Musings on Food and Life

Musings on Food & Life

Food is my passion. I create, read, write, breath, eat, photograph, love and live food. As a chef and culinary instructor, each day is a quest to learn something new about a food ingredient, recipe, history, or fact about all things edible. Three silly dogs share my passion for eating and I'm blessed to be married to my best friend Tracy. Tune in for my thoughts on food, recipes, dogs, travel, music and life.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Fig Tree

Figs are so.....cute. Up the street is a large fig tree and since the property owners don't eat figs, they welcome the neighbors to pick what they want. Perhaps figs aren't glamorous or trendy but in my book they are divine. Just biting into a perfectly ripe green fig fresh from the tree is heaven in my mouth. The shelf life is very short so when I go to pick the figs, it's imperative to have a plan of what to make when they hit my kitchen. Some of my favorite ideas are cheese-stuffed figs (grilled, wrapped with prosciutto, and so on), jam, chutney, ice cream, salad topping or dressing, ice cream, cookies, or tarts. One of my Texas chef friends drizzles some homemade caramel sauce over and bakes them in the oven. Ummmmmm. She can make those for me anytime! If only she didn't live in Houston.

Today's fig fest led to fig chutney which I use as a sandwhich spread, side condiment for pork or chicken, on crostini with blue cheese or goat cheese on top with perhaps a few toasted hazelnuts. Chutney was the perfect addition to our teriyaki chicken kabobs for dinner. If the fig tree has ripe figs through this week, a baked fig dessert will likely be on my menu. For the pastry affecionado, an absolutely fabulous dessert book is authored by Claudia Fleming called The Last Course, The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. Her recipes are both elegant and beautiful, and I think her cornmeal fig tart might just be calling. Since Tracy is an ice cream fiend, making fig ice cream is a must. Try this tempting recipe - we'll be enjoying next weekend!

Fresh Fig Ice Cream
(adapted from David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop)

2 pounds fresh figs
1/2 cup water
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Remove the stems from the figs and then cut each into 8 pieces (for small green figs, cut in 4 pieces). Place figs in a non-reactive medium saucepan wiht the water and lemon zest. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until figs are tender.

Add the sugar and continue to cook uncovered on medium-low heat until it reaches jam-like consistency, about 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Stir in the cream and lemon juice and then cover and chill in the fridge. Churn in your favorite ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Farmer's Market Bounty

The local Farmer's Markets are amazing this time of year. I buy a CSA bag every other week (CSA stands for community supported agriculture) at the Dunwoody Green Market and this week was the best haul yet - okra, blueberries, squash, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Combine that with fresh muffins, San Marzano and cherry tomatoes, feta salad dressing (one vendor makes it - yum!), Heritage chicken, and a small watermelon, I'd say that was a good morning's work! Picked some figs from a neighbor's huge fig tree on the way home until the mosquitoes made me quit. (Will be up there later after an application of bug repellent!)

From this bounty, some of the things on my personal menu this week will include Okra Pancakes, Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella Salad with Basil, Blueberry Muffins, Fig Chutney (and maybe a fig tart!), Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary, and perhaps Watermelon Margaritas. Many folks don't like okra, proclaiming it to be too slimy and tasteless. With the right preparation, okra is a delight in the mouth. Who could resist fresh fried okra? Last Saturday at Horseradish Grill near Chastain Park in Atlanta, we feasted on tempura-fried whole okra with a sweet hot chile sauce (had to be some Siracha in there somewhere!) and it was divine. Here's one of my favorite okra recipes from Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis.

Okra Pancakes

1/2 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion
2 cups thinly-sliced okra
Canola, vegetable or grapeseed oil for frying

Place the cornmeal, flour, 1 teaspoon salt and baking powder in a mixing bowl and stir with a whisk to blend. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and water, and then stir into the dry ingredients, mixing only until moistened.

Combine the onion and okra and then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper over them, tossing lightly. Fold vegetables into the batter.

Pour 1 inch of oil into a heavy skillet and heat the oil to 340 F. Spoon the okra batter by heaping tablespoons into the hot oil; avoid crowding the pan. Fry until golden brown on one side and then carefully turn and fry until golden brown on the other side. Remove from the skillet and drain on crumpled paper towels. Serve immediately as a side dish or appetizer. Aioli goes well as a dipping sauce.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

Welcome to my first blog entry! This 90+ degree heat wave of summer is oppressive but we're trying to keep cool by grilling and preparing food that doesn't need a lot of oven time. One of my favorite quick meals is to rub fish with a light coating or spray of olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Add a simple spice rub if you like and then grill or bake until it just begins to flake, about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish and the cooking temperature. A fresh fruit salsa is quite refreshing and creates a happy dance for your taste buds. The colors and flavors of summer also add eye appeal to your dish. This recipe came from a coworker several years ago and it's been a winner ever since.

Watermelon Mango Salsa

1 cup diced fresh mango (chopped small dice, 1/4 inch)
3/4 cup diced fresh seedless watermelon (small dice)
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup diced English cucumber (seeds removed)
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper (seeds removed)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 - 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
kosher salt & fresh-ground pepper, to taste

Prepare by mixing ingredients together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix 1 hour before serving. Serve with baked chicken or fish (tilapia, flounder, snapper).