If I’d Known Y’all Were Comin I’d ‘A Baked a Pie…

Foodblogs …or at least have put out fresh towels!  My goodness, well, sit down and I’ll get out some cheese and fruit and we’ll have a snack and chat.

Joan Obra was kind enough to mention me and Nicole Hamaker of Pinch My Salt in her article in yesterday’s Fresno Bee.  She had asked me some questions about the blog and online sources for local food info recently, but I had no idea she was putting us on the front of the Life section.

You can find the Corn, Tomato & Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing recipe she featured here.

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Lemon-Sage White Beans Topped with Roasted Shallots & Frizzled Figs

I have figs on the brain, fairly, I think, following this weekend’s Fig Fest. I’ve been using the combination of figs and roasted shallots recently – I put both on a pizza recently along with blue cheese, which was great.

This idea sounded good, and it was, though I think if I did it again, I’d just enjoy the figs and shallots as a topping for the beans alone – the whole-wheat pasta was a little distracting.

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Might Not Post For A Bit

(Squeamish alert: kitchen injury described below.)

I accidentally got some fingertip in the fennel last night (bad hand positioning; I know better but was tired and was not being careful) and my left ring finger is out of service for a while, rendering me unable to touch type. I can still write longhand, but as my Tablet PC died a couple months ago and our scanner no longer has a working driver, that’s not much of a posting option.

This is, would you believe, in all the years I’ve been cooking, the first time I’ve had a mishap like this. I feel like an idiot, because, as mentioned above, I know better.

The initial adrenaline rush and subsequent stress of the situation were exhausting enough to knock down my functioning a bit – I had to send Chimp to the market today, as I just wasn’t feeling well enough to stand up for that long.

So I have been laying low, keeping my hand elevated to reduce swelling, watching cooking shows on PBS (ah, how I love the obsessive-compulsive nature of America’s Test Kitchen…makes me feel not so alone in the world…), being grateful for these and generally feeling sorry for myself. Well, mostly for my finger.

Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing

We’ve been making salad for dinner. Given the heat, we’ve been making salad for dinner a lot. Last week, for instance, we managed to not turn on the stove for five consecutive days.

It’s fair to say that I have a bit of a taco salad problem. It’s been my favorite meal for, oh, about 20 years now. The way I satisfy that ongoing jag has shifted a bit, admittedly; this is light years away from iceberg lettuce in a deep-fried white flour tortilla.

But if you share with me a love for that spicy-cool-tart-crunchy-citrusy combination – not that I’m admitting to anything, but if, let’s say, you did something on the order of driving three exits down the Beltway to hang out at a fast-food restaurant that rhymes with Paco Hell in the middle of the night in high school, but have since turned your heart toward wholesome food – this is the salad for you.

This corn, tomato and black bean salad is one that can only be born at midsummer – it needs perfectly sweet-tart tomatoes, not to mention crunchy-sweet corn. Cilantro backs up the citrusy note of the lime-based dressing, and black beans and bulghur give it the heft that a main-dish salad should have.

Sure, the black beans make sense, but the bulghur might seem out of left field, right? It has a good reason for being there. It adds what I think is an essential chewy note, something that salads often lack. The bulghur fills that textural gap and makes the whole combination much more satisfying to eat.

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Baba Ganoush & The Eggplant Incident

My lack of love for eggplant has been previously mentioned herein.  Each summer, though, the tide of eggplant rises along with the other nightshades – tomatoes, peppers – and eventually, a globe or two shows up in our CSA box from T&D Willey and I must dispense with it.  This was the week.

That "previously mentioned" link above – to a recipe for Royal Eggplant with Garlic, which is a really delicious smoky roasted eggplant puree with tomatoes, onions, spices and butter – is one of my two ways of coping with eggplant.  My other coping mechanism is baba ganoush.  Load eggplant up with olive oil, tahini & lemon juice, and really, there’s no reason not to eat it. 

It’s sad that I have two eggplant recipes and a bajillion ways of using just about every other kind of produce, but they are two really good eggplant recipes.

So, not having posted my baba ganoush recipe previously, that’s where I headed on Saturday.  The heat had broken (it was going to be 104 instead of 112; that’s what we mean in Fresno when we say it’s going to be "cooler") and so I took some time before the day got really hot to roast the eggplant in the oven.

This occasion is one of those times that I think I should buy a grill to avoid heating up the house with the oven, and then Chimp reminds me that you have to cook on a grill outside.  Well, scratch that when it’s 110.

I think I could skip buying the grill entirely; just oil the eggplant up and lay it on a well-scrubbed section of patio, then go out and kick it every 30 minutes or so.  Come to think of it, why don’t I have a solar oven?  And along with that, why isn’t every roof in this town covered with solar panels?  You’d think we could make a mint.  I must be missing something.

But I’m getting off track here.

I came home from the market, washed the eggplant, and popped it in the oven to broil while I washed some shallots (for something else) to roast along with the eggplant.  I was tossing the shallots in a dish with some grapeseed oil and salt when

POOOFFfffffsssssss.

