Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kettle/Canner Baking: Fig, Almond and Lavender Tart

The two pounds of fresh, organic, locally-grown figs seemed like a good idea when we bought them. We'd bake some yummy turnovers or maybe a little jam, we thought. But when the temperature skyrocketed over the weekend (peaking at yesterday's 113-degree thermometer–buster), we thought again, as firing up our drafty old oven now seemed like a very bad idea. I pulled out the Guardian Service Kettle/Canner and did some stovetop baking instead.

I adapted the recipe below from one by Barbara Wilde, whose l'Atelier Vert (Green Studio) is devoted to traditional French home and garden style. It makes a delectable treat—chewy, crispy, flaky and juicy—and the nut filling gives it higher ratios of protein and fiber and lower sugar and fat than your average dessert. If you serve it with yogurt, it's almost healthy.

Tarte aux Figues Provençal
Fig, Almond and Lavender tart 

2 c. almonds, blanched (or blanched hazelnuts or walnuts)
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. dried lavender, leaves and flowers
1 egg
1 tsp. Madeira (or pure vanilla or almond extract)
1 generous pound perfectly ripe black figs, cut lengthwise in quarters

2-3 Tbsp. sugar and dried lavender, for dusting
2 Tbsp. lavender honey (or mild floral honey), optional

1) Prepare a standard pâte brisée (pie dough) for a 9-10 inch crust. Shape it into a flattened round, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Roll out and line a tart pan, prick all over, and place in freezer for at least half an hour.

2) Preheat Kettle over high heat for 10 minutes. Remove the crust from freezer, line with foil, and fill with dried beans or baking weights. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges turn pale gold. Remove from oven, remove weights and foil, and reserve.

3) In a food processor, grind the almonds with the 1/2 cup of sugar. Add the lavender, egg, and Madeira, pulsing until it forms a paste. Delicately spread the mixture over the prebaked pastry shell.

4) Preheat Kettle over high heat. Arrange the fig slices in concentric, slightly overlapping circles. Sprinkle with 2 to 3 Tbsp. lavender sugar. Place tart on top baking rack and carefully lower into Kettle. Cover and bake over high heat for 30 minutes or until the figs darken and ooze a bit of juice. Remove tart and rack from the canner and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Optional: drizzle evenly with the warmed lavender honey and serve à la mode.

Monday, September 27, 2010

NY Times: America Hates Vegetables

Photo: Chris Martin
This weekend a NY Times article titled "Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries" was picked up as Huffington Post's lead story and subsequently around the blogosphere. Frankly, I pity the lot of them—the author and her interviewees. Kim Severson goes to great lengths to support a view that preparing vegetables is hard work, time-consuming and expensive. She writes:
People know that vegetables can improve health. But they’re a lot of work. In refrigerators all over the country, produce often dies a slow, limp death because life becomes too busy.
Now, I'll grant you, at the end of a long day, washing and chopping a head of broccoli can seem like a lot of work, might even seem time-consuming, but... really? She goes on:
In the wrong hands, vegetables can taste terrible. And compared with a lot of food at the supermarket, they’re a relatively expensive way to fill a belly.
If you boil a vegetable until it's dead, it will taste terrible. But to argue that "they're a relatively expensive way to fill a belly" is infuriating. Expensive relative to what? A triple-bypass? She goes on:
...a busy Manhattan resident who works for a pharmaceuticals company, would eat more vegetables if they weren’t, in her words, “a pain.”
“An apple you can just grab,” she said. “But what am I going to do, put a piece of kale in my purse?”
For weeks last March, the NY Times' most popularly emailed article was two simple recipes for that super health food, kale. Or, try an even simpler solution for a single serving on-the-go: Rip a few leaves of kale into bite-size pieces, muddle them with some salad dressing and chill them overnight. The acids in the dressing will "cook" the greens enough to make them a tender snack for lunch the next day. Stick that in your purse.
And the Times' last word? That summary statement is given to an analyst for a global marketing firm:
“Eating vegetables is a lot less fun than eating flavor-blasted Doritos,” said Marcia Mogelonsly, a senior analyst for Mintel, a global marketing firm. “You will always have to fight that.”
I admit that we have serious problems in our nation's "food deserts," where fresh produce is not readily available. And cooking for one person isn't easy, especially if you spend most of your day away from home. And, whether for one or a household, cooking requires planning and work.
This article promotes the idea that fresh-cooked vegetables have to defend themselves and compete in a marketplace with junk food and  panders to an America resigned to the Snack Food industry, deaf to social food movements and hopelessly addicted to greasy boxes of salty transgenic Frankenfoods.
We propose that perfectly cooked vegetables, crisp, juicy, abounding in flavor and nutrition and minimally processed (as is the Guardian Service Way) are incomparable to fast "food" and we invite writers and readers of the NY Times to take 15 minutes and try for themselves.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guardian Service Recipe: Knickerbocker Nut Bread, a September Song

In previous posts, we've put the Duplex Utility Pan to its most traditional use, frying omelets. But as the product leaflet notes, this pan was intended to handle everything from "quickie meals" and "dolling up left-overs" to baking meatloaf, loaf cake or quick bread. After a failed brownie mix experiment in our last post, I returned to the original recipe leaflet.

I assume "Knickerbocker Nut Bread" was named by the Century Metalcraft marketing department to give the recipe book  neo-colonial charm—to the best of my knowledge there's no traditional bread by this name. Though Knickerbocker is a Dutch surname dating to the colonization of Manhattan, Washington Irving's satirical A History of New York (1809) was written under the pseudonym "Diedrich Knickerbocker" and became so enduringly popular that the name has graced everything from knee-pants to Hollywood apartments to the NY Knicks since that time. Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson based their 1938 musical satire "Knickerbocker Holiday" on Irving's short stories (minus Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the two for which he's perhaps best known) and gave us the classic "September Song").

On a personal note: I'm eternally indebted to Sleepy Hollow—it's Andrew's birthplace.

Knickerbocker Nut Bread
(from the Century Metalcraft/Guardian Service "Duplex Utility Pan" product leaflet)
3 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract*
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup chopped nuts

Sift dry ingredients. Add egg, milk and nuts. Bake in buttered Duplex Pan, allowing 13 minutes to each side.

*Note, erratum: The original recipe lists sugar twice on separate lines: "1 teas. sugar" and "1/2 cup sugar". I've substituted vanilla (optional), though I suspect the authors may have intended 1 tsp. of soda... it doesn't need it. The 4 tsp. of baking powder provide all the leavening required for this quick bread to fill the pan once completed.

Additional Notes: Begin with ingredients at room temperature. Heat 1 Tbsp. butter in one side of the Duplex Pan (in open position) until butter turns light brown. 

Spoon bread batter into buttered side until almost full. Close unit, reduce heat to "low," and bake for 13 minutes.

Open the pan, butter and heat the opposite side, then close and reverse unit, baking the unfinished side for an additional 12-13 minutes (watch it—even on low heat it can burn quickly).

Unmold loaf to wire rack and allow to cool for ten minutes before slicing.

This recipe spares the fat and sugar, yet baked in the aluminum pan produces a dense, almost coffee or pound cake like consistency: a knockout served fresh for breakfast with butter and jam or cream cheese and jelly and rich enough to serve with ice cream for desert. It slices and toasts up beautifully. Wrap it in foil and it will keep well in the fridge (I'm sure for over a week... ours hasn't lasted that long). Vary with cinnamon and raisin or lemon zest and poppy seed.