Monday, January 21, 2013

Raw Coconut Milk (and how to de-husk a coconut)

Ahhh.... on of life's simple pleasures: gathering your own food. One of my favorite things to do down here in Grand Cayman (where the family house is) is to gather ripe coconuts, de-husk them (a process in-and-of it's self (shown below) ) and make tasty things with them. Last time I was here, I wasn't nearly as much of a foodie as I am today. In preparation for this trip, I researched some coconut recipes and the first and fore-most is making coconut milk (or cream), the base of so many things today. Coconuts have gotten very popular as of late (coconut milk, cream, and oil in particular) in the health-food and vegan communities, so I've actually been very excited for near-infinite access to coconuts (well, as much as I can find, gather, husk, and process).

Raw Coconut Milk
from Kitchen Apparel

2 cups water (below 115F for raw)
1 mature coconut, husked, de-shelled, and peeled

1. Blend flesh of coconut and 2 cups warm water together in a high-speed blender for a few minutes until milk is frothy and chunky.
2. Strain liquid out into a container using cheese cloth (or paper towels). Once all liquid is strained hand-squeeze the pulp until all the milk has been released and the pulp is dry and powdery. Discard powder.

For Coconut Cream:

1. Cover coconut milk and place in fridge overnight. The cream will float to the top, so carefully strain out into a separate dish to obtain coconut cream.

How to De-husk a coconut:
1. Obtain a ripe coconut: Brown/orangey on the outside, preferably tree-ripened.

2. Shake coconut and check to see if coconut has milk.
3. If you hear some good sloshing: congratulations! This coconut is (probably) good to use.
4. With a good strong hammer, use the nail-puller side to make a line down the side of the coconut, from the indent (where it hung from the tree) to the base. Make a series of these, following the natural indents in the coconut long-wise. Don't hit too hard, you don't want to puncture or crack the coconut within.

 5. Once you've made these lines, wack the nail-puller side into the top indent, and pry off one of the sections you just outlined.

6. Continue this with the remaining sections. you may need to divide some up to make thinner strips, depending on how tough the husk is.
7. Eventually you'll have all the husk sections off, pull off the extra fibers, and voila! You have successfully uncovered a coconut.

Pumpkin Lasagna with Sage-infused Bechamel

This lasagna is a show-stopper. It's what I served at my first official dinner party:

My Bosnian family was moving to Boston (far away from the KC-area!) and one of our mutual friends had a small get-together where we all had snacks and celebrated our Bosnian family.

The Bosnian mother brought a beautiful gelatin cake on of her co-workers made for her. It was from a moulde, but it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen food-wise. I broken vegetarian-edge for it *gasp!*

All the flowers were completely suspended within this thing, and it was 100% edible and (somehow) 100% gelatin-based food-stuffs, with the most delicate flavorings.

The mother is all about local, organic, seasonal natural-foods and since that's been my focus as of late, I proposed that night that I throw a dinner party the following day, as I thought I could whip up something everyone would enjoy : D

Butternut Squash Tahini Dip with fresh locally-made pita bread (Olive Cafe)

Citrus, Feta, Walnut Salad (without the squash)

Pumpkin Lasagna (recipe shown below)
Blanched Green Beans with walnuts, walnut oil, and light salt

Pear Almond Tart

I was pretty proud of myself after this dinner, not gonna lie. All in my mother's beautiful home and on her nice china (since they both live a few blocks away from each other in the burbs and my apartment is hardly of the dinner-party accommodating size) Though this has made me realize: I'm getting old. I'm addicted to NPR, I seriously enjoy throwing dinner parties, and I'm out-of-my-gourd excited to start working and being completely independent and responsible for myself. But if this is what getting old feels like, SIGN ME UP!

The picture shown above is a re-make (I was far too busy cooking and entertaining to take pictures at the time of the lasagna or the other dishes I made for the dinner), and I made it for my roommate from my Indian study abroad program when I visited her in her family home on Long Island, NY. It was beautiful and snowy, the perfect background for this winter-squash lasagna.

The original recipe calls for the pumpkin to be pureed, but I like it in layered strips for texture-sake. Also: you aren't limited to pumpkin, pretty much any squash would do. My original make of this lasagna was with pumpkin, the second one (featured above) is using butternut squash, as pumpkin was unavailable at the time.

Pumpkin Lasagna with Sage-infused Béchamel
from Gobo Root

12 lasagna noodles
4 cups sage infused béchamel (recipe below)
1 pumpkin, peeled, sliced thinly, oiled, salted, and roasted
1.5 cups ricotta (recipe here)
1 large bunch Swiss chard, washed and leaves separated from stem
1 cup Parmesan, grated
1 cup mozzarella, shredded

1. Pre-heat oven to 375F. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Reserve cooking water and dunk Swiss chard into the water for a few minutes.
2.  Squeeze excess moisture from the chard and cut into 1" pieces. Set aside.
3. In the bottom of the baking dish, spread evenly 1/4th of the béchamel. Arrange 4 noodles over the sauce.
4. Top with 1/2 of the pumpkin slices, then 1/2 the ricotta, then half the Swiss chard and another 1/4th béchamel.
5. Repeat with second layer: 4 more lasagna noodles, last 1/2 of pumpkin slices, last 1/2 of ricotta, and last of swiss chard and last 1/4th of béchamel.
6. Lay remaining 4 lasagna noodles over the top, and sprinkle with parmesan and mozzarella evenly.
7. Bake until top is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Sage-infused Béchamel
makes 4 cups

4 cups milk
6 Tbs. butter
6 Tbs. flour
a sprig of sage
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg

1. Place milk and sage in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour into a heat-proof bowl to let stand for 10 minutes. Discard leaves.
2. While milk is standing, melt butter in the sauce pan over low heat. Sprinkle in flour and stir quickly until flour has completely combined with butter. Let bubble for a few minutes until roux starts to smell nutty.
3. Turn heat up to medium and slowly add in sage-infused milk, whisking constantly.
4. Let sauce cook until thickened, and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
5. Remove from heat and cover.

Pumpkin Butterscotch Granola Bar

Wow I've gotten behind on my blogging. Not that I've made a ton of food as of late, but these couple posts I've had in my back pocket for a while now.

I've discovered that the rate of posting per-month I do is directly correlated to how busy I am. Mid-December was my commencement date and since then I've been pretty much solidly on the go.

Now to the food....
These are actually the first granola bars I've ever made, and I was extremely pleased with the results! My only complaint was these were too sweet for my taste, so next time I'll scale back the sugar (probably not include the brown sugar at all) and update my recipe accordingly.

So! Without further ado,

Pumpkin Butterscotch Granola Bar
from Heather Christo Cooks

Makes about 20 granola bars

4 cups oats
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown suga
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (recipe here)
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups slivered almonds
1/2 cup pepitas (husked pumpkin seeds)
12 oz. butterscotch chips

1. Preheat oven to 325F and line a 9x13x1" pan with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine oats and oil. Stir until well coated.
3. Add honey, brown sugar, pumpkin, cinnamon, and salt and mix until combined.
4. Add almonds and pepitas and mix in. Then add butterscotch chips and mix.
5. Transfer granola to the prepared pan and spread evenly, pressing down with a spatula.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, then take the bars out, press down hard with the back of a spatula to compress, and bake for another 20 minutes.
7. Let bars cool completely before slicing into bars.

Optional: wrap in wax paper or parchment paper and tie with twine to keep bars from sticking to each other and to give a hand-hold