January/February/March 2010 Fig Focus

Iron Chef America’s Secret Ingredient is … Figs

National Show Highlights Versatility of Figs

Top chefs found 10 distinctive ways to use the secret ingredient – California Figs – in their dishes created on a recent episode of “Iron Chef America.” Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto competed against Aspen, Colo.-based chef, Dena Marino, in the fig challenge which first aired January 10, 2010.

“To be blessed with so many varietals of the fig as my secret ingredient and to be able to create such amazing fare was truly unique,” says Marino about her “Iron Chef America” experience. “Amazing! Exquisite! Gorgeous! Versatile! Need I say more about my love for figs?”

Marino shared one of her favorite California Fig recipes with the California Fig Advisory Board. California Fig Panna Cotta features dried figs which are pureed into a paste for a delightful flavor addition to the traditional gelatin used to make panna cotta.  Topped with amaretti cookies and honey whipped cream, the dish is sure to satisfy both dessert and fig aficionados alike!

Based upon the Japanese cult sensation, Iron Chef America carries on the legend of Kitchen Stadium and the famed “secret ingredient.” Each week, world-class chefs battle the legendary Iron Chefs of America: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora and Michael Symon. Alton Brown serves as Commentator and Mark Dacascos is Chairman.

If you missed the January 10th airing, tune in to the Food Network to see whose cuisine, featuring fresh and dried figs, reigns supreme. Will Chef Marino’s clean flavors impress the judges enough to take home the win?

Jan 14 – 8:00 PM ET/PT
Jan 15 – 3:00 AM ET/PT
Jan 16 – 5:00 PM, 11:00 PM & 2:00 AM ET/PT

Our Celebration of Five Fabulous Decades was grand and we’re ready for 50 more. Thank you to all who entered our “Fabulous at Fifty” contest. We have gotten hundreds of entries including fig jingles, fig recipes and fig poems, not to mention some wonderful and memorable fig stories. Such creative and thoughtful entries will make judging very challenging, but our judges were up to the task. Stay tuned for the exciting announcement of our winners.

Figs In the News — Here, There and Everywhere

It’s exciting to see figs, fresh and dried, appearing everywhere on restaurant menus and in recipes. Here are just a few of the recent sightings.

  • The Washington Post, December 30, 2009. Chef challenge: An hors d’oeuvre party in two hours.Tom Mueller, chef and co-owner of Pineapple Alley Catering in Clinton prepared Lamb Loin With Fig Chutney. Virgil’s root beer and a rack of Australian lamb, both found at Trader Joe’s, provided the inspiration for this hors d’oeuvre. The chutney needs to cook for an hour, but it can be made up to 1 week in advance.
  • Bon Appetit, January 2010, Best of the Year issue. One of the featured recipes in the article, Party of the year, Modern Vegetarian, is Oatmeal, Fig and Walnut Bars. The menu is described as “…festive, healthful and full of delicious Mediterranean-inspired flavors.” Also check out the Bon Appetit recipe forDried Fig, Apricot, and Cherry Slump.
  • Eating Well, January/February 2010, Honey- & Goat Cheese Fig Muffins, page 56-57.
  • Good Housekeeping, December 2009, Figgy Bars. January 2010, Spiced Winter Fruit Compote.

Valentine’s Day

Throughout history, many foods and drinks have had a reputation for making romance more pleasurable. The word aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sensuality. Figs have long been a symbol of love and fertility. Their romantic powers are well documented in literature. California dried figs sensuously avail themselves to the cook in dishes begging to be served on Valentine’s Day.

Every year chefs try to make Valentine’s Day a memorable night for the lovebirds in their restaurants, but the free-rose-and-aphrodesiac-menu routine can get old after a while. This year, lose the silverware and let them feed each other, with a menu of finger foods like for Valentine’s Day. They’ll feel romantic, the staff will enjoy not having to deal with cutlery – it will be a love-fest all around. Here’s one example from www.PlateOnline.com, the PlateCooks cooking team, Plate Cooks – Sweet & Savory – Kendall College, Chicago IL., Bacon-Wrapped Figs with Blue and Goat Cheese Baked with Brown Sugar and Nuts.

On the Nutrition Front

By Cherryl Bell, RD, MS

Friday, February5, 2010, is National Wear Red Day®—a day when Americans nationwide will take women’s health to heart by wearing red to show their support for women’s heart disease awareness.

Join The Heart Truth on National Wear Red Day to help spread the critical message that “Heart Disease Doesn’t Care What You Wear—It’s the #1 Killer of Women.®” Everyone can participate in the national movement by wearing their favorite red dress, shirt, tie, or Red Dress Pin on Friday, February 5, 2010.

