Fresh Fig Upside-Down Cake

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This year's fig season is coming to a close, but they're still out there, and hopefully you can lay your hands on about a pound of them.  And quick.  Because if you love figs, you're going to want to get this cake made up in like a real hurry.  Oh my ever lovin goodness; simply delicious.  The recipe comes from Carla Hall of Top Chef fame, which she shared on The Chew recently.  I only made one change to her recipe which I will share with you in a bit.

But figs... maybe you've never cooked with figs or maybe you've never actually tasted a fig or maybe you're just not sure about this whole fig thing to begin with, but I assure you, figs are like candy disguised as fruit.  Figs and dates... two of nature's truly delectable confections.

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And because figs are so perfectly perfect, the only thing we're going to do to them is remove their little stem and slice them in half.

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Aren't figs beautiful?   I think it's time to start lobbying for a longer fig season.  Two months just doesn't cut it.  

But to make this extraordinary cake, you're going to start by melting some butter and brown sugar in a pan.  This is where Ms. Hall added orange juice and lemon juice to the pan and where I added Bourbon.  I'm sure this does not need explaining.

Once you've got your butter, sugar and Bourbon all melted and perfectly combined, that gets poured into a cake pan to sit while you slice your figs.  Then your figs get placed onto the sauce really tightly together so everyone gets real chummy in there.

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By now you've got your cake batter all made so you're going to spoon that over the figs very gently so the figs don't get moved around too very much.

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Then into the oven it goes for about 40 minutes and while it's cooking, that brown sugar sauce bubbles up around the edges and turns into caramel and magical things take place and it comes out looking sort of like this...

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which is admittedly a little weird, but it doesn't really matter what it looks like cuz it's going to be the bottom of our scrumptious cake.  But in case you're wondering, those edges are pure Bourbon-y, caramel-y cakey wondrousness.  And when we turn it over, it's going to look something like this...

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Heck yeah.  Those burnished caramel edges are simply divine with that moist cake, and in only a few minutes after your cake cools, it will look something like this...

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'Nuff sed.  Here's the recipe...

Fresh Fig Upside-Down Cake

Recipe adapted from Carla Hall

Click here for a printable recipe

2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
2/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
3 tablespoons of Bourbon
zest of 2 lemons
1 pound fresh figs (ends trimmed, cut in half)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs (room temperature)
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
whipped cream and powdered sugar for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the brown sugar and the Bourbon and stir until everything is dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.

Scrape this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Arrange the cut figs flesh-side down very close together in an even layer on top of the brown sugar mixture in a circular pattern.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together the 2 sticks of butter with the granulated sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the sour cream and vanilla. Then, stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture with a wooden spoon.

Using a large spoon, carefully dollop the batter over the figs in the cake pan. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let rest in the cake pan for about 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges and invert the cake onto a platter. Cool completely before serving.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of powdered sugar (totally optional and unnecessary, in my humble opinion).

New Mexico Green Chile Sauce

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It's Hatch green chile season and if you're lucky enough to find them in your local store or farmer's market, then you will most definitely want to make yourself some of this green chile sauce. I'll give you lots of good reasons to do so in just a minute.  If you can't find fresh Hatch chiles, you can sometimes find canned or frozen ones, and if you can't find those, do not despair, Anaheim chiles are a pretty decent stand-in.  

If you've spent any time at all in New Mexico, and/or the Southwest in general, you will know that culinarily speaking, the region is divided into red sauce and green sauce, one of which is applied to most indigenous dishes and you almost always get a choice... "you want that with red or green?"

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The red sauce is very much like our very own enchilada sauce, but the green one, born of those beautiful Hatch chiles, was new to me.  I had planned to buy up a bunch of Anaheim chiles because there was no chance I was going to find fresh Hatch chiles in my local market here in the Midwest.   So you can imagine my surprise when I happened upon 2 big bins of them, one labeled Hot and one labeled Mild.  I bought up some of each and had this sauce made up in no time.  

