Foodie Firsts: Kumquats!

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Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try!  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Kumquats.

If you’re in a space where you’re able, I encourage you to say this word aloud.  It’s a word that feels a little odd to say and hear.  A peculiar word, it is, with sharp sounds that force you to enunciate.

I would venture to say that the experience of saying and hearing kumquat is similar to what it is like to eat one.  Sharp.  Deliberate.  Peculiar.  Maybe even a tad exotic.

in bowl 2 - edited

I have, of course, known of the existence of kumquats for a lifetime.  I’d heard of them without ever really knowing what they were.  They seemed so unusual and foreign – not something I would happen across on an average day.  I knew that they were a type of citrus, but I had never really considered what they would taste like.  I knew they were quite small, but never stopped to ponder how to eat them properly.  They were totally and completely mysterious to me.

Until last week.

Last week, I was wondering through the produce aisle at New Seasons Market (my favorite of all markets), looking at the abundance of various citrus that flooded the bins.  There were navel oranges, blood oranges, sumo oranges, tangerines, tangelos, grapefruits (white and red), lemons, Meyer lemons, limes . . . you see where I’m going with this.  The final stages of winter were producing a citrus bounty that was quite stunning, actually.  Nestled among the cases of plump navels and grapefruits was a slim, almost unnoticeable bin of kumquats.

Intriguing.

slices with knife - edited

Here was the perplexing little fruit that I knew next to nothing about, but I decided to scoop some up.  Taking home a handful, I put them on my counter and sort of stared.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.  I needed to do some research, but was impatient and wanted to just try one right away.  So I did.

Now, please don’t laugh at what I’m about to tell you.

Okay, laugh if you must, but just don’t tell me that you did.

Alright, so I took a kumquat – barely the size of my thumb – and set out to peel it.  This was my instinct.  You eat citrus after it’s been peeled, right?  I tore into it and ripped off the outer flesh, tossing it into the bin.  Left with what was truly a miniscule bit of fruit, I bit in.  It was tart.  REALLY TART.  Not bad.  But more tart than seemed reasonable to eat on it’s own.

I closed the bag, left them on my counter, and decided I needed to seek out answers on how to eat these tiny fruits from the those in the know – random people on the Internet.

The problem was I got busy and it took me a few days to get around to it.  When I finally did consult the all-knowing Internet, I had waited too long.  Once of the first things I learned was that kumquats don’t last long at room temperature and can turn rancid and moldy.  The second thing I learned about kumquats was that you don’t peel them.  You eat them whole – skin and all.

Oh.

Oohhhhhhh.

in bowl on window sill 2 - edited

That makes so much sense, because let me tell you, peeling a kumquat is not an easy thing to do well.

Plus, the skin actually is crucial to the taste experience.  As it turns out, the inside of the kumquat is very tart (as I had experienced), but the peel of a kumquat is very sweet.  When you bite into one whole, you get both together, creating an entirely different (and more balanced) foodie experience.

Oooohhhhhhhhhh.

Well, I felt a little silly learning this, thinking how I had torn apart my first one, but I was determined to try again.  Back to New Seasons I went, where I purchased a new batch of kumquats.  This time they went into my refrigerator for preserving freshness.  All except for one, that is.  That one I promptly washed and ate, standing right over my kitchen sink, skin and all.

Wow.  What a different experience.  There was tart again, sure, but this time there was so much more than that.  It went something like this.  When I first bit in, I was hit with the tartness of the body of the fruit, but then, after just a moment, as I ate it, the sweetness from the skin is released and they come together to provide a complex, layered flavor that was unlike any other citrus I’ve ever tasted.  It was exotic.  It was peculiar.  It was delightful.

I ate a couple more this way, reveling in this whole new flavor experience.  I had also noticed online, though, that a common use for them is in salad.  Well, I’m a girl who loves her greens and I eat 1-2 salads a day.  Perfect.  When dinnertime rolled around, I decided to slice a couple up and add them to my salad.  Combined with a combination of power greens (romaine lettuce, kale, baby chard, and baby spinach), cucumber, tomatoes, and raw red onion, they made a beautiful looking salad bowl.  Then, after drizzling with white wine vinegar and sprinkling with salt, pepper, and sunflower seeds, I dug in.  They were a WONDERFUL addition to my standard salad.  They added a refreshing brightness and zing that was absolutely delicious.

Salad - edited

Final Thoughts:  Kumquats are a fantastic find.  I’m utterly astounded that something so compact can pack in so much exciting flavor.  I’m definitely glad I gave these little fruits a try (despite my initial misunderstanding about how to eat them!).

Serving Suggestions:  Try them raw, as I did, to just get to know them a bit.  Certainly, slice them up and add them to a salad – you won’t even need much dressing with their added flavor.

