Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Turkey Sliders Stuffed with Herbed Chévre, Sautéed Shitake Mushrooms, and Fresh Spinach

These little burgers were created in an attempt to have an equal opportunity slider experience.

Sliders seem to be the new "it" food on happy hour menus...but we rarely see non-beef options. After much sidelined witnessing of oohs and aahs as friends enjoyed these mini morsels, we did finally come across some turkey sliders at a favorite restaurant that specializes in serving small plates (miniature portions of mac 'n cheese, pastas, etc.) but, in all honesty, they were a little boring. The turkey was tasty but not enough to quell thoughts that it needed a bit more "umf" to elicit any of those oohs and aahs we had so craved to partake in. Perhaps some toppings were in order...something to give them some flavor interest? However, when you're dealing with a little mini burger, keeping those toppings atop your burger is easier said than done. Beyond the structural limitations, you simply aren't working with solid materials here. Burgers have slippery-slidey toppings. And, given the limited real estate of a slider, toppings are bound to topple before you even take your first bite.

While you can certainly incorporate toppings into your meat, mixing it all together, you have to think about the consistency of these ingredients. Cheese is great when melted but you don't really want it oozing out of your burgers before you even take them out of the pan.

Stuffing your sliders gives you all the greatness of toppings, without the mess or waste (or structural engineering know-how). And like all great burgers, there are myriad of toppings (ahem...stuffings) that would work in these sliders. I happened to have herbed chévre in my fridge so I built the balance of the stuffing around this cheese. Whatever cheese you use, just remember that you want to select and prep it to best ensure that it melts. Soft cheeses can be sliced or cubed, harder cheeses are best shredded.

In short, these little sliders rightly earn their oohs and aahs. They are packed with much so that once inside a great little bun (mini wheat dinner rolls in this case), you are good to go. No spreads or sauces necessary...secret or otherwise.

Turkey Sliders Stuffed with Herbed Chévre, Sautéed Shitake Mushrooms, and Fresh Spinach
makes 6 sliders (approx. 2 to 3 ounces each)

for stuffing:
1/3 pound shitake mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped fresh spinach
salt and pepper, to taste
4 to 5 ounces herb-flavored chévre cheese, cut into 1/4-inch slices

for turkey patties:
3/4 pound ground white turkey breast
1/4 pound ground dark turkey meat
1 egg
3/4 cup dried Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
2 large roasted red peppers, diced (whatever jarred variety preferred)
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive olive

6 whole wheat mini dinner rolls

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet, heat butter and tablespoon olive oil together over medium-high heat, until butter melts. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté for 2 to 4 minutes, until mushrooms are cooked through and lightly golden.

Remove mushrooms from heat and add in chopped spinach. Toss lightly to mix spinach with mushrooms. (Spinach will wilt slightly.) Turn mixture out into a bowl and set aside. Keep same skillet to use for cooking patties.

In a large bowl, mix turkey meat with egg, bread crumbs, roasted red peppers, oregano, salt, and pepper.

When mixture is well blended, roughly divide patty mix in half as you'll use one half of mixture for making the bottom of your patties, the other half for the tops. (Note: This is my little trick to getting a perfectly proportioned patty. I find that when I make a larger patty that wraps up and around the stuffing, I get a top-heavy meat portion with all the great stuffing crammed down at the base. Use whatever method works for you.)

Take a small portion of the turkey mixture and form a thin patty, about 3 inches in diameter. You'll make six of these, using about 1 to 2 ounces for each. Top each patty with a slice of chévre and a tablespoon or so of the mushroom-spinach mixture.

Using the second half of your turkey mixture, make another six thin patties to top each base. Using your fingers, pinch the sides of each patty to seal in your stuffing.

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in the same skillet you used for your mushrooms. Pat and shape each patty a bit before placing in skillet, to ensure they are well sealed and shaped for the buns you are using.

Cook patties over medium-high heat for approximately 3 to 5 minutes, until golden on one side. Flip patties and continue cooking for another 3 to 5 minutes. (I even rolled these on their sides for a bit to ensure they'd get browned all around...they are plump!)

While sliders finish up cooking, place your rolls in heated oven for 2 to 3 minutes. Slice rolls in half. Place one slider within each roll...and enjoy!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Simple Fresh Cherry Sauce

When 18 pounds of beautiful, sweet, organic cherries (yes...18 pounds!) arrived at our doorstep for the July 4th weekend, we were very excited...and a bit speechless. I did manage an audible "thank you" to the delivery guy and then I did some quick math...six people, 18 pounds. That's three pounds per person, over three days. we'd each eat a pound of cherries per day and there would be no waste. Could we do that??

As we opened our package and unveiled the seemingly endless bags of beautifully plump Sweet-Dark and Rainier cherries (all from Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, WA), I immediately gained some composure and decided that we'd simply enjoy the fruit...not hard to do. We'd snack on it...again, not hard. I'd give a little sack to the kind neighbors who were taking in our newspapers for us...they love fruits and I'm happy to share (a little anyway). We'd pit, halve, and toss them into our morning fruit salads. I have to say I never think to add cherries to our fruit salads...what a miss. They offer an incredibly delicious pop of tangy-sweet flavor. And, I'd make an easy dessert for the Fourth with whatever I had on hand. I had brought along some jumbo chocolate-walnut brownies (made from scratch) for us to enjoy, so I immediately thought about incorporating those. Who doesn't like chocolate with cherries? With the frozen yogurt I had in the freezer and the jam and whipping cream sitting in the fridge, a layered parfait popped to mind.

