Foodie Pen Pal Fun: Inbound from Florida

Holy heat wave, batman! How did we get to the end of June? The good news about being at the end of June is that I get to share with you the delightful treats that my pen pal from Florida, Adriana from Foodie Be Fit, sent me. These refreshing treats help me forget the triple digit action outside, so I recommend you go right out to get some of them for yourself, too. This month, it’s hard to pick my absolute favorite treat from the box because they’ve all been so great. Adriana asked me great questions and really did a fantastic job of broadening my horizons. Here is the full bounty, minus one poor sacrifice to the mailing gods.

foodie pen pal box

Not included in the photo was a mango that Adriana sent me from her backyard. How stinkin’ cool is that?! I love that she sent me homegrown produce. It would have gone great in my latest summer salad obsession. If you love mango and avocado, you should definitely check it out. I was out of town when the package arrived, so it pretty much baked in my apartment package pick-up area for several days at 100+ degrees. Poor mango, it just didn’t stand a chance. Fellow Foodie Pen Pal Stacy composed an obituary haiku for my homegrown Florida mango:

Sweet, juicy mango
Austin was unkind to you
The thought is what counts.

In every package, I appreciate snacks that I can take to work, and this package certainly delivered.
Snack Bars
I’ve been noshing on the bars and crackers all week, much to my taste buds’ delight. Lara Bars certainly make the Pen Pal rounds, but I’ve not seen an Über Lara Bar before. Last month, I had a comment conversation with another blogger about how she doesn’t like Lara Bars because she likes to see the ingredients in what she eats, and that can be tricky in a typical Lara Bar. Well, my foodie friends, if that is your stance, then the Über Lara Bar is for you. The fruits and nuts in the bar are larger and more identifiable. There are more ingredients in these, it seems, but I’m okay with that. It was crunchy, sweet, and fruity. I’ve never had a Clif MoJo bar either. I’ve seen them in the store, but never committed. Well, I’m committed now. This was nutty, chocolaty; also, you can see all the ingredients in this as well. It has a fair bit of protein and fiber, which is nice. Plus it is 70% organic which goes a long way for a lot of you.

Lara Bar front

Lara Bar front

Lara Bar Back

Lara Bar back

Clif MoJo Bar

Clif MoJo Bar

These crackers have been a staple in my lunch this week.
Pumpkin Seed and Cheddar Crackers
I’ve only had Dr. Kracker once before, and I wasn’t a huge fan because they were so thick that it sort of gave me a headache eating them. These, however, are not obscenely thick and crunchy. They have a nutty and slightly salty flavor between the roasted pumpkin seeds and the cheddar that is baked on. One cracker sheet is a serving and is pretty healthy. I *might* be eating two sheets now and again…don’t judge. 🙂 They are THAT good. There are a bunch of flavors which gives me lots of exciting choices to try.
Dr. Kracker box
Dr. Kracker varieties

The salad dressing has been good on my salads this week and in my snacks for dipping cucumber. I’ve not had a super ton of Green Goddess dressing before, so it’s pretty new to me. It’s quite herbaceous and lemony. I think it will be excellent with some seafood and pasta, perhaps even together. I’m really looking forward to finding ways to use this. If you have tips or suggestions for me, let me know!
Salad with Green Goddess dressing

Y’all, she sent me the cutest gummy pandas! Her pen pal last month sent them to her, and she has continued the chain of goodness.
Gummy Pandas
These are delightful. I like gummy candy now and again, but really my favorite part of these is the grapefruit part. I was slow to come to love grapefruit, but indeed I have come to love this controversial fruit. These sweet pandas are tangy, but not sour, and somehow I am compelled to eat at least two small handfuls every time I open the bag. I will be sad when they are gone, so hopefully I can find more in my neighborhood. These are also certified organic so you can get excited about that!
Grapefruit Gummies

