Friday, April 23, 2010

Fig "Pop-Tarts"


Do you want to know something crazy? When I was little, I didn't know that figs were a kind of fruit. For some reason, I thought the "fig" in Fig Newton was part of a proper or brand name like Isaac Newton. I seriously thought that the stuff inside a Fig Newton was some kind of processed jam composite that Nabisco had invented. I should note that when I was five, I also thought that Han Solo was Luke Skywalker's father, so I guess I wasn't always big on details.

Now that I have discovered the fabulousness that is figs, I am catching up with a vengeance. Figs are such a gift to the kitchen (and the cook). They are so versatile. Figs can go sweet or savory at the cook's whim. My favorite way to eat them is combined with salty or tangy flavors and watch the wave of taste sensations ensue. For example, they make a great late night study-break snack. Cut some dried figs in half, put a crumble of blue cheese on top and lightly warm the fig halves in the toaster oven (or zap in the microwave). Pop them into your mouth while they are warm. This little snack also makes a good hors d'oeuvre, if you can stand to share them.

For this adventure, I decided to try for the sweet, rather than savory. These tarts are my first attempt at cooking with figs in a straight up desserty way. The tarts came out wonderfully; they were flaky and buttery, with scrumptious, gooey fig centers. The recipe itself is pretty easy. (Note to self: I still need to work on rolling out and transferring dough). You can use whatever kind of preserves or thick jam you like, as long as it has some chunks to it. If you're planning to bring these tarts anywhere, be sure to note that the dough needs to chill and the prepared tarts need to freeze before baking.

Fig "Pop-Tarts"
(Adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe)

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, plus additional for shaping and rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons ice water
8-12 tablespoons fig jam
powdered sugar

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter. Mix in butter until the ingreditents resemble coarse crumbs. I find using my fingers works best. Add ice water a couple of tablespoons as at time, mixing until moist clumps form. Divide the dough in half, shaping each half into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour.

Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough. The original recipe recommends 13x11-inches, but I am not that good at rolling out dough. As long as you can divide your dough evenly into same-sized rectangles, you should be fine. I rolled each disk out to about six rectangles, about 9x8-inches.

Arrange 3 rectangles on each sheet. Spoon 1 or 2 tablespoons of preserves or jam down the center of each triangle. Top with another dough rectangle. Using a fork press down all the edges of each tart to seal (and make look pretty). Using a fork, poke a few holes in the center of the tart. Repeat with the second disk of dough. Freeze tarts for at least 2 hours before baking.

Position oven racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake frozen tarts for 25-30 minutes, reversing baking sheets after 15 minutes. Remove tarts form sheets and cool on a cooling rack. Put a kitchen towel or paper towels under rack, optional, but helpful for clean up. Sift powdered sugar over tarts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Carrot and Cumin Soup

Carrots, so obviously awesome, so often overlooked. I used to eat carrots like they were going out of style. I'm not really sure why I stopped. I think somewhere along the line they stopped being a super flavorful afternoon treat and became "diet food." And baby carrots. Everyone got so exited about baby carrots; buying the big bags just wasn't "in" anymore. At least, that is how it went down in my head. Recently, I've begun to remember how much I love this veggie. Carrots have so much going on, how could you not throw them in everything? They are good raw, as a side dish, in stir-fry or salad; how could I forget about them? Last month I tossed them in my shepherd's pie, so this month I pureed them in this quick, but flavorful soup. (Special shout-out to Boyfriend for the immersion blender Christmas present).

Carrot and Cumin Soup
Adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe

1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2" dice
1 large yellow onion
2 tbsp butter
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp allspice (or more to taste)
1 small container plain yogurt

1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Saute onions for about 2 minutes, just until they begin to soften. Add carrots and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

2. Remove soup from heat. Puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor, until smooth. Return to pan and whisk in cumin, honey, lemon juice and allspice. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Ladle into bowls and add a dollop (or a generous tablespoon) of yogurt to each bowl. Sprinkle lightly with cumin and serve.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Mustard by Any Other Name

The Wicked Cranberry origin story #1.

I really like condiments: Mustards, hot sauces, A1, malt vinegar, Worceshire. You name it, I like it on something. I have been known, once, in a moment of extreme desperation, to put Grey Poupon on a Swedish Fish. (It was a rash and bold move, but not as much of a poor choice as one might think).

