Thursday, September 25, 2014

Food Is Love

In a departure from my normal weekly recipe posting, I wanted to share some thoughts that have been rambling inside my head for some time. The idea for the story has been generating for a few years and has lately become overwhelmingly obvious to me, due to recent events. But the overall gist is that I have come to conclude that food—good food, well prepared and with intent—is love. I’m not talking about using food as a substitute for love. I am talking about sharing a part of yourself, and just as importantly your time, to create dishes that fill a need, soothe the soul, and create happiness for the recipients.

One of the first inklings I had on this topic came three years ago, when my mother was in the hospital. Spending long hours there every day, I completely neglected my household duties over the course of 8 weeks. All my focus was on my mother and her recovery. But during that time, Mr. B and Brilliant Daughter trekked to the store every Sunday and did the shopping. And then my daughter would spend the day in my kitchen cooking a week’s worth of meals, packaging them up and storing them in the refrigerator. Wonderful soups, chicken potpies, enchiladas, pasta sauce, quiche Lorraine, and the list goes on.  I could come home to a hot meal, bring tasty, healthy food to share with my mother in the hospital, and I did not have to worry about everyone in my house starving or living on fast food. It was 4 hours of her time each week, but to me it was a relief, a blessing, or as I dubbed it in a subsequent post, “Love in the Refrigerator.”

Since that time, I have spent countless hours in the kitchen, not only making our regular daily meals, but canning, baking, and making homemade sausage and bacon. I also take pride in the large outdoor garden we have: four huge raised beds that replaced the useless lawn. I freely share produce and homemade goodies with just about anyone who visits or anyone I go to visit. I regularly tote jams, pickles and bacon down to LA for my brother (not to mention my really tasty bacon caramels). Butcher Son and Mr. B get packages of cookies to take to work and share on a regular basis. And when our family Sunday dinner rolls around, I usually have a meal or two prepared and packaged, as well as a sweet treat, for the kids to take home and enjoy during the week.

More recently I have found myself with a lot of extra time, business being slow. So I have tried to use it wisely.

A friend, who recently had a baby, invited me down to meet the new little guy and I offered to bring lunch. What new mom (who had a C-section to boot) has time to cook? I whipped up a hearty protein-rich quiche, a fresh salad with lots of veggies, and made a loaf of homemade focaccia. Then I made three different kinds of cookies, one of which I fashioned into little butterflies, hearts and flowers for her 2-year old daughter. I even juiced some of our prized Meyer lemons, picked some fresh strawberries and made some strawberry lemonade. I didn’t think twice about it, but you would have thought I brought a five-star meal with Cristal champagne for all the oohing and aahing and thanks I got. I mean really, I had the time, she needed the food, so what’s the big deal? But then it hit me: it is a big deal to so many people that someone would take the time to make everything from scratch. Take the time to do something for them.

And my family is very appreciative of this fact as well. Just last weekend, I smoked a pork shoulder for 6 hours on Mr. B’s grill. Then proceeded to make a batch of homemade BBQ sauce, bake up some fresh hamburger buns, and toss together a delicious salad with shaved zucchini and green beans from our garden. A simple meal really, but one that everyone recognized took me hours in the kitchen to make.

I am lucky to have those hours. And I am even more fortunate to have friends and family to share it with.

Week 23: Coconut Cream Caramels

The other day I was making a lovely curry cauliflower soup and had a half can of coconut milk leftover. Hating to waste anything, I gave it some thought and came up with the idea to make coconut caramels. Everyone loves my bacon caramels, so using that as a base recipe, I made a batch. Supplementing the leftover half cup of coconut milk with a half cup of cream, I found the taste a bit too subtle. Barely noticeable. So I decided to give it a second try this week and kick it up a notch.

Instead of the coconut milk and cream mixture, I used a full cup of Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream. I also toasted up some shredded coconut to enhance the coconut flavor and give it a bit of texture. The result was a nicely sweet caramel with the toasty crunch of the coconut.

Coconut Cream Caramels
1 cup coconut cream
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup toasted flaked or shredded coconut

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly oil parchment with vegetable oil or cooking spray.

Bring coconut cream, butter, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, golden syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 250 degrees on candy thermometer, which takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and gently press down into caramel. Cool for 3 hours. (Placing them in the refrigerator during the last 30 minutes will make them easier to cut.)

Cut sheets of wax paper into 4-inch squares.

Pull parchment and caramel out of the pan and cut into small squares or rectangles and wrap each in square of wax paper, twisting both ends to close. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: approximately 40 caramels