Ravenous Fig

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When life hands you lemons…

Last week I broke down and custom ordered a box of produce from our co-op, rather than ordering the Season's Pick box with whatever surplus produce is in season. I just couldn't stand the thought of another yellow squash. Call me elitist, but part of the joy of fall and winter is the disappearance of the unwelcome crooknecks from the produce bin. But no, they just never stop growing in Florida, despite all my hopes to the contrary.

All that to say that this week when I picked up the box, there was a surprise waiting in the bottom. I'm sure my eyes were the size of golf balls after I spotted the yellow monster. I didn't order any surprises this week — what was this ugly thing?

Biggest lemon ever

"That's a lemon," the volunteer said.

"No way is that an organic lemon," I thought. But it didn't matter. I paid for the 10 pound box of veg and took it home, wondering all the way what I would do with such a prize.

Finally I settled on lemon curd, that mysterious light-yellow gloppy spread I've seen on fancy brunch tables alongside scones. I can't remember ever trying the stuff, but there must be some reason it's served only on special occasions.

I searched all over to find a recipe for lemon curd that measured the lemon juice by the cup, rather than by the lemon (since mine was at least the size of four "normal" lemons, but who knows how much juice was in there). I finally found one that not only had the lemon measured in cups, but also looked quite simple.

Six eggs

I combined all of the ingredients, sans butter, in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisked for over 10 minutes. I whisked and I whisked until both the ingredients and my arms had been whisked into submission. Then the phone rang.

Seeing as it was Ted, I had to pick up the phone. And whisk. And talk. And then… the lemon curd died.

Well, it didn't die. Really, it had foamed up to about twice its size, giving the sneaky illusion that it was thickened and silky when really it was just a wet mess of uncooked egg and lemon. Of course I didn't realize that until after I'd taken it off the burner and whisked in the butter. Devastated, arm aching, I shut the stove and all of the kitchen lights off and retreated to my bedroom with my laptop to start work on the project Ted had called me about.

Vance was out running during all of this — the whisking, the phone call, me laying in the middle of the kitchen floor for a while with Chester. He returned to find everything where I'd left it in the kitchen, and me with a huge frown and a picture of Diddy on my computer in the middle of our bed. It was truly one of those just-burned-the-Boeuf-Bourguignon moments straight out of Julie and Julia

Sweet Potato, Kale, and Sausage Soup

Local Kale, Sweet Potato, and Sausage Soup

This month, Vance and I threw together our first family cookbook. It's scheduled to arrive this Tuesday from Blurb, and I am probably disproportionately excited about it. When the Fed Ex guy rings the doorbell I imagine myself running full sprint through the office, knocking over whoever might be in the way, to get to the door first. Imagine what I'll do when I actually write a "real" cookbook!

I've already started thinking about next year's edition. I want each of the recipes to be an original, which is a huge undertaking for me. I'm very comfortable following someone else's instructions, knowing it was good enough when they made it to publish in a book or magazine; it's another thing entirely for me to conjure a recipe on my own.

I'm also planning to make it more seasonal and locally oriented, featuring whatever happens to be growing around us at the time. With all that in mind, I present to you the first recipe for the 2011 Kite Cafe cookbook.

Local kale and squash soup, in preparation for whatever sinful foods we'll eat at the @IZEA Xmas party tonight!

I shall call this "the one that made me feel better about that lobster mac 'n cheese." Or, "the one that takes more calories to prepare than it does to burn off" (okay, maybe that's a bit of a stretch). Or how about, "the one that contained kale and didn't set off my gag reflex." I think I've really got something with that last one.