When I was little, I put ketchup on everything: turkey, rice and macaroni and cheese. In some circles I was known as the Ketchup Kid. I have since learned that putting ketchup on turkey is wicked gross. In high school, I took a big step and tried mixing up balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard for a delicious, if pungent salad dressing. In college, I carried bottles of Cholula and Worceshshire sauces in my knapsack to dress up the dining hall food. (Man, did I get funny looks pulling them out of my pack). And now, at any given time, there are about eight (yup, 8!) different kinds of mustard in my fridge. (Can you find all five in the picture?) One for hot dogs, one for burgers, one for sandwiches, several for sausages, and that doesn't include the miniature sample packs I've acquired over the last year (read: pretzel dippers). Whateva, I do what I want.

There was a big day in my life a few years ago, a day that knocked poor Ketchup down a peg or two or six. I met Brown Sauce. Malt Vinegar and I had a brief and tangy affair when I went to London for two weeks in high school. Brown sauce was there, like a dutiful wingman, present, but silent, but I only had eyes for vinegar. Then, when I moved to DC, I ran into Brown Sauce at a Irish bar in Alexandria and spent the whole night catching up over some shepherd's pie. I was smitten.

Thses early flavoring experiments and mistakes, we're like my first baby steps towards manipulating flavors and really cooking. For instance, I don't like Frank's Red Hot on pepperoni pizza, but if I mix one part Red Hot and two parts Worcestershire sauce, it an amazing pizza/bread stick dipper. And tuna fish always tastes better with a little dijon mustard thrown in. And if you wanna get a little weird, Wheat Thins taste really good dipped in cocktail sauce. Snackerrific!

These days, I've outgrown most of my craziest experiments, (I do put brown sauce on my Annie's shells and cheese, which Boyfriend tells me is gross), but sometimes I totally feel like Jennifer Connelly in the final scene of Labyrinth, when she is looking all sad and lonely, putting away her childish things, and all of a sudden Ludo is in the mirror, and Hoggle is all: "Should you need us." And it is comforting to know that I can still rely on my sauces on those days when I just can't face cooking anything particularly complicated. On those days, I just wanna open up my fridge and say, "every now and again in my life, for no reason at all, I need you. I need all of you." Then it's a party.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Did a Bad Thing: The Infamous Double Down

Oh my good god, what have I done to myself? I wish I had some means to recommend myself to your sympathies, but the honest truth is that I have been a lazy, grump-a-lump, this month and have no blog posts to show for it. Perhaps this evening's gastronomical adventure was a subconscious attempt at foodie flagellation. I have the sinking sensation that some where, some foodie collective will soon be voting to revoke my membership. Or maybe that feeling is just my stomach. All I can say is that I am sorry, so sorry.

In case you don't know, today, KFC released its newest menu addition, the Double Down sandwich. The Double Down is made up of 2 slices of bacon, 2 slices of cheese and Colonel's sauce stuck between two fried chicken filets. That's right boys and girls, no bun. Apparently, there is just too much fried goodness to accommodate a bun. - Oh, I know. Ew. 

When Boyfriend made the suggestion that we try the "sandwich" a few weeks back, I was sure he was kidding. Little did I know the powerful sway which fried foods hold over his heart (and belly). Witness his unparalleled joy, as he savors the last few bites. ("Homp!") At one point Boyfriend looked at me and said: "This is the first day of the rest of our lives." To which I replied, "Assuming we don't die."

Angry Face

Some of the comments I caught from other Double Down dinners, all of whom were male:

"Awesomeness explosion."

"Dude, what I am about to eat isn't normal." 

"After all that wait, it was totally worth it." 

And Boyfriend's words of wisdom: "When eating a Double Down, always bring a buddy in case of spontaneous heart attack."

Honestly, I have eaten at KFC about four or five times in my life. Being from Massachusetts, what I don't know about the art of frying chicken could probably fill Nats Park. However, if you tend to like the somewhat soggy taste of KFC and deep fried bacon, chances are you'll like this sandwich. All I can say is that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I doused it in some hot sauce and it was fairly edible. So it's got that going for it, which is nice. 

On the drive home Boyfriend summed up the entire experience succinctly when he said: "This situation will call for constant monitoring for the next two hours. I feel fine now, but I could die in two hours.... or throw up in 45 minutes."