Thursday, July 30, 2009

Plum Perfection!


I pulled the recipe for this plum cake out of a manila folder I keep that's bursting with clippings and marked "very good." The thought that a recipe given such high marks can be so poorly filed is sad...but I'm on my way to changing that!

I remember running across this one in a magazine (can't remember which one) and racing to scribble it on a small scrap of paper I had at the bottom of my purse, hoping I'd get it all down before it was my turn in the dentist's chair. Though our dentist is amazing, he runs far too tight of a ship for an office that actually has magazines worth reading. As a result of this office's efficiency, I knew that I wasn't complete in noting all the parts of this tasty little cake...later marking the scrap of paper with a note to such. It came out really well the first time but it was lacking something. With a little tweaking here and there (looking at a few other "upside down cake" recipes), I came up with this and, truly, it's very good. Apart from the fact that the plums are terrific right now (especially these black ones with the brilliant red flesh), the cake is very light and moist, without being spongy or wet. And the addition of a little almond extract just enhances the whole flavor. Top it all off with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a sprinkle of sliced, toasted almonds and it makes a nice little presentation.

Though I think most any plum would work for this cake, I especially like these black plums which give a fairly intense reddish-pink hue when baked up.



Plum Upside Down Cake
serves 8

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks, divided)
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
6 plums, pitted and cut into 1/2" wedges
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup lowfat sour cream
1/4 cup 2% milk
sliced almonds, toasted 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook 4 tablespoons butter (1/4 cup) and brown sugar in a large skillet over medium heat until butter melts, about 2-3 minutes. Add sliced plums and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. In a 9" round baking pan, arrange plums in concentric circles (starting at outer edge of pan and working inward) and then spoon juices from skillet over fruit. Set aside.


4. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

5. In a separate bowl, beat remaining 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, milk, sour cream, almond extract and vanilla extract, until mixed. Gradually add flour mixture in until fully incorporated.

6. Pour batter over plums and bake in a 350 degree oven for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cake cool for 1 hour before removing from pan. After 1 hour, carefully place cake platter inverted over cooled cake pan. Hold both platter and pan securely and carefully flip both over so that cake platter rests on counter top. Carefully remove inverted can pan from cake, exposing plum arrangement on top. Serve with fresh whipped cream and sprinkle of sliced, toasted almonds.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Basil Inspired...




With the abundance of beautiful produce now available, not only in our neighborhood supermarkets but local Farmers' Markets, it's hard to resist the pull to overindulge. As a result, I ended up with a bushel of basil this weekend. 

My first order of business was pesto. Not only is this the "spread" of choice for our sandwich makings, it's great for marinades and quick pastas. (A little pasta, a dollop of pesto, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano...and you are good to go for a quick, delicious dinner.)

After perusing my cookbooks, I was inspired by a recipe I ran across in Mario Batali's Italian Grill cookbook for Guinea Hen Breasts with Rosemary and Pesto. While he was not entirely supportive of substituting chicken breasts, THAT is what I had and intended to grill.  Besides, his recipe calls for pesto and that was, as mentioned, my first order of business. In addition to the great tasting pesto (once you've made your own, you won't want to go "store-bought"), the chicken was very tasty...how can you go wrong with anything that includes garlic, basil and rosemary!

Simple Pesto
adapted from Mario Batali's Italian Grill
(makes about 1 cup)

4 garlic cloves
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh arugula leaves or italian parsley leaves, as preferred
4 tablespoons pine nuts
Generous pinch of salt
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 tablespoons freshly grated percorino romano

1. In a food processor, with the motor running, drop garlic to chop.  Add the basil, parsley, pine nuts, and salt and pulse until the the basil and nuts are finely chopped.

2. With motor running, drizzle in the oil.

3. Transfer mixture to a small bowl and stir in both Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino.

Note: The pesto will last several weeks in the refrigerator if topped with a thin layer of extra-virgin olive oil and stored in a tightly sealed jar.