Lastly, the honey-roasted peanut butter was freshly ground at her farmer’s market which I think is so great.
Farmer's Market Peanut Butter
I also received some flavored, homemade peanut butter in my first pen pal box which was tasty too. This peanut butter has a different texture than my nut butter from Sarah. Sarah’s peanut butter was smooth, and had more flavors added into the butter. This nut butter is crunchy, but not chunky-crunchy like store peanut butter. The nut pieces are plentiful throughout which makes it almost like a paste. It is a thicker-spreading peanut butter with far more peanuts to butter, so to speak. I put it on my breakfast toast and immediately fell in love. I scraped clean the container I brought it to work in and then immediately had a large spoonful when I got home. After all this exposure to non-store bought peanut butter, I will be exploring more fresh, homemade nut butters, for sure.
Chunky Peanut Butter

This month, I sent my box o’ goodies to Alexandra over at Healthy Life, Happy Wife. Go check out what great Texas delights I sent her. The tweet I got when she received the package indicated I did a pretty solid job of selecting goodies. That makes my heart happy. 🙂

Foodie friends, if you are not signed up to be a pen pal yet, then let’s get you on board. Visit Lindsay’s blog (The Lean Green Bean), to get the expanded details from the master organizer. The abridged version is that you sign up before day’s end on July 4th so you can get your pairings from Lindsay on July 5th. Then you have 3 days to contact them, find out their food allergies, preferences, etc., and then with a $15 spending limit, you are off to the grocery store. Ship the tasty treats by the 15th, and wait on your own box of goodies to arrive. If you are a blogger, you post on the last day of the month. If you are a reader, you just sit back, eat, and enjoy. It’s pretty much the best food choice you could make, so just pop on over and sign up already. Seriously. All the cool foodies are doing it.

Happy eating!

The Lean Green Bean

Roasted Garlic

Until recently, I thought everyone knew about roasted garlic. I’ve seen other bloggers post about roasting garlic and read through their posts to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Nope. We’ve all got it, so why are we continuing to post about it? Why am I here adding to the blogosphere with another roasted garlic post? Well, my friends, I’ve learned that not everyone knows what roasted garlic is or that they can make it themselves to avoid paying $8 for it at a restaurant. That is quite possibly one of the biggest restaurant mark-ups out there I’ve ever seen. So sweet food lovers, I’m happy to share with you the various ways I’ve made roasted garlic, what I do with it, and why I encourage you to make it at home instead of eating it out.


Roasted Garlic

Ingredients
Bulb of Garlic
1 teaspoon light olive oil
1 tablespoon water

Steps
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice off the top third of the head of garlic, and peel off a few of the extra layers of the papery skin. Leave the last layer or two. You won’t need the top third for the recipe. We’ll talk about what to do with it later.
3. Put your head of garlic in an oven-safe dish along with the tablespoon of water.*

Oven Ready Garlic

4. Drizzle the teaspoon of olive oil over the top of the head of garlic.
5. Cover the dish and put in the oven for 45 minutes.
6. Check garlic to see if the cloves are soft and if it’s starting to turn brown. It might need another 10 – 15 minutes. Your goal is soft, brown, and a little bit caramelized around a few of the edges.

Soft, brown, and caramelized (and the pan cleaned right up!)

7. When you take it out of the oven, let it rest for a few minutes so that it burns neither your mouth nor your hands.

*Alternatively, you can wrap your bulb of garlic in a piece of foil so it’s a snug little bundle. If you go this route, omit the tablespoon of water, and just go with the teaspoon of oil. I’ve also used this method. I like it as it reduces the number of dishes you have to wash. The dish/water method seems to keep the garlic from over-browning and reduces waste. It’s your kitchen so you can make the call for your preferred method. The water will evaporate throughout the cooking, and it will get brown in the bottom of your dish, but don’t freak out. This will wash off.

