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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Composed Garden Salad with Blueberries, A Sweet Cherry Scone & A Strawberry-Pecan Cookie with Royal Harvest Dried Fruits {for Oregon Cherry Growers}

I love it when I’m proven wrong... in a good way. That moment when you think this is too good to be true... and then, it is! Good… and true!

Recently, I had the good fortune of being asked to develop a few recipes for Oregon Cherry Growers’ new line of packaged dried fruits, The Royal Harvest Ultimate Ingredient Fruit.

Incorporating dried fruits and nuts into a myriad of platings, from breakfast fare to dinner offerings, is fairly commonplace in our home so I had no expectations of handling a product that differed much from what I was already well accustomed to. Wow... was I mistaken. And happily so.

Oregon Cherry Growers’ Royal Harvest line of dried blueberries, cherries and strawberries are unlike any dried fruits I’ve ever tasted, or worked with. Made with natural ingredients, non-GMO and gluten free, these dried fruits have been specially formulated for baking and culinary use to deliver premium performance in both hot and cold applications... with a moisture content that is pitch perfect whether baked up or eaten fresh. And, unlike the dried fruits I’m most familiar with, the Royal Harvest line is as close to fresh as I’ve seen or tasted... retaining a more organic appearance and flavor profile than other comparable dried fruits I’ve tried.

I created three recipes utilizing all three dried fruits from the Royal Harvest line: a scone with their Diced Dried Sweet Cherries, featuring a coconut milk-lime zest glaze that adds just a touch of decadence to the subtly sweet and satisfying fruit-dotted crumb of these scones; a cookie with their Sliced Dried Strawberries, that nestles chopped pecans in with Royal Harvest’s plump dried strawberries for a delicious treat that gets dressed up once cooled with a sweet lacing of lemon-white chocolate icing; and, the salad shown at the top of this post, which has quickly become one of my own personal favorites... a composed salad that celebrates the garden with asparagus, fava beans, fennel, and crisp broccoli stems beautifully plated with a generous dotting of Royal Harvest’s Dried Wild Blueberries. The veggies are accompanied by an elegant lemon-honey goat cheese quenelle (though any dollop will do) and, together with a delicate cap of micro greens, are lightly dressed with a champagne-lemon vinaigrette.  The plating also incorporates a few fresh blueberries, given their abundance and seasonal availability at the time this recipe was developed... but, truly, added as much to showcase just how similar they appear next to the Royal Harvest dried fruit... quite incredible!

Though currently available only to the foodservice and bakery industries, Oregon Cherry Growers has plans to soon offer the Royal Harvest line to consumers via their website... so keep posted on that... with wider distribution planned for a later date.   

All dried fruit varieties of the Royal Harvest line performed impressively in each recipe I made... delivering platings I’ll revisit again and again... and provided a satisfying, subtly sweet nibble to enjoy during the process ... an added bonus! Too good… and true.

For recipe details, visit the Oregon Cherry Growers site.

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Easy Sopes with Slow-Cooked Pinto Beans, Salsa & Avocado Crema (Gluten-Free, Non-Dairy and Vegetarian)

It was on a sun-drenched sidewalk in a neighborhood on the fringe of downtown Mexico City, lined with mom and pop stores selling everything from new tires to fresh tortillas and dotted with apartments that stood overhead billowing the day’s wash from open windows like colorful patriotic flags, that I tasted my first sopes.

I was twelve or thirteen and just on the cusp of exhibiting signs of teenage annoyance, feeling slightly put out by our annual, month-long, summer treks to Mexico City; trips that were always capped by a week’s loll on the beaches of Acapulco. Cue violin. As frustrating as I believe this pubescent mindset must have been to others, I acclimated quickly every time... and remember my aunt’s sopes contributed greatly to that end.

Her sopes were made on a large round comal, best described as a big drum-shaped grill cradled on a hefty stand, that was set right in the center of the walkway in front of the storefront she owned along with my uncle; a doll-size space that offered a limited selection of fresh produce, and oft-sought after grocery and household items, to the families that lived in the three-or four block mix of residential and commercial buildings that surrounded it. Though both my aunt and uncle owned the business, the family referred to it as Virginia’s tienda-sita, or Virginia’s little store. Given the popularity of my aunt’s sopes, it is no wonder why she got top billing.

Once a week my aunt would drag out her specially made grill and begin the pinching and patting out of literally hundreds of sopes, with lines of neighbors coming from near and far to partake. Within minutes the air would take on a festive quality, with accolades of que sabrosa being chimed all the way down the block, and my aunt happily tending to her handcrafted array of simple little rounds of masa harina, crisped to perfection, with perfectly pinched sides to hold in the simple fillings that topped them. Always at hand was a pot of freshly cooked pinto and/or black beans, succulent bits of cooked chicken, crisp shredded lettuce, a homemade salsa or two, queso fresco, and/or a smooth crema. Nothing fancy in presentation, location, or flair. It was a far cry, to say the least, from the Southern California suburbia I was used to... and I loved it. Looking back, I suppose I loved the simple, genuine, gracious ease my aunt had with people as much as I loved her sopes. Perhaps that is why they were so good, each seasoned with her delightful touch.