With pesto made, I was ready to prep our chicken. As per Batali's recipe instructions, it's advisable to get your marinading chicken into the fridge for at least 4 hours, if not overnight. The longer it has to mix and mingle, the better. Ours had about 8 hours to get "happy" and that seemed to work well.


 
Grilled Chicken Breasts with Rosemary and Pesto
adapted from Mario Batali's Italian Grill
(serves 6)


3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup Pesto (Simple Pesto, from above recipe)
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
6 single skinless, boneless chicken breasts (pounded lightly with a meat mallet to unify thickness)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, rosemary, pesto, and red pepper flakes and mix well.

2. Put chicken breasts in a shallow dish and pour marinade over them, turning each piece and rubbing in marinade to coat. Cover and refrigerate (at least 4 hours or overnight).

3. 15 minutes before you want to begin grilling, remove chicken from fridge and let sit.

4. Season chicken with salt and pepper and then place on medium-high heat grill. Cook unmoved (and uncovered) for 3-5 minutes.  Turn breasts over and cook for another 5-8 minutes, covered for remaining grill time. Continue grilling and turning until cooked through (approximately 20 to 25 minutes tops, depending on thickness). The internal temperature should read 160 degrees Fahrenheit...if you're unsure.

As pictured, we had this grilled chicken with roasted baby red potatoes (just tossed with some extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary and dried basil, then roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes until browned and beautiful), and a saute' of fresh asparagus and sugar snap peas (just sauteed lightly in extra-virgin olive oil with salt and pepper...easy and good).

Though I doubled the pesto recipe, I still had a bit of basil left over so I made a simple caprese salad to accompany our dinner, using fresh, locally grown vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Once assembled, just drizzle the tomatoes and cheese with extra-virgin olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar, season it with kosher salt and pepper, and top it off with ribbons of fresh basil. I know this one is super easy but it's just so good. Simple is often the best!
      


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reinventing Ho-Hum Cabbage


I don't know what memories "cabbage" might conjure up for you but I can certainly never remember being too excited as a kid when it turned up on our family table...cooked beyond any recognition of its former crispy and colorful self. I remember my grandmother made a tasty coleslaw which I really enjoyed but "cooked" cabbage just always seemed so very "blah" to me. Then again, I wasn't entirely excited about many cooked vegetables until I left my teens.  And, more importantly, until I discovered that they didn't all come out of a can!  

While I have had good stuffed cabbage rolls and now use cabbage in soups quite often, I think I still prefer it raw. That being said, seasoning is essential to making it go from ho-hum to yum-yum.

The added benefit of cabbage is that it not only stores great, it's available year-round and is very economical.  The two little heads pictured above, just waiting for their "makeover", cost less than $1.50 per pound (New Seasons) and they'll make quite a heap of slaw.  Best of all, cabbage is loaded with both vitamins K and C and is touted as one veggie with a host of health benefits.  Do a little internet search to learn more...these humble heads get some quite impressive press. Oh...and just one more little tidbit of information I just learned in case you find yourself purchasing those oh-so-handy, prepackaged, and pre-shredded bags of cabbage...apparently, once you cut or shred cabbage, it immediately begins to lose its vitamin C content. So keep it whole until you plan to use it if you want to maximize its healthy punch.

I particularly like raw slaws that have really fresh flavors that pop with lime, cilantro, green onions, etc. All ingredients that pair well with, and enhance the flavor of, raw cabbage.  A while back I discovered a couple of recipes that I really think are worth sharing.  First is a Fish Taco and Cabbage Slaw recipe that is really good but shines even more due to the versatility of the slaw itself.  In addition to making these tacos super tasty, this slaw pairs really well with grilled chicken or, in a pinch for a quick meal, simply stuffed into cheese quesadillas or a sandwich.  It's kind of become my little "go to" slaw of late. 

