Being a fig lover, I am always attracted to recipes with this tasty little fruit in them. Some years ago, I started using the Kraft Fig Balsamic Dressing and it became one of my favorites.
Salad dressings have started catering to consumer demand for thoughtfully crafted products made with natural ingredients. Fig balsamic dressing can be used in numerous ways. It has a tangy and delicately sweet, caramelized fig flavor that works as a glaze for roasted or grilled pork, sauteed chicken and baked salmon. You can brush it on in the last few minutes of cooking or add a little to the skillet, just to coat your saute.
This balsamic vinaigrette has enough flavor to dress a salad on its own or use over roasted veggies, aged & soft cheeses or in soups. For dessert try drizzling some over fruit & Greek yogurt or ice cream. It’s amazing!
This glazed salmon is an excellent meal served with rice or roasted potatoes.
Honey Balsamic Glazed Salmon
Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add vegetables; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon vegetables to one side of skillet. Add salmon, flesh side down, to other side of skillet; cover. Cook on medium heat 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork, turning after 4 minutes.
Transfer fish & vegetables to a plate; cover to keep warm. Add dressing & honey to skillet; cook & stir 30 seconds or until heated through.
Pour dressing mixture over fish. Top vegetables with Parmesan & fresh basil.
CELEBRATING VICTORIA DAY!
Victoria Day is the distinctly Canadian holiday that serves as the official marker to end winter. For Canadians, this is the first long week-end since Easter and a good excuse to celebrate the beginning of the summer season. Camping and barbecuing are the name of the game but this year in view of the pandemic crisis, things are quite a bit more subdued.
In keeping with the spirit of a ‘seasonal barbecue’ on this holiday, Brion & I are having some char siu pork tenderloin.
Char siu is a dish made from seasoned boneless pork. The pork is covered in a sweet, savory glaze and placed on wooden skewers or forks over low heat. Its cooked until tender but not falling apart. The use of the skewers changes how the meat cooks. It should heat slowly and evenly from all sides. The char siu marinade is very distinctive in its flavor.
Many cuts of pork can be used in char siu such as neck meat, pork belly and pork butt. Just about any lean boneless cut will work but I like pork tenderloin the best.
Char siu has been around for many years and was generally roasted over a fire. Nowadays, its either cooked in an oven or on an outdoor grill. No matter which way you choose to cook char siu, the shiny red glaze gives it a very unique look and flavor. Char siu doesn’t have a lot of fancy ingredients or a complicated procedure. Instead, it pairs a tasty marinade with a lean cut of quality meat for a super good meal.
Char Siu - Chinese Roast/Barbecued Pork
Whisk marinade ingredients together in a bowl. Cut pork in half horizontally to make two long, flat, thin pieces about 2 X 1-inches in thickness. Place the pork & marinade in a zip-lock bag. Marinate 24 - 48 hours in refrigerator (3 hours is the bare minimum). Soak wooden skewers in water while meat marinades.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a deep baking tray with foil.
Remove pork from marinade, save marinade. Thread meat onto soaked skewers. The skewers will naturally suspend the meat above the baking tray with plenty of room to ensure that the meat is cooked evenly from all sides. A small amount of water in the bottom of the baking tray will help to keep the meat moist while its roasting.
Pour reserved marinade in a saucepan & combine with the 2 Tbsp of extra honey. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat & cook for 2 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat.
Around halfway through roasting, baste generously with the reserved marinade. Try to get as much marinade on the meat as possible as it is the key for getting the thick glossy glaze. When finished roasting, the meat should be tender but not falling apart. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
- One of the key ingredients that gives char siu its wonderful taste is hoisin sauce.
- Chinese five spice refers to a mixture of spices used commonly in Chinese cooking. Each brand varies in terms of content.
One of the more interesting aspects of cooking is combining flavors to create something unique. Case in point would be meat and fruit. Some of the classic pairings such as turkey with cranberry sauce or lemon chicken are delicious, yet the idea of using both fruit and meat in the same dish is undoubtedly a little controversial. Nevertheless, these flavor companions with their sweet and salty relationship does work.
Pork for one, pairs well with an endless array of fruits. Pork comes in many forms so it gives us the opportunity to find the perfect combination.
In mid November, I had tried using some quince paste in some pastries. We quite enjoyed them so today I want to do the meat/fruit thing using the paste in a different context.
To make quince paste, the fruit is cooked in water and the strained pulp is then cooked with sugar. It turns red after a long cooking time and forms a relatively firm jelly. The taste is sweet but slightly astringent. Quince paste is usually sold in squares and is served by cutting it into thin slices to accompany cheese. It can also be served on crackers, spread on toast, used in baking or as a glaze for roasted meats.
