The Fearless Cook says….Nuts to coconuts

If you follow food trends, you’ll find that 2011 is the year of coconut water. It is the equivalent of nature’s Gatorade. It has twice the amount of potassium than a banana providing energy replenishment and youthful benefits.  Madonna supposedly drank it during her recent concert tours. She is the queen of staying young as she ages. She invested 1.5 million dollars in a Brazilian coconut water company Vita Coco.
What up with coconuts? Are they nuts or are we just cuckoo over them? Marco Polo called them Indian Nuts in 1280. Then Portuguese explorers called them Coco because the brown hair exterior reminded them of a ghost/witch named Coco.  They are not a nut, they just look like one. Instead they are dry drupes. But enough of this formality.
With all this interest in coconuts, the Fearless Cook took on this challenge. The goal was the adventure.
 
There are two kinds of coconuts the young and the old. The young ones are green  where the fountain-of-youth water comes from. The flesh from the green ones are supposed to be more flavorful. I looked online and found coconut farms where you can actually buy or invest in green coconuts for the water.
Then there are the mature coconuts that most people are familiar with. You can use the flesh shavings for recipes or it can supposedly be processed into a coconut cream consistency.  To select a coconut pick one with a round shape and a rich brown color. Shake it by your ear to listen for the coconut water inside. And avoid coconuts that have moldy or dark eyes. Sounds like a Coco witch to me!

The mature coconut

 
The next step in this coconut adventure  was opening it. This is where the fun begins. I read in The New Best Recipe 2004 cookbook that one should use a cleaver to crack open the coconut. Okay, good reason to buy a knife. I didn’t own a cleaver until this challenge.
 

the coconut meets the cleaver

 Thank goodness it was a sunny day so I could take my production outside to not harm man nor beast. 

the coconut water is running away

As the pictures speak for themselves, one crack leaked out the water and didn’t open the coconut. I eventually had to get a steak knife and pry open the coconut. The cleaver was basically useless. I’ll keep it around for butchering a hog (not).

cracked the nut

yielded 1/4 cup of water

After this endeavor, I chiseled away at the coconut flesh. It was extremely difficult to get shavings out of it. Then I went to the Frontera Produce website, the brand that wrapped my coconut, and it did not recommend a cleaver at all. Instead, as the recipe below details, the coconut should be baked, for easy opening and to soften the flesh to be shaved like cheese.

This approach was helpful, somewhat. It did soften the flesh and I put it in a cheese grater. It was labor intensive and I got very little coconut shavings out. After all this work, Mr Coconut was thrown in the trash. Ba bye.

Easy Coconut Shavings (ha) 

  • 1 Frontera Produce coconut
  • 1/2 Cup confectioners sugar

Place coconut in heat-proof container, cover and bake at 400° F for approx. 20-40 mins. Once coconut has cracked open remove from oven, discard coconut water, and remove white pulp immediately. This process is much easier when the pulp is still warm. Shave pulp chunks using a cheese shredder. Lay out on a sheet pan and toast coconut shavings at 400° F until dry and golden brown. Remove shavings and dust with powdered sugar.

After my coconut adventure, I saw a food show on the OWN network Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag. The show, first aired 3/11/2009 was their review of a Thai cookbook which recommend using fresh coconuts for the dishes they were preparing for a professional chef. The highlight of the show was their adventure into cracking open and using the water, milk and flesh from green and mature coconuts. Oh my gosh. It was hilarious. These women tried to open a green coconut with a hammer and nail. And the mature coconut was taken to the side of the road near a drainage grate and she beat it open with a hammer! I kid you not!

Kristina and Anna made five recipes and three turned out well. The professional chef told them to just buy the coconut milk and cream in the cans and forget about the fresh coconut.  I totally agree.

Coconut water by Naked

So going back to coconut water. I drank the quarter cup from my coconut and it tasted like plain Pedialyte (infant electolyte replacement formula).  Vita Coco has it in variety of flavors. Most recipes have it as an ingredient in smoothies. It is pricey at about $3.00 per container. If I start drinking it daily, I’ll report back on my youthful transformation (or not). Madonna and I are a year apart in age, she’s older.

