I was skittering on the edge with this recipe, working from a hazy idea involving dried figs and wondering if I could cook them up into something wonderful, along with the observation that mascarpone, sometimes called “Italian cream cheese” is becoming more and more commonly available at local grocery stores. I wondered if I couldn’t simmer the dried figs in orange juice, rendering them warm and juicy. Then I envisioned slathering them with the mascarpone. Thing was, I had never had mascarpone, so I really was skittering on the edge! I went to work, and have to say, this easy little dessert is unbelievably, almost celestially good, so the food gods were on my side.
Warm Figs with Mascarpone
Here is what I used, though you might find different quantities at your grocery store:
dried figs (I had a 9-oz. package)
mascarpone ( I used Vermont Creamery brand, 8 oz.)
3/4 cup orange juice (from a small 12-oz. bottle of Tropicana)
1 tablespoon brown sugar or grated Mexican piloncillo
1 teaspoon vanilla
Making notes: The figs are the variable here. They come in different quantities and some may be almost hard, and some soft. The brand I used here, called “Nutra-Figs,” were soft and moist, and I recommend them. Also, before you put the figs into the simmering orange juice, pull their stems out a bit–they will look more like figs like that, and not lumpish.
As per usual, in the midst of cooking the above, a bird landed outside the window at the feeder, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo. It’s a female cardinal, a bit worse for the wear at this time of year, but full of spirit and quite adorable!
We are still raising Monarch butterflies. Last week we released four! Here they are, emerged from the chrysalis, wings drying out.
This recipe kind of snuck up on me. I’m not a big fan of the usual sugary mayonnaise-based coleslaw, and this slaw, made with fresh lime juice, cilantro and jalapeños sounded interesting. So I made it once, then again, and then again. The fourth time, I realized that I really liked it! It’s the perfect foil for the richer, heavier parts of a meal–the grilled hamburger, the casserole, whatever. It’s light, tart, fresh, crunchy, and juicy with spangles of hotness. (How hot is up to you!) And, you can make it with a pre-shredded slaw mix. Here is the recipe:
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (3 limes)
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 (16-ounce) package cabbage and carrot coleslaw
1 jalapeño pepper
Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the onion, cilantro and coleslaw mix. Thinly slice the jalapeño (crosswise), removing the seeds first to lessen hotness, if you wish. Add to the coleslaw mixture and toss thoroughly with two big spoons. Store in the refrigerator, and taste before serving.
Making notes: My bag of coleslaw mix was 14 ounces. It was fine. The original recipe had four jalapeños! I’m going to work my way up to that. The thing about this coleslaw is its fresh crunchiness. It will last in the fridge for a number of days, but will get limper.
While I was mixing the coleslaw, this little house finch appeared at the feeder. I put down the spoons and ran for the camera!
On Thursday, Jim and I visited Horlock Prairie. It was alive with birds and butterflies.
Lastly, here’s another page from my Nature Journal notebook, all about Monarch butterflies. Jim and I have been raising them, and released four a few days ago. One landed on my shoulder before fluttering off! It was like being blessed by a butterfly, and was a wonderful experience. Peace to you. Fran
I was watching television the other evening when an image of a melon baller suddenly appeared in my mind. This was unsettling, but I know why it appeared. Lately I’ve been thinking about small desserts–little sweet somethings at the end of a meal that taste delish but are low or no sugar. And then, we are entering melon season. So my brain, such as it is, dangled the melon baller before my eyes. Try this, Fran! I’m so glad my brain thinks of these things, because left to my own devices, I would be still sitting there watching television.
Thing is, I had given my melon baller away. They were popular in the ’70s, a time when nothing was safe from melon ballers. But after years of not using it, I gave mine away to Goodwill. So on a quick trip to the grocery store, I picked up a melon baller, and also stopped by the melon department. To my surprise, there have been big advances in melons. First up was a huge bright yellow melon (DEWlicious!) called a golden honeydew. Then a Sugar Kiss cantaloupe looked good in its blue mesh bag. I already had a small watermelon at home. I was ready to start to work. (Word to the wise: Wear an apron when doing this–these melons are juicy!)
Melon notes: Keep a clean towel at hand to mop up when doing this–these melons are juicy! Try other liqueurs–an anise-flavored liqueur would work well. Or, sprinkle the melon balls with little blueberries. Or mix three colors of melons balls together, for a melon lalapalooza!
We are still raising Monarch butterflies–today we released the fifth. Watching her flutter up and away, as usual, brought a lump to my throat. For one thing, we have learned that summer generations of Monarchs only live for a matter of weeks, to reproduce. The last generation is called the Methuselah generation, because they live for months, migrating to the south. We have had a lot of Monarchs fluttering around our yard recently–don’t know if they are “ours,” but they are so beautiful!