The other slaw recipe I really enjoy is Asian Chicken Slaw, which I adapted from an old Cooking Light recipe. It, too, has a lot of really fresh flavors and a light soy/sesame dressing. With the weather here in Oregon into the 90's this week, this particular dish is a very refreshing alternative to grilling, and it's a complete meal with shredded chicken tossed in.

Okay...finally, a recipe! (Now remember, the "slaw" portion of this recipe is the "go to" slaw I just referred to.  You'll definitely want to have leftovers!)


Fish Tacos with Cabbage Slaw
adapted from a recipe from Cooking Light magazine
(serves 4)

3 cups shredded green cabbage (I run it through my food processor)
1 cup shredded purple cabbage (again, shredded in my food processor)
1 cup chopped plum tomatoes
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided 
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 pound tilapia fillets
1 teaspoon chili powder
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
2 limes, cut into wedges, for serving

1. Combine first 5 ingredients (through cilantro) in a large mixing bowl. Add juice, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss well to combine.

2. Sprinkle fish evenly with chili powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt; set aside. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil (add a bit more if necessary) to a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add fish to pan; cook three minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily with a fork, or until desired degree of doneness. Remove fish from heat and break up each fillet with a fork so that you have roughly bite-sized pieces for your tacos. 

3. Warm tortillas according to package directions.  (I have a gas cooktop and simply place them right on the burner, much to my family's concern as they fear me searing more than the tortilla. Definitely use caution if you go this route. I just love the little burnt tinge they get using this method. But, again, don't completely throw caution to the wind...they can catch fire, so be mindful).

4. Spoon about a 1/4 cup of slaw into each of your eight tortillas.  Divide fish evenly among tortillas, fold in half and serve with fresh cut lime wedges.

Super good...super easy...and super fast! This is a great meal when you only have, or want to spend, 20 minutes getting dinner ready. The time is really in the prepping of the slaw ingredients and even that doesn't take too long. If you want to make the slaw earlier in your day, just cover it with some plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge until you cook up your fish. This way you'll cut your dinner prep to just minutes! 

I always seem to have left-over slaw with this recipe. See how it works for you. Depending on how much you use in your tacos, you might as well.  If not, you'll want to increase the recipe because having leftovers is definitely the added perk in making this slaw.

And, if you're looking for a great grilled chicken recipe to pair along with your leftover "go-to" slaw, you may want to take a peek at Isabel Cruz' Chicken Diablo, from her cookbook Isabel's Cantina. It's simply bone-in, skin-on chicken marinated in a combination of mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, and chili flakes (best left overnight in the fridge to let the flavors mix and mingle), and then grilled.  One word of warning, however, if your BBQ is near your house, you may want to move it out a bit.  "We" smoked the side of our garage on our first run through. Two weeks later, siding repainted and BBQ pulled a safe distance onto the patio, we made it again. It goes so great with this slaw. And, as an added little punch, I serve a tomato salsa along side...actually in several cups around the table so everyone can get as many spoonfuls as they want.  I tend to use a lot! Isabel's Basic Salsa, also in her book Isabel's Cantina, is a really good and super easy salsa to make, if you're interested.  It's just a quick blend of canned plum tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and salt. You may want to give her book a peek. It's an interesting fusion of Asian and Latin cuisines...all flavors that I love.  No...I'm not getting any royalties here...just passing on a good find. 

At the risk of getting altogether too long-winded in today's posting, I have to pass on this last last recipe for Asian Chicken Slaw.  It's just a really good, fresh, and easy meal that truly reinvents that ho-hum cabbage. This one is posted especially for my daughter, Danielle, who is quickly becoming quite the little chef in her own right. Though you've got a bit of dicing and slicing up front, it's well worth the effort and comes together quickly in the end. And...it's great the next day, too! 





