5 ways to use: coconut milk

Up until recently, I had zero use for coconut milk. I looked at the cans on grocery shelves and never gave it fighting chance.

And then I decided to make tacos, and the recipe called for almost a cup of it. And then I wondered what else I could do with the leftovers (not the tacos, those were eaten). I poured the remaining coconut milk into a deli container, and it sat in the refrigerator.

Somehow I found a variety of uses for it. And at less than $3 a can (or less than a dollar at some places), its hard not to give this ingredient a shot.
cold brew coffee: substitute regular milk with the coconut variety. I also use my French press to make cold brew at home (1/3 cup ground beans, 1 1/2 cups water, let sit for 12 hours, strain, and while drinking, wonder why you didn't try this before)
cornmeal pancakes: use in lieu of buttermilk - the pancakes (or even waffles) don't turn quite the same shade of golden brown, but taste just as good. I like to make a few extra 'cakes to reheat the next day for breakfast.
pork & black bean tacos: giving credit where credit is due, Food52 posted this twist on a favorite. I've also used ground beef and pinto beans. What to do with the remaining pineapple juice will be the topic for a future post.

breakfast quinoa: cook one part quinoa in one part water, one part coconut milk. Once fluffy and spooned into a bowl, pour over a little more coconut milk and top with some toasted almonds.

rice pudding: similar to the breakfast quinoa, use this as a substitute for the other liquids (heavy cream, whole milk, etc).

PS: what other ways to do you use coconut milk?

Strawberry Cornmeal Tart

Sometimes recipe inspiration comes on a walk home from the grocery store.

Not someone who usually buys premade things, I'd seen these cornmeal gluten free pizza crusts at the farmers market earlier in the day. The vendor selling these is situated next to one of three Blue Bottle coffee outposts, so its easy to check these crusts out while waiting. Seeing them for a second time at the grocery store made me immediately think "savory" with tomatoes and basil appearing everywhere. Bellwether's ricotta cheese went into my basket thinking the evening's dinner would be a vegetarian pizza.

On the walk home, I remembered the morning's Dirty Girl Farm strawberries, three day old mint, and thought "dessert"!

There really isn't a recipe, more like assembling and then a quick bake in the oven.

I cut a quarter of a cornmeal crust and spread some ricotta on it. Use more or less depending on how much you want. I could have used a little more. Thinly slice enough strawberries to cover the cheese, then crack some black pepper over the fruit. Slide onto a sheet pan and put into a preheated 425 degree oven (says so on the crust's package) and wait for 10-12 minutes. When the crust is golden brown and the berries are juicy, sprinkle some torn mint leaves.

I ate this before eating dinner.


Rhubarb Compote

Rhubarb is a sign of spring. Living in the Bay Area, I've seen it for several weeks hanging out near the strawberries, its culinary partner. When I lived in Chicago, it was for sale for a mere week or maybe two if we were lucky; and in Boston, I don't think I ever saw it.

I was inspired to just cook it solo and have dolloped it with my morning yogurt and granola. It would pair with butter on bread or on a slice of cake or between shortcakes and whipped cream. Just go with it.

Rhubarb Compote

7.5 oz rhubarb or 2 meaty stalks, remove the ends
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 Valencia orange, juice & zest
scant 1/4 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Cut the rhubarb into 1/4" pieces. Place pieces in a bowl with the vanilla extract, orange zest and juice, and sugar. Toss with your hands and let the pieces hang out in the bowl while the oven warms up.

Pour the rhubarb into a baking dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve with plain yogurt, ice cream or crème fraiche. Or spoon on toast, scones, or, really, anything.

Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili

The calendar says February which means cooking and eating heavy meats, stews, and braises. Meals meant for winter days. Or like my New England friends, staying indoors while the snow piles up outside.

In San Francisco, the weather isn't exactly frigid with snow on the ground. Looking for something still hearty, full of flavor, and that doesn't require an oven (my kitchen doesn't have one), this chili fits the bill. I also had (almost) every ingredient on the list and made substitutions for what came up missing. In lieu of jalapeno, use one chipotle in adobo (which is really smoked jalapeno in a can). And I didn't have celery or a red onion. My adaptation makes enough for two big meals with leftovers; the original serves eight to twelve.

Pro tips: Even though the chili is vegetarian, I added ground beef on a second go of this for Super Bowl supper, but chorizo or another spicy sausage would work just fine. After browning the meat, keep the fat in the pan, add a little more oil if needed, and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Make the chili in advance, and it gets better after a day.

Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili
adapted from Aida Mollenkamp

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 small sweet potato, medium dice
1 (14 ounce) can cooked black beans, rinsed
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, and chopped
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
8 ounces water, chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
Avocado, optional, for garnish
Tortilla Chips, cooked white rice, or cooked quinoa, optional

Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the sweet potatoes and cook until golden brown.

Stir in the black beans, garlic, chile powder, cumin, and jalapeno and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, water, and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil over high heat, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid is slightly thickened, about half an hour.

Taste the chili and adjust for any seasonings.

Garnish with avocado chunks or tortilla chips or serve over rice, or quinoa. A sprinkle of chopped green onion, chopped cilantro, or squeeze of lime would be great flourishes.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

Strawberry season might be over and done with in New England. Some farms might have strawberry fields ready later in the summer, but there is no guarantee especially when conflicting weather occurs. Other parts of the US might have strawberries at markets - if so, snatch them up and make this ice cream.

What makes this ice cream extra special is the strawberry puree.  Berries cook until they release their sugars and bubble in a not too thick syrup. Use "good" balsamic vinegar, the thick kind that costs a bit more at the grocery or specialty stores. A little goes a long way, and the extra money is worth the spend. Blend the berries and vinegar into a smooth puree and add to the ice cream base once everything is cooled. The rosy, light pink color looks like summer.

PS: if you want to extend this recipe to include ice cream sandwiches, the full cookie recipe is here. Promise its worth the extra effort.
Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream
inspired/adapted from Food52 & Bi-Rite Creamery
yield: one quart of ice cream

1 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled (stem removed) and halved
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole or 2% milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

for the strawberry balsamic puree:

Add the strawberries and first round of 2 teaspoons vinegar to a medium size sauce pot. Put the pot over medium heat and cook for about 8 minutes until the strawberries are soft and a lot of the berry juices are released. This step takes close to 7-8 minutes.

Let fruit cool slightly, then transfer the berries and their juices to a blender or food processor. A hand-held immersion blender could also work. Purée until smooth and hold the puree in the refrigerator until the ice cream base is very cold.

for the ice cream base:

In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and a 1⁄4 cup of sugar.

In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the heavy cream, milk, salt, and the remaining 1⁄4 cup of sugar and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture has tiny bubbles on the surface (a slight simmer), reduce the heat to medium.

Carefully pour 1⁄2 cup of the hot cream mixture (a ladle works well here) and, while whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1⁄2 cup of the hot cream to the yolks. This tempering process gets the egg yolks ready to go into the pan with the rest of the hot cream mixture. Not going this would result in creamy scrambled eggs. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan. A kitchen helper helping stir would also be a good idea, if you are a first time ice cream maker.

Cook the egg and cream mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened. You will know the base is done when it coats the back of a spatula and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula.

Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container and cover with a top or place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the egg mixture. Refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight. You want this mixture to be very cold.

Whisk the strawberry purée and the remaining 2 teaspoons vinegar into the chilled base.

Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately or transfer to a container and freeze for at least 4 hours for a more solid ice cream.

Breakfast Sandwich with Avocado

The breakfast sandwich is a hot item these days. Cafes, restaurants, and food trucks have one on their menus and each claims to be the best. While I have my favorites (here's looking at you Cutty's, Clover, and Area Four), I like the lazy freedom of making one at home whenever I want.

This sandwich comes together fast, so be prepared. Get your coffee, tea, OJ, or Diet Coke (hey, no judgement) ready, toast the bread, slice the cheese and avocado. While the eggs cook, don't leave the kitchen to check your email or send a tweet (except to say you are making a breakfast sandwich at home) because the eggs will overcook faster than you can say "Instagram isn't working! How will I capture this gastronomic moment?"

Breakfast Sandwich

inspired/adapted by Deb/Smitten Kitchen
yield: 1

1 sliced Brioche roll, English muffin, or 2 pieces of bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 egg
Black pepper and Kosher salt
1 tsp water
thin slices of avocado and white cheddar cheese
dashes of hot sauce (optional)

Get your breakfast drink of choice in progress.

Heat your broiler or toaster. Place the pieces of bread under the broiler (or in the toaster) until lightly toasted. Watch the bread carefully to avoid burning.

Heat a 9 inch nonstick skillet on medium low heat. Break the egg into a small dish and using a fork, beat the egg with the water and season with a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.

Melt butter in the pan. Pour in the egg and roll it around so the egg covers the pan like a crepe. The egg will cook in about 60-90 seconds; the edge will be firm when prodded with a fork or small spatula.

Fold the "side" of the egg nearest to you (similar to folding a letter). Repeat this action on the three remaining egg "sides"; you should end up with something resembling a square.

