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Posts Tagged ‘figs’

I’ve noticed lately that my days seem to be having their own soundtracks. We’ve become a kind of soundtrack world, what with the abundant use of iTunes, the earbud generation and the incessant need to insert any type of sound into the hours. These are the playlists of our lives, what we exercise to, the music in the background while we work, what blasts from our computers as we clean, or cook or just manage the day.

What I’ve been noticing is that each day seems to have it’s unique sound, a type of music that fits to the mood, weather and sense of self that we connect with through our waking hours. While most of us have our favorite music, I wonder how often we switch out the tunes in an attempt to match the feeling of a particular Friday, or a lazy Sunday afternoon or a bright shiny Wednesday morning. Rainy days have their own soundtrack, and sunshine makes music like nothing else. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just sit down with an old Warner Bros. cartoon medley, and see what I mean. The Disney animators of old knew exactly how to use music to create a wordless story, to set mood, to create action. Remember the original movie version of Fantasia? It was all about matching music to mood. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with it’s gentle Springtime lilt and angry Summer thunderstorm movements are a perfect example. I can’t ever listen to composer Paul Dukas’ famous orchestral work ‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’ without seeing Mickey Mouse, flashing lights and thousands of brooms. Music sets the tone and starts the imagination, it inspires and ignites us.

And food fits into the sense of every day, much the same as music. We all know those lustrous summer days that beg for a juicy grilled burger and corn that’s fresh from the field, the springtime air that makes you dream of salads, fresh peas and asparagus. Winter speaks like soup, or a hearty stew simmering in a pot and then there’s those days that nothing else will do besides a long slow fire and the smoke of a perfect BBQ. Rain and baking, as I recently discovered, sometimes are the best of friends.

I love having music on when I’m elbow deep in the creative process in my kitchen. With iTunes radio, a huge selection is at my fingertips and with a few clicks I can have the perfect background to what I’m doing. I recently was faced with a rainy day that felt like it would perfectly match with soft cafe jazz, a warm oven and a pan of muffins to make it complete. Sitting at the top of my To Make pile on the counter, the place where inspiration lives with just a few shufflings of papers, was a recipe for Fig Muffins with Lemon Honey Cream cheese filling, and oh how that magically blended itself into the saxophone, the steady patter of spring rain outside the door and the gentle rhythm of mid-week. With a loaf of 10-grain bread from my dog-eared copy of ‘Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes’ and a steaming cup of tea, it was about as right and perfect as it could be to give chase to the gray sky.


Of course, I am a bit head over heels for figs, so it likely didn’t hurt that one of my most favorite fruits was the superstar in this moist and tasty breakfast treat. But when you blend up a lovely fragrant batch of sweet honey and lemon flavored cream cheese and bake up these muffins with it’s delightful hidden center, the result alone may have been enough to push the clouds aside for a ray of sun to enter the house.

Lemon is another true love I’ve found with baking. There’s something about the zesting and the juicing and the way the yellow oval resembles a bright July day that always makes me eager to place a few in my basket at the market. For me, the lemon scented cream cheese alone may be the path to a better day, with or without jazzy backdrop, whether it’s raining or not and I was so glad that I made the whole container into this fragrant mix. I will find ways to consume the leftovers. Like spreading it copiously all over these muffins, because I’ve discovered that with some food items, there simply can’t be enough of a good thing.

What kind of soundtrack defines your days? Do you change up your music to suit your mood??


Fig Muffins with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese filling

adapted from Eating Well magazine, February 2010

Preheat the oven to 400° and line two 6-count muffin pans with liners. You can use cooking spray too, if you like.

1  4-oz container cream cheese, softened
2 T. honey
1 T. fresh lemon zest
2-3 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t. fresh ground nutmeg

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more zest or juice if desired. I love a good tart flavor.

For the muffins:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. sea salt
1 T. ground flaxseed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. turbinado sugar (you can sub in brown sugar if you don’t have turbinado)
1 c. buttermilk (I used vanilla soymilk)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 c. chopped dried figs

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt and ground flaxseed. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, buttermilk and oil and whisk until blended and uniform. If you’re using turbinado, don’t worry if the sugar doesn’t dissolve fully, just whisk until blended. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry and stir until just incorporated, then add the figs and gently fold together.

Spoon batter into muffin cups to half full. Add about a tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture to the center of each muffin, then cover with more batter. You shouldn’t see the filling, but don’t worry if you do. I spooned a smaller amount of cream cheese on to the tops of each muffin, but you don’t need to do that. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with more turbinado sugar, or another sanding sugar if desired, then bake them for 13-15 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed.

Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then take them out and allow to cool fully on cooling rack.

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It’s National Chicken Day

chickenimages
and National Candy Day. Oh the possibilities.

And according to those who insist on making everything about the bizarre, it’s also Waiting for the Barbarians Day, but I don’t think you want me to talk about that in terms of food-relatedness. That would be gross.

AND, if that’s not enough- these food holidays are everywhere!- the first week in November is National Fig Week, I imagine because figs are becoming ripe and ready to devour right about now. Anybody got any?? I love a good fresh squishy tasty fig. And I even love them dried.

