13 July 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge: Nut Butters

When I saw the new challenge for this month, I wasn't quite sure how to react. The idea of making a nut butter has always been intriguing to me, but Hubby is not a huge fan of nut butters, so I wasn't sure how easily I'd be able to pull off the taste. But then I realized a holiday was near. And holidays means parties. Parties mean food. Plenty of food... which means I can make whatever I want on the side as long as Hubby has enough food. And oh boy, I went to town on this challenge.

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.

First of all, I needed to actually make a nut butter. But I don't have a food processor, so I sat on the idea for a bit. I have an immersion blender with a blender attachment, and I was pretty confident that would work until I started checking out the forums. A lot of people were having issues getting their mini food processors to work, so I didn't think there was any way my immersion blender attachment would be able to handle the load. So I went shopping. No, not for a food processor... I'm not made of money! But I did go shopping and found a nice variety of nut butters at our local BioMarkt. Yay! Not to say some of them weren't pricey, but I was willing to spend the extra bucks to get the good stuff. I grabbed the cashew butter, looked long and hard at the almond butter, but grabbed the sesame butter instead (aka, tahini). And I was off.

I had four ideas swimming around in my head. (Yes, I realize I felt very guilty about missing last month, so I might have overcompensated this month!) First to come out, hummus. I know sesame seeds are seeds and not nuts, but sesame butter was an option for those allergic to nuts, and I've always wanted to make my own hummus. I bought the ingredients, and then found a recipe. Not quite sure why I did that backwards, but that's what happened. I landed on David Lebovitz's site, searched for hummus, and came up with gold. Since I failed to look at a recipe first, I did not use parsley. The hummus* was still fabulous and made way more than three people could eat in one sitting. This particular recipe is adapted by Lebovitz from the Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook. My additional notes are in italics.

Cabbagetown Hummus Recipe (Ithaca, not Altanta)
3 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup (180g) tahini (sesame butter)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup (80ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 cups (350g) drained canned chickpeas, (reserve the liquid)
1 cup (15g) gently-packed parsley leaves, preferably flat-leaf
1/8 teaspoon chile powder
6 tablespoons (or more) of chickpea liquid

1. In a blender, whiz together the garlic, salt, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice until the garlic is finely-chopped.
2. Add the chick peas, parsley leaves, chile powder, and 6 tablespoons of chick pea liquid, and pulse until smooth. (Or leave out the parsley, it will still be tasty.) Stop the machine a couple of times during blending to scrape down the sides to make sure everything gets well-incorporated.
3. Taste, and add more lemon juice or salt if desired, and more of the chick pea liquid until it reaches a thick, but spreadable consistency. You can make it as smooth, or as coarse, as you want. I did not need more salt lemon juice, or chick pea liquid.
Serving: Lebovitz suggests makeing a well in the center and drip in some good olive oil and cracker pepper in the crater. Serve with toasted pita chips, baguette slices, or whole wheat crackers. Sometimes he'll add a generous sprinkle of chopped chives or scallions along with the parsley to his hummus as well. It's also good with raw vegetables, as a dip.

* I actually have a strange relationship with hummus. It's one of those foods I feel like I should love, but most of the time it gives me a headache. The first hummus I found that did not give me a headache was at Al's in Birmingham, AL. Boy do I miss Al's, but that's a post for another blog. I liked Al's hummus because of how how thin it was, the giant green olive, and the nice big glug of olive oil in the center. Hubby loves Al's hummus too, but preferred mine (woohoo). The one I made was not as thin as Al's, but it did have the oil in the center just like Lebovitz also suggests. I served mine with pita that I'd sliced and toasted.

Next up, a sweet recipe that's always a favorite around here: peanut butter swirl brownies. An option to the challenge was to make a sweet recipe in addition to a savory, and I knew Hubby would love this one... as would our American friends when I served them at the Fourth of July party. The brownie recipe I use makes enough to fill an 8x8 inch pan, but the peanut butter swirl recipe I use is designed for a 9x13 pan. Extra peanut butter = extra yummy! They go over perfectly even with people who only make brownies from a mix.

Steps to the perfect peanut butter swirl:
Step 1. Plop big gobs of your peanut butter mixture on your uncooked batter.

Step 2. Drag your butter knife through the peanut butter in an orderly fashion: horizontally and then vertically, dragging the knife in the opposite direction each time. Do pick up the knife at the end of each drag. 

Oh my, you can tell I used natural lighting instead of my flash and oven light on this one! 

Time was running low before the party began, and one person cancelled at the last minute, so I ended up cutting out the actual challenge recipe from our Fourth of July party at the last minute. But I was determined to make it, so I put the dressing together one night (8 cloves of garlic!!!), and then made noodles Monday night to take with me to lunch on Tuesday. Nicely, our kitchen at work is actually a kitchen, so I was able to throw everything else together at work. Yay for hot COLD lunch!

Look at all the garlic! If your eyes don't hurt from looking past the blurry stuff! It's not easy to take a picture in a blender attachment...

This one is slightly less painful and gives you a great view of the tasty sauce! 

Okay, so I actually wrote the previous paragraph long before I made the recipe. The last two weeks have been hot and miserable, and I've been so grumpy that I didn't make the noodles until a week later... specifically,  Monday a week later. Today I took cucumbers, frozen shrimp, and tomatoes with me into work, along with my noodles and dressing. Oh my word, what tastiness! It was nice and cool as well. I opened the dressing and the woman next to me almost feel out of her seat as the strong smell of garlic hit her! Needless to say, I had to pop tictacs for the rest of the day, but it was worth it! I'll be having it again for lunch tomorrow.  :) Oh, and you get an iPhone photo because I didn't want to drag my camera to work this morning.