Hello my name is Patty, I’m a candy addict

It’s the middle of the afternoon, I just finished lunch. The gum I’m chewing just isn’t cutting it. I scrounge around my desk drawer, then my purse. I’m looking for a lost M&M or Smartie that may have dropped out. But alas, the mining expedition came up dry.  I chew a new piece of gum to keep the taste buds happy. Running to the vending machine will waste time. Get on with it, get back to work.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Valentine’s day and I’m still thinking about candy. There are four holiday events during the year when the candy has themes and is overflowing entire aisles devoted to: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. From October to April it is candy, candy, candy. It’s one holiday rollng into another and the candy is plentiful.

At my Weight Watchers meeting, the leader admitted she was a sugar-holic. She described how she was told that the only way to get over her addiction was to go to the candy aisle and confront the sugar. She failed miserably because she left purchasing bags of candy. Going near the candy aisle was the equivolent of being an alcoholic, you can’t have just one Snicker bar.

I’ll admit I never thought too much about candy until it was always around. I have a friend at work who will slide me a bag of sour gummies or Willy Wonka Nerds. I guess that is how any addiction starts; it is a socially acceptable introduction. It breaks up the monotony of the workday. Everyone is doing it.

Most people need to watch what they eat and I am one of them. I can’t eat on a unlimited basis because it takes me down a spiral of unhealthiness. Being overweight took a toll on my ego many years ago. I climbed out of that hole but, it is a day-to-day challenge. It takes a great deal of discipline from deep down inside me to temper the cravings. 

There is something about that sugar rush on my tongue. It’s like a party in my mouth. I become unconscious. And then I get sick. Why did I eat that?

My name is Patty and I’m a candy addict.

The Fearless Cook takes on….the (sexy) Artichoke

the sexy artichoke

Many years ago, I was put to shame by a teenager and his knowledge of artichokes. He went on and on about how cool it was to be served an artichoke flower. To peel it leaf-by-leaf, dip it in warm garlic butter and savor the fleshy end piece. He made it sound so sophisticated and sexy.  

The music group, Cibo Matta, has a song “Artichokes” whose thinly veiled lyrics are about sex. According to the website 10 songs about food that are really about sex, this song made the number #6 position.  So what better time of year to tackle the artichoke but Valentine’s Day?

I knew nothing about the artichoke plant before taking on this challenge. It is a pretty piece of produce, but also intimidating. It has all these thorny leaves and most of the plant is inedible. It is a thistle plant native to the Mediterranean region and brought to the United States by the Spaniards. I also read that it is a member of the sunflower family.

Another interesting tidbit is that Castroville, CA produces 80% of all commercially grown artichokes. It was put on the map after Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1948. She was the epitome of sex, right?

Steamed Artichokes The New Best Recipe 2004

So here I go. I trimmed off the pin-sharp thorns from the tips of the leaves. It makes for easier handling. Then with a a sharp knife, I tried to cut off the top two rows of  the artichoke. I found this pretty difficult to do, so I used a kitchen shears.

Then I cut the stem flush with the base of the bulb and dropped it into a bowl of lemon juice and water to prevent browning before steaming.

I steamed my artichokes by placing the base on top of a 1 1/2 inch thick onion slice. If you have difficulty balancing the artichoke, then pop out the inner 3-4 rings of the onion.

artichoke steam bath

The pot was filled with water a half inch below the top of the onion rings.

Once the water comes to a boil, then cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the outer leaves release into a flower. I had to check the pot periodically to make sure the water did not boil out.

The artichokes were removed from the pot and cooled for 15 minutes. I served them warm, pulling off one leaf at a time and dipping the bottom end into the garlic butter. To eat, scrape off the end with your teeth. It can also be served cold, but it tastes better warm.

leaf-by-leaf dip into garlic butter - YUM

So one by one you get to the heart, the edible part of the plant. See how much fun it can be if shared by two people? 

The Heart

Remove the fuzzy part to reveal the heart.  

I reserved the artichoke heart for an appetizer. I cut the artichoke into bite size pieces, mixed it with soft roasted garlic and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Served on a crostini.

