Ravenous Fig

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Hello again, Crêpes.

[caption id="attachment_629" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Fresh, local asparagus. Three words you'd never find in a farmer's market in Florida."][/caption]

So, I've been away for a while. After the Hacker News résumé debacle, my tendency was to go dark, wait it out, and come up for air when it was all over.

Well, it's all over now. I left my company, packed up the house, and moved to Durham, NC. It sounds so simple written in that way, but this was one of the biggest decisions I've ever had to make, leaving behind friends and family (and Vance, temporarily) to set up life in a new place. Durham is nowhere near where we wanted to be, yet everything we were looking for in a city at the same time. Everywhere I turn there's a market selling local eggs, dairy, or produce. The weather is mild (save for the tornadoes); the house is amazing, save for the occasional lack of hot water; and the area is saturated with brilliant minds and eco-conscious hippie types. There are huge, old trees lining my drive into downtown, and birds of every size and shape singing me awake in the morning. As soon as there's a Stumptown around the block and public transit to get me there, I'd say we're exactly where we've wanted to be but didn't know it.

[caption id="attachment_630" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Tomato sauce in the French tradition. It fills your house with amazing smells for hours."][/caption]

While Vance is wrapping up the school year back in Orlando, I've been checking out the local food scene, taking notes, and working up the motivation to return to blogging by reading through my stack of cookbooks over and over again. As with my frequent, frustrating design blocks, sometimes I just need to admire other people's work to set off a spark of inspiration in my own mind. So Friday's lunch at Rue Cler finally did me in: asparagus and chèvre crêpe, smothered in a rich, complex tomato sauce. (Can I just stop for a moment and marvel at the caliber of food you can get for eight bucks in Durham?)

[caption id="attachment_631" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="It's a terrible photo, but I thought you should see what it looked like before I devoured it!"][/caption]

This dish is what I'm beginning to love about the city — simple, honest food that is unpretentious but at the same time exceptional. After I came across a sweet farmer from Hillsborough selling asparagus at the Durham Farmer's Market, I simply had to reinterpret it back at home. Next time, I'll pick up some local goat cheese, but for this go-around I was thrilled to highlight local asparagus and tomatoes in the dish. And as always, the herbs are local (from the very young but thriving herb garden right outside my front door!)

All that to say I'm still alive, still cooking, still eating… Just

Strawberry-Almond Buttermilk Scones

[caption id="attachment_612" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="These scones are the perfect combination of crunchy, sweet, and wholesome. Get them while they're hot!"][/caption]

Crazy weeks have a tendency to make me… well, a little bit crazy. I'm constantly analyzing, constantly predicting what will happen next (and probably constantly wrong)! It's hard to think about what to make for breakfast when there's a four foot monkey on my back. Which is why last weekend was so nice — I woke up in the morning from a dream about these lovelies, and I had to make them.

Somehow baking has this way of bringing me back down to earth. Maybe it's the exactness of the knife scraping extra flour off the cup measure to make precise, scientific measurements (what, you don't do that?); maybe it's the chemistry that happens when leavening agents mix with a handful of raw ingredients to produce something smile-inducing. Either way, these scones marked the beginning of a perfect Sunday last week.

Toasted Almonds for Strawberry Buttermilk Scones The last scone

It's a happy thing when fate smiles upon us and all of the ingredients for a recipe are hanging out in our kitchen just waiting for us to swirl them together into a masterpiece of foodstuff. Whole wheat pastry flour, the last of a somewhat questionable carton of buttermilk, even turbinado sugar were all standing by when I stumbled down the stairs into the kitchen in my PJs and a nappy hairdo.

An hour later I had some of the most delicious — dare I say moist — scones I've ever tasted. We brought some extras with us to the park to give to Jon and Kendra, who promptly inhaled them after changing Ezra's third public diaper explosion of the day. Success.

Strawberry-Almond Buttermilk Scones

These scones are incredibly delicious the first day; if you plan on keeping them longer, store them in a container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and rewarm in the toaster oven.

Scone Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, plus more for brushing
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (also called Sugar in the Raw)

Topping

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Pinch of salt

Scone Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flours with the granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender (or two knives), cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal (little pebbles? — never know how to describe this). Stir in the 1 1/4 cups of buttermilk and carefully fold in the sliced strawberries. (I needed about 1/4 cup of extra buttermilk to

Crispy Gnocchi with Romesco and Melting Tuscan Kale

[caption id="attachment_596" align="aligncenter" width="549" caption="Crispy Gnocchi with Romesco and Melting Tuscan Kale"][/caption]

The last couple of days have been bizarre, to say the least. If you found Ravenous Fig via Hacker News, you know what I mean. If not, there's a pretty fantastic recipe in here for you that will hopefully make up for lost time.

