Chicken/Broccoli Ravioli

Making chicken/broccoli ravioli in cheese sauce

Two weeks ago I got a new kitchen toy – a pasta machine!  I bought it from my new favorite web store – Tanga – for less than $30.00.  I have seen pasta machines like this one elsewhere for much, much more, so when I saw this one, I snatched it up!  I am not an affiliate of Tanga – I just love the deals they offer!

One reason I wanted a pasta machine was because dear hubby and I plan to have a small wheat field when we move up to our future homestead, and pasta is one of our all-time favorite foods made from wheat, second only to sourdough garlic bread! 🙂  Growing our own wheat (an ancient variety, not sure which one yet) ensures that we won’t have the gluten problems that one can encounter with modern day wheat due to it’s gluten protein structure.  Apparently you can grow enough wheat in a 10 x 20 foot plot of land to make one loaf of bread every week for a year.

Sounds great!  However, if we have one loaf of bread every week, then what will we make our pasta out of?

chicken broccoli ravioli

Look! A baby almond on a baby almond tree!

As many of my readers know, I have been experimenting with acorn and almond flour.  Acorns are abundant on our future homestead.  In fact, if you aren’t careful, you can turn an ankle on the mass of acorns on the ground every fall.  We have very happy oak trees!

We also planted an All-In-One almond tree last year from Peaceful Valley Nursery (my favorite) and that baby tree has two almonds on it!  So cute!  Along with our purchased almond, our volunteer almond that we have in our current backyard has spawned several other volunteer almond trees.  I potted up those seedlings and we will plant them next fall on the future homestead.

broccoli and chicken ravioli

1-2-3 Flour
1 part acorn flour
2 parts almond flour
3 parts wheat flour

Anyhow…   I have developed a mixture of flour that I find absolutely wonderful, and I call it my 1-2-3 flour.  I call it this, because it uses 1 part acorn flour, 2 parts almond flour and 3 parts wheat flour.  The almond flour offsets the bitter tannin taste of the acorn flour, and with the wheat flour being 1/2 of the mix, I usually get enough gluten to be able to make just about any recipe successfully, including bread!

So, I started with 3 cups of my 1-2-3 flour (you can use all wheat flour), added 3 eggs and 2 teaspoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and mixed until a dough ball formed.  I turned out the dough onto my lightly floured counter and kneaded it for a few minutes, until it started to get just a bit elastic.  Wrap the dough in plastic or, better yet, place in an air tight container and let the dough rest.

Homemade ravioli chicken and broccoli

Ingredients for the filling of the ravioli: cooked chicken, broccoli and cheese – one cup of each

While the dough was resting, I made the filling.  I used a jar of the chicken I had canned a few weeks ago.  I chopped up 1 cup of the chicken, to which I added 1 cup of chopped broccoli and 1/2 cup cheddar/jack cheese.  A little salt and pepper, and your filling is ready to go!  This is the mixture I have always used when I make Chicken/Broccoli Manicotti, and it usually fills about 8 manicotti.  However, in hindsight, I found that ravioli does not take nearly as much filling as the manicotti does, and I only needed about 1/3 of the filling that I made.  I also realized that the next time I make ravioli, I need to chop the pieces a LOT smaller!

homemade ravioli

My new pasta machine – I love it!

So, now it’s time to try out my new kitchen toy!  I cleaned the machine just as the manufacturer suggested (with a piece of dough that you will eventually throw away) and boy, did I make a mess!  Apparently my dough was just a bit too sticky!  I had pasta dough in every nook and cranny that the machine had, and let me tell you, it wasn’t very easy to clean out globs of pasta from inside the machine!  Once that was done, I had to try again. This time I figured out that all you have to do is lightly dust each side of the pasta before you insert it into the rollers, and sure enough, it doesn’t stick.  So I started out at the #1 setting and gradually rolled the pasta to a #5 setting, when I thought the dough was thin enough.

After I had several sheets of the pasta lined up, I used my ravioli edge cutter stamp thingy (no idea what it’s called) and measured out the size I would need for each ravioli, and using a ruler, I cut the pasta into 2″ squares.  More or less.

Homemade ravioli

This is the ravioli edger/cutter crimping thingy. Whatever it is, it works well!

I bought that ravioli thingy quite a few years ago thinking it looked really cool, thinking that I would someday make ravioli.  Well…  here we are!

how to make ravioli at home

The filling piled into the middle of the pasta squares. Next time I will chop the filling into smaller pieces.

