The Original Coconut Water

the original coconut water

 You know how freshly squeezed apple juice tastes more appley and therefore infinitely better than bottled apple juice? Coconut water is the same way. I’ve heard quite a few people shake their heads at the coconut water trend, remarking that they simply don’t like the taste of coconut water.  And for the most part, I agree with them.*

two coconut

“But,” I say to these skeptics, “Have you tried the original coconut water?” No, it’s not some brand name; it’s simply coconut water straight from the coconut. You see, coconut water straight from the coconut is a different story than the bottled stuff. Light and refreshing, it’s a delicious afternoon beverage on a hot summer afternoon when another cup of caffeine would make you jittery or it’s too early for a cocktail. I also find coconut water to be the perfect tonic whenever I get a headache, which makes sense because coconut water contains a good bit of potassium. Besides tasting more delicious than bottled coconut water, the other plus of “making” your own coconut water is that you can snack on the coconut flesh after you drain the coconut. When you buy a whole coconut, you’re getting two tasty treats for the price of one. (Just make sure you have an ax lying around to break open the coconut.)

a tough coconut to crack

Coconuts aren’t too tricky to come by. We buy our coconuts at a Chinese produce store for $2 each, but they’re also available at Safeway and Whole Foods for a bit more than that. Sam is our master coconut selector, and he always looks for the biggest coconut and shakes it to hear the water sloshing around inside. Try to choose one that sounds like it has the most water inside.

And remember, terroir, the concept that the land where the food is grown affects its taste, isn’t limited to wine—coconut water tastes different based upon where the coconuts are grown. If you shop at a store like The Berkeley Bowl that sells coconuts from different parts of the world, try a few to see which one you like best. Are you a Thai coconut lover or is the Caribbean coconut more your thing? Or maybe the Florida coconuts hit the spot.

coconut water and coconut draining

Once you buy your coconut, it’s time to crack out the hammer and screwdriver (or other sharp, pointy object). Place the pointed edge of the screwdriver over one of the eyes of the coconut, and tap the screwdriver with the hammer until the screwdriver completely pierces the flesh. Once the screwdriver breaks through, wiggle it around to make the hole a little bigger. Remove the screwdriver from the coconut and invert the coconut on a tall, narrow receptacle. We like to use a glass measuring cup. Let the water drain from the coconut for a few minutes, shaking the coconut to coax those final few drops out. Fill two glasses with ice, pour the coconut water over the ice and serve. The ice part is really important—coconut water tastes best when chilled.

coconut water in measuring cup

*I do think Taste Nirvana’s Real Coconut Water with pulp come pretty close to the real thing—and they’re not paying me to say this. Confession: In the middle of writing this post I was struck by a strong craving for coconut water. Since we’d already polished off the coconut water pictured in the blog, I walked to the store and bought some of this Taste Nirvana. Still! Try making your own coconut water—it’s fun!

Petite Breton Buckwheat Gâteaux

breton buckwheat gateauFor many people, 2012 is The Year of the Dragon. For me, 2012 has been The Year of All Things French. This comes as a pleasant surprise for me because until recently I had very little interest in France (gasp!). I have a suspicion this may be due to my German and British roots—two countries that weren’t always on the friendliest of terms with France. Take a look at what’s been keeping me busy these past six months, however, and there’s no denying that 2012 is for me The Year of All Things French: Sam and I took a conversational French class; we’ve watched French movies, such as Pocket Money, Blame it on Fidel (my favorite one so far) and Rue Paradis 588; we’ve scouted out the French restaurants in SF; and I’ve read books about France and French culture, including an excellent book of essays about Paris and Parisians, Paris, Paris, a Rick Steeve’s guide to Paris and David Lebovitz’s memoir of his life as a San Franciscan in Paris, The Sweet Life in Paris.

eggs and book pageIt was The Sweet Life in Paris that held the recipe for these Petite Breton Buckwheat Gâteaux. (Strictly speaking, I made them petite with my little tart pans; the recipe calls for making one large cake.) Ever since I first baked with buckwheat flour when I made Poppyseed Buckwheat Wafers last year, I have been enamored of its nutty flavor. When I found this recipe, I thought it would be a great way to try another buckwheat flour recipe and that the cake would travel well on the always-crowded bus to my French class potluck. It was a success on both accounts. The cake is dense, slightly sweet and has a lovely pop from the sea salt flakes on top. One of the things that sets the cake apart as truly European is the egg yolk glaze, which gives the cake a glossy appearance when cooked. Don’t wait for a special occasion to make this cake; it would be delicious any afternoon of the week with a cup of tea or coffee.