Let's rewind. For my birthday last month, Vance took me to Atlanta to visit some friends who just had the most adorable baby boy. Seriously. He makes the Gerber baby look like an elephant calf with angler fish teeth. We stayed at a sweet bed & breakfast in Midtown, which was a great comfort considering how sick I'd get before we left.

[caption id="attachment_598" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Romesco Sauce is thickened with bread and nuts to give it a nice body and texture."][/caption]

These flu-like symptoms kind of snuck up on me. I tried to pretend it wasn't happening and power through, but by the last night I was sitting in the bottom of the bathtub letting the hot water beat on my back as I coughed up Lord-knows-what. Not the best way to spend a vacation, but I got some good magazine time in while I was holed up in the room, specifically with La Cucina Italiana.

[caption id="attachment_600" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="New Mexico Chiles can be found in the ethic foods aisle of most major grocery stores."][/caption]

That magazine has the most beautiful food photography. It almost made me want to throw away my camera and never publicly post a food photo again. It somehow entered into my ill consciousness, though, giving me dreams of gnocchi with rich sauce and melted kale. Soon after I got back to Orlando and over my illness, I had pieced together a meal I could only imagine would taste like magic.

Crispy Gnocchi with Romesco and Kale

This recipe may have been the result of psychedelic flu dreams but believe me, it's worth the hour or so it takes to prepare. After having prepared and eaten it twice, it's one that'll definitely make an appearance in this year's family cookbook. Enjoy.

Special Equipment Needed: Food processor.

Crispy Gnocchi Ingredients

  • ¼ lb butter (1 stick)
  • 1 lb fresh or packaged gnocchi (I use whole wheat packaged Gia Russa gnocchi when I'm in a hurry)

Romesco Ingredients

  • 1 large tomato, cored
  • 1 (1/2-oz) dried New Mexico chile
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons hazelnuts*, toasted and loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel while warm
  • 2 tablespoons blanched almonds
  • 2-3 slices firm white or wheat bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 of one bottled roasted red pepper, drained and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

* I substituted unsalted shelled pistachios when I made this

Silky Cauliflower Soup with Parmesan Crisps

[caption id="attachment_581" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="Look for firm, creamy-white florets that are tight and without brown speckles."][/caption]

For the first time in weeks, Vance and I have gotten to go to our Saturday farmer's market. It's one of those farmer's markets that's open year-round and serves fruits and veggies that could be from anywhere (most are not from within 100 miles). But we have to go to get our bagel fix from Davis Bakery (which has since been sold and will never be the same but we try not to think about that too much). Anyway, I consider it a bit of a personal challenge whenever we go to find something local to take home.

This week, it was cauliflower. Cauliflower's one of those things that's a bit of a blank canvas. You can roast it, eat it raw, cut it like steak and smother it in tomato sauce, turn it into low-carb mashed potatoes, or whazz it up into a luscious, creamy soup. Today, as part of our monthly Fancy Feast, I decided to do the latter.

[caption id="attachment_582" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="The finished soup and parmesan tuile."][/caption]


This was served among five other dishes in a tapas style spread, all but one of which were total winners (if you're lucky, I'll be disciplined enough to get them all posted to the blog!) Somehow this simple, fast soup made it to the top of Vance's list — the top two of mine. And now that I know how simple and delicious it is, it'll be appearing on our menu just about as often as I can snag some local cauliflower from the market.

Silky Cauliflower Soup with Parmesan Crisps

This recipe is David Lieberman's, but it's likely to make it into next year's cookbook in some form or fashion. It's dead easy to make if you have an immersion blender. Use caution if you're planning to throw it all in a blender!

Ingredients

For the soup:

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the parmesan crisps:

  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Chopped chives, for garnish

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Prepare the soup. Remove the leaves and thick core from the cauliflower, coarsely chop, and reserve. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the cauliflower is very soft and falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and, using a hand held immersion blender, puree the soup, or puree in small batches in a blender* and return it to the pot. Add the Parmesan and stir until smooth.

Whole Wheat Couscous, Squash, and Goodness Salad

Three weeks ago I was busy making caramels, wrapping last-minute Christmas gifts, and waxing nostalgic about Christmases years ago, when my family would pack up and head to Memphis for our annual Christmas gathering. I truly miss Christmas in Memphis, all of us under one roof for a few precious hours. I jump at any chance to spend time with my cousins and their beautiful children nowadays. The chance at sweater weather makes it all the sweeter.

