Spiced Butternut Squash and Farro Salad

Oftentimes at work, we have vendors come through telling us about their amazing products, from flavored vodka to pistachios.  The flavored vodka vendors brought a manicurist, a masseuse, a bunch of Pottery barn soft, fuzzy robes that redefine “fuzzy robe” because they are so soft, and well, flavored vodka.  More directly relevant were the Pistachio folks who came through, and set up a veritable feast with every dish including pistachios.  It was basically a pistachio party, and my favorite takeaway was the inspiration for this butternut squash and farro salad.

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I love making grain salads that incorporate random tidbits from my kitchen, and when the grain salad incorporates free bags of pistachios, even better.  This was so good that it could have been a meal in and of itself.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of farro
  • 1/4 tbsp paprika
  • 1/4 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 lb butternut squash (peeled and chopped into 1/2″ cubes)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup of pomegranate arils (or just whatever one pomegranate yields)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup arugula
  • 4-8 oz goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup pistachios

Directions

  1. Cook the farro according to package instructions.  (Usually just put the farro in a pot with enough water to cover it, bring it to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the farro is tender about 30 minutes).
  2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Take out a baking sheet, line with foil and drizzle some EVOO.  Put cut up butternut squash on the pan, sprinkle all the spices on the butternut squash then stick in the oven until the squash is tender, about 35 minutes.
  3. Drain and transfer the farro to a large mixing bowl, and add the butternut squash, EVOO, pomegranate seeds, arugula, and pistachios.
  4. Serve with a dollop of goat cheese, good both warm and at room temperature.

Lemon Walnut Israeli Couscous

Even the best dinner intentions sometimes end in a mild catastrophe, but this always seems to be the best way to end up cooking something new and inventive.

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I was waiting for my husband to come home and had made this delicious red quinoa salad out of leftovers with sliced cucumbers and a variation of tzatziki that I had just “whipped up” and was feeling so proud of myself when…. I opened the refrigerator door too quickly and the glass bowl that contained this eclectic concoction spun out of the fridge and crashed on my floor.

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Now if you’ve never tried to clean up quinoa from a tile floor, let me tell you, it’s high on my list of “very difficult” right beneath trying to clean up a smashed jar of turmeric (but that’s a story for another day).  Anyways, the point is that now I had very little time to whip together something to replace this salad and while leafing through My Paris Kitchen, a wonderful book that Lisa gave me about a year ago, I ended up making this delicious couscous salad.

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I happened to have almost everything in my pantry (including preserved lemons), and was sooooo delicious that we could not believe we had not made it before.

Ingredients

  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp salted OR unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup diced dried fruit (I used dried cranberries)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups Israeli couscous
  • freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Trim the stem end from the lemon and cut it into quarters.  Scoop out the pulp and press it through a strainer into a bowl to extract the juices; discard the pulp.  Finely dice the preserved lemon rind and add it to the bowl along with the parsley, butter, dried fruit, walnuts, salt and cinnamon.
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a bowl over high heat.  Add the couscous and cook according to the package instructions.  Drain the couscous and add it to the bowl, stirring until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are well mixed.  Season with pepper and serve.

Adapted from My Paris Kitchen, by David Lebovitz

One Pot Meals

As Lisa has mentioned before, there are some nights where after coming home from work, and going to the gym or an exercise class, there just isn’t that much time to get dinner on the table.  This is one of those lovely recipes that really does fit in one pot and takes 30 minutes from start to finish.  Not only is it delicious the day after, but it’s so flavorful that it’s hard to stop from finishing off the whole pot in the first sitting.

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I found this recipe a while ago on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite sources of inspiration for dinner.  Not only did it look delicious, it really did live up to its lofty promise of being a 30 minute dinner!  I always double the recipe, since Deb’s “two hearty mains” is more like one serving for my always hungry husband.

I’ve also recently discovered the joys of variated olive oil flavors, after being introduced to Sciabica’s (and yes, their website is really aptly named because the oils really do taste like “sunshine in a bottle”).  Back when I lived in San Francisco, my avid chef friend had given me some samples as a birthday gift, knowing I loved to cook.  She had come across a stand for Sciabica’s at one of these plentiful farmer’s markets, and bought some bottles after having a pleasant chat with someone who appeared to be the family patriarch.  It turned out to be a great purchase.  Indeed, during the olive oil scandal when companies were being called out for not really using olives, Sciabica’s was held up as the shining example of “real” olive oil.  Plus with flavors such as basil, lemon, and grapefruit, it’s great to keep a couple of bottles in the kitchen to add a little flavor.

Why the long digression about olive oil? Well because a dash of basil olive oil to this dish really completes it as a gourmet dinner.  Pair it with a nice California Zinfandel and enjoy!