With a fragrance that hints of vanilla, musk, pineapple and lemon blossom, quince deserves a little culinary exploration. Even if they are not a fresh fruit that is seen readily in our part of the country, I do think its worth enjoying some in ‘paste’ form.
Roasted Pork Chops w/ Quince Glaze
Preheat oven to 250 F. Rub pork chops with oil & place on a piece of foil on a baking sheet. Season with salt & pepper. Bake about 1 1/4 hours until very tender.
Add cider vinegar to a small saucepan over medium-high heat & bring to a boil. Add quince paste, honey & mustard. Whisk to dissolve the quince paste & blend the mustard. Continue to boil sauce until it reduces to around 1 cup & becomes syrupy, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat & pour into a small pitcher. Set aside.
Onions & Apples
In a large skillet over medium heat, add butter & saute onions, stirring often, until they are slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add apple wedges & thyme; cook until apples are tender. Add 1/3 of the quince sauce, tossing to coat both onions & apples well then simmer for about 1 minute. On each serving plate, place some apples & onions & top with a roasted pork chop. Serve with remaining quince sauce.
Today, December 25th our family celebrates my sister Rita’s birthday. She will forever be the special Christmas gift our family was so privileged to receive on that Christmas day. This time of the year makes us reflect on many different things. This moment, this day, this season will never come again. Treasure it and treasure those you love who make it memorable. I like to keep in mind that the best reflection of Christmas takes place in the mirror of our own hearts.
For many of us, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the aroma of turkey roasting in the oven. But that doesn’t mean you have to roast the whole bird to get the desired effect. Even though Brion and I probably like the dark meat almost better than the white, we have enjoyed quite a few little turkey ‘breast’ dinners.
This year kumquats are high on my list. They not only add a festive touch but paired with pistachios they seem to really enrich the flavor of the meat. Kumquat season is short and usually begins in November and lasts through the Chinese New Year in January. The name kumquat means ‘golden orange’ in its native Canton.
Although this recipe has about three parts, it comes together real easy. The pistachios form a nice crispy crust while the turkey breast stays tender and moist. It is so nice complimented by all the usual ‘side’ dishes of a turkey feast.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY RITA … WE LOVE YOU … ENJOY YOUR DAY!
SEASON’S GREETINGS TO EVERYONE
Candied Kumquats over Pistachio Crusted Turkey Breast
In a shallow dish, combine pistachios & bread crumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk together mustard, olive oil & honey.
Turkey / Stuffing
In a small saucepan, bring 3/4 cup water to a boil then stir in contents of stuffing mix. Cover & allow to sit for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork & cool.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter a large piece of heavy foil, making a circle about the same size as the turkey breast. Keeping the whole turkey breast intact, flatten slightly to create a uniform thicken.
Dip the turkey breast in Dijon mixture, being sure to coat both inside & outside well. Next coat both inside & outside with pistachio/bread crumb mixture. Lay breast on buttered foil; top half of the breast with the turkey stuffing. Fold other half on top to enclose the filling. If necessary, use some toothpicks to secure stuffed breast during roasting time. Cup sides of foil fairly close to meat.
Roast, covered for 1 hour, remove top piece of foil & continue to bake another 1/2 hour or until 185 F. is reached on a meat thermometer. Remove from oven & allow to rest a few minutes before slicing.
While the turkey is roasting prepare your kumquats. Heat water & sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Once sugar water begins to boil, add (seeded) sliced kumquats, stirring to coat well. Reduce heat to low & let simmer until liquid is reduced to a syrup consistency. Remove from heat & serve with turkey breasts.
It’s that time of year when in our part of the country we start seeing kumquats in the grocery stores. If you have never tasted them, they are a little deceptive. Like many things in life, its all about expectations. Their diminutive size makes them seem harmless, but they have an intensely tart flavor. Kumquats have a sweet skin with a very tart flesh and are filled with a lot of seeds. The skin is often times more appetizing than the flesh itself making them perfect for candying.
This kumquat tart is such a beautiful presentation at Christmas gatherings. Thick Greek yogurt is an ideal filling to mellow the intensity of the candied citrus.
Yogurt often surpasses whipped cream as a topping for all kinds of sweet and spicy desserts. Greek yogurt has a smooth, rich and thick consistency. Part of what makes it different from regular yogurt is that it is strained to remove the whey. When whey is removed, so is water, which creates a thicker, more substantial yogurt product.
