Category Archives: Tips and Tutorials

Roasted Pumpkin (Squash) Seeds

What to do with all of the seeds from your recently carved Jack-o-Lantern or roasted pumpkins and winter squash? Whatever you do, don’t throw them away! Save them for a super delicious (and nutritious) snack that will keep you out of your kids’ Halloween candy.

Seeds from any variety of winter squash or pumpkin can be roasted and eaten.

Scrape pumpkin/squash and remove pulp and seeds.

Separate seeds from pulp, discarding pulp. Rinse the seeds and pat dry with paper towels or a dishtowel. Place the dry seeds in a shallow pie plate or roasting pan.

Seeds can be cooked immediately, or allowed to further dry first. Drying the seeds longer will make them less chewy, more crisp. This will help if you tend to get things stuck in your teeth or dental work.

To dry, let seeds air dry in a shallow pan for several hours up to several days, stirring occasionally, to keep them from sticking to one another.

Stir in seasonings and roast seeds until they are a golden brown.

Roasted pumpkin, butternut squash and acorn squash seeds.

Roasted Delicata squash seeds (small yellow squash with green stripes). These are especially delicious. Very tender.

RECIPE:

Roasted Pumpkin or Squash Seeds

2 cups rinsed and dried pumpkin or winter squash seeds
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp hot (spicy) Hungarian paprika

Place seeds on a foil lined (I like non-stick foil) baking sheets. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter and stir in remaining seasonings. Pour over seeds in pan and stir until well coated.

Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until seeds are golden brown. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

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How to Roast Pumpkins and Winter Squash

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Winter squash is a wonderfully versatile vegetable, but can be intimidating if you are unfamiliar with cooking it.

To use winter squash in recipes, roasting is a great way to get tender squash with deep flavor without the excess water that comes from boiling.

A few of the varieties of winter squash that you can choose from (pictured):

  • pumpkins (smaller will be less stringy)
  • butternut squash
  • acorn squash
  • delicata squash

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  • Preheat oven to 425°F.
  • Wash the outside of the squash to remove any dirt. Dry.

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  • Cut squash in half using a large sharp knife. If your butternut squash is really large, or you do not have a large knife, you can cut the butternut squash in half crosswise first (right at the point where the neck begins) and then in half lengthwise. The narrower neck of a butternut squash does not have any seeds, just the rounder base.
  • Remove seeds and stringy pulp from inside the squash. Save those seeds for roasting! They are the best part of the squash (Yes-you can roast squash seeds too, not just pumpkin seeds).

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  • Place squash cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush inside of squash halves with olive oil.

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  • Turn squash over, cut side down, on the baking sheet.

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  • Bake at 425°F for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your squash or pumpkin. Check softness by turning squash over and piercing with a fork. The squash flesh should be soft, but not mushy.

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  • Cool 10-15 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh out of shell. Puree or dice for use in recipes. Squash is easily frozen in Ziploc freezer bags. Freeze in 1 cup portions (be sure to label your bags with how much of what kind of squash you put in them).

Recipes using roasted squash/pumpkins:

Squash Equivalents:

  • 1 pound peeled squash = 1 cup cooked, pureed
  • 2-1/2 pounds whole squash = about 2-3/4 to 3 cups pureed
  • 1 large (15 to 20 pounds) pumpkin = about 5 quarts (20 cups) of cooked, pureed pumpkin
  • 1 large butternut squash or 1 medium sugar/pie pumpkin = about 2-3 cups pureed

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How To . . . Make Your Own Pie Crust Shield

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Getting ready to bake a ton of pies for Thanksgiving? Tired of burnt edges to your pie crusts, but don’t want to spend major $$ to buy commercial pie crust shields? Frustrated with trying to arrange foil strips and then nursing burnt fingers when the strips fall off in the oven?

Making your own pie crust shield is super easy, cheap, and will keep your fingers blister-free. And you won’t be tempted to curse in frustration at foil strips that just don’t stay put. Oh- and you will end up with perfectly browned pie crusts.