Serves 4 hearty mains (or 2.5 extremely hungry people)

Ingredients

  • 5 cups water
  • 2 cup semi-pearled farro
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 18 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
  • Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • Few basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

  1. Place water and farro in a large pot to presoak while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Adding each ingredient to the pot as you finish preparing it, cut onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons.
  3. Thinly slice garlic cloves as well.
  4. Halve or quarter tomatoes.
  5. Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan, and set a timer for 30 minutes.
  6. Bring uncovered pan (no lid necessary) up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
  7. When the timer rings, the farro should be perfectly cooked, seasoned and the cooking water should be almost completely absorbed. If needed, cook it for 5 additional minutes, until farro is more tender.

Serve onto bowls. Drizzle farro lightly with additional olive oil, scatter with basil and parmesan. Eat immediately.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Get your Freekeh on – with this lemony, herbed salad

I love Mediterranean food and while I am an omnivore, I don’t actually eat a lot of meat and frequently make vegan meals or side dishes that serve as a great left-over lunch the next day. I have never met a legume or grain that I didn’t like and I’m always on the lookout for new recipes, especially those that use a lot of herbs.

I don’t remember how I first heard about the grain freekeh, but the name Market grains Israelintrigued me enough to learn a bit more about it and to find out where I could buy it. I already loved faro and wheat berries, so why not freekeh? As it turns out, freekeh is roasted green wheat. It has a wonderful nutty flavor and stands up well to salads or soups. It cooks up in about 35 minutes. I purchase mine through Nuts.com, a wonderful source for dried fruits, grains, spices and of course – nuts.

 

The following salad is adapted from one I found from Martha Rose Shulman. I have been making her vegetarian recipes for over 25 years and they have never failed me. While the beautiful fresh herbs may lose a little color by the second or third day, the flavor is just as wonderful. That assumes that you will actually have any left-overs. It’s that good!

Freekeh, Chickpea and Herb Salad

Yield: 6 servings as a side

Ingredients

  • 1 cup freekeh
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery, plus 3 tablespoons chopped leaves
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • juice of 3 lemons – more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, more to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 tablespoons EVOO

Preparation

  1. Heat a medium-size heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and add freekeh. Toast in the dry pan, shaking pan or stirring, until freekeh becomes fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 cups water and salt and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until water has been absorbed. Turn off heat and uncover. Place a clean dish towel over the pot and return lid. Let sit at least 10 minutes. Uncover and allow freekeh to cool another 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine freekeh, chopped herbs, celery, scallions and chickpeas and toss together. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, cumin, garlic, salt and olive oil; toss with salad. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired. Serve right away or let sit for up to 1 hour before serving.
  • Advance preparation: The salad is best served within a few hours of tossing with the dressing, when the herbs are their brightest, but it will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. The cooked freekeh will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.

Classic Seafood Paella

We love visiting wine country in Northern California, and a recent trip took us to an open invite celebration at Vincent Arroyo Winery.  We’ve gone to the winery in the past as we loved their Tempranillo and also because the tasting included a very thorough and scientifically oriented tour of the winery and explanation of how their wines were made.  This time when we stopped by, they were serving up paella, and we’ve never seen such big paella pans!  Entire gallons of water were poured into these huge pans that were placed on top of pits that appeared to exist for the distinct purpose of serving up paella in heaping quantities, and tools that one usually only associates with gardening were used to move around, mix, and cook the delicious paella.

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Inspired, we went home and used our shining new paella pan, albeit a much smaller pan, to cook a seafood version that was more reminiscent of what we had eaten on our Spanish adventure the year before.  They’re actually quite affordable on Amazon, the purveyor of all things, and stores fairly well underneath our oven.

