Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bacon Wrapped and Stilton-Stuffed Fresh Black Mission Figs

Rich. Lush. Decadent. Those are my three words to describe the season's bounty of fresh figs. I've been picking them up at Whole Foods in the last few weeks to make syrups or to eat simply with good cheese and warm slices of  a crisp crusted (gluten free) baguette. 

Fresh figs - as opposed to the dried variety - are a real treat to me. The crunchy seeds and voluptuous soft flesh make me wonder why it was the apple and not figs that brought the downfall of Adam and Eve from Eden. Really, fig leaves became their modest clothing, not apple leaves!

During a delightful evening at the Allegheny Wine Mixer in Lawrenceville with friends a little while back, we were tickled to see on the menu fresh figs stuffed with ricotta, wrapped in bacon and roasted to perfection. (Nice little riff on the typical bacon-wrapped dates on menus all over town, yes?) They were devoured before a single picture could be taken. Sorry about that. And I've been thinking about them ever since. 

Finally, instead of just thinking about them, I got busy in the kitchen and sort of duplicated them...sort of did my own thing...and made my own riff of AWM's riff at home with a precious box of Black Mission figs straight from the store. 

Since figs are so full flavored, I decided to change out the ricotta and stuff them with a cheese that could stand up to them - a nice sharp, almost cheddar-y and tangy Blue Stilton. The bacon part was a keeper, of course, because nobody puts bacon in the corner! (Errrrr...sorry Dirty Dancing.)

To finish off the little lumps of goodness, I glazed them with balsamic vinegar that had been reduced to a syrup - just the right acid to balance out the combo of sweet figs, tangy cheese and smoky bacon. 

The result? Just what I was looking for in an appetizer to accompany a fine Manhattan. Oh, I didn't mention the whole point of this dish was to complement one damned good cocktail? Not to worry, both appetizer and cocktail hit the "rich, lush and decadent" mark perfectly.  

Bacon Wrapped and Stilton-Stuffed 
Fresh Black Mission Figs

  • 1 dozen fresh Black Mission figs, little stems snipped off and a slit sliced into the side of each
  • 12 pieces of Blue Stilton cheese - each the size of the tip of your pinkie finger
  • 6 slices of thin-sliced bacon, cut in half crosswise (12 pieces of bacon for 12 figs, right?)
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar syrup (6 T of balsamic vinegar simmered in a pot on the stovetop until reduced by half)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In each slit in each fig, stuff a piece of Stilton - don't worry about it fitting, the figs give a lot. Wrap a half slice of bacon around each stuffed fig - starting by covering the slit and ending the same way. Place the figs slit side up in a baking dish.

Roast for 15 minutes, spoon a little glaze over each fig - using it all - and return to the oven. Roast another 20 minutes and baste again with the juices and glaze in the dish. Continue baking until the bacon is cooked and "melded" to the figs. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. 

Serves 2...and don't forget the Manhattans!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fresh Corn, Potato, Tomato, Jalapeno and Bacon Chowder

Our weekly CSA box has been bursting with beautiful ears of corn! Just my small share has produced 4-6 ears every week - not a problem, right? Well...not unless you shouldn't be eating things like corn, nuts and seeds.

It's so frustrating to wait all year long for fresh and local corn season to roll around - so fresh that when you press a fingernail into a kernel, juice squirts so high you sometimes get hit straight in the eye - and then not be able to eat any. (You did know the fingernail test is the gold standard test for corn, didn't you? If a corn kernel doesn't squirt when you press a fingernail into it, just step away from the corn, ma'am.)

Having to miss corn season this year had me mentally scrambling for ways to still enjoy the sweet goodness of the season without encountering any of the unfortunate side effects of the whole kernels. Soup. Fresh corn soup. Specifically, fresh corn, potato, tomato and jalapeno chowder with BACON!

What if I cut the kernels off the cob, simmered them long and slow in a rich broth (WITH the kernel-naked cobs to infuse an even corn-ier flavor), then whirred the bejeezus out of them with my stick blender? Would I end up with a big pot of corn flavor without the dreaded whole kernels? 

Ladies and gentlemen, the experiment was a success. No, the resultant chowder base wasn't smooth as silk, but it didn't matter when nice chunks of potato, tomato, onion, jalapeno and bacon studded the chowder making for a good and hearty meal-in-a-bowl.

Gilding the lily, I topped each bowlful with a sprinkle of chopped tomato, diced avocado and crisp bacon pieces. Ahhhh, summer corn goodness!

