Hey, y’all! I’m going straight into this recipe without chit-chatting about having James home this weekend and getting to smother him and cook for him because he was sick with a cold nor will I regale you with details of the Miami Book Fair because I want you to have plenty of time to get your menu together for Thanksgiving. These warm and gooey appetizers are the perfect combination of sweet and savory but the best part is the dough is already made, rolled out and waiting for you in the dairy section of your grocery store. I found a new product by a company I NEVER use, Pillsbury, at the store and thought I’d try it out. Pillsbury now makes a thin and a thick pizza dough, rolled up and on parchment paper in a plastic tube alongside the boxed pie shells. I used the thin dough and it was terrific in that the dough is sturdy enough to hold the heavy cubes of cheese and fig jam unlike phyllo which seemed to always fall apart on me. The mini-bites may be assembled the night prior to baking if kept chilled in the refrigerator. Try to find a ripe piece of brie to play up its flavor. If the cheese isn’t fully developed the taste, the character, will get lost in the fig preserves. Which isn’t a bad thing…I mean, who doesn’t love figs?! And that gets me to the figs. This recipe calls for a jar of fig jam, no fresh figs to be cut. Gosh, but I love this receipt. The dough is cut into squares with a ruler and a pizza cutter and the cheese is cubed. The fig jam is already prepared and the fresh rosemary leaves, waiting in the produce department, are either pinched or clipped off the stalk. Oh, so easy peasy. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
There’s nothing like a big box of presents coming from a foreign land to catapult two little girl’s excitement for Christmas to a much higher level. Well, maybe it wasn’t quite a foreign land but 55 years ago Puerto Rico was far away and exotic. Mama’s family was old-world and traditional. That meant sweet treats, heavy books and gifts from Spain. And although the presents could not and would not be opened until Christmas morning, Mama always zeroed in on one particular box. Cutting through the tape and ribbon, she would carefully smooth the festive paper, setting it aside to be reused some other time. And as older sister, Cynthia, and I watched with huge eyes, Mama would unwrap the thin, rectangular box deliberately but with enjoyment. We all knew what was waiting within. I ran to get Daddy’s one tool, a wooden handled hammer. Slowly Mama pulled out a buff colored block of Spanish “Turron” or nougat, studded with savory roasted almonds sweeping in shades from fawn to cafe au lait and swathed between two thin sheets of rice paper. As if she’d been doing it all her life, Mama took that hammer and wailed on the confection until a fat, chunky corner came off. Away Cynthia went with her little piece of paradise. Bang, bang, bang and it was my turn to savor the Turron. A few more whacks and Mama had her piece. We had albums of Spanish Christmas carols playing on the record player, a magnificent, artisan made manger and massive family bible, all presents from her father and all from Spain. Other than that our lives were understated and straightforward. These were simple times when extravagance was frowned upon. These were times when hours were spent in front of the Christmas tree practicing handwriting for our letters to Santa. We always had a real tree but some years it was the size of a shrub as that was all my parents could afford. Times when money was so tight Mama put our presents on layaway at Woolworth’s, the local five-and-dime store and we received one present apiece. That was a wonderful Christmas, its essence captured below in that old black and white photo. We felt an abundance of riches with our gift Mama had scrimped and saved to give her girls.
These were times when a holiday outing was savoring the manger scene at our church after Mass. A complete farm was displayed with donkeys, sheep and cows frozen in an Italianate style behind baby Jesus’ cradle. Straw stuck out from every corner as the magnificently beautiful Virgin Mary gazed down with such immense love at her chubby, new-born toddler, golden curls shining in the candlelight; the angel of the Lord above the crèche announcing to all His birth. It was heavenly to us, full of wonder and captivating our complete attention until Mama said it was time to leave. Mama didn’t know how to cook so there was no such thing as baking Christmas cookies or cakes. No. We used our imaginations that Mama had so carefully cultivated to wile away the hours. Our dollies danced ballet to the Spanish carols. We unwrapped and wrapped the presents we had made in school for our parents…really they were for Mama. I still have the hand print I made for her in first grade hanging in my kitchen. I remember fretting and being worried sick that it would break after some classmate spread the vicious rumor that many pieces of pottery explode when fired in a kiln and I would be left with nothing to offer. And we had the big box that came every year from her family in Puerto Rico making certain we knew our Spanish customs. Making certain Mama didn’t feel alone in this town of Yankees. And making certain that until Daddy’s business had taken off we would all have a generous, plentiful Christmas.
This is one of those great recipes that takes two minutes and you walk away. I initially purchased dried figs from the bulk section of my Whole Food store. Before I began snipping off the stems, I ate one of the figs and, boy, am I glad I did. Hard and tough was what I spat out. I purchased another pound from my neighborhood Publix. They were packed in 9-ounce, air-tight plastic boxes and worked out great. These figs had been dried yet were still soft and moist. Most recipes call for the ever pricey Marcona almonds from Spain. Once again, glad I tasted the batch I bought. I paid way too much to bring home this stale and salty mess. Again Publix came to the rescue with a 7-ounce plastic box. They had their skins on but here’s how to get those skins off lickety-split. Place the amount of almonds you will be using in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover completely. 20 minutes to 30 minutes later, squeeze one almond at a time and the skin will slip right off. Takes two seconds. Here’s the most important part of this recipe. This cake is good as is but served with cheese, preferably Manchego cheese, it will transform your taste buds. Somehow the Manchego brings out a deep floral flavor from the figs. The cloves and cinnamon disappear yet their earthy tones let you know they’re doing their part. Served with hard salami, thick, crisp Cuban crackers, some nuts and a bit of fruit your guests will be amazed. The cake does taste richer if allowed to sit 2-3 days before serving but it’s still pretty terrific served the same day it’s prepared. I hope you enjoy this Christmas treat!