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To make you own pie crust shield you need the following: aluminum foil, scissors, pencil and the pie plate you will be baking in.

Set your pie plate, right side up, on a square of foil that is 2-3” larger than your pie plate.

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Trace the bottom of your pie plate (the smaller side).

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Set pie plate aside and cut out the inner circle.

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You can trim the corners on the outside edge, but I usually just leave them. Fill your pie crust, then set foil ring over the edge of the unbaked pie. Gently fold down outer edges, being careful not to squish all of that edge-crimping you worked so hard on!

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Bake pie, or quiche, with the pie shield on. Five minutes before the end of the cooking time, carefully remove shield. If the edges are not brown enough, leave shield off and bake until edges are golden brown. If the edges are browned, replace shield and continue cooking until quiche/pie is cooked through.

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Uses for Pie Crust Shield:

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Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Cranberry Orange Buttermilk Cookies

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DAY 9: Cranberry Orange Buttermilk Cookies

Cranberries and oranges are flavors that pair so well together. This is a soft cookie with a cake-like texture topped with an orange glaze. I like that they are not overly sweet.

A note on storing glazed cookies: The glaze will continue to set as the cookies sit at room temperature, but it does not become hard enough to stack the cookies, especially in humid climates. To store these cookies (or other frosted/glazed cookies, allow the glaze to set at room temperature for at least an hour. Then place the glazed cookies  in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until completely frozen. Transfer the completely frozen cookies to a tupperware container and store in the freezer. To serve, remove individual frozen cookies from the freezer and allow them to thaw in a single layer (not stacked).

My kids usually skip the thawing step. They just grab cookies straight from the freezer and eat them.

 RECIPE:

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Cranberry Orange Buttermilk Cookies
————(adapted from TwoPeasAndTheirPod)

½ cup dried cranberries
1 ½ cups  flour
Zest of half of an orange (about ½ tsp), use other half in glaze
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
6 Tbs butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tbs fresh squeezed orange juice
1 Tbs heavy cream
Zest of half of an orange (about ½ tsp)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put the dried cranberries in a small bowl with about 1 cup of  hot (but not boiling)  water. Allow them to sit for 5 minutes; drain.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, orange zest, baking soda and salt.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat well to mix. Mix in the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix in the dried cranberries.

Drop the dough by tablespoons onto baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 10-11 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 1 minute; then transfer them to a wire rack. Cool cookies completely.

For the glaze, whisk together the sifted powdered sugar, orange juice, cream and orange zest. Add additional juice or sugar until glaze is spreading consistency. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the glaze over the cooled cookies.

STORAGE NOTE: The glaze will continue to set as the cookies sit at room temperature, but it does not become hard enough to stack the cookies, especially in humid climates. To store these cookies (or other frosted/glazed cookies, allow the glaze to set at room temperature for at least an hour. Then place the glazed cookies  in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until completely frozen. Transfer the completely frozen cookies to a tupperware container and store in the freezer. To serve, remove individual frozen cookies from the freezer and allow them to thaw in a single layer (not stacked).

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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How to . . . Blind Bake a Piecrust

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“Blind Baking” is a term for baking a pie crust with no filling. This pre-baked crust is used for any pie that is not cooked in the oven with its filling: pies with cream or custard fillings, ice-cream pies, lemon meringue pie, strawberry pie.

When you bake a pie crust without a filling, it tends to have bubbles form in the bottom part of the crust, or the sides sink and fall into the center of the crust. To keep this from happening, you need to bake the crust in two steps: first with something weighing down the bottom of the crust, and then without the weights to finish cooking the crust. Here is a quick How To… on blind baking a perfect crust.

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Start with any crust recipe. Here is one that I like for an All Butter Pie Crust. Place in your pie plate and flute the edges. When you flute your edges, press down slightly on the indentations where the crust touches the top edge of the pan to keep it from sliding down the sides as it bakes.