Sweet Potato, Kale, and Sausage Soup

Serves 4-6 This recipe features locally grown kale, sweet potatoes, and tomato. If tomatoes aren't growing near you this type of year, you can skip them. They were just sitting on the counter, begging to be thrown into the soup last minute.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into small cubes
  • 1 bunch dinosaur kale
  • 1 tomato, cut into large dice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock would also work)
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ lb. your favorite bulk sausage (vegan if you like)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Whole nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Shaved parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Crispy onions (optional)

Preparation

Wash the kale. I like to do this in a water bath with a few splashes of white vinegar in a clean kitchen sink. It brightens the leaves and firms them up (especially if they've been in the fridge for a day or two). Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally for seven minutes. Add the garlic and sweet potato; stir to combine. Sprinkle generously with cracked pepper. Reduce heat to medium. While the vegetables are cooking away, de-stem your kale. Stack up all of the kale leaves and cut into thin ribbons, about 1/3 inch wide. Add all of the kale to the pot; stir to combine. Add the wine and wait about 30 seconds, until the sizzling subsides. Stir in the water and stock.

The best (vegan) sandwich I ever ate

[caption id="attachment_524" align="aligncenter" width="546" caption="Can you imagine a more delicious vegan sandwich? No, no you can't."][/caption]

Some days, getting food from a co-op feels a bit like a curse. Like when we got that bitter melon that (thankfully) started rotting before we had a chance to use it. (Shucks.) This week, though, the local farms put out some incredible high-quality veg that I couldn't wait to eat.

Today's lunch: phenomenal. Using the local avocado, grape tomatoes, lettuce, and bread we got from Homegrown, I threw together a vegan sandwich reminiscent of Heidi Swanson's "TLT Sandwich" recipe.

[caption id="attachment_521" align="aligncenter" width="546" caption="Slightly dried tomatoes are extra sweet; I could eat a bowl of these by themselves."][/caption]

Her blog really says it best:

At this point in time, no other sandwich I make is more requested. Instead of a classic BLT sandwich, I make a TLT - tempeh, lettuce, and tomato. Not an original concept, but my secret is this...every component needs to be over-the-top flavorful.

And that's exactly what this was. Hard to eat? Yes. There were pieces of tempeh flying across the table (thankfully all of it landed on the table, rather than on the floor, so we just picked it up and shoved it back into the sandwich for another bite). For this reason, do not use bread with a tough, chewy crust that you have to gnaw with your teeth! That is, unless you enjoy food flying at the lunch table. Then, it's a blast. Oh, and did I mention it was totally worth it?

It was.

Tempeh Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

The original recipe differs quite a bit from this; I've shortened the prep time from about 2 hours down to 45 minutes and (accidentally) eliminated the chipotle in adobo. Definitely check out the original on 101 Cookbooks if you've got time to spare!

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (or maple syrup)
  • 8 ounces of tempeh, cut into 1/3-inch thick strips
  • 1 small basket of grape or cherry tomatoes (2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (or maple syrup)
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ small head of butter lettuce, cored, then cut into ¼-inch ribbons
  • 1-2 large avocados, mashed with a pinch of salt just before assembling
  • 4 or 8 extra-thin slices of hearty whole grain bread, well toasted

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Whisk together the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar. Pour 1/3 of the marinade into an 8x8 baking dish (or something comparable) - you want a dish that is just big enough to hold the tempeh in a single layer - this way it will be fully enveloped by the marinade. Pour the remaining marinade over the top of the tempeh, cover and set aside until ready

24 hours in Savannah (day 1)

[caption id="attachment_433" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="The only style of graffiti that makes me smile. (Photo: Vance Kite)"][/caption]

Wherever you are in America, there are terrific places near enough for a short road trip to a weekend away. And it's so healthy to occasionally push yourself out of the normal routine, to remind yourself what's truly important in life: God, family, food. (You had to see that one coming).

As much as I know it's important to get away, it's good to have someone here to actually force the issue. I'm going around life's merry-go-round at a dizzying speed; Vance pushes the big red button and says, "Get OFF — we're going to Georgia."

