We hosted a charity wine-tasting Saturday evening with Chef Lee Blakely from Wines For Humanity.  If you aren’t familiar with them, check them out at http://www.winesforhumanity.com.  A portion of the proceeds from purchased wine goes to charity.  Our tasting benefited The Pantry of Broward County (www.thepantryofbroward.org).  I think my husband may have fallen in love with Chef Lee; she provided the perfect balance of education, entertainment and sarcasm.  Chef Lee recommended various food pairings for each course so we did mostly cheese but I wanted to use the opportunity to provide some raw appetizers.  I was a little nervous because, even with a large group, what are the chances that dehydrated food will be a hit?  Good news: I think we ended up with a couple converts.  Every last bite was inhaled. And I had so many requests to share the recipes, I thought they deserved a blog post.  Actually, they are from 2 of my favorite raw chefs, Judita Wignall & James Russell.  I have meant to find time to blog about each of them, but just haven’t committed the time.  So, here goes.

If you would like to add more raw food to your daily menu but are overwhelmed at the thought of having to give up cooked food completely, be intimidated no longer!  First, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, adding any raw choices to your daily consumption will benefit you; don’t feel you need to go 100% raw. That’s a nice goal, but I think shooting for 80% is more realistic.  Take baby steps in that direction by finding raw recipes that ‘make sense’ to you and don’t overwhelm you. For many, that means starting with raw desserts.  Do what works for you without killing yourself, make it a habit, then move on to something else.  Secondly, if you want to go 100% raw but believe that you have to give up cooked foods, know this is not the case.

After using my oven’s dehydrator setting and loving it, but wishing for more than a 2-tray system, I took the plunge and bought an Excalibur. Actually, I sold an old bracelet on eBay so I could say I bought it myself. The husbands in the audience will appreciate this. They offer a 5-tray oven and a 9-tray oven.  Given the footprint on your countertop will be the same for either model, take my advice: spend the extra 40 dollars and get the 9-tray model.  I purchased mine from an authorized dealer on eBay, but there are many on-line retailers.  Mine came with a great recipe book and free shipping, so do your homework.  Here’s a link to the eBay retailer from whom I purchased mine:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/310265620015?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649#ht_2380wt_1398

A dehydrator is a raw-foodies’s version of a toaster oven.  Now that I have one, I don’t know how I survived without it.  I’m exaggerating but it has been a great addition to our kitchen.  We us it for making raw energy bars, fruit leather, flax crackers, wraps, kale chips…tons of raw foods that are (at least) equally as satisfying as their ‘cooked’ counterparts, but infinitely more nutritious.  I’m over-simplifying for the sake of time, but, in a nutshell, by ‘cooking’ the food at a temperature that does not exceed approximately 118 degrees, you maintain the foods’ naturally-occurring digestive enzymes.  Bottom-line: digesting the food and obtaining its nutrients requires very little energy for your body which means it’s less taxing on your body which means you have more ‘free’ energy to be used on more important things like repairing your cells, maintaining your immune function, etc.  Translation: you will feel lighter and have more energy.  If you want to further research the rationale behind a raw (and living foods) diet, I recommend you research Ann Wigmore.  She was a pioneer and wrote an amazing book that is an oldie but a goodie titled The Hippocrates Diet and Health Program.  Here’s the link to the amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Hippocrates-Diet-Health-Program/dp/0895292238/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346098960&sr=1-1&keywords=ann+wigmore+hippocrates+diet

One general word about raw food: try to use the best, highest quality ingredients and, if at all possible, make them organic.  I’ve noticed that when you transition to raw foods, your taste-buds become very good at discerning differences in the quality & freshness of the individual ingredients.  Especially if you are also doing any type of elimination diet and/or cleanse.  It’s as though your taste-buds get ‘re-set’, starting over from scratch.

Now for the recipes.  The first one is from an amazing book, Going Raw by Judita Wignall.

http://www.amazon.com/Going-Raw-Everything-Lifestyle-Revolution/dp/1592536859/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346099558&sr=1-1&keywords=going+raw+judita

The recipes are great, especially if you are new to raw and she actually gives quite a bit of useful information, ranging from sprouting to cleansing, so if you have thought about adding some raw books to your collection, this is a terrific place to start. I have yet to make a recipe I haven’t loved.  A quick list of several of my favorites in case you buy the book: zucchini hummus, guacamole, energy bars, tomato wraps, fettuccine, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate mousse and, (recipe to follow) stuffed mushrooms.

These mushrooms will be a hit with any group, I’m convinced, regardless of how tainted their taste buds are; people won’t believe that they are vegan and raw.

