Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pear, White Chocolate, Almond & Oatmeal Cookies {for Stemilt Growers}

When I think of chocolate chip cookies, I have a go-to recipe that I rarely waver on. It’s one that originated on the back of a bag of chocolate chips and over the years melded into a recipe that better matched my own personal palate... a cookie that is subtly crisp on the outside, though relatively supple on the inside. Not overly sweet. Not wafer thin, not super-sized. And never snap-crackle crisp.

While I always consider that particular recipe a chocolate chip cookie recipe, I can’t remember a time that I made it and not added a good heap of quick-cook oats. That bit of oats makes all the difference in the texture and consistency of the batter… and ultimate cookies. Not to mention the flavor.

So when Stemilt suggested a chocolate chip cookie recipe when it came time to work with a few of their beautiful, ripe pears… I had to rethink my tried and true way of doing things. Adding fruit to cookie batter isn’t new… especially dried fruits. Adding fresh fruit takes a little more thought… for me, at least. A purée of fresh fruit adds flavor as well as sweetness to a cookie batter. It also loosens the consistency so it requires a little balancing of flours, sugars, butter, etc.

And, what about incorporating fresh pear? Well… in many applications white chocolate, almonds and oats pair beautifully with pears... so a chocolate chip cookie didn’t seem too far fetched.

Adding fresh fruit is a sweet option to reducing the refined sugar component in cookies. The trade off is a bit of crispness. The solution is to keep them petite. Fresh out of the oven, with a little rest to cool, they are at their peak level of crispness. They soften a bit over time... but that doesn’t temper their appeal.

In these wee cookies, fresh pear is introduced in both a puréed form and a diced form... the sweetness of which keeps the need for refined sugar to a minimum. The end result is a cookie that tastes like it should be healthy for you... with just a delicate sweetness. Little bits of white chocolate chips and almonds add a delicious pop of decadence and crunch…  subtle reminders that moderation is still the best policy... even if the cookies are tastefully disguised as healthy morsels.

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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Watermelon-Mint-Lime Zest Sorbet

Sorbets are a bit like good friendships and general happiness… balance is required to achieve success.

Too sweet and they can be off-putting. Not sweet enough and they can be hard-edged… icy. Artificially sweet… not really interested in pursuing. Well... you get my drift. Apart from the flavor profile you’re going after, the right level of sweetness is critical to producing a sorbet that will be both texturally and tastefully pleasing.

The good news is that anywhere in that balance zone, the flavor will be great and… truly… from a purely personal perspective, anywhere in the granita to sorbet zone will produce a light, satisfying, refreshing dessert.

Since I’ve become fairly obsessed with the generous sprinkling of lime zest on virtually any cut and combination of fresh fruit, this watermelon-mint-lime zest profile is particularly pleasing. The subtle mint infusion of flavor (and sweetening) is introduced in the form of a simple syrup. In this prep, it’s a 50:50 ratio of sugar and water infused with a good bit of mint leaves that I muddle just a tad as the mixture heats up… dissolving the sugar and resulting in a thin syrup. The watermelon just gets whirred up separately in a blender. Then these two components get popped into the fridge overnight (or freezer for a few hours if time is a factor) so that everything is good and cold before getting introduced to your ice cream/sorbet machine. (Just make sure both of these “mixes” are housed in non-reactive containers to cool.)

Then comes the mixing… getting your fruit blend sweetened up just right to please the palate and the spoon. Tasting is always a good test. However, with sorbet, going a bit sweeter is often better as it will temper a bit once it gets its time in the freezer. So what's sweet enough? Too much sugar and your sorbet won't freeze correctly; not enough sweetener and your sorbet will freeze rock hard. Without purchasing technical gadgets to determine the right amount of sweetener to add (there's a whole technical side involving "brix" and such), an “egg test” is a good little barometer for the home cook (and kind of fun to do). More on this later.

