Saturday, August 27, 2011

Take Another Little Peach of my Heart

Hethyr:  What child didn’t, at one time or another, read a book by Roald Dahl?  Remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?  Two others that were favorites when I was a kid were Matilda and The Witches.  And who could forget about James and the Giant Peach?  Although it has been a number of years (to say the least) since I have read it, I remember that James finds a tunnel leading into the peach, where he meets a bunch of insects who befriend him and they take him on a magical journey.  Even as an adult, I’d like to climb inside of a giant peach and go on cool adventures… although I could do without the bugs.

Well, if there was ever a chance of something like that happening, it would most likely happen around this time of year in Colorado.  Peaches, peaches, everywhere.  It’s awesome.

Peaches don’t last very long at all in our house, so it’s a wonder that I actually did something with a peach other than eating it straight.  We had this amazing swordfish steak (MSC certified, of course) the other night and I was having trouble coming up with a way to serve it.  Jon wanted to grill it, which was perfectly fine with me, but it needed some pizazz.  Did I seriously just use the word pizazz?  What the hell is wrong with me?  Must be lack of dairy, sugar and, as my cousin just mentioned, Nutella.  Anyway, I decided to make a peach Pico de Gallo since we had a few peaches on hand.

No large resorts (or other people!) on this beach
I’ve always been a fan of fruit with seafood, so it seemed like a perfect fit.  However, before I give you the recipe for the Pico de Gallo, I'm reminded of another fruit/seafood story…

When we were in Costa Rica a few years ago, we decided that we’d spend our last week there in Puerto Viejo, a tiny beach town on the Caribbean coast near the Panama border.  There are no large hotels or resorts in this town.  It’s one of the few places that had not yet been subjected to globalization.  The first day when we arrived, a woman who worked at the small hotel where we stayed asked if she could catch a ride into town with us.  We were a few miles outside of the town proper and she didn’t have a car, so we were happy to take her with us since we needed to get some food anyway. 

The restaurant where we had
lunch on our first day
in Puerto Viejo
When we got to town, we went our separate ways, but we ended up seeing her again as we were having lunch at a bar table facing the ocean.  She was in an animated conversation with a local fisherman who was trying to sell her live lobsters and she was upset because he wouldn’t sell her just one - she had to buy two or he wouldn’t sell her any at all.  She obviously didn’t need both, so we chimed in to see if we could help by offering to go in on the lobsters with her.  She loved the idea and even suggested that we have dinner together at the hotel.  I offered to make a pineapple-mango Pico de Gallo to go with it if I could borrow a cutting board and knife once we got back.  We all agreed on the plan and went our separate ways again as she was going to catch a ride back on a friend’s bicycle.  Since she didn’t want to take the lobsters back on the bike, she asked if we’d take them back in the car.  We said sure.  Little did we know that the lobsters had been on ice and were lethargic when we got them.  No wonder she wanted us to take them.

I could have been eaten alive by this thing
When we got back in the car, I set the bag containing the crustaceans on the floor by my feet without really thinking about it.  As we were riding along and talking, one of the little buggers decided to make a sudden huge leap.  Thanks goodness he didn’t decide to latch onto my leg with his giant claws.  I completely freaked out and jumped a mile in the air, landing back in my seat, feet and all.  For the rest of the ride, I would not put my feet back on the floor or take my eyes off of those sketchy little f@#$ers.  Jon laughed so hard, he nearly peed himself.

So, although that had nothing to do with peaches, I thought you’d get a small chuckle out of it.  And now that I made you suffer through that stupid story that didn’t have a point, I’ll be nice by giving you the recipe for the pineapple-mango Pico de Gallo as well.

Peach (or Nectarine) Pico de Gallo
Makes about 1 cup
  • 1 large peach (or nectarine), pitted and diced
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 medium jalapeño, seeded, ribbed and minced (a lot of the heat lies in the ribs and seeds, so keep ‘em if you want it super-spicy)
  • 1-inch gingerroot piece, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1.  In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients. 

2.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours, if desired, to allow flavors to meld.  Serve over chicken, pork, seafood, with tortilla chips, as a topping for tacos, etc.