I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve also seen them used in cocktails.  I kind of like the idea of a little muddled kumquat with some dry gin, a dash of bitters, and maybe even a splash of grenadine – served with a slice of kumquat on the rim or floating on top for visual appeal.  Sounds like a good happy hour to me.

Lessons Learned:  Do my research.  I can laugh at myself for the ridiculousness that was me trying to peel that tiny little thing, but I could have saved myself some time, trouble, and a whole batch of spoiled kumquats if I had done my research first.  Let’s hope I can remember this in the future.

Foodie Firsts: My First Vegan ‘Cheesecake’

wooden spoons-001

Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try!  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Welcome to the inaugural entry in my new weekly series.  I’m excited to continue to push my boundaries with food and cooking and share it all here.  I commit to sharing each adventure, whether it is successful or, well, disastrous.

It pleases me to no end, however, to say that this first post is one of success!  I decided to start off this column big.  I feel like I really went for it this week.

Homemade.  Vegan.  Cheesecake.

partial whole cake pic 2 - edited

I went into this little experiment totally prepared for it to fail.  Not expecting it to, but prepared for the possibility.  Let me give you some history.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Move Eat Create for introducing me to cheesecake to begin with.  I had never tried it until well into my twenties.  Blasphemy, I know!  Here I was, going through my life, thinking that cheesecake was absurd.  Why on earth would anyone make a cake out of cheese??  What was this horrid concept???  Were people mad????  Mr. Move Eat Create was, because he was a fan.  A big fan.  So he had some; I tried it, and my world was never the same again.

Now, you may think I’m being dramatic (and maybe I am), but it blew me away.  I had never tasted anything like it.  I wanted to devour it all the time.  I tried to restrain myself, but cheesecake was always a wonderful treat.  A rich, decadent reminder of how many things I had yet to taste in my life.

Whole with slice cut out - edited

These days, as you may know, I eat a mostly clean, healthy and plant-based diet, so cheesecake is a very rare item on my plate.  For a while, I’d been tossing around the idea of trying a vegan cheesecake.  I’ve seen several versions featuring vegan cream cheese (which I’m sure are delicious and I WILL try sometime), but, I was feeling sort of . . . ballsy.  I decided to go all out when I came across this recipe for a raw strawberry cream cake at The Veggie Nook.  A soft, creamy cake that mimics the experience of a cheesecake, but totally vegan?  I was in.  No questions asked.

So, as I stated, I was prepared for this to be a fail simply because I’ve never, ever eaten or made anything like it before.  Plus, the crust (which is yummy) is made solely out of almonds, dates, and salt.  The last time I tried to puree dates, I had a bit of a disastrous gooey mess that went quickly to the garbage can.   The recipe indicated a strong food processor would be needed and ours is a fairly small, simple model.  Would it do the job?  And, would my cheesecake-loving boyfriend enjoy this for what it was or would I be eating it all by my lonesome?

Single slice with coulis 5 - edited

I officially declare this foodie first a success!  While this is certainly not going to pass for a traditional cheesecake, it doesn’t need to.  It is delicious in its own right and it does provide a similar experience to feasting on cheesecake.  It’s soft, cool, and creamy.  It strikes a chord between sour/tart (from the lemon juice – a very important element) and sweet (strawberries, dates, vanilla and agave) and the strawberry coulis drizzled on top is fresh and bright.  The process of making this was a breeze, really.  I had to puree in batches (so as to not overwhelm my food processor), but the steps were straightforward and unfussy.  Plus, the possibilities with this are limitless.  Chocolate drizzled on top would be amazing.  I can imagine any berry subbing for the strawberries with success.  Vanilla bean mixed in would be rich and luscious.  Skip the berry layer altogether and do a caramel cream with chopped nuts on top.  Endless possibilities.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

The recipe can be found here:  Raw Strawberry Cream Cake  Whole with side of pan off - edited

Modifications:  The only thing I did differently was to use agave and additional vanilla extract instead of stevia.  I didn’t have any stevia on hand and decided to sub instead of purchasing some.  I doubled the vanilla extract and added agave in 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting as I went.  I found that about ¼ cup was the right amount for me.

Lessons Learned:  Simply because something doesn’t taste just like its inspiration, does not make it a lesser product.  Do I still think traditional cheesecake is delicious?  Of course I do.  But this option is so good and so satisfying that it is more than just a substitute.  Plus, the nutritional components mean a lot to me these days and knowing I can feel really good about the ingredients in this dessert is pretty fantastic.

Plus, I am constantly amazed by the humble cashew.  What can’t this little nut do?  Cashews = food chameleons.

Finally, making this taught me a bit about patience.  I don’t have much of it and when I cook, I like to keep things moving, see results, work on the next component.  The fact that my food processor is small made me have to work cautiously and in small batches.  I was forced to slow down instead of tossing everything in at once.  It actually was quite good for me to experience.  To have it pay off in the end was highly rewarding.