Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Composed Garden Salad with Blueberries, A Sweet Cherry Scone & A Strawberry-Pecan Cookie with Royal Harvest Dried Fruits {for Oregon Cherry Growers}

I love it when I’m proven wrong... in a good way. That moment when you think this is too good to be true... and then, it is! Good… and true!

Recently, I had the good fortune of being asked to develop a few recipes for Oregon Cherry Growers’ new line of packaged dried fruits, The Royal Harvest Ultimate Ingredient Fruit.

Incorporating dried fruits and nuts into a myriad of platings, from breakfast fare to dinner offerings, is fairly commonplace in our home so I had no expectations of handling a product that differed much from what I was already well accustomed to. Wow... was I mistaken. And happily so.

Oregon Cherry Growers’ Royal Harvest line of dried blueberries, cherries and strawberries are unlike any dried fruits I’ve ever tasted, or worked with. Made with natural ingredients, non-GMO and gluten free, these dried fruits have been specially formulated for baking and culinary use to deliver premium performance in both hot and cold applications... with a moisture content that is pitch perfect whether baked up or eaten fresh. And, unlike the dried fruits I’m most familiar with, the Royal Harvest line is as close to fresh as I’ve seen or tasted... retaining a more organic appearance and flavor profile than other comparable dried fruits I’ve tried.

I created three recipes utilizing all three dried fruits from the Royal Harvest line: a scone with their Diced Dried Sweet Cherries, featuring a coconut milk-lime zest glaze that adds just a touch of decadence to the subtly sweet and satisfying fruit-dotted crumb of these scones; a cookie with their Sliced Dried Strawberries, that nestles chopped pecans in with Royal Harvest’s plump dried strawberries for a delicious treat that gets dressed up once cooled with a sweet lacing of lemon-white chocolate icing; and, the salad shown at the top of this post, which has quickly become one of my own personal favorites... a composed salad that celebrates the garden with asparagus, fava beans, fennel, and crisp broccoli stems beautifully plated with a generous dotting of Royal Harvest’s Dried Wild Blueberries. The veggies are accompanied by an elegant lemon-honey goat cheese quenelle (though any dollop will do) and, together with a delicate cap of micro greens, are lightly dressed with a champagne-lemon vinaigrette.  The plating also incorporates a few fresh blueberries, given their abundance and seasonal availability at the time this recipe was developed... but, truly, added as much to showcase just how similar they appear next to the Royal Harvest dried fruit... quite incredible!

Though currently available only to the foodservice and bakery industries, Oregon Cherry Growers has plans to soon offer the Royal Harvest line to consumers via their website... so keep posted on that... with wider distribution planned for a later date.   

All dried fruit varieties of the Royal Harvest line performed impressively in each recipe I made... delivering platings I’ll revisit again and again... and provided a satisfying, subtly sweet nibble to enjoy during the process ... an added bonus! Too good… and true.

For recipe details, visit the Oregon Cherry Growers site.

While I have been compensated by Oregon Cherry Growers for this recipe development project, including imagery, the opinions expressed on A Savory Nest are my own. Recipes and all images are the sole property of Oregon Cherry Growers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Easy Sopes with Slow-Cooked Pinto Beans, Salsa & Avocado Crema (Gluten-Free, Non-Dairy and Vegetarian)

It was on a sun-drenched sidewalk in a neighborhood on the fringe of downtown Mexico City, lined with mom and pop stores selling everything from new tires to fresh tortillas and dotted with apartments that stood overhead billowing the day’s wash from open windows like colorful patriotic flags, that I tasted my first sopes.

I was twelve or thirteen and just on the cusp of exhibiting signs of teenage annoyance, feeling slightly put out by our annual, month-long, summer treks to Mexico City; trips that were always capped by a week’s loll on the beaches of Acapulco. Cue violin. As frustrating as I believe this pubescent mindset must have been to others, I acclimated quickly every time... and remember my aunt’s sopes contributed greatly to that end.

Her sopes were made on a large round comal, best described as a big drum-shaped grill cradled on a hefty stand, that was set right in the center of the walkway in front of the storefront she owned along with my uncle; a doll-size space that offered a limited selection of fresh produce, and oft-sought after grocery and household items, to the families that lived in the three-or four block mix of residential and commercial buildings that surrounded it. Though both my aunt and uncle owned the business, the family referred to it as Virginia’s tienda-sita, or Virginia’s little store. Given the popularity of my aunt’s sopes, it is no wonder why she got top billing.