Pineapple-Mango Pico de Gallo
Makes about 3 cups
  • 1 cup pineapple, diced (fresh or canned… if canned, drain first) 
  • 1 mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced or turned into garlic paste
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 large jalapeño, seed, ribbed and minced
  • Salt and pepper

1.  In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients.

2.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours, if desired, to allow flavors to meld.  Serve over chicken, pork, seafood, with tortilla chips, as a topping for tacos, etc.

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Jon:  Reading about the days in Costa Rica definitely puts me in a nostalgic mood.  There was nothing quite as calming and purifying to the soul as opening the front doors of Casa Mariposa, feeling the cool, humid, jungle air, looking out over the lush green vegetation toward the blue waters of Lago Arenal or toward the smoky, ash-filled burps of Volcán Arenal, relaxing in a rocking chair, sipping a dark-roasted local Costa Rican coffee… and making a daily to-do list that included feeding and watering the dog, cats, and goats, picking the cabbage or whatever other vegetables were ready, trading the cabbage with the neighbors for eggs, milk, or chocolate, and usually some random project like figuring out a way to displace the hundreds of black wasps that had taken up residence in the rancho.  Ah, those were the days.

It was actually during our time at Casa Mariposa that we learned a lot about self-sufficiency.  I guess that is bound to happen when you live a couple miles outside of a tiny little town with nothing but an ATV to ride.  That was also our initial introduction to composting, which we now do at our own house to a ridiculous degree.  Even our dog, Garr, seemed to enjoy his time en la jungla, as he had the mother of all bug buffets on which to feast.  It was more than a little unnerving to us that some of the bugs were big and mean enough to fight back, but Garr had no such fear.

So I hope you’re somewhere in the world where you can find some fresh peaches or pineapples to make some of Hethyr’s pico de gallo.  And in case any of you ever wondered how a pineapple grows, below is a video I took several years ago at Casa Mariposa (yep, there was a pineapple garden, too).  I’ll also put a video clip of the regular garden below that.  And if you really want to stalk us, check out our blog from when Hethyr, Garr, and I were temporary Ticos…

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I'm Cocoa for Coconuts!

I think this artwork was made specifically for me!
Hethyr:  I have been a royal bitch for the last couple weeks and I’m fully willing to admit it.  For the past several years, I’ve had some health issues and until a couple of weeks ago, no one seemed to be able to figure out what is wrong with me.  I’ve been through testing for autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis to no avail.  One doctor a few years back actually told me that I was crazy and gave me a prescription for a sleeping pill.  I left her office bawling my eyes out.  After another negative test with another new doctor (this one for Celiac disease), I finally decided to say “Screw you!” to the regular doctors and see if a naturopath might be able to help me.

After visiting with Jon and me for over an hour, Dr. Restricto told me that she definitely thinks my issues are food related and drew blood for a test that tested for 96 different food allergies.  Looking back, I should have enjoyed the waiting time a little bit more than I did because three weeks later the results were back and I was told that my digestive immune system was pretty much non-existent and that I am currently sensitive/allergic to everything but the kitchen sink.  She put me on an elimination diet for a month and at the end of that month, I’ll start adding foods back into my diet one at a time to test for reactions.

No Food, Eat, or Drink Signs
My new diet
In the meantime, I have realized just how much I love good food and just how much I despise not being able to eat the things I love.  For the elimination diet, I am not allowed to have dairy, wheat (or other gluten-containing foods), cane sugar, bakers’ or brewers’ yeast, chocolate (because of the dairy and sugar), rice, quinoa, cranberries, kidney beans and black beans.  So what the hell does that leave?  Pretty much meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts.  Woo freakin’ hoo.

A trip back home to Springfield, IL last week left much to be desired in the way of good food that I could actually eat.  Thank goodness I’m a chef and for American Harvest Eatery, a new restaurant that sources fresh ingredients from local farmers.  I tried to prepare as much of my own food as possible for the trip, but let me tell you how boring tuna salad on sliced cucumbers gets after eating it for a week straight.  :/  Meh.