The Fearless Cook Footnotes

The leaf-by-leaf method is ideal for an intimate meal. One heart to be shared by two 🙂

The cost of one artichoke was $3.00. If I was making an artichoke dip, I would go for the jarred version. You get more hearts for your money. My 9/12 oz jar cost about $3.50. 

My lovely artichoke our time together was fun while it lasted. It was a labor intensive tryst we had for very little food. I’m a practical girl raised in the Corn Belt and we live for food production.

Invisible me

Invisible. Not visible.

It’s being in a crowd of people and you don’t acknowledge those around you.

It is eavesdropping on conversations that aren’t being shared with you.

It’s when you are not recognized by others. 

It’s when you shut the door and no one dares to knock.

It’s when people know you, but they don’t know you, because they don’t want to admit they know you.

The act of being invisible is a phenomona. Phenomena is an observable fact or aspect that is observed through the senses; an experience. The tug and war of being noticed and not being noticed. Being invisible has been with me all of my life. Invisibility is a multi-level experience.

In high school I wanted to be invisible. If Harry Potter cloaks were for sale I would’ve sold my soul to buy one. The fear of being made fun of was greater than being noticed, in a nice way. I never wanted to change my hair-do, my style of clothing or class schedule for fear of being noticed. I wanted to slide through and get out. The emotional pain-potential was too high.

As a young adult, I was racked with insecurities. I worried. I wanted to be approved by others. The invisibility cloak I gave myself was added poundage. I hid under the subcutaneous layer of fat. People ignored me. I got approval in other ways.

Then I woke up and discovered who I was without the poundage. I entered the world without it. I was freaked out at the attention I received. People,  especially men, looked at me differently. I was sexually attractive. Even attractive women noticed me. I entered the exclusive “Beauty Club”.

Things changed again after marriage and children. People didn’t notice me again because I was a stay-at-home mom with two children. What did I matter to the world? I was a frumpy nobody.

Then I entered the work world again. I was in a high-profile positions and the boss’s prize pet. Then I was the goat of the office whom everyone blamed. I didn’t agree with the boss. I was ostracized.

Being invisible at age 51 yrs. old is much different from being invisible at 17 yrs. old. Life tossed me the ups and downs; the losses and triumphs. I was left a shell at mid-life. I grieved in my cocoon. 

I again have emerged. Now, being invisible, is being cloaked in a level of confidence. I watch events fold open before me. I now know why people have wrinkles, grey hair, wear red hats and purple dresses. The hormones are gone. We’ve been through hell and back and we’re older and wiser.

I’m like a squirrel in a tree. My tail is switching back and forth and the dog below can’t see me. I’m invisible. I’m in control.  

Invisibility was self-imposed as a teenager to preserve my identity. It is self-imposed now to ensure my air of confidence and spirituality. It is what it is. I am who I am.

The bag lady blues

A stage play The Purse Chronicles debuted in Denver this past year from author Coleen Hubbard. The play involves two men who find a purse and try to imagine the personality of the woman from the contents. I thought of this play as I peered into my bag this week. It’s winter, so I switched to my bag with lots of pockets. You know the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder, bicycle courier, bag. Two months ago, when the holidays were upon us, I thought it would be easier to have this big bag since I would be hauling a lot of stuff with shopping and all. Unfortunately, the holidays are over and my bag is getting heavier by the day. I emptied it out and couldn’t believe what was in there.

THE BAG

I have six contact lens cases in there. I think I kept throwing them in because I couldn’t see one in there; Fifty credit card receipts, an empty prescription bottle and a bottle of hair product my stylist gave me to sample; A digital camera, battery charger and four photo cards; My wallet with cash, drivers license and cards, a check book, wallet sized pictures, five professional membership cards, business cards, four pens, three gift cards, and two types of wipes; Three sets of earrings, two necklaces, a bracelet, a watch and a rosary; Ten coupons, a note to myself, empty candy wrapper, two types of hand cream, prescription glasses case, reading glasses case, a birthday card and a book of stamps; A handkerchief, a pack of gum, a napkin, silver jewelry cloth, mouth guard container, a plastic spoon and a pair a gloves.

The contents and type of bag one carries around says alot about their personalities. A window to the soul. I think mine is more like a junk drawer.

