I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts.

When I was about seven or eight, I watched The Parent Trap II with my brother and our cousins.  The storyline isn’t that important (best friends want their single parents to marry, and — coincidence? — one of those parents is a twin played by Hayley Mills) but what stuck with me for some reason was a scene early on in the movie where the two young girls bake cookies.  They had a huge mixing bowl on a kitchen countertop, and the two kept on throwing in what seemed to me to be the craziest ingredients into their dough: marshmallows! Cap’n Crunch! M&Ms! pretzels!  Then the girls formed their cookies and put them in the oven, and all I could think was, Gross.

I really think that that movie is what turned me off of baking.  Interestingly enough, it didn’t turn me off of cookies.

In the time that’s passed since The Parent Trap II, I’ve made my peace with baking, and with what my seven-year-old self would have thought to be gross cookie ingredients.  As a seven-year-old, for example, I never would’ve even considered eating anything with coconut in it; like my former teacher Steve Almond wrote in his excellent book Candyfreak, “Oddly, it isn’t the flavor of coconut that troubles me, but the texture… I feel as if I’m chewing on a sweetened cuticle.”

True dat, Steve.Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies -- 10thirty.

I like coconut, I really do, but its cuticleness just drives me bananas.  I think that’s why I’m so surprised that I adore these cookies as much as I do.  The trick, with these not-overwhelmingly-sweet cookies, is toasting the cuticle out of the coconut and amping up the richness of its natural flavor.  As a result, you get these little soft bites of truly intense coconuttiness — which just so happens to pair quite nicely with a luxe dark chocolate, I might add.

Have these cookies changed my mind about coconut?  Perhaps not.  But they’ve definitely got me thinking about coconut a bit more, and with something like a smile on my face.

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies, from Cooking Light
Makes about twenty-five cookies

1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 ounces dark chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
Cooking spray

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Arrange coconut in a single layer in a small baking pan. Bake at 350° for 7 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring once. Set aside to cool.
  3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk until blended. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Beat in vanilla and egg. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in toasted coconut and chocolate.
  4. Drop by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until bottoms of cookies just begin to brown. Remove from pan, and cool completely on wire racks.
I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” was originally recorded by Merv Griffith, but I’ve had a huge fondness for Danny Kaye since childhood, and since he was a huge lover of food, I went with his version.
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I Am What I Am.

There are many words the people in my life could use to describe me, but I don’t know if the word “nice” would be amongst them. “Creative” would be, and “loyal,” I’d hope. Perhaps “funny,” likely “clumsy,” and ideally “clever.” I wouldn’t mind hearing “chic,” but that may be stretching it. “Nice,” though — that one I’d wonder who was pranking me with vocabulary.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think I’m a bad person; in fact, growing up I was pretty much a “good girl,” a fact I think my parents would even readily admit, even if at the time they thought otherwise. I’m just not who people envision when they envision “nice.” I think they probably envision someone like Reese Witherspoon. You know she’s nice.

Reese Witherspoon -- 10thirty.

I, on the other hand, really like the word “thoughtful.” That’s one I like quite a lot. I mean, I love the holidays for the presents, and not for the reason most would assume. What I love is considering what a person likes. I love just thinking about a friend, and thinking about what I could give or get to make her or him happy. I love thinking, “Wow, Erin would really like this.” I love packaging those presents up, making a tag that says what gift goes to who, stacking a pile of wrapped parcels into a bag for delivery. But mostly I like thinking about the people I love, and finding something that might make them smile.

So when I see a recipe whose flavors I know will appeal to Keith even more than they will to me, I’ll tear that recipe out, file it in my binder, and save it to try one day. There’s a school of thought out there that believes women dress to impress other women more than they do for men. Well, I cook for Keith, and in more ways than one.

I don’t look at this as a domestic thing, or an anti-feminist thing — it’s a love thing.  I care about this man, deeply, and since this man enjoys Indian food, the least I can do I throw together a really easy chickpea curry every now and again.

Chickpea CurryI lack the ability to explain how simple this recipe is, and how quickly it all comes together.  A lot of the times, I read little magazine articles about putting dinner on the table in minutes, and when I try those same recipes it takes me twice as long to make it through as I’ve been promised.  This is not the case with this chickpea dish.  It literally takes as long as it takes to cook rice to make this, and if you use boil-in-a-bag rice as recommended, it’s even faster.  Basically, this dish makes a funny, clumsy, loyal, creative, clever and possibly-but-likely-not chic gal like me thoughtful and nice in one fell swoop.  So everyone wins.

