Archive for the ‘Cooking Tips’ Category

Working with fresh coconut, making milk and grating the meat

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

I love coconut.  In fact my first childhood memories center around coconut.  I was four years old, my family had just moved to Brazil, living in an apartment in Porto Alegre.  The highlight of my week was when the ice cream man came around.  I could hear his car from the top stories.  He sold all kinds of ice cream but once I tried the coconut I couldn’t think of anything else.  So even now I’m a succor for anything with coconut.  Since then I have mastered the art of cracking into one which takes no brains, just a little guts, time and muscle.

You can do this one of two ways:  Take the coconut outside (which is what I usually do) and set it on the concrete walk.  Hit it with a hammer a few times until it breaks open.  You can also set the entire coconut on a baking sheet and take it to a 350 oven and let it sit in there for 15 or 20 minutes until deep cracks develop but you still need to take a hammer or meat mallet to it to break it open.

A clear liquid will spill out but it is of no use to us so let it go.  It doesn’t even stain the concrete.  This picture was taken on a rainy day so the wet on the concrete is not from the coconut but from the sky.

Break it open and head indoors.

Break it into several smaller, manageable pieces (once again using a hammer or a meat mallet).  Using a butter knife, pry the meat away from the hard shell.  This does take a little effort and aim but it does get easier after a few pieces.  It’s just a little unnerving the first time.

Then, with a vegetable peeler peel away the dark skin from the white meat.

Rinse all the pieces and throw them into a blender cup with 2 cups of boiling water.

Put the lid on the cup and blend until quite fine.  This could take a bit of time depending on the strength of your motor.

Pour contents through a sieve that is set atop a bowl.  The sieve will stop the grated meat and the coconut “milk” will pass through to the bowl.

Squeeze all the grated coconut and squeeze as hard as you can to remove any extra milk.  If the coconut is too hot to handle let it sit for a few minutes before squeezing.  After you have squeezed each handful take that amount and drop it onto an ungreased baking sheet.

What you have left is the coconut milk, which is in the bowl and then the grated, unsweetened coconut.  Spread the coconut evenly over the baking sheet and cover it with a clean towel or paper towels.  Let it sit out on the counter for a day or two to dry.  After it’s dry transfer it to an airtight container and use in any recipe.  Because it is so fine you may want to reduce the amount a recipe calls for by 1/4 or 1/3.

The milk can be used in curries, soups, puddings, custards and following is a link to a recipe for fresh coconut ice cream which has to be the best flavor in the world.

How to choose a cookbook that you will use (or reading and understanding recipes)

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Do you have a library of cookbooks and yet feel that you need more?  Maybe this will help explain why you feel that way.  Before you buy another cookbook, here’s a little test to help you determine which books will really be useful to you once you get them home.  And you can do this right in the bookstore.

Take a book that looks interesting to you and single out one recipe.  Read that one recipe all the way through.  Then, look at the list of ingredients.  Are most of the ingredients familiar to you or will you have to spend alot of money purchasing everything the recipe calls for?

If reading the recipe feels awkward to you in any way – maybe calling for ingredients that are  way unfamiliar or perhaps if it’s just hard to understand and feels like another language and disjointed, put the book down.  Chances are it’ll be a dust collector when it reaches your home.

If you make it through the first read go back and read the recipe a second time. This time, when you’re reading try to visualize the steps involved.  Does the recipe make sense to you? Does it seem logical in what it tells you to do?

If you have a hard time following what they’re asking you to do, watch out.  That’s a yellow flag.   A recipe book is like a novel.  There will be authors we like and others we don’t care for.  So if you’re having a tough time understanding what it is you’re supposed to do, look for another book with a different format.  There is certainly plenty to choose from.

If you go through all these steps and you’re still excited about a book, buy it and add it to your collection of frequently used cookbooks.

Finally a simple answer to poaching and frying eggs

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

poach-frying an egg

Here’s a tip I learned from my mother not too long ago. As we were making breakfast one morning she showed me a slick way to cook eggs.  It’s what I would call a combination of poaching and frying egg.  True frying can be tricky and poaching is a bit troublesome so this simplifies and blends the two methods.

What you do is simply take an aluminum pan or a non-stick pan and spray it lightly with a vegetable spray.  Also, make sure your pan has a lid that fits or a least round up a plate that you can use as a lid.

Turn the heat to medium and wait for the pan to warm up.  When it’s ready, crack your eggs on the heated surface.  And as soon as the eggs are cracked, sprinkle a few tablespoons of water along the edges of the pan.  Then right after the water is added, cover the pan and turn the heat down.  The water in the pan, actually steams the eggs and the results are a combination of frying and poaching.  You don’t have to turn the egg or mess with it at all because the steam from the water cooks the top just as poaching liquid would.

What’s really great about this method is that as the eggs are cooking you can lift the lid and see how done they are.  By touching the yolk with your finger you can determine how hard or soft the center is.  And watch out because it doesn’t take long for them to cook when the lid is on.  If you think the eggs need more water, just add a little more.

It’s a great technique.  You avoid the mess of poaching liquid, you hardly use any fat to cook them in and it’s easy to tell when they’re done.  Give it a try and see what you think.

Manicotti gets even easier

Thursday, June 16th, 2011


Every time I make manicotti I find yet another shortcut.  This one will have the entire world making manicotti.  It occurred to me that you can make and assemble lasagne without par boiling the flat noodles.  So…if you can bake a lasagne without going to the trouble of boiling the noodles, why couldn’t you fill manicotti tubes right out of the box.  Here’s how.


Take the uncooked tubes and fill each with your cheese mixture or whatever mixture you are using.  I like using a piping bag and pastry tube but if you don’t have that equipment then simply get a heavy duty plastic bag, transfer you filling to that and snip one corner and squeeze from there.

One person and two hands can now do a job that is typically managed with double that.  It is rather challenging, however, to fill manicotti while trying to work a camera. I was really needing my husband operate the camera but sometimes they just aren’t around when you need them the most! So if the pictures are placed a little awkward, that’s why.


Start at one end and squeeze.  The mixture will go about halfway down the tube and then flip it over and squeeze into the other end, completing the filling of the tube.  Normally you would be holding the tube in your hand, not resting it on the counter.  But when one hand has to take a picture this is what you resort to.


Grease the pan you will be using and then pour some of the sauce you are using on the bottom before you place the tubes in the pan.  That sauce will moisten the bottoms of the tubes and help them to cook.  Please note that because the pasta is dry it will absorb sauce as it cooks.  If your sauce is thick to begin with it will be even thicker by the time the pasta is tender and it takes longer for the manicotti to cook, in that case.  It is preferable to have a sauce that is on the wet side so that  it will provide enough moisture for the dry tubes to cook.


Take to a 350 oven and bake until everything is bubbly and tubes feel  soft to the touch.  Test in the center where things always take longer to cook.  Now that manicotti is this easy we can serve it more often.  And think of all the variations!  Wow!


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