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Place a square of foil in the bottom of your crust. I like to use non-stick foil (non-stick side touching the crust) to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the crust. Extend the foil slightly up the sides of the crust, but do not cover the fluting on the edges. Add about 1-2 cups of DRIED beans to your foil bowl. You can also buy pie weights (either loose or on a chain), but beans are a great cheap alternative.

Bake the weighted crust at 400°F for 10 minutes.

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Remove the beans and foil and prick the bottom of the crust with a fork.

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Place a pie crust shield on the edges of your crust to keep them from overcooking while you bake the crust again. You can buy a pie crust shield or make your own. Here is an easy HOW TO on making one that is just the right size for your pie plate: Make Your Own Pie Crust Shield.

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Bake empty crust for an additional 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Be sure to cool crust completely before filling.

Instructions:

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How to Blind Bake a Piecrust

  • Prepare pie crust and place in pie plate. Flute edges, if desired.
  • Line bottom of pie crust with foil (I like non-stick foil), extending foil slightly up the sides of the crust. Add 1-2 cups dried beans, or use pie weights.
  • Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes.
  • Remove beans or weights and foil. Prick bottom of crust with a fork. Place a pie crust shield over the edges of the crust and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Cool completely before filling.

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Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

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Making your own taco seasoning mix is an easy way to cut chemicals and preservatives out of your food and save money at the same time. And it tastes so much better than any packaged mix. Make a large batch and then store in an airtight container. Use about 2 Tbs of the mix for a pound of ground beef to make regular tacos. You can adjust the amounts of spicier chilies to your family’s taste. Penzey’s (online or in person) is a great source for quality bulk spices.

Use this for more than just ground beef tacos. Try replacing spices in the following recipes with this taco seasoning mix:

Layered Chicken Taco Salad Bowls
Taco Cornbread Pie
Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas
Creamy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes
Baked Chicken Taquitos
Chicken and Black Bean Chili
Hearty Beef Chili
Fajitas
Marinades for grilled steak or chicken

RECIPE:

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Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

1 ½ cups chili powder
4 Tbs paprika (Spanish smoked or regular)
2 Tbs kosher salt (coarse grain; use less for regular table salt)
2 Tbs black pepper
2 Tbs garlic powder
2 Tbs onion powder (not onion salt)
2 Tbs ground cumin
2 Tbs dried oregano
1 Tbs Ancho chili pepper
1 Tbs crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbs ground cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients and store at room temperature in an airtight container. Use about 2 Tbs of seasoning per pound of meat. Makes about 2 ½ cups.

Note: Adjust amount of crushed red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper to make milder or spicier

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Layered Chicken Taco Salad in Baked Tortilla Bowls

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Sure, you can eat taco salad on a regular plate, but it is much more fun to eat it out of an edible tortilla bowl. Tortilla bowls are also a great enforcer of portion control. Have you ever noticed that when you layer taco salad on a plate it seems to grow well beyond your original intentions by the time you add all of the toppings you want? Tortilla bowls are the perfect solution, especially for the kids in my family who usually end up with a plateful of food they can never finish.

Intimidated by the thought of shaping and deep-frying tortillas? Me too. Good thing these are simple to make, and baked instead of fried. All you need is a super-old-scratched-and-rusty muffin pan.

Tortilla Bowls

To make your baked tortilla bowls, warm tortillas slightly in the microwave (just enough to soften). Spray both sides of tortillas lightly with olive oil cooking spray (or brush very lightly with oil). Turn a muffin tin upside down. Press tortillas into the spaces between muffin cups. Make sure the bottoms of the tortilla bowls are flat so that they will not wobble when served on a plate. Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes, or until crunchy and just beginning to brown.

You can layer your regular taco salad fillings in the bowl (seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, etc) or try this layered shredded chicken salad. It is similar to some of the semi-fast food Mexican restaurants where you build your own burrito/salad. There are layers of seasoned chili-cilantro rice, black beans, crock-pot cooked shredded chicken, and a cilantro ranch dressing.