For me figs are one of the best foods Fall has to offer. Dark, autumnal and vaguely naughty, they are a seasonal food that is quite literally “here today, gone tomorrow”. Late summer to fall is their main season and here in south Florida the availability is somewhat unpredictable since they’re trucked in from far away lands. We try to eat local produce but I’m kind of a fig trollop and I don’t care WHERE they’re from OR who cultivated them. I love me my figs! Regardless, this recipe is a wonder blending sweet and salty, spicy heat and creamy coolness. With a cocktail or two I can easily make this my dinner. This little savoury is pretty enough for your cocktail party yet sturdy enough for Sunday’s football get-together. It can be assembled in the morning and baked that afternoon or evening. In the past I’ve only used chevre, plain goat cheese. I’ve seen the honeyed goat cheese at my store, Publix, but until now, I’d never tried it. Gentle Reader, it’s pretty perfect. Just the right amount of sweetness, between the lush, sexy figs and the salty sharpness of the prosciutto, this hors d’oeuvre will have you rolling your eyes to the back of your head. Enjoy!
Figs Roasted with Honey Goat Cheese and Prosciutto
Yay! Fresh figs have hit the grocery stores and I, for one, am thrilled. The season is short so I grab them when I see them. I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with them later. My father’s father, Grandpa, used to put up different jams, though as a child I remember looking at a bubbling pot of figs and being completely grossed out. All those little seeds, millions of them…not going in my mouth! However, now that same memory of the same simmering pot is beautiful. And when sunlight hits those pretty, little jars of jars of jam they sparkle like Burmese rubies. I don’t have Grandpa’s recipe and that’s okay because I’m pretty certain he didn’t use one. Just kind of eyeballed it. This fig jam is gorgeous and easy plus it’s one of those recipes that works well simmering it less time or longer depending on the consistency you want. I enjoy my jam thick and chunky so I simmer it longer.
The white wine brings another fruity note to the pot. I use a Sauvignon Blanc but that’s what I drink. Feel free to use any good white wine you have on hand. The alcohol will burn off after its long simmer so there’s no need to concern yourself there. With the jam I had prepared I served fontina, fig jam and honey panini for dinner…with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves. OMG. Alongside a big salad of baby greens, my boys were more than happy. Enjoy!
4 pounds fresh figs, stemmed and cut into 1/4″ pieces. I used equal amounts of Brown Turkey and Kadota figs
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white wine, I like a Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup fresh lemon juice
In a large non-reactive pot place the cut figs and both sugars. Toss lightly and let sit for 20-30 minutes so that the fruit will let out its juices.
When the sugar has dissolved in the juices of the figs add the white wine and lemon juice.
Simmer the jam, uncovered, over moderately low heat. You’ll see slow, fat bubbles, you don’t want a furious boil. Cook until the fruit syrup is thick and the figs are soft and have fallen apart, about 60-90 minutes. I go for 2 hours as I like my jam thick.
Spoon the jam into clean jars, leaving 1/4″ space at the top. Close the lids tightly and allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
Okay, everybody. It’s that time again. Girl’s Weekend!! I’m so excited!! We three, Dana, Andrea and I, met when we were four or five years old. And we’re still together! The first Girl’s Weekend was planned for two reasons. Dana had a “big” birthday and Andrea had just finished her last round of radiation and had been pronounced “clean” by her oncologist.
We went to the Keys and never looked back. Don’t think less of us but these weekends are just a blur of alcohol splash fests. We start chuckling to ourselves the night before we leave thinking of fun things we’ve done over the years. The entire weekend has us roaring with laughter from sun up to lights out. And now, thank the generous Lord, another one is here!!
I spoke with James earlier today and told him it was Girl’s Weekend. He ended the conversation saying “Have a great time, Mama. Make wise choices!!” Yes. Well. I’ll do my best!! One of the tidbits I’m taking down is a passel of Fig and Gorgonzola Savouries to have with cocktails. They’re quick and easy and who doesn’t like figs?? I mean, really! They’re similar to the Cheese and Pecan Pennies I make at Christmas time. You can switch out the cheese to a sharp cheddar parmesan mix. Instead of the fig preserves you could use chutney or a hot pepper jam. So wish me a good time and never forget…wise choices!
Fig and Gorgonzola Savouries
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter, room temperature
4 ounces gorgonzola, or the cheese of your choice
a good tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
fig preserves, 4-5 tablespoons, maybe more, I don’t measure
Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place all the ingredients EXCEPT THE FIG PRESERVES in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until the dough comes together. Alternatively, the same ingredients can be mixed by hand in a large bowl.
Put the dough in the middle of a long piece of plastic wrap and using your hands or a spoon spread the dough into a skinny, long rectangle. Cover the dough with the plastic wrap leaving the two ends open.
Gently roll the dough into a log, close ends and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Cut the dough into rounds, 1/4″-1/2″ and place about 1 inch apart on the parchment paper.
Using your finger make an indentation in the middle of all the rounds.
Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of fig preserves into the center of each round.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden around the edges.
Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes then serve. Cool completely if storing in an air tight container.