Monday, February 27, 2012

Cacao or Cocoa Nibs

Some recipes call for cacao "nibs".  A nib is simply a small piece of the larger cacao bean.

Many people don't know that the cacao bean comes from a collection of seeds within a pod grown on the cacao tree in tropical regions.  It is surrounded by a sticky substance and locals call it a "jungle M&M".

The beans are cleaned and traditionally sun-dried.
Cacao Nibs
After they are dried, the bean can be ground into powder.  A "nib" is simply a small piece of the dried bean.  The nib is bitter with a coffee/ nutty taste.

Nibs are sometimes called for in cookies, smoothies, oatmeals, cereal, yogurt and more.  It's a great way to  add nutrients and antioxidants to some foods without adding the sugar and fat usually associated with chocolate.

Enjoy a few nibs (or grind your own from whole raw cacao beans) -- found at your local health foods store.

Cacao Tree
Cacao Pod 

Dried Cacao Beans

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cocoa or Cacao?

The cocoa vs. cacoa thing confused me.  A couple of years ago I passed up some great chocolate at the health foods store simply because I didn't understand the spelling.

Pronounced [ka-cow], cacao is how raw foodists pronounce the same exact thing you probably call cocoa.  Except, if you see or hear cacao,  it probably signifies a raw chocolate powder, sauce, bar, butter, etc.  And that difference is huge!

Chocolate carries a lot of nutritional qualities (in small infrequent quantities) and has strong antioxidant qualities.  Nutritionist and raw food advocate, David Wolfe, had a high-quality cocoa powder compared to that of raw cacao powder in a labratory and they found raw cacao to contain 367% more antioxidants.  Look for raw cacao (you can still say cocoa if you choose) powder at your local health foods store.

So why the difference in pronunciation and spelling?  Apparently most of the world refers to cocoa as cacao.  As legend has it, an English trader misheard and then mispelled the cacao bean and today (in the English speaking world) we have cocoa.

Most chocolate consumed in the United States is derived from cocoa beans dried by large high-heat ovens.  Raw cocoa beans are dried with heat of 100 degrees or less or sun-dried to retain it's full nutritional value.

So now you know why some say cacao and some say cocoa and why some seek out raw vs. processed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jicama Fries

Our family was introduced to Jicama (pronounced as hikema) today in a fun and creative way!  Fries!

As a side to our bison burger, we made raw jicama fries (without any frying, of course).

Jicama, similar to water chestnut in texture and closer to an apple in sweetness, is sometimes referred to as the "Mexican potato".  Most grocery stores of size carry jicama in a variety of sizes and reasonable prices. 

They don't taste anything  like a fried potato stick (french fries).  But, they did fool the kids in appearance (they thought they looked like cheese curls) and they did eat several of them -- and we're happy with that as it was a new food for us.  And feel free to dip them in ketchup (as our kids did) or eat as is (which we did).

There are countless ways to prepare jicama, but we used a recipe from the Boutenko book, "fresh:  The Ultimate Live-Food Cookbook", page 91:
  • 1 pound jicama sliced in french-fry shapes
  • 2 Tbs quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. onion powder
  • 1 Tbs. paprika
  • sea salt to taste
Simple!  Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix with tongs (or your fingers) and plate!

If you haven't already, introduce yourself to the nutricious jicama.

Choose a 1 pound jicama.

Cut both ends off to create a flat surface.
Use a good knife to peel the jicama.

Slice the peeled jicama into 1/4" slices.
Cut each slice into fry-like shapes.

Toss and coat "fries" with oive oil and seasoning.

Finished and ready to plate.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Raw Cauliflower Salad

It was my wife's birthday today and I wanted to make a really nice meal for her and the kids.  We have been discussing lately the advantages of a raw diet and tonight I incorporated a raw cauliflower salad to serve alongside the main entree.

Why raw?  Heat degrades the nutritional aspects of food.  All raw food is prepared at temperatures of less than 110 degrees to maintain the foods total nutritional value.

