Beyond being able to fix the foods for yourself that I or any other healthcare provider might prescribe, becoming a confident home cook is, in my opinion, the single most empowering step you can take towards achieving optimal health. It's also a remarkably efficient way to contribute towards environmental and ecological preservation. Learning to cook from scratch substantially increases your control over what you consume and substantially decreases your dependence on processed, packaged food. (And folks in the dating scene? Throwing down a lovely dinner is also a seriously player move, guaranteed to score major points. Adam and I have been married for twelve hundred and seventy-nine nights, and most of those nights he's fixed me dinner, and I STILL get all twitterpated. Every. Time.)
How to Cook Everything is an excellent first cookbook--its clear, straightforward instructions make its recipes easy to follow and approachable by brand-new cooks. It's also an excellent cookbook in general--more experienced home cooks will also appreciate its varied and original recipes. I consult it frequently, and have happily made (and eaten!) many of its recipes.
Like Bittman says in his book, you can totally buy coconut milk in cans,
"...but it's relatively expensive and, for me at least, more trouble than it's worth. On the other hand, a pound of dried coconut costs about two dollars at the natural foods store and will make gallons of coconut milk, thick or thin, with little effort."
This milk also tastes a lot better than the canned stuff, which isn't surprising--what doesn't taste better fresh than canned? I put it in my rooibos tea every morning, and when I once tried doing that with coconut milk from a can, I got a gross oil slick across the surface of my tea, and a distinctly tinny taste. Not so with the fresh coconut milk--it blends in as smoothly as cow milk, and tastes delicious. And since I'm using it primarily in tea and smoothies (versus desserts and curries) I make it on the thinner side, which isn't really an option for canned coconut milk.
Most importantly, when you're making coconut milk at home, you don't have to worry about BPA from cans insinuating its scary self into your body.
Here's how it's done:
Put about two and a half cups of water on to boil.
Measure two cups of dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut into a quart jar (Bittman uses a blender, and going forward I'll probably use our new old Vitamix, but in these photos I used the Bamix immersion blender I got Adam for his birthday a couple years ago.)
A canning jar funnel is one of the handiest tools ever; if you use mason jars for everything, like we do, it's in use every day.
When the water comes to a boil, pour two cups of it over the coconut.
If you're using an immersion blender, go ahead and immerse it here. Start and stop your blender a couple of times, being very careful not to whirl boiling water all over the place. Then blend for 30 seconds.
Then let it rest for ten minutes. (Hey, you could start some bread right now!) While it's resting, set up your straining situation. I just use a mesh strainer over a jar funnel, both set over another quart jar.
Voilà: creamy, foamy, scrumptious coconut milk that works beautifully in tea, smoothies, soups, curries, desserts, and whatever else amazing coconutness you can think up.
Bittman explains this recipe way better than I do, though. You should buy the book.