Monday, August 29, 2011

Peace and Prosperity, Really Just Delicious

The ancients considered them sacred and a symbol of peace and prosperity. Fig season. It is here and then gone it seems in an instant.  The season is June-ish through October-ish, all weather dependent. These little treasures are hands down my favorite fruit. I don’t remember having them growing up except maybe being given a fig newton which I was told was a cookie but when I ate it felt I had been lied to. As an adult, I can’t remember my introduction to figs or how I came to love them so and frankly it’s neither here nor there.  I look forward to fig season each year because there is nothing better than fighting the bees, wasps and birds for that just perfectly ripe fig off the tree, still warm from the sun, that practically oozes as you bite into it and literally tastes like candy.  Here are some fun things to do with them…Enjoy them while you can!

ODF (Oven Dried Figs)
Cut fresh figs into thin slices.
Dry, placed on a clean tea towel or a rack set inside a sheet pan in your oven on the lowest setting for about 4-6 hours. Store in a container with a tightly fitting lid.
Use on granola, yogurt, grilled pork, or sprinkle in a salad. Just as good to snack on all by themselves.

Figgy Vinaigrette:
I served this on an arugula salad with blue cheese, sliced Fuji apple, toasted pumpkin seeds and almonds, Yum.

1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 shallot, minced
4 ounces fresh figs, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon honey
5 tablespoons apple cider or white wine vinegar
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon apple juice
3 ounces canola oil

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots until soft then add the figs and cook for about 4 minutes, or until they start to break down and are very soft. Allow this to cool a bit then place in a bender or food processor and add all the other ingredients except the oil and process until smooth. With the machine running slowly drizzle in the oil. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Figgy Newtons 
 For the dough:
3 oz. butter, softened
¾ cup demerara sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ¼ cups white whole wheat flour
1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour

For the filling:
2 pounds fresh figs, chopped
½ cup water
½ cup demerara sugar

To make the dough:
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time then beat in the milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl combine the salt through whole wheat pastry flour. Add the dry ingredients in batches to the wet until thoroughly combined. Chill for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

To make the filling:
Combine the figs, water and sugar in a large pot over medium heat and cook until the figs begin to breakdown, and the moisture evaporates, about 30-35 minutes. The mixture should look like loose preserves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To assemble:

I.               Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. My dough weighed about 1#8oz. total so  each dough ball was about 12 oz.

II.              Working on a silicone baking mat or parchment,  (this will help you easily move them to the pan once formed), shape the dough balls into rectangles, lightly flouring as you go to prevent sticking. 

III.            Roll the dough into 14 in. x 8 in. x ¼ in. thick rectangle like shapes.

IV.           Spread the cooled filling down the middle leaving about a 2 in. border of dough around the edge.

V.            Fold the top long edge over the filling

VI.           Fold the bottom long edge up and over lap with the dough from the top.

VII.         Fold up the ends AND   

Bake in a 350° for 25-30 minutes until golden! Allow to cool 
then slice into 1 inch strips (they kinda look like biscotti)

*** Note: if you want to use dried figs instead of fresh use 2 cups dried and chopped figs and about 3 cups of apple juice and ¼ cup sugar. Cook over medium heat until softened about 30-40 minutes.  Then cool, etc. If you would like a smoother filling puree the filling mixture until desired consistency.

*** My friends Terry, Glenna, and Claire told me about a recipe that our other friend Donna had made with figs. I didn’t have time to make it but thought it was pretty cool idea. They all said it was delicious!

-Enjoy! V

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ground Cherries

Ever heard of them? I hadn’t until I was at my local farmer’s market and one of the farmers had me try one. Now if you know me at all you know that I like little things, well let me be clear, things like miniature pot belly pigs, humming birds, baby beets, and pigmy varieties of food products. Why? Because they are cute and I am a girl and I like cute things. Ground cherries look like tiny, golden tomatillos on the outside wrapped in their papery husk and yellow cranberries when you pop them open. They taste like pineapple-y, citrus-y, figgy, snappy little treasures. I was so excited about these cool little things and asked everyone I know if they had ever heard of them, no one. Even cooler! I did a little research and found out that they are a part of the Nightshade family, and the genus: Physalis to which the tomatillo also belongs, are sometimes called Cape Gooseberries (although I think that these are something different), are native to the Americas and good in desserts, jams, jellies, or raw in salads or in salsas.  So I made a syrup, although they are labor intensive the work is worth it…would be good on ice cream or a biscuit or some good stinky cheese! If you see these things get some and let me know what you do with them!!!

Ground Cherry Syrup:
Makes about: a cup of syrup

2 cups ground cherries, husks removed
½ cup natural cane sugar
½ cup water
½ vanilla bean, scraped

            In a food processor, pulse the ground cherries 10-15 times. Place in a saucepan along with all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the mixture will coat the back of a spoon, at least 18-20 minutes but times will vary.  Careful not to reduce it too much, it will thicken up more when it cools, otherwise you will end up with candy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nice Melons

My husband every year talks about wanting to go to the Watermelon festival in Cordele, GA (which happens in late June and has been going on for over 60 years!) because he is going to win the Watermelon Seed Spitting contest that they hold. Every year we forget about it and miss it, but I am going to make an effort from this day forward to help get my husband there. I will assist in the training; I will escort him there and cheer him on. I want to see this!
The watermelon originated in the southern Africa and has now spread worldwide. It is related to other plants such as cantaloupe, squash and pumpkins. It comes in all shades of pink and red and there are even orange and yellow varieties. All parts of the melon are edible. The flesh, the seeds and the rind!
I also know that whenever I buy a watermelon no matter how small it is it is always too much for us unless we are having a party. I have come up with some ideas for using up that extra melon when you just can’t finish it all.

