Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heidi Swanson's Spiced Coconut Spinach

Things are slightly hectic around here lately, but my mind continually returns to the kitchen, especially as the farmers' market season gets underway.  Several ideas are circling in my mind about refining, nay, reinventing, my way of cooking.  I'm excited about sharing some ideas and approaches I've been discovering.

I am usually a slap-it-together-and-see-what-happens kind of cook.  Once in a while I carefully create a constructed dish, but I've often wished I could be a slow-down-and-think-about-it, mindful, kind of cook more consistently.

Meanwhile, I tried this recipe by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, who somehow manages to be mindful, deliberate, and spontaneously creative with ingredients on hand ... all at the same time. 

I had what turned out to be 14 ounces of fresh spinach from the very first Pasco Farmer's Market of the year, and so doubled Heidi's recipe, which made four hearty servings.  Having no shallots, I used onion in their place.

I highly recommend this dish.  It's very calming to toast the mustard seeds, cumin and coconut.  The scents and subtle colors appeal to the senses.  You have an awareness that you are doing something to spinach that will be very, very good.   Preparing the ingredients all ahead of time creates a sort of serene kitchen ballet as the dish unfolds in real time, and really, not so much more time than slapdashery would take.

An early Spring dish that nourishes on all levels.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kohlrabi Greens

The sweetest, crispiest organic kohlrabi can be found at Fred Meyer these days.  I'm hoping to see it at the farmer's markets this year.

In the meantime, we've been enjoying it raw, peeled and sliced, sometimes as a great chip stand-in with guacamole.  It can also be shredded and used in salads, adding an interesting, fresh flavor kind of like a cross between cabbage, turnips and broccoli.

Normally, I discard the leaves and store the Sputnik bulbs in the fridge 'til ready to use them.  But the last couple of bunches had leaves that looked perfectly fresh and tantalizing, so I washed them, sliced them, and have been cooking with them ... and they are wonderful! 

Kohlrabi greens are closest to kale when it comes to cooking time ... they're not as tender as beet greens, but are more tender than collards, which need to boil for an hour.  Just wash the leaves, rip out the thicker parts of the stem, slice the leaves thinly, and saute for 10 to 15 minutes with onions, garlic, crushed red pepper ... or even apples or tomatoes and herbs.  Voila!  A new green!

Friday, May 13, 2011

What to do with Coconut Butter

Healthy fats like coconut oil beat sugar and flour every time for clean, sustained energy and a happy metabolism. 

So, in the midst of the Easter onslaught of factory-churned-out chocs and candies with additives galore, I just got out my beautiful marble Easter eggs for color, and made Nancy's coconut-date energy balls.

These are really, really, good, plus, as you can see from Nancy's description, they have all kinds of positive health implications.  I increased the organic citrus peels to two teaspoons each, which gives these little citruspheres a powerful resemblance in taste to those horribly unhealthy lemon bars which we all remember fondly for their ability to make our teeth hurt.  We should have listened to our teeth!  Our bodies didn't want that much pure refined sugar.  Nancy kept going on her theme and developed raw cacao superfood truffles, which look tempting to me to try.

As often happens, finally having found a recipe that used the coconut butter I'd bought on impulse, another way to use this luscious stuff appeared.  Ryan's coconut cream and blueberry bark is incredibly delicious.

As with the citrus balls, you soften the jar of coconut butter (or coconut cream) in a pan of warm water on the stove, pour it out (I used a Silpat; Ryan used parchment paper) and slap frozen blueberries evenly across the top.  The frozen blueberries solidify the coconut butter.  Just break the bark into bite-sized pieces (this is important, because chomping into a big piece may cause a blueberry laundry crisis) and store 'em in the fridge.

Many thanks to Nancy and Ryan for adding variety to my energy arsenal!

More ideas for making coconut bark here.

Update:   Here's a seriously convenient way to keep coconut cream and coconut butter accessible.  If you've ever tried to dig 'em out of the jar with a pointy knife, you know what I mean.  Warm the coconut cream or coconut butter in the uncovered jar set in a pan of water on the stove.  May take 15 minutes or so at a simmer.  Stir occasionally.  When soft, spread coconut cream or coconut butter onto a Silpat.  Let harden, and either cut or break into roughly tablespoon-sized pieces.  Store them in a jar or other container.  For coconut cream, one tablespoon heated with 1/4 cup water makes 1/4 cup.  Stir a piece or two into curries, with a little water, or into sauteed veggies with Asian seasonings.  For the coconut butter ... you can either resoften with your preferred warming method, or just enjoy it as a snack.
Coconut cream pieces ready to reconstitute ... or just eat!

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Not Eating Certain Scenery

Last April we were cleaning up flower pots in preparation for new planting, when a mama quail, completely camoflaged, whirred out of this pot when we approached it.  We carefully inspected the pot, and sure enough ... we found a nest with 18 little speckled eggs in it.  Mama came back later, and I took this picture of her.  Yes, she is there ... at about 12 o'clock.

The next day, she temporarily left the nest, and I quickly took this picture of the eggs.

I had seen a quail couple, with the mama waddling about and looking really round, exploring our yard for a nest site a couple of days before.  We learned that quail eggs take 28 days to mature.  Sure enough, about that much time went by (with us tiptoeing around the flowerpot every time we went outside to work in the yard) when we noticed that hatching had begun.

The hatching was quickly over, and the quail parents set immediately to their task of teaching the little ones how to queue up, hide in a cluster under mama's wings, and keep close to the fence or stay under shrubs when the annoying person with a camera stepped carefully out of the house.  But I was not able to get good pictures of them because they never stood still!

For several days, the training went on, with one parent herding and fussing over the chicks, showing them how to find food and avoid predators, and the other parent standing guard atop the fence. Then they were gone.

I thought our quail excitement was over, and I had cleaned out the flower pot and planted new flowers.  One day, though, I saw a quail family in our yard, with significantly larger chicks.  Were they our quail family?  I don't know.  But all in all, it was fun and educational to watch Nature at work.

And this time, no recipe.