While there are probably more than just a few schools of thought when it comes to making sopes, I updated what I could recall of my aunt’s delicious offerings. These are gluten free, non-dairy and vegan... with pinto beans, a quick-and-easy salsa, an avocado non-dairy crema, and fresh shredded romaine topping little masa harina saucers (made with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Masa Harina). Though you can certainly use canned beans, these are made with the real deal (using an easy day-of “soak and cook” method). And, instead of a deep fry, these masa rounds get a quick, light grill in just a hint of coconut oil... then a pinch to form rimmed edges... then a very quick fry in a few tablespoons of additional coconut oil. Though I don’t have a traditional comal, a flat grill or large skillet set over high heat does the trick. A good golden grilling on one side, then flip your disk of masa harina and lightly grill up the other side. Then remove it from the heat and pinch the edges of each “sope,” with the more grilled side up to form a slightly raised rim (careful as they are still warm... it’s as much pushing in and pinching up as much as anything… think Playdoh… using all your fingers, thumbs on the outside pushing in and fingers on the inside of the masa round pulling up and out). Then when ready for the second round of cooking,  heat your coconut oil and quick fry each to finish them off, transferring to a paper towel to pull any excess oil out..

Some simple fixings... and they are ready to plate... table-side (or on a sun-drenched walkway) where your only care is wondering when the next batch will arrive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sweet Tamari-Sesame Ginger Glazed Wild Salmon & Asian Citrus Slaw

While little more than a good sprinkle of salt and pepper is required to season up a fillet of fish, regardless of what fair-finned friend you happen to be working with, there’s something magical about the little sweet tamari-sesame ginger glaze on this salmon and its pairing with a fresh, crunchy, colorful slaw evoking similar elements of Asian flavor that makes you want to reach beyond a simple sprinkle for a bit more of an adventurous plating.

Together with a great chop of purple and green cabbage dotted with diced jalapeño, cilantro, supremed bits of fresh grapefruit, shredded carrot, baby bok choy and slices of avocado, this plating delivers such a pleasing umami flavor that it belies just how easy and quick it is to pull together. The finesse, like most any method in cooking fish, comes in getting the degree of “doneness” right... keeping attuned to what your gilled fellow is telling you so as not to go overboard.

And, of course, like most anything consumed... the fresher the better. Living in the Pacific Northwest pretty much guarantees us the availability of beautiful fresh fish, especially salmon. This particular fillet is but one portion of a spectacular salmon that we caught off the coast of Astoria, Oregon... our first fishing expedition on the bounding main. With no real idea of what to expect... and no real attention paid to preparing for the excursion... we came dressed for fair weather, assuming we’d find a tranquil spot on the river and hunker down in the mid-day sun, enjoying nibbles and a refreshing beverage while awaiting a good bite or two. Instead we borrowed layers of clothing and set off bundled against the fog and cold of an early morning hour, motoring well past the Columbia Bar into the Pacific Ocean. After having to release a good bit of catches and cutting our day a bit shorter than expected due to a few ashen faces and stomachs that churned with the roll of the sea, we came away with a single prized catch and an enhanced appreciation for the rigors of ocean fishing and just how lucky we were that only our sea legs were tested. After setting on dry land we learned just how dangerous crossing the Columbia Bar can be. Later reading that this channel is often referred to worldwide as “The Graveyard of the Pacific” pretty much assured us that this would be a one and done experience. Let’s just say we’ll be sticking to serene rivers and bucolic fly-fishing venues for our next adventures.

We did, however, manage to land one amazing salmon... and, in hindsight, appreciate it all the more.

The tamari-sesame ginger glaze comes together quickly, sweetened with a just a bit of brown sugar and simply rubbed onto the non-skin side of the fillet. Then, beginning skin-side down, pan sauté the fillet (though you can easily cook it up on the grill) just until it shows a nice doneness about midway through. Then flip it, pull the skin off with tongs, season with a touch of salt and pepper and flip it back over after about a minute or so to just slightly sear off this newly skinned side. (While some may prefer starting skin-side up, I like the greater latitude you get starting skin-side down... believing you can better control the rate at which the fish cooks... the skin kind of serving as a little buffer against cooking up too quickly.) A fork to test the doneness works wonders. I like to see just a slight flakiness in the texture of the fillet, pulling it off the heat when it’s just slightly under done as it will continue cooking a bit.

The colorful slaw is a perfect partner, providing a lovely, fresh crunch that is equally flavorful with the addition of a citrus vinaigrette infused with the rich umami qualities of red miso and tamari sweetened with honey and freshly squeezed orange, lime and grapefruit juices. It takes the whole protein-salad combo pairing up one notch on the flavor adventure scale… with the added benefits of keeping you on dry land and testing nothing more than your ability to chop and use tongs.