Thursday, November 20, 2014

Roasted Haricot Verts & Bosc Pears with Herbed Marcona Almonds {for Stemilt Growers}

Though fairly traditional in concept, the Thanksgiving feast is anything but set in stone. There are so many different and intriguing approaches to this meal. I’m always interested in learning of the varied adaptations and twists families make and take in arriving at their particular version.

There’s the big bird, for example, and no one way to approach him. Be it stuffed, dressed, roasted, deep-fried, brined, or spatchcocked... Tom can be a versatile guy. And then there are all the accompaniments from potatoes, salads, soups, and relishes to a host of different veggies... and a myriad of methods to each of these, from the simple to the sublime. Again, varied approaches, none right or wrong.

There is one dish, however, that does seems to spark very distinct opinion on right v. wrong and that's the infamous green bean casserole dish. For the most part I’ve found that friends are either in the casserole camp... or they are not. Many seem to have grown up in this camp and later moved on, others never strayed.

Growing up, I was one of those in the canned green bean-mushroom soup-onion topper casserole camp... by default. I certainly appreciated the flavor and crunch of this caloric creation, but then I didn’t know anything else existed. It really isn’t until you take charge of the meal yourself that you begin to define your own style. And when I did, years ago, haricot verts (French green beans) quickly won me over. Delicate, tender and a bit more diverse in flavor than traditional string beans, these fresh beans also tend to cook up quicker due to their long, slender profile... and require so very little in extras to make them shine. They are just fresh, delicious beans that play well with just about anything that might find itself on a Thanksgiving plate.

Generally I just give them a quick blanch, dry them thoroughly, and then sauté them up with onions and sliced mushrooms, letting them brown up just a bit. However, thinking of this year’s Thanksgiving feast and how nicely the flavor of haricot verts would be with fresh pears... and how beautifully pears (particularly Stemilt’s Bosc pears) roast... I’ve decided to change it up a bit. I’m not switching camps, just tweaking the flavor and simplifying the process.

Stemilt’s bosc pears, with hints of fall spices, are a perfect partner in this dish... offering a subtly sweet balance to this savory plating.

In this preparation everything just gets laid out on one baking sheet, with the pears halved and tucked into the corners of the pan, tossed with a little olive oil and simply seasoned with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Then it’s popped into the oven for anywhere between 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the bean and the amount on your pan (they roast best in one layer, not overly crowded). It’s an easy, quick roast that can be done once the bird is removed and set to rest before carving. When ready to serve, the haricot verts and pears can be arranged on a platter and sprinkled with herbed Marcona almonds. Super yummy and ever so easy... a dish that will make our own traditional feast this year… from the non-casserole camp of campers.

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

Disclaimer: While I have been compensated by Stemilt Growers for this recipe development project, including photography, the opinions expressed on A Savory Nest are my own. Recipes and all images are the sole property of Stemilt Growers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Apple-Carrot Morning Glory Muffins {for Stemilt Growers}

We enjoy a good cup of Jo. And like many Pacific Northwesterners, have become just a bit uppity about our grind. Like a good wine, what’s tasty to one may be too bitter or bland for another. Finding that perfect blend when in our own home or neck of the woods has never really been a challenge. Traveling about, however, the task of uncovering a perfect pour requires some planning and forethought... easily done with a little Google search. Or, if we are either north or south in Seattle or San Francisco, respectively, we simply enlist our offspring who have, to our benefit, acquired this same gene.

Having our coffee strategy clearly defined when leaving known territory is a comfort only those who share this mindset (affliction) can understand. For us, the only uncertainty that remains is what to have alongside. Oftentimes it’s nothing, due to lack of hunger... but more often than not it’s simply due to the slim pickings many coffee-centric enclaves offer with respect to baked goods. Though we often just make do with what is available, a summer trek up to Seattle uncovered not only a superb blend but also a more than tasty baked treat at Ballard Coffee Works. This cozy nook hugs the corner of Market and 22nd in the lovely little neighborhood of Ballard, just northwest of downtown Seattle, and a skip and a jump from Ballard Avenue, a quaint stretch of restaurants and boutiques that begs to be strolled. It was here that we had (and continue to enjoy on each of our northern excursions) a great cup of Jo... and a delightful Morning Glory muffin. Each time we visit I look forward to this muffin as much I do to the coffee... and that’s saying something. As such, our visits have been as much about enjoyment as they have about research... determining what makes this muffin so good.