There have been times when I have wanted a few cloves of roasted garlic but didn’t want to roast an entire bulb of garlic. In these cases, I will take a few individual cloves of garlic, leave them wrapped in the skin, bundle them in a piece of foil with just a dollop of light olive oil and cook them in the oven along with whatever I’m baking or during my preparations for the rest of my dinner. As it usually takes me 35 – 40 minutes to make dinner, this is just about the right amount of time to roast the individual cloves. Again, you are looking for the cloves to be soft and browning at the ends. They might be oozing a little bit too; this is a sign of done-ness. For this to happen, your oven needs to be at least 350 degrees. If it’s higher, you should check on the cloves starting around the 25-minute mark.

Decisions…decisions…

When you chop off the top third, you are left with a decision. Many folks just toss it because it’s full of tiny little pieces of garlic that are difficult to do anything with. If you are like me, or have a grandmother like mine who has greatly influenced you, perhaps you feel badly wasting anything including tips and pieces of garlic. I tried once roasting the top third with the rest, but that didn’t end well, so I don’t recommend it. But you could mince it up to go into your meal, or save it to mince later. Just remember to mince it soon as the cut pieces don’t save for too terribly long. It’s also okay if you just throw it away. It’s your kitchen and nobody will know.

My spreader of choice

There is so much you can do with roasted garlic. As one of my dear girlfriends has said, you can start with smearing it on your face and go from there. It is that good. The last time I made it, I took all the cloves out of the head of garlic to put into an aioli. I’ve put roasted garlic on toast, then topped it with cheese or tapenade or bruschetta. I like to put roasted garlic in mashed potatoes or mixed in my baked potatoes. You can smush it through a garlic press into pasta, soup, omelets, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Because roasted garlic has a much more mellow flavor than raw garlic as well as being so spreadable, it can be used as a good substitute for butter. When I was eating my gallbladder low-fat diet last year, I did a lot of roasted garlic-substituting. I did try once leaving out the oil, but it didn’t roast quite as well. The oil helps its spreadability as well the browning of the garlic. Without the oil, the garlic is sort of a pale, anemic color and is difficult to spread.

I got all the cloves out!

Let’s talk about why I believe you should never order the roasted garlic appetizer in a restaurant. At the grocery store, garlic can be 2 for $1.00 or for a real deal, 4 for $1.00. I cannot think of a time when I’ve seen it be more expensive than $0.50 for a head of garlic. Most of us have a bottle of olive oil in our house. Yes, I want to encourage you to use light olive oil which may require owning 2 bottles, but regular olive oil could suffice if you just wanted to have the one. But once you’ve purchased the one bottle of oil for likely somewhere between $5 and $9, depending on brand preference, you can have so many heads of roasted garlic out of that bottle for the price of one appetizer of roasted garlic from your local eatery. There is a fancy-pants restaurant here in Austin where you can order roasted garlic bulbs with toast points for $8.95.  I do vaguely recall they are generous enough to give you two bulbs. Even so, at approximately $4.50 for a bulb with a couple of pieces of toast, it’s not a great deal. Y’all, make this at home. Take your $8.95, get two bulbs, a loaf of French bread, some yummy cheese, maybe some tasty meats or olives, and make a full spread of it. I like to do this regularly, and I highly recommend it.

Roasted garlic cloves for aioli

The reason why I encourage you to use light olive oil over extra virgin olive oil for roasting your garlic is because I have read that the smoke points for the different kinds of olive oil vary with the smoke point for light olive oil being higher than extra virgin. Bad things happen to oil when it reaches the smoke point. First, the oil begins to break down and create free radicals which are bad for your body. However, they are not nearly as bad as flames in your oven, which is the other concern of oil reaching the smoke point. The smoke point isn’t too far from the flash point where the oil could break into flames. Danger, Will Robinson, danger. At the same time, there is A LOT of data out there on the various smoke points for oils, and they don’t all say the same information. This website is all about olive oil and has good information about smoke points so you can educate yourself to make your own decision. One blogger doesn’t even recommend using olive oil anymore; you can read about that and using ghee instead, if you like.