In the past 60 years, the contents of our bags have changed. We went from one little bag to carry money and lipstick in, to lots of extra bags to meet different needs. We need bags to carry our coupons, daytimer, laptop, newspaper, magazines, smartphone, cell phone, work out clothes, yoga mat, umbrella, lunch, and bottled water.  My bags spill over into my car as I have places to go before and after work. 

I also have extas bags in my car to switch out to for style if I am out and about. Two or three fun stylish bags. After I arrive at my destination I decide which bag would look better with my outfit. I swap out the contents from one bag to another then head in with my bag that coordinates with my outfit.  

Why do I do this to myself? I don’t think I am trying to be a hoarder. I want to be prepared for any situation that is thrown upon me when I am out of the house. And I probably spend most of my time away from home in my car. My car sometimes feels like my second home. 

My bags are my baggage. These bags are packed with some level of fear. Fear of being unprepared. Occasionally, I have to give myself an intervention and purge the contents when the strain becomes too much for my shoulder or when the car needs cleaning.

I’m getting older and all of this stuff in my life is dragging me down. It takes a lot of time to throw stuff out and be organized. I think I am staying ahead of it and then it piles right into my life again. There isn’t enough time built into our lives to stay organized. We run from event to event and have little down time.

I just gotta keep pluggin along, cuz I’m singing the bag lady blues.

The Fearless Cook takes on…Garlic

Fear, innate in all of us, is a human instinct. It is nature’s coping mechanism to protect us from the emotional bad stuff. The number one thing people are afraid of is a terrorist attack. Cooking in the kitchen did not make the top ten list. My minor in psychology causes me ponder these things.

I grew up in a rural town and some people might say that because of that upbringing I was sheltered from the “real world”. I was exposed to cooking according to how my mom did it in the 60s and 70s. There were five kids in my family and cooking was a way to get food on the table to feed seven people. Cooking with non-traditional ingredients and foods weren’t high on the list.

I will never forget my first exposure to garlic. It was 7:00 am on the hospital day shift and the assistant head nurse was giving me me my assignment for the day. She was of Italian descent and she reeked of garlic on her breath. Whoa! That was overpowering! My mother never cooked with real garlic, ever. She used garlic powder or salt that got sprinkled into a sauce or chili. I had no idea such a thing existed.

This was the beginning of tackling my fear of cooking. I was determined to overcome foods and ingredients I knew nothing about, one at a time. The basics of cooking are the ingredients, one ingredient building on another. One ingredient can make a recipe sing.

So, with respect to garlic, you were my first fear. I looked at you in the produce section all tiny in that wrapping paper of Mother Nature. I wasn’t fond of your strong smell in my hands. But combined with olive oil in a sauté pan and heaven!

As you can see below, garlic comes in many forms,already minced in a jar, already peeled in a bag, dried minced and of course garlic powder. With all the focus of cooking magazines, websites, TV shows and features; garlic is available everywhere now.

When I started cooking with garlic I started with garlic powder. Then I moved to the minced garlic in a jar. Both of these versions didn’t require touching it with my hands. I slowly moved to the real thing and it took an awful lot of practice AND TIME to break open those cloves.

the side of a knife to break open the clove covering

look a clove!

Now, I have broke open many a garlic bulb and the cloves are not always that easy to pull apart and break open. But with practice I have gotten better. Now once it is out of the paper you can put it in a garlic press to mince it (still don’t have to touch it!), mince it or chop it with a knife (full hands on at this point), or put it whole in the food processor (and let the blades chop it for you). I have seen several ways to get the smell of garlic off your hands, which include: pouring mouthwash over your hands, rubbing your hands with kosher salt and lemon, and rubbing your hands on a piece of silver.

Garlic is a member of the onion family. China produces the most garlic in the world with the U.S. 6th in production. Throughout history, many cultures believe in the medicinal properties of garlic. Garlic cloves were swallowed whole or strings of garlic bulbs were worn around necks to ward off viruses and even bacteria. It is available in pill or capsule form in the health food supplement aisle for people trying alternative methods of reducing cholesterol levels. This health benefit has helped the popularity of garlic. Knock on wood, I have not been sick this year. In fact, one day when I felt a cold coming on, I roasted some garlic with vegetables and my sniffles dissipated.

