Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fig Appetizer with Goat Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey

Let’s move on to another fall favorite of mine: Figs.  And no, I’m not talking about the dried ones in Fig Newtons, which some may argue also make good appetizers.   I’m talking about the fresh, little black or green stemmed fruits, sized somewhere between a grape and a clementine.  They are quite the succulent and unique fruit, and since they are only available for a short time during the year, it’s okay to get a little obsessed with them during their season.

I admit that I am one who suffers a short-term addiction for figs every year, but all the more reason to find new recipes for them, right?  I love this particular recipe for many reasons.  It has a great flavor combination, and the different textures of each layer mesh the components together perfectly.  It certainly "had me at hello."

(adapted from this Yummly recipe)
Makes: 12 pieces
6 black mission figs, halved
2 oz. goat cheese (chevre)
12 whole walnut pieces
Honey, for drizzling
Gluten Free - Check.
Serving Time - Brunch or Dinner
Have leftover ingredients?
Toss them in a bed of arugula or spinach leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar for a no-brainer salad.  Whisk some honey into the balsamic vinegar before pouring for a complete flavor.

*HINT: Depending on your oven, you may need to leave the oven broiler door open when using the broiler. Some ovens turn off the heat when it reaches a certain temperature, which defeats the purpose of broiling. 
  1. Preheat oven broiler.  
  2. Place fig halves, sliced side up on a baking sheet wrapped in aluminum foil.  Toast walnuts in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, spread a small scoop of goat cheese onto each fig half.  Place baking sheet in oven broiler until the cheese begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove from oven, and press a walnut piece into into each fig half and drizzle with a small amount of honey.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

Fall is hands down my favorite season of the year.  Everything about it gives me goose bumps; vibrant earth tones take over the trees, football season brings out the best in people, and the inevitable annual craving for pumpkin-flavored rarities suddenly surfaces.  Fall, especially early in the season, is also one of the best times to subscribe to a local CSA.

For those curious as to what a CSA is, here’s how the World Wide Web defines it:
“CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farming operation where the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production.  CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme, and sometimes include dairy products and meat.”
Or in other words, a big box of locally grown fruits and vegetables so fresh the dirt is still on them, dropped off at your doorstep.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  In Atlanta, it was the Riverview Farms CSA which gave me my first at-home, local-grown food experience.  Recipe sharing (admittedly sometimes during work), dinner and brunch parties, and cooking challenges with unfamiliar vegetables became a regular occurrence for me and my new food community.  Many great recipes were discovered and created because of the CSA, including the one I have chosen for this post, which I credit my very close friend Erin for.
This butternut squash soup is perfect for sharing with others, as the CSA vegetables are, or just to eat curled up on a chilly night at home while watching a movie.  It has become one of my favorites and go-to soup recipe when I start to feel the unmistakable chill of Fall.

Makes: 6 servings

1 small to medium  yellow or Vidalia onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
3 medium butternut squash (or 2 large), halved and seeded
2 ½ c. low-sodium, fat free chicken broth or vegetable broth
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
4-8 oz. cream cheese
Sour cream, for garnish

Gluten-Free – None needed.  All ready to go!
Spice level - If you don’t like your soup spicy, try substituting 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage for the cayenne pepper.  Add a fried sage leaf on top for a pretty and impressive garnish.
Sides – Cornbread goes great with this soup.  My mother would kill me if I gave away her recipe, but what I can tell you is that it’s on the sweeter side.

*HINT: Before halving the butternut squash, place in a large pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes.  This will soften them just enough to make slicing them in half much easier.
  1. Apply olive oil to flat sides of squash with a silicone basting brush (similar to this one) and dust with salt and pepper.  Roast the squash face down on a baking sheet at 400˚F for 45 minutes.  Scoop out the pulp and toss the skin. 
  2. In a large saucepan or stockpot, sauté onion in butter until tender.  Add squash, chicken broth, salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. 
  3. Turn off the heat.  Add the cream cheese, starting with 4oz. and adding more if desired.  Puree with an immersion blender until smooth.  Reheat if necessary, but do not allow to boil. 
  4. (Optional) Add a scoop of sour cream when you’re ready to serve.