Foodie Pen Pal Fun: February

I love to get fun mail! So often my mailbox is filled with circulars and bills to be paid. It’s a joy and a delight to get mail from friends and family. I don’t get fun mail too often, though, outside of the birthday/Christmas season or wedding/birth announcements. Imagine my excitement, then, when I happened upon the opportunity to be a part of the grand adventure of The Lean Green Bean‘s Foodie Pen Pals! Some might claim coincidence, but I know it was meant to be. 🙂 I followed Lindsay’s Twitter on Saturday morning, read her tweets about the program by noon, and was signed up by the deadline by bedtime. YES, PLEASE! This is certainly my cup of tea! Sign up, make friends, send packages of foodie treats, and receive foodie treats? This is so meant for me! Food and friends?? Do you know me?? Joy! 🙂

Lindsay assigned me to send a package of treats to Carly in North Carolina. I sent her some Tex-Mex SASS sauce and Blanco Valley Farm’s jalapeño salsa mix from the Farmer’s Market, some Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter, Italian seasoning blend from Penzey’s, a few chocolate treats from World Market, and a package of fun cupcake liners. I received a package from Sarah at The Smart Kitchen in Virginia. That Sarah sure knows how to send a package! I’m excited to share my foodie pen pal treats with y’all! Here is everything I got, minus the sweet note she included in the package.

Goodies from Sarah

Sarah asked me who I had a secret celebrity crush on, so I confessed my love for Will Smith. You know it’s true…he is a good-lookin’ man, and funny too! 🙂 She cleverly sent me “Gettin’ ‘Figgy’ Wit It” cookies. They are the most amazing (vegan!) cookies! They have figs, walnuts, and I’m certain cinnamon, too. I’ve never eaten vegan baked goods before so Sarah’s cookies were my introduction into that genre. Honestly, I was a little skeptical, and I’m still a little confused on how you make a delicious cookie like that without any animal products. I ate one immediately upon opening the package, just to see, and then had to sternly tell myself I was not allowed to eat the entire bag that night, even if it was Fat Tuesday. They are THAT good. I kindly shared one last Thursday with a coworker who also found them quite delicious. She, too, was impressed with the vegan nature of the cookie. Seriously, Sarah, how did you do it? Well done, ma’am. Well done.

         

I’ve also been scarfing down this crazy-good cinnamon honey-roasted peanut butter. It seems that nut butter is one of Sarah’s specialties. I’m hoping for a tutorial and the good word that homemade nut butter is not hard to make because this spread is rockin’ my world. Tuesday also happened to be Shrove Tuesday where folks eat pancakes as part of the Fat Tuesday celebrations. Boyfriend and I made pancakes to go with our “breakfast for dinner” on Tuesday, and don’tcha know? Cinnamon honey-roasted peanut butter goes reeeaaallly well on pancakes. Really well. So well that I had it for breakfast the rest of the week. It’s light, cinnamony, creamy, but not without a wee bit of texture. So delightful. Plus, Sarah clearly pays attention to the details with the color coordination of the jar to her blog, her stationary for her note, and her business card. Yep! Girlfriend has a card. I want one for my blog now, too. I do so love good attention to detail on cute little things.

Pancakes with Peanut Butter = GOOD!

All Gone....almost!

I haven’t used the rest of it yet, but I am looking forward to ways to use everything Sarah sent me. That salsa is going to be so good on some fish tacos on next week’s menu, along with just some chips one afternoon for a snack. Honestly, I’m not sure what Biscoff spread is, and checking out the ingredient list has only confirmed for me that it is some kind of spiced nut butter. A Google search result tells me that it’s a peanut-butter-esque spread made from cookies similar to gingersnaps. This makes me excited to try it because I love gingersnaps! I did tell Sarah I was an adventurous eater, as long as it wasn’t connected to mushrooms. I love that these are in little individual packages as well. That’s lovely for taking it in my lunch/breakfast to work. Spices and tea are always good choices for my pantry, so kudos there, friend. I’ll be sure to update you all along the way as the spices, salsa, and Biscoff spread get used. Check back for updates!

How cute is this??

It has been so fun getting to know Sarah through email and over Twitter. I am thankful that she and I were matched for my inaugural foodie pen pal experience. I think it is great that Lindsay thought of this program several months ago, and is willing to coordinate it every month. Thanks, Lindsay! If you are a foodie, blogger or not, and you want to participate, check out this page on Lindsay’s blog that has all the details. It’s low risk and high reward, so I really encourage you to give it a try. Here is a bit of housekeeping from Lindsay if you are interested in participating.
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If you’re interested in participating for March, please send  an email to Lindsay at theleangreenbean@gmail.com and include the following information:
-Your full name
-Your email address
-Your blog name/address
-Your twitter handle (if applicable)
WHETHER YOU ARE A US RESIDENT OR CANADIAN RESIDENT. – this is SUPER important so you get on the right list!

You must submit your information by March 4th as pairings will be emailed on March 5th!

***PLEASE NOTE: if you send an email, you WILL GET A RESPONSE within 48 hours. If you don”t….please re-send your email or contact Lindsay via Twitter (@LeanGrnBeanBlog). Last month we had a few emails get lost as spam so we’re trying to avoid that!
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I’ll be sitting March out due to conference travel smack dab in the middle of the shopping/shipping period (boo!), but I’ll be back for April. I’ve been eyeballing all sorts of neat treats to send someone in April though, so get ready, my next pen pal – it’s gonna be great! Stay tuned!

Update:
The Colorado spice blend is SPICY!! I was quite liberal with it on our fish tonight, and it had quite the kick! Thankfully the mango and key lime salsa is not so spicy, so it was a good pairing to bring down the heat. Quite delicious, overall! I’m really looking forward to using the spice on some beef as I think it might stand up a bit differently. I do like spicy foods, though, so this was a great treat in my package!

Foodie Penpals
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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!