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It was every bit as good as I had anticipated and on my return trip to the store I bought enough for another batch and then I returned for more.  I actually went back again, but I must have bought them out because the bins were now filled with beautiful banana peppers (might have to do some pickling?).  But for now, my freezer is well stocked with green chile sauce which should get me through the next few months.  And what, you may well ask, am I going to do with all of that sauce?  Well, for starters, huevos rancheros, which I usually make with a red ranchero sauce, would be a no-brainer with this, as would our chile relleno bake.  We've drizzled our tacos with it and it will be topping our scrambled eggs in the morning.  It would also make some excellent quesadillas.

One of our favorite uses so far has been in this queso dip.  Man was that good...

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Another stellar application was when I mixed it in with some avocado for this green chile avocado dip.  Outstanding.

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Then I made up a bunch of burritos with our homemade refried pinto beans, thinking to stash them in the freezer, but no, they were too good.  Must get more of those made up.

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Of course, we'll be making green chile enchiladas soon as well.  

I hope that gives you a few ideas as to how you'll be using your own green chile sauce.  Better get to it before those Hatch chiles disappear in a few weeks.  Here's the recipe...

New Mexico Green Chile Sauce

Click here for a printable recipe

This is a traditional green chile sauce made throughout the Southwest, but particularly indigenous to New Mexico.  It is made with Hatch green chiles that come in varying degrees of heat.  If you do not have access to Hatch chiles, you can substitute anaheims or poblanos.  You could also use canned Hatch chiles or frozen if you can find them, but the flavors won't be quite as robust.  Most recipes call for chicken or beef broth, which you can certainly use, but I found it muddled the chile flavors and prefer to use water.  I also liked the sauce better when a bit of it was pureed at the end to make it more sauce-y, which means you can use less flour than most traditional recipes.

Adapted from "The New Mexico True" website

Makes about 3 cups of sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups chopped chiles that have been roasted, peeled and seeded (about 7 largish Hatch  chiles)
1 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a 10-12 inch skillet over medium heat.  Saute the onion until soft, about 6-8 minutes, and then sprinkle in the flour.  Stir the flour in to coat the onions and begin cooking and then add the water, the chiles and the salt.

Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes.  Taste for salt and heat.  If you would like it spicier, stir in a minced jalapeño and cook for a few more minutes.

Place about 1/4 of the mixture in a blender and puree until smooth.  Stir this back into the sauce before serving. 

Queso Dip with Green Chile Sauce

Click here for a printable recipe

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 15-ounce can evaporated milk
1 large pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 cups mexican-blend shredded cheese
1/4-1/2 cup half & half
1/2 cup (or more to taste) Hatch Green Chili Sauce

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add onion and garlic, saute for approximately 5 minutes or until starting to soften. Sprinkle flour over onion mixture, stir and cook for two minutes. Stir in evaporated milk and continue to cook until thickened and heated through, about 3-5 minutes. Add a large pinch of salt (a pinch is three fingers and a thumb) and freshly ground black pepper.

Add cheese and stir until incorporated (mixture will be very thick). Add half & half a few tablespoons at a time, stirring to incorporate, until you reach desired consistency. Stir in the Hatch Green Chili Sauce and serve warm with chips.

Green Chile Avocado Dip

Click here for a printable recipe

I'm resisting calling this a guacamole for the very reason that it's the green chile sauce that's sort of the star here.  The avocados are the perfectly creamy vehicle to showcase the flavors of the chiles.  Add as much or as little as you would like to customize it to your own tastes.

2 ripe avocados
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup green chile sauce (or more to taste)
1 or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Mash the avocados with a fork and stir in the remaining ingredients.  Add more chile sauce, lime juice or salt as needed.  Serve with chips.

Super Smooth and Creamy Hummus

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You're right, we do talk about hummus a lot on this blog.  But for all that, I'm still not done.  My love for all things hummus is owing partly to my fondness for chickpeas and partly to my affection for tahini and Middle Eastern food in general.  And then there's the whole dip and chip thing. Love that too.  

So, of course, if you put all of that together, hummus is the love child of all of those elements and something that I have sought for lo these many years to get just right.  And I'm not going to say that any of the hummus recipes that I've made over the years are wrong; it just bugs me when I feel it could be better.

Which brings me to this, my latest hummus iteration, which is the culmination of some pretty intense hummus testing here in the Circle B Kitchen.  It's ethereally smooth, loaded with flavor and at the end of the day, it's exactly what I want sitting on the end of my pita chip.