Asian Chicken Slaw
adapted from a recipe from Cooking Light magazine
(serves 6)

slaw:
3 cups shredded, cooked chicken breast (I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
3/4 cup finely diced celery
1 cup sliced sugar snap peas
1/2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper (cut down to bite-sized lengths)
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 cups shredded green cabbage (used my food processor)
1/2 cup shredded purple cabbage (used my food processor)
1 can (8 oz) sliced water chestnuts, drained and diced up a bit more

dressing:
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon pure sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

remaining ingredients:
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl.

2. To prepare dressing, combine cider vinegar and next 7 ingredients, through black pepper, in a small bowl and stir with a whisk. Pour dressing over slaw and toss to coat.  Cover and chill for at least 1 hour (I've skipped this step when time just didn't allow for a pre-chill and the salad is still great.  Letting it sit and chill for an hour, however, does give the flavors a chance to meld; so if you have the time it does enhance the flavor).

3. Sprinkle chilled slaw with slivered almonds and sesame seeds; toss and serve.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome!

Welcome to the first posting on my new blog...a savory nest.  While I admit that I am an ardent fan of the internet and all that it provides with just a few simple keystrokes, I have to say that I limit my use of it to mostly email correspondence, perusing food blogs and websites, booking travel, and gathering research.  Yes, there are the periodic, online shopping purchases, but no foray (yet) into the social networking realm (and none planned, as of right now).  So why a food blog?

Well...I love cooking...and writing...and creating.  Not the labored, hours-in-the-kitchen type of cooking, but simple, delicious food that makes you glad you put the effort in. Food that not only tastes great, but looks great too.  After all, presentation matters. 

I'm not a trained chef, just a lover of good things to eat and share.  And...an admirer of good presentation.  A beautifully plated meal, on a well-dressed and candlelit table is a lovely sight. That doesn't mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that every night is an event.  I'd say I strive for a delicious meal most nights of the week, but I'm not opposed to takeout or a quickly tossed salad. It's all a matter of balance. 

And so, a savory nest is simply my creative outlet to share some of the many recipes we've enjoyed at our nest, ones that I feel are worth trying and even, perhaps, saving in your own files. 

I realize that the whole objective with this blog is to share recipes I've found to be quite delicious and yet, with the VERY first posting, the idea of what to include can be quite daunting.  And so, I simply decided to post a great little side salad that we had last night, along with some very tasty, grilled chicken/basil/sun-dried tomato sausages and an interesting pear/arugula salad (a definite addition at a later date).  

With the summer crop of sweet, white corn readily available...and, oh so good...this salad is a real winner and one that can nicely accompany grilled chicken, sausages, salmon...you name it!  It's slightly sweet (in a good way) but has a lovely bite with the addition of the lime, jalapeno, radish, and cilantro.
 




Summer White Corn and Radish Salad
adapted from a Food & Wine recipe from August 2007 

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste

4 cups white corn kernels (from approximately 4 ears of white corn)
8 medium radishes, halved and sliced thinly
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced

1.  In a small bowl, whisk the first three ingredients. Gradually whisk oil into mixture, and season dressing with salt and pepper to taste.

2.  Bring large pot of salted water to boil and add cleaned husks of corn to cook for approximately 8-10 minutes.  To test doneness, carefully lift one of the husks from the water and prick several corn kernels with a fork. They'll just kind of "pop" when done to the right crispness (you don't want to over cook them).

3.  Remove corn from cooking water and let cool.  Once cooled, take each corn husk individually and hold it upright inside your serving bowl.  Using a sharp knife, "shave" the kernels from the husk in a top-down motion.  (If you have difficulty with this step due to a deep bowl, placing a small inverted bowl within your serving bowl will allow you to rest the husk a bit higher for cutting.)  Once you've removed the kernels, just take a fork and break up any lengths of kernels that remain connected.

4.  Toss corn kernels with radishes, cilantro, onion, jalapeno and dressing.  Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.  Transfer to plates and serve.