Blueberry Bliss

Going shopping while hungry is almost never a good idea. Last night, in addition to a giant bar of dark chocolate, I came home with about 4 pints of fresh blueberries. No problem, I rationalized, I'll make muffins. I wanted a better blueberry muffin, so I ran to the computer for inspiration. Blueberry muffins, like banana bread, always seem like a great idea and we love eating them, but when it comes time to find a recipe it's chaos. I was quickly reminded that there are an endless amount of muffin and bread recipes on the internet all claiming to be the best- but none are ever quite right. An hour later I was still looking at the screen, zombie-like, when my mom came to my rescue waiving, in victory, the recipe card for my great Aunt Sonia's blueberry muffins.  I almost cried in joy. I had almost forgotten about these muffins- these glorious, sugar crystal encrusted, giant muffins.

When you first look at this recipe, it seems so normal. There's sugar, butter, flour- all typical baking ingredients. For the most part  (save for the almond extract and vanilla bean paste-but more about those later) the muffins are made with everyday ingredients and I think that's what makes them magical. The proportions of those ingredients are just right, allowing the blueberries to really shine through while the almond extract and vanilla bean paste lend this warm, comforting, background. (Note: vanilla bean paste contains the scraped out seeds from a vanilla bean. It saves you time and money and can be found in the food/baking section of TJMaxx/Marshalls for around $6.00. Once you start baking with it, you won't be able to stop- we promise!)

 Needless to say, I am forever indebted to my Great Aunt Sonia for passing down this muffin recipe. These muffins have become my go-to, preventing me from becoming a screen staring, muffin-less zombie. And as I am sure to be making many other impromtu berry purchases at the markets, I'm am thrilled to have this recipe in my arsenal. 

Aunt Sonia's Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter 
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • large, crystal sugar for topping
  • pinch of kosher or sea salt

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 and butter and flour large muffin tins. These muffins are meant to be giant! You can also bake them in large ramekins if you don't have large muffin tins. 

2. Cream together the sugar and butter.

3. Add the milk, eggs, vanilla bean paste, and almond extract.

4. Mix in flour, baking soda, and salt. The batter will be quite thick, but that's okay. The moisture from the blueberries will loosen it up a bit. 

5. Gently fold in the blueberries.

6. Spoon batter about 3/4 way up the muffin tins. Sprinkle generously with the large sugar crystals (sprinkling with large sugar is essential!) and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes about 8 large muffins or 12-16 regular sized muffins.

 

Too Many Mangoes- An Adventure in Mango Lassis

One of the challenges of operating a cooking school (and being bargain shoppers!) is that we run the risk of buying lovely ingredients, like fragrant, juicy mangoes and not finding the time to cook with them. These mangoes were intended to be turned into Heide's Mango Soup, but three days passed and I decided that they were no longer reserved for soup. They were getting ripe and I was getting impatient. More importantly, I couldn't let the opportunity to develop a perfect mango lassi recipe pass me by!

So, I pulled out my trusty blender and got to work. There are several difficulties to successfully pulling off a mango lassi. The first is the mango. Many recipes call for Alphonso Mango Pulp, a pre-sweetened puree that you can buy on Amazon or at Indian Supermarkets. This is certainly the most authentic way to go about doing  things and it’s made with super-flavorful Alphonso mangoes that only grow in India. But I opted out for several reasons. First of all, I had twelve ripe mangoes sitting in my kitchen. Second, canned Alphonso mangoes are kind of hard to get, and really expensive if you do have to buy them online. And since I would never wish to expense anyone, I decided to go with fresh. To mimic the sweetened puree, and maximize mangoey-ness, I mashed the mangoes first, to release the juices, and then mixed them with a little bit of sugar (but not too much) to intensify their flavor but not sweeten them too much. It worked perfectly.

Then I had to think about the yogurt. A bunch of recipes swear by goat yogurt, which I find a bit suspect. But I tried it anyway, and frankly, even if it were more authentic (which it’s not) it doesn’t taste that different from cow yogurt – just a bit more like goat cheese. It’s delicious, but it’s also much runnier than regular yogurt, so it hurts the lassi’s texture. Regular yogurt, on the other hand, passed both flavor and texture tests.

Finally I had to consider what other ingredients the lassi might need. Some recipes call for only mango and yogurt, several call for cardamom and many others call for milk. I made one with just mango and yogurt. It tasted delicious – like a fantastic mango smoothie. But it didn’t taste like a lassi. I tried adding the cardamom – also delicious, and decidedly Indian, but definitely not a lassi. I decided to try one last time, eliminating the cardamom and adding a cup of milk. It was perfect. It was tangy, mangoey and creamy – everything a lassi should be.

Rest assured this recipe has been meticulously tested and adjusted to taste just like it would at your favorite restaurant – we would never stand for sloppy imitations! These are super healthy, and super easy to make. And they’ll be perfect for keeping you cool when that New England Summer humidity gets to be too much. 

