Monday, July 21, 2014

Sweet Cherry & Farro Salad {for Stemilt Growers}

Summer, but a few short months, is the shoulder upon which balances the scale of seasons.

Long overdue from what is often a wet and gray stretch of time where both the light of day and individual temperament are measured in how low or high the sky appears, and meals are measured in their ability to satiate and soothe both hunger and unrest, it is Summer that ties together the two disparate sides of the palate for me: savory and sweet.

It’s not that my ideal of Fall, or the anticipated revelry of Winter disappoint, it’s simply that summer brings a bounty of fruit with her arrival that is unmatched at any other time of the year. It’s this abundance of sweet, delicious, sun-ripened fruit that cajoles me into dessert making and oven baking beyond my own palate’s natural desire. Perhaps it’s the artistry that fruit inspires; the broadened palate of flavor that fruit delivers; or, the versatility and delicate balance that fruit so generously offers. Whatever the rationale for this evening of allegiance, abundance is the intoxicating tipper. For it is Summer that brings an overwhelming bevy of berries, big and small; a preponderance of stone fruits that amass in greater quantity and variety with each and every season; and, of course, favored gems that garner their own level of acclaim and fanfare.

Fresh, ruby-red cherries, sweet or tart, or those delivered with sunshine hues in the form of Rainiers, fall in this latter category of “gems.” Eagerly awaited and gone far too quick, cherries are a summertime favorite. Though often popped in a variety of sweet offerings, they are equally as brilliant in savory ones as well.

In this simple summer salad, plump fresh Stemilt cherries impart a much-appreciated subtle bit of sunshine in an easy farro salad that can be served up alone, alongside a beautiful deli-roasted chicken for an easy no-fuss meal, or melded together with poultry for a wonderful one-dish serving. This sweet fruit imparts a lovely balance of flavor between the nutty, satisfying farro, the delicate bite of thinly sliced fennel and green onions, the appealing crunch of chopped walnuts, and a refreshing pop of fresh Italian parsley and lemon zest… all melded together with a light, lemon-vinaigrette.

It’s a perfect sweet and savory balance… a simple plating that sits between the limitations of Spring and the forgotten bounties that mark Fall’s arrival.

For recipe details, visit Stemilt’s blog, The Stem.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Berries & Champagne Sorbet {Berries & Bubbles}

When it comes to dessert, just pass me the potatoes.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good sweet… I definitely partake. But... unlike most savory foods... that quintessential, end-of-meal treat really has to grab my attention to sway my taste buds to the sweeter side of things.

Sometimes, it’s simply the name and/or description. So… it comes down to the ever-important word… or words, in this case. Without benefit of a visual, the menu really has to make me a believer.

Berries & Bubbles.  That was the name of the dessert on the menu at Higgens on a recent dinner out that piqued my attention. Not fruit and sorbet, that just wouldn’t be enough… housemade or not. It’s the kind of name that puts a smile on your face… maybe even a name that might elicit thoughts of ilicit thoughts… even if those thoughts are simply ones that cause you to teeter-totter between indulgence and restraint.

On most occasions while dining out we respectfully accept receipt of the dessert menu, peruse it carefully, contemplate a few offerings, get ahold of our senses… and politely decline.

However, as I’ve said on many an occasion, my idea of a great dessert is simply a bowl of beautiful summer berries topped with a dollop of sweetened cream or yogurt. On this occasion, with temps in the 90’s, a refreshing sorbet in lieu of yogurt was hard to resist. And then our server referred to this particular dessert as Summer in a Bowl.

Berries and Bubbles, Summer in a Bowl… how can you go wrong?

Though not typically a sorbet-type-of-girl, our server was all over the fresh, light, effervescent quality of this champagne-based sorbet. My issue with most sorbets is they are often too sweet, or far too tart… or both. However, I was really pleasantly surprised by the deft and balanced hand with this sorbet… refreshing, subtly sweet, light, and bright; a perfect partner to a bowl of plump, fresh, brilliant-hued berries.

Many of the recipes I could find utilized some sort of citrus… grapefruit and lemon were the predominant go-to suggestions. And… many advised to cook off the champagne a bit to reduce the alcohol content… bettering your chances for a decent freeze.  I adhered to both these tenets of thought, pairing fresh grapefruit and lime juices and cooking down the champagne and sugar with a little sparkling water and lime zest to get a great champagne-simple syrup.