It’s the crumb. It’s perfectly moist, subtly sweet, dotted with just the right mix of fruit and nuts, laced with a hint of warm flavor, and capped with a top that is just ever so lightly crisp without compromising texture. Thinking of this muffin and how best to create my version made me think of Stemilt’s wide array of perfect baking apples... Sweet Tango, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Jonagold, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith. Freshly grated apple, along with grated carrot, creates that subtle sweet flavor that makes the Morning Glory muffin so satisfying. It’s pleasingly sweet, not dessert-like. And, of course, fresh apple contributes greatly to this muffin’s moist, delicious crumb. It’s a muffin that has earned its name... glorious... any time of day.

For recipe details on my version of this favorite, visit Stemilt’s blog, The Stem.

Disclaimer: While I have been compensated by Stemilt Growers for this recipe development project, including photography, the opinions expressed on A Savory Nest are my own. Recipes and all images are the sole property of Stemilt Growers.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Turkey Bacon, Kale & Orzo Minestrone Soup

“There are no new recipes. It’s like painting. You are copying Michelangelo, but you put in a little of yourself too.”

I came across this quote from an article in the October 2014 issue of Sunset magazine, The Blacksmith Cooks, about an engaging metal forger that makes a living creating architectural wrought iron at Renaissance Forge, his workshop in San Francisco. It’s a metal shop cum culinary salon where he plans to soon offer classes on foraging foods in nature and cooking with the seasons... talents he’s honed over the years via the matriarchs in his Italian family and, later, cooking casually for the likes of Alice Waters and Francis Ford Coppola. While the article is entertaining to say the least... I love the sentiment in the statement culled from therein... and the no nonsense, honest approach this cook (and creative) takes, appreciating both the refined and humble ingredients that result in magic.

Cooking, at its best, allows you to pull at will from your pantry and fridge... letting these ingredients dictate dinner; it’s gathering the best the season has to offer and allowing those ingredients to guide you in the kitchen; it’s falling in love with a taste, a flavor, or a preparation while dining out and tweaking those memories into your own creation. Getting to this place sometimes means following recipes for a bit of time... forever... or just intermittently. Eventually, however, you can become adept at combining ingredients and seasonings... recognizing what works for you and how to adjust flavor by what you know and what you taste.

And, great results can (and do) come from very simple efforts and ingredients.

When I started this blog several years ago, it was a vehicle to share recipes with our daughters (and a little creative playground for me)... to help them develop their own interest and confidence in the kitchen. And I believe it’s done exactly that. On her drive home one night last week, our eldest daughter mentioned that she was going to “punt” dinner that night as she simply didn’t have the time or energy for recipe following. She makes a lot of what’s on this blog (and others) but that statement was music to my ears as it’s exactly what she heard in our own kitchen growing up. With busy days and little time, dinner was often a punt (our own definition of not having a particular strategy). Punts were good, flavorful, healthy dinners... often ones without a clear plan formulated until we were well into the mix. The fact that both she and her sister can now assume this stance with ease and comfort, when necessity calls or desire dictates... with delicious results... makes me proud.

I’ve made a few variations of this little minestrone a few times in the last month, a perfect soup for the season that uses much of what most kitchens have at the ready... onion, carrot, celery, kale, broth, canned beans and tomatoes, a little orzo... and turkey bacon for great flavor without all the fat.  In 45 minutes you have a rich, hearty minestrone that’s super flavorful and satisfying. It’s a pot that allows you to simmer and taste along the way... perfect for punting or planning.