Fresh Corn, Potato, Tomato, Jalapeno 
and Bacon Chowder

  • 4 slices bacon - thick sliced, cut across into 1/2" lardons - reserve the cooked lardons for garnish
  • 4 ears of fresh corn - cut the kernels from the cobs and transfer to a bowl, then take your knife and scrape the bare cobs over the bowl to capture all the last vestiges of corny goodness
  • 3/4 C red onion, diced 
  • 1/2 stick butter - unsalted
  • 2 large jalapenos, seeds removed, minced
  • 4 large red potatoes, scrubbed and skins left on - diced small - like hash brown size
  • 72 oz. store-bought chicken stock - a good gluten-free one to make this GF
  • 1 T Jane's Crazy Salt
  • 3 large fresh tomatoes, diced small - same as potatoes, reserve the last tomato for garnish
  • 1 avocado, diced - for garnish
  • shredded cheddar - for garnish

Saute bacon until crisp in a heavy bottomed soup pot. Remove and reserve the lardons for garnish. Add corn kernels and onion. Saute until the onion is translucent and then add the chicken stock. Next add the naked corn cobs, bring the soup to a boil and immediately lower to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook until the corn is tender as can be, about an hour. 

When the corn gets to the tender point, remove the cobs, letting as much broth as possible drip back into the pot. Now it's time to get out the stick blender (aka, immersion blender). Whirr the hell out of the kernels until they are all pulverized and return the soup to a simmer. 

While the soup is simmering, melt the butter in a heavy skillet, then add the jalapenos and potatoes. Once they soften, add them to the soup as well, along with 2 of the diced tomatoes and the Jane's Crazy Salt. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked through and beginning to get a little mealy. (Be sure to put the lid back on the pot.)

Once the chowder comes together nicely, ladle it into bowls and garnish with healthy handful of shredded cheddar, topped with reserved chopped tomato, bacon and avocado. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Girlfriends, Girls' Night IN And One Sweet, Hot B*tch (Surprise...That's a Cocktail!)

Girls' Night with great friends is exactly what the doctor orders sometimes. Last Saturday night the physician writing orders wasn't quite the regular General Practitioner sort of doctor you might normally visit, but more of the kind who heals your spirit and soul.

While perusing the bottles of liquor on the shelves for our evening's indulgences, we began with impromptu tastings of Zaya rum followed by Patron XO Cafe in tiny stemmed glasses. Tres chic (not)! Judy and Stacey (mom and daughter, too, like Kimber and me) and my dear friend Marti (all three of them in from Maryland), lounged in our estrogen-charged living room swapping stories, catching up on all the latest happy, sad and mundane goings on in our lives and sharing both sweet and bittersweet memories we'd been blessed to have with Mark.

Chicken, beef and pork soft tacos (yay Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina (their catering menu is muy bueno)!!!!) and gluten-free Chipotle Brownies (yay Marti!!!!) provided sustenance as Kimber kept us happy with delicious and creative cocktails. Bourbon on the rocks for Marti, a cucumber and jalapeno gin & tonic for me and rum and Cokes for Judy and Stacey. Hmmmm...there maybe have been some experimental picklebacks mixed in there somewhere, as well.

For herself, Kimber came out of the kitchen carrying a martini glass with 2 pickle slices perched prettily on its rim. That little riff on a pickle-tini turned out to be everyone's favorite! (You know we were all sampling each cocktail that magically seemed to appear...quality control and all that.)

Zesty Bread and Butter pickle juice (with just a little muddled cucumber and jalapeno for zip) created a perfect combo of sweet and salty, hot and sour to cap off a "Girls' Night IN" to remember. (No drinking and driving here!) Somehow the name transformed from "pickle-tini" to "One Sweet Hot B*tch." (I can't imagine what could have influenced such irreverence. *wink*) And the cocktail shall forever remain named just that.

Here's the recipe so you can create a night of your own to treasure with your very BEST girlfriends, no matter how old you are. Remember, great girlfriends can get you through just about anything while holding your hand, simultaneously making you laugh...and sometimes shedding tears of their own right along with yours. Cheers, my friends!

One Sweet, Hot B*tch

  • 2 cucumber wheels - save 1 for garnish
  • 2 fresh jalapeno wheels - save 1 for garnish
  • 3 oz. Bluecoat Gin (made right here in Pennsylvania!)
  • 2 oz. Zesty Bread & Butter pickle juice (Vlasic!)
  • splash of tonic (I use Fever Tree)
  • ice
  • 1 pickle slice for garnish, too

In a cocktail tin, muddle the cucumber wheel and jalapeno wheel. Add gin and pickle juice, then fill the tin 3/4 of the way with ice. Shake vigorously until the tin frosts and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the cucumber, pickle and jalapeno wheels. Enjoy!