Once a week my aunt would drag out her specially made grill and begin the pinching and patting out of literally hundreds of sopes, with lines of neighbors coming from near and far to partake. Within minutes the air would take on a festive quality, with accolades of que sabrosa being chimed all the way down the block, and my aunt happily tending to her handcrafted array of simple little rounds of masa harina, crisped to perfection, with perfectly pinched sides to hold in the simple fillings that topped them. Always at hand was a pot of freshly cooked pinto and/or black beans, succulent bits of cooked chicken, crisp shredded lettuce, a homemade salsa or two, queso fresco, and/or a smooth crema. Nothing fancy in presentation, location, or flair. It was a far cry, to say the least, from the Southern California suburbia I was used to... and I loved it. Looking back, I suppose I loved the simple, genuine, gracious ease my aunt had with people as much as I loved her sopes. Perhaps that is why they were so good, each seasoned with her delightful touch.

While there are probably more than just a few schools of thought when it comes to making sopes, I updated what I could recall of my aunt’s delicious offerings. These are gluten free, non-dairy and vegan... with pinto beans, a quick-and-easy salsa, an avocado non-dairy crema, and fresh shredded romaine topping little masa harina saucers (made with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Masa Harina). Though you can certainly use canned beans, these are made with the real deal (using an easy day-of “soak and cook” method). And, instead of a deep fry, these masa rounds get a quick, light grill in just a hint of coconut oil... then a pinch to form rimmed edges... then a very quick fry in a few tablespoons of additional coconut oil. Though I don’t have a traditional comal, a flat grill or large skillet set over high heat does the trick. A good golden grilling on one side, then flip your disk of masa harina and lightly grill up the other side. Then remove it from the heat and pinch the edges of each “sope,” with the more grilled side up to form a slightly raised rim (careful as they are still warm... it’s as much pushing in and pinching up as much as anything… think Playdoh… using all your fingers, thumbs on the outside pushing in and fingers on the inside of the masa round pulling up and out). Then when ready for the second round of cooking,  heat your coconut oil and quick fry each to finish them off, transferring to a paper towel to pull any excess oil out..

Some simple fixings... and they are ready to plate... table-side (or on a sun-drenched walkway) where your only care is wondering when the next batch will arrive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sweet Tamari-Sesame Ginger Glazed Wild Salmon & Asian Citrus Slaw

While little more than a good sprinkle of salt and pepper is required to season up a fillet of fish, regardless of what fair-finned friend you happen to be working with, there’s something magical about the little sweet tamari-sesame ginger glaze on this salmon and its pairing with a fresh, crunchy, colorful slaw evoking similar elements of Asian flavor that makes you want to reach beyond a simple sprinkle for a bit more of an adventurous plating.

Together with a great chop of purple and green cabbage dotted with diced jalapeño, cilantro, supremed bits of fresh grapefruit, shredded carrot, baby bok choy and slices of avocado, this plating delivers such a pleasing umami flavor that it belies just how easy and quick it is to pull together. The finesse, like most any method in cooking fish, comes in getting the degree of “doneness” right... keeping attuned to what your gilled fellow is telling you so as not to go overboard.

And, of course, like most anything consumed... the fresher the better. Living in the Pacific Northwest pretty much guarantees us the availability of beautiful fresh fish, especially salmon. This particular fillet is but one portion of a spectacular salmon that we caught off the coast of Astoria, Oregon... our first fishing expedition on the bounding main. With no real idea of what to expect... and no real attention paid to preparing for the excursion... we came dressed for fair weather, assuming we’d find a tranquil spot on the river and hunker down in the mid-day sun, enjoying nibbles and a refreshing beverage while awaiting a good bite or two. Instead we borrowed layers of clothing and set off bundled against the fog and cold of an early morning hour, motoring well past the Columbia Bar into the Pacific Ocean. After having to release a good bit of catches and cutting our day a bit shorter than expected due to a few ashen faces and stomachs that churned with the roll of the sea, we came away with a single prized catch and an enhanced appreciation for the rigors of ocean fishing and just how lucky we were that only our sea legs were tested. After setting on dry land we learned just how dangerous crossing the Columbia Bar can be. Later reading that this channel is often referred to worldwide as “The Graveyard of the Pacific” pretty much assured us that this would be a one and done experience. Let’s just say we’ll be sticking to serene rivers and bucolic fly-fishing venues for our next adventures.