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Ingredients

  • 6 oz shrimp, peeled (reserve the shells for broth)
  • 1 small bottle of clam juice
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 oz dry scallops
  • 1/4 lb calamari, cut into rings (optional)
  • 1/2 onion, grated
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 tomato, halved and grated on a box grater
  • 1.5 cups medium grain rice (bomba rice is great for paella)
  • 8 small mussels, 8 small clams
  • 2 lemons, cut in wedges
  1. Make a seafood broth: In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil (if using bomba rice, use 4.5 cups of broth). Add the shrimp shells and clam juice and simmer covered, for about 10 minutes.  Strain the broth, and return it to the saucepan.  Toast the saffron gently (in a skillet), crumble the threads and add to the broth.
  2. Saute the seafood: In a 14 in paella pan, heat the oil on high.  Saute the shrimp, scallops, and calamari until just cooked through, about 2 min.  Transfer to a plate.
  3. Make the sofrito: Reduce the heat to medium and saute the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 min.  Add the tomato, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until the mixture has darkened to a deep burgundy and is thick like a compote, 15-20 minutes.  If it starts to stick to the pan or burn, add a little water.
  4. Add the rice and cook: Bring the broth to a simmer.  Add the rice to the pan with the sofrito, and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.  Raise the heat to medium-high.  Pour in 3 cups of the broth (reserve the rest) and stir or hsake the pan to evenly distribute the rice.  Arrange the clams (if using) in the pan, submerging them as much as possible below the level of the liquid.  From this point on, do not stir the rice.
  5. Simmer vigorously, moving the pan over one and two burners to distribute the heat and to cook the rice as evenly as possible.  When the rice is at the same level as the liquid, after 8-10 min., reduce the heat to medium low.  Arrange the mussels in the pan.
  6. Continue to simmer more gently, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 min. more.  Taste a grain just below the top layer of rice; it should be al dente, with a tiny white dot in the center.  (If the rice is not done but all the liquid has been absorbed, add a bit of broth and cook a few minutes more.)  Arrange the shrimp, scallops, and calamari in the pan.
  7. Create the socarrat: Increase the heat to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for about 2 min., until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating a socarrat.  The rice will crackle, but if it starts to smell burned, remove the pan from the heat immediately.
  8. Let the paella rest: Remove the pan from the heat.  Cover loosely with foil or a clean kitchen towel and let the paella rest for 5 min. to even the cooking and let the flavors meld.
  9. Serve: Set the paella pan in the center of a table, remove the foils and dig in!  (Optional: Squeeze lemon on pan for taste.)

(serves 4 or 2.5 very hungry people, based on a 14″ paella pan)

From La Paella of www.paellapans.com

Farmer’s Market Bounty

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One of the many nice things about summer in Chicago is the Farmer’s Market. I live and work downtown and there is a market on both Tuesdays and Thursdays near my office. It’s not as spectacular as some markets, but there is always a lot of hustle and bustle. The difficult part for me is to remember that I actually have to carry home what I buy, which means walking or the “L.” I sometimes get carried away….

After purchasing gorgeous strawberries, asparagus, kohlrabi and arugula, I knew that I had to do them justice. Farmer's bounty

The lemon thyme and basil plants are from a previous farmer’s market visit. We’ll see how long it takes me to kill them!

I had bought some Copper River Sockeye Salmon the day before and decided to simply bake the fish with fresh lime juice, Kosher salt, cracked pepper, paprika a few Panko crumbs on top and a drizzle of EVOO. If the fish is good – and really, why buy it if it isn’t? – I like to keep the cooking simple to taste the fish. I prepared my asparagus by lightly peeling and trimming the stalks. I made bundles of 4 asparagus each and wrapped them in a slice of speck (prosciutto works just as well). I then sprinkled Kosher salt, a few cracks of black pepper and a good drizzle of EVOO. roasted asparagus

I roasted them at 420 degrees F for about 18 minutes.

I then prepared my kohlrabi. I had three kohlrabi in my bunch. Try to pick the bulbs so they are not too ginormous and not too tiny. Like Goldilocks – just right.

I just peel them, thinly slice them (I used a knife but you can use a mandolin. Just be careful! I bare many mandolin scars. I squeezed the juice of two limes (or lemons would work) over the slices, generously sprinkled cumin, Kosher salt and cracked pepper. I then added 1 tsp. of crushed garlic, sprinkled some Hungarian sweet paprika and a good drizzling of Meyer lemon EVOO on top. (A good quality regular EVOO is just fine. I mixed the pieces of kohlrabi with the dressing and let it sit while dinner cooked. On to the freekeh. I love that name!

Freekeh is  a cereal food made from green wheat and is big in Middle Eastern cuisine. I buy mine from Nuts.com, which is a fabulous source for nuts, dried fruit, spices and all kinds of treats. It’s family-owned, they couldn’t be nicer and they have the funniest shipping boxes I have ever seen.

I Googled how to cook the freekeh which is pretty easy. You lightly toast it in a dry pan to release the aroma of the wheat. Then add 2 cups of water to one cup of freekeh and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring this to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the water is almost gone. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and cover the pot with a clean dishtowel and replace the lid for 10 minutes to steam the grain. Remove the lid and let sit for another 8-10 minutes. Then it’s up to you. You can herb it up, add garlic, fresh scallions or shallots, lemon juice and it hot or you can let it cool and throw in some chopped tomatoes, mint and parsley. Leftovers (assuming you have any) are great with diced grilled or roasted chicken or shrimp. Get creative. You can do pretty much the same things with faro – another great grain.

So my fish and asparagus were ready and I dished everything out and served it with a Truett Hurst 2013 Zinfandel Rose. Frances and Matthew introduced us to this wonderful winery on one of our trips together and everything is good, but their Zins are great!

And here’s dinner. Not bad for a Tuesday!

salmon dinner3         salmon dinner2