I've started collecting raw recipes and rely heavily on the Boutenko's of for advice.

Sergei and Valya Boutenko wrote a book of raw recipes titled "fresh:  The Ultimate Live-Food Cookbook".

Had I served the cauliflower tonight as typical, I would have probably steamed the vegetable and then added some olive oil  and sea salt before plating it.  Tonight, I followed a recipe from the Boutenko's on page 61 of their book that was raw, cold, and absolutely delicious.

Cauliflower Salad (for two or three):

  • 1/2 head organic cauliflower diced finely
  • 2 Tbs quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. organic lemon juice
  • 1/2 bunch green onion finely cut
  • 1/4 cup cilantro finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • Mix together and plate.

It was amazing and a salad we will be eating again and again.

Try serving your side vegetables raw at your next meal.  It's easier to make, more nutritious, and you just might like it better.

If you are interested in learning more about eating a raw diet or incorporating more raw foods into your daily diet, I would recommend visiting

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Olive Oil Illusions

For its health benefits, I have tried to use olive oil for most of my cooking the past ten years.  I sometimes purchased "olive oil" at the store and most times "extra-virgin olive oil", never really knowing what the difference was -- though a friend suggested once that just plain "olive oil" is a lower quality and therefore less expensive.

The past year or two our family has been purchasing an extra-virgin organic olive oil from Costco.

So when I read Tom Mueller's, "Extra Virginity:  The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil", I was disturbed to learn about the high rate of fraud in the industry and that much of what is sold on our grocery shelves as "extra virgin" is no better than regular olive oil or often much worse.

First, I learned that common phrases such as cold-pressed and first-press mean little as today's means of extracting oil is usually done by modern centrifugal machines -- eliminating presses altogether.  These words are used as an illusion of quality.

Extra Virgin is a category of olive oil that is reserved for the top 10% of olive oils that meet a chemical and taste profile.  If you're like me, you may be wondering why a small percentage of all olive oil takes up 90% of the olive oil shelf allotment at the grocery store.

Here lies the problem.  There are few regulations in the olive oil industry and the few that exist are not actually enforced.  Mueller describes The United States of America as "an oil criminal's dream".

He mentions a recent study of supermarket extra-virgin olive oils by UC Davis Olive Center along with the Australian Oils Research Laboratory that found 69% of the extra virgin oils tasted had flaws such as rancid, fusty, and musty -- ensuring they were not extra-virgin and mislabelled as such.

Mueller cites Los Angeles as being a major mixing port for fraudulent oils.  Companies (even well-known brands) are buying a mix of low-grade olive oil blended with soy, seed oil, or cottonseed oil and then resold as "extra-virgin".  How does this happen?  Mueller quotes an industry buyer who says:  "The American [authorities] tell me, 'so long as a product isn't toxic, you can sell it however you like--so long as it isn't toxic.  Because if you put seed [oil] inside extra [virgin olive oil], you don't poison anyone'.  So they say 'It's the consumer's choice whether to buy it or not'".

An FDA (Food and Drug Administration) specialist told Mueller the FDA considers olive oil adulteration a low priority stating, "We're inclined to spend our money on things where there's a clear public health benefit."

A real extra-virgin olive oil doesn't need additional processing that requires chemicals and cleaners and deodorizers like other oils.  But, many olive oils receive this treatment to make it more shelf stable with the familiar green tint artificially added back in to the oil to fool the consumer.

On a final note, Italy imports much of its olive oil, packages it and then resells it to the rest of the world.  The pictures of Italian country sides and flags on bottles is designed to be misleading.  The Italian government allows oil (any oil) bottled in Italy to be labelled "from Italy".

Mueller's book is a fascinating read that reveals the rich history of olive oil and how it came to be one of the world's most revered and sought after oils.