You'd better believe I got funny looks when I took a picture before eating this at work today!

Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew (or Peanut) Dressing
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe notes from Challenge hosts: 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.

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)
**This sauce is mighty powerful, but it sure is tasty! I did not use sparingly!

Noodle Salad:
1/2 pound (225 g) linguine or thin rice noodles (I used wide glass 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 (Yuck! I replaced pepper with tomato.)
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced (Peel, seed, and slice?? How about a dice instead?)
1/4 cup (60 ml) sliced green onions (Oops, I used the rest of these last night...)
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped fresh basil (Oops, forgot to grab that when I ran out of the house this am)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) chopped cashews (optional garnish) (Forgot those too)
Lime wedges (optional)


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. OR, purchase frozen, fully-cooked shrimp and defrost in a small bowl of cold water while you dice your tomatoes and cucumbers. 
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.

For my final Challenge recipe, I decided to channel another Daring Cooks Challenge: Satay. I have always loved satay, so I was slightly disappointed when I realized that I'd missed the satay challenge by signing up two months late. Satay is sometimes served with a peanut butter sauce, so I took that and ran with it. I prepared the satay not for the Fourth of July party, but for the cookout after a long day of canoeing up the River Saale on July 4th. I threw a quick and easy marinade together before the canoe trip, along with the peanut butter sauce, let it marinate all day, and put it on the grill (pan) when I got home. Ridiculously easy and tasty! Why hadn't I made this at home before?

For the Quick and Easy Marinade:

2 T vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil) (1 oz or 30 mls)
2 T lemon juice (
1 oz or 30 mls)
1 T soy sauce (
0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 tsp ginger powder (
5 mls)
1 tsp garlic powder (
5 mls)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (
5 mls)

1. Mix well.
2. Cut pork into 1 inch thick strips (
2-2.5 cm thick), any length.
3. Cover pork with marinade. You can place the pork into a bowl, cover/seal and chill, or place the whole lot of it into a ziplock bag, seal and chill up to 8 hours for pork. 

The marinade: dump all ingredients in jar. Fasten lid tightly. Shake. 

For the Peanut Sauce
3/4 cup coconut milk (6 oz or 180 mls)
4 Tbsp peanut butter (
2 oz or 60 mls)
1 Tbsp lemon juice (
0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (
0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 tsp brown sugar (
5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (
2.5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground coriander (
2.5 mls)
1-2 dried red chilies, chopped (keep the seeds for heat)

1. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add soy sauce and lemon, mix well.
2. Over low heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter and your soy-lemon-seasoning mix. Mix well, stir often.
3. All you’re doing is melting the peanut butter, so make your peanut sauce after you’ve made everything else in your meal, or make ahead of time and reheat.

Melting the peanut butter into the sauce.

Cooking the Pork Satay:
 1. If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak your skewers in warm water for at least 20 minutes before preparing skewers.
2. Gently and slowly slide meat strips onto skewers. Discard leftover marinade.*
3. Broil or grill at 290°C/550° F (or pan fry on medium-high) for 8-10 minutes or until the edges just start to char. Flip and cook another 8-10 minutes.
* If you’re grilling or broiling, you could definitely brush once with extra marinade when you flip the skewers.

Pork on the grill. Yum!

Pork satay with peanut butter dipping sauce* and green beans. Delish!

* I had leftover peanut sauce, so I took it to lunch as a dip for cucumbers. Everyone was curious, so I let several people try it, and it got rave reviews. In fact, one of the women polished it off for me and asked for the recipe! 

I'd like to thanks this month's hosts for a fantastic challenge. When I finally get around to owning a food processor, my first task will be nut butters! 


  1. Okay,the pork satay with peanut butter dipping sauce looks good but is not for me. Glad you enjoyed it! The hummus sounded divine. I love hummus and made my first "homemade" two weeks ago. I enjoyed making it but since I am the only one at home that eats it, it is easier to just buy the stuff.. You follow in your mom's footsteps when it comes to brownies!

  2. That hummus looks fabulous and I know the Asian noodle sauce is delicious but your brownie looks spectacular so yummy I bet. Wonderful effort and tasty results. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  3. Yum, yum, and YUM! Of course the brownies look amazing, but I'm also interested in trying the Asian noodle salad with the nut dressing. :-)

  4. @ Aunt Vicki: The hummus was wonderful! I do find that one can of chickpeas makes a whole lot of hummus, way too much for three people, let alone one! When I have a real freezer, I think I'll probably portion it out a freeze it since I don't like the store bought as much.

    @ Audax: Thank you so much! I drooled over your blog just before I posted this one! You should definitely try the brownie recipe.

    @ Megan: The noodle dressing is fantastic! Just make sure others around you eat it too! I actually had someone tell me she could smell the garlic on me and I wasn't standing right next to her! Yikes. Or, just reduce the garlic. You could easily get away with halving the garlic and still get plenty of flavor. :)

  5. We think we can smell your garlic coming through the pictures. ;p

    It sounds like everything turned out wonderfully, and we're willing to bet that more than one of your readers will have a batch of your brownies baking away soon, if they're not already out on the counter.

    Well done!
    Stay JOLLY!


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