I blame it on inheritance, but I’ve always been one of those people who need something sweet after dinner. Doesn’t need to be fancy, just something to satisfy the craving. Of course, anything that seriously satisfies that craving isn’t going to be the epitome of a ‘healthy meal’. That being said, enjoy the tart.
Spiced Kumquat & Greek Yogurt Tart
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt. With fingertips, cut in cold butter until mixture resembles small peas. In a measuring cup, whisk together water, egg & vinegar. Make a well in dry mixture & pour wet mixture into it all at once. With hands, mix until JUST combined. Roll out pastry to about 1/8-1/4" thickness Cut out 8 - 6-inch circles with a pastry cutter. Press into tart forms. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Pierce the tarts with a fork across the bottom, line with parchment paper (paper should overflow the edges) & fill with pie weights to prevent dough from rising. Bake for 10 minutes, remove weights & paper & bake another 5 minutes more. Cool completely.
Make sure the yogurt has any extra liquid strained from it by using a cheesecloth if necessary Do this before making the candied fruit.
In a small, heavy bottomed pot, place sliced kumquats, Grand Marnier, sugar, honey, water, star anise, cinnamon stick & vanilla extract. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat slightly & cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until the syrup thickens & the kumquats are very soft. Remove from heat & discard the anise stars & cinnamon stick.
Arrange a sheet of parchment paper over a cooling rack. Using tongs, remove fruit from sugar solution & lay flat on the parchment paper to cool.
When ready to assemble dessert, add a tsp of sugar solution per 1/2 cup of strained yogurt. Divide yogurt between the tart shells, spreading evenly. Arrange the candied kumquats on top & sprinkle with chopped pistachios.
Persimmons are in season between November and February. Mildly sweet and juicy with a slight crunch reminiscent of a cross between a peach and a pear. Since there is only a short window in which you can enjoy this exotic fruit, persimmons make up for it by working well in both sweet and savory recipes.
The two most commonly available varieties are Fuyu and Hachiyas. Some recipes prefer one over the other. Treat them like you would an apple and turn them into jams, puree, tarts and cakes. Paired with pork adds a nice fruity and caramelizing sweetness.
Fuyus are squat and round whereas Hachiyas are acorn shaped and have a pointed bottom. When buying persimmons, look for the unblemished skin with the green leaves and top still attached. The texture should be like a tomato-firm but a bit of give without being to soft. Persimmons are usually sold unripe, so leave them on the counter for a day or two until the skin deepens to a rich sunset orange.
Cardamom is a complex flavor that can be used in any of the usual autumn and winter recipes. There is nothing subtle about cardamom, so when used in all but sparing amounts, it will dominate whatever its paired with. Cardamom has been used in Christmas baking in Germany since the middle ages.
You can eat roasted persimmons hot or cold. For a quick breakfast, make a batch ahead of time, then just reheat in the microwave or eat cold.
Cardamom Roasted Persimmons
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, combine hot water with 3 Tbsp honey; stir until honey is dissolved. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise & scrape half of the seeds into the bowl. Reserve excess seeds for yogurt.
Peel the persimmons, cut them in half lengthwise & then slice into 1-inch thick wedges. Arrange the slices in a baking dish, drizzle with lime juice & sprinkle with the honey mixture, cardamom & butter.
Roast persimmons for about 45-60 minutes spooning the pan juices over top occasionally. When done they should be tender & easily pierced with a knife.
In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 Tbsp honey & yogurt. Add the remainder of the vanilla bean seeds; whisk until yogurt is smooth & well blended.
To serve, divide yogurt between 4 serving dishes, top with a quarter of the persimmons, drizzle with any extra syrup & sprinkle the pistachios on top.
- When using extract in place of vanilla bean in a recipe, use 1 teaspoon for every one inch of vanilla bean. Be sure to replace vanilla bean with vanilla extract and not vanilla flavoring or imitation vanilla, which are both a far cry from real vanilla.
There are so many culinary uses for Medjool dates, in both sweet and savory dishes, whether served hot or cold. Often called the king of dates, not only because they are quite expensive but are highly treasured for their size and rich, intensely sweet flesh.
These special fruits are pricey because their cultivation is incredibly labor-intensive. In order to ensure quality and yield, Medjool date palms need to be hand pollinated, pruned, protected and hand picked. While growing, the date bunches are wrapped in bags to prevent the birds from snacking on them and to keep them from falling on the ground.
Dates are usually left to dry on the tree before being harvested, which accounts for their wrinkly appearance. This places them in a peculiar category of being both dried and fresh. Different types of dates have different textures that fall into three categories: soft (like Medjool); semi-soft, which are chewy and are pitted before packaging to dry a little more; and dry, which are often sun-dried after harvest and sold chopped.