Mueller provides suggestions on finding an authentic oil.  They include:

  • Read for the latest updates and olive oil news.
  • Buy traceable estate olive oils.  Look for reputable retailers such as,, The Olive Press (Sonoma, CA) and Zingerman's Delicatessen (Ann Arbor, MI) among others quality retailers nationally.
  • Olive oils deteriorate quickly.  Buy as close to the source as possible and from vendors who buy in bulk and resell in green glass bottles.
  • Anything at these reputable retailers labelled other than "extra-virgin" means the oil has undergone chemical refinement with many of its health benefits removed.
  • Try to buy within the year of harvest.  "Best by" dates are usually two years after harvest.
  • Store your purchased oil away from light, heat and oxygen.
  • Prices under $10/liter usually suggests an inferior product.

Costco does offer a traceable estate olive oil I will look into as a suitable replacement to our current olive oil.  All of the years of olive oil buying and I never imagined I would have to research to determine if the bottle I was buying was anything other than what it said it was.

This book was great for its historical information and current harvesting information.  It was certainly eye-opening and disturbing.  But most importantly, it has taught me how to find a real product, with real taste and real health benefits.

I strongly encourage your reading of this informative book.

Do you buy any estate olive oils?  Which do you recommend?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Marshmallow and Fluff

We had some great family time today that included building a fire in the fireplace.  After dinner we decided to make even more use of the open flames and got some marshmallows and chocolate and our graham crackers for some old-fashioned smores.

Standing in the grocery store, I was torn.  I stood reading the labels of the only two options for large marshamllows -- the store brand and Kraft.  The ingredients were in slightly different order, but otherwise exactly the same.  And I wasn't happy with either.  Now, I know that a marshmallow would never be considered a health food, but what was blue #1 dye doing in a white marshmallow?

I knew I should just pass, but I also had the weight of kids waiting for a smore back home.  Our son, with food allergies to the junk in processed foods, had never had a marshmallow before.

Ingredients being the same, I chose the cheaper store brand and headed for home to much fanfare when I opened the door.  They were ready for roasting marshmallows!

Our son was nearing the completion of his smore when he bolted as fast as he could to the kitchen sink just in time to vomit up his smore and dinner.  My better judgement told me I shouldn't have given him the marshmallow.  Mistakes happen.  The bag of marshmallows now sits in our trash.

We talked about options for future smores and decided to stick with Fluff.  If you aren't familiar with Fluff, it is a small Massachusetts company that was the original producer of marshmallow cream.  But the better news is that they have stuck to the original recipe which only includes three ingredients:  corn syrup, sugar and vanilla.  Next time, we will swipe a bit of Fluff across the graham cracker to make our smores -- and just skip the roasting part.

There may be some organic options at the health foods store.  Organic marshmallows, if there is such a thing, would at least have limited (necessary) ingredients and almost assuredly no artificial colors.

Can anybody recommend a better marshmallow option?

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I love reading to learn.  Lately, I've begun reading a variety of food related books to educate myself on choosing foods more wisely.

I just finished an informative and highly disturbing book, Tomatoland, by author Barry Estabrook.  The subtitle sums up the book, "How Modern Industrial Agricultural Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit".

I figured the details of commercial tomato growing would be disgusting, environmentally destructive, and produce flavorless fruit.  In fact, those thoughts were confirmed with a series of detailed descriptions of the types of chemicals that are applied.

About 1/3 of the tomatoes in America are produced in Southern Florida, an area naturally devoid of nutritional soil because of the year-round humidity, ripe for bacterial growth.  To provide "nutrition" for the plant and stave off insects and disease, Florida growers use a "category I acute toxin", methyl  bromide.

Methyl bromide can damage the lungs, throat, eyes, skin, kidneys, central nervous system and has been linked to birth defects and cancer.

The tomatoes are picked green and sprayed with ethylene to ripen them on their way to the discount grocery store shelves or fast food restaurants (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell are all buyers of Florida tomatoes).

The ethylene, methyl bromide and host of other chemical applications are all produced by the petrochemical industry.  Therefore, as gas supplies are depleted, food costs naturally increase.  Our food is literally grown on unnatural and harmful fuel derivatives.

