Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pear, Bavarian Blue Cheese, Radicchio & Fennel Pizzettes

Years ago I acquired a pizza stone; the exact nature of how it materialized escapes me now but I do remember having grand visions of the crisp, cheesy pies I’d produce. I think I used it twice.

It’s still nestled in its original box with the end flaps conveniently agape should I ever want to pull it out for a quick bake. Like a forlorn toy, it remains ever at-the-ready among my favored baking sheets and muffin tins where it is likely to stay as I discovered two things shortly after its appearance that changed the pizza-making game for me.

One: that you can get GREAT pizza dough from the market or even your neighborhood pizzeria (not necessarily a discovery that impacts the use of a pizza stone but one that easily affirms the whole should we toss a pizza tonight query).  And two (the real epiphany): I like grilling my pies!

Not only do I enjoy the grilled and, sometimes, charred nature of the resulting crust, I love the hands-on, creative process of building the pie as you go. If our weather permits, the outdoor grill is my preferred method. If not, then I’ll pinch hit with a stove-top grill… the smoke fan on full tilt, a window or two popped open and, occasionally, a door held ajar... but it's worth it.

Regardless of where I might be taking our pie(s)... savory, sweet, or somewhere in between... I always start with a little brush of canola oil and a pre-grill of one side. That first grilled side, once flipped, then becomes your “toppings” side… a perfectly crispy base to build whatever pleases your palate… a great canvas that allows you to pile flavors on in stages; a method that works wonders when you have a variety of textures (soft cheese, fresh fruit, etc.)

In this particular pie I was using the last batch of pears I had for a grouping of recipes I was completing for Stemilt Growers. Not wanting to overdo the cheese element (keeping to my no-dairyitty-bit of dairy restriction), I wanted to create a layer of flavor that would serve as a great base for the beautifully ripe pears I planned to use in topping each pizzette (individual-sized pizza). Being on a bit of a fennel kick, I went with a caramelized sauté of fennel, onion and radicchio; after first lightly dotting the crusts with bits of a creamy, subtly pungent brie-bleu cheese blend. Then, hot off the grill, each pizzette gets a generous pop of nutty, fresh arugula. The slight caramel sweetness of the fennel mixture is brilliant with this particular cheese selection; truly tasty and a perfect “pearing” with the fruit… I think any sweet, ripe pear variety will work beautifully.

My old pizza stone still stands at the ready. Perhaps I’ll prop it up against the stove-top grill... pull it out for a baked fruit crostata and keep it in the pie-making business.

Recipe details can be found at Stemilt.

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, April 2, 2014

Apple & Chicken-Sausage Popovers {for Stemilt Growers}

A few months ago we added a son-in-law to our mix.  That’s really the best (and most accurate) intro I have for the inspiration for these popovers.

You see, most mornings when it’s just my husband and I  (which is most mornings), breakfast is either green or beige in hue, and porridge-like in consistency. (I know that doesn’t sound very appealing.)

The green version of our morning starter is actually a kale-based shake and is quite yummy and really quite varying in hue, depending on what gets tossed in.

The beige version of our morning starter is typically oatmeal… sometimes quinoa. And though not as interesting from a color perspective, a topping of fresh berries and nuts gives it a little artistic interest and welcomed flavor.

And then a few months ago, as I mentioned, a son-in-law was added to our mix.

While our son-in-law certainly welcomes our kale shakes and oatmeal… and often begins his own weekdays in much the same fashion… he’s a meat-loving kind of guy (that happily plays along and appreciates most anything I plate in front of him). With him, as with our girls, I always attempt to cook to their tastes. Thankfully our son-in-law is a fan of the same sweet-savory note we admire in a lot of breakfast offerings we enjoy when time better allows us to venture into egg territory… and the like.

Whether it’s simply a slathering of sweet jam on a slice of toast cozied up to a fried egg, or a stack of pancakes drizzled with a bit of pure maple syrup that gently pools upon a few strips of perfectly crisp turkey bacon… the melding of that enchantingly balanced sweet and savory yin and yang is relished as “the perfect bite” by each and every one of us.

Thinking back eons ago when my husband’s guilty pleasure was an occasional Monte Cristo sandwich and now, to today, seeing the newest member of our family enjoy a brunch of crispy fried chicken served overtop a syrupy golden waffle, I thought of how great a popover would taste with a bit of that same satisfyingly splendid sweet-savory element.

In thinking of using Stemilt’s delicious apples… it all came together.