buckwheat flour and unbaked tartsIn case the name of the recipe is bit inscrutable, don’t worry, your resident French scholar is here to translate: Breton is the French word for the Brittany region in northern France, which is known for its buckwheat crepes, and Gâteau is the French word for cake. As for the recipe itself, I decided not to include it here because (1) I don’t have permission to reprint it and (2) the original recipe was so good that I thought adapting it or “making it my own” would detract from it. David Lebovitz did a great job with this cake, and he deserves full credit. But don’t worry—I won’t leave you hanging high and dry. The recipe is also available on Heidi Swanson’s blog, 101 Cookbooks, where she had permission to reprint the recipe.

If you click over to 101 Cookbooks and read the ingredient list for the cake, you may notice that it does not call for a leavening agent, such as baking soda or powder. The second time I made this cake, I realized what causes the cake to rise: beating lots of air into the butter, sugar, and eggs.  When the recipe says to beat the butter, sugar and eggs until really airy, beat them longer than you think you should. And of course, using an electric mixer will save your arms (and your sanity).

buckwheat gateauAnd yes, we are planning to culminate The Year of All Things French with a trip to the City of Light this autumn. Suggestions and recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Merci!

 

Affogato

espresso cupsThis week the only meal item more consistent than the lattes we’ve been drinking with breakfast are the homemade affogatos we’ve been making for dessert.  These grown-up ice cream floats are easy-peasy: scoop vanilla ice cream into a bowl, pull a shot of espresso and drown the ice cream in the hot espresso. Affogato means “drowned” in Italian, and once you pour the hot espresso over the ice cream, it’s easy to see how the dessert got its name. As the espresso crema melds with the sweetened cream of the ice cream, it creates a velvety and luxurious indulgence.

ice creamWe like to use Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla ice cream in our affogatos because it’s a creamy rather than icy ice cream. As for espresso, well, I’ll reveal the real reason we’ve been splurging on affogatos nearly every night: we bought a Nespresso machine last weekend. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this line of espresso machines, it uses a capsule system to brew espresso quickly and easily. I can hear the coffee purists (and romantics) groaning at the thought of a capsule system—and until last weekend, I did too. At first I felt guilty for using such an automated system. I use an electric toothbrush, read books on my iPad and now use an espresso machine that is as automated as it gets? Was this machine bringing me one step closer to the utterly unromantic food capsule system of The Jetsons?

affogato espresso poured over ice cream The more I thought about it, the more I began to feel a kinship with the characters in the Industrial Revolution-era mini series Lark Rise to Candleford and Cranford, who shudder at how the imminent railway will change their quiet, close-knit communities. Today we’re already well into the technological revolution of the digital age, but how do we balance the new with the old? What do we hold on to and what do we let go?

History is the great teacher that helps us make sense of our current times, and if I look back to reactions to the Industrial Revolution, I think of the art nouveau movement. In reaction to the monotony of the mass produced art created by machines, the art nouveau artists sought inspiration in nature and infused their work with sinuous curves they saw in nature. If I look around me today, I can see people making concerted efforts to unplug from technology and relearn the forgotten arts of previous generations: handmade goods are popular, canning classes are popping up and the DIY movement is as strong as ever. I know I don’t want to live in the past—Midnight in Paris showed me the folly of that mindset—but I also don’t want to forget where I came from, so to speak. Perhaps the answer lies not in rejecting this or embracing that but in observing how the changes affect us and living intentionally in light of that. One thing’s for sure: this isn’t something I can solve in one blog post and package neatly with a bow. In the meantime, I’m going to say I can live with the more frequent affogato ritual.

affogato finishedAs far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong or right way to make an affogato. Experiment with different flavors of ice cream (Sam likes cardamom ice cream) or adding a spoonful of amaretto or hazelnut liqueur. If you don’t have espresso readily available, use a strong, dark coffee.

Ingredients

1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
1 shot of hot espresso

Make the Affogato

Scoop the ice cream into a bowl, pour the espresso over the top and eat immediately.