The filling was placed in the middle of each square, I lightly moistened the edges of each filled square and then placed another pasta square on top.  The ravioli edge thingy was then pressed on each ravioli, sealing the edges and making them look pretty!

Wow, this wasn’t so hard to do, it just takes a bit of time!  I can imagine buying a bottle of muscat (our family’s favorite wine), inviting my sisters Deana and Machell over, and we could have a wonderful party drinking wine and making ravioli!  How about it, dear sisters?  We could make enough for dinner and also for each of us to take home for our freezers!

How to make ravioli

Here they are, taking a bath in the boiling water! Not one of the ravioli broke open! Wahoo!  I call that success!

So now it was time to cook the ravioli and eat it!  Apparently all that is necessary is to place them carefully in barely boiling salted water, and cook them for 6-8 minutes.  So, that’s just what I did.  While waiting for the water to boil, I made a simple cheese sauce for the ravioli by first making a rue with 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of flour and letting that cook just a bit (gets out the floury taste), then slowly, while whisking, add 3/4 cup of chicken broth.  The sauce will get pretty thick, so now add 1/2 cup of milk, whisking all the while.  When the milk is incorporated, add 1 cup cheddar cheese.  Lower the heat to just simmer and stir frequently until the cheese is melted and the sauce is nice and smooth.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Once the ravioli are cooked, carefully toss them in the cheese sauce.

How to make ravioli recipe

Here are three ravioli, one split open, in the cheese sauce. Yummy!

Holy cannoli, it was really good.  It was fun, too! Hubby gave the ravioli a two thumbs up.

What will I do differently next time?  First of all, as mentioned, the filling needs to be in smaller pieces so it is easier to dollop in the middle of the pasta.  Also, I will go one step further on the pasta machine so the dough is just a bit thinner.  Everything else was perfect!

Do you have any good ravioli filling recipes?  Please – do tell!

 

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Eating Sprouted Acorns

Eating malted acorns

I have read that if you wait until spring to collect sprouting acorns, you never have to worry about worms in the nut meat !

The first week of March we traveled up to our future homestead to install yet another water storage tank.  While removing the forest duff where we were installing the tank, I noticed that most of the acorns still on the ground were starting to germinate!

Hmmm………  I remembered somewhere back in the recesses of my brain that when seeds germinate, the starches turn to sugar.  When a brewer makes beer, he sometimes uses malted barley (which is sprouted barley) because the grain would have a higher sugar content to turn into alcohol. So, it would make sense that if I gathered sprouted acorns in the spring, they would be sweeter than the whole, just dropped acorns in the fall, and it would be easier to get the remaining tannins out of the acorn.

eating sprouted acorns

Don’t worry, there were plenty left for the squirrels, deer and turkey!

Right?

I did some research and found that when sprouting occurs, chemical changes naturally take place so that some enzymes convert carbohydrates into simple sugars.  The complex proteins within the seed are converted into simple amino acids and most of the available fats turn into fatty acids.  This makes the nutrition within the seed more readily available for digestion.

I also found this:  “Germination caused a decrease in the protein, carbohydrate and starch; it increased sugar content, and had varied effects on the lipids contents of the dry samples. The anti-nutritional factor-tannin concentration was decreased.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1546053

Eating "Malted" AcornsI figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I gathered several pounds of the sprouting acorn nuts and brought them back to our current home in the Sacramento Valley.   I decided to use the boiling water method of tannin extraction, using larger pieces of the acorn.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much easier to remove the acorn meat from it’s shell!  The acorns shells had (usually) three splits at the small end, where the future root was protruding from the shell. Just a little bit of pressure on the acorn shell along one of these fissures with pliers would crack the acorn shell in half.  In fact, I was able to get a lot of the acorn nut meats out of the shell whole and intact – which was nearly impossible to do with newly fallen acorns.

"malting" acorns to eat

The testa (papery skin) is easily removed with a slotted spoon when using the boiling method to extract tannin.

I decided to try boiling the acorns for 15 minutes at a time, transferring back and forth to fresh boiling water, and see how many water changes it would take to get fairly clear water – which is supposed to indicate that most of the tannin had been boiled out.   Knowing that my oak is a species of red oak (I figured this out when I read that white oak acorns germinate as soon as they fall to the ground and red oaks wait until early spring) and the fact that red oak carries more tannin than white oak; I didn’t start tasting the acorns until after the fourth boiling.  Ick.  Then the fifth.  Nope.  Sixth.  Maybe, but no.  Seventh.  Much better.  I boiled for the eighth time, just to make sure.  Success.

One experiment with removing the tannin from acorns that I have been toying with is using pH testing strips.  Since Tannin is an acidic agent, I thought it would follow that the acorn nuts themselves would become less acidic as the tannin was leached out.  So I bought some pH test strips from an aquarium supply store to check out the acidity level of the water after each boil, to see if, indeed, the acid levels dropped.  I think it worked.  As you can see from the picture below, the color of the water from each successive boil turned from bright yellow to orange, indicating that the level of acidity had decreased.  I plan to experiment with this method using several techniques of leaching the acorns including the cold water leach method and the combination of cold water/hot water leach, along with the hot water method as above.  According to my palate – the acorns didn’t taste very palatable until the pH had reached about 7, which is neutral. The eighth boiling showed a red color on the test strips (sorry, that one isn’t in the picture), which apparently was an indication that the water was no longer acidic, so I assumed no longer had any tannin. 🙂

leaching tannin from sprouted acorns

The bright yellow color on the bottom of the test strip on the left showed that the water from the first boiling was very acidic, with the seventh boiling on the right being orange, which is neutral, indicating that as the tannin is leached from the acorns, they become less acidic!

After I had some leached acorns I had to decide what I would do with them next.  Since I had leached the tannin using the hot water method, I knew that they would lend themselves to a recipe that was not flour.  If you would like to make acorn flour, cold leaching is best for this because the oils have not been cooked out and the resulting cake, cookie or pastry would be less crumbly.  Baked goods made from flour using hot processed acorns tends to have no structure and fall apart.  So, I thought I would candy them using a recipe I have for candied walnuts!

Candied Acorn Nuts

Yes, I know, taking a natural good-for-you nut and coating it with sugar is counter-intuitive, but it sure is good!  🙂

These were pretty good!  But – next time I won’t add so much cinnamon.  You see, many plants contain tannin naturally, the most famous being grapes!  The tannin in the grapes added to the tannin in the oak barrels is what gives red wine it’s astringent, tannin flavor.  Another food stuff that includes tannin is cinnamon.  When I ate an acorn after the eighth boil, I did not taste any tannin.  In fact, the acorn was almost sweet.  However, after roasting the acorn, I could taste just a hint of tannin. I knew that roasting acorns will tend to bring out any tannin flavor left in the acorn, which is why I boiled once more, after I no longer tasted tannin.  Then, after they were candied, even through the sweet of the sugar, I could taste a stronger tannin flavor – presumably because of the cinnamon.

Will you have to boil your acorns eight times?  I don’t know.  Each oak tree is different.  Some people only have to boil once.  You never know until you try!

Will I make candied acorns again?  You betcha – just not with so much cinnamon.   In fact, I’m thinking of making some caramel acorn and popcorn next!  Anybody want some?

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Wheat, Almond & Acorn Bread

Making bread with almond and acorn flour

I have read (several sources) that a plot 10 x 20 (or 200 square feet) planted in wheat, will yield enough wheat flour (about two cups) to make one small to medium sized loaf of bread every week for a year!  Wow.

Since no one in my family is gluten intolerant and I just adore hot bread out of the oven, that information makes me extremely happy!  Holy cow – I can grow wheat over the leach field that lays right in front of our future home!

So, I got to thinking.  What if I used an alternative type of flour, one I can grow in my vegetable garden (soy or bean flour) or off a nut tree (acorn or almond flour) and use it to stretch the wheat flour further?  If the bread takes about 2 cups of flour, and I substituted 1 cup with another type of flour, then I would still have that 1 cup of wheat flour to use elsewhere – say, for pasta!  Or cake.  Or zucchini muffins.

Mmmmmmm…………. zucchini muffins.  😉

I have been doing a lot of experimenting with almond milk lately (Almond Milk Frozen Yogurt and Almond Milk Ice Cream) and so I have a lot of almond flour in my cupboard right now. When I make almond milk, the left-over pulp is dried and then ground into flour.  I have also been playing around with acorn flour, so I decided to give it a go and see what I can come up with!

