Sunday, August 28, 2011

Flooded with Figs

The little fig tree in our garden is loaded with maturing fruit. Any day now we're gonna have more ripe figs than we know what to do with. There are way too many for just two people to eat, so I fixed some to share with you, dear reader.

They're stuffed with Brie, wrapped with prosciutto, grilled, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and honey. Enjoy!

Though figs certainly mean summertime, it's already fall in my head. That's because registration for fall Clark College classes just opened. I hope you can join me in the kitchen for Make Fresh Pasta at Home!, Love in a Bowl: Delectable Soups, Pâte à Choux: Easy & Heavenly, and Quick Breads: Muffins & Scones. And would you believe I've already submitted class proposals for the winter quarter?! Such is the life of cooking instructors and recipe developers—we're always thinking a couple of seasons ahead.

Grilled Figs with Brie & Prosciutto
Printable Recipe

8 figs
1 ounce Brie, cut into 8 equal pieces
4 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey, preferably orange blossom honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, preferably Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

Heat the grill to high. Cut a deep slit into the stem end of each fig, almost but not quite cutting them in half lengthwise. Stuff each one with a piece of the Brie. Wrap a piece of the prosciutto around each fig. Thread the figs onto skewers and drizzle with the olive oil. Add the skewers to the grill and cook without disturbing for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they release from the grate and the prosciutto is crusty and brown. Using tongs, turn the skewers and continue to cook over high heat another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the Brie is melted. Drizzle the figs with the honey and balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.

Makes 8 hors d'oeuvres, serving 4. Choose figs that are ripe but not too soft for this recipe. Vary the dish by using blue cheese or goat cheese (any variety from fresh chèvre to aged Le Chevrot to the Brie-like Florette) in place of the Brie.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Big Salad for Dinner

It's that time of year when what you want for dinner is a big salad. The farmers market is bursting with lovely yellow and green beans, tender lettuces, sweet tomatoes, and earthy potatoes. Put that all together and a big salad is exactly what you get.

Tuna Salad Niçoise*
Printable Recipe

12 ounces fingerling potatoes
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme
½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 7.8-ounce jar canned oil-packed tuna
Freshly ground black pepper
2 hard-cooked eggs
4 ounces haricot vert, trimmed and blanched
6 ounces cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 ounces mesclun greens
¼ cup Niçoise or Kalamata olives

Place the potatoes in a medium pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a plate. Let rest for about 15 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle.

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, shallot, mustard, thyme, rosemary, and parsley in a medium bowl. Continue whisking while adding the oil in a thin stream. Drain the tuna and whisk the oil from the tuna into the vinaigrette. Season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper. Cut the potatoes into quarters when they are cool enough to handle and toss with enough vinaigrette to coat in a medium bowl.

Cut the eggs into sixths and flake the tuna. In separate bowls, toss the haricot vert, tomatoes, and greens with enough vinaigrette to coat.

Mound the greens on a platter. Arrange the potatoes, haricot vert, tomatoes, eggs, olives, and tuna decoratively atop the greens. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a main course. This composed salad hails from sunny Nice in the South of France. The flavor depends largely on the quality of the tuna, so splurge on the best you can afford. Personally, I like Ortiz Bonito del Norte. Any yellow-fleshed potatoes may be used. Haricot vert, which are French green beans, are very slender and more tender than other varieties. They are often available at gourmet grocers and farmers markets. If you cannot find them, use the smallest green beans you can find. You can also use a combination of green and yellow wax beans.

*For a related Seared Tuna Salad Niçoise recipe and everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer Baking

While the rest of the country has been suffering through what seems to be the hottest summer ever, temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest have been unseasonably cold. I don't mean to rub this in for those of you who live in the inferno area, but we haven't had a single 90-degree day yet. Would you believe today I actually donned a fleece jacket? All this is to say that I don't mind turning the oven on when I feel like baking with summer berries.

Blueberry Cobbler with Lemon-Crème Fraîche Biscuit Topping
Printable Recipe

Unsalted butter, for greasing the baking dishes
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
6 ounces crème fraîche
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ¼ pounds blueberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Butter 4 individual baking dishes. Whisk together the flour, ¼ cup of the sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Blend together the crème fraîche and cream in a small bowl, add to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined.

Combine the blueberries, remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice in a large bowl and toss to coat. Divide the blueberry mixture among the baking dishes. Divide the dough among the baking dishes, dropping it by the tablespoonful onto the blueberries. Sprinkle the cobblers with the Turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling around the edges. Let cool slightly and serve.

Makes 4 individual cobblers. Blueberry and lemon is a flavor combination made in heaven. Huckleberries may be substituted for the blueberries. Perfect with vanilla or lemon ice cream.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Really Needed That

It's the height of summer. Time to play outside, fun in the sun. Time for bright smiles, laughter, and lots of sunscreen. It's just that I haven't been feeling any of it. I didn't plan on talking about it here because this is supposed to be my happy place, but it's been hanging over me like a cloud and I can't seem to think about anything else—I was laid off from my day job three weeks ago. It makes me want to retreat inside and close all the blinds. It makes me worry and fret. It makes me feel guilty and inadequate and fills me with self-doubt, like so many others in the same situation right now. It makes me want to hide.

And I have been hiding.

Until the cherries beckoned. They ripened a month later than usual, but they were ready just when I needed them. So my ever-supportive husband packed me up in the car, and we drove into the Gorge for a day of bike riding and cherry picking.

I really needed that. The fresh air and exercise did me good. The big hug from the owner of the cherry orchard did me even better.

We had a picnic lunch in her garden surrounded by the most beautiful scenery.

By the time we started filling our baskets and bellies with cherries, I was feeling—dare I say—joyous again. The festive atmosphere from the hundreds of glittering streamers, hung on the trees to ward off the birds, helped cheer me up.

As did watching the silly goats munch on their share of the cherries.

Sometimes we all need a reminder of how sweet life is. Mine happened to come in the form of twenty-five pounds of ripe cherries.

That one day in the countryside was like a much-needed vacation. It's still tough some days and hard to find reasons to be hopeful. But one smile at a time. My creativity and inspiration are slowly coming back to me and so is my desire to get in the kitchen and cook. I think it's time to look for the next opportunity. Wish me luck—I'll be needing it.

Cheery Cherry Ice Cream
Printable Recipe

12 ounces cherries, pitted and quartered
1 cup sugar
2 ½ cups milk
6 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon Kirsch
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Combine the cherries and ¼ cup of the sugar in a small pot and let macerate, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until soft and juicy. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until tender. Chill over an ice bath until ice-cold.

Meanwhile, bring the milk to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Whisk together the yolks and remaining ¾ cup of sugar in a large bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot milk in a thin stream. Place the bowl with the yolk mixture over a medium pan of simmering water, and heat, whisking constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Immediately strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl and whisk in the cream, Kirsch, and almond extract. Chill over an ice bath until ice-cold. Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. With the motor running, add the cherry mixture in a thin stream. Transfer to a container and freeze for 4 to 6 hours before serving.

Makes about 2 quarts. If your ice cream maker doesn't have an opening for adding mix-ins, transfer 1/3 of the ice cream to a container, drizzle with ½ of the cherry mixture, and repeat layering with the remaining ice cream and cherries. For the best texture, enjoy within a day or two of churning.
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