The end result truly tastes like Summer in a Bowl. Coupled with a sweet breeze, this Berries & Bubbles treat is delightfully refreshing… far more so than another scoop of potatoes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fresh Blueberry & Sweet Polenta Crumbles

Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock all this time; a massive savory one where only limited forays to the sweeter side of flavor is possible (or desired). A rock where the status quo… especially on things you aren’t particularly partial to (like sweets)… means going with what you know… when you’re even inclined to go.

And then… you venture out from under your rock. In my case, a little jaunt to New York where dining out is as much a part (or more) of the experience as the sights. This occasion allowed visits to Gramercy Tavern, Red Farm, Eataly, and Mercer Kitchen… all delivering in the taste department and all inspirational in lifting that rock you can sometimes get a little too comfortable under.

In this particular take on a treat from the folks at Mercer Kitchen, it’s the topping that grabbed my attention… polenta instead of the tried and true mix of oats, flour and nuts. And, of course, those fresh, plump blueberries! (The Mercer staff noted the use of cornmeal in their crumble which is certainly delicious, but I went for optimum crunch and elected to use coarse polenta instead… either is a great choice.) The result is a guaranteed crisp topping that leans just ever so slightly to a more savory profile. While that may seem to be an obvious personal fit, it truly works wonders in delivering a satisfying dessert that showcases an abundance of subtly sweet, fresh blueberries bubbling under this crusty, crisp… and also subtly sweet… crunchy crumble. It’s a perfect match that invites an ever-returning dip of the spoon. And if you’re also inclined… a good scoop of vanilla ice cream cradled atop only improves each bite.

As in the Mercer Kitchen plating, I went for a dish-to-be-shared-by-two. After all, there’s really nothing better than diving into something sweet together when out from under the rock.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Red, White & Blue Sweet Cherry Bites {for Stemilt Growers}

Whether it’s a simple blanket unfurled on your back lawn with a picnic spread grabbed hither and thither from your pantry and fridge, or a pull-out-all-the-stops celebration with a carefully planned menu to match, it’s really all about recognizing the patriotic spirit of the occasion when it comes to celebrating July 4th. It’s about extending a thoughtful nod to the day… with food, fun, friends, and family… and a good little bit of red, white and blue thrown in for good measure.

When faced with creating a little sweet for the 4th using Stemilt’s beautiful cherries, all I could think about was how delicious they are in their natural state… so fresh, plump, and sweet. Afterall, with their vibrant ruby hue you're already a third of the way to representing the day’s requisite pop of red, white and blue!

With some melted white chocolate and a delicate tipping of periwinkle sugar, these fresh little cherries easily transform to patriotic little pops of flavor… dressed up in all their glory for the revelries of the day.

For recipe details, click over to Stemilt’s blog, The Stem.

Disclaimer: While I am being compensated by Stemilt Growers as a guest contributor to The Stem, the views and/or opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Easy Chicken, Artichoke & Arugula Quinoa Salad

Perhaps it’s the more temperate pace of life that summer beckons from her bright and languid perch… the desire to keep our kitchens cool… or simply the quest for something satisfying that can be pulled together at a moment’s notice… warm, cold or anywhere in between… that makes a salad like this one so appealing.

Or perhaps you, too, have two busy daughters that live in states above and below you that tend to work long hours and often say they are just too tired to think about what to make when they walk through their respective front doors after what might be considered a standard dinner hour. Perhaps.

If so... you might suggest this dish and the fact that no great thinking is required. And… if thinking is expended, it’s truly only for just a scant moment; a moment that might even result in the thought to make a big bowl of quinoa over the weekend, maybe even sauté up some chicken (or omit it altogether and add a few more veggies). Then dinner after the-dinner-making hour would simply be the tossing of a few ingredients in a big bowl. And… if good fortunate is theirs there might even be enough to have leftovers that can be packed up for lunch the next day, saving yet even more extraneous thinking (and cash) for important stuff… like shoes.

Just perhaps…

While salads, in general, are served up year round in our home as sides to other fixings, they tend to assume a more center stage position once summer rolls around and temps warm up a bit. Rather than cozying up to proteins or grains to balance out a plate, they’re pulled together into satisfying, one-dish meals. A fully balanced offering like this quick quinoa salad is to summer what soups are to our winters… varied, complete, interesting, and soothingly satisfying.

Besides being a great gluten-free option, quinoa serves as a wonderful canvas for a variety of pairings… with a mild flavor that plays well with just about anything it’s introduced to… making it a great potluck tote-along in more than one way. Though it’s often thought of as a grain, quinoa is actually a gluten-free seed. So it not only plays the chameleon in flavor, but also in guise.

