Finally following through (and eating bacon onion marmalade)

Burger w/ Bacon Onion Marmalade

Burger w/ Bacon Onion Marmalade

A lot of my life revolves around food. I’m married to a chef, I work in the industry, I write a food blog and, of course, I read a lot of food magazines and blogs. Years ago, when I was just discovering the rather overwhelming world of blogs, I followed only the big names ones like Pioneer Woman and Smitten Kitchen.

But in 2011 when I joined WordPress, I found so many more blogs, and bloggers, who I grew to adore — I love seeing into their corner of the world, reading about their lives and vicariously enjoying their kitchen adventures. More often than not, these visual journeys into their kitchens have led me to discover new recipes. And many of these recipes are ones I swear to myself I’m going to make some day.

And yet, on days when I feel like making something new, I always forget all about those recipes — out of sight, out of mind. And so I end up grabbing the latest issue of Bon Appetit or Food & Wine for inspiration instead.

This year, I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is and finally make some of those “some day” dishes. Each month I’m planning to make a recipe from a blog that I follow and to showcase it here on Attempts in Domesticity.

The first recipe I chose was a simple but astoundingly good one — bacon onion marmalade, brought to you by Skinny Girls & Mayonnaise. It calls for only a handful of ingredients which come together to make magic in just under 20 minutes. And even though Sean of SG&M calls it the “ultimate summer condiment” it tasted pretty damn good in January. Hey, we aren’t all enjoying the endless summer that he’s been boasting about from his home in California.

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Why I think farro is the shit — with tasty recipes to back it up.

I have become kind of a farro pusher. Not the kind of pusher that stands out on the street corner whispering “Farro? Farro?” while slyly avoiding eye contact. That would be weird. Instead I’m the person who tries to make everyone in my life try farro at least once because I’m convinced they will love it just as much as I do.

Raw farro (semi-pearled)

Farro, for those who may not be familiar with it, is an ancient Italian grain related to wheat. It’s high in both fiber and protein and has a chewy texture with a slightly nutty flavor. You can buy it in a few different forms — from whole grain (which is the best for you nutritionally) to semi-pearled to pearled. You can also buy it as a flour to make things like pasta or bread. It should be noted I am not ambitious enough for that. I mainly just buy it semi-pearled because it cooks quickly, usually within about 20 minutes. Whole grain farro can take up to about 60 minutes to cook, which is way too long for my busy life.

The nutritional values of semi-pearled farro are still pretty good. A half of a cup of uncooked farro, which will plump up to about a cup after cooking, contains around 170 calories, but also comes with five grams of fiber and six grams of protein. This makes it considerably better for you than white rice — no surprise there. But even brown rice has a bit more calories per serving (around 200) and falls short of farro in terms of fiber and protein. Plus since it is harvested with its husk intact, which is then removed when it gets hulled, it is grown without the need for pesticides. Healthy and delicious? Check and check!

Since I  started buying farro regularly and cooking it at least once a week, I have discovered a ton of different ways to prepare it. And honestly, from farro risotto to farro Mexican “rice”, I haven’t made one variation that I thought sucked. I have to change my usages up often though because as much as he enjoys farro, my husband got a bit weary after eating it for dinner for a week straight. Luckily I am not one to suffer from farro burnout.

Cooked Farro (simmered with sliced onions)

To help combat any potential food boredom, a lovely thing about farro is its versatility. It can be served hot or cold in a salad or even cooked like porridge and topped with milk and cinnamon for breakfast.

It can also be used in any application where you would use rice. And since you can cook it by boiling it in salted water and draining it just like pasta, I think it’s even easier than cooking rice. No measuring necessary or keeping the pot covered, just let it simmer away and stir it every five minutes or so until it’s done. If you’re feeling frisky, you can throw some carrots or onions in  while it cooks for extra flavor, but it’s not necessary.

Since I am clearly a huge farro advocate, it’s only right that I would to try to tempt you into giving it a try with some lovely pictures and recipe ideas. And subliminal messages, but I promise you won’t even notice those…

First up is my Farro (better than) Waldorf Salad:

This actually came about because I had been craving Waldorf salad but wanted to make it as an entrée for dinner. I took some leftover cooked farro, probably about a cup or so, and combined it with a chopped Honeycrisp apple, a handful of toasted walnuts and some diced celery. In lieu of a dressing or even a vinaigrette (I was really hungry), I just splashed in a little olive oil and lemon juice to make it moist. Then piled it on a bed of baby spinach and topped it with some chevre.