Perhaps more disturbing than the extreme chemical applications, was my ignorance to the modern slaves who pick these tomatoes.  These workers, most of whom live in Imokalee, Florida, are paid little for their daily back-breaking work.  Many are illegals from Mexico smuggled by coyotes into work they had hoped would provide them a better life only to be trapped by a life of low pay, severely inadequate housing and ridiculous fees that keep them enslaved to contracted tomato picking agencies.

The Museum of Modern Slavery highlights these human atrocities and has been working for better conditions for the tomato pickers.

The stories from field workers and the suffering of their families, the birth defects on their children, and the low wages they receive makes me think twice about where I buy tomatoes.

As if toxic tasteless tomatoes weren't enough reason to choose differently, here is one more tragic reason to buy from known sources and avoid the restaurants and grocers who support them.  Or even better, consider growing your own tomatoes from organic heirloom varieties and preserve your harvest through canning or drying for winter use.  We just bought our seeds from Annie's Heirloom Seeds, but there are many providers.

I checked out this book from the library.  It is an easy read, informative, with the history of the tomato and its fall from taste.  It is a book that will forever change the way you look at a tomato.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Uncommon Grounds in Saugatuck

I was in Saugatuck, Michigan, the other day and ventured into a local coffee shop -- Uncommon Grounds.

I'm a bit of a coffee snob, so I was delighted to find their coffee selection fulfilling my requirements.

But it is perhaps their perspective on coffee that I most appreciated.  They partner with coffee farmers around the world, buying direct to ensure fair treatment and compensation, and then roast their own beans.

The coffee enhancements are from ethical sources too.  This is the first coffee shop I have visited that intentionally uses dairy products from pastured cows.

If you've ever sought out nutritional information on dairy products, you know that pastured cows produce a nutritionally superior product.   As a bonus, the cows themselves get to live the life of a cow rather than merely a commodity producer.

Uncommon Grounds also serves a variety of teas, fresh juices and smoothies.  They offer delicious pastries from their bakery that include vegetarian and gluten-free options and a daily soup.

If you're near Saugatuck, a resort town on the shore of Lake Michigan, you deserve a trip to a great coffee spot located in the heart of the small town.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No Organic Candy Hearts?

I know Valentine's Day is done, but if anyone is looking for a business opportunity for next Valentines Day, it could be organic candy hearts that have natural color and flavors.

There are 363 more days to get that business idea launched.  Maybe I'll do it myself?

I couldn't find organic Valentine oriented candy anywhere.  The candy shelves at the health food store were a barren dessert of just the typical -- but typical doesn't work at Valentine's, especially with kids.

In a world of so many food allergies, wouldn't you think that somebody would have created those little candy hearts that kids like to give at school?  Or any organic Valentine candy for that matter.

Have you seen any?  Do they exist?  Chime in!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Instant vs. Dry Active Yeast

When I started making bread for our family on a regular basis, I came across bread recipes that called for "instant yeast".  I had only used active dry yeast -- of which Red Star and Fleischmann's are the most common brands.  Was it the same thing I wondered?  I made a return trip to our grocery store and couldn't find "instant yeast" anywhere.

Some time went by and I saw it again.  This time I did some research and discovered that instant yeast is available at King Arthur Flour, health stores and some grocery stores and is generally sold under the SAF brand name -- an affiliate of Red Star brand.

So what's the difference?  It's in the processing.

Active dry yeast is less active from the start, though it doesn't require proofing as it did in the past.  Instant yeast is, well, instant.  And it can be used straight from the freezer where it should be stored once opened.

The difference between the two is most noticed in the opening rise time where one can visibly see the instant yeast performing quicker from the start with a rapid dough rise.  However, the active dry yeast eventually catches up over an extended period of rise time.

Yeast makes some nervous.  It shouldn't.  A tremendous resource to learn more about everything yeast (and the instant vs. active dried) can be found at King Arthur's web site.

We personally prefer (as do most professional chefs and King Arthur bakers) the SAF instant yeast and have always achieved good results with it.