Like most salads (and soups!), you can chop and drop in whatever your heart desires. If vegetarian fare is what you’re after, simply omit the chicken. If you want to lean to the greener side of things, ramp up the arugula or other leaf of your choice. If your weather calls for outside cooking, toss your chicken, some veggies (like red pepper, zucchini, red onion... and such) on the grill and mix it up a bit. This particular plating is meant for a quick and easy (no thinking) night... pairing skillet-sautéed chicken, black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, green onion, ripe tomato, and fresh arugula with a good drizzle of artichoke marinade to dress it up. The result is a salad that can be served up straight away or popped in the fridge… and later served up cold or at room temp. And… leftovers? Well, it only gets better on day two.

I don’t think there’s a better dish to whip up quick, eat hot or cold, or make with nary a thought on a busy night. It’s the perfect dish for the laziest, most languid day of summer… even if that lazy day pace is but a guise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Beer-Battered Cod Tacos with Purple Cabbage, Fresh Pineapple & Salsa Verde Crema

Being one that believes you can put just about anything in a tortilla, call it a taco and be more than good for the day, a recipe… for a taco… just doesn’t seem necessary. Tacos are more about combining a few key ingredients for just a little twist on what you might expect. The “recipe” is simply this: try this combo.

This past weekend is a case in point with regard to the “try this” mindset in taco making. While dining out, my order of grilled fish tacos happened to have fresh pineapple over top. Note to self: it works! And… it’s something I truly haven’t done before.

While my weekend fare was grilled, I thought that a battered fish might be perfect for this little pineapple topper… and a reason to have a very infrequent fish fry. The rest of the components kind of amassed as a result of both their flavor profiles and color… vibrant purple cabbage brings a welcomed earthy, crisp bite that plays beautifully against the yellow hue and sweet flavor of the pineapple; brilliant slivers of green onion contrast beautifully against this canvas and provide a nice pop of delicate, bright flavor; thin, graceful leaves of cilantro add a perfect finishing touch in both flavor and presentation to lay overtop; and a light, spicy crema adds that final “saucy” element that brings the whole thing together, marrying the sweet and the spicy in perfect bliss. Slice up a few fresh, seeded jalapeños for another little pop of flavor… and voilà... or is it ahí está?... and there’s another little layer of goodness.

Oh… and it’s a beer-battered fish… so the coating is light and ethereal. The whole thing is easily gluten-free with the switch out of all-purpose flour with a combo of rice flour and gluten-free all-purpose flour… and a gluten-free beer… with no loss in flavor… or enjoyment. Or... go full flour throttle... either way, it works.

You can put anything in a taco… it’s all about trying this and that… and this is a particular that that works!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

No-Bake Cherry IceBox Cake {for Stemilt Growers}

Being one that savors the more savory side of life when it comes to culinary tastes, satisfying a sweet tooth is easily and happily achieved by a simple bowl of sweet, sun ripened fruit, topped with a light dusting of lime zest and… maybe… a dollop of honeyed yogurt. Perfection!

And yet, there are occasions that warrant a grander presentation; a dessert that says you’ve put a little thought into your sweet; an offering that tells someone they’re special; a finale to your feast that is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate; a little piéce de résistance. But… don’t get carried away… it has to be achievable. No offering that looks great on paper but flops when you attempt to pull out all the stops will do.

And that’s where this icebox cake comes in. I like to think that it’s pretty AND has a great personality. It’s the total package. And, if what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside isn’t good enough, it’s truly fairly easy to compose AND there’s no baking involved!

It’s a recipe that I’ve tweaked and twisted over the years depending on what I plan to pair it with… as in what’s going to be piled on top for that “over the top,” grand entrance visual. There have been heaps of berries and cakes that lean more toward the lemon-tart side; there have been cakes that are built on a graham cracker crust; a crust with just a hint of crushed nuts and, here, one that is made with crumbed chocolate wafers. I’ve drizzled in vanilla, added a mince of mint, shaved chocolate overtop, and run berry pureé through the filling. It’s a giving little cake.

It’s an any-occasion sort of cake, special or otherwise. With Father’s Day fast approaching, however, this would be a perfect la-de-da dessert for dad.

It’s creamy white chocolate, cream cheese and whipping cream combined with touches of both lemon and lime for a luscious fluff of goodness that is then poured atop a dark chocolate wafer crust and popped into the freezer. Once unveiled, it gets a rich, ruby-red tumble of fresh Stemilt cherries over top... too good. Recipe details can be found on Stemilt’s blog, The Stem.

Disclaimer: While I am being compensated by Stemilt Growers as a guest contributor to The Stem, the views and/or opinions expressed are my own.