Two VERY handy sites, and making Coconut Butter

The internet is LOADED with too much information, so much that I have a hard time sifting. Let me sift a little for you. And hopefully, you’re not completely sick of white stuff in jars since I keep posting them. But don’t worry, real food is coming. I’m just setting the stage for future greatness, giving you the tools if you will, to make wonderful things soon.

So first, have you ever found yourself cleaning out your cupboard or pantry and realized you had three cans of veggie broth, or that jar of roasted red peppers you knew was back there had been tucked away for longer than you’d thought – like two years? Did you know that the best by date isn’t always the definitive date? Yes, you probably do, but I still have friends for whom this is new information and so, I share.

Still Tasty

StillTasty.com not only tells you how much longer your canned goods are good for (sometimes two or three years!), but your fruits and vegetables, and well, everything other edible in your kitchen. There is so much information on this site, you could spend days and still probably learn something new, or at least novel. I will confess, there are many items lacking, BUT the catalog is continually increasing.

So, if after checking StillTasty you find you probably shouldn’t use that tempeh that ended up in the back corner of your fridge for six months, there is yet another site I frequent. It is where I go when I realize I am missing what I THINK is a vital ingredient.

The Cook's Thesaurus

Unfortunately, the URL is www.foodsubs.com rather than its name, but I love the URL since it’s easier to remember when I’m looking for a substitute ingredient. It’s not as easy to navigate as I would like, but the search bar is pretty helpful. One of the best parts is that some recommended substitutes have how-to directions!

I wanted to make Shira’s brownies at InPursuitofMore, but I did not have nor had I ever made coconut butter. So I foodsubbed it. This is what I found:

coconut butter  To make your own:  Toast grated coconut over low heat in a frying pan until lightly browned, then whirl it (while still hot) in a blender until it has the consistency of a smooth paste.

There were no pictures, but hey, those are pretty straight-forward directions and I’m not as dumb as I might look sometimes. So, I tossed some shredded, unsweetened, dried coconut and did just that. Heated it and popped it in the Vitamix and started it running. I was surprised by how it transformed from a pile of dried coconut into a creamy, SUPER-HOT, fatty quasi-liquid. It almost had the consistency of what happens when you mix cornstarch and water – a liquid-solid. It was also very much like butter (though very coconutty) and not anything I imagined should have worked.  As it cooled, it hardened much like coconut oil and works like butter in recipes. Cool, huh?

I have since repeated the procedure with more precise measurements to be more helpful. I know I would have appreciated a bit more info when I first tried it. I don’t think a regular blender could handle this, and I recommend a VitaMix because I found the tamper VERY useful. A BlendTec definitely has the power, it just requires more stopping and starting as you stir the contents.

Here are the details in a better form.

Homemade Coconut Butter
Adapted from Cook’s Thesaurus
Yield: 2 cups

4 c. shredded, unsweetened, dried coconut

Over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet, allow coconut to LIGHTLY toast, stirring or flipping frequently to keep from burning. (The goal is primarily to get it hot, but a bit of nuttiness from the toasting improves the flavor.) Quickly add the coconut to power blender, and turn it on and up. Using the tamper if you have one, push the coconut into the blades, adjusting blender speed in order to keep the coconut moving. You may need to stop and start, especially if you don’t have a tamper; pulsing it and shaking the jar will be helpful! This will take a few minutes and the contents will get HOT, as they reach maximum smoothness. The coconut will start moving itself as it begins to liquefy, at which point you’re close. Stop occasionally and check consistency – it should be quite smooth.

When it’s done, it’s done! Pour into a clean container and allow to cool at room temperature. If you’re really ambitious, pour into a muffin tin to get ½ cup portions because it’s pretty tough to break up after it cools.

 

Upcycled Rice Salad

upcycledgrainsalad 1

Do you ever find yourself starving at lunch time and the peanut butter and jelly you’re making for your kids looks dreadful? Turning to your fridge you find, well, nothing. Nothing but a bunch of randomness that makes no sense in terms of a “normal” meal? Or maybe I’m the only one. This here salad is the result of such an afternoon and a template for future afternoons, when you know you need the energy and stamina that comes from whole foods but can’t seem to put it together.

I love the word Upcycling. Upcycling describes how you and your partner are more than the sum of the two parts, or how that almond milk box was transformed from future trash into a bird-feeder. Sure, you and your milk carton were both functional before the change, but now you’ve become magical. It’s so much more than just reusing.

upcycledgrainsalad

So, an upcycled salad is just the mixing of ho-hum parts to make beautiful epicurean harmonies in a matter of minutes. Here’s how it works in my house. My fridge usually has a cooked grain and various and sundry vegetables can be found lying around. If you aren’t accustomed to having lots of vegetables around, it’s time for you to give it a try. Buy things you normally wouldn’t when they’re on sale and try them. I generally also have a random salad dressing I experimented with or some sort of leftover sauce. Right now there is a quasi-creamy balsamic and a raw waldorf. And what kind of a hippie would I be without nuts and dried berries stored in the nooks and crannies of my community kitchen (it’s a small community, but a community nevertheless)?

That’s all a grain salad needs to come together. And when you stir it together, the creative genius inside you will sing songs of happiness, the writer’s block that has plagued you for 12 years will lift, and your children will behave. Or, perhaps, you will at least feel better than if you’d had that peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

upcycledgrainsalad2

Upcycled Grain Salad, this incarnation

2 c. cooked grain – brown rice, quinoa, barley, whatevs.
1-2 c. sturdy diced raw vegetables – carrots, onions, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, corn, peas, etc.
2 T. chopped nuts, pepitas, or sunflower seeds
1-2 T. chopped dried fruit – cranberries, blueberries, raisins, apples, etc.
½ c. (give or take) Pepita Maple Butter dressing (thinned), or something of your own creation.
*optional: chutney, diced avocado, fresh herbs, random condiments for garnish

Combine everything but your garnish and stir. Garnish, chill (you or your salad, either works) and enjoy.

*You may notice the awesome green stuff on top. It was a rushed, and perhaps failed, attempt to make coconut cilantro chutney from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but on this application, it was AWESOME!