While I’d never compare what happens in my kitchen to Michaelangelo, I love the sentiment that good cooking comes from far more than the ingredients you are able to gather together as one... however refined or humble they may be. It’s the little bit of yourself that you add along the way and, of course, the love you feel for the people you share it with... famous or not.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Easy Shrimp Pasta

There are two predominant routes I tend to travel when it comes to pasta... both laden with enticements that make decision making difficult when perusing a menu that offers both as options and, sadly, no plane tickets. One road has white wine, garlic, tomatoes, lemon and parsley lining the way. The other promotes bacon, tomatoes, olives, and onions to lure the senses. And selecting which way to go is never easy.

I’m always torn between that sumptuous and subtle (or not so subtle) garlic-white wine-based pasta common to Shrimp Scampi, especially when dotted with fresh tomatoes and brightened with a good squeeze of lemon, and the pastas that lean more toward the Puttanesca or All'Amatriciana side, with olives and bacon (capers and guanciale for purists) offering an alluring salty, robust flavor that is especially appealing with a little kick of chili flakes thrown in for some heat.

I suppose that’s why eating in is so often the best path… allowing you to forge your own way to combine your favorite profiles into one great dish... especially when the flavors are so compatible.

Here, large shrimp are tossed with just a bit of olive oil and seasoned with a touch of kosher salt, black pepper and a hint of garlic powder before getting popped in a hot oven to roast for 5 minutes... quick and easy. While you can easily drop your shrimp into your sauce to cook through, I think a quick roast adds an appealing bite to the shrimp... and allows you to incorporate a bit more direct flavor than a simmered option offers.

While your shrimp do their thing and you put your pasta on to cook, the rest of the fixings get simmered in a skillet over the stove... onion, turkey bacon, carrot, diced tomatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, a touch of white wine, a bit of pasta water and a little seasoning. The carrots add a little sweetness without shouting "carrot" and throwing you too far off the Scampi-Puttanesca-All'Amatriciana path. And the turkey bacon paves a little healthier route. In no time at all, everything is ready to toss together and serve... just take a peek at the recipe detail for timing on what gets sautéed first, etc.

A little fresh Italian parsley sprinkled over top and you’re on your way to Happyville (the destination you arrive at when forging your own way... in life and food). Unless, of course, you have a good stretch of time and a plane ticket to Italy… then scrap it all and eat out (you'll get to Happyville via this route as well).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Smooth Sipping… {for Stemilt Growers}

Anyone that knows us well knows that we are just a little obsessed with our morning smoothies… they're just a great, bright, healthy way to start the day… subtly sweet and loaded with nutritious ingredients… all in one glass!

Given our penchant for whirring up a near daily blend of leafy greens, fruits and veggies, I was thrilled when Stemilt Growers asked me to work on a recipe development project to feature a variety of beautiful, tasty, good-for-you smoothies and juices using Stemilt Fresh Blenders... sweet and tart apples in easy 5-pound, grab-and-go bags that make daily blending a breeze.

In all, I created eight different smoothies to appeal to a range of tastes… whether you are looking for a super veggie vibe, a tropical twist, a non-dairy option, etc… there's a little something for just about everyone. And… they are super easy! You can chop and drop as you go, or prep some items the night before. Whatever works best for you. The only real essential to achieving smooth sipping success is having a good blender. While I can't attest to any other than my own (sure there are lots of great ones out there), I use a Blendtec and love it.

The beauty of this particular project was the opportunity it presented to extend just a bit beyond our tried-and-true daily go to of kale, spinach, apple, carrot, orange, ginger and flax. There are just so many possible variations to a great smoothie... super easy to more extensive... ensuring that there’s sure to be more than a few perfect palate pleasers to choose from. 

Take a peek at Stemilt’s Fresh Blenders recipes for complete details on all the smoothies imaged here... as well as delicious options for the juicers in your family. Happy… healthy… sipping!