Dates can be paired with lamb or chicken and spiced with Middle Eastern flavors or added to dried apricots, cranberries and toasted walnuts in rice or couscous accompaniments. Their caramel-like flavor adds a hint of the exotic to whatever you choose to use them in.
We had some extra apples I needed to do something with. The thought of pairing them with some Medjool dates and walnuts …. Yum!
Medjool Date & Apple Flans
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, & salt. Cut in white & yellow Crisco shortening. In a dish, whisk together water, egg & apple cider vinegar. Make a well in flour mixture & pour all wet ingredients in it. Combine just until pastry pulls away from the bowl.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry; cut out eight 6-inch pastry circles. They should fit nicely into the mini flan pans that measure about 4 1/2-inches in diameter & are 3/4-inch in height. Once you have the pastry you need for the shells, form the remaining pastry in a 'tube' shape. Set the pastry shells in the fridge while you prepare the filling. FREEZE THE TUBE OF PASTRY. This you will use to GRATE on top of the flans for the top crust.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add prepared apples & saute until they start to soften, about 10 minutes. Add spices & honey, combine & cook 1 minute. Take off heat & allow to cool to lukewarm.
Assembly & Baking
Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove mini flan shells from refrigerator & place on a baking sheet. Spoon some apple mixture in the bottom of each shell. Top each with a portion of the dates & walnuts, then evenly divide the remaining apple mixture between them. Remove the frozen 'tube' of pastry from freezer & grate (on a cheese grater). Sprinkle over mini flans.
Bake until nice & golden, about 35 minutes. Cool slightly. Whip cream with sugar, cinnamon & vanilla until stiff & serve on warm flans.
Thanksgiving represents many things to me. I have wonderful memories of growing up on the farm and all the hustle and bustle of harvest time before winter came. Of watching the Autumn landscape transforming into a beautiful tapestry of reds, gold and yellows.
As the fall comes in, the days grow shorter and the mornings darker, we start to reflect on the year we have had with its inevitable highs and lows. The Autumn season gives us a little bit of extra time to make the most of what we have left in the year before the ‘grand finale’. It is so important to just take the time to be grateful and appreciate the blessings we are fortunate to have in our lives and make every day count.
Since turkey is usually our Christmas meal, I’m making some chicken breast with pears and Gorgonzola cheese ‘bundled’ in puff pastry for our Thanksgiving dinner today.
Chicken & Pear Bundles
In a small bowl, combine coulis ingredients well & set aside.
Chicken & Filling
Peel, core & chop pear. Chop walnuts & crumble cheese. Slice breasts in about 1/4-inch thickness; sprinkle with salt & pepper.
On parchment paper, roll thawed puff pastry to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut 4 circles large enough to fit custard cups & have extra on top to gather & tie. Using the custard cup only as a form, place a circle of pastry in each. Line the pastry with thin sliced chicken breast, then sprinkle some walnuts & cheese in the bottom. Add some pear pieces, cheese, more walnuts. Top with another piece of chicken, cut to fit. Bring sides of pastry together in the center on top, pinch then tie with a chive green if you wish.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a cup, beat together egg wash. Lift bundles out of custard cups & place on baking sheet. Lightly brush egg wash over each bundle. Bake about 30-40 minutes or until pastry is puffed & golden & chicken is done (I sliced into one of the bundles just enough to see if the chicken was cooked).
Slightly warm coulis in microwave & pour some on the serving platter. Carefully lay bundles on top & garnish with fresh herbs if you wish.
Honey mustard is one of those condiments you either really like or you hate it. I recall when one of my nephews was just about ‘knee high to a grasshopper’, he just LOVED it.
When he would dip that little KFC chicken nugget in some honey mustard, I think his eyes actually glazed over as he inhaled that flavor. It was just so incredibly cute to watch.
Combining honey with mustard brings out flavors not readily apparent in a straight honey. These two ingredients, when combined, flavor a variety of otherwise bland dishes such as chicken and pork. It’s often used in salad dressings, sandwich spreads, meat or veggie dips, ham glaze etc.
There seem to be many versions due to the fact that there are multiple types of honey and mustard. Although it is very often combined with mayo, I prefer it without. If you like this flavor, these ‘legs’ are for you!
Honey Mustard Chicken Legs
In a bowl, whisk together mustard, honey & olive oil. Add a pinch of salt & pepper to taste. In a baking dish, place the chicken pieces, skin side up. Pour mustard/honey mixture over all & place sprigs of rosemary between them.
Bake about 45 minutes or until cooked. Remove from oven & serve.