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Cookbook Preview: TENDER: farmers, cooks, eaters

Nearly two years ago I started a wine club with a group of friends.  We have two goals:  learn about wine in a more deliberate manner rather than just through random tastings; and learn to pair foods with wines. The second goal is really mostly mine as I do all the cooking and food pairing, although the others get to learn by eating and drinking!  To meet those two goals over the last two years we’ve been working our way through France, region by region. (We will eventually make our way around the world.)  At each gathering I prepare the food to accompany the wine, sometimes creating hits and sometimes missing the mark.  I am happy to say my score is well on the positive side and we’ve had some really delightful pairings.  But I’m definitely still learning.
A couple of weeks ago we tasted wines from our final region of France – Champagne.  What a perfect way to finish a country!  I love Champagne for a number of reasons, one of which is that it pairs well with so much and can handle both savory and sweet dishes.  A few weeks before the tasting and just as I was preparing to plan my food strategy for the evening a happy coincidence occurred.
A friend and I realized some time ago that at different points in our careers we had both been hired by the same man, although at different companies and years apart.  She recently moved to a new company and he was now a business contact of hers again.  We scheduled a tiny reunion with him to catch up on each others’ lives and from that I ended up also being reunited with his wife.  She recently made a career change to publishing.  Her company has a book due out soon, TENDER: farmers, cooks, eaters by Tamara Murphy.  You probably know Tamara as the force behind the recently-closed Brasa and the Elliot Bay Cafés.  My friend was looking for people to take the recipes out for a trial run.  I read a few of the recipe names and knew I had my Champagne tasting menu!    
Since the tasting was in late July I wanted recipes that would take advantage of the fresh fruits of the season. I selected four recipes to try.  My selections were based on titles only and when I received the actual recipes I realized I’d picked a few things with common elements, which was interesting.  It turned my baking/cooking into a lesson on flexibility and creativity as I saw how similar ingredients or methods can yield different results. 
The four recipes I chose were:
  • Blackberry and Fennel Tart
  • Blueberry and Goat Cheese Galette
  • Grilled Peaches with Arugula and Serrano Ham
  • Grilled Apricots with Blue Cheese and Serrano Ham
And I supplemented those recipes with a batch of gougère (because we always have some flavor of gougère at every wine tasting), and sliced and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes topped with crème fraiche and ikura (because caviar and Champagne is a classic pairing). 
Originally I had planned to make just the grilled peaches or grilled apricots but those recipes were actually quite different once I read them, while the tart and galette were variations on a theme and very similar. 
I’m sorry that the photos aren’t better – I was so rushed that day and was still cooking as my guests were arriving so I was only able to snap a couple of quick shots as I placed the serving dishes on the table.  But I wanted you to be able to get an idea of how great the food looked and tasted.  Each recipe had some unique element that really raises it from "good" to "great".  The wine club loved them all and I loved the little spark in their eyes as they tasted that surpise element.  I’d say the group favorite was the Blueberry Galette but my personal favorite was the Grilled Apricot recipe.  In fact I loved those so much I took them to a potluck picnic the following week and they were a big hit there, too. 
I made a few adaptations as I was cooking, in part due to my ingredients and also to add a little variety to the dishes.  For instance, the peaches I’d purchased at that morning’s farmers’ market were much harder than I’d expected so I was not able to cleanly pull full halves from the pits for grilling.  Instead, I blanched the peaches for a couple of minutes which softened them a bit and then was able to remove the fuzzy skin and cut slices off the pit.  So my peaches were not roasted at all as you an probably tell in the photo.
Since there was Serrano ham in the peach salad I opted to use prosciutto with the apricots (see recipe below).  The blackberry and fennel tart was pretty close to the original recipe.  The blueberry tart was altered slightly and I’ve actually provided that feedback because I think the version of the recipe I had needed a little work.  But keep in mind I saw a version that wasn’t edited so that is to be expected. 
What I am going to love about this book is that while much of the focus is on farmers and fresh ingredients, Tamara is trying to take it one step further and as she says,
“TENDER: farmers,cooks,eaters isn’t just about recipes, our wonderful family farms or even food. My hope is that this book will inspire you, as a home cook, to follow and trust your instincts, and to want to know your farmers better.” -Tamara Murphy
If you’ve spent any time at all on my blog you’ll know that I enjoy knowing my producers and I often cook by the seat of my pants.  So a book that inspires me to be more creative is something I look forward to. 
You can get more information about the cookbook and pre-order your copy on the website.  And think about ordering an extra copy or two as a holiday gift for a friend! 
Grilled Apricots with Blue Cheese and Prosciutto
adapted from TENDER: farmers, cooks, eaters by Tamara Murphy
  • 1 Apricot per person – the apricots should be just barely ripe.  If they are too soft they will liquefy when heated.
  • 1 paper thin slice of prosciutto per apricot – cut each slice in half the long way
  • 1 – 2 tsp of bleu cheese for each apricot half – the first time I used Oregon Blue Cheese from Rogue Creamery.  But the second time I used their Smokey Blue which was even better!
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Fresh Thyme Leaves
  • Balsamic Syrup – recipe follows
Halve the apricots and remove the seed. Place the apricots on a sheet pan and add a small spoon of blue cheese in the center of each apricot. Wrap the prosciutto around the apricot so it covers the cheese.  I was able to start and end each slice of prosciutto over the cheese so there was kind of a double layer on that side.  You want to seal the cheese in so that when it’s over the grill it doesn’t drip out if it melts.
Heat your grill  to a medium-high heat or your oven to 350°F.
Using a pasty brush lightly oil both sides of the apricot.  
On the grill
Place the filled side down first.  Grill for 1 – 2 minutes, just until the prosciutto starts to crisp.  Turn over and grill for another 1 -2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and place on your serving platter.  Drizzle with the Balsamic Syrup then sprinkle a few fresh thyme leaves over them.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired.
Notes:  Be prepared for your grill to flame up as the olive oil and prosciutto drip down into the coals or burner.  The smoke will impart a nice flavor to the apricots.  The amount of time you leave them on the grill will vary depending on how ripe the fruit is.  Apricots can quickly turn to mush and then to liquid so watch them carefully.  Tamara suggests placing several apricots on a skewer for easy turning.  I chose not to do this and just used a good pair of tongs instead.  I liked having control over each apricot individually.  If you do use skewers, soak them in water overnight or for several hours to prevent them from burning while on the grill. 
In the oven
Place the apricots on the sheetpan, filling side up.  Bake for about 7 minutes. Place on a serving platter.  Drizzle with the Balsamic Syrup then sprinkle a few fresh thyme leaves over them.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired.
Balsamic Syrup
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
Add both to a small saucepan and cook over low heat until reduced by half.  Remove from the heat and let cool. 
Note:  This recipe makes more than you will probably need for your apricots.  I’ve used the extra over tomatoes and mozzarella; drizzled on chunks of cheese I’m snacking on with wine; and mixed with olive oil as a dip for a great country bread.  Tamara also suggests using it on ice-cream, strawberries, or other stone fruits. 

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