Watermelon Juice

I’ve spent a lot of time with watermelon recently and I discovered during that time that I love watermelon juice. Why? Because it takes that sweetness and ruby red color and distills it into a concentrated fruit nectar that can slake the most intense of thirsts. Vitamin C? Check. Vitamin A? Check. Lycopene, a health protective phytochemical? You betcha. Processed sugar? Not a drop. You will never think about Powerade again.

How to make it?

Start with one juicy watermelon. Seedless or full of seeds – it doesn’t matter.

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Next, peel the watermelon.

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Then chop the melon into roughly bite-sized chunks. At this point you’re going to need a fine straining device. The cheapest option is to use paint strainers. Don’t worry, it’s totally sanitary. You can wash them in hot water if it makes you feel better.

Below: Buy a couple of paint strainers from your local hardware store. Much cheaper than rice/almond/nut milk bags you get at natural food stores. I think it was about $2.

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Put your watermelon chunks into one of the paint strainers and methodically crush the watermelon chunks with your hands as the juice runs out into a large bowl. You could try putting the chunk-filled bag into a bowl and mashing it with a potato masher, too. Twisting the bag helps put pressure on the melon, like wringing out a towel.

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Lastly, view the glory of your watermelon juice! Best served really cold, by my taste.

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Kinpira

Kinpira is pretty much a saute in macrobiotics. It involves thinly cutting a variety of vegetables and cooking them in hot oil. The standard kinpira combination is using burdock, also known as gobo, and carrot. The resulting dish is a bit oily, crunchy, and sweet (especially if you use parsnips). So what’s not to love about that? Just don’t overdo it – kinpira has a lot of energy (the non-macrobiotic term would be lots of calories).

Below: Who remembers Fraggle Rock the TV show on HBO? I sure do! Gobo, in addition to being a root vegetable, was also the name of this character on the show, which was produced by Jim Henson. Ahhh, the 1980s.

Energetics

Since kinpira is similar to a braise technique (saute + simmer), it’s energy is grounding and steady. Kinpira is said to impart strength to the eater. Further, kinpira is made with root vegetables, which are also settling and grounding. This would be a good thing for someone with Continue reading

Pressed Salad

Pressed salad is a dish common to macrobiotics. It is cooling, gentle, and light – a nice contradiction to a diet of dried out or heavy things (bread, crackers, meat, etc.). It is a delicious all-purpose salad that I absolutely love. It’s fun to eat with chopsticks and very, very easy to make. I learned to make pressed salad at The Natural Epicurean and I think it will become a favorite of yours, too.

There are endless combinations, but I start mine with radish, carrot, and cucumber – or whatever is on hand. I use my Benriner mandoline slicer to get thin consistent cuts. For one serving you only need about two radishes, half a carrot, and part of a cucumber. You don’t need a mandoline slicer but be sure to cut the vegetables thinly – this is a soft salad and you want to draw out some of the moisture from each thin slice.

Below: Veggies ready for salad!

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Below: Nice thin cuts! Thanks Benriner!

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Next, you massage about 1/4 teaspoon of unrefined Continue reading

Making Tofu

We made tofu this week, yet another thing I never really imagined myself doing until culinary school. Here’s a summary of the process:

  1. Soak soybeans overnight.
  2. Grind the soaked beans with hot liquid.
  3. Boil the beans in the hot liquid.
  4. Pour the hot liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and capture the liquids. The solids you capture are called okara, which has some limited culinary use. Press out as much liquid as possible. It can be useful to put the okara-filled cheesecloth into a nut milk bag, twist the top, and press out the liquid. The cloudy liquid you capture is used to make tofu so you want to get as much as you can.
  5. Heat the liquid and coagulate it using a natural compound such as calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride. (If you merely simmered the liquid, you could add sweetener and it would be a drinkable soy milk at this point.)
  6. Press the coagulated solids into a cheesecloth-lined tofu box for 45 minutes or so. You could also use a regular mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.
  7. Pull out the tofu. You are done!

Below: A plastic tofu press.

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Below: Black soy beans in their soaking liquid.

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Continue reading

Macrobiotic Knife Skills

This past week we started our study of macrobiotics. The Natural Epicurean started over 10 years ago as a primarily macrobiotic cooking school and although it has changed ownership since then, it retains the much of the spirit that it had back then, including the focus on healing diets. We have about three weeks of macrobiotics study – both theory and cooking styles.

What is macrobiotics? Well, you can read one of my prior blog posts on the topic, and/or you can wait a day or two where I will recap some of our macrobiotics lecture content from this week. How about doing both! 🙂

We started our study of macrobiotic cooking with knife skills practice, which also gave us more exposure to some of the cooking methods used in macrobiotic cooking, or “macro” as we use for shorthand.