Green Chili Cilantro Rice

This Green Chili Cilantro Rice is also great served alongside other Mexican dishes or grilled meats.

RECIPE:

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Layered Chicken Taco Salad in Baked Tortilla Bowls

Crock-Pot Shredded Chicken
Green Chili Cilantro Rice
Tortilla Bowls
Cilantro Ranch Dressing
Black Beans – mix with 1 Tbs lime juice
Shredded Cheese
Corn
Lettuce
Chopped jalapenos or banana peppers
Salsa
Sour Cream

Place baked tortilla bowls on a plate. Layer with rice, black beans (these are really good mixed with 1 Tbs lime juice!), shredded chicken and other desired toppings. Top with cilantro ranch dressing and serve.

Crock-Pot Shredded Chicken
2 lb boneless chicken breasts or tenderloins
1 cup prepared Italian salad dressing
1/2 cup salsa
1 Tbs taco seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced

Stir together all ingredients in a crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until chicken can easily be shredded. Shred chicken, stir in sauce from pot and serve. If the sauce is too thin (this will especially happen if you use chicken that is injected with broth), shred chicken and return to crock pot, then cook on high with the lid OFF until sauce thickens.

Green Chili Cilantro Rice
1 ¾ cup chicken broth (or water+2tsp chicken bouillon)
1 can (4 oz) diced mild green chilies, undrained
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs olive oil
½ tsp salt (omit salt if using bouillon)
1 cup Basmati rice (or other long grain variety rice)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine broth, green chilies, garlic, olive oil and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir in rice, cover, and simmer over low heat for 20-25 minutes, or until rice is cooked. Stir in chopped cilantro. This can also be cooked in a rice cooker: combine all ingredients except cilantro in rice cooker and cook according to directions; stir in cilantro.

Tortilla Bowls
Flour tortillas
Olive oil (or olive oil cooking spray)
Muffin tin

Warm tortillas slightly in the microwave (10-15 seconds; just enough to soften). Spray both sides of tortillas lightly with olive oil cooking spray (or brush very lightly with oil). Turn a muffin tin upside down. Press tortillas into the spaces between muffin cups. Make sure the bottoms of the tortilla bowls are flat so that they will not wobble when served on a plate. Bake at 400°F for 8-10 minutes, or until crunchy and just beginning to brown.

Cilantro Ranch Dressing
1 package ranch dressing mix
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup buttermilk or regular milk
2 tomatillos** or 4 Tbs green salsa
½ bunch of cilantro (about 1 cup chopped)
2 cloves garlic
1 lime, juiced
1-2 jalapenos (with or without the seeds; with seeds=spicier)

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until well mixed. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving for optimal flavor.

**Optional: Roast tomatillos for 20 mins at 400°F before adding them to the blender. If you are using a spicy green salsa instead of the tomatillos, go easy on the jalapenos.

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Beachcomber Rainbow Cupcakes

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It’s Great to be Eight!

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Especially when turning “8” comes with edible flip-flop adorned rainbow cupcakes.

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Earlier this month was my baby girl’s eighth birthday. Unfortunately, due to a bout of the flu on birthday party day, we had to postpone celebrating until last weekend. With these cute cupcakes, our Hawaiian luau was a great success!

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We used this Vanilla Frosting Recipe to frost the rainbow-sprinkle-filled cupcakes. Buttercream or Swiss Meringue Buttercream would also work well. The swirl was made using a Wilton 1M tip.

How to make Rainbow Frosting

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Prepare frosting and divide into 3 bowls (or as many colors as you are using). Tint each bowl with paste or gel food coloring. Place each color in a separate piping bag (or use Ziploc bags). Don’t fill bags all the way. An easy way to fill piping bags is to place the empty bag in a tall drinking glass and fold the top of the bag over the edge of the glass. Spoon frosting into the bag. Rainbow Cupcakes 112-1

Secure tops of the filled bags using a rubber band or clip. You can secure them together or separately. Cut ends off of the bags. DO NOT put a piping tip on these bags.

