Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pear, White Chocolate, Almond & Oatmeal Cookies {for Stemilt Growers}

When I think of chocolate chip cookies, I have a go-to recipe that I rarely waver on. It’s one that originated on the back of a bag of chocolate chips and over the years melded into a recipe that better matched my own personal palate... a cookie that is subtly crisp on the outside, though relatively supple on the inside. Not overly sweet. Not wafer thin, not super-sized. And never snap-crackle crisp.

While I always consider that particular recipe a chocolate chip cookie recipe, I can’t remember a time that I made it and not added a good heap of quick-cook oats. That bit of oats makes all the difference in the texture and consistency of the batter… and ultimate cookies. Not to mention the flavor.

So when Stemilt suggested a chocolate chip cookie recipe when it came time to work with a few of their beautiful, ripe pears… I had to rethink my tried and true way of doing things. Adding fruit to cookie batter isn’t new… especially dried fruits. Adding fresh fruit takes a little more thought… for me, at least. A purée of fresh fruit adds flavor as well as sweetness to a cookie batter. It also loosens the consistency so it requires a little balancing of flours, sugars, butter, etc.

And, what about incorporating fresh pear? Well… in many applications white chocolate, almonds and oats pair beautifully with pears... so a chocolate chip cookie didn’t seem too far fetched.

Adding fresh fruit is a sweet option to reducing the refined sugar component in cookies. The trade off is a bit of crispness. The solution is to keep them petite. Fresh out of the oven, with a little rest to cool, they are at their peak level of crispness. They soften a bit over time... but that doesn’t temper their appeal.

In these wee cookies, fresh pear is introduced in both a puréed form and a diced form... the sweetness of which keeps the need for refined sugar to a minimum. The end result is a cookie that tastes like it should be healthy for you... with just a delicate sweetness. Little bits of white chocolate chips and almonds add a delicious pop of decadence and crunch…  subtle reminders that moderation is still the best policy... even if the cookies are tastefully disguised as healthy morsels.

For recipe details, visit 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 on A Savory Nest are my own.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Watermelon-Mint-Lime Zest Sorbet

Sorbets are a bit like good friendships and general happiness… balance is required to achieve success.

Too sweet and they can be off-putting. Not sweet enough and they can be hard-edged… icy. Artificially sweet… not really interested in pursuing. Well... you get my drift. Apart from the flavor profile you’re going after, the right level of sweetness is critical to producing a sorbet that will be both texturally and tastefully pleasing.

The good news is that anywhere in that balance zone, the flavor will be great and… truly… from a purely personal perspective, anywhere in the granita to sorbet zone will produce a light, satisfying, refreshing dessert.

Since I’ve become fairly obsessed with the generous sprinkling of lime zest on virtually any cut and combination of fresh fruit, this watermelon-mint-lime zest profile is particularly pleasing. The subtle mint infusion of flavor (and sweetening) is introduced in the form of a simple syrup. In this prep, it’s a 50:50 ratio of sugar and water infused with a good bit of mint leaves that I muddle just a tad as the mixture heats up… dissolving the sugar and resulting in a thin syrup. The watermelon just gets whirred up separately in a blender. Then these two components get popped into the fridge overnight (or freezer for a few hours if time is a factor) so that everything is good and cold before getting introduced to your ice cream/sorbet machine. (Just make sure both of these “mixes” are housed in non-reactive containers to cool.)

Then comes the mixing… getting your fruit blend sweetened up just right to please the palate and the spoon. Tasting is always a good test. However, with sorbet, going a bit sweeter is often better as it will temper a bit once it gets its time in the freezer. So what's sweet enough? Too much sugar and your sorbet won't freeze correctly; not enough sweetener and your sorbet will freeze rock hard. Without purchasing technical gadgets to determine the right amount of sweetener to add (there's a whole technical side involving "brix" and such), an “egg test” is a good little barometer for the home cook (and kind of fun to do). More on this later.

