Friday, April 20, 2007

The Mighty Coconut

There's a back story to the previously mentioned Coconut Chai Blondies. I envisioned wide pearly strips of coconut majestically gracing the tops of the tall, round statuesque blondies planned for Valentines Day.

What seemed like a such simple idea, morphed into one of those major events (a fiasco?) - or perhaps just another learning curve. The only coconut I could locate matching my imagination was the slim smatterings found in small bags of mixed dried fruit. When I spotted a fresh coconut in my market's produce section the solution seemed obvious.

The fact that I have never successfully cracked a coconut did not phase me. Is it co-incidental that the mighty coconut seems to present itself time and time again when I am off on carefree tropical adventures? Hawaii, Tahiti, Mexico, Bahamas.. good laughs, a few injuries, but the coconut always won.

I've read numerous accounts on how to approach and conquer the coconut, nevertheless I did my homework again, just in case there were new discoveries in this realm. Hammer, sterilized nails, 2-cup glass measurer (we're ready for lots of coconut water!), bowl, 2 knives, board, newspapers - and a potato peeler!

Outside, I cautiously drop the nut onto my courtyard pavers. Nothing happens. Next, a good firm downward pitch and miraculously the husk cracks and separates. It peels off easily! I shake it, inside I feel and hear liquid sloshing about.

A few well positioned taps with the hammer and nail and the coconut's eyes are punctured, I place the nut over the glass measurer and the coconut water slowly begins dripping out! I watch, as my thirst increases by the minute. I imagine myself on a deserted island alone with my coconut. Finally, when the nut is completely empty I eye the glass measurer and it holds less than 1 cup. I draw the elixir to my lips, I think I am having a religious experience. I can smell the fruity coconut essence, the water is surprisingly mild, not sweet, not salty, just perfectly refreshing. I can do this!

Transported maybe, but not done by a long shot. The next step is to break up the coconut and access the meat inside. Forget the hammer; more aggressive slams to the pavement and the nut shatters about in manageable pieces. Now, the work of removing the inner skin begins. This is where the island mentality is helpful. I am mindful that this is a process, embrace it, try not to hurry. I am one with my coconut, enjoying life. Paring knife in hand, time passes as I patiently carve away.
Ultimately, I am left with hard, iridescently white, moist coconut chunks. Armed with potato peeler I pull across an edge and wide strips roll off. I place a layer of shreds on paper toweling, sprinkle them lightly with sea salt, and microwave a batch a minute or two until nicely toasted. This is the real deal, nothing like the stuff in packages. Pure bliss! A tall, cool drink is clearly in order.
For my blondies, I bake the coconut strips in a slow oven (about 300 degrees F.) for 20 minutes or so, not to brown them, but long enough to remove moisture. Total yield: about 3 cups. For 24 blondies: about 1/2 precious cup. Oh, my.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sweet Distractions

Unlike many of my sisters, thus far, I have not succumbed to the chocolate craze and am able to pass on brownies, bonbons, and the like. Instead, I get giddy over creamy, unctuous caramel, and am utterly transported by a moist, buttery blondie.

Here is one that speaks to my Floridian sensibilities. This Coconut Chai Blondie is a celestial match when paired with the moist nuttiness of coconut and exotic chai spices.

Coconut is a very popular commodity in the Floridian cuisine. You’ll find it in assorted rum drinks, in salad dressings, surrounding the ever-present coconut shrimp, in our sorbets and countless baked goods. Our local Winn Dixie stocks an abundance of coconut items. When available, I often back down on the amount of butter here and replace it with about ¼ cup creamed coconut and perhaps a splash of coconut flavoring.

For a quick chai seasoning combine 1 tsp each cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and powdered ginger, plus or minus 1/2 tsp black pepper.

Coconut Chai Blondies
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp chai seasoning -- heaping (see notes)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut, lightly toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line and spray 9x13 pan. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. Lightly toast the coconut.

Heat the butter until bubbly and pour it into a mixing bowl along with the sugar and beat well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well, and then add the vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing to combine; and then stir in the coconut.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly with offset spatula.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until just set in center when pressed. Do not overbake.

Cool on rack for about 10 minutes. Lift foil and blondies out of the pan and cool on rack until room temperature, about 1 hour.

Browned Butter Glaze
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 – 4 tbsp. milk
1/2 cups shredded coconut, preferably wide cut

Heat the butter and salt until bubbly and golden brown. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, then the vanilla and enough milk to thin to spreading consistency.

Spread glaze over blondies. If using additional coconut, sprinkle it over glaze while still soft; cut when set. Servings: 24. ~~

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Floribbean State of Mind

I've lived in Florida for several years now, and it took quite a while before I actually recognized that Florida is not really part of the deep South.

Many of the folks that comprise our population are transplants seeking respite from other circumstances: retirement, the law, wives and such. The State of Florida surely owes Jimmy Buffett a debt of thanks in that he has singularly attracted the highest number of the disenchanted and disengaged than any other entity. Annually legions of the dispossessed flock to our sandy beaches in search of the permanent Margaritaville fix. I definitely arrrived in that condition!

Rather than our surrounding states, the Florida melting pot is spiced up and flavored more by the easterly islands and our neighbors to the south. We resonate with the tastes of the Bahamas, Cuba, the Caribbean and Latin America, our true heritage. The term 'Floribbean' generated by Norman Van Aiken and others, celebrates the best of both worlds. It recognizes the wealth of the Floridian aqua and agricultures as well as these diverse nearby nations.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Starting Place

This is my uno numero post and I'm trusting that it will become easier as I move along.

To begin, I'll confess that broadcasting my culinary experiences as well as my successes and failures in the kitchen is a stretch and definitely out of my comfort zone. Inwardly I'm asking, "What am I doing!? Why bother?" Of course the answer back is, "Because you need to."

Yes, this blog is titled accurately (...and with humor), I'm hoping that my undisputed love and commitment to the culinary realm will provide me with the impetus and discipline to keep it relevant - and regular.

One of my favorite quotes:

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and has magic it it." - Goethe

Perhaps more answers will come.


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