I'm cuckoo for coconuts!
Enter the amazing coconut.  The health benefits of coconuts are extensive, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just give you this link and you can check it out for yourself.  After two weeks of whining and complaining, I’m finally starting to figure this out.  Since I can’t have any dairy (including goats’ milk), I’d picked up a carton of coconut milk prior to leaving for Springfield so I could have it instead of my beloved raw cows’ milk.  I ate it with sliced bananas and macadamia nuts for breakfast and drank it straight when I was craving milk.  Don’t get me wrong – this is not a perfect replacement for cows’ milk but beggars can’t be choosers, right?  Unfortunately, this coconut milk costs about $4.99 for one half-gallon.  Wow.  Funny how cutting certain foods out of your diet can lead to a higher grocery bill!  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Thanks to Leslie at Crunchy Betty, I learned that making my own coconut milk is only a fraction of the cost.  Awesome!  And you know how much I love to make my own things from scratch.  Also, her super-cool, informative site clued me in to the wonders of coconut butter (I’d never even heard of such a thing) so I made some of that.  So!  Incredibly!  Amazing!  Not sure I’ll use peanut or other nut butters very often anymore unless I really need some extra protein.  Then I started to get creative on my own…

"Necessity, who is the mother
of invention."  ~Plato
I mentioned that I’m not allowed to have dairy, cane sugar or chocolate and personally, I think that is enough to drive anyone to bitchiness.  However, I was so giddy when I figured out a loophole that I could hardly stand it.  I was in the kitchen making my coconut milk and coconut butter when I started wondering if it would be possible to make “ice cream” using only coconut milk, honey and homemade vanilla extract (vanilla bean soaked in potato vodka).  If you don’t know how much I love ice cream by now, I’m pretty sure this is your first time reading our blog.  And after two weeks of deprivation, I was ready to give my left arm for a bowl of ice cream.  Luckily that didn’t have to happen.  I pulled out my trusty ice cream maker, mixed the ingredients and in about 30 minutes, I had a fairly acceptable substitute for dairy-based ice cream. 

Then I started wondering about the chocolate stipulation.  I looked back at the chart of what I was sensitive to and cocoa bean was not one of the culprits.  The doc told me I couldn’t have chocolate because milk and sugar are usually ingredients.  It just so happens that I’ve got two pounds of organic, fair-trade Dutch cocoa powder in the pantry and it DOESN’T include dairy or sugar.Ha ha, Dr. Restricto – I found a loophole!  So now I can have chocolate “ice cream” and it fits completely within my restrictive diet guidelines.  Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.  Next I plan on making chocolate-banana.  Oh yeah.

Coconut milk on ice - so refreshing!
Coconut Milk
Makes about 4 cups

- 1/2 to 1 cup dried, unsweetened shredded coconut
- 4 cups hot water (not quite boiling)

1.  Place coconut and 1 cup of hot water in the food processor.

2.  Pulse for about 30 seconds.  Let sit for about a minute, then pulse about 10 more times.

3.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve (lined with cheesecloth or not) into a large bowl.  Press against the solids with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.

4.  Repeat steps 1 through 3, reusing the same coconut and the additional water.

5.  Cool, pour into a quart-size jar and refrigerate.

Notes:  If you choose to use the cheesecloth when straining, the natural oils will be soaked up by the cloth.  If you choose to just use the sieve, you’ll end up with a bit of coconut oil at the top of your jar of coconut milk after you refrigerate it.  Although I haven’t used it yet, I saved the coconut oil to use as I would store-bought.  Crunchy Betty also says you can put it on your legs to make ‘em silky smooth.  You can dehydrate the leftover pulp and use like you would any dessicated coconut.  No waste!

Delicious breakfast - banana with
coconut butter
and toasted coconut
Coconut Butter
Yield varies

- Dried, unsweetened shredded coconut (I used about 2 cups to yield about 3/4 cup coconut butter)

1.  Place coconut in food processor and process on high for about 15 minutes.  You may need to scrape down the sides occasionally.

2.  Store in a jar at room temperature.  Due to the stability of the healthy fatty acids, refrigeration is not necessary, even after opening.

