans of water (28 oz each can)
- 1 can tomato paste (156 ml can)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp chili flakes (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp herbes de provence
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
I’ve decided to break this down step by step:
Step 1 – Sweating
In a large pot drizzled with olive oil, start to sweat (cook until translucent) on medium-high heat the onions, celery, the chopped mushrooms stems and garlic, with about a tablespoon of salt, the chili flakes and pepper. The salt will help draw out the moisture from the vegetables but make sure they don’t brown.
Step 2 – Browning
Add the ground pork and beef to the pot. Break up the meat as is starts to cook through. Add the herbes de provence, the bay leaves and mushrooms caps as the meat continues to brown. Stir-in the canned diced tomatoes, the tomato paste and the water, as well as the teaspoon of sugar. The reason for adding sugar to a tomato sauce is to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
Step 3 – Simmering and Reducing
Bring the sauce to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about three hours. At the halfway point do a taste test to see if you sauce needs more salt, pepper or chili flakes; adjust the seasoning to your liking. When you first add the tomatoes and water the sauce will look very watered down but that is normal. Simmering the sauce for 3 hours plus will help concentrate the flavours and you will notice that the overall volume of the sauce will have reduced. I like to use my cooking spoon to measure the level when the water has been added and after the sauce has been reduced. I usually notice that the sauce content has reduced by an inch or two. At this point I can safely assume that my meat sauce is ready for serving, storing or in this case, layering in my lasagna.
Here are the additional ingredients you will need: 400g of lactose-free mozzarella (which you can now find in most grocery stores) and lasagna pasta. Choose a rectangular baking dish and estimate how many sheets of pasta you will need. I had four layers in my dish and I used three sheets per layer, making a total of 12 sheets of pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente and strain (skip this step if using fresh pasta).
Now, this is when you start layering: begin with a ladle of sauce, just enough to barely cover the bottom of your dish. Put down the first layer of pasta (1). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a layer of pasta (2). Spread the homemade cheese and spinach filling, then add another layer of pasta (3). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a final layer of pasta (4). Add one last ladle of sauce, just enough to cover the pasta. Top the dish with the shredded lactose-free mozzarella and c’est fini!
Finally, about an hour before you’re ready to eat (maybe longer if you’ve made it ahead of time and kept it in the fridge), preheat the oven to 350°F and cook the lasagna until brown and bubbly on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 before serving!
I know it’s a long process to make the cheese, simmer the sauce and layer the lasagna, but why not make a day of it, invite your friends, spend some time with family, open up a bottle of wine and maybe see if you can create your own culinary tradition!
Got any food traditions you’d like to share? I love hearing about them. Feel free to comment here or email me!
My better half is a lactard.
When we first met and he confessed to me he was lactose intolerant, I was troubled. To me, coming from a French family where cheese is not just a staple but a necessary for survival, not being able to eat cheese would be a complete nightmare for me. Troubled by how I would cook without butter (yes, butter is a dairy product), without cream, without gorgonzola and coming to terms with no more grilled cheeses, no more pasta carbonara and more… I had to figure out a way around this predicament. And, I did. I found out about Almond Milk, Belsoy, soy ice cream (eek!), coconut milk, and finally some lactose-free cheese at my run-of-the-mill grocery store out of all places, and in the refrigerator next it, some lactose-free milk. But aside from all these dairy products, do you have any idea how many food products contain some sort of dairy?!?!?! Come on people, time to wake up and read your labels.
Now, it had been years since Mr. Better Half had had lasagna and I was craving lasagna; you know, the good kind like your mom used to make. I decided I would make this lasagna, with a creamy cheesy center and all. So I pooled my resources and attempted to make my own homemade cheese, aka paneer. Paneer is that cheese that you find in Indian dishes and is incredibly easy to make. Actually, it’s kinda stupid and here’s how you do it. You do need some extra equipment that most of don’t have lying around in our kitchens: cheesecloths. They are easy to find in most grocery stores, so usually there is no need to go to a specialty store to find them.
T & T – Homemade Cheese, a.k.a. Paneer
- 1 litre lactose-free milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp herbs or spices
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
In a large pot bring the milk, salt, herbs or spices to a simmer on medium-high heat. Just as it boils, turn off the heat and stir in lemon juice. You will see that the milk will start to curdle. That’s normal; let it sit for about 15 minutes. Take one sheet of cheesecloth and line it into a strainer. Strain the milk mixture, gather the cheesecloth and slightly squeeze out some more liquid. Wrap the cheese in the cloth, press it between two plates and refrigerate for a couple of hours. You can also add a jar on top of the plate to press down the cheese even more. And voilà, you’ve made cheese!
You can choose all sorts of different spice blends, herbs (dried or fresh) to make a variety of cheeses for any recipe you can think of. This cheese remains creamy but doesn’t melt, so you can pan-fry it. Play around with different flavours, you’ll be amazed by what you can come up with.
For this batch I chose to include about one teaspoon of herbes de provence since I was planning on using the cheese as a ricotta replacement for my Lactard Lasagna. So here’s a sneak-peak at the creamy cheesy center of my lasagna:
Homemade Cheese and Spinach Filling
- 1 batch homemade lactose-free cheese
- 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 cups of fresh spinach coarsely chopped (or a 5oz package)
- ¼ cups shredded lactose-free mozzarella
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a pan drizzled with olive oil, sauté the onions and the spinach until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to mixing bowl and allow spinach to cool. Once cooled, crumble the homemade cheese and add the shredded mozzarella. Mix all ingredients until well combined. Set aside until ready to build your lasagna. Instead of lasagne, you can also use this mixture as a stuffing for pasta shells, cannelloni, chicken, Portobello mushrooms… Be creative and don’t be afraid to try new things!