What do you use and why?  What is your yeast experience in bread baking?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bug Bites on Produce

I had the fortunate opportunity to work on an organic vegetable farm two summers ago and learned so much about different types of vegetables, how to grow them and how to harvest them.  It was an experience I will never forget and often cherish.

One of the things I learned is that in the absence of chemicals (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides), bugs are free to roam.

Bugs, while controlled through natural efforts, still got through and enjoyed the same vegetables I do!  Their consumption was especially evident on the larger leaves of the Swiss Chard and Kale -- tiny and large bite holes.

In the grocery store, traditional produce, some of which is genetically modified (a whole other issue) and laden with chemicals, is flawless in appearance.  We live in an imperfect world.  But it is in the imperfection that what is true and real is found.  So visually "perfect" food is a signal of something not being right.

What I learned on the farm is to actually look for a few bug bites when shopping for produce -- and they will only be found on organic produce.

If the bugs will eat it (and not die), then its safe for humans too -- and tastier I might add.

So I was pleasantly happy when I opened a container of Earth Bound organic baby spinach the other day and saw a leaf with several small bug bites.  It's natural and fresh.

Next time you are looking for your vegetables in the grocery store or farmers market, seek out the organic variety, look for a few bug bites, and enjoy an affordable luxury.  It's a dance with nature that will have you looking for more.

Please share your organic produce experience and what vegetables make you happy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spindrift Soda Update

Box of Sprindrift Soda
After my first post on Spindrift, I wrote owner Bill Creelman to inform him of my blog and wish him the best in his soda business.

Because Spindrift isn't available in West Michigan, I wasn't able to comment directly on the taste -- only the concept, values and mission of the company.

All six colorful Spindrift flavors
To my pleasant surprise, Bill wrote back, said he liked the blog and offered to send me some samples.  I was delighted a week later to receive my package of bottles.  In exchange for the favor, I hosted a tasting party with friends and family to get their opinions and brought samples to a local restaurant, Marie Catrib's, and a local health food grocery store chain, Harvest Health Foods, to get their feedback.

In a nutshell, all of the tasters were completely delighted with the taste and appreciated the values of the company.  More on this in a moment.

Pulp in Spindrift Soda
The sodas arrived in a carefully packaged box from Famous Foods.  I pulled each bottle out and first noticed the bright colors and pulp in each bottle.  It is the pulp that carried a lot of visual appeal to those looking for natural unadulterated foods.

The sodas have about 70 calories -- much less than a regular soda.The bottle label indicates the amount of real fruit is in each bottle such as "made with 16 raspberries, 9 cranberries and fresh squeezed lemon juice" or "made with 1/4 of a fresh squeezed grapefruit and fresh squeezed lemon juice".

The soda introduces itself with a playful sentence on the side of the label that says, "Sodas.  A Reintroduction. -- I'm sorry -- we've gotten off track.  Let's start again.  I'm a soda.  I'm made of sparkling water and crushed fruit.  Simple, light, refreshing.  Give me a second chance...please?"

The cap on each bottle is designed to showcase a non-profit Spindrift supports through donating at least 1% of its sales (not profit).  The organizations are all water preservation or water access related.

The cap reads, "Flip the cap to find a non-profit working to preserve water resources.  Once the bottle is opened, a web site is revealed with an organization they support.  Noticeable absent on the bottles was the 1% for the planet logo, the organization that certifies the donations, though it does appear on the web page.
Spindrift nutrition label
The flavors are:
  1. Sparkling Grapefruit
  2. Sparkling Blackberry
  3. Sparkling Mango Orange
  4. Sparkling Lemonade
  5. Sparkling Half and Half (tea and lemonade)
  6. Sparkling Cranberry Raspberry

Spindrift Soda Label
Amongst family and friends, the flavors most liked by the adults were grapefruit and half and half.  Everyone said the lemonade would be great on a hot day.  But all of the flavors were enjoyed and everyone said they would purchase this product if it were available.  The kids most liked mango orange and surprisingly the half and half.