We did, however, manage to land one amazing salmon... and, in hindsight, appreciate it all the more.

The tamari-sesame ginger glaze comes together quickly, sweetened with a just a bit of brown sugar and simply rubbed onto the non-skin side of the fillet. Then, beginning skin-side down, pan sauté the fillet (though you can easily cook it up on the grill) just until it shows a nice doneness about midway through. Then flip it, pull the skin off with tongs, season with a touch of salt and pepper and flip it back over after about a minute or so to just slightly sear off this newly skinned side. (While some may prefer starting skin-side up, I like the greater latitude you get starting skin-side down... believing you can better control the rate at which the fish cooks... the skin kind of serving as a little buffer against cooking up too quickly.) A fork to test the doneness works wonders. I like to see just a slight flakiness in the texture of the fillet, pulling it off the heat when it’s just slightly under done as it will continue cooking a bit.

The colorful slaw is a perfect partner, providing a lovely, fresh crunch that is equally flavorful with the addition of a citrus vinaigrette infused with the rich umami qualities of red miso and tamari sweetened with honey and freshly squeezed orange, lime and grapefruit juices. It takes the whole protein-salad combo pairing up one notch on the flavor adventure scale… with the added benefits of keeping you on dry land and testing nothing more than your ability to chop and use tongs.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Grilled Kale Salad with Hazelnuts & Honey-Bleu Cheese-Fig Vinaigrette

Just when I thought I had exposed every personality trait a head of kale might present... whirring it into a variety of smoothies to coax its more savory tendencies and rich nutritious properties into fruity morning blends; taming its traditionally robust nature with delicious vinaigrettes in various salad pairings; encouraging its gentler side with a slow sauté; chopping it into hashes and mashes, soups and stews; and roasting and grilling it to crisp perfection  ... we came across a lightly grilled kale salad in recent travels that showcased yet another flavor profile from this hearty green. And one that is not to be missed.

At Forage, a delightful restaurant tucked into the Listel Hotel in the West End neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia, the menu is just that... foraged from the land and sea in and around this beautiful area hugging the pristine waters north of Washington State, supporting local farmers and fishers. Though there was not one dish of the many we savored that didn’t completely please our palates, this seemingly unassuming little salad was such a welcomed treat. Simple. Elegant. Brilliant.

Akin to the magic that grilling imparts upon a modest head of Romaine lettuce, enticing textured nuances of smoky, sweet flavor in both crisp and delicate folds of wilted greens... kale is similarly transformed with a light toss on a hot grill. While grilling or roasting kale on high heat for a good bit of time will render a crunchy chip-like consistency, just a light tossing on a hot grill will coax a delightfully subtle, smoky-sweet quality and, in so doing, gently tame kale’s sometimes tough demeanor. The salad we tasted featured a light vinaigrette that melded sweet honey and creamy, pungent blue cheese... and possibly a little marmalade of sorts. The gist is that it had that lovely sweet-savory balance that works wonders on this humbled green. It was delightful perfection.

In my own take on the salad we so enjoyed, leafy bits of curly green kale (torn or roughly chopped from its tough center stems) are grilled until they just begin to wilt... too little time and you won’t tame its stiff bristle; too long and it loses its subtle charm and crisps up too much. It’s just a minute or more, depending on how hot you get your grill. When it begins to show a slightly golden burnt tinge here and there and just a sublime wilting, it’s ready. Like the Forage-plated salad, this version is lightly laced with a flavorful dressing that pairs beautifully with the grilled kale for a strikingly simple, yet elegant plating. Then, like its inspiration, it’s topped with a good crunch of chopped hazelnuts.

This salad is such a welcomed introduction to yet another satisfying profile of the many pleasing faces of kale... subtly tamed and pleasingly humbled, yet still nicely assured… displaying all the qualities of a great dinner partner.