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Figs and blue cheese: A winning combination? March 31, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was very cheered to read in this morning’s local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, that a local woman has made it to the finals in the Pillsbury Bake-Off, the world’s most lucrative cooking competition. Nadine Clark of Quakertown, PA, won a place in the finals with a recipe for her Fig and Blue Cheese Appetizer Tarts.

What especially cheered me up was the spontaneity of the whole thing: Nadine, who loves to cook but has never been a competitive cook, only submitted an entry at the last minute because her mother egged her on to do so. Unlike seasoned competitors, who often spend months or even years perfecting their recipes for cooking competitions, Nadine went to the grocery, looked around for a combination she thought would taste great, and basically threw it together in a single evening. (Of course, she refined it a bit before submitting it to the judges.)

Like yours truly, Nadine is a creative cook who prefers innovation to following recipes and rules and isn’t afraid to try anything, at least once. She thought the Fig and Blue Cheese Appetizer Tarts she created were a success, and from the sound of the recipe, I’d certainly agree. (As did the panel of 75 cooks who tested the recipe for the contest and awarded it a 4.5-star rating.)

Nadine faces tough competition on April 12th, since there are 100 finalists competing for the grand prize. But she’ll get a free trip to Orlando for the event and doubtless a lot of cooking equipment for her trouble, even if she doesn’t win a prize. (If memory serves, for example, the finalists all get to keep the stoves they cook on during the Bake-Off.) And if she should happen to win the grand prize, she’ll come home with all that good gear and—are you sitting down?—a million dollars. That would be $1,000,000 in cool cash. Enough to sit back and enjoy your recipe innovations for the rest of your life.

Of course I’ll share Nadine’s recipe with you, and you can read the whole story, “Pillsbury Bake-Off Finalist: ‘They belong together’,” by Diane Stoneback, online at www.themorningcall.com. (And see photos of the tarts themselves.) You can also check out all the finalists’ recipes at www.bakeoff.com. But good, original, and easy as the recipe is, do I think she’ll win? No.

Why?! Simple, as you’ll see if you go online and check out the photos: The tarts may be delicious, but they’re not colorful. And I think that brown presentation will ultimately cost Nadine precious points. Thinking further about this, I wondered if the tarts could be brightened visually by substituting dried cranberries or dried sour cherries, perhaps mixed with golden raisins, for the figs. I think the red-and-gold would add just the color boost that’s needed, and I think the tarts would still taste delicious. Read the original recipe below and see if you agree!

      Nadine Clark’s Fig and Blue Cheese Appetizer Tarts

3 ounces Neufchatel cheese (cream cheese with 1/3 less fat), softened to room temperature

3 ounces (3/4 cup) blue cheese, crumbled and at room temperature (Nadine recommends Maytag blue cheese for the best flavor)

1/4 cup Smucker’s Sweet Orange Marmalade

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

16 dried Mission figs, coarsely chopped (1 cup)

1 can (10.1 ounces) Pillsbury Big & Flaky Refrigerated Crescent Dinner Rolls

1 cup Fischer Chef’s Naturals Chopped Pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix Neufchatel (cream) cheese and blue cheese with a fork until well blended; set aside. In a 1-quart saucepan, stir marmalade and balsamic vinegar over low heat until mixed; stir in chopped figs. Cook over low heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until figs are softened. Remove from heat.

Remove crescent dough from package, but do not unroll. Cut roll of dough into 16 slices. Place slices 2 inches apart on two ungreased cookie sheets. Press the center of each slice to make a half-inch-wide indentation. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of the cheese mixture into each depression. Top the cheese with about a tablespoon of the fig mixture, then with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of chopped pecans.

Bake 15 to 19 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks; cool 10 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 16 tarts. 

That such serendipity propelled Nadine to the finals is heartwarming. I hope she takes the appetizer category by storm, and have fingers crossed for the grand prize. Meanwhile, she says that her mother wants her to make a batch of Fig and Blue Cheese Appetizer Tarts for Easter dinner. You might want to do the same.

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

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Comments»

1. Gail - April 1, 2010

It’s great story….I love the serendipity of it…so wonderfully American or Hollywoody, but so delicious! She must be a creative cook…and the recipe sounds tasty. Lately I’ve been less then creative in the kitchen~~there’s a lot going on…I need some inspiration…I need guests~~Come visit! gail

I’d love to, Gail! I’m sure we could find some culinary inspiration and have a wonderful time searching out ingredients (and, ahem, plants)!

2. Lzyjo - April 5, 2010

MMMM! That does sound good. I heard a segment of the Splendid Table, not that long ago, when Lynne Rosetto Kasper recommended several fruit and cheese combination for pies to a reader. I think one was pears with blue cheese? I can’t remember, but the whole thing was very intriguing.

I agree, Lzyjo! Our farmers’ market was having a sale on strawberries on Saturday, and it made me think about non-traditional ways to use them. It occurred to me that strawberries and crumbled blue cheese with toasted almonds and red onion on arugula and romaine lettuce could be really delicious. I also contemplated the possibilities of grilled strawberries in a Balsamic vinegar reduction with crumbled feta. Pears and blue cheese sounds like a natural combination, like apples and sharp white Cheddar!


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