Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Buttermilk Fig Cake

When most people think of figs, they think of dried Calimyrna figs, those light brown sticky figs that my grandfather used to bring home along with bags of assorted nuts. While an excellent snack (and all the more so because, dried, they're available any time), in my opinion they are nothing compared to fresh black Mission figs. Not very sweet, these have an almost musky taste and, in all honesty, often pair better with savory foods than sweet.

That said, upon deciding one day that I had a hankering for figs, I decided to use them in a sweet preparation -- namely, a buttermilk fig cake. Now, I'm a very nervous (and inexperienced) baker, so I'm always wary to diverge from a recipe. However, I just couldn't find a recipe that incorporated everything I wanted! You see, the older I get, the more my sweet tooth disappears. So I couldn't have a cake that was terribly sweet (sacrilege, I know). And that meant I wanted a mix of fresh figs and dried. I also wanted lots of spices, since gingerbread is one of the few cakes the vegetarian is truly fond of. And some nuts to cut the sweetness.

I ended up combining several recipes and, much to my delight (because I kept muttering under my breath that it would never work), the cake was both delicious and not very sweet! More like a spice cake than anything else, it would be wonderful with afternoon tea. We shared it with friends, who were big fans as well. I hope you agree!

Buttermilk Fig Cake
adapted from Fresh and La Mia Cucina

The Glaze
Preheat oven to 350F. Beat eggs and egg whites in a mixing bowl until frothy. With beaters still running, add in granulated sugar, vegetable oil and fig preserves. Sift together flour, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, kosher salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk, alternately adding a little of each, to egg mixture. Mix very well (it helps if you have an extra set of hands -- one person adds ingredients while the other mixes). Mix in vanilla extract. Fold in fresh figs, pecans and dried figs. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake 55-65 minutes, until a chopstick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine buttermilk, powdered sugar, baking soda, cornstarch and butter. Bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Stir in vanilla extract and Grand Marnier. Remove sides from springform pan. Drizzle glaze over cake. Enjoy!

Make It a Meal: So your guests still have room for dessert, precede this cake with a light dish of Olive Oil Roasted Eggplant with Lemon, served over fresh pasta. The cake is wonderful topped with vanilla ice cream or even whipped cream.

Drink Pairings: A Zinfandel, such as 7 Deadly Zins was great with the main meal, but, since you've already opened the bottle of Grand Marnier, why not spice things up a bit and make Sangria? I recommend White Zinfandel Sangria; it would even work with the cake!

Leftovers: Leftover cake makes a wonderful breakfast the next morning. It also works as an afternoon pick-me-up, particularly with a cup of tea!

Links to other fig noshes:

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Watermelon and Tomato Salad
How did it get to be October already? And me with a backlog of summer recipes! Luckily, heirloom tomatoes are still beautiful and all over the greenmarket and watermelon is in abundance at Fairway.

When I was a kid, watermelon (and cucumbers) were the only two foods I refused to eat. Their high water content diluted the flavor so much as to make it unpalatable to me. Lately, though, I've found that, when it's terribly hot out, I crave these watery fruits. Probably my body seeking to rehydrate itself as much as possible.

But, because I have a low tolerance to sweet, I needed to add something salty to the watermelon and tomatoes. Mark Bittman recommends goat cheese, but I was more interested in feta, as suggested by Josh in his Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad. Some basil (from the plant that's still growing nicely on our terrace!), a sprinkling of sea salt and a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and we had ourselves a delicious salad. Enjoy!

Watermelon and Tomato Salad
adapted from How to Cook Everything and The Food Section

  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, assorted varieties, cored and thickly sliced
  • 1/4 watermelon, seeded, peeled and sliced as thickly (or thinly) as tomatoes
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
  • 4 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 8 leaves basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
On a large platter, lay down first a tomato slice, then a watermelon slice, overlapping slightly, until all used. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and feta. Crumble basil leaves on top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Salad, Corn and Shrimp
Make It a Meal: Keep the summer theme going by serving the salad with corn -- rather than just steaming it, try Roasted Corn with Parsley Butter. If serving a vegetarian, and since the oven's already on for the corn) finish out the meal with some Roasted Vegetables. If not, go for Salt Roasted Shrimp instead. And to drink? Riesling, especially if you can find a local one like Treleaven Riesling from the Finger Lakes. Bon appetit!

Leftovers: Unfortunately, this isn't a salad that saves very well, so eat it the night of, if at all possible. If not, mix leftovers with falafel (if you don't make your own, I highly recommend Trader Joe's frozen variety) to make a more substantial salad. Yum!

Links to other watermelon salad noshes: