Fig Tart with Caramelized Onions, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese

Once again I have a feeling summer just flew by. (Somebody please finally give it a speeding ticket… the rainy season never seems to be so eager to leave us!) I’m going to miss the sun of course, but even more I’ll miss the blue skies. Pretty soon the pretty blue will be replaced by dark grey that’ll stay hanging over our heads for months.

One of the things that help to carry me through the end of the summer blues are fresh figs. We have two fig seasons around here; the second is just starting and runs till the end of September. There is positively nothing better than the taste of a fresh fig. Sure, we have the dried ones available all year long, and they’re wonderful added to cereal or sweet breads, but fresh figs are something else. They’re soft, plump, and bursting with sweetness. I eat them as they are, often unwashed straight from the bag coming from the market. Mr. Photographer loves them stuffed with brie, drizzled with a little honey, and grilled. I rarely get to bake with them, because we always gobble them up, but this time I hid a couple away so I could play with them later.

And as usual, I couldn’t decide what to make – so many wonderful recipes and only about 2 pounds of figs 🙂 But in the end, I chose this savory tart, because I already knew figs go together phenomenally with cheese, and I suspected the caramelized onions and pine nuts would make the already great combination even better. And boy, was I right! Thanks to the store-bought puff pastry the tart comes together in a snap (one of these days I’ll try it with homemade puff pastry!) and looks beautiful. Methinks the same toppings would be great on a not-your-typical-tomato-based pizza, too.

A great little appetizer that lets the figs to take the place in a spotlight, just as they deserve!

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Fig Tart with Caramelized Onions, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese

(adapted from http://www.cooking.newyorktimes.com)

  • 2 tablespoons each unsalted butter and olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup half and half or whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 340 g (¾ lb.) puff pastry
  • 340 g (¾ lb.) fresh figs, halved
  • 2 oz. (55 g) blue cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 sprig rosemary, + more for garnish
  • honey for drizzling (optional)

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Method:
  1. Make the caramelized onions: Melt the butter/olive oil in a pan. Add sliced onions, chopped rosemary, and sugar, and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the onions are caramelized and nice golden brown. Stir in balsamic vinegar and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190°C). Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk milk and egg together. Add caramelized onions to the egg mixture and toss.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry into 11 x 9 inch (27 x 22 cm) rectangle. Transfer the puff pastry onto the lined pan.
  5. Assembling the tart: Remove the onions from the egg mixture (let the excess egg drip back into the bowl), and spread them evenly on the tart, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) border. Place the figs, cut side up, on the onions, and scatter cheese and pine nuts over. Make a lip on the edges of the tart and brush it with the egg – milk mixture.
  6. Bake until the tart is puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Scatter rosemary all over the tart, drizzle it with honey if desired, and serve. (The tart can be served hot straight from the oven or at a room temperature.)
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Coconut Cups with Dark Chocolate Crème

As hard as I try not to think about it, summer is slowly coming to an end. Before we know it, September will roll around and our troubles will march back into the house of torture that is school. On one hand, I have to admit, I’m looking forward to it. Namely, I’m looking forward to a break from the smart-ass comments and eye rolling that flooded into in our house recently. If I had a nickel for every eye roll I’ve got this summer, I’d be on my way to Hawaii right now. I know it’s the age. I know it’ll pass; I’ve done it once before and I’m here to write about it. But gosh darn it, there are moments when I think September can’t be here fast enough!

On the other hand, there are things school will bring I could definitely do without. Having to get up at the ungodly hours of the morning. Driving the offspring to school in the dark still half (or more like three quarters) asleep. School projects, practices, info nights, PTA meetings. Probably more driving and almost certainly more eye rolling, yay. Because I don’t know what I’m talking about, I went to school looooong time ago, I was schooled in a completely different country… and thus – yep, you guessed it –  I don’t know what I’m talking about. But at least the eye rolling won’t be a continual all day thing and it’ll be mostly confined to evening hours. That’s my hope, anyway.

There is one more thing I’m most certainly not looking forward to: It is the phrase “I’m sorry, I forgot, but I need <insert XYZ> for tomorrow.” It is a statement said exclusively at 9pm or later, and actually, scratch that I’m sorry part, because that rarely happens. And now that the darling son remembered, Mother, jump up, perform a miracle and provide what he asked you for! Go to the (now closed) store and get that special scientific calculator he won’t be able to do the math test without, and bake four dozen cookies for his team meet-up next morning!

And since you’re the Mother, exasperated you let out a yell sigh, and then do the impossible and pull that rabbit out of the hat anyway. When I was faced with a task to bake loads of cookies at the shortest notice possible, I’ve always turned to the same tried and true recipe for coconut macaroons. It literally involved only shredded coconut, egg whites, condensed milk, some sugar, and splash of vanilla (if I remembered!), all mixed up in a big bowl. Within half an hour the cookies were on the tray ready to go, and they were aIways a hit.

This time I took the same basic recipe minus the condensed milk and tried to make it into something a little more sophisticated. I molded the coconut mixture into a little cups, and filled them with a simple dark chocolate crème. The soft and smooth chocolate ganache is a great complement to the crispy and chewy coconut, the coconut – egg white mixture holds together well and is easy to work with. The cups can be made ahead and stored for up to one day,  and the ganache is whipped up within minutes. Not a lot more work than the original one-bowl recipe, but the end result is much prettier than the shaggy coconut macaroons I used to make for school. A wonderful little dessert, and now that I think about it, maybe it could serve as an efficient way to stop the know-it-all comments coming out of our kids’ mouths too. But if you find out how to deal with the eye rolling, please let me know. Still have no clue what to do about that.

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Coconut Cups with Dark Chocolate Crème

(inspired by Gale Gand’s Short + Sweet)

Coconut Cups:
  • 396 g (14 oz.) sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3 egg whites (½ cup), beaten
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Dark Chocolate Crème:
  • 450 g (16 oz.) good quality bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon Frangelico or Amaretto liqueur, or almond extract (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

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Method:
  1. First, make the coconut cups: Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175°C). Lightly butter mini tartlet molds or mini muffin pan (I used small brioche molds). In a big bowl, combine all the ingredients, making sure all the coconut shreds are thoroughly moistened with the egg white.
  2. With your fingers, press 1 – 3 tablespoons of coconut mixture on the bottom and up the sides of your molds of choice. Cover with aluminum foil (the tops brown quickly) and bake 10 – 15 minutes for the mini muffin size, or 20 – 30 minutes for the bigger molds, or until the cups are baked through and golden brown in color. (The bottoms should still look a little undercooked, they will harden as they cool. If you try to bake them till the bottoms are completely cooked, the sides will burn). Let the cups cool completely in the molds and then remove them carefully, running a knife around the edges. Set aside.
  3. For the Dark Chocolate Crème: Place the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy whipping cream and butter to a simmer. Pour the hot cream – butter mixture over the chocolate and let stand for a minute to melt the chocolate. Mix in the liqueur or almond extract. Whisk until the chocolate mixture is smooth and glossy. Let cool slightly.
  4. Pour the warm chocolate into the cups. Let the cups set for at least one hour at a room temperature. Before serving, sprinkle each cup with toasted coconut chips or toasted almonds.
Note:

The leftover chocolate ganache crème can be refrigerated/frozen for later use.

Blackberry Cheesecake

Local is the new black: It seems that everybody is talking about shopping where you live, and the need to build the local economy by supporting local merchants today. These days thanks to the Internet we shoppers don’t  need to get off our butt at all –  we can shop anytime day and night, and everything we can think of arrives right to our doorstep. It sure can’t be any easier than that, but I still prefer to shop for groceries at farmers markets and tiny local stores.  I like knowing my grocer by name, and enjoy chatting with him about his plans for the weekend. He knows I’m there every Friday and remembers we have special dietary requirements in the family. Many times he’s able to recommend me new products I wouldn’t notice otherwise, and from time to time slips an extra peach or bag of chips   in my bag just because.  It’s a win-win: I like knowing I’m getting a good deal on a fresh, quality food, and he likes having me as his regular weekly customer.

But for blackberries for this cheesecake I didn’t even need to go to the farmers’ market. I’m blessed to have tons of blackberry bushes in the woods behind my backyard, and take advantage of the abundance they offer me every Summer. It doesn’t get any more local and price – efficient than that! And if I can bribe my teenagers with the promise of a cheesecake and get them to do the prickly picking for me, all the better.

This post is a part of my “Is there a fruit that doesn’t work in a cheesecake?” quest.  I try hard to do my research and find an honest answer to said question, but  so far it looks like I’m going to have to say no, meaning no, there simply isn’t: I haven’t tasted any fruit cheesecake I wouldn’t like, and most cheesecakes with fruit are downright delectable. As I found, blackberries are no exception. I love all the contrasts going on in this dessert: the visual contrast of dark blackberry swirl on a white filling, the contrast of sweet cream cheese and somewhat tart berries, and even contrast in texture, when I find a tiny blackberry seed forgotten in otherwise perfectly smooth filling.

You can’t buy happiness, but you can make this cheesecake, and that’s kind of the same thing: Happiness on a plate, made right in your kitchen, with just the freshest fruit, picked almost out of your window. How easy is that?

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Blackberry Cheesecake

Chocolate Crust:
  •  3 cups chocolate wafers, finely ground (for gluten-free cheesecake, find wafers/cookies that are gluten-free)
  • 4 oz. (114 g, 8 tablespoons, 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • small egg, beaten
Cheese crème:
  •  3 packages (8 oz., 226 g each) cream cheese
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream (or vanilla yogurt)
Blackberry swirl:
  •  1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

+ fresh berries and mint leaves for decoration

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Method:
  1. For the chocolate base, butter a 9-inch (22 cm) round springform pan. Combine ground chocolate wafers, melted butter, and an egg.
  2. Press the chocolate mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175°C). Prebake the crust for 15 minutes until firm. Let cool completely.
  3. While the crust is cooling, make the blackberry swirl: Puree the blackberries in a blender. Transfer the blackberry mixture into a pan, add sugar and raspberry balsamic vinegar, and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 – 4 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 °F (160 °C).
  5. For the cheese filling, mix cream cheese with sugar. Gradually add eggs, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and sour cream and combine.
  6. Pour half of the cream cheese filling into the cooled crust in the pan. With a teaspoon, drop blackberry puree onto batter, using about half of the blackberry mixture. With a toothpick, swirl the two fillings together.
  7. Repeat with the other half of the cream cheese and blackberry mixture.
  8. Place a pan with hot water on the lower rack in the oven. Tap the pan with the cheesecake on the counter lightly to release air bubbles in the filling, put the cheesecake in the oven and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes, until the edges are just firm and the center is still jiggly. Turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 1 hour, with the oven door slightly ajar.
  9. After an hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely. Chill for at least 4 – 6 hours before running a knife along the edges and carefully removing the cheesecake from the springform pan.
  10. Decorate with fresh berries and mint leaves and serve.

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Peach Blueberry Mini Pies in a Jar

Summer is in full swing! The temps hiked up pretty high in the last couple of weeks, and we’ve had our share of awesome, sunny, rain-free days. I’ve heard some folks complaining it is actually too hot for them, which is a statement I don’t understand. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t a lizard in a previous life – I’m always cold unless it’s at least 80 degrees outside, and so these days I’ve finally had a chance to warm up a little. There is no such thing as too much heat or sunshine in my book – I mean, come on, you don’t need to shovel it, and it’s million times better than the constant rain clatter and the pressing feeling that the dark skies are going to fall and suffocate me any minute that I often get during Autumn and Winter. I guess I am just summer kind of girl. Plus, think about all the lazy days, beach vacations, hiking trips, picnics in the shade which we can enjoy. Pure bliss. Summer adventures usually mean we spend less time in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t eat well, and there is definitely no need to give up dessert 🙂 Just look at these perfect mini-pies if you don’t believe me! They’re quick to make (you can even make them in advance, freeze them, and bake from frozen later), highly portable (excellent for all those picnics and potluck get-togethers), not to mention they’re cute as a button! And since you’re using just a small portion of pie dough for the bottom and another tiny cutout to top the fruit, there is a lot less crust compared to a regular pie. That may be a good thing or not, depending on how you look at it: sure, the buttery crust is awesome, but this way, a lot less of that butter will go to your hips, and any woman can tell you that’s a great thing 🙂 Portion control is key, especially during body-baring summer days! Oh, and another wonderful thing about these mini pies that I’m sure everybody can appreciate? Minimal cleanup! Please make sure to use canning jars to make these, and not just any glass jar, as canning jars are made to be able to withstand high temperatures. If you’re going to freeze the pies and bake them later, I’d still recommend letting them stand at a room temperature for an hour before baking just to be safe. I’d also use a little more filling than you think you should, because the fruit will cook down, and you still want them to look pretty and filled up… and why would you want to skimp on fruit anyway? 🙂 img-2015-08-08-0353

Peach Blueberry Mini Pies in a Jar

(recipe makes seven 1 cup servings, or seven ½ pint jars)

Pie Crust:

Here is the recipe I use (it makes two crusts for double pie), but you can use any of your favorite pie recipes. Pssst… store bought pie crust works just as well! For gluten-free alternative, please see Note.

Peach Blueberry Filling:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) mixed white and yellow peaches, pitted and diced
  • 1/3 cup each white and brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  •  ¾ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons Crème de Cassis (optional)
  • 1/6 cup tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream (or 1 small egg) – for egg wash
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar – for sprinkling the tops of the pies
Alternate Streusel Topping:
  • ¼ cup each brown sugar and all-purpose flour (if baking for gluten-sensitive people, sub gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour)
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons oats (if making the dessert for gluten-sensitive, make sure the oats are gluten-free)
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

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Method:
  1. Wash and dry ½ pint (1 cup) wide mouth canning jars.
  2. Roll out chilled pie dough. With a small biscuit cutter, cut out small circles for bottom of your pies. With a jar lid, cut out big circles to top your pies. Place the circles in the fridge to firm up, covered with a dish towel.
  3. Prep the filling: In a bowl, combine peaches, sugars, lemon juice/zest, tapioca and spices. Toss in the blueberries and add the liqueur, if using. Let the mixture sit for couple of minutes.
  4. Place one cut-out circle on the bottom of each jar. Dock the dough with a fork. Using a slotted spoon, fill the jars with fruit, filling to the brim (I used about ½ cup per jar). Dot the filling in each jar with ¼ tablespoon of butter.
  5. Prepare the top crust for your pies: Using cookie cutters or a knife, make slits in the dough, so the steam can escape during baking. Place the cut-out circles on top of the filling, and press firmly to seal.
  6. Alternatively, you can use Streusel Topping to sprinkle over the filling: Combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon, cut in cold butter, add oats, and combine. Chill before sprinkling over the fruit filling.
  7. If using the cut out pie dough to top the fruit, brush pie tops with cream/egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Place the jars on a  baking sheet and put them into the refrigerator while preheating oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  8. Bake the pies for 15 minutes until the crust begins to brown. Cover with tin foil and bake for 15 – 20 minutes more until the filling bubbles and the tops are nice golden brown. Let cool before serving.
  9. If you wish to freeze the pies for later use, assemble them and screw on the lids. They will keep in the freezer for up to six months. When ready to bake, let them sit out at a room temperature while preheating the oven to 375 °F (190 °C). Bake the pies for about 50 minutes until golden.

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Note:

You can make the pies gluten-free by substituting Bob’s Red Mill Pie Crust Mix for the flour when making the pies. You can also forgo the bottom crust, fill the jars with fruit filling which is naturally gluten-free, and sprinkle the modified Streusel Topping over the fruit.

Mirabelle Ginger Jam

I just learned that August 2nd is the International Friendship Day. I had no idea such holiday even existed, but if anything is worth celebrating, it is certainly friendship – a wonderful relation and strong bond between people that multiplies the good in life and divides life’s sorrows. They say there is nothing better than a friend unless it’s a friend with chocolate, but I think a friend who gives you summer fruit to make cakes and jam from must be a very close second.

You see, I was a lucky recipient of a paper bag full of Mirabelle golden plums last week, and I can’t tell you how happy the gift of those fragrant sweet beauties has made me. Things have been kind of crazy around here lately, and when a friend of mine called if I wanted to go plum picking with her, I had to tell her there was no way I’d be able to fit fruit picking in. But it was hard to say no, because in my mind I was already imagining all the juicy tarts, succulent cakes, and sweet compotes I could make. And I suspect said friend must be a pretty good mind reader, because she went and picked the plums for me. If that’s not true friendship, I don’t know what is 🙂

Mirabelles are small and smooth plums with golden yellow flesh that is full of flavor. The riper they are the sweeter they will be. They also are very juicy and quite hard to pit – after pitting the first three it was clear I could forget the cakes and tarts with nicely arranged fruit on top. I ended up cutting the flesh around the pit, but a lot of it still stuck to the pit. When I was done, there was this huge bowl full of fruit skins, scraps of dark yellow flesh and sweet juice, and a slight change of plans was needed to be made: When life gives you mushy fruit, make jam.

There is nothing complicated in jam making – you basically cook up fruit with sugar and optional pectin, and keep it boiling for about 15 minutes or so, until the jam is thick enough to your liking. I like thinner jam to spread on toasts and to top yogurt, and thicker consistency to fill dumplings with. All you have to do is wash and sterilize some glass jars and then dump the fruit with sugar/pectin into a deep pot and get stirring, as jam likes to stick. I love everything about jam making: Who needs aromatherapy candles and meditation sessions, when you can simply stand over a pot full of wonderful fruity aromas with a wooden spoon, let your thoughts wander where they want, and you even get jars of homemade jam out of it as a bonus?! To test if the jam is done, put a small saucer in the fridge beforehand, and after about ten minutes you can start testing if the jam has set. Drizzle small amount of jam on the plate, return it to the fridge for couple of minutes, and then take it out and tilt it slightly. If the jam doesn’t run and your finger leaves a tiny crack on the surface of the jam, it is ready. Ladle it into the preheated jars, firmly screw on the tops, and process the jam in a water bath (or, if you made only a small batch, you can skip the water bath and keep the jam in the refrigerator).

Since the plums were so sweet, I decided to cut the sweetness with lime juice, and spice it up with some fresh ginger, just because I think plums and ginger are a match made in heaven. I didn’t expect the jam to turn this dark and thought it would be more yellow in color. As it is, it doesn’t look much different than my apricot jam. But it s finger-licking delicious: sweet and little bit citrusy, with just a hint of ginger spiciness.  Perfect accompaniment for all your toast-y and pancake-y needs!

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Mirabelle Ginger Jam

(recipe makes about ten 8 oz./250 ml jars)

  • 2 kg (4 lbs.) Mirabelle golden plums, pitted
  • 1 ½ kg (3 lbs.) white sugar
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (7 teaspoons) freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest

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Method:
  1. First, wash the glass jars and lids in hot soapy water. Rinse and place them on a big shallow baking sheet. Place the jars into a cold oven and set the temp to 325 °F (162 °C). (place the jars on a baking sheet in a cold oven, turn the temp to 325 °F/162 °C, and when the oven reaches the preset temp, the jars are sterilized and ready to be filled with hot jam.
  2. Chop the plums, or, if you like smooth jam, run plums with their skins and juices through the food processor or a blender. Transfer the mixture into a big deep pot. Place a small saucer into the refrigerator, so it will be ready when you start testing if the jam has set.
  3.  Add sugar, lime juice, lemon zest, and ginger (adjust the ginger quantity to your taste; I was a little worried the ginger would be overpowering, but it’s just right, only a slight hint). Bring to a rolling boil, lower the temp, and cook on a medium heat, stirring almost constantly for about 10 minutes. Keep skimming the foam gathering on the surface.
  4. After the first 10 minutes start testing the consistency. Remove the saucer from the fridge, drizzle a little bit of jam on it, and return it to the refrigerator for couple of minutes. The jam is ready if it doesn’t run (it can slowly ooze), and when you touch it with your finger, it leaves a tiny crack on the surface. If it’s still too runny, keep cooking and testing every 5 minutes.
  5. Ladle the hot jam into prepared jars (the jars still need to be warm/hot. If you ladle a hot jam into cold glass, the jars can break). Screw on the tops firmly.
  6. Process the jam in a water bath: Place the filled jars into a big shallow pan. Fill the pan with water so the jars are covered with at least 2 inches (5 cm) of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the water and let them cool. Properly processed jam should keep in a cold dark place for a year or longer.

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