Almond mealHere are a few pictures showing the different flours I am going to use.  The first is of dried almond pulp.  This is what is left over after you extract the almond milk.  The second picture shows the difference between blanched almond flour and unblanched almond flour.  When you blanch almonds, the skin slip off easily, so that the resulting meal/flour is a creamy white color.  When the skins are left on (which makes Making bread with three floursperfectly acceptable almond milk) they are ground up and used just like the blanched almond flour, except the texture may be just a bit more grainy.  Some people refer to unblanched almond flour as “almond meal”.  To me, it’s almost like having wheat flour and whole wheat flour.  The third picture shows the three flours that I am going to experiment with to get a good recipe for bread.  The top left shows unbleached all purpose wheat Almond and Acorn flour breadflour. I hope to be able to grow my own wheat on our future homestead, but this wheat is store-bought.  The top right is blanched almond flour that I made myself.  The bottom shows the acorn flour.  I gathered acorns, cracked the nuts out of the shells, ground them up a bit and leached them in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks, changing the water every day.  Once the bitterness of the tannin was removed, the acorn meal was allowed to dry and then I ground the dried acorn meal into flour.

My first experiment didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned. Bread made with almond and acorn flour The bread tasted pretty good and it rose about 1/3 again it’s size, but I think there was too much liquid involved.  It came out of the oven with the top of the bread looking almost like browned cheese.  It was a bit more dense than store-bought sandwich bread, but not too dense, and actually had a good crumb. Just as I had supposed, the sweetness of the almond flour offset the bitterness of the acorn flour, but not completely.   The crust was a bit more crumbly than I would have liked, although it cut well with a serrated knife.Bread using acorn flour

Okay.  So, knowing that it tasted good, had a decent texture, but didn’t rise up very much and didn’t have the best crust, I figured I would just tweak the recipe a bit. 😉  I like doing that!

I think there was just too much liquid in the batter, so I decided to try the same recipe again with only one egg and 1/2 cup of water. Bread made with almond flour Also, instead of using 1/2 cup of acorn flour, I used 1/3 cup and 2/3 cup of almond flour (instead of 1/2 and 1/2) with the 1 cup of wheat flour. With the dough hook on my mixer, I “kneaded” the bread for about 3 or 4 minutes, though it was a bit looser than conventional wheat bread dough.  But, this batter does have yeast and gluten, so I thought it couldn’t hurt.  It didn’t pour into the pan like the first batch and I had to plop it in with a spoon, which  I think was a good thing and more like the bread I was trying to get.  I let it rise 2 hours, and indeed, it rose up above the level of the pan.  This was a lot considering the batter barely filled up 1/3 of theBread made with almond and acorn flour pan to begin with.

I preheated my oven to 375 and let the bread bake for 20 minutes.  Mmmmmmm……. My whole house smelled so good!  The bread didn’t rise any more in the oven, like I was hoping it would, but when I cut the bread………………..

(angels descending from heaven singing a beautiful chorus)Bread with wheat, almond and acorn flour

………..it was beautiful.  It had a wonderful texture and sliced with a bread knife just like I was hoping it would.  Of course, the taste is the most important criteria for success and, let me tell you, this was a HUGE success!  Hubby and I both agreed that it tasted Baking bread with alternative flourswonderful.  We had some slices with my homemade crockpot plum butter that I put up last summer and decided this recipe was a winner!  I may still tweak the recipe a bit here and there because I want to see if adding just a bit more yeast and another 1/2 cup of flour would make a bigger loaf – more of a sandwich sized loaf.  But, at this point I am happy.  Really happy! 🙂

Here is the recipe I ended up with:

1 cup wheat flour, 2/3 cup almond flour, 1/3 cup acorn flour

1 packet yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons grape seed oil (or olive oil)

3 tablespoons sugar (cane non GMO sugar)

1 egg, slightly beaten

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water, according to packet directions.  Add sea salt, grape seed oil, sugar and the egg, mix well.  Add in flour.  At this point I used my mixer to “knead” the bread for about 4 minutes.  If you aren’t using a mixer, just make sure you mix it well.  Place in a bread loaf pan (I buttered mine first) and let it rise about 2 hours, or at least until doubled in volume.  Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes.  Pop out of pan and cool on a rack.  Enjoy!

Now – on to the pasta recipes!

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Acorn Flour Banana Bread

This post has taken me a while to write.  Let me explain.  Some of you may have already read about my experiments cooking with acorn flour.  At first I tried making noodles, but that is still a work in progress with a lot more experimentation to come.

acorn flour cookies

Success! These cookies are really good. REALLY GOOD!

