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Archive for September, 2010

Fall at its Finest

I love autumn for so many reasons – the soft lighting, the crisp air, and the beautiful foliage – but somehow things always come back to food for us. Even when I was a little girl, great food superseded all other experiences. Sure, I was excited to go back to school and for Halloween, but what I really loved were the comfort foods my mother made in the fall. She used to make these wonderful Austrian plum dumplings called Zwetschgenknoedel. These cozy and rich Austrian potato dumplings are filled with Italian plums and have just enough sugar and cinnamon to be called dessert.

When I went to college, I had Zwetschgenknoedel withdrawal every fall, and for years afterward I would beg my mother for the recipe. Like so many great cooks of her generation, she said there was no recipe and she would add a little of this and that each time. But in recent years, Gabrielle and Isabella got so tired of hearing about these special dumplings they begged their Oma to try to write it down. Fortunately, it was much easier to do than she predicted. They’re actually quite easy to make, and they’re spectacularly delicious.

Most Americans have never had these delectable dumplings before. I’ve never seen them on a menu or sold anywhere. In Germany and Austria, they are as common as apple pie and it’s easy to see why. There is nothing better than one or two of these dumplings with a cup of tea after a light lunch or dinner. Help me spread the word and share this link with all of your foodie friends. I assure you, they will be grateful.

Zwetschgenknoedel (Plum Dumplings)

2 Russet potatoes
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter
Pinch of Salt
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
About 12 Italian Plums (sometimes called prunes) or damson plums
¾ cup sugar1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup bread crumbs

1. Boil 2 russet potatoes until soft (at least ½ hour).
2. Peel off skin and add 1/3 stick butter sliced. Mash potatoes and butter until smooth.
3. Add a dash of salt and mix again. Let cool.
4. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a 12 inch saucepan.
5. Add sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs and heat until breadcrumbs are slightly browned. Set aside and cool.
6. Mix one whole egg and one yolk into the potatoes, along with one cup of flour.
7. Mix well and knead until dough is smooth (you may need a little more flour).
8. Shape the dough into a 4 inch by 6 inch rectangle
9. Wash and dry plums
10. Cut approximately 1/2 inch of dough (depending on the size of the plums) and flatten into round shape in the palm of your hand (dough should be about an 1/8 of an inch thick when flattened out).
11. Wrap dough around the plum, making sure to cover it completely.
12. Repeat until all the plums are wrapped.
13. Fill a 6 quart pot two-thirds of the way with lightly salted water.
14. Place the dumplings  gently in the water and let come to a boil again.
15. Reduce to a simmer and cook until you can see the juice “bleeding” inside the dumplings.
16. Remove with a slotted spoon and roll into the bread crumb mixture.
17. Let cool 15 minutes and serve.

 

 

Fig Season is Here!

People often ask me if we sell figs or only teach classes that feature dishes made with figs. It’s fair question considering the names of this blog and my business, The Fig Cooking School, LLC. The truth is that the name was actually inspired by my three charming daughters, Francesca, Isabella and Gabrielle. But we also happen to adore figs and love cooking and baking with them when they’re in season, which is, sadly, oh so fleeting. We are now fortunately now in the height of fig season here in Connecticut and we’ve been cooking up a storm with them.

We thought we’d share with you one of our favorite recipes for honey roasted figs that is extremely versatile. Roasted figs on French bread paired with cheese and a bit of arugula and nuts make elegant hors d’oeuvres. They can also be used in a salad made of mixed greens, French string beans and fruits, or as a side dish with any roast in the early fall. Enjoy these recipes and tell us what you think. We’d love to get your feedback!

Basic Honey-Roasted Figs

14 figs (about a pound)
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2) Slice figs in half and place cut side up on cookie platter lined with foil and lightly greased with olive oil
3) Brush figs with honey and sprinkle rosemary or thyme evenly over them (herbs optional)
4) Season with salt and freshly ground pepper
5) Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let figs cool to room temperature

Honey roasted figs with French bread

One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
28 thinly sliced slices French bread
6-8 ounces of your favorite goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, blue cheese, St. Andre, or mascarpone
¼ cup coarsely coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
28 arugula leaves

1) Spread cheese on the French bread and place one arugula leaf on each one.
2) Place one honey roasted fig on each bread slice and top with a few pieces of chopped walnuts

Honey Roasted Figs with Haricots Verts and mixed greens in a Shallot vinaigrette dressing

One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
1 pound of string beans
2 cups mixed greens
2 cups arugula
4-6 ounces goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, or blue cheese
1 large apple or pear sliced thin
½  cup toasted walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup dried apricots, cherries or cranberries (optional) or another favorite fruit
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
¼  cup balsamic (either traditional or white) or champagne vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾  teaspoon kosher salt
½  teaspoon pepper

1) Cut the ends of the French beans and place into pot of boiling water for just two minutes (do not overcook)
2) Quickly drain string beans into pot cold water with ice. Let string beans cool completely in the ice water in order to prevent the string beans from cooking further.
3) When cool, dry the string beans in a tea towel or paper towels
4) Place walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 5-7 minutes until just slightly browned. Put aside.
5) Wash arugula and mixed greens and place in a large bowl or platter along with the string beans.
6) Add the fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts; toss gently
7) Mix in a small bowl or measuring cup the shallots, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over mixture and gently toss again.
8 ) Arrange the figs on top of the salad along with the cheese, making sure that each guest receives some figs and cheese when served.

Check In

I did it! I finally arrived at college last Monday, I managed to set up my bedding on the top bunk, I connected to campus WiFi and, most importantly, I found a group of friends who are willing to make bruschetta with me tomorrow afternoon. In 18 years I have never once felt this proud of my accomplishments.

So even though I haven’t had much time to explore New York yet, I thought I’d just give a quick update on life in the big city! It’s scary how many opportunities there are to eat here. There’s a Pinkberry within walking distance of my dorm and a farmers’ market across the street from me (with 10 varieties of eggplant!). My room is also conveniently placed across from the community kitchenette, so I’m going to keep cooking. And the good news for you is that my new kitchen is equipped with nothing more than 4 electric burners (2 of which function) and a microwave. So if I can make something here, you can certainly make it at home. I also have many new friends who are kosher and/or vegetarian, so you’ll reap the benefits of my new culinary challenges.

What I can tell you after a week is that Tom’s Diner (the Seinfeld Diner) makes much better milkshakes and pancakes than one would expect from a tourist trap (Order the Broadway Shake. It’s made with chocolate and coffee ice cream, and it’s not on the menu. And if you were wondering, they will serve it at breakfast. Not that I would know…), and I can also tell you that little green plums are not quite as good as little purple plums, but that skinny cucumbers are much better than regular cucumbers, and that okra comes in red, and that fairytale eggplant is  adorable.

My new camera has yet to arrive, so the pictures will get better and more frequent. For now enjoy a few snapshots of the week, featuring the local farmer’s market and Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree at the Museum of Modern Art. I can’t wait to start sharing restaurants and recipes!

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