The finished product was delightful. There was every element you could want in a salad — crunchy from the fruit and nuts, tangy from the cheese and citrus and chewy from the farro. It was light and fresh and I had to restrain myself from eating the container I had set aside for the next day’s lunch. It was hard. I actually had to leave the house to resist its allure.

This was great as a vegetarian meal but the carnivore in me thinks that if I’d had some meat to put on top, it would have been even better. Maybe a grilled chicken breast or some pork medallions. Or some crumbled crispy bacon if you swing that way.

Next up is my Fried Rice-style Farro with Vegetables:

Now I will straight-up admit this was a “kitchen-sink” style of experiment. I had cooked farro and blanched kale leftover from the night before. I had eaten a ton of meat earlier in the day (a requisite of my job) so I was looking for something high in fiber for dinner. This seemed like the easiest way to eat the mixture of random vegetables I had in my produce drawer without just making a boring salad.

I started with shredded cabbage, thinly sliced carrots and minced garlic in a hot lightly oiled pan. Once everything was tender, I threw in some soy sauce, sesame oil, sliced scallions and a dash of rice wine vinegar to keep the flavors bright. Next came the farro, kale and frozen peas which were tossed around until all the ingredients were well combined. Last came the scrambled eggs — which I will admit because I am picky about my eggs, I softly scramble in a side pan and then add them into the rice…err farro…afterwards.

It turned out so good! I shouldn’t have been surprised but I kind of was. This is why it’s always good to try new things.

And finally (at least for this farro post) comes the easiest preparation and the one I use the most often: The catch-all throw-in-whatever side dish. It will go with anything. I promise you.

I started by roasting veggies, a mixture of just about anything will work…Think cauliflower, carrots, peppers, onions, brussels sprouts. Or blanch some kale. Or sauté some mushrooms or cherry tomatoes. Frozen peas or corn? Sure, why not? Basically take whatever veggies you like and cook them however you like them best. While the veggies are working, boil a big pot of salted water. Stir in semi-pearled farro and cook for 20-25 minutes until tender (though still chewy). Drain. You’re halfway there!

I use the same pot and just put it back on the heat — I am all about minimizing dirty dishes. Then sauté up some minced garlic with a dash of chili flakes. Add the already cooked veggies and farro, maybe some stock or even a little water to help things along. Season it well. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or some cheese (goat, pecorino or feta are all delicious) maybe some herbs, chopped nuts or baby spinach. The only rule is make it taste good, though trust me, this won’t be hard to do.

Here’s some examples pulled from just the past few months at my house…

Seared flounder and farro pilaf-style with pecans, green onions and parsley.

Stuffed rabbit saddles with farro, brussels sprouts, carrots and chives.

Quail breasts with farro, roasted cauliflower, grated Parmesan and spinach.

Or if you just want to get a feel for farro in a simple form, try it as a simple substitute for rice. You can use it in soups or as a bed for a curry or a stew. I love to use farro where it has a chance to soak up sauces, like when I used it to sop up some cherry tomato-scallion goodness in my procrastinators chicken. Or when I made April Bloomfield’s Lyon-style chicken…That sauce was phenomenal and the farro let me savor every drop of it.

Plain farro topped with vinegar-braised chicken and roasted garlic. Perfectly simple.

Really — you can’t go wrong with any of these preparations. So, do yourself a favor — buy some farro (usually you can find it at upscale grocery stores but if you strike out there, you can order it online) and give it a shot.

But be careful, you might find yourself pushing it on all of your friends too. At least you’ll be in good company!

Green Machine: Strozzapreti, Pesto, Goat cheese & Vegetables

Last night after work, I found myself in a similar situation as the one that inspired my chicken for procrastinators post earlier this week. I had eaten a late lunch so when I got home at five, I puttered around the house doing chores, paying bills and reading. Okay, okay, fine. I might have also watched an episode of Grimm while surreptitiously spying on my neighbors.