[caption id="attachment_429" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="The most adorable baby slippers from Paris Market. I'll have to ask Vance's grandmother to make us these some day."][/caption]

So to Georgia we went — Savannah specifically — leaving our neurotic but lovable "puppy" in the care of some dear friends (who also could use a weekend away). We arrived five hours later at an artsy cafe somewhere in Downtown, although I can't say exactly where it was since the only concern I had was downing a chocolate cookie the second I walked through the door.

Soho South Cafe

Based on some Yelp recommendations, we had chosen Soho South Cafe as the first stop on our whirlwind tour of the "hostess city." I might have mistaken the place for a quirky art gallery gift shop, but it didn't take long for the chocolate chip cookies piled high in glass jars to start singing the Call of the Sirens. We sat on a creaky bench happily munching one of the dense cookies until the waitress seated us. It was nearly 2 o'clock in the afternoon and there was still a wait at this place. Albeit a happy wait; there were plenty of cookbooks and art pieces to keep us occupied.

The wait turned out to be worth it in the end. I downed their signature Crab Cake Sandwich in the span of a very lady-like two minutes; Vance took down a grilled cheese and tomato soup (amazing, smoky, delicious cheese combination BTW) in about the same amount of time. My crab cake was outstanding on its own, but paired with a toasty challah roll and some Russian dressing it was over the top.

[caption id="attachment_436" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="The quirky atmosphere and food at Soho South Cafe"][/caption]

After a short walk, it was time to head over to the historic district, to the Savannah Bed & Breakfast Inn. The Inn does a "manager's special" deal, where you take whatever room is left over at a reduced rate, and they really put us up in a nice one. At about $129 a night, the price is right.

Cha Bella

After a brief respite in our lovely room, we walked in the general direction of dinner. We stopped by

Eat Locally: Maraya at Sabrina's

The "Piper" release of SocialSpark was finally announced last week. It's the first feature set to roll out for the new version, and so far it's been quite the roller coaster. Some days, I'm home after 7 (I get into the office around 7 am); some days I'm up into the wee hours getting a new feature ready for prime time the next morning. It's exciting, emotional work, but unfortunately it leaves little time for cooking gourmet meals, much less blogging about them.

The Mise en place for a glazed bundt cake from The Grand Central Baking Book — the next in a series of Portland food posts — is on the kitchen counter coming to room temperature. Meanwhile, I wanted to give a shout out to someone else who is cooking up amazing homestyle Mediterranean cuisine with fresh, local ingredients.

[caption id="attachment_209" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Maraya at Sabrina's has a lovely ambience, save for the lack of crowds."][/caption]

I'm not sure if it's accurate to call this place "off the beaten path" when it's in the heart of tourist country in Orlando, FL, but it's tucked back into such a corner that I'll call it that anyway. Maraya at Sabrina's, a few hundred yards from the Florida Mall, serves up fresh, locally raised and organic Mediterranean dishes.

While their website leaves much to be desired (these things matter to the designer-developer in me) the food more than makes up for it. As soon as we entered we were greeted by Violet, as warm and inviting an individual as you could ever expect to find at a family gathering. She absolutely adores the food, and genuinely seems to want to get to know the patrons who dine at Sabrina's.

[caption id="attachment_208" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="A bit of hummus, on the house."][/caption]

Our meal started with a complimentary hummus, as well as some Kibbeh, which Violet begged us to try. They were crispy and delicious; a great way to start off a Friday night meal. I settled on a Greek salad for dinner, while Vance ordered the lamb. Priscilla, a dear friend of mine, had highly recommended the lamb and I'll do the same here. I'm not much on lamb (I get visions along the lines of this when I think about ordering it) but I had a nibble and it did not disappoint.

[caption id="attachment_210" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The "must-try" lamb at Maraya at Sabrina's."][/caption]

If you're in the Orlando area, and I know most of you reading this are, I'd definitely add it to the dinner rotation when you're on that side of town. Don't let the website scare you away. ;)

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