We continued munching away at the Sweet-Dark and Rainier cherries after the holiday faded and we had returned to our home base. I even took a big bowl to the home of some friends as a dessert offering (easiest dessert I EVER made).

Phew...15 pounds and counting...

I thought about Swiss meringues with whipped cream and cherry sauce, buttermilk pancakes with chopped walnuts and cherry sauce, and thick, golden waffles...with cherry sauce. And...then I just went with the cherry sauce.

We had just about two cups of cherries remaining and I felt I could improve upon the sauce used in my holiday parfaits. I had used a cherry jam to thicken it and, while good, it just didn't allow the true flavor of these morsels to shine. Looking for a sauce that was a little lighter and brighter, I came up with this. Oh...and we didn't wait for the meringues, pancakes, or waffles to materialize. We simply popped open some frozen vanilla yogurt and spooned this atop. Yum! So simple and so good.

The Sweet-Darks are in markets until well into after you've enjoyed this sauce slathered over some vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, keep a bit aside for those pancakes and waffles.

Simple Fresh Cherry Sauce
makes about 2 cups

2 cups Sweet-Dark cherries, pitted and halved
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup water
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons super fine sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Begin by washing, pitting, and halving your cherries. If using a pitter like the one shown here, I find that placing it flush with your prep surface will minimize the mess of splashing juice. Placing some paper towels down on your work surface also helps to minimize the mess...and eases clean up.

Place your prepped cherries in a medium-sized pot, add orange juice through vanilla extract. Heat through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add in cornstarch and continue heating until sauce thickens a bit, about 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Serve sauce warm or cold. Store in fridge.

(The fresh cherry sauce is spooned cold over the serving of frozen vanilla yogurt pictured above.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer Panzanella Salad

This is a salad that truly celebrates ALL that is great about a sweet, summer-ripened tomato...which is much!

We love tomatoes and eat them year round...throwing even the most meager of ripened and semi-sweet tomatoes into winter salads. However...when summer rolls around and the most luscious of vine-ripened (or heirloom) tomatoes come to market, we take full advantage of savoring them at their peak. In addition to slipping them into fresh garden salads, whirring them into spicy gazpachos, or building them into beautiful capreses with flavorful pestos and drizzles of olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar, summer tomatoes are perfect for a delicious panzanella salad.

There are loads of ways to approach this Italian bread and tomato salad, but this is one of our favorites. It is adapted from a recipe I snagged at a dinner party. That particular version of this dish called for an olive oil dressing with a "splash" of red wine vinegar, and no additional components beyond the bread, tomatoes, fresh basil, and sliced red onion...pretty simple to make and definitely tasty. However, I wanted to amp up the flavor a bit so I tweaked the dressing a touch to brighten it a bit more, and added in pitted kalamata olives and fresh cucumber to give it a little more interest.

Beyond the great tomatoes, this salad is also about the bread...thus, the name "panzanella." Basically, you begin by making croutons from French bread (preferably unsalted). Many recipes will advise using day-old (or even week-old) bread. However, since I rarely think that far in advance, I typically buy a fresh baguette. I think if you get the "toasting" of your croutons right, and you use a baguette (more crusty surface area), you can get away with fresh. Oh...and these are croutons to love! They are great in Caesar salad...far surpassing anything you'll ever buy in a bag. And...they are super simple to make. Again, there are varying methods...namely whether to go with your oven or stove. I prefer using the stovetop (perhaps it's a control thing). I just think you get a great, crispy crouton that has just enough of a crunch (without being rock hard) and is perfectly golden. The trick is to cook them over a very low heat, and toss them regularly to ensure that they brown evenly.

Summer Panzanella Salad
serves 4 to 6

1 french bread baguette, cut into approximate 3/4" cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 to 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning (or mix of dried basil and oregano, whatever appeals to you)
2 teaspoons garlic powder (more if desired)
salt and pepper, to taste

3 pounds ripe red tomatoes, diced to approximate size of cubed bread
1 hothouse (or English) cucumber, quartered and diced to approximate size of tomatoes and bread
20 to 25 leaves fresh basil, torn into small pieces (or chiffonade leaves and lightly chop)
20 to 25 pitted kalamata olives, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion

2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Begin by cubing your bread. I like using a French baguette because you get a bit more "crust" to your croutons. Using a serrated knife, just halve the baguette lengthwise and then cut each length into thirds or quarters, depending on size of baguette. Then slice each of the six (or eight) lengths of bread into 3/4" cubes.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Once butter is melted, add in cubed bread and toss to coat well with oil and butter mixture.

Reduce heat to low (this is important to getting that great crusty texture) and add seasoning. Again, toss in the seasonings you like, adding more or less than indicated here, as preferred. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, toss bread intermittently to ensure that all the pieces are getting heat (and brown up evenly). You'll keep this "watch and toss" routine up for about 8 to 10 minutes, during which time you can prep your other salad ingredients.

Between 10 and 12 minutes, your croutons should be lightly crisp and perfectly golden. Sample them as you near this time and, once they are done to your liking, then turn them out onto some foil to cool.

While your croutons cool, whisk together your dressing ingredients. You'll end up with about 1 cup of dressing. Set this aside.

Once your croutons have cooled, toss salad fixings (minus dressing) into a large bowl and set aside. About 10 to 15 minutes before serving, dress with about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Let dressed salad sit for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Add additional dressing, salt and/or pepper, if needed, just before serving.

This salad pairs really well with grilled fish or chicken.