Thursday, June 27, 2013

Red, White & Blue Cake

While a spectacular fireworks display is probably seen as the ultimate, quintessential culmination of many Fourth of July celebrations, large or small, what transpires from dawn to dusk can take a myriad of paths... large family breakfasts, lakeside gatherings, hilltop retreats, beachside campouts, outdoor picnics, or quiet barbecues at home, to name a few. And along with all these options are equally varied culinary choices. But one thing is for sure: many will involve a red, white and blue theme... and most likely a sweet.

For me, I'm most happy when that sweet is simply a bowl of fresh fruit (honestly!). And my favorite topping (before my apparent aversion to dairy) was sour cream mixed with a little vanilla extract and sugar. The best!!!

When thinking of what I might make that was just a step beyond a bowl of fruit, I immediately thought of a little cake that could easily be served with morning coffee, or dressed a few ways for dessert. A kind of any-time-of-day cake.

This Red, White & Blue Cake (earning its name when dressed in all its glory) is simply a pound cake laced with layers of fresh Stemilt cherries that, when sliced, kind of mimics the shape and striping of our flag. Slice it up in a traditional fashion and you'll still get that layered look, only kind of domed (due to the rising of the cake).

Slice it crosswise in half so that you get two pieces that are still longer than they are wide... and then slice each of these halves from the side in and you'll get a more uniform layer of cherries to dress up for a stars and stripes plating. Or, cut slices into cubes and layer them with some whipped cream and blueberries for a fun parfait.

The cake is great on its own... but even more celebratory with a good drizzle of lemony icing over top. 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 opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Turkey & Roasted Veggie Pressed Sandwich

The menu would feature a simple, flavorful, farm-to-table selection of savory soups, leafy green salads, and pressed sandwiches of roasted veggies and other goodies built upon freshly baked breads slathered with herb and hummus spreads. There would be deep, rich, dark espresso, fruit juices squeezed from Nature's own bounty, and simple, well-chosen aperitifs that begged to be lingered over. Meals would be served on white porcelain plates set upon thick wooden tables nestled under a richly beamed ceiling illuminated by the glow of candles and beautiful chandeliers, with windows and doors open to the world and the flickering, changing light of day.

Traveling often inspires romanticized visions -- running a B&B in some bucolic locale, buying a winery perched upon the rolling hills of a faraway land, or owning an aesthetically captivating café nestled along a cobbled, leafy lane.

And then... you return home (and to your senses)... appreciative of the travel experience and absolutely uninterested in assuming any of the day-to-day realities of actually being an innkeeper, winemaker, or chef. (Beside, choosing only one might prove difficult.)

This, I suppose, is the beauty of travel... to dream and to inspire creativity.

Recent time spent wandering through the enchanting city of Prague proved to offer no shortage of such inspiration... from its well-scribed sights to its more removed nooks and vistas... it's truly a city that captivates the eye; steeped in history and replete with architectural gems and statuary that would have taken far more time to fully appreciate than our brief visit allowed. And though we took in most all of Prague's most famous landmarks, we also made the effort to trek a bit off the beaten path... in search of new discoveries and quiet reprieves.

Tucked just a bit off the well-traveled path that leads through Old Town Prague, famously stretching from the Powder Tower on to the Charles Bridge and into the Mala Strana district, I was immediately taken by the quiet of one particular square. We arrived there a bit by happenstance and necessity... pulling away from the hoards of travelers (like us) winding their way along the numerous cafés, boutiques, galleries, and tourist troves that line this route straight on to the foot of Prague Castle.

Just a few steps from the frenzied hustle and bustle, nestled among the watercolor-washed structures that flank this square was the most captivating café. Looking through its arched doorways and wide-open windows, I was immediately taken by the ceiling in the main dining area!!

While the roughly hewn beams appeared to be burnt or etched with an amazing stencil pattern, closer inspection showed it to be even more spectacular... a hand-painted, free-form work of leafy scrolls, swirls and flourishes that laced together beautifully to create a vine-like canopy.

In the early morning hours the café is bathed by beautiful ambient lighting that touches upon surfaces with a painter's precision. And then as the sun pulls away, tucking behind nearby structures, it glows with the golden light of flickering candles and the most amazing Italian-made, clear glass chandeliers. The entire space is white, gray and black, organically balanced by the infusion of natural wood surfaces and edible presentations... freshly baked breads and sweets, colorful fruits, and trays of cheeses, meats, and sandwiches. Walls of chalkboard are "inked" with the daily specials... and amazing, hand-drawn artworks that depict the intricate architectural artistry of the building in which it's housed.
And so, under this glow of inspiration, looking out upon the square of this captivating little haven, I thought of what I might serve in such a café. Along with my favored soups and salads would be a variety of what I called my pressed sandwiches. They'd be made on full loaves of freshly baked bread, cut to order... wonderful, lightly pressed sandwiches slathered with special pestos and varied types of hummus topped with delicious roasted veggies and crisp greens.

A delectable sandwich, served on a white porcelain plate set upon a simply dressed table...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Quinoa, Black Bean & Red Cabbage Salad with Chipotle-Citrus Dressing

For someone that truly enjoys cooking, I admit that I don't really give much time or thought to lunch. Most of my energy, interest and down time gets directed toward what we're having for dinner. Most mornings are fairly routine and well practiced, requiring little more than simply being awake and cognizant to pull off breakfast. And, while I welcome the opportunity to create tasty, flavorful lunches, the reality is that when lunch rolls around (and it's usually just me), I'm often hard-pressed to be bothered. I'll nibble on just about anything that looks healthy (fruits, nuts, veggies) until satiated, or grab some leftovers if I'm lucky enough to have any left... over.

Or... I make an effort early on in the week to make a salad like this one that will keep well and provide for more than just a few lunchtime nibbles.

It's basically my take on a little salad that Elephant Deli makes, loaded with a LOT of good-for-you bits... quinoa, black beans, red cabbage, carrot, green onion, cilantro, and a generous pop of sliced black olives... that get lightly dressed with a subtly spiced chipotle-citrus dressing. It's great on its own or popped into "re-stuffed" avocado halves. I happen to LOVE avocado and will happily lunch on a carved up halve drizzled with a favored salsa, while hovering over the kitchen sink. So it seems only natural to scoop out the flesh of a halved avocado, season it with a little freshly squeezed lime juice, salt and pepper and then re-stuff its shell and top it with some of this tasty salad. Yum! It's a super easy lunch time option thats requires maybe just a tad more thought beyond just being awake and cognizant ... but just a tad... and well worth it!