Below: Set up for an afternoon of vegetable prep.

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Below: Some finely sliced cucumber I did. Note the scalloped knife below, which is not my usual knife. For some reason, this style of knife is the preferred one in macrobiotic cooking. I need to find out why…

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Below: A large pot being used for a nishime cooking preparation. We have spring onion, squash, burdock root, carrot, and one or two other things I can’t recall. In nishime, the vegetables cook slowly for about an hour with the pot about half full. The vegetables’ sweetness becomes intensified and they become more digestible. A bit of wheat-free tamari is added (similar to soy sauce) for flavor.

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Below: Some sliced burdock root.

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Below: My fellow students and I made a pressed salad during class. This involves making thin cuts of vegetables – in this case, cucumber, fennel, apple, and I want to say…radish? Anyway, you rub a bit of salt into the vegetables, which helps to draw out the water and enhancing flavor. You then put a plate or bowl on top of the vegetables to help press out the moisture. The result is a tender, yet crunchy, salad that is delicious and simple.

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Below: Our plate of macrobiotically prepared vegetables.

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Ice Creams and Sorbets

After a morning spent discussing nutrition with Radhia on Tuesday, we were well primed for some sugary sorbets, custards, and ice creams. 😛  Actually, the prior day’s quick breads and muffins had most of us still recovering from the sugar overload, so we were braced for a barrage of sweetness Tuesday afternoon.

I have found that eating brown rice and greens is a great way to counteract high sugar intake, so I’ve been eating that for dinner this week. One of the benefits is that it’s been easy to wake up on time and I have good energy in the morning. Ah, real food!

Truth be told, although I wasn’t looking to eat more sugar Tuesday, I was looking forward to learning to make sorbet and other frozen-type desserts. As it turns out, making these desserts is very easy and produces pretty impressive results. Soon it will be time for macrobiotic and raw food classes and life will be great. 🙂

Below: I am stirring a coconut custard base (top) and a coconut frosting (below).

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Below: Some blackberries and lavender that I used to make a quick sauce.

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Below: Excellent gluten-free Florentine cookies!  Chewy, orange-zesty – me likey! 

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Below: Some vegan mocha mousse with a coconut butter, almond meal crumble. 

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Below: Our blackberry pear sorbet (bottom) and coconut creme custard with coconut caramel (top). Surprisingly, the custard did not have much of a coconut taste. Sometimes you can get tired of coconut, but it’s such a versatile ingredient for vegans to use as a replacement for cream, butter, or milk, that it gets a lot of use in the kitchen.

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Below: A quick video showing a walk around the kitchen during the final minutes of our sorbet lab session. It shows the controlled chaos of finalizing our dishes for plating!

Cooking Par-Tay: Tamales and Fruit Compote

For our weekly extracurricular cooking gathering last week, I decided to use za’atar to create tamales. Za’atar is an herb mixture from the middle East that I thought would work well in a tamale format. I learned about Za’atar in a class last week and liked it instantly. It’s herby and robust and just begs to be rubbed on bread or just about anything (food, that is :P). I drove down to a Middle Eastern grocer down the street from school after class and bought a small bag.

For the tamales, I used mushrooms for flavor and texture, and added onions for more depth. Mushrooms cook down to a chewy texture and have a earthy flavor that I knew would work well with the za’atar. Google helped me create a vegan masa, which is the soft corn-based outside of a tamale. Traditionally, lard is used to help the masa hold together but I used olive oil to make it more heart, body, and Earth healthy.

Not to get too sappy here but it’s fair to speculate that I would never have taken this project on had I not started culinary school, so that is really cool to think about and makes me feel good about where I’m at. It’s also cool to be able to discuss our cooking outside of class with our teachers, and they provide useful information to help us get better. All of the Natural Epicurean staff have been really helpful to discuss our home cooking experiments. Plus I’ve come into contact with fellow students who have brought food knowledge into my life, so that’s been great as well. Going to cooking school has accelerated my food knowledge and experience for sure.

Below: Boiling 2 cups of water with some olive oil and salt before adding about 1 cup of masa – use more or less masa until the dough gets thick like a typical dough.

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Below: Spread some masa on a water-soaked corn husk, then put some of your filling in the center.

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Below: Bring the edges together, roll, then fold the bottom end up.

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Below: Stack the tamales into a steamer basket in a deep pot. Put about 1-2″ of water in the bottom.

Below: A cooked tamale, garnished with a cashew lime cilantro sauce and chili powder (lime zest + cilantro + soaked cashews). A VitaMix would have been very useful in creating the sauce to help smooth it out. Maybe I’ll get one soon… 🙂  I found that the masa was sturdier after the tamales sat in the fridge overnight.