I took the remaining samples to a local restaurant and health foods store to get their reactions. 

The owner at Marie Catrib's restaurant said he and his staff loved the product, that it was "flavorful" and that "it is exactly what they would want in a soda".  He made contact with Bill immediately and has been working on finding a distributor.

Spindrift bottle cap
The buyer at Harvest Health said she drank all three samples I gave her in one day and wants to buy it for their store.  Again, distribution is the only hang-up at this point.

Spindrift is a soda that is natural, refreshing, environmentally responsible, and great tasting.  With a solid network of distributors, it shouldn't be long before people will be buying it in droves.

Buy it online or in a local store or restaurant and enjoy!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Better Rolling Pin?

Food Network Western Rolling Pin

My parents always used the traditional "Western version" of the rolling pin.  The roller itself was a heavy marble and the handles made of wood.  Perhaps you have one of those?

So when I purchased my first rolling pin, I purchased what I knew -- the Western (or American) rolling pin.

It wasn't until I started making hand-rolled pasta that I discovered there were options for rolling pins.

Food Network French Rolling Pin
The French rolling pin is a preferred rolling pin for many chefs because it allows for greater control and hand-feel.  I started reading about this pin in quality cookbooks and after several American rolling pin purchases (always too light, not made well, too heavy, etc.), I did a minor splurge and bought a French rolling pin at Kohl's.  The brand is Food Network, it's made of wood, and I think it cost around $13.

Did it make a difference?  You bet!  I tossed the old rolling pin into the donation pile after its first use and have never looked back.

You can better feel the nuances of the dough and have better control of the pressure you apply.  You truly are in complete control of your rolling.

Toss the Western rolling pin and replace it (or supplement it) with a French rolling pin.

Which do you use?  What do you prefer and why?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sulphur Dioxide and Grapes

Sulphur dioxide are two words that don't give me a warm fuzzy feeling.  Whether you know exactly what it is or not, usually thoughts of something negative and chemical come to mind.

So imagine my surprise when I found it on our grapes this morning.

I frequently buy organic grapes, but none were available at the store last night.  So I purchased regular grapes and headed home.

This morning as I was washing the grapes for our son's class snack I noticed "product of Chile" on the bag.  I usually see "product of California", so I read on with curiosity to discover the phrase "treated with sulphur dioxide to preserve freshness".  I figured, this couldn't be good.

After a little research I discovered sulphur dioxide is a poisonous gas which is sprayed on fruit, and acts as a preservative, enhancing its color and preventing mold.  Airborne inhalation of this chemical has lead to a rash of breathing problems, premature birth and premature death.

Grapes from Chile need to be picked and shipped with plenty of lead time before they hit the grocery shelves.  Sulphur dioxide, allows the grapes to be picked early and arrive looking fresh and ripe.

Asthmatics seem to be most at risk from ingesting sulphur dioxide.  For them, ingestion can increase chances of an asthmatic attack, skin rashes and upset stomach.

While generally deemed safe for consumption in small quantities in healthy people, why chance it?  I also wonder what the long-term effects of small daily doses.

Turns out California grapes are not in season and organic grapes are only in dreams this time of year.  With my only option being imported grapes,  I'll choose to pass.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Red Velvet Cake with No Dye

Valentine's is bearing down on us and with it comes the usual dessert suspects.  One popular dessert this time of year is red velvet cake.

Red Velvet cake has always been made with natural cocoa that reacts with the acidic vinegar and buttermilk to reveal a very slight shade of red in the cocoa's naturally occurring anthocyanin.  This is probably where the "red" in red velvet originated.

The famous cake wasn't always the bright shade of red we expect today and its storied history is debatable.

We do know that the advent of food dyes significantly aided the enhanced appearance of red velvet cake, but many have valid concerns over the use (a whole bottle or two for this cake) of this unnatural man-made chemical.