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And not only did all of that testing result in a spectacular humus, but I learned lots of cool stuff along the way.  Firstly, even though I was already convinced that the best hummus comes from freshly-cooked chickpeas, I found out that adding a little baking soda to the cooking water helps to soften them without overcooking.  And then I learned that I could cook up a whole pound of chickpeas, use what I need at the moment and freeze the rest for future endeavors by placing them on a parchment-lined sheet tray in a single layer, freezing for a few hours and then placing them in ziploc bags thusly...

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These little bags go back in the freezer until needed.

I also learned that the smoothest hummus comes from warm chickpeas, so that even if you choose to make your hummus from canned chickpeas, you can get a smoother texture by briefly simmering your canned chickpeas first.  I also learned that to make a good hummus, you can't skimp on the tahini (duh).  And I learned that I could probably make my hummus even creamier by removing the skins from the chickpeas (which the baking soda makes easier), but then I learned that maybe I don't need my hummus that smooth.  I think there may be some purveyors of chickpeas that sell them already skinned, but I haven't found those yet. 

And then I learned that I very much love roasted red pepper hummus.  On a whim I took some of my beautifully creamy hummus and threw it back into the food processor with some roasted red peppers, spicy harissa and smoked paprika.  Oh my.  So good.

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Oh, and I also learned to never name any recipe on your blog the "best" anything.  No such thing. You never know when even your best, favorite recipes might benefit from new inspiration and a few tweaks here and there.  

If you made those pita chips from last week's post, you may well need some hummus to go with them.  If so, here's my best, favorite hummus recipe...  ;-)

Super Smooth and Creamy Hummus

Click here for a printable recipe

In order to make super smooth and creamy hummus, you really do need to start with dried chickpeas and cook them up to the perfect texture for hummus.  (I've provided instructions for this at the bottom of the recipe).  Of course, yes, you can use canned chickpeas if you must, but a little trick to making those work better is to heat them up a bit before putting them in the food processor.  (Just place your rinsed and drained canned chickpeas in a pan, cover with water and bring to a simmer.  Drain and place in the food processor.)  Warm chickpeas break down more quickly and make a smoother paste.  I’ve given you some detailed instructions on how to cook dried chickpeas so you, too can make the best possible hummus.

2 cups warm chickpeas (see below for how to cook dried chickpeas)
1/3 cup tahini
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil (and more for serving)
2-3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped (optional)
1/4 cups toasted pine nuts for serving (optional)

Place the still-warm chickpeas, garlic (if using), tahini, lemon juice, cumin (if using) and salt in the food processor or blender.  Pulse until smooth, and then with the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream and blend until completely emulsified.  Add water as needed to make a loose, smooth mixture.  Taste for salt.

Using a spatula, transfer the hummus to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts.

To store, keep refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.  

 

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

1 cup of hummus (see above)
1 roasted red pepper, about 1/2 cup roughly chopped
1 tablespoon spicy Harissa (add more if you're using a mild version)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste for salt and stir in more Harissa, if desired.


Cooking Chickpeas from Scratch

Yes, you read it right… we’re adding baking soda to the cooking water.  It helps to loosen the skins and makes the resultant chickpeas, soft and ready to be whirled into super smooth and fluffy hummus

1 lb dried chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
lots of cold water
2 teaspoons kosher salt

In a large pot, cover the chickpeas wth 4 times their volume of water and add the baking soda.  Let them soak for 8 hours or overnight at room temperature.  Rinse,drain and return the chickpeas to the pot.  Cover with 4 inches of fresh water.

Bring the chickpeas to a boil, our the heat down and simmer for about an hour, or until the chickpeas are soft but not falling apart.  Add the salt during the last 15 minutes of cooking.  Once they’ve been drained, they can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 10 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

To freeze, place the chickpeas on a parchment-lined sheet pan in a single layer.  Place in the freezer for 3-4 hours.  Once frozen, divide them into smaller ziploc bags containing 2 cups each so they're ready to pull out and use for your next batch of hummus.  Be sure to thaw them completely and use them warm.

