Archive | September, 2010

(effing delish) fig tart

27 Sep

The dumbest thing you can do on a hot day is bake, but a crate of ripe figs and a birthday celebration convinced me otherwise. No regrets — I am conceitedly in love with the masterpiece of my sweaty labor.

Figs are so beautiful, even when simply sliced into quarters. Their gooey insides are translucent shades of pink and white like miniature watermelons.

For this freeform tart, I began with an easy food processor dough. With the canvas rolled out, I then sprinkled a bed of cinnamon sugar and began placing figs in a startburst pattern starting from the center.

It’s a bit like erecting a tepee at the start — you have to balance three slices to stand up straight, but then it’s easy to lay on concentric circles of slices thereafter. The result: fig tart, fruit art (FART?).

Here it is fully-baked after a liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar and the crust having been folded over and egg-washed. As usual, I had some leaking issues because I rolled the dough greedily thin (I was trying to maximize surface area)! Not to worry, it was still effing delish — lightly sweet and caramelized as only fresh figs can taste. We enjoyed it with a rich, port-like dessert Cab from Big Dog Vineyards.

Fig Tart
who needs brains when you have this much beauty?

* 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 12-15 fresh figs (depends on size)
* 10 ounces food processor tart dough
* egg wash

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon. Remove stems from the figs and cut vertically into quarters. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface into an 11-inch freeform circle. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon sugar.

Starting in the center, cover dough with overlapping circles of fig, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border on the outside. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar mixture.

Raise dough border to enclose the sides of the tart, letting it drape gently over the fruit. Press down on the dough at the baking sheet, snugly securing the sides and bottom; be careful not the mash the fruit. Gently pinch the soft pleats that form from the draping. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar, if desired.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the figs are softly and lightly caramelized. Cool for 10+ minutes before serving. Serves 6-8.

harvest moon picnic

23 Sep

Harvest Moon over the Golden Gate - taken with Pro HDR app for iPhone

Yesterday marked the official start of Autumn and unlike the previous 19 years, a full moon coincided on the exact date — what is referred to as a harvest moon. The moon rises due east, while the sun sets due west, creating an bright sky lit by both the setting sun and reflective orange moon.

Perched atop the Marin Headlands, we spread out a blanket, popped the bubbly and waited for the celestial show to begin. Inspired by the earthly occasion, I assembled a few harvest-themed snacks.

Baby Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

Smoked Salmon on Rye with Lemon Creme Fraiche and Arugula

Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto

Fig season is in full swing, and I procured a large crate of plump juicy gems. While working at Parties That Cook, I learned to oven-roast figs stuffed with tangy gorgonzola and swathed in smoky prosciutto. It’s a recipe that never fails to impress — be it a harvest moon picnic or cocktail party.

Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto with Melted Gorgonzola Centers
a sumptuous small plate, if i ever did meet one

* 24 ripe Black Mission figs
* 3 Tablespoons butter, melted
* 12 slices prosciutto
* 3 ounces Dolce Latte Gorgonzola, (can substitute Cambozola)
* 1/2 bunch thyme

Preheat oven to prepare for broiling.

Cut off the stem of each fig. To make a pocket for the cheese, slice down through the stem of each fig about a half an inch then rotate it and slice down again, creating an X as you view it from the top. Cut each piece of prosciutto in half length-wise. Wrap each fig in prosciutto around the circumference of the fig leaving the stem end of the fig exposed. Brush the fig wrapped in prosciutto with butter. Stuff each pocket in the fig (where you made the slice previously) with Gorgonzola.

Broil the figs for about 5-10 minutes, until the Gorgonzola is melted and the figs are plump.

Garnish each “fig in a blanket” with the tip of a sprig of thyme. Serve immediately while still warm.
Makes 24

Harvest moon: Nightfall over San Francisco - Click to enlarge

vanilla on vanilla cupcakes

13 Sep

Simplicity is vastly underrated these days. Take for instance Lady Gaga at last night’s VMAs. Zillions of wardrobe changes, costumer-bearing servants to move her from seat to stage, and a dress made of meat. It’s what we’ve come to expect: OVER STIMULATION.

I won’t deny it. I’m just a copacetic lemming in this tornado of consumption from pop culture to gastronomy. But, every now and then, a day comes along when I stop to smell the ocean breeze, charge up a mountain, and revel in the grit of dirt on my face.

View of SF and its two bridges - Mt. Livermore - Angel Island - Click to enlarge

It was Rosie the birthday girl’s request to spend the day hiking and picnicking at Angel Island. Also requested: cupcakes. When asked for her favorite flavor, I was surprised by her immediate and enthusiastic response — VANILLA! Often deemed a distant second to chocolate or canvas for fruit flavors, we forget how pure, simple and spectacular vanilla can be on its own.

Like an ode to childhood, I resolved to bake a batch of vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting and bright pink sugar sprinkles. The cake batter, however, was strictly an “adults only” version with rich pound cake consistency. And, instead of the frosting tub crap from the grocery store, I whipped together an easy cream cheese and vanilla buttercream.

Pure vanilla-on-vanilla goodness is how I’d best describe these cupcakes. Spectacular in their simplicity — just like our day of hiking and birthday-celebrating at Angel Island.

vanilla on vanilla cupcakes
adapted from the barefoot contessa

* 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 3 cups sugar
* 6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup cornstarch
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:
* 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
* 3/4 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
* 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with paper liners.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3-full with batter. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

For the icing, mix the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, mixing just until smooth. Spread the frosting generously on top of each cupcake.

Makes 30 cupcakes (I know, it’s sorta too much!).

google made me cry

3 Sep

I’m sure by now you’ve seen it via a friend on Facebook — Arcade Fire and Google Chrome’s HTML 5 interactive music video for “We used to wait” called The Wilderness Downtown. You input the address of the house you grew up in and it builds an animated video of a hooded figure running through your neighborhood using images from Google Earth.

At the climax of the song, the hooded figure ends up at your exact home address and spins around for a 360-degree street level view. I knew it was coming as soon as I saw the green and white siding of our neighbor’s house, but I wasn’t prepared to see the vacant carport and “For Sale” sign that now adorns my childhood home. I was crushed. My heart ached to be there one last time — in my bedroom with the blue carpet and glow-in-the-dark galaxy on the ceiling.

But that’s the point, right? As with all things, computers have come full circle, and what was once as impersonal, robotic and predictable as we could make it is now a new magical box capable of stirring the deepest of emotions.

I’ll admit it — Google made me cry, but just a little.