Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bacon-Wrapped Figs Stuffed with Blue Cheese

I work with one of those amazing black women. She isn't Madea, she's Miss Joanne. I love her side glances and belly laughs more than anyone else at work. I love how she has all the gossip because everyone goes to Joanne to bitch and moan. Now I like to think she took a special liking to me after I started bringing cake to work from time to time. And so when I found out she had a fig tree, I offered a trade. I bring her my famous red velvet cake for as many figs as she could give.

Until recently, I never realized figs were so popular with the chef types. In almost every cookbook, there seems to be a recipe that takes the fig to upscale status. That's leaps and bounds above me eating it off the tree in my great grandma's backyard. Figs are one of those fruits that a lot of people have never seen, because I don't think they travel very well. Most mainstream cookbooks utilize dried figs or black mission figs.

After stuffing several fresh figs down my throat, I decided I might try to make something with figs. I had the cookbook Everything Cook for Two loaned from another library. I had just tried a recipe for corn soup which turned out to be a lot like creamed corn. Good, but not what I was wanting. So I figured Bacon Wrapped Figs Stuffed with Blue Cheese was pretty straightforward and wouldn't disappoint me like the soup. I made it as a snack for us one night when neither of us were hungry for dinner. It was so good, I made it again a few days later as an appetizer for dinner.

I used green figs from Miss Joanne's tree.

I kind of like the way they spill their blue cheese guts.

Romance apparently means figs, wine, and puzzles?

Bacon-Wrapped Figs Stuffed with Blue Cheese
(Serves 2)

8 strips bacon
About 8 teaspoons blue cheese
8 ripe green or black figs, trimmed
2 cups baby greens

1. Preheat oven 475F.

2. Bring a small pan of water (about 2 cups) to a boil and blanch the bacon for 2 minutes. (This will eliminate some of the fat and precook the bacon very slightly.) Remove the bacon and place on paper towels to drain.

3. Take about 1 teaspoon of blue cheese and roll into a small cylinder. Insert it in the bottom of one of the figs. (Depending on the ripeness of the fig, you may have to make a small incision in the bottom, but a very ripe fig if soft enough to allow penetration.) Wrap a strip of bacon around the fig and secure it with a tooth pick. Repeat with the remaining figs.

4. Place the wrapped figs in an ovenproof dish. Roast for about 8 minutes or until the bacon begins to crisp and some cheese oozes out. Let cool for 1 minute before serving. Arrange a small pile of greens in the center of each serving plate and top with the hot figs. Any juices and cheese that ooze out will act as a dressing for the greens.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meatless Monday | Fresh Corn Risotto

Y'all, I have never made a risotto in my life. I only use my slow cooker to make the occasional batch of bean burrito filling or homemade yogurt. Both are pretty awesome, but aren't what I would classify as cooking. The only thing I associate with slow cooking is pot roast with the usual potatoes, carrots, and onions. I ate that more times than I care to remember as a child. So my slow cooker lives on the bottom shelf under my counter where it waits oh so patiently to be used.

I came across a cool little cookbook called Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker: Recipes for Two and as always it took some patiencs to find something that utilized fresh produce, but I found a few. Fresh Corn Risotto was actually at the bottom of my list to try. But I found myself with a lot of corn from my box, and I had already made two batches of Corn and Bacon Chowder. So I went and shelled out $8 for Arborio Rice and made it. It turns out, that cover of the book is actually this recipe. That should have been my tip off.

DELICIOUS! Mine was even a little overcooked and it was still tasty. All you have to do it saute the rice with onion, dump it in your slow cooker, pour broth over it and let it cook. Then you add the other ingredients at varying times. I did have some complications with the cooking times. I added the corn after an hour and a 1/2 like it said. For my slow cooker, I should have added it in after an hour and let it finish cooking for 30 minutes. I might even experiment with putting it on low for the last hour too. My rice was mushy... but it didn't stop either of us from chowing down.

I wasn't really sure if the book intended it to be a meal or a side. I assumed side and served it with some grilled chicken (obviously not served on Monday - oh the magic of blogging). We had some left over, which Dennis ate for lunch later (sans meat). In the future, it may just be an entree in its self. I might just add some shrimp on top next time. But even as an entree this serves up hefty portions. It would be perfect as a side for 3-4 people as well.

Fresh Corn Risotto
Serves Two (as an entree)

Cooker: 1 ½ quart
Setting and Cook Time: High for 2 to 2 ½ hours; corn added after 1 ½ hours.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
3 cups chicken or light vegetable broth
2 ears yellow or white corn, shucked and kernels cut off
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or aged Asiago cheese, plus more for serving.
1 plum tomato (optional), seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

1. In a small saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the shallot and rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until the rice turns chalky and is coasted with the butter. Scrape into the slow cooker with a heatproof rubber spatula. Add the broth.

2. Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 ½ hours. Stir in the corn and re-cover quickly. Cook for another 30 minutes to 1 hour.

3. The risotto should be only a bit liquidy, and the rice should be al dente, tender with just a touch of tooth resistance. Add the butter and season with the salt and pepper. Cover and wait a minute for the butter soften. Stir in the cheese, the tomato, if using, and the basil. Serve immediately, passing additional cheese for sprinkling.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Food Waste Friday | Week Three

So.... last week I didn't really feel like blogging. Somehow posting pictures of my wasted food couldn't pry me off my couch. There was waste last week, you just didn't see it. But fortunately I don't have anything more to add this week. So the picture from last week will be sufficient.

Wasted: Leftover cucumber salad, half a can of crushed pineapple, and some very stale bread. Over at Fridge de Dennis there was some slaw that no longer looked anything like slaw. It didn't even have the decency to turn into sauerkraut for my hot dogs.

Thanks to Kristen at The Frugal Girl for helping me reduce my waste by being mindful of what is in my frdige.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fall Gardening

I don't have a yard. I just keep talking about gardening anyways. It's really a cruel thing to do yourself. But this Saturday Dennis and I attended a great workshop at Jones Valley Urban Farm. Edwin Marty did a great job condensing a lot of information into a little under two hours. Dennis took a lot more notes than I did (more organized too).

To sum it up even further, if you want to grow some fall vegetables (beets, turnips, greens, winter squash) then you need to start your seeds now. August 15 is apparently the deadline to get some (not all) veg into the ground. I am not sure that Dennis and I will plant this year, but it was a great workshop. I may just try to make some really great compost for a year and start next year. Edwin said that fall is perfect for beginning gardeners because you don't to compete as much with pests and disease.

We're looking for a space... hopefully we can find something soon! If not, we may attempt some container stuff. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Meatless Monday | Eggplant Parmesan

Ugh, this post started as a background story on how I came to eat the way I do now. But it was turning into a memoir, and I would like to keep some of my life a mystery. Basically, over the last few years I have realized the importance of eating fresh vegetables and high quality ingredients. I am not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a lot of meat. I do not believe meat is evil, I believe the modern meat industry is. I read a great article on Civil Eats about this topic, please read it here. The author explains Meatless Monday campaign in a way that makes sense. It's not just PETA protesters throwing paint on hummers, it's also people who want quality nutritious meat that doesn't have huge environmental impacts. She also points out, if you eat less meat on an every day/every meal basis - then you can afford to buy the better quality. She has definitely inspired me to really step up the quality of my meat.

So every Monday I will post a new meatless recipe. Today's recipe is a very in season and yummy classic, Eggplant Parmesan. I got it from the William-Sanoma cookbook Cooking for Yourself. It's not the deep fried version that grandma makes, but something a little more waistline friendly. Don't worry... there is cheese on it! And there is a very cool homemade tomato sauce with it (perfect for the bountiful crops here in Alabama). I made this last week while Dennis was out of town. One of my friends from college came over and ate with me. We caught up, ate, and drank wine. It was good times.

It's pretty easy to make. Takes about an hour from start to finish. The recipe claims to serve one, but I think my eggplants may have been bigger than what the writers intended. They probably purchased the cookie cutter produce from some upscale market. Mine came from a local farm through my Grow Alabama box. Maybe if I ate only the casserole, it could have passed as a single serving. But I actually got about 3 servings out of it. If Dennis had been there, it would have been a solid two. He is bummed he missed out and I've promised to make it the next time I get eggplant. This time last year I got eggplant on a regular basis until about September.

The recipe calls for grated Roma tomatoes. I did not use Roma, I used whatever the tomato was in my box. And I put mine through the food processor. Easy peasy. I did add a pinch of chili flakes to my sauce and one extra clove of garlic, but that was it. At first, I didn't think there would be enough sauce, but it was just the right amount. For kicks, I added the left over breadcrumbs from the Spaghetti with Fried Eggs recipe. This recipe instantly earned it's spot in my soon to be made binder.

I served it with whole wheat pasta and a cucumber salad.

The ingredients, tres simple.
Testing out my new cast iron griddle pan.

Making the sauce.

Fresh out of the oven.

Eggplant Parmesan
(Serves 1-2)

2 Asian Eggplants, 6-8 oz total weight
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup grated plum (Roma) tomatoes
4 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2/3 cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat a broiler (griller).

2. Trim ends off the eggplants, then cut lengthwise into slices ¼ inch thick. Using the 1 tablespoon olive oil, lightly brush both sides of the eggplant slices and arrange on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Slip under the broiler and broil (grill) until lightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Turn and broil until lightly browned on the second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer the slices to paper towels to drain.

3. Preheat an oven to 375F.

4. In a small frying pan over medium heat, warm the 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute to release its fragrance. Add the tomato and basil and season with salt and pepper. Simmer briskly, stirring often, until the mixture forms a sauce, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5. Choose a baking dish just large enough to hold the eggplant in 2 layers. Arrange half of the eggplant in the baking dish, then spread with half of the tomato sauce. Top with half of the mozzarella. Repeat the layers, then top with the Parmesan cheese.

6. Bake until bubbling hot and the cheese is nicely browned, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before eating.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Food Waste Friday | Week Two

So today's episode of Food Waste was brought to you by mere accidents. For example, Tuesday morning I wake up and see half a package of opened cream cheese on the floor. It must have fallen out of the door when I was putting things away and I just didn't notice it.

I currently work at a restaurant which gives me great free food perks. For example, I get to take the hummus when it has "gone bad" according to store policy. However, it is usually good for at least another week. I have had so many cucumbers lately, that hummus really helps use them up. However, I noticed the other day the top of it was bulging (from the gas it emits, I guess?). So it is no more. Compost it becomes!

There is also a scoop of slaw that I put aside on the coffee table while I ate something else. I totally forgot about it, and woke up to find the wilted salad. No picture, it just went straight to the trash.

The orange juice is not mine. It really should have been in last weeks post, but I completely over looked it because it's not my property. My lovely roommate purchased it back in May (yeah.... gross) and didn't finish it before leaving for Fiji.

P.S. If you use Juicy Rewards, I'll totally give the code to whoever asks about it first in the comment section. I'm just a coke points girl here. We won't discuss my Diet Coke addiction just yet, it ain't a pretty picture.

Thanks to Kristen at The Frugal Girl for turning me on to this love... I mean... grossly adventure.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Spaghetti with Fried Eggs

PBS has this amazing channel that is an amalgamation of DIY, HGTV, Travel Channel, and Food Network. It's called Create. Since I don't have cable, I find myself going back to commercial free goodness of PBS. Sure, some of the food shows don't have anyone screaming "Bam!" or my girl Giada pushing her boobs together while she bites into Nutella covered fruit, but the programming is quality.

One of my favorite PBS programs is America's Test Kitchen. Each episode is dedicated to a single dish or theme, where they have worked and tested to create the "perfect" recipe. I especially love the bow-tie guy who has to blindly test things like jarred salsa and boxed brownies and pick one he likes best (he usually just picks the one he hates the least). So I was quite excited when I found a cookbook they had written specifically for two (thank you JCLC!). This particular recipe is from "Cooking for Two, 2009" (yes, there is a 2010.... I can only hope there is a 2011!)

Well gang, Dennis is out of town for a few days. So I am back to cooking for one till he returns. I had a fridge full of veggies, but it was getting late and I was hungry. For whatever reason, I decided to just make a very simple pantry meal that I discovered in this book, Spaghetti with Fried Eggs. I was a little weirded out by the thought... but after reading the ingredients list I realized I had everything in my pantry. Score! My tummy was doing the thinking.

Okay, so this is a snap to put together. I took photos of the process, but it's rather boring. You basically toast up some bread crumbs, infuse olive oil with garlic and chili flakes, cook pasta, and fry some eggs... and you are done. This recipe could have easily been halved for one, but I wanted the left overs for breakfast tomorrow. Be warned, the recipe is kind of long winded. But it tells you what to do exactly, so there is no confusion.

This is kind of carb fest (pasta with a bread sauce?), but I made it a little healthier by using whole what spaghetti and reducing the olive oil a bit. I was kind of shocked by how much I liked it. So if you are reading this and crinkling your nose... STOP! Give it a whirl the next time you find absolutely nothing in your fridge.

Infusing olive oil, very low heat!

Toasted bread crumbs? Check!

Fried eggs, before I put the lid on to cook the top.

The main event with sliced tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar.

Spaghetti with Fried Eggs
(Serves Two)

2 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters.
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 pound spaghetti
1/2 grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
2 large eggs, cracked into a small bowl

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Pulse the bread in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pules. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the oil, pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Spread the crumbs out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and dry, about 25 minutes.

2. Cook 2 tablespoons more oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until the garlic foams and is sticky and straw colored, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the garlic mixture to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe out the skillet with a wad of paper towels and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, and cook, stirring often, until al dente. A minute or two before draining the pasta, return the skillet to low heat for 5 minutes (for the eggs). Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

4. Stir 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water, garlic mixture, and 2 tablespoons more oil, the cheese, and 1/4 teaspoon salt into the pasta. Cover and set aside to keep warm while cooking eggs.

5. When the skillet is hot, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat the pan. Quickly add the eggs to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover the eggs and remove from heat.

6. Loosen the pasta with the remaining reserved cooking water as desired, then divide it between two individual serving bowls. Sprinkle each serving with the bread crumbs. Carefully slide the 1 fried egg on top of the pasta in each bowl and serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.