Spread the good word about roasted garlic, y’all. I’ve learned that too many of my dear friends have never eaten it or don’t know how to make it at home. It’s just not right. We shouldn’t be paying $9 for it at restaurants. We can roast our own garlic to use in a plethora of ways! It even keeps in the fridge for about a week if you want to spread out using it. We have options and they are delicious! But do spread the good word so that others can know the joy of roasted garlic. Happy eating!

Baked Fig Bites

Dear eaters, I went on an unknown culinary adventure recently. I am going to share with you what I did, what I ate, and my thoughts on the whole thing, but please do let me know your experiences with figs if you have any as I’m a wee bit uncertain about the whole thing. It all started when I realized that my significant other has a fig tree outside his apartment. Well, color me happy! Hello, free produce! The only tricky part is that I am pretty much totally unfamiliar with fresh figs. But when you are handed free produce, you do not shy away simply because you don’t know. Well, at least I don’t think you should – not when you have the World Wide Web at your disposal. So I researched via Google and my friends on Facebook, and I waited for the figs to get ripe. By mid-last week, there were a whole bunch of ripe ones, and I could tell the birds were starting to eat the figs, so Lance and I harvested an overflowing quart bag for me to bring home for experimentation purposes. Here are those experiments for your reading and eating perusal and enjoyment.

Plate o' Deliciousness

Baked Fig Bites

Ingredients – all to taste, depending on how much of each kind of bite you want to eat
Fresh figs
Semi soft cheese – I used plain goat cheese
Bacon
Walnuts
Honey
Prosciutto
Bread – I used ciabatta

Steps
1. Wash the figs, scrubbing as necessary to remove any outdoor detritus from the outside of the fruit. Be gentle as the skin is fragile. I used my handy-dandy produce brush.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with foil. I recommend placing a cookie cooling rack or small wire rack on the pan if you use bacon on your bites so the bacon grease drips away from your bites.
3. If you are using walnuts, chop them up so they are ready to go when you want them. I chopped up about 4 or 5 halves and had leftovers.
4. If using bacon, slice each long piece in half.
5. Start slicing figs in half. Most of mine I sliced from top to bottom, vertically rather than horizontally, although I did experiment with a few horizontal cuts. I think I prefer the vertical cut (although the horizontal cut seems prettier) because it opens up sort of a wee bit of a pocket in the fruit that is ideal for widening to stuff. I used a cheese spreader (small, dull, round implement) to widen a divot in the fruit.

Divot for Stuffing!

Then I began making decisions. Some I put walnuts in first and then smushed goat cheese on top. Others just got goat cheese smushed in there without any walnuts. It was a bit random. Some got walnuts (no more than ½ teaspoon), and goat cheese,  were wrapped in bacon, and then were secured with a toothpick. Two halves went on the baking sheet plain, just to see.

6. Bake the non-bacon bites for about 12 minutes. They will be quite soft and a little bubbly/juicy at this point. The bacon still wasn’t done, so I gave it 5 more minutes.
7. Drizzle some with honey, as you see fit. Wrap others in pieces of prosciutto as you see fit.
8. Smear some pieces on bread.
9. Eat them all, and be satisfied.

Ready for the oven!

 

As I was preparing my bites, I tasted the raw fruit in minute quantities to have an idea of the fresh fruit flavor. Only once did I sort of squint my eyes and make a face, thinking, “hmmm that wasn’t quite good eats.” But I prepped it anyway. Baked, I thought they all tasted good, although I did get a little burned out by the end of my plate of fig bites. It was a lot of bites, y’all. I liked having the nuts in them as it provided a bit of texture in an otherwise mostly creamy/soft bite. I do like texture in my food. The bacon/prosciutto bites were good also, but I think I liked the prosciutto over the bacon, just by a hair. I’d do either of them again. The salty notes added an edge against the creaminess also. I’ve heard you can use blue cheese instead of goat, and as I do love blue cheese, I will be giving that a try next. I promise to report back. It was a little hard to scrape the fruit out of the skin to spread on the bread, so frequently I just cut the bites into smaller pieces to put on the bread, and it was delicious. I definitely was wanting some fig preserve-type product, so that’s on my mind to figure out as well. I would give all my bites two thumbs up, for sure.

Up close and personal!

 

When I was doing my research online to figure out how to know when the figs were ripe, I learned quite a bit. First of all, there are many different kinds of figs. They are not all dark brown/black/purple, like I thought, nor do they turn that color when they ripen. These figs are green figs, and they turn sort of a yellow/weird light brown/unfortunate pale yucky green color. Appetizing, I know. It’s a tricky color to describe. What would you call those colors below?

Bottom one is ripe.

Left one is ripe.

Anyway. Bright/dark green figs are a no-go. Rock hard figs are a no-go. As the figs ripen, they turn color and get heavier. This will cause them to go from perpendicular to the tree branch to more parallel. As it drops, the skin on the neck may crack a bit. It will also start to drip nectar from the bottom of the fig. They are also soft and kind of squishy. A girlfriend of mine also watches the “bellybutton” at the bottom of the fig.

Bellybuttons on figs

She says when it starts to turn pink, that’s a clue for her to pick them. There was conflicting information out there on whether or not they continue to ripen once picked, so I’m not sure what to tell you about that. My girlfriend who has been figging for years says she picks hers a bit early to keep the birds from getting them and leaves them on the counter to ripen. That’s how she rolls. I found this website to have helpful progression pictures of figs as they ripen. You should check it out!

See how the neck is starting to crack on the right?

 

Let’s talk prosciutto, a quick moment. It is, to be truthful, kind of a pricey ingredient. However, in my opinion, a few slices go quite a long way. For instance, last week I bought six slices at Central Market, and I got three meals/snacks out of those slices, and I believe the six slices cost me $4.25 or so. Plus I got a free “tasting” slice while I was standing at the counter. Bonus! If you are lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods or Central Market, the folks working the counter are often nice and knowledgeable enough to talk to you about what you are eating/serving it with so as to help you make the best choice out of your options. They also usually let you taste them so you can make sure to get one you like. I would use this as a measure of a quality meat counter, wherever you are shopping. If they won’t let you taste it before you pay $22.50/lb, then go elsewhere. Your money is too precious to waste on an ingredient you might not like. And remember, you really don’t need a whole pound. While it depends on the number of people you are feeding, in my opinion, 6 – 12 slices will probably be sufficient. But talk to the meat counter staff person, and they should help you out. It will be cut quite thin, and because of how the meat falls apart, one slice can be used to wrap at least 2 fig bites, most likely. If you are like me, you may want to be prudent and get one more slice than you really think you need for the bites as you may find yourself snacking on the prosciutto while you are preparing the rest of the bites. I’m just saying…it’s a possibility. Stay tuned for more prosciutto education as we continue our fig adventures!

The tree of abundant figs!

 

Since the first picking and bite making, I’ve got another quart bag, and still half of the original bag in my fridge. I’m going to have to figure out a preserves recipe or a pie or something, stat! I also should probably try some of them just raw. I might give the blue cheese and prosciutto bites a go. That sounds tasty to me. Perhaps some will find their way into my lunch. Either way, there is a lot of fig-figuring out going on around here. I refuse to let them all go to the birds. I’m a quick learner, so back off, birdies! I’ll keep sharing my adventures. It was recently suggested to me by a Food Network star (via Twitter – how fun!) to try them roasted with a balsamic-garam masala drizzle. So what that I don’t know how to make that? I’ll figure it out and keep you posted! In the meantime, how do you like to eat figs? What are your tips for how to know how they are ripe? I’d love to hear! Happy eating!

 
I’m still working on figuring out nutritional information for my figs. I will report back when I find something out!