Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Note of Explanation, An Intro, As It Were

I love food. I love my family. I love my friends. I love fish. I love fresh fruit.  I love Firebird Suite by Stravinsky. I love french bread. I love fruit bars. I love flying. I love firelight. I love films. I also love a lot of things that don't begin with the letter F, but once I got going... sometimes I like themes & lists.

But the point is really in those first loves--I love food, family, & friends. Mostly, I like food because it usually carries stories. Some meals are forever connected to certain memories. Some recipes come with the tale of how they have evolved because of circumstances. Some foods always take you back to a specific place & time. The kitchen is definitely the heart of my house; all of my friends have learned that if they come to my house hungry, they probably won't leave that way. My mama, aka the Gooj, is a whiz in the kitchen. She even makes turkey sandwiches better than anyone else. A good meal can make dinner with your best friends that much better or carry you through an extremely awkward first date. Cooking with someone can teach you a lot about how they think, how they work, how they play.

I've just started reading A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, the creator of Orangette, a blog about recipes & the stories that go with them. I really think she & I should be friends; we both love food, we both don't remember ever really learning to cook--it just happened, we both lack the ability to follow a recipe precisely, & we both have a tendency to talk too much & start rambling after a while...oh. Yeah. Like that.

If you're a follower of this lovely little blog o' mine, you may have noticed that recently there have been a lot fewer random ramblings & a lot more recipes. This has been both intentional & a natural evolution. This switch from musings to measurements might seem a bit... well... boring. But food is a part of life, like it or not. You can scarf down a sandwich begrudgingly, or you can celebrate the variety of flavors that fill the earth. I've definitely done both. I like taking the time to savor a meal much better.

So, if you've been wondering why I've sounded more like Julia Child lately, it's because I'm trying to tell my stories in a slightly different way--via recipe.

Bon Appétit!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yellow Curry with Sweet Potatoes & Chicken

Sorry, not the most creative title. I will gladly take suggestions on improvements. But, it's been a long day, please forgive.

So, two days ago, I made these fabulous coconut cookies. This meant that I had an almost-full can of coconut milk--and you can't just throw coconut milk away! I looked through a few recipe books and decided that an authentic Thai-style yellow curry was my best bet. But I didn't have all the necessary ingredients, and I've never been to Thailand. But I have been to India. So as usual, I just sort of looked at a few different recipes, picked my favorite things from each, and made it all up as I went. My curry was very loosely based on this recipe from Taste of Thai. And the result was a rather tasty, warm curry that made me feel like I should have been eating on a banana leaf. And again, as usual, these quantities are... approximate. I don't really measure, I just...cook. But the great thing about curry is that you can change it up to fit your taste--if you want more kick, add more black pepper. If you want more of that slow burn, kick up the cumin, cloves, and paprika.

Thai Indian Yellow Curry w/ Chicken & Potatoes
1 not-quite-full can of coconut milk
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 green onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tblsp. sesame oil
1 large sweet potato, pealed & diced
4 small red potatoes, diced
1 tblsp. yellow curry powder
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tblsp. brown sugar
dash of cumin
dash of ginger
dash of ground cloves
dash of lime juice 
1 tblsp. cornstarch

In a large sauce pan (I don't have a wok), heat sesame oil until it starts to smell a little nutty. Add garlic & the white parts of the diced green onion. Add curry powder & saute until the garlic starts to brown & the curry smells like amazing (strong).
When the onions become slightly translucent, add half of the coconut milk and most of the chicken broth (save a few tblsps of broth to make a slurry with the cornstarch), & bring to a boil. Add soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, cloves, red pepper, cumin, paprika, salt, & pepper. When the liquid boils, add the potatoes. Add the remaining coconut milk. 

Simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes, then add the diced chicken. Cover and simmer for about 15 more minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked & the potatoes are tender. If you prefer a thicker sauce, add cornstarch mixed with chicken broth about 3 minutes before removing the curry from the heat.

Serve with rice & top with remaining diced green onions.

I'd post a picture, but I'm on a dial-up connection here. So. That's not happening. But use your imagination--it's a very yellow concoction.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Lovely Bunch of Coconut Cookies

A new and exciting trend is taking my little Idaho hometown by storm-- Bountiful Baskets. It's a fantastic idea, really; each week, you order a basket filled with an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, and when Saturday rolls around, you go pick your basket at the nearest Bountiful Drop Off location. But here's the catch-- you never know exactly what you're going to get. It's like Christmas morning, only with produce. I'm a big fan. (My birthday is in August. Please feel free to give me obscure fruits and veggies.)

And it was through these lovely baskets that we came to be the proud owners of three fresh coconuts. Three.

Um. Now what? And have you seen a fresh coconut lately? It's protected by nature's version of armor plating. And once you do get that brown husk cracked open (I had to use a really big hammer and a lot of moxey), getting all the good stuff out isn't easy. But I was motivated by a tasty looking recipe for coconut shortbread from one of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen (lovely pictures). So. Armed with a butter knife and a melon baller, I attacked. About an hour and a half later, I had the lovely white flesh from one half of my coconut, some slightly roughed-up hands, coconut oil all over said hands as well as my arms, and some flecks of coconut in my hair. It was a battle. I consider myself victorious.

Anywho, long story somewhat short, I grated my spoils, toasted (at 325 °F) them until they were lovely golden brown, and adapted the following recipe from SK. I wanted a bit more coconut flavor, and a slightly softer, chewier cookie, so I added brown sugar and a bit of coconut milk. This didn't work in the soft/chewy department, but I would like to think that it did add a bit of depth in the tasty department. I also decided to top the cookies with some lovely sugar crystals, which required a light egg wash to stick. And now, without further ado:

Coconut Shortbread Cookies
1 1/2 sticks salted sweet cream butter, softened (it's worth investing in the good stuff)
3/4 cups flaked coconut (I used a blend of fresh & the sweetened stuff from a package)
1/2 cup sugar, minus about 1 tblsp.
2 tblspoons brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tblspoons coconut milk
1 1/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
sugar crystals, as a garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread coconut flakes on a baking sheet & bake until coconut is light golden, stirring about every 4 minutes. It will brown rather quickly, so keep an eye on it. Cool completely, then grind in a food processor or blender until coarsely ground. (Really- let it cool first. I didn't & it was kinda hard to get out of the blender.) 

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars. Add vanilla, coconut milk, & a pinch of salt. Blend thoroughly, then add the flour in two separate additions--this just helps it all combine a bit more smoothly. Scrap down the sides of the bowl & stir in ground coconut. Scoop out your dough (it will be a bit soft) onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, wrap it up, & let it chill out in the fridge for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Coat your counter with flour & roll out a portion of the dough to a very thin 1/4 inch. Using whatever smallish cookie cutters you like (I used various circles & hearts) & place the shapes on baking sheet. Bake for about 13 minutes, until golden brown, & let cool on pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Voila. You now know how to tackle a coconut, wrest it's gloriously rich white goodness from the shell (the melon baller was the best option), & make said goodness into even better cookies. Victory.  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Remember When...

I used to write a new blog post, like, every three days? It makes me wonder how I had so much time/stuff to say.