First I add a good bit of zested lime to my watermelon blend. This base should be place in a bowl that is deep enough to allow an average size egg to sit at the bottom of your bowl with just enough head room to cover from view. Straining your simple syrup through a fine sieve (so as not to get leaves in your sorbet), begin adding some of your syrup to your watermelon blend. Then take a well-washed egg (yep, right from the fridge) and gently place it in the bottom of your bowl. If it doesn’t float up to reveal a nickel size bit of it through the top surface of your liquid then you need more sweetener. Continue adding the simple syrup and testing the egg float. Once the egg rises to view that nickel size portion through the surface of the watermelon blend in your bowl, then you are pretty much good to go. Taste it too… it should be on the sweeter side, but pleasing.

Since all your ingredients should still be good and cold, you can then proceed to “churning” in your machine… super cold ingredients into your ice cream/sorbet maker makes for a good churn. With mine (Cuisinart ICE-21), I just get the machine going (simple on-off switch) and then pour my mix slowly in as the machine is turning. It takes about 8 to 10 minutes to get a nice consistency. Place it in the freezer to firm up (the door is a good spot as it’s less likely to get overly hard there). You may have to leave it out to soften a bit before serving (10 to 20 minutes if it’s really firm). Or… churn and serve right away (going a bit beyond the 8 to 10 minutes… or when your machine cuts off telling you it’s ready). Always best to keep an eye on it to ensure its doing its thing correctly.

All in all, it’s so refreshing and light, beautifully flavored with the subtle, summer sweetness of watermelon, lightly infused with mint, and brightened with the lime zest. For an added little pop, add a bit more fresh lime zest overtop when serving… it won’t tip its delightful, welcoming balance one bit… making it a happy and enjoyable choice.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Petrale Sole & Sweet White Corn-Jalapeño Salad

Super easy weeknight meals are equal opportunity pleasers… without bias to the rationale of their appeal. Busy days, lazy days, crazy days… it simply doesn’t matter. In my corner of the world, I often think of them as daughter dinners… my answer to telephone queries of what’s quick and easy?

They’re satisfying, tasty dinners that come together with barely a whisper of thought… ones that can be easily managed after making ones way home after a long day… perhaps.

Dinners that allow ones mind to idly wander the vista of  a water-viewed walk by bay… or sea… to champion the transition of thought to calm respite before arriving home to cap the day.

Or, simply… easy weeknight meals… whenever fancied.

They are the types of dinners that two hands can easily manage… though extras are welcomed, of course. And they are the types of dinners that when choreographed well can be performed in a matter of minutes. Minutes!

Though I tend to gravitate toward salmon or halibut on most fish-faring dinner excursions, petrale sole is a great, quick and satisfying option for a weeknight (or any night) meal. It’s a delicate fish both in flavor and texture, making it a perfect partner for an equally delicate pairing that allows a pop of seasoning to add overall highlight. (Here, a dry Chimichurri* seasoning fills that bill nicely.) A subtly sweet corn salad with little pops of jalapeño, red pepper and fresh arugula offers a wonderful base to support a simply dressed, subtly spiced petrale sole. Sautéed in just a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with kosher salt, ground black pepper and a nice sprinkle of Chimichurri seasoning, this fish is beautifully flavored without any risk of being overpowered.

And, what about that done in minutes claim? Honestly, prepping the water to quick boil your corn is the longest and most difficult step in this dance. The being well choreographed part is simply a call to use your time wisely. While your water boils, prep the pairings and dressing for your corn salad. Then drop your corn in to boil… 60 to 90 seconds tops… then remove it to cool while you prep your fish. The key to a great fish sauté is to lay it in the pan (oil preheated to allow a light sizzle) and let it be… don’t pull it up or move it around… 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully flip it to sauté the other side (maybe 60 seconds). The fish will speak to you… the background tempo to this little dance… showing a light whitening through the middle. Once flipped, the first side will be subtly golden. The second side needs just a light touch to finish it off. And violà, dinner is done.

As choreographed here, it’s dinner under 10 minutes … not counting time to watch water boil. It’s so much nicer to factor it in thought by bay or sea.

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.