Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day, Gators and Dessert Crostini

Here I am again...hung over from a car trip!  This was just an overnighter up to my in-laws' house in Fort McCoy (near Ocala).  We hadn't been up there all summer so we just went up for the night.  They live right on the perimeter of the Ocala National Forest.  It's beautiful up that way; doesn't really look like the part of Florida I'm accumstomed to.  It's very "woodsy". 

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm not really a rustic kind of gal.  My idea of roughing it is sitting out in the hot tub on the deck with a glass of wine and staring at the woods in the distance.  If I see one tree frog or googly-eyed freaky looking thing with a bunch of legs...I'm off like a prom dress!  This is one chubby chick that can haul some butt when it comes to getting away from a critter.  Remind me to tell you my story about swimming into a school of stingrays out on Sanibel Island sometime! in-law's place is 15 acres in the middle of the boonies.  Its beautiful out there but a little scary at times.  I know you thought I was going to talk about football when I mentioned Gators in the title of the post.  You were WRONG! 

There is a lovely pond at the entrance to their property that my FIL has cleaned out, installed a pump with a fountain and stocked with fish.  About a hundred and fifty feet from the right side of the house is a decorative stone wall that kind of seperates the yard from the more "wild" area.  The grade is about 5 feet lower than the yard.  Well, another 50 or so feet past the wall is a creek that is mostly just a trickle.  That is until it rains for a day or two.  Some larger body of water (of which there are so many in Florida) feeds that creek so when it fill up...up and up and up the creek comes.  It overflows it's banks and up near the front of the property, the creek pretty much merges with the pond.  The house sits far enough back and higher, beyond the rock wall.  Everytime the creek rises to meet the pond, they get a gator in the pond.

The last gator was pretty substantial, around 5 feet long.  Theres a guy up in Deland thats like some wild eyed swamp person that will come out and bait traps with raw chicken and then wait for the gator to swallow the hook.  They get one of those hoop things on a pole around it's snout then straddle it's back and very deftly and quickly wrap duct tape around it's maw.  A gator can still hurt you bad with his tail...even if you have disabled the chain-saw in his mouth.  Dangerous and dubious work if you ask me.  Takes a strange man to want to do this for a living.

Ok, well all that was important so you could get this mental picture.  My husband...carpenter shorts, muddy gym shoes, GLEN BECK T-shirt, baseball cap...standing on the bank of the pond trying to see the size of this new squatter.  It's sprinkling just hard enough to make the sloped edge of the pond muddy and slick. 

From our vantage point in the lawn chairs on the front porch, my mother-in-law and I are sitting there reading his mind...what little there is of it!  I could tell by the 10-year old stance that he was contemplating how he might catch this thing.  After about 10 minutes, he comes sauntering up the driveway and announces, "I'mma catch me a gator." 

We both start protesting simultaneously.  "You don't have a don't have any raw chicken...are you out of your are going to get killed..." etc.  His reply was simply, "I'll think of something..."  I must tell you, those are about the scariest words a man can utter when it relates to fire, electricity, heights, wild animals and cooking.  All I could think of was if our insurance covered accidents related to stupidity. 

He disappeared into the garage and came out with a huge roll of heavy duty nylon rope, layed it on the driveway, removed his muddy shoes and went in the house.  A couple of minutes later, he retured with a can of SPAM.  One more trip to the garage yields a pitch fork and a bucket of rusty fishing hooks. 

My first instinct was just to go inside and pretend that he was sane but morbid curiosity got the better of me and so...I walked a little way down the driveway until I could get a clear view of the pond.  Sure enough...the dintinct profile of a gator was gliding ominously through the mukey water.  There on the bank was the great white hunter...a block of spam studded with rusty fishing hooks dangling from a length of rope strung over a tree branch, dangling a few feet above the water.  He had used the rest of the rope to make a lasso which he was whirling over his head and repeatedly flinging out into the pond.  The pitchfork waited's tines buried in the mud. 

I watched incredulously for about 10 minutes.  I just couldn't get my head around the concept that this man actually thought he was going to lasso an aligator.  What REALLY scared me is what he thought he was going to do if he actually caught it?  RIDE HIM..brandishing a pitchfork...until he was either thrown and eaten or until he "broke" the gator.  Oh my God...I was too horrified to remember that my new droid has a built in camcorder.  I could be RICH right now.  That video would have probably had more youtube hits than Lady Gaga! 