Chickpea Curry with Basmati Rice, from Cooking Light
Makes four portions

1 (3.5-ounce) bag boil-in-bag basmati or brown rice
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can unsalted crushed tomatoes
1 6-ounce package fresh baby spinach
½ cup plain 2% Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Cook rice according to package directions; drain.
  2. While rice cooks, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in garam masala; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, and spinach; cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in yogurt and salt. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve over rice.
I Am What I Am” by Spiritualized.
Reese Witherspoon photo from Hooked on Houses.

Know Your Chicken.

This is a tale of two chickens.

Both chickens are sweet and savory, both chickens spent some time in a 400° oven, and both chickens were devoured with relish.  One chicken Keith really loved, and one chicken I just couldn’t stop eating.  Truly.  Nonstop eating.  By me.

Chicken w. Roasted Grapes + ShallotsKeith’s chicken — roasted with grapes and shallots and rosemary and thyme — reminded me of something my mother made once or twice when I was growing up.  That too was a chicken with grapes, and in my memory that chicken was mostly sweet and bathed in a honey-colored broth.  Its grapes were not as deeply baked as Keith’s chicken, whose grapes were roasted until unctuous and almost jammy.

This chicken was meant to be made with thyme and thyme alone, but I had a little pinch bowl of minced rosemary leftover from another dinner, so I figured, Why not, and threw it in the mix too.  I think Keith’s chicken was the better for it, especially since the evergreen-ness of the rosemary paired so well with both the shallots and the grapes.

Once last thing about those grapes: the burnt ones were best — crispy, crunchy, juicy and buttery-smooth.

Roast Chicken w. Potatoes + Butternut Squash

My chicken, the chicken of the nonstop eating, was earthier than Keith’s and a bit sweeter, probably because of all of the butternut squash that got roasted alongside it.  The red potatoes took on some of the sweetness as well, which was actually pretty awesome when you think about it — crispy-on-the-outside candy-coated carb wedges.

Something else that was actually pretty awesome about my chicken was that its recipe called for dried rubbed sage and minced garlic, and the fact that the recipe was leagues better when I subbed in a combination of fresh sage and thyme for the dried and a garlic paste for the minced.  In the oven, all the flavors beneath the chicken’s skin came together in a rich and satisfying way.  I normally find fresh sage to be a bit bitter and wood-ish; in my mind, it only pairs well with strong profiles that can really stand up to it.  When roasted with the thyme and garlic paste, the sage became almost like a sauce under the skin.

But this isn’t a chicken competition; it’s all about preferences, mine and Keith’s.  I suggest buying two birds and giving both recipes a whirl.  That way, no one loses and everyone wins.

Chicken with Roasted Grapes + Shallots, from Bon Appétit
Makes four portions

1 ¼ pounds assorted seedless grapes, cut into small clusters
6 large shallots, peeled, halved through root end
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme plus 6 large sprigs (I used a mixture of rosemary and thyme.)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 4-to 4 ½-pound chicken, excess fat removed from cavity

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Gently toss grape clusters, shallots, chopped thyme, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in large bowl to coat. Rub chicken with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place thyme sprigs in cavity. Place chicken in large roasting pan; arrange grape mixture around chicken. Roast until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken thigh registers 165° and grapes are shriveled, about 1 hour 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer chicken to platter; let rest 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, arrange grapes and shallots around chicken. Transfer pan juices to small pitcher; spoon fat from surface of juices and discard. Serve chicken with pan juices alongside.

Roast Chicken with Potatoes + Butternut Squash, from Cooking Light
Makes four portions

2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided (I made a garlic paste instead.)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ teaspoon dried rubbed sage (I used a mixture of fresh sage and thyme.)
1 3 ½-pound roasting chicken
Cooking spray
12 ounces red potatoes, cut into wedges
1 ½ cups cubed peeled butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Combine 1 ½ tablespoons garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and sage in a small bowl. Remove and discard giblets and neck from chicken. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under chicken. Rub garlic mixture under loosened skin. Place chicken, breast side up, on rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Place rack in broiler pan.
  2. Combine potatoes, squash, butter, 1 ½ teaspoons garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Arrange vegetable mixture around chicken. Bake at 400° for 1 hour or until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh registers 165°. Let stand 10 minutes. Discard skin.
Know Your Chicken” by Cibo Matto.

A Surprisingly Filling Salad.