Leave the folded egg square in the skillet to cook for another 30 seconds, then slide onto one piece of bread. Add slices of avocado and cheese. Before topping with the other piece of bread, add a few dashes of hot sauce.

Eat immediately.

Asparagus Salad

Admittedly, asparagus isn't a favorite. However, thinly shaved and tossed with a honey vinegar dressing, I think asparagus and I could be friends.  This pencil-like vegetable is best in the spring and sourced from your farmer. The mizuna is a hearty green that can be eaten raw or cooked. It just adds some extra bulk to the asparagus.  Pick your favorite fresh herb, chop and sprinkle along with some cheese.

Shaved Asparagus Salad

Serves: 2
Adapted from Food52

1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 cup loosely packed mizuna or arugula
1/2 teaspoon chopped lemon verbena or mint
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, thinly grated

Use a vegetable peeler to thinly shave the asparagus lengthwise to create strips.

Whisk together vinegar, honey, and olive oil. Toss with the lettuce and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Grate the cheese on top. Sprinkle the lemon verbena or mint as the final touch on the salad.

Rosemary + Lemon + Olive Oil Cookies

These cookies are a hit. Expect an empty plate so be prepared to snag a cookie before sharing with your next party. A Meyer lemon (cross between an orange and a lemon) is the aromatic choice with intense and fragrant juice and zest. Rosemary is equally pleasing, but thyme is another option. Use a middle of the road extra virgin olive oil since this ingredient isn't the start of the show, but a key understudy.

Rosemary + Lemon + Olive Oil Cookies
adapted from FoodNetwork (yep, that one)
yield: 16-20 cookies

1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
8 grinds of black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary (thyme can also be substituted)
1 small lemon (Meyer, if available), zest and juice
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons milk

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, black pepper, rosemary and zest.

In another small bowl or measuring cup, stir the lemon juice, olive oil, and milk together until blended.

Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Feel free to add additional milk by the 1/2 teaspoon if the dough looks too dry.

Scoop the dough into ping pong size balls and place on a parchment lined sheet pan.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are golden. Let cool and serve with tea.


Steamed Mussels + Wine

Steamed mussels might be the easiest one pot dinner possible. A little wine, some tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil go into a Dutch oven or stock pot large enough to hold the mussels.  After a few minutes of simmering, the mussels are open and ready to soak up the sauce.  French fries are a traditional side accompaniment.  But, so is a Belgian beer.

PS: this piece of paper should accompany the bag of mussels; it is usually attached to the bag. The paper tells the harvest location, harvest date, type of shellfish, and shipping date. It also tells the name of the seafood distributor and where the shellfish was sold. I bought these mussels from a farmer's market.

Steamed Mussels
yield: one (entree) or two (first course)

Note: mussels that do not open after cooking should not be eaten.

2 pounds mussels, washed and free of any black fibers or beards
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red or white wine
1/4 tomato sauce
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste if needed

Pour the olive oil into a medium size stock pot and heat until the oil shimmers.  Add the wine and tomato sauce and heat until simmering, 2-3 minutes.

Add the mussels to the pot and cover with a lid.  Increase the heat to medium high. Cook the mussels for 4-6 minutes. Stir them once or twice during cooking. 

Remove the mussels from the pot and transfer to a bowl. Pour the wine and tomato sauce over the mussels. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy immediately. Use a second bowl for the empty shells.

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Spatchcocked Chicken

Funny name, serious roasted chicken. This name refers to a flattened chicken that cooks more evenly, and, thus a more brown and crispy skin.  The backbone is cut out; don't toss it away as its a great addition to the leftover bones for stock.  The benefits of roasting a whole chicken are the endless meal possibilities; leftover chicken ideas: soup, salad, sandwich, enchiladas, bones for stock.  A whole chicken also costs less per pound than purchasing individual pieces.  How easy is that...one chicken, many meals.

Spatchcocked Chicken
adapted from food52
several meals worth

2 1/2 - 3 1/2 pound whole chicken, patted dry
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Find a dish that will hold the flattened chicken.

Cut out the backbone of the chicken; kitchen scissors are recommended.  See photos for a good tutorial.

Flatten the bird and season both sides with Kosher salt and black pepper.

Place the onion and lemon slices and garlic at the bottom of the baking dish.  Place the chicken (skin side up) on top of the slices and pour the wine and stock over the bird.

Roast in the oven for 35-50 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pan and let rest 5-10 minutes before carving.  The pan sauce could be reduced (check the seasoning) or saved for a future use (soup or risotto come to mind).

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