Dessert - chocolate coconut milk "ice cream"
topped with coconut butter and macadamia nuts
Chocolate Coconut Milk “Ice Cream”
Makes 1 1/2 quarts

- 3 cups coconut milk (homemade – see recipe above – or store-bought)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup Dutch cocoa powder

1.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients with a hand mixer or stick (immersion) blender until smooth.

2.  Pour into ice cream maker freezer bowl and follow instructions for your maker.  With mine, it usually takes about 25-30 minutes.  Once finished, “ripen” in the freezer for a couple of hours before devouring like you’ve never eaten ice cream before.
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Jon:  As many of you already know, I usually hang out down here at the end of the blog.  I consider myself a bottom-feeder of sorts… the flounder resting on the deep dark floor of the Blog Sea.  Up above in the clear blue waters of the respectable part of the blog, Hethyr talks about all sorts of interesting and relevant topics, provides helpful information and advice, and offers delicious recipes for all sorts of incredible edibles.  As my nephew J.D. would say, her part of the blog is totally classy.  Meanwhile, I lurk down in the mud making smart-ass comments and rambling on about 80’s game shows, bee beards, poultry proctology, dirty hippies, cantaloupe breasts, parachute pants, muffin tops… I’m pretty sure there was even a sexually explicit haiku about mushrooms at some point.  The list certainly is long and undistinguished.

While I pride myself on my ability to give my beautiful wife epic amounts of childish sarcasm on a daily basis, I feel an overwhelming need to reverse course in this post and talk about what a bad-ass she is in the kitchen.  If someone told me I had to give up dairy, sugar and wheat, you’d find me huddled in the corner of the bathroom in the fetal position crying like a hungry baby.  Hethyr, on the other hand, has used her skillful creativity to find amazing detours around these dietary roadblocks.  The deliciousness of our meals has not diminished one bit despite the fact that she is unable to consume the majority of the items in our kitchen and pantry.  I’d throw her in the ring against any of those millionaire television chefs and totally bet on her.  Who could possibly find a way to make and eat chocolate ice cream after being told that she couldn’t have dairy or sugar?  Seriously?  There are only two words to describe that…

Mad Skills.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Why of the Cutie Pie

Hethyr:  A few posts ago, I mentioned several things that I was excited to share with you.  I've shared most, but this is, without a doubt, the most sickeningly cute entry of the lot.

Bounty from a recent swap
As you faithful readers know by now, we’ve been attending some community swaps where people show up with handmade/homegrown goods to swap with other like-minded barterers.  It is amazing to see the variety of the goods that are brought.  I’ve seen farm-fresh eggs, handmade washcloths, homegrown herbs, fresh herbed ricotta, flavored raw butters (mine included), bread still warm from the oven, chocolate-covered bacon, gluten-free peanut butter cookies, strawberry-rhubarb egg rolls, etc, etc, etc.  Everything we’ve swapped for has been incredible.

Obviously, there is extensive thought and creativity that goes into each item, so I’m always trying to come up with new and different ideas that will grab folks’ attention.  While surfing the internet one day looking for ideas, I came across several blogs that talked about pies baked in glass jars.  They were so cute, I almost puked.  I knew immediately that I needed to make some to take to a swap, but there are several regular participants who have Celiac disease.  As I didn’t want to exclude them from these disgustingly precious pies, I decided to make them gluten-free.

See, I cheat sometimes, too!
I am always a fan of making things from scratch when possible and I fully planned on making my own crust, but I couldn’t find one of the ingredients even at the health food stores in town.  I had to settle for using a pre-made gluten-free crust from Whole Foods.  Actually it was a great crust – I just usually prefer to make my own everything.  I will give you the link to the recipe I was going to use, just in case you’re able to find all of the ingredients and want to try making it on your own (you over-achiever, you).  You can also just as easily use a regular homemade or store-bought pie crust – it doesn’t have to be gluten-free.

Those of you who have been reading our blog for a while will probably remember our overabundance of rhubarb and blueberries this spring/early summer.  I figured this was the perfect opportunity to use some more of each.  We also had a good supply of pie cherries frozen from last year, so I decided to make use of those as well.  Good thing since we got more pie cherries in our CSA just a couple of weeks later.  Oh, and we received four more pounds of rhubarb a couple of weeks ago, bringing our 2011 total to 25 pounds so far!  :/  It’s a really good thing we like rhubarb!