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Below: Sweet corn bread with fruit-coconut milk compote. The compote was spicy with cinnamon and cloves and sweet from fruit and a touch of honey. Mmm!

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Iron Chef – Locavore Edition

On Tuesday, Chef Rachel challenged us with preparing a unified set of dishes from produce from a Johnson’s Backyard Garden CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box, which was a fun challenge since we had no recipes to cook from. A CSA box is a box of produce from a farm or collection of farms and it’s a way of supporting locally produced food. My team decided on an Italian theme and we made a white pizza with beet “pepperonis,” a red leaf salad with mint and citrus, and a carrot cake. Of course, we knocked it out of the park. 🙂

Below: The goodies from Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

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A photographer from Johnson’s Backyard Garden showed up to shoot our use of their CSA boxes. Chard, Brussels sprouts greens, beets, mint, carrots, and more were included in this week’s box. The Natural Epicurean has been a heavy user of Johnson’s produce – we cook with it every day – and it’s nice to know that the school buys locally, so the produce is fresh, in season, and has minimal ecological impact from transportation.

Below: Photographer from Johnson’s Backyard Garden and a woman taking notes on our handiwork while Chef Rachel (center) looks on.

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Below: Some quinoa-stuffed tomatoes.

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Below: My team’s beet-pepperoni pizza (left), carrot cake (center), and citrus salad (above the cake).

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Below: An artfully assembled de-constructed beet-chard salad.

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Below: Me with two classmates after a successful morning of cooking. Fun! (Photo from Rachel Zierzow’s Facebook page.)

Veg III, Blogging 101, and Week 5 is Complete

Blogging for Cooks

Chef Alex (aka, The Food Diva) gave a presentation this week on blogging. And it wasn’t just about blogging, but how blogging can affect your career and also about just being open to career paths in general. She also talked about food styling and photography. As a person who dabbles in blogging (ha!) I appreciated it a lot. But mostly I liked hearing how we need to follow our passion and be true to ourselves. Chef Alex is pretty inspirational because she has really done a lot in the food world and she is quite savvy about pursuing her goals.

I think my favorite moment was when she said “do your thing, your ship will sail, keep that passion going.” A great reminder! The whole talk made me realize how much I love to communicate with others and share knowledge. Writing, teaching, doing cooking demos, counseling – all of those things align with that. I guess it partly goes back to when I was a kid – I always loved being on stage. Food media is something I need to keep on my radar!

Below: Chef Alex Lopez explaining how we are going to achieve culinary domination on a global scale.

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What is food styling? Food styling is where you make the food look really good on the plate and set up a scene that makes your food jump off the screen and into the imagination of the viewer. You’re trying to help paint a picture and a context for the person looking at your photo that will draw them in and inspire them.

Below: Food styling before a photo shoot. Check out The Food Diva’s blog post to see how the photo of the beet salad came out.

Vegetables III Lab

We spiralized and shredded in Veg III this week. I blanched some snap beans, which sounds simple, but there is so much that can happen to a green bean in just a few seconds in simmering water. We’re slowly but surely building on fundamental skills.

Below: Spiralized squash noodles.

Below: Some blanched snap beans with toasted walnuts.

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Below: Some summer squash sliced wide on a mandoline. They tasted amazingly similar to pasta.

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Granola and Grits

Whole grains are so very important to a healthful diet – nutrient packed and stocked with fiber, they are a useful cornerstone for just about anyone’s diet.

Sweet Beginning

A classmate hooked me up with some honey from his Massachusetts home hive. I tried it at home, and it had a lovely light floral sweetness.

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Lab Kitchen – Breakfast for Brunch

We cooked oats and grits for lab today, so we got lots of delicious grains to try just before lunch time. We had four recipes to prepare in each group, which is the most food we’ve had to cook in our lab kitchen. Everyone was engaged with a recipe, and that also meant there was a lot of diversity when the tasting time came – granola, oat bowls, sweet grits, and savory grits. It was a breakfast grain fest!

Below: Mini oat bowls.

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Below: Bircher Muesli – yum!

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Below: Steel-cut oats.

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Below: Another bowl of Bircher Muesli. I worked on this dish and learned that shredded apple stays fresh when dressed with water and lemon juice. When you need the apple, just press out the water/juice.

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Lunchtime Stroll

I went for a walk at lunch to clear my mind…

Below: A bluebonnet popping up to say “hello.”

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Below: A market is apparently planned to open in the business center where the school is located. It might be a great place to grab lunch during a break, although lunch is increasingly unnecessary when we have cooking lab in the morning. 🙂

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Below: Another sight on my walk – an agave (century plant?) and bluebonnets.

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Below: I’ve had a few requests for photos of me in my uniform, so here you go. 🙂

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