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Seasonal Produce Watch: Figs, Figs, Figs!

Having had some divine figs–right off a ginormous old tree–on vacation, I was debating whether or to write about the arrival of this fall’s fresh figs back here at home–totally worthwhile, yes–but necessary? And then I remembered that I’d never had a fresh fig until Mr. T brought some home one day not so many years ago. They were so novel and delicious I ate the whole pint myself… and spent the next two days in very close proximity to the potty. But the less said about that, the better.

So yes, anyway. On the off chance that anyone else is, like I was, not clued in to the manifest delights of fall’s fresh figs, let’s dish. A yielding, velvety skin surrounding lush, honeyed flesh? Yes indeed. While there are tons and tons of fig varieties, we’re most likely to see Black Mission, Brown Turkey, or green Calimyrna in markets here in DC. And, providing that you don’t eat them all at once, they’re as healthy as they are tasty; full of all sorts of needful vitamins and nutrients in addition to, *hem*, lots of fiber.

Regardless of variety, key to picking good figs–is to look for soft, yielding, fruit. If they’re a bit beat-up looking, that’s often a good indicator that they’re ripe. Also an excellent indicator is if they’re oozing a bit of sticky juice from their bottoms. This makes the best tasting figs frequently not the best LOOKING figs, particularly if you’re not plucking them, sun-warmed, from the tree yourself. Get over this, as I had to, and you will be rewarded.

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Seasonal Swing: Fall Fruit Salad

So, because last weekend wasn’t going to be busy enough, I felt the need to have people round for brunch on Sunday. It’s a good thing I’m cute when I’m getting ready for parties or I’d be so, so dumped. It’s also a good thing half my guests bailed at the last minute; the ones that DID show up were HUNGRY.

Anyway, I planned on doing my usual brunch menu: Eggs Mornay, bacon, biscuits, asparagus vinaigrette, coffee cake, and fruit salad. But, with fall in the air, my usual fruit salad (pineapple, melon, kiwi, & strawberry layered in a glass bowl) didn’t really seem appropriate.

Instead, I turned to some slightly more seasonal fruit. The WF had some gorgeous Honeycrisp apples and Asian pears (on sale-sweet!), and I grabbed a pomegranate, some figs, and a couple of Bartlett pears as well. With a few toasted walnuts on top, I figured I’d be in business for a crunchy, sweet, seasonally-sensitive salad.

I did, however, need to address the whole oxidization issue, which kind of harshed my mellow. While it’s a fall salad, I didn’t want all my fruit to be straight-up brown and mushy. THAT’S not cool.

I figured that an acidic little dressing would help keep the fruit looking its best for at least a little while. Lemon juice was the obvious candidate, but I decided to cut it with boiled cider so all my lovely fall fruits would taste like themselves and not like… lemon. And flavor-wise, this worked out really well. The boiled cider lent autumnal nuance to everything and the lemon brightened and lightened as only it can. If you don’t have boiled cider on hand, I’m sure maple syrup–the REAL thing, if you please–would be lovely as well.

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Pucker Face

I have some beautiful sour cherries from the farmers’ market. What to do, what to do…

Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote: Good On (And For) Everything

rhubarbshortcake1So, spring has sprung most definitively here in D.C. and we’ve all got the horrific allergies to prove it. Snot aside, however, the other of spring’s harbingers have also arrived. And I, for one, am far more excited to reach for the rhubarb than the Kleenex. This quick little compote is a sweet and tangy pinch hitter that will add welcome zing to just about anything. Though I fancied it up with biscuits and whipped cream for shortcakes, it’s just as tasty dolloped on yogurt or even swirled into a dirtied pork chop pan with a little shallot and port for a delicious pan sauce.

Also known as “pie plant” for its heroic thickening abilities and it’s winning way with pastry, rhubarb makes for an early spring’s change from winter’s last citrus… they’re similarly bright and tangy but while oranges are, well, ORANGE, rhubarb tastes of pink and red and NOT ORANGE. Which is cool when you’re dying for something new in cold and windy spring. There are, however, a few Rules for Rhubarb.

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Divalicious Moroccan Oranges

Continuing with everyone’s new years obsession with all things citrus, here we have a tasty and refreshing orange salad. Unlike the more savory version that Mark Bittman has on offer this week in the NYT, this version is sweetly dessert-worthy.  While it is, in fact, Moroccan, it could easily conclude a Chinese dinner or shine as part of a brunch. I was first served this by my lovely friend Alissa. It is, like the lady herself, the essence of elegance. Upon first seeing it, however, I was slightly taken aback–cinnamon-dusted oranges? Really? But the combination really is quite amazingly tasty. I have since seen it gussied up with dates, sugar, pomegranate molasses, liqueurs, and other such things, but I prefer to keep it simple, with just oranges, cinnamon, and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios for color and crunch.

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Falling For Quince & Apple Crisp

So, I had grand ambitions with this crisp. Time was not, however, on my side, so fancy platings and other fripperies got ditched so I could share this delicious, if not supremely elegant-looking, fall dessert. Though there are myriad baked fruit desserts that come topped or mixed with something or other–buckles, betties, cobblers, pandowdies–in my family it’s always been the fruit crisp. And, really, how could a nutty, buttery, crispy-sweet topping NOT beat soggy-bottomed cobbles or random bits of bread? Exactly. The major innovation here–at least for now–is the addition of quince to the apples.

applequince crispQuince, also known as Eve’s apple, are fascinating. The yellow fruit possesses the most spectacularly sweet and lovely fragrance, though their flesh is equally as astringent when raw–to the point of inedibility. All they’re good for in the raw, then, is scenting the kitchen. Cooked, however, they are divine. Sugar is a must, and after some time in the oven or on the stove, the fruit is imbued with its own fragrantly sweet essence. They’re often made into jam or cooked down further to make membrillo, a thick Spanish paste served with cheese.

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