Then I tried making cookies.  One recipe, chocolate chip cookies, was excellent!  The cookies were gone in 24 hours, which, in my household (with a husband, 3 grown boys and 4 grandchildren) means this is a “keeper” recipe.  The other cookie, a shortbread recipe, was awful, but let’s not talk about that one.  You can read about it by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

Lately I have been experimenting with banana nut bread made with acorn flour.  Since acorn flour is made from – well – acorns, which is a tree nut, I thought I would try using an almond flour recipe but substitute acorn flour.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Well……………..no, not really.

Here’s the scoop.  I bought one of those E-Books from Amazon about cooking with almond flour called Fast And Easy Almond Flour Recipes.  This book has a recipe called Almond Flour Bread with a Pinch of Cinnamon.  The ingredients looked simple enough and  are very similar to the Banana Nut Bread recipe that I have always used, so I decided this was the one I would use to adapt to acorn flour.

Bread made from Acorn Flour

2 cups of acorn flour – ready to be made into bread.

So, instead of the 2 cups of almond flour called for in the recipe, I added 2 cups of acorn flour.  Acorn flour is quite a bit darker than most other flours, and initially that was the only difference I noticed when I was making the bread.  I was so smug when I popped it into the oven, but 55 minutes later I wasn’t so sure!  The toothpick came out clean, but the bread didn’t rise at all.  Nope.  This (ahem) bread was actually a little concave in the middle.  Well, I thought to myself, not everything has to look good.  Right?  As long as it tastes good, that’s what matters………right?   🙂

I put the bread, still in the loaf pan, on a cooling rack.  I had some errands to run in town, so I left the house for just a couple of hours but then would come back home and cook dinner.  I was planning on accompanying our pork chop and green bean dinner with the bread.

Well, that didn’t happen.  When I tried to take the bread out of the pan, I realized that what I had created was a flat, four cornered hockey puck.  My hubby (bless his heart) tried the bread anyway and said that, on the whole, the taste wasn’t bad!  Unfortunately, human teeth were never meant to eat hockey pucks. Epic Fail! 🙁

So, what went wrong.  Hmmmmm…  I do know that from my cooking experiments so far, acorn flour seems to have a lot less moisture in it than the almond flour.  Probably a lot less oils also.  That may have something to do with the leaching process to get all the tannin out.

Banana Bread using Acorn Flour

The second attempt at banana nut bread – a bit sweeter, a bit lighter.

It also is a bit denser. Cup for cup, it weighs a bit more than wheat flour does.  And it is a lot less sweet than the almond flour.  So, I decided to try adding a bit more baking soda (to help it rise), and instead of four whole eggs, I used three whole eggs with 2 whipped egg whites (also to help it rise and for more moisture), omit the sugar and use honey instead (a different type of sweetness and – more moisture).

The result?  Success!  The bread was done sooner than the original recipe said it would be – at about 45 minutes!  I’m glad I checked it early!  As you can see from the picture below – the bread didn’t rise all that much – but it did rise!

And it tasted really good.

And we could actually eat it!

The bread was very much like the banana nut bread I usually make, just a bit denser, more like a brownie. I tried toasting it under the broiler today and added a touch of butter and it was delicious!

Banana Nut Bread from Acorn Flour

Success! Banana nut bread made with acorn flour!

Here is the final recipe I came up with:

2 cups of acorn flour – ground as fine as you can get it!

3 whole eggs

2 egg whites, whipped to a fairly stiff froth

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup honey

3/4 cup banana puree

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine the acorn flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl combine the whole eggs, oil, honey, banana puree and vanilla.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir until you have a smooth batter.  Add the nuts. Whip the egg whites until they are foamy – carefully fold into batter.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 45-55 minutes until bread is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.  🙂

I think my next experiment will be with a similar recipe, except this time I am going to add applesauce instead of the bananas, and apple chunks and raisins instead of the nuts, to see if this will make a good muffin. Perhaps I will swap out some of the cinnamon and instead use cardamom – one of my new favorite spices! Here’s to hoping I don’t make miniature hockey pucks!  Stay tuned!

Here are my previous posts on cooking with acorns – Eating Acorns;  Eating Acorns, Round 2; and Acorn Flour Cookies.

 

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