Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Bright Smoothie & A Crunchy Kale Salad {featuring Stemilt's Pink Lady Apples}

Our at-home morning ritual begins with a kale smoothie; a routine that we adopted more than a year ago and one that we are somewhat addicted to. It's a start to the day that always includes apples and, therefore, one that I immediately thought of when Stemilt Growers asked me to share a couple of recipes featuring their Pink Lady apples for my first post on their new blog, The Stem.

The only thing that seems to disturb this little ritual of ours is traveling, as kale smoothies aren't a mainstream commodity while on the road. And yet, it was a fresh fruit and veggie juice had while traveling that prompted me to veer a bit from my initial plan. This beverage was simply composed of apples, carrots and ginger... juiced and strained. Pretty simple, pretty amazing... though I do have to say that it took a good bit of fruit and veggies to get one large glass!

Combining thoughts of that bright little juice with my initial idea for a smoothie, I came up with an Apple-Carrot-Ginger Smoothie that incorporates the goodness of the entire fruit and veggie, along with a tiny bit of banana, orange and ground flax meal, for a subtly sweet, bright and beautifully-hued start to the morning; one that I think will be especially appealing to finicky eaters (big and small) that might benefit from a good little dose of fruits and veggies in their start to the day... but might be a tad shy of going green.

And... not to have our beloved kale left out in the cold, I also share one of our favorite salads, a Kale & Spinach Chop Salad, featuring Pink Lady Apples. Like the smoothie it shares billing with this week, this salad also combines Pink Lady apples and carrots! This apple-carrot thing is a nice little combination in both of these fixings. And, Stemilt's Pink Lady apples are the perfect choice... sweet-tart, crisp and juicy. The recipes, both appealingly simple, good... and good-for-you, are featured this week on The Stem, along with some suggestions for using Pink Lady apples throughout the day.

I hope you give one or both a try... maybe they'll become part of your recipe ritual.

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, April 26, 2013

Portobello Mushroom-Veggie Sliders with a Marinated Artichoke Spread

These sliders have had a few lives (as in renditions)... less than nine but more than one.

They were initially inspired by thoughts of a big portobello mushroom burger I make that got heavily influenced by a photo I spied in a magazine (of pulled pork sliders) and what I believed a mushroom could transform to. It's a long story.

At any rate, I discovered that while it's fun to slice portobellos into thin strips, sauté them with lots of good flavor and pile them high atop a mini bun... it's more fun (and wise) to use what you have to its full advantage. Portobellos, by their very nature, are perfect vessels for piling on flavorful fixings. And, getting the right size mushroom is the only requirement to making it work in slider form.

Once wiped clean, stemmed and gilled, portobellos (or large cremini mushrooms) are only too happy to turn on their heads to welcome fixings in the bellies that nature bestowed them. And... as such... the piling on is more apt to stay put.

And so... after several flavorful trials at getting a satisfying little mushroom-based veggie slider to the table (in well under nine attempts... but, yes, more than one), this one truly delivered.

First, a little mingle of sautéed onion, fennel and roasted red pepper get cradled in the belly of a lightly seared portobello, then capped with a few golden-tinged slices of zucchini and a generous cut of fresh tomato. A little topping of mild white cheddar and a few minutes under the broiler sets all this in place. Then a fluff of baby greens and a good schmear of a marinated artichoke spread are added to finish it off. All this nestled in (and on) the belly of a flavorful portobello!

You can really pile on just about anything that appeals to you. Mushrooms are pretty welcoming little creatures... they kind of take on the life you give them.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Easy Whole Wheat Pesto Pasta Primavera

The making of this pasta reminded me a little of a dinner I prepared for our youngest daughter and some of her college friends a few years ago. It was planned amid the aisles of a grocery store, would have to cover a range of tastes and eating habits and, ironically, also involved a daughter... only this time it was our eldest.

Like that dinner long ago, I had decided on a general plan. A big pot of Tortilla Chicken Soup for that college crowd; a pasta for this past weekend's crew. No problem.

But... like so often is the case now... not everyone eats everything.

That big pot of Tortilla Chicken Soup I made back then quickly became two pots of soup, with a savory black bean soup added to accommodate the vegetarians and vegans in the mix, and a salad slipped in to appeal to the dietary restrictions on all sides.

This past weekend, pasta was requested. However, with a fairly happy meat eater in our mix, a vegetarian (sometimes pescatarian) that wanted heavy veggies, a couple of chicken-only-every-so-often eaters, and a no-or-very-little-dairy-in-the mix need... we started our plan in the produce aisle.

Before we bagged one veggie, we decided our pasta would be pesto-based. The pesto would give a good deal of flavor and a little cheese-satisfaction... without a dairy overload (or if you make your own, you can leave the parmesan out... I can't believe I'm even typing that). In any case, veggies that appealed to all in the group were then selected (shopping as one force, as you do): zucchini, grape tomatoes, red onion, and three types of bell pepper (red, orange and yellow). Sliced black olives were thrown into the mix for a pop of salty flavor. A good, packaged basil pesto was selected. And, on the first go-around of this pasta, both chicken and shrimp were collected to add in a bit of protein on the side.

