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.
My first thought upon reading this challenge was "cool!" followed quickly by "uh oh..." As I have mentioned more times than I probably should have, I don't have a food processor. And the one time I tried to make peanut butter in my mini-blender did not turn out well. I was immediately concerned that my lack of proper equipment would stand in the way of completing this challenge. Luckily, though, my sister and fellow Daring Kitchen member happens to have not one, but two food processors. As she is always open to visitors, even those primarily seeking usage of her kitchen equipment Equipment (or access to it, anyway) secured, I was back on track with thinking about how cool this challenge was.
The first big decision was what type of nut butter to make. While I know of lots of peanut butter recipes, I didn't want to take the easy way out. Many recipes for walnut dishes looked great, but my husband is allergic to walnuts, so those were out. My usual substitution for walnuts is pecans, so I decided to go with those. But then I decided to go with one of my favorite nuts, too, and picked up some cashews as well. Double the challenge, double the fun!
To up the flavor of my nut butters, I decided to roast the nuts prior to grinding them. I simply spread the nuts on a baking sheet in an even layer and roasted them in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. I gave the cookie sheets a light toss in the middle, to ensure even roasting, but that was as difficult as it got.
The first butter that I made was roasted pecan butter. The process was amazingly simple. The roasted nuts are placed into the bowl of a food processor, and then the machine does all of the work. The nuts went through several phases - crumb and clump, as I referred to them - before turning into an amazingly smooth butter.
The amazing thing was that these pecans went from nuts to butter in just a couple of minutes. It was so easy.
Next I tackled the roasted cashew butter. I am actually glad that I made the pecan butter first, as the speed and ease with which it came together gave me a really great sense of confidence in the process. The process of making the cashew butter was the same, but the timing and results were pretty different.The "clump" stage lasted much longer with the cashews. That big ball of cashew butter that you see in the photo above took quite a while to break down, but it finally did, and the resulting butter, while thicker than the pecan butter, was smooth and delicious.
And in case you were wondering what little miss was up to during the process, she was highly involved, manning the food processor and letting me know when each nut butter was done.
And in case you were further curious whether or not roasting the nuts prior to grinding them made a discernible difference, my sister and I were able to do a side by side taste test. As I was at her home, and that she had already made cashew butter with unroasted cashews, we each took a taste of the roasted and unroasted versions to compare. We both felt that the roasted cashew butter had a deeper and more vibrant taste, though the unroasted still tasted fresh and delicious. It was definitely interesting to be able to compare them, though!
Nut butters in hand, it was time to head home and turn them into delicious savory dishes.
First up was the pecan butter. I had decided to double challenge myself by making pecan encrusted chicken with a pecan sauce. Why was this a double challenge? Because to ensure a proper pecan crust on the chicken requires a double-coating process, unlike the normal single coating that I usually do. I had planned ahead for this part of my personal challenge, and had reserved some of the crushed nuts from the food processor when they were at the "crumb" stage. The pecan crumbs were combined with bread crumbs, and the chicken, pounded, floured and dipped in egg wash, was coated with the pecan crumbs.
For the sauce, I pieced together my own recipe based on a combination of one of the recipes given in the challenge and several others I found online. I combined the fresh pecan butter with onion, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and chicken broth. Denied the opportunity of making the actual nut butters, my mini-blender was put to work blending the sauce. Once all of the chicken came out of the pan, the sauce went into it to be warmed and finished.
The resulting chicken and sauce were delicious, and made a fantastic dinner. The pecan flavor really came through. Again, as a comparison, I had breaded half of the chicken in the pecan crumbs and half in panko bread crumbs, and both my husband and I agreed that the sauce went very nicely with either (and made a really nice accompaniment for the "plain" chicken), and that the pecan chicken, even on its own without the sauce, had a really great flavor and crunch.
But wait - we aren't done with the pecan butter yet! Two days later, with absolutely no prompting (I swear!), little miss decided that she wanted to have a pecan butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. I kid you not. She asked for it by name. Then proceeded to make the sandwich almost completely by herself. She then proceeded to eat every single bite of it. The only problem was that she used the last of the pecan butter to make the sandwich, but I have a feeling that we will be making some more in the near future.
Next, it was time to use the cashew butter. I had several ideas, but finally decided to make a version of the cashew dressing that was listed in one of the challenge recipes for an asian noodle salad. While we nomally have salads with dinner evey night, we rarely actually toss our salads with dressing. One night this weekend, my sister in law joined us for dinner, so we were actually making enough salad to make it worth tossing for real. On a last minute whim, my husband and I decided to whip up our own version of the cashew dressing for our salad, and boy were we glad we did. We made more than needed for that one dinner, and have both been having it on our individual salads all week long.
I still have a couple of ideas for using more of the cashew butter, so hopefully you will be seeing further cashew recipes in the upcoming couple of weeks. That is... if I can keep myself from just turning it all into this delicious dressing.
Margie and Natashya, I can't thank you enough for this challenge. Most people, myself included, probably rarely (if ever!) think to make their own nut butters, much less to incorporate them into meals in such creative ways. This challenge truly inspired me and resulted in some delicious dishes that were loved by my entire family. I will definitely be making my own nut butters again in the future, and look forward to all of the amazingly delicious ways in which I will be able to enjoy them!
To see more of the amazingly creative and delicious dishes that were prepared by the other Daring Cooks, check them out here.
4 months ago