Bits of fresh and subtly sweet Stemilt apple, sautéed with onion and a crumble of chicken sausage, nestles brilliantly amid the delicate folds of this puffy, golden popover for a perfect little breakfast package of delightful sweet and savory yin and yang… a perfect marriage of flavors!

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.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Celery Soda

Sodas, as in Colas and the like, were eliminated from our beverage rotation eons ago. It’s not that we are entirely pure in our imbibing habits, as we very much enjoy morning coffee and evening wine, it’s that we simply don’t crave sodas. Calories, sugar, etc. are always factors to consider in what gets the pass and what gets the nix in our kitchen and, well, sodas got the nix.

An occasional sparkling water mixed with a little fresh juice or muddle of fresh herb took the place of carbonated colas a long time ago and we never looked back.

And then, just recently, we dined at Sitka & Spruce in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. It’s one of several lovely eateries in the Matt Dillon’ empire of restaurants. My absolute new favorite restaurant of all time is another in the Dillon lineup… The Corson Building. Though our platings at S&S were certainly delicious, it was our introduction to Celery Soda that got our attention.

While I’m familiar with simple syrups and certainly have muddled a few concoctions, I’ve never heard of or considered using celery as a flavor enhancer. It’s delish.

Though I’m not sure of how the folks at S&S prepare their offering, I did get enough info to deduce that it’s probably a celery-infused simple syrup mixed with sparkling water. Served over ice with a fresh squeeze of both lemon and lime… it’s divinely refreshing.

The one enjoyed at S&S was beautifully void of hue, a clear and bubbly drink with a bright and colorful citrusy pop of flavor. Electing to use coconut sugar in place of white refined sugar, my version is a bit more akin to an iced tea in appearance, and ever slightly more molasses-tasting in its sweet note… but equally appealing and enjoyed.

While this won’t be a daily beverage (a simply syrup is still sugar-based), celery is such a fun and tasty flavor option; one that makes this "soda" warrant at least a sip.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Veggie Spaghetti

While some may turn their noses up at a spaghetti that doesn’t promise a rich crumble of savory sausage or red meat tossed and tumbled with a deeply stewed tomato sauce, this veggie variety is a satisfying, heart-healthy, 30-minute ticket to comfort.   Not that dizzy, lethargic, take-a-nap variety, but a feel-good, satisfying, robust veggie one; one that doesn’t leave you laden with indulgent guilt.

Think of it as a soft merino wool blanket that drapes lightly to ward off and soothe the chill and challenge of the day. It’s light, appealing, satisfying, warm, and welcoming.

This particular spaghetti looks to a little partnering of several veggies to create a “meaty” base to a quick sauce built with canned San Marzano tomatoes, red wine and veggie stock . There’s onion, garlic, mushrooms, zucchini, carrot, and kale. Though this is what I had on had, I could easily see the addition of eggplant and/or artichokes. Or, if you happen to have some on hand, some leftover roasted tomatoes. There are so many options...

This one also happens to be gluten-free and dairy-free (assuming you refrain from the french baguette:). I use a little pad of vegan “butter” to silken the sauce, a veggie-based broth, and my favorite gluten-free spaghetti.

Served up warm, straight off the stove, it’s quick, healthy, "no-snooze" comfort in just 30 minutes.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Farro, Acorn Squash, Green Apple & Arugula Salad

Getting a satisfying “this is great!,” followed by “write down what you did and don’t change a thing,” (albeit from a rousing gallery of one) kind of solidifies that this particular plating will be a favorite in our nest for some time to come.

While I’d love to take all the credit for this dish, its inspiration comes from a recent night out. Reading recipes and trying new dishes at restaurants often serves to inspire the twists and turns I might take with a favored ingredient and a tried and true approach. This particular dish is a perfect example of doing just that... playing off the components of a salad enjoyed with our Seattleite daughter at Bar Cotto, one eatery among the several in Ethan Stowell’s culinary ménage; this one in Capitol Hill.

I happen to love farro for its nutty flavor and pleasing bite. (Plus it’s incredibly agreeable to a variety of flavors so it plates really nicely with a host of different characters.) While I traditionally take it down a more savory path, its pairing with acorn squash on the Bar Cotto menu was the selling point for our daughter… and it did not disappoint. As such, I committed the key ingredients… farro, acorn squash, green apple and pecans… to memory knowing that this dish would likely become a keeper.