 

Homemade Pita Bread

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Now why, you may ask, would one spend an afternoon making pita bread when one can buy reliably good pita at just about any market these days?  That's just what I was asking myself yesterday as I embarked on this project with no clear rationale other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Truth be told, for me, making bread of any kind is perhaps what taking a nap is to normal people.  So I guess the answer to that question is that it was either a shot of espresso or start baking.  Right, then.  Baking it is.

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And why pita bread?  Because firstly, it's fun.  It really is very satisfying to get your hands into that soft, pillowy dough and make little balls and flatten them and then watch them puff to unnatural heights before deflating again into deliciously soft little flatbreads.  And while it's an amusing way to spend a few hours, the real reason to make pita bread is because there's no packaged, store-bought version anywhere that can come even close to homemade for flavor and texture.

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And I'm not even kidding about that.  This recipe turns out a very soft, very flavorful pita with a big pocket just waiting to be stuffed if you so choose.  The dough couldn't be simpler to make.  We throw all of the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer, or you can easily mix by hand, knead (or let the machine knead for you), let it rise for an hour and then make little pita balls.

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Those little balls get rolled into thin discs and then baked in a hot oven for 3 minutes,

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and once they're cooled, they're ready to eat.  Or stuff.

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Oh, and here's another reason to spend the afternoon making pita bread...

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Pita chips!!!  Oh my ever lovin goodness, these were the best pita chips in recent memory.  I split the breads open and cut them in half so the chips would be thin-ish, drizzled them with a little olive oil and sprinkled them with sea salt and z'atar (a middle eastern spice mix).  

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It only takes a few minutes for them to crisp up, but the inside stays just a bit chewy.  So good!  Of course I served them with hummus.  I would give you my hummus recipe, but I'm working on a new one and will publish that really soon.

So if you've got a couple of extra hours to kill, you could maybe make yourself some pita bread.  Or take a nap.  Your call.  Here are the recipes...

Homemade Pita Bread

Click here for a printable recipe

The trick to turning out great pita bread is making sure that your dough is wet enough.  It’s the steam created by the hot oven in the moist dough that causes them to puff and create that iconic pocket.  I found that adding a couple more tablespoons of water to the Serious Eats recipe created the perfect dough.  Do not worry about the dough being overly wet and sticky.  You will be adding flour at every stage of the process.  I keep my hands floured as well as the work surface, the dough and the rolling pin and it all works perfectly in the end!

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat flour*)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (8 ounces) water plus 2 more tablespoons
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl

* White whole wheat flour is a whole grain flour made from white wheat.  It is a whole grain wheat that is just lighter in color than red wheat, which makes it perfect in recipes where you want the nutty goodness of whole wheat but with a milder flavor.)

Directions

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if mixing by hand), add the flours, yeast, salt and sugar.  Use a whisk to mix well and then with the mixer on low and using the dough hook, add the water and olive oil.  Once the dough comes together, knead for 8 minutes, or if kneading by hand, 10 minutes.  The dough should be fairly tacky, bordering on sticky, but not overly so.  :)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and form into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a clean mixing bowl and place the dough inside, then rub oiled hands over the top of the dough. Cover bowl with a damp cloth and let rise for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, place a baking stone, cast iron griddle or cast iron pan in the oven and preheat oven to 500°F. Line a plate with a large, clean kitchen towel and set aside.

Punch down the dough, transfer to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into 8 even pieces. Form each dough piece into an even ball and let rest, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Roll each piece of dough into a very thin 6-7-inch circle and place on parchment paper.  Use a pizza paddle or large spatula to slide the discs onto the stone or cast iron pan (the parchment paper makes transfer easy and doesn't burn).  I could get 3 discs onto each piece of parchment and then onto my pizza steel in the oven.

Bake for 2 minutes.  The pitas will have completely puffed in that time.  Flip them over and continue to cook for 1 more minute.  

Remove from the oven and place on the towel-lined plate.  Cover them with the towel while you finish finish baking the remaining pitas.  And then they're ready to eat!

If not using immediately, cool completely and then store them in ziploc bags for several days.