Like that collectively inspired dinner long ago, it worked.

This pasta is a great, flavorful dish to serve alone or with a side of meat or fish. It would even be great with some chickpeas or kidney beans if you're looking to incorporate a little meatless protein to make it a more rounded, one-dish meal. Or, serve it up just like this... all on its own.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweet Asparagus & Sugar Snap Pea Sauté {and a little announcement}

We ventured out to the Willamette wine country this past weekend to haul home this quarter's crop from one of our favorite vineyards... Penner-Ash Winery.

While I think it might be fun to one day actually experience being "in the field" when sun-kissed, lovingly-tended grapes are brought in... our "haul" was a tad easier. We visited the Penner-Ash tasting room, nestled high on a hilltop overlooking the lush and verdant, rolling green landscape of Newberg. We sipped a couple of fantastic wines and carted home this quarter's release to wine club members. Hard work, but someone has to do it.

It was during this visit, however, that I realized something that I often take for granted: vegetables aren't high maintenance. A satisfying roast or quick sauté will produce magical results with little time or effort. Steaming is another option... though not a personal preference. And boiling... well... I think that for the most part boiling should be outlawed... with just a few exceptions. I say this because I realize that some people still carry childhood memories of bland, limp, boiled veggies that they have forever relegated to history... never to be tried again, simply because they were left with a bad taste in their mouth (and mind).

Passing a beautiful pot of flowers planted amidst long, healthy leaves of colorful chard by the front doors of Penner-Ash's tasting room, I commented on just how pretty the pot looked and asked whether the winery actually used the chard for cooking. The lovely guy assisting us said he thought they might but added that he hadn't had chard since he was a kid... his dad grew it in mass and he ate it nearly every night... always boiled! He hated it.

Of course, being me, I had to suggest that he give chard another try... just a quick sauté in olive oil (maybe some minced garlic, if preferred) and a light seasoning of kosher salt and ground black pepper. Most fruits and veggies are so naturally good on their own that you don't need to fiddle with them much... or cook them long.

This little sauté is one of my favorites this time of year when the asparagus and sugar snap peas are so sweet and flavorful. Their brilliant green just shouts Spring (I hope she hears us calling her name).

Coupled with a quick pan-seared salmon filet and dinner is on the table in 15 minutes!!

And... speaking of crops (how do you like that segue)... beginning this month I will be guest posting on a new blog launched by Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, Washington. I've been fortunate to have worked with Stemilt on a few projects over the past few years, developing a few recipes on their behalf for Costco...

... and most recently, some kid-friendly preparations for their Lil Snapper campaign featuring both Stemilt and Sunkist fruits...

It's been such an honor to work with Stemilt... and to work with such beautiful, fresh produce that's not only great, but GREAT for you! Periodically I will be contributing recipes, ideas and preparations to The Stem (such a fun name!). It officially launched today and looks fantastic. I look forward to participating in its success as an occasional guest contributor... and the promotion of fruitful, healthy eating.

Disclaimer: While I am being compensated by Stemilt as a guest contributor to The Stem, the views and opinions expressed are my own. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Black Bean Bowl {with Brown Rice, Sautéed Kale & Roasted Sweet Potato}

Though I would consider myself someone who pretty much never got on the casserole bandwagon that is so popular with some folks... there IS something about a "one pot" meal that definitely appeals to me. I love soups beyond what some might consider normal. I think a frittata filled with a host of yummy veggies is borderline genius. And... I believe that what I consider a "bean bowl" can deliver flavor in a way that is so satisfying that even age-old (or old-age) casserole enthusiasts might convert their ways.

Perhaps bean bowls ARE updated casseroles? I'd like to think so.

I know that over the years I've tended to view casseroles with a suspicious eye... wondering what lurked within their oft times indiscernible melee of ingredients.

To be fair, I HAVE tasted many casseroles that I've truly enjoyed from a flavor perspective (even if I wasn't entirely sure what they were composed of) and I DO realize that much has evolved on the casserole front. I think many folks have figured out the benefits of eliminating (or substantially reducing) processed creams/cheeses and soups; realized we don't need bags of salty chips or canned onions crumbled over the top of perfectly good food; and, most importantly, recognized that vegetables don't need to be boiled or baked into total submission.

And, I also realize that this bean bowl isn't really even in the casserole family (just in case anyone might wonder). Though parts of it are sautéed or oven-roasted, the actual mix comes together after all this cooking is done. Though, maybe... still... it can be considered a revamped casserole. A "beanbole."

Like a casserole, the ingredients in this bean bowl all get mixed together. So, like a casserole, it's a one-dish meal (in the end). And, like a casserole, it's pretty quick and easy.

Yet, unlike many casseroles, everything in this "one-dish" meal is readily identifiable. Black beans (yes, canned... typically Eden Food's Organic Black Beans that have been thoroughly drained and rinsed. I think these beans are quite tasty for canned and, in addition to being organically grown, are packaged in BPA-free cans); short-grain brown rice; sautéed kale; roasted sweet potato; roasted red onion; sliced black olives; a fresh chop of cilantro and a drizzle of fresh lime juice... in one bowl. It's a yummy, good-for-you one-dish beanbole.