First I add a good bit of zested lime to my watermelon blend. This base should be place in a bowl that is deep enough to allow an average size egg to sit at the bottom of your bowl with just enough head room to cover from view. Straining your simple syrup through a fine sieve (so as not to get leaves in your sorbet), begin adding some of your syrup to your watermelon blend. Then take a well-washed egg (yep, right from the fridge) and gently place it in the bottom of your bowl. If it doesn’t float up to reveal a nickel size bit of it through the top surface of your liquid then you need more sweetener. Continue adding the simple syrup and testing the egg float. Once the egg rises to view that nickel size portion through the surface of the watermelon blend in your bowl, then you are pretty much good to go. Taste it too… it should be on the sweeter side, but pleasing.

Since all your ingredients should still be good and cold, you can then proceed to “churning” in your machine… super cold ingredients into your ice cream/sorbet maker makes for a good churn. With mine (Cuisinart ICE-21), I just get the machine going (simple on-off switch) and then pour my mix slowly in as the machine is turning. It takes about 8 to 10 minutes to get a nice consistency. Place it in the freezer to firm up (the door is a good spot as it’s less likely to get overly hard there). You may have to leave it out to soften a bit before serving (10 to 20 minutes if it’s really firm). Or… churn and serve right away (going a bit beyond the 8 to 10 minutes… or when your machine cuts off telling you it’s ready). Always best to keep an eye on it to ensure its doing its thing correctly.

All in all, it’s so refreshing and light, beautifully flavored with the subtle, summer sweetness of watermelon, lightly infused with mint, and brightened with the lime zest. For an added little pop, add a bit more fresh lime zest overtop when serving… it won’t tip its delightful, welcoming balance one bit… making it a happy and enjoyable choice.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Petrale Sole & Sweet White Corn-Jalapeño Salad

Super easy weeknight meals are equal opportunity pleasers… without bias to the rationale of their appeal. Busy days, lazy days, crazy days… it simply doesn’t matter. In my corner of the world, I often think of them as daughter dinners… my answer to telephone queries of what’s quick and easy?

They’re satisfying, tasty dinners that come together with barely a whisper of thought… ones that can be easily managed after making ones way home after a long day… perhaps.

Dinners that allow ones mind to idly wander the vista of  a water-viewed walk by bay… or sea… to champion the transition of thought to calm respite before arriving home to cap the day.

Or, simply… easy weeknight meals… whenever fancied.

They are the types of dinners that two hands can easily manage… though extras are welcomed, of course. And they are the types of dinners that when choreographed well can be performed in a matter of minutes. Minutes!

Though I tend to gravitate toward salmon or halibut on most fish-faring dinner excursions, petrale sole is a great, quick and satisfying option for a weeknight (or any night) meal. It’s a delicate fish both in flavor and texture, making it a perfect partner for an equally delicate pairing that allows a pop of seasoning to add overall highlight. (Here, a dry Chimichurri* seasoning fills that bill nicely.) A subtly sweet corn salad with little pops of jalapeño, red pepper and fresh arugula offers a wonderful base to support a simply dressed, subtly spiced petrale sole. Sautéed in just a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with kosher salt, ground black pepper and a nice sprinkle of Chimichurri seasoning, this fish is beautifully flavored without any risk of being overpowered.

And, what about that done in minutes claim? Honestly, prepping the water to quick boil your corn is the longest and most difficult step in this dance. The being well choreographed part is simply a call to use your time wisely. While your water boils, prep the pairings and dressing for your corn salad. Then drop your corn in to boil… 60 to 90 seconds tops… then remove it to cool while you prep your fish. The key to a great fish sauté is to lay it in the pan (oil preheated to allow a light sizzle) and let it be… don’t pull it up or move it around… 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully flip it to sauté the other side (maybe 60 seconds). The fish will speak to you… the background tempo to this little dance… showing a light whitening through the middle. Once flipped, the first side will be subtly golden. The second side needs just a light touch to finish it off. And violà, dinner is done.

As choreographed here, it’s dinner under 10 minutes … not counting time to watch water boil. It’s so much nicer to factor it in thought by bay or sea.