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Place a large tip (I used a Wilton 1M) on a separate clean bag. Place your frosting filled bags into the empty bag with the tip. Make sure that the ends of the frosting filled bags go into the tip of the empty bag. Don’t fill the frosting-filled bags too full, or they will not fit well in the empty bag. You will probably need to refill the bags before you are done frosting all of the cupcakes. To refill bags, place the entire set of frosting bags (leave them inside the bag with the tip) in a tall drinking glass. Remove rubber band or clip. Fill each bag with an equal amount of frosting. Re-secure the ends of the bags.

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This technique also allows you to easily switch the frosting-filled bags to a different sized tip, if you want to create different effects on your cupcakes.

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Happy Birthday Little J! Love you always!

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How To . . . Keep Cookies Fresh

1205112 024-1 Now that you’ve made all of those Christmas cookies, how do you keep them from going hard and dry before delivering them to all of your friends and neighbors?

Here are a few tips for keeping large quantities of cookies fresh:

  • Refrigerate or freeze uncooked dough. Uncooked dough can be kept in Ziploc bags or wrapped in plastic wrap (especially logs of dough) in the fridge. Take out dough and bake small batches of cookies. Many types of cookies actually taste better after letting the dough sit in the fridge overnight before cooking.  For drop cookies, freezing dough is very helpful. Prepare cookie dough and place scoops of dough on parchment lined baking sheets. Freeze raw dough until solid, then transfer dough balls to Ziploc bags. Pull out just as many cookies as you want to bake.
  • Refrigerate or freeze cooked cookies. Baked cookies will also stay fresh longer if stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Store cookies in Ziploc bags or seal-able containers and freeze or refrigerate until ready to serve. Be sure to keep different kinds of cookies in different containers. Mint and gingerbread cookies do not go well together!
  • To store cookies at room temperature: You can still keep cookies fresh without freezing all of them. Use containers that are as air-tight as you can find. Place a small piece of BREAD in the container with the cookies. The bread will lose its moisture more quickly than the cookies, allowing the cookies to stay soft longer than they normally would. Replace the bread with a fresh piece as it dries out. This will not keep cookies soft indefinitely, but it will extend their shelf life to more than a week.

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Just a note of warning: if you put bread in your cookie jar, every time your kids open the jar, they will ask, “How come there’s bread in the cookies?”  Some may even choose to eat the bread over the cookies, which will prompt you to ask (when you go to sneak another cookie for yourself get a cookie for a starving child), “What happened to the bread I put in the cookie jar?” No one, of course, will admit to eating the mysteriously disappeared stale bread.

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P.S. This also works to keep your brown sugar soft. The bread will last much longer in your canister of brown sugar than in the cookie containers. Maybe because it doesn’t get opened quite as many times throughout the day!

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How To . . . Blanch Almonds

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Blanched almonds are delicious in these Chinese Almond Cookies and are the basis for making almond flour. Blanched almonds sold in stores are extremely expensive, but you can easily make them at home. All you need is a bag of raw almonds.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add raw almonds to the hot water. Let sit for 1 minute (not longer). Drain and pour into a bowl of ice cold water.

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Leave almonds in ice water only until they are cool, about one minute. Drain.

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To remove the skins: pinch almonds between your thumb and index finger to slide the almond out of its skin.

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Pat dry. Allow to dry completely before using in recipes.

If you over-soak your almonds and they don’t dry properly: preheat oven to 200°F. Turn oven OFF. Place almonds on a baking sheet and put into the warm (but OFF) oven. Leave almonds in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

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To make almond flour from your blanched almonds: place completely dry blanched almonds in a blender or food processor and blend until almonds form fine meal.

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Blanched almonds are also great in cookies like these Chinese Almond Cookies.

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