Anyway, I knew these pies would be a hit once I saw how stinking adorable they were.  And I was right – they went like hotcakes.  I was really glad that I stashed a few away in the freezer at home since I got rid of them all so quickly at the swap.  My friend had the great idea to use this same concept to make savory, single-serving pot pies in the colder months.  That’s one I’ll definitely be trying!

Nauseatingly Adorable Tiny, Tiny Pies in Jars (Gluten-Free)
Makes 4 tiny, tiny pies

  • Half-pint (8 ounce) mason jars with lids (short and fat instead of tall and skinny)
  • Gluten-free pie crust (from scratch or store-bought; one 9-inch crust makes about 4 pies)
  • 2 cups fruit, peeled, pitted, diced, etc. (use your imagination – I made Bluebarb and Cherry for the swap and Bluebarb-Cherry for home)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar (depends on the sweetness of your fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons gluten-free all purpose baking flour
  • Spices and such (nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, extracts like vanilla or almond, citrus zest, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, plus additional for brushing tops
  • Sugar for sprinkling tops

1.  Roll out a small section of dough for the tops of the pies.  Using a lid band from one of the jars, cut out 4 circles.  Set aside.

2.  Press the rest of the dough evenly against the insides of the ungreased jars.  You don’t have to roll out the dough – you can just press, piece by piece, until the dough is up to the top of the jar.

3.  Mix together prepared fruit, brown sugar, GF flour and any spices and such you’re going to use.  Divide evenly between the jars, then dot with butter.

4.  If desired, cut cute shapes in the tops with a cookie cutter (I used a “B” for bluebarb and a “C” for cherry).  Position tops on pies, then use a fork to seal the two pieces of dough together.   Trim any ragged edges and, if you decided not to cut cute shapes in the top, vent to allow steam to escape.

5.  Brush tops with butter and sprinkle with sugar.

6.  Position lids and seal tightly.  Store in the freezer.
7.  To bake:  Remove lids and place jars on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Place baking sheet in a cold oven and then set the temperature to 375°F.  Bake for about 60 to 75 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and hot and the top is golden-brown.  If you’re baking from fresh, bake time will be less.

8.  Let cool for a few minutes, then eat straight out of the jar.  They’re even better topped with ice cream!

* Notes:  I've used even smaller jars for this... a 4-ouncer is the perfect size for me.  Bake time is a little less than stated above. Also, for a little variety, try using a crumb topping instead of pie crust.

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Jon:  There are oodles of things in this world that I don’t understand.  In fact, if ignorance were food, I’d be a watermelon.  See, that didn’t even make sense.  The point is that there are constantly things going on around me that I don’t get.  I suppose you could call those the great questions of life.  Why are we here?  What happens to us when we die?  Why do women love things that are shrunk down to a fraction of their normal size?

A pie is a fairly universally-enjoyed food item, right?  People look at a nice cherry, rhubarb or apple pie and they think about how tasty it looks.  But shrink it down to a tiny size and it immediately enters the adorable zone.  When Hethyr and I were at the community swap, I spent some time sitting next to her tiny pies and watched the reaction of the women as they approached.  It typically went something like this:

(slight gasp).  “What is that????”  (brief pause).  “Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhh, it’s a tiny pie!  Oooooohhhhhh, it’s soooooooo adorably cute!!!”

Somehow the realization that this little jarred dessert was actually a magical miniaturized pie initiated the kind of gushing typically reserved for a basket full of puppies and babies.  I don’t get it.  All that I see is a delicious pie that I wish was five times the size so that I could eat five times as much.  But there is certainly no denying the convenience of the portability and single-serving size of these tiny pies.  This is especially true if you have two or fewer people in your household and a full-size pie ends up making you physically ill by the sixth consecutive night of consumption.

I believe it was Socrates who said “I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance.”  But it’s me who said “I know nothing except the fact that all woman love tiny pies.”  I just hope you don’t find them too cute to eat.