Part of the reason why things have been so crazy for me over here is that Keith and I decided to  get all home-improvementy and do the following:

  • tear up the carpets in the living room and the study and have the hardwood floors underneath refinished
  • paint the study (Gray Area, by Behr, in case you were interested)
  • change the layout of the apartment by swapping our bedroom and the study

In order to do all that, we had to do the following:

  • move the two sofas, TV and accoutrements, “media cabinet,” coffee table and other furniture out of the living room
  • move the desk, chairs, bookshelves and other furniture out of the study

And, because we live in a five-room space — one room of which is almost entirely bed — that meant we had to temporarily place one sofa, the coffee table and a floor lamp in the kitchen, and the other sofa, television, bookshelves, desk, chairs and other miscellaneous items in the dining room.

Oh, and because the process of refinishing hardwood floors is both stinky and messy, we camped out at my parents’ in New York for about five days, and because we still haven’t assembled our new bedroom furniture, we haven’t yet moved our bedroom or the study… meaning our dining room is still full of furniture.  The sofas have been reinstated, thank god, but there are superfluous refugee chairs and storage furniture camped out.

So, my point — and I do have one — is that my apartment is in a state of flux, and I’ve been making good-for-me quick-and-easy meals as a way to reduce my stress level.  Oh, and that my living room’s and study’s floors are a lovely golden honey color and shiiiiiny, as you can see in the photo to the left.

You can also see the colorful, springy, good-for-me, quick-and-easy salad I’m dying to tell you about.  Honestly, meals don’t come much simpler than this — the most time-consuming part is  the prep: chopping up a red bell pepper and a red onion, mincing tarragon and garlic, and tearing up a chicken (which is very satisfying work indeed).

Anyway, even if this salad was hard to make — which it is not; I can’t stress this enough — the end result is certainly worth the minimal effort.  It’s crazy to think that a few ingredients make such a big impact, but it’s true.  Also true is that this salad is just as flavorful chilled or at room temperature; I’m already eagerly waiting for ideal picnic weather so I can bring it on the road.

One question for you, before we get to the recipe: Is anyone interested in nutritional information? I pretty much try to cook healthy foods at home, so I’ve got the stats for a good chunk of these recipes.  If you want them, I’ll start including them.

Potato, Chicken + Fresh Pea Salad, from Cooking Light
Makes four very generous portions

1  pound  fingerling potatoes, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces (I used a mix of fingerling and baby purple potatoes)
2  cups  fresh sugar snap peas
2  cups  chopped skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast (I instead boned and poached a chicken)
½  cup  finely chopped red bell pepper (Next time I will add much more pepper)
½  cup  finely chopped red onion
2  tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
2  tablespoons  white wine vinegar
1  tablespoon  fresh lemon juice
1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard
1  teaspoon  minced fresh tarragon
1  teaspoon  salt
½  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1  garlic clove, minced (I almost always double the amount of garlic)

  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until almost tender. Add peas; cook 2 minutes or until peas are crisp-tender. Drain; place vegetables in a large bowl. Add chicken, bell pepper, and onion.
  2. Combine oil and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over salad; toss gently to combine.

Three Seasonal Recipes.

Okay, I’ll ‘fess up.  I kind of slacked off on the CSA-writing around here, and for that I’m sorry.  In an act of contrition and apology, I offer you these three much-loved autumnal recipes, at least one of which I hope will rewarm your heart to me.

Are we friends again?

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash + Shallots, from Cooking Light
Makes four portions

3 cups peeled butternut squash, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
4 ounces uncooked pappardelle (I prefer something like campanelle, as it’s similar in size to the cubed squash)
¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 475°.  Combine the squash, sugar, 2 ½ teaspoons oil, salt, pepper, and shallots in a jelly roll pan; toss well. Bake at 475° for twenty minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in sage.
  2. While the squash mixture bakes, cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Place cooked pasta in a bowl. Add two teaspoons oil; toss well. Serve the squash mixture over pasta. Sprinkle with cheese.

Sausage + Lentils with Fennel, from Gourmet*
Makes four portions

1 cup dried lentils
4 ½ cups cold water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 medium (¾-pound) fennel bulb, stalks discarded, reserving fronds
3 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch dice
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 ¼ pounds sweet Italian sausage links
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

  1. Bring lentils, water, and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender but not falling apart, 12 to 25 minutes.
  2. While lentils simmer, cut fennel bulb into ¼-inch dice and chop enough fennel fronds to measure 2 tablespoons. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then stir in onion, carrot, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and remaining teaspoon salt. Cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly prick sausages in a couple of places with tip of a sharp knife, then cook sausages in remaining ½ tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.
  4. Drain cooked lentils in a sieve set over a bowl and reserve cooking water. Stir lentils into vegetables with enough cooking water to moisten (¼ to ½ cup) and cook over moderate heat until heated through. Stir in parsley, pepper, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon fennel fronds. Season with vinegar and salt.
  5. Cut sausages diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve lentils topped with sausage and sprinkled with remaining tablespoon fennel fronds. Drizzle all over with extra-virgin olive oil.

