Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Easy Chicken, Artichoke & Arugula Quinoa Salad

Perhaps it’s the more temperate pace of life that summer beckons from her bright and languid perch… the desire to keep our kitchens cool… or simply the quest for something satisfying that can be pulled together at a moment’s notice… warm, cold or anywhere in between… that makes a salad like this one so appealing.

Or perhaps you, too, have two busy daughters that live in states above and below you that tend to work long hours and often say they are just too tired to think about what to make when they walk through their respective front doors after what might be considered a standard dinner hour. Perhaps.

If so... you might suggest this dish and the fact that no great thinking is required. And… if thinking is expended, it’s truly only for just a scant moment; a moment that might even result in the thought to make a big bowl of quinoa over the weekend, maybe even sauté up some chicken (or omit it altogether and add a few more veggies). Then dinner after the-dinner-making hour would simply be the tossing of a few ingredients in a big bowl. And… if good fortunate is theirs there might even be enough to have leftovers that can be packed up for lunch the next day, saving yet even more extraneous thinking (and cash) for important stuff… like shoes.

Just perhaps…

While salads, in general, are served up year round in our home as sides to other fixings, they tend to assume a more center stage position once summer rolls around and temps warm up a bit. Rather than cozying up to proteins or grains to balance out a plate, they’re pulled together into satisfying, one-dish meals. A fully balanced offering like this quick quinoa salad is to summer what soups are to our winters… varied, complete, interesting, and soothingly satisfying.

Besides being a great gluten-free option, quinoa serves as a wonderful canvas for a variety of pairings… with a mild flavor that plays well with just about anything it’s introduced to… making it a great potluck tote-along in more than one way. Though it’s often thought of as a grain, quinoa is actually a gluten-free seed. So it not only plays the chameleon in flavor, but also in guise.

Like most salads (and soups!), you can chop and drop in whatever your heart desires. If vegetarian fare is what you’re after, simply omit the chicken. If you want to lean to the greener side of things, ramp up the arugula or other leaf of your choice. If your weather calls for outside cooking, toss your chicken, some veggies (like red pepper, zucchini, red onion... and such) on the grill and mix it up a bit. This particular plating is meant for a quick and easy (no thinking) night... pairing skillet-sautéed chicken, black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, green onion, ripe tomato, and fresh arugula with a good drizzle of artichoke marinade to dress it up. The result is a salad that can be served up straight away or popped in the fridge… and later served up cold or at room temp. And… leftovers? Well, it only gets better on day two.

I don’t think there’s a better dish to whip up quick, eat hot or cold, or make with nary a thought on a busy night. It’s the perfect dish for the laziest, most languid day of summer… even if that lazy day pace is but a guise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Beer-Battered Cod Tacos with Purple Cabbage, Fresh Pineapple & Salsa Verde Crema

Being one that believes you can put just about anything in a tortilla, call it a taco and be more than good for the day, a recipe… for a taco… just doesn’t seem necessary. Tacos are more about combining a few key ingredients for just a little twist on what you might expect. The “recipe” is simply this: try this combo.

This past weekend is a case in point with regard to the “try this” mindset in taco making. While dining out, my order of grilled fish tacos happened to have fresh pineapple over top. Note to self: it works! And… it’s something I truly haven’t done before.

While my weekend fare was grilled, I thought that a battered fish might be perfect for this little pineapple topper… and a reason to have a very infrequent fish fry. The rest of the components kind of amassed as a result of both their flavor profiles and color… vibrant purple cabbage brings a welcomed earthy, crisp bite that plays beautifully against the yellow hue and sweet flavor of the pineapple; brilliant slivers of green onion contrast beautifully against this canvas and provide a nice pop of delicate, bright flavor; thin, graceful leaves of cilantro add a perfect finishing touch in both flavor and presentation to lay overtop; and a light, spicy crema adds that final “saucy” element that brings the whole thing together, marrying the sweet and the spicy in perfect bliss. Slice up a few fresh, seeded jalapeños for another little pop of flavor… and voilà... or is it ahí está?... and there’s another little layer of goodness.

Oh… and it’s a beer-battered fish… so the coating is light and ethereal. The whole thing is easily gluten-free with the switch out of all-purpose flour with a combo of rice flour and gluten-free all-purpose flour… and a gluten-free beer… with no loss in flavor… or enjoyment. Or... go full flour throttle... either way, it works.

You can put anything in a taco… it’s all about trying this and that… and this is a particular that that works!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

No-Bake Cherry IceBox Cake {for Stemilt Growers}

Being one that savors the more savory side of life when it comes to culinary tastes, satisfying a sweet tooth is easily and happily achieved by a simple bowl of sweet, sun ripened fruit, topped with a light dusting of lime zest and… maybe… a dollop of honeyed yogurt. Perfection!

And yet, there are occasions that warrant a grander presentation; a dessert that says you’ve put a little thought into your sweet; an offering that tells someone they’re special; a finale to your feast that is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate; a little piéce de résistance. But… don’t get carried away… it has to be achievable. No offering that looks great on paper but flops when you attempt to pull out all the stops will do.

And that’s where this icebox cake comes in. I like to think that it’s pretty AND has a great personality. It’s the total package. And, if what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside isn’t good enough, it’s truly fairly easy to compose AND there’s no baking involved!

It’s a recipe that I’ve tweaked and twisted over the years depending on what I plan to pair it with… as in what’s going to be piled on top for that “over the top,” grand entrance visual. There have been heaps of berries and cakes that lean more toward the lemon-tart side; there have been cakes that are built on a graham cracker crust; a crust with just a hint of crushed nuts and, here, one that is made with crumbed chocolate wafers. I’ve drizzled in vanilla, added a mince of mint, shaved chocolate overtop, and run berry pureé through the filling. It’s a giving little cake.

It’s an any-occasion sort of cake, special or otherwise. With Father’s Day fast approaching, however, this would be a perfect la-de-da dessert for dad.

It’s creamy white chocolate, cream cheese and whipping cream combined with touches of both lemon and lime for a luscious fluff of goodness that is then poured atop a dark chocolate wafer crust and popped into the freezer. Once unveiled, it gets a rich, ruby-red tumble of fresh Stemilt cherries over top... too good. Recipe details can be found on 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.