The figs have started to ripen here in South Louisiana, and a couple of days ago, we started harvesting the sweet fat fruit from our backyard tree – braving mosquitoes and trying to beat the birds. Some days we eat every last fig over the sink within minutes of giving them a rinse. Other days I manage to set some aside and share them with my friends, especially my next-door neighbor, Martha. She paid me back for fresh figs once with a really yummy fig cake. It’s a great use of figs – super moist with a light, but sturdy texture and pleasant, subtle fig flavor. The recipe, Martha tells me, is modified from the Junior League of Monroe’s popular 1972 cookbook, The Cotton Country Collection. Tone down the sugar, and it makes a super breakfast cake. Here it is, below.
Crawfish boudin paella chased with a gin-filé cocktail and followed by a Creole cream cheese snoball? What’s your most creative use of the ingredients featured in Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey? Compete in this fun 4th of July contest and you could win a free, signed copy of the book and a complimentary package of hand-harvested bay leaves, so essential in Louisiana cooking.
We’re rooting hard in Baton Rouge for our own Jay Ducote to take top honors on The Next Food Network Star, and one of his recipes on the show inspired dinner at my house this week. Jay is a friend and fellow blogger/food writer (among other talents), and it’s been fun to watch him soar on a national level on both Cutthroat Kitchen and now possibly as Food Network’s next big thing. A few episodes into the annual series, he’s showing his natural ability to gab and connect, and he’s playing to his strengths as a chef who favors big Southern flavors. The Cajun tasso macque choux he prepared for a large crowd during the first episode earned kudos – and it prompted me to make my own version.
I’ve always been a fan of cucumbers. As a picky kid who had an attitude about most vegetables, I loved cucumbers for their crunchy texture and mild taste. Now as a grown-up, I appreciate their versatility. Cucumbers are as comfortable in a tea sandwich with watercress as they are in a Vietnamese sub or a marinated Southern salad.
Backyard gardens are awash in cucumbers right now, and local farmers are harvesting them like crazy. Here are some fast and easy ways to enjoy the bounty.
Canapés with fresh dill and goat cheese
So simple. On toasted slices of French bread, spread mayo or herbed goat cheese and top with a thin disc of cucumber and a sprig of fresh dill. Tomatoes work great here as well.
Tuna sashimi salad
Toss cubes of fresh yellowfin tuna with avocado, cucumber and watermelon and a dressing of soy sauce, olive oil, wasabi powder and lime juice. Top with fresh mint.
Classic tomato-cucumber salad
This is the stuff of Southern potlucks and church suppers, and it never tastes better than when made in mid-summer. Whisk 1/4 cup each cider vinegar and canola oil, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Slice 3 medium tomatoes and 1 large or 2 small cucumbers into a bowl, pour in marinade and gently toss. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Sautéed with butter and fresh herbs
Julia Child was a big fan of sauteed cucumbers and detailed instructions for preparing them exist in her famed Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. Here, I sauteed 1 cup of peeled, thinly sliced cucumbers in a pat of melted butter over medium high heat for 3 minutes. Remove and toss with slivers of fresh mint and basil, a squirt of lemon juice and Kosher salt to taste. Serve as a side dish with grilled shrimp or roast chicken. Prepared like this, they taste like mild squash.
Combine 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup peeled and diced cucumbers, 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced garlic, 1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Serve with grilled lamb, chicken, shrimp tucked in fresh pita. Enough for 2-4 servings.
I did something bad. Bad bad. I have this great office all to myself attached to our garage — perfect creative space surrounded by fruit trees with its own door (that locks), a clean tile floor and Tuscan yellow walls. And for the first half of this year, I junked it up so much that there was no room for me to work or think in it. Shameful. It was swallowed up by one errant pile of stuff after another, until I lost command of getting it back. Continue Reading…
OK, it may sound so nineties, but pesto remains one of summer’s tastiest and most versatile condiments. Made fast with homegrown basil, mint, spinach or other seasonal green stuff, it’s useful spread on sandwiches, drizzled in soup, tossed in pasta or draped between thick slices of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. By now – mid-June – the basil many of us planted this spring is high, lush and screaming to be harvested. And f you live in a hot climate like I do, the leaves you pick today will quickly replenish throughout the summer, because basil is an herb that likes to be used.