Protecting your heart can be as simple as taking a brisk walk, whipping up a good fruit salad, or getting the support you need to maintain a healthy weight. What you eat can help keep your heart beating strong—or lead to overweight, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol, three key factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Fat and cholesterol in the diet can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood—and that can lead to atherosclerosis, a type of “hardening of the arteries.” In atherosclerosis, cholesterol, fat, and other substances build up in artery walls. As the process continues, arteries, including those to the heart, may narrow, reducing blood flow.

Some foods can actually help to lower blood cholesterol. This includes foods with soluble (also called viscous) fiber. Soluble fiber is found in cereal grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (which include beans, peas, and lentils). First, fiber can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Second, it’s also good for the digestive tract and overall health. And, as a bonus, eating lots of fiber helps you feel full on fewer calories, which makes it ideal if you’re trying to lose weight. You should try to eat 25–30 grams of total fiber each day. That should include at least 5–10 grams daily of soluble fiber.

To equal the soluble fiber in 3 DRIED FIGS, (2.8g), you would have to eat:
4 1/2 bananas or 2 1/2 cups strawberries or 210 grapes

Other sources of soluble fiber: Whole grain cereals and seeds—barley; oatmeal; oatbran; and psyllium seeds (ground). Legumes—black, kidney, lima, navy, northern, and pinto beans; yellow, green, and orange lentils; and chickpeas and black-eyed peas. Vegetables—broccoli; brussels sprouts; and carrots.

Valley Fig Growers’ Featured Recipes

Winter is the perfect time of year to serve our Herbed Lentils with Figs and Sausage, a heart-healthy dish packed with soluble fiber. Common “supermarket” lentils are brown or green lentils. They’re cooked separately as the acid in the wine and tomatoes can inhibit softening. The sausage is very tasty with the lentils and figs, but could be omitted if desired. “Precooked” sausage may be labeled “ready-to-eat.”

Herbed Lentils with Figs and Sausage

  • 1 cup Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice or Sun-Maid figs
  • 1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 to 1 pound lean Italian chicken or turkey sausage links (raw or precooked)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 1/2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
  • 1 can (14 1/2-ounce) diced tomatoes, drained
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • Chopped Italian parsley

Remove stems from figs and slice in half; reserve. In large saucepan, combine lentils, water, 1 teaspoon salt and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until lentils are tender but still hold their shape. Drain lentils, remove and discard bay leaf and set aside. While lentils cook, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in large skillet over low to medium heat. Add sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until browned (and cooked through if using raw sausage). Remove to cutting board, cool slightly and cut into slices; reserve. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to skillet along with onion, carrot, rosemary and garlic. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add figs, drained tomatoes and wine. Bring to a simmer and cook until most of liquid evaporates, stirring often, 3 to 5 minutes. Add sliced sausage and lentils. Cook and stir until hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm. Makes 4 to 6 servings (about 8 cups).

Nutrients per serving (6): Calories 345 (22% calories from fat); Protein 16 g; Total Fat 8g (Saturated Fat 2 g; Trans Fat 0 g); Carbohydrate 47g; Cholesterol 23 mg; Dietary Fiber 12 g; Sodium 576 mg.

With our new sponsorship of Cooks Country TV come several amazing fig recipes created especially for us. Here’s one that’s brimming with fiber-rich oats, figs and nuts.

Granola Bars with Dried Figs and Ginger
Makes about 36 bars

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss oats, oil, and salt together in large bowl; spread out over 12 by 18-inch baking sheet and bake, stirring often, until pale gold, 20 to 25 minutes.
2. While oats are toasting, heat honey and brown sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla and cinnamon (if using) and set aside.
3. Remove oats from oven and lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. Transfer toasted oats to large bowl and toss with honey mixture until evenly coated. Stir in nuts, dried figs, and crystallized ginger.
4. Line 12 by 18-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil, then coat lightly with vegetable oil spray. Spread oat mixture out on prepared pan, then pack tightly into even layer using wet metal spatula. Bake until golden, 35 to 40 minutes.
5. Let cool on wire rack for 15 minutes, then cut into 2 by 3-inch bars in pan. Let cool completely before removing from pan.

NOTE: Quick-cooking oats cannot be substituted for the old-fashioned oats here because their texture becomes too sandy when toasted. The bars can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

  • 7 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3/4c up packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds, pecans, peanuts, or walnuts, chopped coarse1 cup diced dried figs (about 6 ounces), stems removed
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger

If you make this recipe, snap a photo and tag us @valleyfig —we’d love to see what you’re cooking on Instagram and Facebook!

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