Fortunately, I never had to find out since he didn't manage to "rope him".  I will say that crazy song kept running through my head though..."head um up move um out...head um in...rawhide......yeeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaawwww."  Indeed!!

We are back home now and yes, my husband has all his limbs.  It's Labor Day and I have done as little labor as possible.  I had picked up some beautiful fresh Turkish figs a couple of days ago at the market and was thinking about what to do with them.  I started to make a fig crustada but's old news.  I just wanted something a little different.

In the end, I decided on a chocolate semolina biscotti, topped with orange scented yogurt cheese and fresh figs in caramel.  It worked beautifully.  The biscotti is not too sweet, the yogurt cheese is quite tart and the soft sweet figs and rich buttery caramel are a perfect flavor and texture combination.  I hope you enjoy the pictures and recipe. 

Fortunately, I will NOT be serving Gator tail!!

Chocolate Semolina Biscotti with Orange Yogurt Cheese and Caramel Figs

To make the yogurt cheese:  24 hours ahead of time, place 1 quart of plain organic yogurt in a cheesecloth (or unbleached coffee filter) lined colander and balance on the lip of a bowl.  Make sure the bottom of the colander is a few inches above the bottom of the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.  The water or whey will drip out and you'll be left with thick yogurt cheese.  I added the zest of one orange, a few drops of orange water, 1/4 cup of castor sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to mine.  Mix and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the Chocolate Semolina Biscotti:
  • 2 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup semolina flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla baking powder (can sub plain)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cage free organic eggs, large
  • 1 cup organic palm sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, semolina, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugar and cooled melted butter until well combined.  Beat in the extracts.  Add the flour mixture one third at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Fold in the slivered almonds.

Shape the dough into two 12 x 3 x 1 1/2" logs on an ungreased cookies sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove logs from sheet and cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Transfer to hard surface and slice crosswise into 1/2" thick slices.  Lay the slices cut side down on the baking sheet and return to oven for 12-15 minutes.  Turn cookies over and bake an additional 5 minutes until dry and crisp.  Cool on wire rack.

Prepare the Caramel Figs:
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup organic brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons organic half and half
  • 5 ripe figs, sliced
Melt butter in a medium skillet.  Stir in brown sugar and honey; bring mixture to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in half and half.  Return mixture to medium heat; lay the fig slices in the caramel.  Cook over medium heat one minute; turn fig slices carefully.  Remove from heat.  Cool caramel figs if desired but they may also be assembled while warm.

Assemble:  Spread a thick layer of orange yogurt cheese on the each biscotti.  Arrange on serving plate.  Top each with two slices of caramel figs and drizzle with extra caramel.  Garnish with orange zest.

(c)copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet


  1. Thank goodness your husband survived that rather crazy stunt. My husband is often in Jacksonville and has asked if I want to move out there...Gators top the list of reasons I don't/won't.

  2. wow, that looks so sweet and delicious - great dessert!

  3. Wow, I'm not sure I could handle being anywhere near a gator let alone be able to cook something so beautiful after seeing them so close.

    I hope if you get a chance you check out our giveaway this week over at The Chocolate Cult.

  4. Thks for sharing your adventure! Gators give me the creep :<

  5. These look amazing and what a unique dessert! Nice job!!!

  6. Wow...that was quite a stunt! Gators in the backyard is not a good thing.

    Now, those dessert crostinis sound fantastic and you even made the cheese.

  7. Hey Jilly, gosh, I kind of wish you did have a video recorder-I would have loved to see that guy trying to lasso a gator. I used to live there, you know? It was, ahem, interesting (smile)... A beautiful swamp like area for sure.

    Hey, I'm moving to Fort Lauderdale. I don't know how close that is to you, but, once I'm settled in, maybe we can have lunch or cook together sometime.

    p.s. Sorry I missed this post. I've been so tired after that trip. I'm so out of it!

  8. Fun adventures! And those dessert crostini look amazing, I love the idea!

  9. I can not believe your husband...he is so lucky that neither you nor the gator did him in. This dessert looks fantastic, I love the texture and flavor pairings :)


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Fort Myers, Florida, United States