I set out to find a recipe that used natural coloring and ingredients to recreate this cake while maintaining the bright red color and discovered a blog by Jaime at with specific directions on how to make this cake using beets -- yes, beets.  Jaime adapted her recipe from Amy's recipe at

I gave Jamie's recipe a try ahead of the big day and it was a hit with our family and guest.  Here are the steps (complete ingredient list is at the bottom):

Buy a bunch of beets from a farmer or store. 
Trim the beets and toss with 1/2 cup of water in an oven-safe dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and heat in an oven for 90 minutes at 350 degrees.
In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur cake flour),  1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 2 Tbs. of cocoa powder (NOT Dutch Processed with Alkaline).  Set bowl aside.
When the beets are done, use a sharp knife and skin them.  The outside skin should easily scrap off.  You can also skip this step and just peel the beet before heating if you wish.
Once skins have been removed, dice the beet into large chunks and place in the refrigerator to cool.
Grease (I used spectrum organic all vegetable shortening) three 8" round pans and dust with flour.
To dust with flour, I dropped a good amount of flour in each pan and shook the flour around until everything was well coated and then shook the excess off.
Place 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about the juice from one large lemon) into your blender (I used the Vitamix) or food processor.
Pour remaining liquids from your oven-safe dish into your blender too.
Then throw in your cooled beat chunks.
Blend on high for about 20-30 seconds, then add 1 Tbs. of vinegar and blend on low until incorporated.  The consistency should be like ketchup.  I got a little over one cup, but you can use up to 1 1/2 cups.
Place two sticks of unsalted butter and 1 package of cream cheese into your mixer with beater blade attached.  Cream together the butter and cream cheese and the slowly incorporate in 2 1/3 cups of sugar (I used powdered sugar) until smooth.  Then add in four eggs one-at-a-time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Finally add 1 1/2 tsp. of vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Then slowly add in the flour mixture you previously whisked together.
Finally, add your 1 - 1 1/2 cups of beet blend to the batter until fully incorporated.
Kids love to help make baked goods, but know that beets stain everything!
Spread equal amounts of batter in each of the three pans and place in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes on the middle racks.  The cakes are one when a toothpick pulls out clean.
If you greased and flour the pans, the cakes should easily release.  Cool them completely on drying racks.  If you do not plan to frost them right away after they are cooled, tightly wrap each one with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator.
For the frosting, place 2 cream cheese packages and 2 sticks of unsalted butter in the mixer with the beater blade again.  Beat the room temperature cream cheese and butter until incorporated.  Stop and add 4 cups of powdered sugar, 3 Tbs. of heavy cream, 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract and 1 tsp. pure almond extract.  Beat until incorporated.
Scrap down the sides of the bowl and replace the beater blade with the whisk.  Whisk on high for several minutes until the frosting becomes smooth and slightly fluffy.
Lay your first cake on the presenting dish and spread a thick layer of frosting across the top.  This frosting recipe makes plenty of frosting, so feel generous if you wish.
Repeat the process for each layer.
Finally, frost the sides and smooth the surface as you wish it to look.
Your finished!  A delightful red velvet cake using all natural ingredients and no artificial chemicals for coloring!
Now enjoy your work.
Happy Valentine's (or any special day) to you!
Dig in!

Ingredient list:

Beets (enough for 1 1/2 cups of puree)
1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used organic)
1 Tbs. vinegar
2 sticks (16 Tbs.) of unsalted butter, softened
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
2 1/3 cup of sugar (I used powdered)
4 eggs (I used organic free-range)
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur cake flour from any good grocery store)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons (you can use more, but consequently start losing the red color) natural (don't use dark or Dutch processed) cocoa powder

Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese,  room temperature
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
3 Tbs. heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure almond extract

UPDATE (02/13/2012):

I made cupcakes for our son's class using the recipe above.  I made 1 1/2 times the recipe quantity above and it made 30 full-size cupcakes.  The batter doesn't rise as much as traditional batter, so fill each cupcake cup about 3/4 full before baking.