Mango Lassi

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mango in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1-1.5 cups yogurt (less yogurt will taste more mangoey, which I prefer, but more will taste a bit more authentic)
  • 1 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Mash mangoes in a large bowl, and stir in sugar. Let stand for 20-30 minutes. There should be around 1.5 cups of puree.
  2. Pour mangoes, yogurt and milk into blender. Blend until completely smooth. I recommend going on your blender’s highest setting, because otherwise the mangoes can end up stringy, which is gross.
  3. Pour into glasses and try not to drink all of them yourself.

 

 

 

 

Disaster to Delicious- Cast Iron Corn Salad

My family has a small obsession with fresh summer corn. At every summer gathering we have to discuss, evaluate, and discuss again all the corn we eat like the true bunch of weirdos we are. Was it too sweet, not sweet enough, or just right? So, to spark the debate for the 2015 season, I bought oh so much corn at the farmer's market as soon as I saw it (although it is still a bit early in the season, I couldn't resist). 

This recipe began almost a full year ago during a farmer's market class I was teaching. One of the top fears of any cooking teacher and chef is food allergies. I am pretty crazy about food allergies so when I learned that a student had a dairy allergy, I momentarily panicked. We were making a Chilled Corn, Lime, and Ancho soup- a vibrant soup full of fresh corn, spices, and of course, dairy. After I had recovered from my short bout of panic, inspiration struck and I decided to make the student a warm, burnt corn with lime and ancho chile side dish.

Phase 2 of Cast Iron Corn Salad happened as soon I returned from a trip to New Orleans months after the class. I am always fearful when I open the door to our house after a trip. Something a little scary seems to happen when we’re gone, only this time I was hardly worried since my parents were house sitting for all but the last day. Yet, I walked in and there was this vague scent of musty vegetables. It took me a good long while to realize the freezer wasn’t completely closed from ice build-up, which happens from time to time. Everything was still vaguely cool, but definitely not frozen.  Most things had to be thrown away, but there was a lot of corn that was still cold. So, with that farmer's market side dish in mind and two pounds of somewhat frozen corn on the kitchen table, I took out my cast iron skillet, turned up the flame, and later had the most refreshing chilled burnt corn salad with dinner.

In honor of the glorious, fast-approaching corn season, here is the recipe for Cast Iron Corn Salad with Lime, Ancho Chile, and Avocado. Enjoy!

Cast Iron Corn Salad with Lime, Ancho Chile and Avocado

Ingredients:

  •   3 tablespoons canola oil
  •   2 pounds (about 4 ½ cups) frozen or fresh organic corn
  •   ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  •   2 limes
  •   ¾ teaspoon pepper
  •   1-1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  •   2 teaspoons ancho or chipotle chili powder divided
  •   ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  •   1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •   1 medium red onion coarsely chopped
  •   2 avocados diced
  •   2 tomatoes coarsely chopped (optional)

Directions:

1.    Heat canola oil in a non-stick pan, preferably cast iron.

2.    Add corn. Mix well to assure all the kernels are coated with oil.

3.    Add the salt, stir and cook on medium high for 10 minutes, or until the kernels start to brown and even burn in some places. (It will smell vaguely of popcorn and may even pop a kernel or two, so be careful!)

4.    Zest both limes (you should have 2 teaspoons of zest).

5.    Add the zest and the juice of one lime to the skillet. Mix well and then add the ancho powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.

6.    Let the corn cool for at least an hour in the refrigerator then add red onions, avocado and tomatoes. Sprinkle the juice of the second lime over the salad, mix well and serve.

 

 

To Market to Market

Welcome to Fig Cooking School's blog! For our first official post, we could think of nothing better to kick off the blog than Cityseed's Wooster Street Farmer's Market. As I started thinking about Cityseed's fabulous farmer’s market in Wooster Square and as I looked through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken in recent weeks, I was struck not only by the vibrant colors, the luscious fruits and vegetables, but the remarkably diverse and colorful people who come to this special place Saturday mornings.

We’ve met so many wonderful people here who genuinely care about food and are meticulous about the quality of ingredients they use in their everyday lives. My hat's off to them. For those of us who live in or near New Haven, waking up before 11:00 is a small price to pay for this well run market with so many accessible local and organic foods.

One of the things I just love about the market is that it is one-stop-shopping; you can and should pick your menus for the week based on what the local Connecticut farmers are harvesting that week.

I fell in love with beets since they were so plentiful and were offered in so many colors: orange, white and of course that beautiful dark purple that turns a gorgeous pinkish lavender color when pureed with a bit of cream. We ate them in chilled borschts, we caramelized them for salads with avocado and goat cheese, and sometimes we just ate them roasted with a just a sprinkle of sea salt and coarse pepper.

You can also pick up gorgeous wild flowers, sunflowers and the most spectacular dahlias to decorate your table with too. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to pick up some of the finest baked goods in Connecticut at the Sono Bakery.

One of the reasons to go to the market, of course, is the people watching. It’s some of the best in New Haven.  The shopkeepers and the customers have a lot of pizzaz and personality.

People find many ways of transporting their goods home too. Most, of course, are environmentally friendly- you see re-usable bags and wheels of every kind.

Of course, pampered pets enjoy the morning at the market too. And why not?

I hope I’ve whet your appetite to visit the market, or one nearest your home. But I’m warning you- they’re addictive. Supermarket produce will never look the same again.