Disclaimer: While I have been compensated by Stemilt Growers for this recipe development project, including photography, the opinions expressed on A Savory Nest are my own. Recipes and all images are the sole property of Stemilt Growers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Apple-Cauliflower-Cabbage Crunch Salad {for Stemilt Growers}

Visual appeal, aroma, flavor, and texture are powerful factors when it comes to food, though there are different camps on just how these align and weigh into decision making. In my (very humble) experience, the first three are fairly universal in their importance and influence... with no particular order. It’s the last that is kind of a tipping point, either way. Personally, texture can be off-putting at times, yet I’m always one to give it a go... let taste prevail. However, I know others that won’t come near any food that is texturally challenged... mushy, goopy, slimy, soft, etc. Whatever the particular textural ailment might be, the food is vetoed.

I believe the one texture that IS universally beloved, however, is crunch. There’s just something that is so appealing about this satisfying element that kind of makes it its own separate criteria (in my book, anyway)... a fifth factor, if you will, in this line up.

While there are loads of foods that provide a powerful crunch factor, fresh fruits and veggies kind of corner this market when it comes to making healthy choices. And chop... or crunch salads are a personal favorite for getting the optimal balance... mixing color and cut for visual appeal; adding bits of herbs and a citrus dressing for a subtle, fresh aroma; mixing compatible elements to enhance flavor; and getting that great pop of crunch (and texture) with raw veggies and fresh fruits.

Here Stemilt’s Fuji apples provide that satisfying, fresh pop of sweet crunch that balances beautifully against the more robust nature of raw cauliflower florets and purple cabbage. A little pop of fresh celery and flat-leaf parsley provide that aromatic bit of goodness with little bits of sweetness added to beautifully meld it all together... bits of red and yellow pepper, dried cranberries and lightly toasted walnuts.  A simple olive oil-lemon dressing infused with a touch of honey dresses it all up for an easy, fresh, healthy, satisfying crrrunnnccch salad.

For recipe details, visit 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 on A Savory Nest are my own.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chicken with Fennel, Artichokes, Green Olives & Tomatoes

When I hear anyone wax on about the glorious summer weather that has been bestowed upon us this season... I smile in agreement, yet refrain from any refrain. It is true that we have happily experienced... from way up high, through billowy white clouds and sapphire blue skies... a blazing sun that has wrapped its warm arms around us for an uncharacteristic number of consecutive weeks. It’s been good.

And yet... I still hold back any refrain. For if I were to offer a refrain, and I’ve learned not too, it would be like saying “yes, I love whipped cream on my sundae... but I really love whipped cream on my sundae with a cherry on top.” It kind of kills the moment to not just be thankful. And I am.

This week, however, offered that slightest glimmer of change; that peekaboo moment when you realize it’s just a little bit crisper out, that the day is just a little shorter, and the vivid skies are peppered with just a few more clouds. And then that pivotal moment presents itself... the first legitimate drizzle. Walkways saturated; windshield wipers on; air conditioning off. It’s that little glimmer, that peekaboo moment that says it’s now safe to offer a refrain... I love, love summer but my favorite season is Fall. There!

I believe there are loads of folks that favor Fall but anyone with any tact realizes that saying so even a moment too early is seasonal sacrilege... a definite no-no in the Pacific Northwest when the promise of summer can, at times, be the one and only glimmer that gets you through a long winter and sometimes non-existent Spring.

With the arrival of Fall comes so much of what I love... golden hues, brilliant skies, roaring fires, crisp morning air... and brothy dishes, like this little chicken stew.

It’s a dish that’s loaded with some of my favorite Mediterranean flavors... mixing fennel, onion, tomato, olives, and artichokes in a tasty broth that envelopes the chicken in much the same, warm way that summer accomplishes in its brightness and Fall promises in its comfort. It’s satisfying, but not overbearing or heavy. It’s bright, but subtly so.

A long grain brown rice dotted with fresh, flat-leaf parsley and sliced green onion is a light accompaniment that makes this dish a great entre to Fall, one that could easily be switched out for a hearty mashed potato as the season turns to cooler days.

And... it’s easy. One pot... a few steps... a little simmer... and done. No further refrain.