"Aha," I thought to myself, "That must be the eggplant exploding."

I opened the door.  My oven had birthed a Japanese tentacle monster.

Exploding the eggplant was not originally part of my baba ganoush recipe, but if you, like me, are tired or forgetful and omit the step of pricking the eggplant before you place it in the oven, I want you to know that this recipe has been tested with both exploded and intact eggplant on separate occasions, and both kinds work just fine.

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Chickpea and New Potato Salad with Shallot-Mint Dressing

I’ve always been puzzled by the heaviness of most potato salads.  It’s a summertime food, but the traditional mayonnaise-laden potato salad rarely reflects the freshness, herbaciousness and lightness I think summertime foods should have.

So though this is a potato salad, it goes for balance and bright, lively flavors rather than the starchy, heavy mayonnaisey strategy.  Shallots, fresh mint, lemon zest and garlic make up the dressing, chickpeas deliver a nutty flavor, and arugula a peppery bite.

This is quite the local salad – potatoes from T&D Willey, arugula and shallots from KMK Farms, garlic also from the market, lemon zest from my stash of Meyer lemon zest prepared during the winter from fruit from a friend’s tree. 

Chickpeas & mint are from WFM, as are the quite non-local pan-toasted slices of Cyprian Halloumi cheese served with it.  If you wanted cheese as part of this salad, a great many sheep’s milk cheeses would be a great match – from crumbled milky-salty Ricotta Salata to cubes of buttery-olivey Ossau-Iraty. Wish I knew of a local sheep’s milk cheese!

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Foods I’ve Come to Love: Apricots

This is the first in what I intend (best laid plans of those with CFS, of course) to be an occasional series of lessons from a year of eating locally.

There were quite a few fruits and vegetables that I came to a new appreciation of this year because of the Eat Local Challenge – items I saw new sides of, new parts of what they have to offer, things I had never had a love for that I came to adore – things I had never known before. Here’s the first of them.

Apricots.

I once put together an alternative Easter basket filled with dried fruit instead of candy for a friend who was trying to eat healthier. I put dried pineapple rings on dried papaya spears to make flowers to go in the plastic grass. It was silly fun.

There were some unsulfured dried apricots in the basket too. Dried was primarily how I knew apricots at that point. I never had liked fresh ones very much – my East Coast experiences with them had pretty consistently delivered wan flavor and mealy texture. And it was usually a lot of money for something that didn’t taste very good.

But as I’ve found with so many fruits, once you land in California, you suddenly understand what all the fuss is about. It was some apricots I got from Fred at Savage Island Farms early last summer that changed my mind.

Apricots come on after all the other stone fruits – cherries, peaches, plums and nectarines – have already begun. “Hey guys,” they say, walking in when everyone’s already ensconced in conversation and well into their second drink, “I came to the party too!” The peaches, plums and nectarines are going to keep on coming well into the fall, though, and the cherries and apricots are going to run their season’s course by July.

So, in deciding what fruits to make yourself sick on when, I’d suggest you start with the cherries, move on to the apricots, then shift to the other stone fruits. It’s a strategy that works for me.

This was Fred’s first weekend of the season with apricots. The market crowd parted when I was about a dozen paces away from his booth, and I spotted the pink-blushed golden fruits beaming in their little green baskets. By the time I got to the table I was smiling from ear to ear.

Fred saw me coming. I think he thinks I am crazy.

I bought five pint baskets of cherries last week – and Fred doesn’t skimp on packing the pints – and had eaten them all by Friday night without devoting any of them to a pie or a tart. “I finished all those cherries,” I told him. I’m not sure if I was expecting praise or admiration or a comment on the apparent robustness of my digestion. He gave me that smile that I can never decide if it’s pleased or wary. But he keeps selling me fruit, and that’s all that matters.

Fred’s apricots – how can I explain them? They’re sweet and dense and perfumed and carry the barest note of tartness, just enough to smooth out the fruit’s sweetness. It’s not the super-sweetness of cherries, nor the exuberant brash tartness of a traditional yellow peach. What the fruit is really about is that floral note that the meaty flesh conveys as it separates cleanly from the stone as you bite into it. It calls out to be combined with raisins, or walnuts, or basil, or honey, if you can restrain yourself long enough to come up with a recipe idea.

I restrained myself in terms of how much I bought, anyhow. I got two pint baskets each of apricots, Ranier cherries and Tulare cherries from Fred.

But my restraint is not holding. I have already eaten six apricots in the last two hours. Okay, now the count is up to seven.

If you can manage to stash some in a folded-over paper bag or a fruit bowl for a day or two, you will really be rewarded. I’m one of those people who likes really ripe stone fruit – a “leaner,” as we say, for the posture you’re forced to adopt to try to avoid being dripped on – and really ripe apricots are incredible. The tartness starts to wane as they ripen, and the fruit’s cell walls weaken until it really does taste like you’re biting into some sort of mythical ambrosial fruit plucked from the heart of a magnificent flower.

Which you are, I suppose – but it’s a tiny pink unassuming-looking apricot blossom.