Melon Sorbet - Serves: 6-8 
 2 pounds melon, cubed
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup natural cane sugar 
(this amount will vary depending on sweetness of your melon, start with less because you can always add more but you can’t take it back!)
Pinch of salt

Process the melon in a food processor until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until combined. Refrigerate the mixture until it reaches as close to 40°F as you can stand waiting then churn in an ice cream machine per the instructions. Don’t own one? Make a Granita! Pour mixture in a shallow casserole dish and place in the freezer. Check on it after at 30 minutes then every 30 minutes for about 1½ hours to scrape the frozen surface with a fork to create crystals. Repeat until it is nice and fluffy.  Keep frozen. To serve, allow to thaw slightly at room temperature then using a scoop scrape out desired amount.

Watermelon Feta Salad: Serves: 4  
 4 cups cubed watermelon
4 ounces feta, crumbled
Fresh basil leaves
Good extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper

Toss together watermelon and feta. To serve, top with basil leaves, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fresh ground black pepper.

Watermelon Drink - Serves 1  
Leftover watermelon
Soda water
Lime wedges
Mint or basil
Agave nectar (optional)

Puree the watermelon in a food processor and freeze solid in ice cube trays. To serve pour vodka over a few cubes of watermelon puree. Fill with soda water and garnish with lime and herb. You can add some agave nectar if your melon isn’t that sweet.  Or rim the glass with sugar.

Enjoy those melons responsibly!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Love Apples/A.K.A. Tomatoes:

It is tomato time!!!! I remember as a kid my mom giving us sliced tomatoes with mayo and salt and pepper as a snack. Or tomato mayo sandwiches in our lunch. Doesn’t get any better then that. Since she grew up on a farm and my grandmother still has a garden that produces some of the most delicious tomatoes you ever ate, my mom appreciated seeking out good tomatoes. During the summer they were served at almost every meal, just sliced. 
Oh the wonderful tomato, Art: Andy Warhol Campbell’s Tomato Soup Can, Movies: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, festivals all over the world including the Tomatina (tomato throwing fight in Valencia, Spain), and countless dishes from condiment to dessert. There is a national Tomato Day: June 1st and National Tomato Month in October. What can’t you do with this fruit/vegetable?
Originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 A.D. this beautiful food made its way across the Atlantic in the 14th century with Spanish explorers. Once it got to Europe it had to shake its bad rap of being in the nightshade family and being related to the Deadly Nightshade and finally made it’s appearance on European tables in the mid-15th century. Today, tomatoes are grown and eaten worldwide.
What is an heirloom tomato anyway? An heirloom variety is defined by the following; an open pollinated seed (meaning they are pollinated by the birds and the bees not scientists), non-hybrid cultivar as well as they must be at least 40-50 years old (time lines conflict!) Heirloom varieties are essential because they maintain diversity, this is important because with depletion of plant diversity we put ourselves at risk to plant epidemics and devastating pest infestations.
Nutritionally they are low in fat and calories but high in dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and of course the super phytochemical lycopene (organic ones contain 3x as much as conventional ones!).
So, as they say “an apple a day…” Eat your tomatoes! Here are some ideas on what to do with this summer’s love apples:

Summer Bounty Ketchup:
Makes about 1 ½ cups

1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon, or 1 whole stick
1 bay leaf
1 star anise pod
6-8 whole all spice berries
4 whole cloves
2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar
¼ cup cane sugar
1 tablespoon molasses

In a food processor pulse the onion and garlic until finely chopped. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. In the same food processor, puree the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with all the spices (the vinegar through salt go in later).  Cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add 2 tablespoons of the vinegar, sweeteners, and some salt and cook for another 20-30 minutes, or until thickened. Taste again for seasoning and add more vinegar or salt if desired. Pass through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool before storing in the fridge for a few weeks.

Note: The spices in this recipe are all suggestions. You can truly do anything here. Leave some of them out, make it spicy with some cayenne or chili flake. Make it smoky with some smoked paprika. Make it a curry ketchup by adding some curry powder. Use different color tomatoes. I made one with red tomatoes with all the ingredients above but also did a yellow tomato one using ¼ cup honey instead of sugar and molasses and no paprika. Next: green tomatoes. The elusive Green Zebra has escaped me but I might try a green (unripe) tomato ketchup…

ODT (Oven Dried Tomatoes)
Makes about 1-2 cups tomatoes

1-2 pounds tomatoes cut in half, or ¾ inch slices
Olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper
2- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Heat an oven to 300°F. Place the tomato pieces on a rack set inside a sheet pan.  Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and then sprinkle each piece with garlic and thyme. Dry in oven for 2-2 ½ hours until collapsed and tender (times will vary depending on variety of tomato).  Remove from the oven and allow to cool before storing in a jar and completely covered with olive oil. Store in the fridge.

 Quick Tomato Sauce:
Makes about 5 cups

2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, or 3 ½ pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or1 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Process the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan along with olive oil, garlic, and oregano; season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 20 minutes.