Baked Apple Chips

You’ve heard of the straw that broke the camel’s back, but what about the recipe that convinced me I needed to take a break from blogging? This is it. Baked Apple Chips. When I read the recipe on the Whole Foods Recipes app, it seemed simple enough: Slice apples super thin, dust with cinnamon and bake in a very low temperature oven.

baked apple chips The first time I made the crisps, they turned out beautifully. Slightly golden, edges curled delicately, dusted with cinnamon and crisp as a chip should be. I wondered how the commercial apple chip companies stayed in business when they were so easy to make at home. I deemed the apple chips blog worthy and set about to make another batch to photograph.

apple chips slicesOnly this time I must have subconsciously thought (1) the apple chips were foolproof and (2) burying my head in an interesting book was acceptable when I should have been checking the chips in the oven. No, friends, whatever the virtues of reading, it is not appropriate when apple chips are in the oven. I can even recall blatantly ignoring the timer beeping during those last crucial moments of the baking. (The book was The Elegance of the Hedgehog, if you must know.)

apple chips finalThough failed cooking projects happen as often as not, they are still disheartening. Thankfully the failure in this recipe can be attributed to so-called user error—my lack of vigilance. At its heart, this recipe truly can be simple and successful, provided proper attention is give to the chips. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Resist the urge to do anything remotely interesting in the final baking minutes of these chips. Either that or blame it on the hedgehog.

Recipe adapted from the Whole Foods Market Recipes app.

Ingredients

2 medium apples (Pink Lady works well)
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Make the Baked Apple Chips

Preheat oven to 225°F (see note below if your oven doesn’t go this low). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the apples as thin as possible, at least 1/8 inch thin, but preferably thinner. A mandolin on the thinnest setting—1/16th of an inch—makes easy work of slicing the apples. Place the apple slices on the baking sheets in a single layer, arranging the largest slices on one sheet and the smaller slices on the other. Using a small sieve, dust apple slices with cinnamon. Bake apple slices for 1 hour, rotating racks after 30 minutes. The baking time ultimately depends on how thickness of the apple slices. Allow chips to cool, then store the apple chips in an airtight container, where they’ll last for several days. Make sure you cover them up as soon as they’re cool. I didn’t do this and the chips became limp. (Gah! Blame it on the hedgehog. )

Note: My oven only goes as low as 275°F. All it takes is a watchful eye to successfully bake the chips at this higher temperature. Check the chips after 30 minutes and remove from the oven if they are crisp. If they are almost crisp, you can turn the oven off but leave them in longer, checking every five minutes. The apple crisps go from perfect to overdone in a matter of minutes, so be vigilant.

 

Hello Again!

cake

A cake to celebrate Mother's Day and my niece's 2nd Birthday. (And no, I didn't make this! It came from a bakery.)

From the patio furniture and Coppertone sunscreen displays at Costco to the barbecue planning guides on Epicurious, the big box marketing gurus would have me believe that Memorial Day kicks off the warm-weather party season. Somehow, the party season kicked off a whole lot earlier for me this year, starting with Easter. And that’s right around the same time I stopped posting on my blog. This month and a half has been rich with celebration and provided me a much-needed break from blogging.

For the first few weeks it was a relief not to think about my blog. Don’t get me wrong: I love my blog, but creating posts takes a lot of work and sometimes it feels more like more work than fun. After a few weeks of allowing myself to abandon my blog, my mind turned back to things I’d like to share on my blog: picnic ideas, grill favorites and ice cream treats. So, hello again, blog world! Looking forward to celebrating summer with you.

P.S. I recently read the book 1000 Gifts and thought it would be appropriate to share some of the things I’ve been thankful for during my break from blogging.

Celebrations:

  • birth of a niece! Though Sam and I have 8 nieces and nephews between the two of us, this was the first time I was able to see one of them within a week of birth—very special!
  • Easter and all the Holy Week services at church
  • Mother’s Day BBQ with my mom and family
  • my birthday, complete with a family BBQ at Crissy Fields
  • Another niece’s 2nd birthday (kid birthdays are the most fun!)
  • 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge (yes, we did head out with all the crowds to celebrate one of my favorite San Francisco landmarks)
  • taking a trip to Santa Monica and hanging out with this gal
  • having another college friend visit on the days of our Torrey and college graduation anniversaries

Small pleasures:

  • riding my bike more
  • learning to use the manual mode on my camera
  • rediscovering  homemade crème fraîche
  • finishing my first semester of conversational French
  • eating treats from Tartine bakery (croissants, morning buns, coconut cream tarts)
  • eating lunch outside in the sunshine
  • taking advantage of SF’s free museum day (though it’s a little noisy with all the kidlets on school trips!)
  • watching all four seasons of the BBC Masterpiece Classics show “Lark Rise to Candleford”

And I think I’m forgetting a few things. At any rate, my life is full and I’m so glad to have Sam, my family and friends to share it with.

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