Best grandma present ever

The past few years have been the beginning of new traditions, though; traditions that are bound to change as the shape of our family eventually changes. We've paved a backwards checkmark across the US for the past few years, visiting West Palm Beach, then Pueblo, then West Palm again before driving home New Years day. This year, the plan was no different. But the story always changes, even when the plan is the same. Doesn't it seem that way?

Christmas in West Palm was warm and familiar. We shared a smoked turkey and cranberry sauce, stuffing and Papa's famous mashed potatoes. I received more than I could have wished for; an All-Clad pasta pot, The Fat Duck Cookbook, and a pair of TOMS shoes, to name a few.

Driving is hard. But it's so pretty!!

By the time we made it to Pueblo, we had probably eaten enough calories to last us 'till New Years, but we didn't let that stop us. We turned a vegetarian Shepherd's Pie into a more standard Shepherd's Pie using the beef raised on a family farm in Oklahoma. We followed that with a few helpings of Vance's grandmother's potato-free gnocchi and at least two bean burritos bathed in organic green chili. We learned about baking at altitude, putting the expletives back in Cranberry Cake. By the time a week had past, I was so glad to have come and refreshed my sensory memory with the flavors of Colorado, but ready to be back at home as well, curled up with Chester and a glass of wine.

New Years Eve is always an interesting time to fly; people crowd the bars to get a peek at all of the college bowl games that are going on, flights are more scarce but fully-packed, and everyone just wants to be home before the clock rings 12. We boarded a tiny jet from Denver to Memphis, four seats across, and I held out hope that we'd be "bumped" off our second flight and score a free stay in Tennessee with a free plane ticket for later. About the last hour of our flight, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and informed us that there were severe thunderstorms in the area — we'd be flying through Arkansas and coming up from the south to land in Memphis. And we'd be landing about an hour late, as oh-by-the-way we've been stalling for a while.

[caption id="attachment_575" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="Outside the gate, waiting to hear from Delta what the status of our flight home was."][/caption]

At

Homemade Caramels with French Grey Sea Salt

[caption id="attachment_549" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="The caramel stuck to the pan in only one place, which produced this lovely work of art."][/caption]

One of the things I'm beginning to love about the holidays is the freedom to unapologetically retreat for hours at a time to the kitchen. Today I'm preparing a rich vegetable stock with roasted vegetables and dry red wine. Tomorrow I'll use that stock for a hearty vegetarian shepherd's pie to take to a friend's house for dinner. Yesterday, though… Yesterday was a great day for caramels. Cold, rainy, and cloudy — really, what else is there do on a day like that? Cue favorite Good Will Hunting quote:

Maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.

I've made caramel before, but never with any success. It has always been a miserable fruitless endeavor that ended in a sticky mess of liquid brown stuff. Sure, it tasted alright, but it didn't look like the pictures! (And that matters, okay?)

Yesterday I gave it another go. Vance's family has a long history of making Christmas cookies and candies together. In an attempt to find some sweets we'd both enjoy to continue that tradition, I landed on a recipe for caramels. I pulled out all the stops — got out the biggest pot, the best quality local and organic ingredients, and (the key tool I was always missing in the past) a candy thermometer. I also set aside the whole afternoon, as everything I'd read told me it would take two hours of continuous stirring to get it right.

Miraculously, I ended up spending "only" one hour stirring, 15 minutes of which was taken care of by the wonderful husband. Caramels truly are a labor of love. The more love you put into them, the better they'll taste.

Finished Caramels

I'll give you one piece of advice about making caramels: Do it in the largest, heaviest pot you can find. You want a pot that heats evenly and holds more than three times the volume of liquid called for in the recipe. At its highest boil, your pot will most assuredly overflow if you pick a pot that holds any less (speaking from experience). Okay, here's another piece of advice (free of charge!): don't ever walk away from the pot. Grab a stool, turn on some Cooking Channel, and keep on stirring.

Homemade Caramels with French Grey Sea Salt

This recipe is adapted from one originally found in The Atlantic magazine.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup organic unsalted butter
  • 4 cups organic unbleached sugar
  • 2 cups corn syrup
  • 4 cups organic whole milk
  • 1 cup organic cream
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • French Grey Sea Salt (or visit the Spice and Tea Exchange for another salt of your choosing)

You'll also need a candy thermometer, a huge pot, and waxed paper. Also recommended: a stool to sit on while you stir.

Preparation

Begin melting the butter in your largest pot over

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

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