Monday, September 30, 2013

Tunas and I am not talking about fish!

Since I have been on a roll lately about figs, I thought I would feature Tunas!
The tuna is the small pear shaped fruit which grow on the ends of the paddles (nopales) of the Prickly Pear cactus.  The Spanish invaders called them "Figs of Indies".  They grow in a variety of colors from bright red, pink, magenta to limey-yellow.  They are found through out Mexico, especially in Jalisco and the central states.  The small acorn shaped red Tuna found in Oaxaca is used to make tuna nieve (cactus fruit sorbet or ice).
One day I was in Europa, a narrow and long store in San Miguel de Allende that sells liquor, wine and gourmet food items.  There were two young, pretty gals wearing sashes over their short dresses that read "Liquor de Tuna" and they were handing out samples.  I had to laugh at many of the gringos that curled up their nose of the thought of drinking tuna (fish) liquor!
Ah, viva Mexico.
A street vendor in San Miguel de Allende unloading his tunas for sale.

Several tunas are sweet and can be eaten in many different forms:  simply peeled and eaten seeds and all. A refreshing drink is made called Agua fresca de tuna. There are so many different ways to prepare the tunas and each region has their own special recipe.  Colonche is a beverage made from fermented tunas.  In the state Michoacan, the tunas are skinned and seeds removed before being added raw to a mole de olla.  The skin and seeds are removed for a table salsa and for a desert in Hidalgo.  In San Luis Potosi, the tunas are used as a relish in salads and in broths and moles in Queretaro.
The tunas can be boiled down to make a dense fruit butter called queso de tuna (prickly pear cheese) and cooked to make a taffy like candy called melcocha.  The tuna agria, also known as xoconostle, is acid and somewhat sour is used to lend tartness in some stewed dishes.
If you remember my post on Caramelized Fig Ice Cream (October 18, 2013), you can make the same sauce by substituting the figs with the tunas.
Take care in skinning the tunas, their thorns are as treacherous as the cactus pads.  Cut off both ends and then cut the skin off like would would with an orange.  Cut them into quarters and remove the seeds.  Add them to the caramelized sugar mixture and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often until cooked through.  The tunas will remain crisp-tender.  They will keep for about a week in the syrup.
Serve over vanilla ice cream.  Take note, the flavors are intense so use sparingly.  
Buen Provecho!

FYI - The tunas are available in U.S. grocery stores.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Grilled Peach & Onion Salad

I have been going crazy with all the fresh produce, especially the peaches and figs (as you know from previous posts).  My new favorite salad is Grilled Peach and Onion Salad with caramelized bacon and fresh arugula with a Buttermilk Herb Dressing.

Buttermilk Herb Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 2/ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons chives, chopped
3 tablespoons mint, chopped
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
(best made a day in advance)

1 lb. center cut thick-sliced bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
parchment paper
cayenne pepper
3 ounces arugula (about 3 big hand fulls)
3 large Vidalia onions, cut into 3/4" slices, left in tact
3 large peaches, cut into 6 wedges
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 325'.  Line a large cookie sheet with the parchment paper.  Place the bacon slices on the paper, sprinkle with the brown sugar and the cayenne pepper.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until caramelized.  Remove from oven and let cool.  As the bacon cools, it will become firm.  Cut bacon with a scissor into 2" pieces.  (I like to set the cookie tray in the sink at an angle so the bacon grease drains off the one end of the cookie sheet into the sink. Don't worry the bacon slices are not going anywhere except for a few bites here and there.)
Brush the onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill over medium heat, turning occasionally until the slices are browned and softened.
Transfer to a serving dish and separate the slices.
Brush the peaches with olive oil.  Grill over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, turning once.  Toss with the onions and arugula.  Add the buttermilk dressing and top with the bacon.

The bacon can be done ahead of time and then brought to room temperature. The onions can be made a few hours ahead.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Caramelized Fresh Fig Ice Cream

A week or so ago I wrote a while about fresh figs and this certainly is the time of year to get them.  For company the other night I made Caramelized Fresh Fig Ice Cream.   And it was out of this world.

I bought two pounds of fig which was about 21 large figs .  They were perfectly ripe to the touch and boy did they taste good.

Caramelized Fresh Fig Ice Cream
(makes 6 cups)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
4 1/2 cups figs, quartered plus more for garnish (about 4 large figs per cup)
4 tsp. butter
1 tsp. Maldon sea salt
2 pints of good vanilla ice cream
In a large skillet, add the sugar, 2 tsp. of lemon juice and 6 tsp. of water.  Mix with a wooden spoon.  Cooking over a high heat, swirl the pan until the sugar starts to caramelize and turns a medium golden brown.  Remove from the heat and add the figs.
Cook over a low heat until the figs start to break down.  Add the butter, salt and remaining lemon juice.  Remove from heat and let cool.
Soften the ice cream at room temperature for about 15 minutes.  Beat it in your mixer with the paddle attachment until smooth.   With a spatula, fold in the fig mixture.  Freeze until ready to serve.
The fig mixture would also be great served slightly warm over a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.
We actually had the last of the fig ice cream the other night with a scoop of pistachio ice cream and the combination was remarkable.

Finally, a rather obscure writer by the name of Robert J. Hasting passed away a few years ago, but before he did he wrote a short little piece,
"The Station"
I quote in part:  "Sooner or later we realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at. The true joy of life is the trip. It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad, it is the regrets over yesterday and the fears of tomorrow.  So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less.  Life must be lived as we go along.  The station will come soon enough."

I agree, eat more ice cream.  Bon appetit!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Moth, not a hummingbird

For the past week we have had a strange little visitor to our garden. He or she has been drinking the nectar from the Obedient plants and the Plumbago in our front yard every afternoon.  My husband thought it was a different looking hummingbird but I said no, it could not be with those antennas.  Well, Len did some research and found out it is a White-lined Sphinx Hummingbird Moth!  
They have a three inch wing span and fly just like a hummingbird, hovering over the flowers and even flying backwards.  I know I would rather see them in my garden in this stage of their life verses their larva or caterpillar stage.

Monday, September 2, 2013

I love fresh Figs

It's that time of year when the figs are to die for.  The above is such an easy and fast appetizer.  A simple way to serve figs is to cut them in half and press your finger in the middle to make a little indentation.  Put some softened goat cheese in the middle and drizzle them with a good Balsamic vinegar. I also like to reduce the same amount of port and Balsamic vinegar and use that over the figs.
Pure heaven.
In the next day or so, check my blog for photos and the recipe for my Fresh Fig Ice Cream.  That is part of my Labor Day  menu.  Well, back to the kitchen.  I need to get the Pistachio Shortbread Cookies in the oven.  I think the cook needs a cookie fresh out of the oven with a cup of coffee.
Wishing everyone a relaxing Labor Day.