I found these little bowls a few days ago at a resale shop. From Crate and Barrel, they were only $1.97 for four. Had to buy! For about a day I wasn’t sure what I could do with them and they sat on the kitchen counter, but then it hit me: use them for little desserts. Just a few months ago, Jim was diagnosed as being diabetic. This wasn’t a surprise, as he had been pre-diabetic for years, and his dad had been a diabetic. And now that he has been exercising and watching carbs, he is falling back into the borderline area. Good news!
Meanwhile, we attended a class for learning about diabetes. It was enlightening. I learned that eating carbs such as sweets is not totally forbidden–it’s all about portion control. That’s where these little dessert bowls come in! Then at the library I found a book called “No-fuss Diabetes Desserts,” by Linda Gassenheimer, and was inspired. This afternoon, I brain-stormed small portion, no-sugar desserts. Each recipe is for one serving, but you can multiple the quantity. Some are real simple, some a bit more complex. Hope you enjoy!
(If you are diabetic, be sure to count your carbs per meal to see if these desserts are appropriate for you. The servings shown are approximate. Also, you might wonder why we just don’t skip desserts entirely, but Jim and I enjoy a little something sweet at the end of dinner. Makes life fun. Our main meal contains few carbs–usually meat or poultry and a vegetable side dish–so we can indulge in one of these little, no-sugar desserts. And at the diabetes class, I learned from fellow students how fiercely attached we all are to food, especially our little treats.)
Little Orange Bowl
Goat Cheese with Honey
Cherry Vanilla Pudding
Frozen Chocolate-dipped Bananas
Fresh Peach Jello
So, six little no-sugar desserts. I am already thinking of more, and hope you will note that these are perfect for anyone, diabetic or not. Again, hope you enjoy!
For the past two weeks or so Jim and I have been raising Monarch butterflies. They start out as tiny eggs on milkweed leaves, hatch into little caterpillars, and then start munching milkweed. It’s unbelievable how much they eat. Then they form a chrysalis. When the butterfly emerges, it’s a moment of wonder. Here is our first graduate.
Two more Monarchs have emerged, and we have seven more in chrysalis stage. In nature, the odds of an egg hatching and developing into a butterfly are very low, as it makes a delicious snack for other insects. Raised by hand, though, most eggs will make it to adulthood. These summer Monarchs will only live for two to six weeks. The last summer generation is different–they will live for months, long enough to migrate south. So many miracles! Peace to you. Fran
This post is coming from two directions: 1) cooking can be an art, and 2) Jim and I need to eat more vegetables. So the sublime and the mundane will come together here. At least, that’s my aim. I ran across this recipe, which is called “Sichuan Four Harmonies,” in an Asian cookbook. Carrots, yellow sweet peppers, a red onion, and snow peas are stir-fried together with garlic and fresh ginger and other seasonings. It’s delicious!
Also, this is a useful recipe because its ingredients are ordinary vegetables that you may already have on hand. As to whether it’s Chinese or Japanese is a little hazy to me. “Sichuan” would indicate it’s Chinese, but the treatment of the vegetables seemed more Japanese to me. Either way, it’s good, pretty, and made the pork chops I served along with look way more glamorous than they actually were. Here is the recipe.
Four Harmonies Vegetables
Slice a large carrot diagonally and blanch it in boiling water for 2 minutes. Cut a yellow bell pepper into pieces the same size as the carrot. Quarter a large red onion, and pull the layers apart. Prepare 16 sugar snap peas (see photo below.) In a wok or large frying pan, fry 1 tablespoon crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon crushed ginger in 2 tablespoons oil for one minute. Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil and the onion and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the carrot, pepper, the 16 snow peas, plus 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and stir fry for 3 to 5 minutes, or until vegetables are just cooked. Mix 1/3 cup water with 2 teaspoons cornstarch and add to the pan along with 2 tablespoons rice wine. Bring to a boil and serve.
Cut off a nob of ginger and peel it. It’s easiest to grate on a porcelain grater, but you can also use a metal grater.
Cooking notes: We are often in a hurry when we cook, but sometimes it pays to slow down. It took time to prepare the vegetables, but I enjoyed the process, and the resulting dish tasted so good, and was special. If you don’t have the sugar snap peas, you could use a zucchini, sliced in moon shapes.
I sautéed some pork chops to serve along with, and for dessert, cooked three sliced and pared pears in a little bit of water. The warm cooked pears, topped with cream and a shake of cinnamon were so good! No sugar needed.