My version includes arugula as I think this nutty little green gives a welcoming freshness to the warm and comforting notes that stand out in this salad. And, if you’re thinking of this as a main course option, I think the arugula lends a more developed composition. The acorn squash, roasted in my version, is subtly sweet. And… when mixed with still-warm farro it beautifully softens, lacing a whisper of sweet flavor throughout the salad. This subtle sweetness is more than pleasingly enhanced by a generous sprinkle of sugar-maple pecan halves and an awakening pop of sliced green onion…  a needed bite of yang to this salad’s comforting yen. And then, of course, there’s the fresh apple… a bright Granny Smith in my take. Bits of little matchstick cuts of apple lend a crisp, fresh component that marches along the same brightening path as the arugula and green onion in balancing the more subtle tones of the farro and squash. I truly don’t remember if there was a dressing on the Bar Cotto version but upon tasting my own rendition I believed it needed just a tad and the orange-maple-balsamic vinaigrette I whisked together does it perfect justice.
Though I don’t pretend to be well versed in vegan fare, I believe that with attentive sourcing (pure maple syrup and brown sugar that’s not laced with lard… surprising, but apparently possible), it would be a great vegan option. In this particular plating, we coupled it with a simply sautéed salmon. So good! I won’t change a thing.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Roasted Veggie Tacos with a Kale-Jicama Slaw

These might be some of the best tacos I've ever made... and I've made a few. The fact that they began as a full tilt quest for crispy taquitos... aka "a compromise"... and resulted in a little mea culpa (admitting that my way is not always the best way) is secondary.

First: the taquitos. They were delicious and very much enjoyed. However, the intent in making them the way they were made was very much a ploy on my part to have a crunchy, deep-fried taquito. Nothing really gets fried in my kitchen. So, I figured if I sold the filling… a heart-healthy mix of roasted sweet potato, broccoli and red onion tossed with protein-rich black beans… then I could roll it all in a corn tortilla and plunge it into hot oil with nary a sideways glance (aka "guilt"). And so I did. And… they were good.

I even made a leafy green kale and jicama slaw to side up to these crunchy rolls… another effort toward the healthy side of things… and it proved to be a perfect, fresh side. 

As I was contemplating a repeat of these tasty taquitos, using the leftover filling and a tweak of technique in the frying (as the filling was want to escape), I got to thinking of my husband’s favorite tacos, our efforts to try to eat as healthy and clean as possible, and a desire to not really want to partake in another fry.

Growing up firmly ensconced in the belief that most anything and everything tastes great in a tortilla, tacos from our kitchen are made with just about any leftovers we have. And the tortilla is never fried… or even baked. It’s just tinged over a hot flame (thanks to a gas stove). This no frying thing is really my husband’s preference and I’ve happily played along… until those taquitos. But I have to say that the taquitos reincarnation as tacos, with beautiful, flame-singed white corn tortillas and THAT slaw piled high over top could very well be my favorite taco to date. Mea culpa, this is what I should have made in the first place!

The filling of sweet potato, broccoli and red onion gets a little drizzle of olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper before heading to a 400 degree F. oven for an approximate 20-minute roast. Then it gets tossed with a can of black beans that have been rinsed and drained (pop rinsed beans onto a few paper towels to ensure they are good and dry before mixing with the roasted veggies). Add a little more salt and pepper to ensure a good flavor balance (your beans will need it) and your filling is done.

Then mix up your slaw: a few leaves of green kale, thinly sliced; a generous pop of crunchy jicama, also thinly sliced; and, a nice chop of fresh cilantro. The dressing is fresh orange juice, fresh lime juice, honey, red wine vinegar, and a little fruity olive oil. It just might be my favorite taco topping yet.

While I try to refrain from calling anything “the best,” these little heart healthy tacos certainly come close. So, so good and not a lick of frying (or dairy!) involved. Just humbly (and heart-healthy) good.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Italian Pressed Sandwich

The need for restraint can sometimes muddle the best efforts in really great sandwich making, as one that is loaded with the works can quickly become an unwieldy tower of goodness… super yummy, but difficult to keep intact (or eat).

In this particular little sandwich, everything piles onto a crusty olive ciabatta loaf slathered with hummus and pesto. There’s peppered turkey, mozzarella, baby spinach, fresh basil leaves, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, golden sautéed strips of zucchini, black olives, red onions, and tomatoes. It’s a scrumptious tower of goodness, in deed.  No restraint involved. Just a weighty little press… and voilà, you get to keep all those really tasty tidbits that make a good sandwich great.