Homemade Pita Chips

Click here for a printable recipe

Makes 24 or 32 chips

4 pita breads
olive oil
sea salt
z'atar seasoning (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cut the pita breads in half, open the pocket to make slicing in half again easy.  For each pita bread you should have 2 thin disks.  Cut each disk into 6ths (or 8ths if they're large enough), depending on how big you would like your chips.

Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and then place your pita pieces onto the pan. Drizzle with olive oil or spray with olive oil cooking spray.  Sprinkle with sea salt and if you have some, sprinkle them with z'atar.

Bake for 10 minutes, but start checking around 7 minutes and remove any chips that are browning quickly.  Continue to bake, until all of the chips are lightly golden and crisp. Baking times will vary, depending on your particular oven and the thickness of your chips.  

Serve with hummus or the dip of your choosing.

Store in an airtight bagThese chips will stay crispy

Pizzadilla?!

Although pizza dough is considered a permanent resident in our house, there really are times when the craving for pizza hits before I have a chance to get some dough made up.  But in these moments fraught with potential distress and grief, I am not deterred.  No, if it's pizza we are wanting, it is pizza we will have.  Which is to say, I make pizzadilla.  Which probably isn't technically considered an actual pizza.  Is it?  No matter, it's a remarkably good stand-in when you want pizza and your dough coffers are empty.

So what the heck is a pizzadilla, you ask?  It's probably pretty much what you're imagining, because yes, there are flour tortillas involved.  Specifically, according to Mr. Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats, a pizzadilla is "what happens when a pizza and a quesadilla meet down in the van by the river for a little late night action: Cheesy, greasy, crisp-edged glory."  :-)  And it's a perfectly apt description of our proxy pizza.  

I know you're wondering what the heck we're talking about, so here's how to make your very own pizzadilla.  We start with a large cast iron skillet that we'll heat up and then set over a low flame. (I have a round cast iron griddle that works great for this too).  Into that we'll place a large flour tortilla.  Then we're going to schmear a little pizza sauce on top...

... and then sprinkle that with some grated mozzarella cheese and a little parmesan, then place another flour tortilla on top (thus the quesadilla reference).  After that cooks for a minute, it gets flipped and basically, there's your pizza crust.  Stuffed with cheese and sauce.  I know.

To that we're going to add a little more sauce, cheese, and the toppings of your choice and stick the whole thing under the broiler to get all bubbly, brown and melty...

Then just slide it out, sprinkle with a little more parmesan (I forgot that part in the photo), slice, and prepare to be amazed by how good our not-pizza is.  Here's our sausage and olive one...

Of course, a traditional, dough-laden pizza is and always will be our first choice, but in a pinch, consider yourselves armed and ready to make pizza at a moment's notice.   Which is a very good reason to keep those flour tortillas on hand.  Here's the recipe...

PIZZADILLA!

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe courtesy of Serious Eats

Pizzadillas are a fun, easy and delicious way to create a pizza on the fly.  A cross between a quesadilla and a pizza, it requires no dough and can be made in minutes.  The downside is that if it sits too long after cooking, the bottom will lose it’s crispness, but a few minutes on a hot griddle will crisp it right up again.  Actually, we didn’t mind the soft crust one bit.

For each pizza:

1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large flour tortillas that just fit inside your cast iron skillet
3/4 cup store-bought or homemade pizza sauce
5 ounces shredded whole milk low moisture mozzarella cheese
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Additional toppings, as desired

Adjust oven rack to 6 to 8 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering. Reduce heat to low and wipe out excess oil with a paper towel.

Place tortilla in skillet with the rougher textured-side facing down. Spread half of sauce evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Spread half of mozzarella evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Place second tortilla on top. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until crisp on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip with a large spatula.

Spread remaining sauce evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Spread remaining mozzarella and half of Parmesan evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Scatter with basil, if you like, and add toppings as desired.

Place skillet under broiler and broil until cheese is melted and starting to brown in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. 

Using a small metal spatula, gently pry edges of pizza, releasing the cheese from the skillet. Peek under bottom. If more crispness is desired, place skillet over medium-heat and cook, swirling pizza and peeking occasionally, until desired crispness is achieved. Slide pizza out onto a cutting board. Cut and serve immediately.

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