Let’s start at the beginning and quickly move on….I mean, seriously, write about chicken?? What can be said that hasn’t been said? What could be done with it that is fresh and new? Chicken is the most widely used domesticated fowl in the entire world, and in terms of cooking, there are those who either love or hate it. It’s everywhere you look. Yes, the ubiquitous boneless skinless breast is lean and a decent source of protein, but the ones that you can normally buy in the market are almost always twice the standard portion size, so if you even eat one of them you’re likely eating too much. They also tend towards flavorless and dull, except, as those would argue, they become a virtual tabula rasa for anything you wish to add.  Sure, yeah…..and if you aren’t careful you’ll overcook the thing and it becomes stringy white fowl flesh to choke down. But don’t get me wrong; I buy them and we use them a lot, and I can cook them to be tender, moist, flavor-filled and delicious but I think I am in the minority. I’ve heard way too many arguments against them from others, and it’s just one of those food items that comes down to personal taste. They are all like that and we all just need to deal with it. I don’t begrudge anyone’s choices.

I personally love chicken thighs. I have always been a dark chicken devotee from the time I can recall eating it, and it likely stems from attempting to struggle through an overcooked piece of white meat. But even when I finally discovered that it didn’t have to be that way, the dark meat still remained a favorite. The thighs can be very cheap, and your best bet is to learn how to de-bone them as it will save you at the check-out. Even if you don’t remove the bone prior to cooking, it’s pretty simple to slip the meat free once it’s done. These always hold up well on the grill and take on a marinade like a champion prize fighter. They are nearly impossible to wreck.

chickencows


I love this hilarious ad campaign. We aren’t big consumers of beef, much to my child’s angst, so I can’t agree more with the Chik-Fil-A cows who urge us all to ‘Eat mor chik-n’.

It’s now about Figs.

figs


I love figs- fresh, dried, in a Newton- they are perfectly wonderful food. Figs go wayyyyyy back and are considered of utmost importance in terms of being objects of worship and cultural interest in many areas of the world. They are noted as being one of the first plant species deliberately bred for agriculture in the Middle East more than 11,000 years ago. We all know what happened in the Garden with the fig leaf, and they are listed as one of the foods found in the Promised Land according to the Torah. It is one of the two sacred trees in Islam, and is pivotal in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism religions and they are a key component in many tropical rainforests providing food to many animal and bird species. They are an excellent source of fiber, potassium and calcium and have shown to offer protection against macular degeneration. Of the more than 150 varieties grown around the world, the most popular ones are the Black Mission, Calymyrna, Brown Turkey, Kadota and Adriatic, and all of them are subtley varied in terms of flavor and dramatically in color.

Then, finally- CANDY.

I’m not a huge candy eater but I do love my dark chocolate. Our trick-or-treaters got a wide selection of minis of every kind, and hands down when I told them to pick something, they grabbed for the little boxes of Junior Mints. Those disappeared the fastest.  I certainly can’t argue; my absolute favorite thing to nibble on lately has been something very similar.

squares_mint
This, to me, is the perfect marriage of chocolate and mint. Not too much of one or the other, and it’s dark chocolate so who can argue? The other perfect combination that I love is the little miniature Milky Way Midnights. Talk about perfection! One little bite of intense dark chocolate and the nougat-y caramel-y goodness of Milky Way. I made sure there were some of those in my Halloween hand-outs strictly so I could indulge. I used to LOVE candy as a kid, and recall with great fondness riding my bike to the local corner shop to peruse the candy selection with my sisters and neighborhood friends. I loved Sugar Babies, Bubs Daddy, Hot Tamales, Brown Cows and LifeSavers. I don’t need candy in my life anymore, but a bite here and there is very satisfying. I’m really glad to have gotten my candy-eating out of my system.

Happy Candy Day, Chicken Day and Fig Week!

{{information for this post was found on the California Fig Board website and The World’s Healthiest Food website. Candy image from Ghiradelli.com, cows from Chik-Fil-A}}

nablopomo21

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Overnight Apple-Date Muesli
By Robin Asbell, The New Whole Grains Cookbook

1/2 c. slivered almonds
2 medium apples
1 1/2 c. nut milk, or other milk
2 T. maple syrup
1 1/2 c. thick rolled oats
1/4 c. soy protein powder (optional)
1/2 c. pitted dates

Preheat oven to 325 and spread almonds on a baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Let cool.

Get out a large storage tub or bowl with a lid. Quarter the apples and core, then shred right into the bowl, skin and all. Add remaining ingredients, including almonds, and stir well to combine. Cover tightly and place in refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, stir thoroughly. Spoon desired amount into individual bowls and serve cold, or warm in the microwave for up to 2 minutes per bowl.

KATE’S NOTES:
I tried this the first time with the protein powder and decided I didn’t care for it, but that’s just me. I always, always, always add in about 2-3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to this, regardless. I double it and we enjoy it for several days. It will get softer and a bit less flavorful the longer it sits, but if you’re like us, it rarely lasts that long.

I am not a fan of dates but I. Love. Figs. so I chop those up into it instead. The variations on this, like I said, are infinite. Use raisins, currants, dried cherries, craisins, dried apricots or any type of dried fruit you like in any combination; vary the apple flavor by going tart or sweet; add in a multitude of nuts, use other cereal flakes, like barley. Skip the maple syrup or use an alternative, like raw or maple sugar sprinkled over the top before you eat it. Give it your own fingerprint and I’m sure it will also become a favorite for you.

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