Spinach-Walnut Pesto and Pignolia (Pine Nut) Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms

MUSHROOMS

20-30 medium-size baby bella mushrooms (or you can use more readily-avaialable white mushrooms or 6-8 large portobello mushrooms)

1. Remove the stems by gently twisting and setting aside for another use.  Don’t ‘wash’ your mushrooms because they will absorb too much water.  I use a wet cloth to remove any dirt.


MARINADE

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)

2 Tbsp. tamari (I use the organic, low-sodium version from San-J; it’s also gluten-free)

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1. Combine all ingredients.

2. Place mushrooms in a shallow baking dish and pour the mixture over them.  I kind of massage the mushrooms with the marinade.

3. Let set for 15 minutes (or 1 hour if using the larger portobello caps).

PINE NUT CHEESE

1 cup pine nuts, soaked 2 hours, then rinsed

1/4 cup water

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1.  Process all ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender until smooth.  Add more water if needed a Tablespoon at a time, but it’s best to keep it on the thick side (I usually only add 1 extra Tablespoon).

SPINACH-WALNUT PESTO

2 cups spinach, packed

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic (I usually add 3 or 4)

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup walnuts, soaked 6-8 hours, rinsed, then dehydrated (if you can’t dehydrate them, no worries; the recipe will still work!)

1. Place spinach, oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a food processor and blend until smooth.

2. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed; add the walnuts and pulse until incorporated but still a little chunky.

ASSEMBLY

1. Fill each mushroom cap with the ‘cheese’ then follow with a dollop of pesto.

2. Place the pan stuffed mushrooms on a dehydrator tray and warm at 100 degrees for 2-3 hours (3-4 hours if using the larger portobello mushrooms).

3. Serve warm

Note: if you don’t have a dehydrator, you can still make these and bake for less time at your oven’s lowest setting; you lose the digestive enzymes, but you still get the vitamins and minerals and, although the mushrooms will be softer, they are equally as yummy

James Russell’s Mini Flax Pizza Bites were a huge success.  He has a great website and blog with a simply amazing amount of information, videos and recipes, in addition to some beautiful e-books that can be downloaded for a very reasonable price.  Here’s a link to his site.

http://therawchef.com/therawchefblog/

I was surprised, quite frankly, how much people absolutely loved these. One batch after another was inhaled.  They are a little labor-intensive but very worth it.  Please note that the recipe calls for making dehydrated flax crackers as the pizza ‘crust’; however, if dehydrating is not an option for you, you can substitute raw mushrooms, about 20 small or 12 medium-large.   Simply marinate the mushroom caps in 1/4 cup tamari and 1/4 cup olive oil for at least 2 hours.  Bake at your lowest setting for about 20-30 minutes (or until they are warmed to your liking), then follow the instructions for assembly below.

FLAX CRACKER BASE

1/2 cup flax seeds

1/2 cup flax meal (ground flax seeds)

6 medium tomatoes, seeded

1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 2 hours or longer (these are dry; not the version that is packed in olive oil)

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 cup fresh basil

3 Tbsp. dried Italian herbs (I use dried basil & oregano)

3 medium onions

1 clove garlic (I use 2, at least)

1. Process all ingredients in a food processor.

2. Spread evenly and thinly over 2 dehydrator trays lined with Paraflexx or parchment paper.  Dehydrate at 105 degrees for 1-2 hours, then score into small squares (about 1 or 2″ square).

3. Dehydrate another hour, then invert onto another tray and dehydrate another 8-12 hours.

PINE NUT CHEESE SPREAD

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup macadamia nuts

1/4 tsp. sea salt

2 teaspoons nutritional yeast

1/4 cup water

1. Process all ingredients in a food processor until rather smooth.

TOMATO SAUCE (please note that you can substitute high-quality jarred tomato sauce, as well)

4 medium tomatoes, seeded

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 2 hours or more

1 soft date, pitted

1 clove garlic

2 tsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. fresh basil

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. lemon juice

1. Blend all ingredients in a high-powered blender until smooth

PESTO

2 cups basil, tightly packed

1 Tbsp. minced rosemary

1/4 cups pine nuts

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 tsp. sea salt

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until broken down, but leaving it a little chunky

ASSEMBLY

1. Using flax cracker as a base, add a dollop of tomato sauce, then a dollop of the pine nut cheese, then the pesto.

2. Garnish with your favorite topping; I like chopped Kalamata olives.

3.  If you have chosen to substitute mushrooms for the flax cracker base and do have a dehydrator, warm at 105 degree for 1-2 hours.

Enjoy!  And a special thank you to all my guinea pigs Saturday night!