Cream-Braised Green Cabbage, from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Makes four to six portions

1 small green cabbage (about 1 ½ pounds)
3 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces) unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  1. First, prepare the cabbage. Pull away any bruised leaves, and trim its root end to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise, taking care to keep a little bit of the core in each wedge. (The core will help to hold the wedge intact, so that it doesn’t fall apart in the pan.) You should wind up with 8 wedges of equal size.
  2. In a large (12-inch) skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the cabbage wedges, arranging them in a single crowded layer with one of the cut sides down. Allow them to cook, undisturbed, until the downward facing side is nicely browned and caramelized, 5 to 8 minutes. Then, using a pair of tongs, gently turn the wedges onto their other cut side. When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt over the wedges, and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce the heat so that the liquid stays at a slow, gentle simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and gently, using tongs, flip the wedges, Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender and yields easily when pierced with a thin, sharp knife. Add the lemon juice, and shake the pan to distribute it evenly.
  3. Simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes more to thicken the cream to a glaze that loosely coats the cabbage. Serve immediately, with additional salt at the table.
* RIP.

CSA 2009, Week Nine.

This may come as a surprise to you, but sometimes I hate my CSA box.  Each week, Keith brings it home and  I scamper over to see the contents within, and while I am mostly excited, sometimes me heart sinks at the sight of such things as the overwhelmingly intimidating kohlrabi and yet another bundle of irritatingly cheerful carrots.  I lean towards the gloom and doom, friends, and there are moments when a bright orange carrot can be downright scowl-worthy, what with its incessant merry disposition and sweet sweet sunny crunch.

Bah to you, Carrot.  BAH!

CSA basilWhen I’m in a mood like this, basil is more to my liking; I need its zesty and licorice-y bite, and I positively relish the fact that such an ordinary-looking bouquet of green leaves can posses such a knockout punch of spice.

So when Keith hefted our pounds of produce on the counter this week, I was zanily* happy to see a sneaky bunch of basil sitting atop a cluster of carrots, very much looking like a conquering hero in my crazy little mind.

The rest of the box overflowed with the following:

  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi (grr)
  • Lettuce
  • Scallions
  • Summer squash
  • Tomato (a single, happy tomato, which did not turn me into more of a grouch, since we all know I love them)
  • Wax beans

'Thai Style' BeefTomatoes-and-basil are one of those holy pairings like milk-and-cookies, mac-and-cheese, fries-and-mayo… and I knew my grumpiness would be assuaged by the familiarity of the two, but not if I threw them together into something boringly predictable like a bruschetta or a Caprese salad.  That would only sour me further, like milk left out in the sun.  So instead I turned to the below recipe, which added asparagus, beef and lime to the mix.

A quick word on asparagus: I may get some grief for this, but I’ll freely admit I’m not its biggest fan.  I mostly eat it exclusively in soup form, with tons of cream, though I always am tempted to try it again.  Maybe this will be when I like it, I say to myself.  Maybe I’ve only had bad asparagus, I reason.  Each time though, I’m disappointed.  What is it about this stalky plant that causes people — most notably the French — to go mad with desire?  What am I not getting?

This, it turns out, is what I’m not getting.  This, all of you out there, is this dish for asparaphobes.

The tomato and basil aren’t that bad either.

Thai Basil Beef with Rice Noodles, from Cooking Light
Makes four  portions

8 cups water
1 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
4 ounces wide bánh pho rice stick noodles
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or a good-sized seeded tomato or two)
½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil

  1. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat.  While pan heats, bring water to a boil in a large saucepan.
  2. Add steak to grill pan; grill 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Sprinkle steak with salt. Cut steak across grain into thin slices.
  3. While steak cooks, add asparagus to boiling water; cook 2 minutes. Remove asparagus with a slotted spoon. Add noodles to boiling water; cook 3 minutes or until done. Drain; rinse well. Cut noodles into smaller pieces; place in a medium bowl.
  4. While noodles cook, combine sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and curry paste in a large bowl. Add one-half of lime mixture to medium bowl with noodles; toss to coat. Add steak, asparagus, tomatoes, and basil to remaining lime mixture in large bowl; toss to combine. Serve steak mixture over noodles.
* Is this is a word?  No?  It should be.