One of the best ways I like to use garlic is to get a big piece of aluminum foil and throw 6-8 whole cloves in with fresh beets from the garden, cover it with olive oil and kosher salt. It gets steam-roasted in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. The garlic is so buttery, soft and wonderful that I eat it whole or spread it on a crostini. No offensive garlicky flavor.

The nice thing about all these different forms of garlic is that it makes it easier for us as consumers to use it more readily. There is a garlic chicken recipe that calls for 40 cloves of garlic. I saw Alton Brown make it once on “Good Eats.”. How would you like to unwrap several heads of garlic, smash and peel until you got 40 cloves? That is labor intensive. That bag of already peeled garlic would save me 30 minutes of prep time. I conquered my fear, but I don’t want to spend my whole day in the kitchen. I do have a full time job afterall.

The Fearless Cook takes on….Chopped Liver

The Fearless cook did a mini survey this week of reader’s fears of cooking and liver appeared.  I am a chicken about liver. I guess I forgot about liver many years ago because I faced my fear about it and moved on.  About 25 years ago I decided I would be “cultured” and try to make pate’. I made it, liked it but didn’t see it appearing in my life again.

In the grocery store, you can find chicken and calves liver easily. My mother used to cook calves liver in the Weight Watcher days of the 1970s when it was recommended to eat once a week for stamina while losing weight. She also tried to feed it to us kids; flouring it, frying it in oil, adding fried onions . She tried to convince us it tasted like chicken. Yeah, sure chicken fried liver, yummy. My problem with liver is I dislike the taste, immensely. 

Liver is an organ; I have one you have one and animals with vertebraes have them also. It is an organ where the protein stores for the body lie. I am all about trying to be healthy and liver is high in iron and Vitamin A, but it is also high in cholesterol. Many cooking sources recommend not to eat it very often. 

I decided to make chopped liver. Chopped liver is a traditional dish served in many European countries and for those of Ashkenazi Jewish decent (www.brighthub.com).

So, I searched several recipes and found Ina Garten 2001 Barefoot Contessa Parties! recipe for Chopped Liver.  This is from www.foodnetwork.com website. I love Ina Garten because her recipes are simple and delicious. It also had about 100 or so reader reviews that were highly favorable. Any liver recipe that can “hide” the taste of liver sounded good to me.

Ingredients: 
2 lbs of chicken livers
2 lbs of chicken liver

free range chicken liver

1 cup of rendered chicken fat (or extra virgin olive oil=EVOO)
2 cups of diced yellow onion ( 2 med onions)

diced onion

1/3 cup Madeira wineMadeira wine
4 large eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup parsley
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper

Drain the livers, saute in 2 batches each with 2 TBSP fat or EVOO at medium-high heat, turn once for a total of 5 minutes, with the center barely pink. The recipe recommends not to overcook the liver or it will be dry. Transfer to a large bowl.

saute the chicken liver

In same pan, saute the onions in 3 TBSP of fat or EVOO for until golden. Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan, scraping the sides. Transfer to the bowl with the livers.

Add the eggs, remaining fat or EVOO, parsley, thyme, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Toss to combine.

Transfer to the food processor and in batches pulse until coarsely chopped. Okay, it turned into a puree, like pate’.

Season to taste, chill in the refrigerator and serve with crackers, matzo or crostini.

Chopped liver is served

Okay, I made a few mistakes, but corrected them as I went along. I had to go back and add the hard-boiled eggs and the EVOO because I forgot them. The picture above with the eggs shows them being added to already pureed ingredients. What I learned from my mistake, and tasting as I went along is that the eggs and the oil helped dampen the strong liver taste. It tasted much better after adding them.

The second thing I learned is that this makes a whopping amount of chopped liver. I think it made about 3-4 cups. I am lucky that I am taking it to a party this weekend. I’ll let you know how the guests like it. If I made it again I would cut the recipe in half using only one pound of chicken livers.

The dog thought it smelled great

Cooking the liver made the kitchen smell wonderful. Okay the dog did get a taste of the liver freshly cooked from the pan. She is a such a faithful fan.