Seen high up in the pear tree in our garden– a yellow-legged meadowhawk dragonfly. (I had to look it up!) It’s a small dragonfly, and looks like its smiling. It sparkled like gold up in the tree. Amazing.
I am still Nature Journaling and post on the Facebook Nature Journal page. This time, a robin and some roses. Peace to you.
Finally, temperatures have dropped! Instead of 95 degrees, today it’s 85, and it feels better. Everything is relative. I’ve been in a salad mode lately, and last week I made a Cobb Salad with shrimp. I loved it, but Jim is not a fan of shrimp so yesterday I made it with chicken, and it got a big thumbs up. All I know about a Cobb Salad is that it was invented by a California restauranteur named Mr. Cobb, and that it always includes bacon, hard-boiled eggs and avocados. The rest is up to you. This is a delicious main dish salad, a lot of which can be made ahead and thrown together at the last moment. Here are the how to’s.
Cobb Salad with Chicken
pre-cooked bacon bits
1 to 2 seasoned boneless chicken breasts, sautéed until golden
juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, put through garlic press
1-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 small washed heads of Romaine lettuce
1 cup shredded carrots
2 small tomatoes, sliced
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
freshly cracked pepper
Line a big salad bowl with leaves of the lettuce. Spoon the shredded carrots, sliced tomatoes, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and sliced avocado in mounds on top of the lettuce. Evenly slice the cooked chicken breast, and arrange it on the salad. Mix together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, pressed garlic, salt and olive oil. Pour over salad. Sprinkle the bacon pieces over the whole salad, and strew with the freshly cracked pepper. Garnish with fresh basil, if you have it. Serves two to three.
I got these little lettuces at Aldi. There were four little heads in a package, and I used two.
An average carrot will yield about 3/4 to 1 cup grated carrot. Exact amount not crucial!
Making notes: I served this with Wasa whole grain crackers, Irish butter, and some freshly sliced watermelon. And a chilled white wine. Provide two large spoons, and everyone spoons up what they want. You may already be able to think of variations: shrimp instead of the chicken was delicious.
And now for something completely different! It’s Monarch butterfly season and I am taking care of some caterpillars. We raised and released two Monarchs last summer; this year we have twelve! There’s something incredibly fun about it–watching the eggs hatch, and then the caterpillars buzz sawing their way through mounds of fresh milkweed leaves. We can’t help naming them, which is ridiculous, I know. Here are the three biggest: Chomper, Muncher and Nibbler.
Below: A black swallowtail butterfly visiting the coneflowers. These brightly-colored coneflowers are some of the new varieties, and they are gorgeous. I will plant more! Peace to you. Fran
I’m not going to lie–I had another, more ambitious, recipe lined up for today’s post, but then looked at the thermometer. It’s ninety, but feels like more. The air feels like a big friendly, but furry, animal clinging to me, and breezes from our dining room air conditioner barely make it to the kitchen. We live primitively. Yes, I was going to make some double chocolate biscotti, but then thought of my oven, which gives off heat like a blast furnace. Time for Plan B.
And so my thoughts wandered to what, food wise, has really been helping me through these hot days. The answer? The herb-flavored butters I posted about on June 3. They have been fantastic. Yesterday I melted pats of the Rosemary Orange Butter on some steamed broccoli, and it was so good and so easy.
So today I made another flavored butter, this time with ancho chile powder. Ancho chiles are dried ripe poblanos. They have a deep chile flavor with a touch of raisin sweetness and are just slightly hot. Mixed with butter, grated lime zest and a dash of salt, this is so delicious. The raisin flavor tails off into the butter and then is given a kick by the lime. Here’s how to make.
Ancho Chile Lime Butter
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 stick butter, softened
grated rind of one small lime
juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Mash the softened butter until smooth, and add the ancho chile powder, grated lime rind, lime juice and salt. Mix until everything is evenly amalgamated. Form into a roughly-shaped roll and wrap in a piece of plastic, and store in freezer until needed.
Making Notes: If you check out your local hispanic grocery store, you will find that they have a wall of chile products–dried whole and powdered. I will definitely be using this ancho chile powder in other recipes, including my chicken wing recipe. Also, some recipes I’ve seen are more complicated, adding garlic and other spices. But this is so good and so simple.
Well, not scary exactly, but if you use your imagination, you might wonder what he’s thinking about. He does seem to be expressing his inner vulture. (He was caught in a rain shower and is shaking his tail feathers to dry them, so that’s a more likely explanation of his expression!)
A young house finch and a blooming stem of blue wild indigo are the subjects for this nature journal spread. I learned that it takes at least four different shades of blue watercolor to even come close to what nature creates in the blue wild indigo flower! Peace to you. Fran