Anyways, it was almost 7 pm when I realized I had forgotten to even start cooking dinner. And, of course, after all that hard work, I was starving.

Luckily my husband is a chef so by 7:30, I sat down with this:

Wait, what? Oh, you didn’t think that meant he cooked this for me, did you? Ha! Oh no, on his days off my husband would rather do anything than cook. That’s how I keep in constant supply of foot rubs — I am easily bribed.

What I meant by that is, my husband is a chef and one of the perks of his job is getting the occasional sample to try out. Sometimes it’s meat from where I work — which is fun, don’t get me wrong but since I’m around that same meat all day, it’s not terribly exciting. Other times it’s downright thrilling — like when he brought home these amazing goodies for us to experiment with.

Fresh strozzapreti pasta from Classic Foods

Awesome local goat cheese from Portland Creamery

You may think we’re taking advantage of the system, but it makes way more sense to enjoy these things away from the chaos of the restaurant’s kitchen. Plus, I’m a better influence over my husband than the hungry scavengers at his restaurant who are just stoked to get free food. So if you want him to put a certain item on his menu, feel free to send me the complimentary samples to enjoy…..I kid, I kid….kind of.

Anyways, it honestly hadn’t even occurred to me to write a post about this meal since it was so last minute, but once I had all of the ingredients out, it was just too pretty to pass up. I began with asparagus, green onions, zucchini, spinach and frozen green peas. I grabbed some pesto (also from Classic Foods – I swear they didn’t sponsor this post!), a lemon and a couple cloves of garlic to round things out. I also managed to scrounge up a chicken breast fillet to add a bit of protein to the mix.

I started with veggie prep: dicing the zucchini, thinly slicing the onions, cutting the asparagus into one-inch chunks and mincing the garlic. Then it was on to my favorite little guys — frozen sweet peas.

Far from the tired cliché of children who hate peas, I have always loved them. I put them in everything, from salads to casseroles to ramen. In fact that’s one things I always have in my freezer. And I’m not talking about a little bag from the supermarket — oh no, I am all about the giant bags from Costco. I keep the big bag in our downstairs freezer and a small one-quart container upstairs, to be refilled whenever it gets low. What can I say? I am a dedicated lover of peas. Hell, I even have a pea pod tattoo. I panic when I am out of them. They comfort me in times of stress. Oh god, do I love peas.

As long as they aren’t overcooked. Then they are just gross.

So my technique is to keep them frozen for as long as possible. They are the last things to go into my soups and curries — sometimes I will even keep them on the side so I can stir them into the reheated leftovers right before eating. For things like pasta though, I have my quick-thaw technique. The frozen peas go in a colander. Then after I cook the asparagus (or pasta or whatever else might be boiling), I drain the water over the peas. Easy peasy. Please forgive me for that. I couldn’t help it.

Anyways, what you are left with is beautiful vibrant peas — no army green color, no mushiness. Look at them frolicking with the asparagus like they are old friends.

Moving on…

The chicken breast was seasoned, cut into strips and sautéed. The pasta was cooked until just al dente — and it was done in about two minutes which is why I freakin’ love fresh pasta. *Hint: Remember when you drain the pasta to reserve about a cup of the water — all that starchy goodness will help your sauce cling to the noodles.*

Next up. Hot pan and olive oil. Sweat the garlic for a couple of seconds and then add the diced zucchini. Once everything is tender, toss in the peas, asparagus and green onions. Hit the pan with a bit of stock, a nubbin of butter and some of the pasta water.

Then spoon in the pesto and a bit more stock to keep everything nice and saucy.

Let’s take a quick break to talk pesto

I always keep some in my freezer and since I’m on friendly terms with Classic Foods, I like to buy theirs whenever possible. I usually buy two pounds at once and freeze the whole damn thing in a gallon Ziploc. Freeze the bag while it’s flat (you can see how thin it is in the picture) so it’s easy to break off a chunk whenever you need it. It’s perfect on pizzas, in veggies or just tossed around with some chicken. I would probably eat a spoonful or two of it solo if I didn’t think people would judge me.

Anyways.

Throw in the pasta, a bit more pasta water and a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper and at the end, the baby spinach. It won’t look overly saucy which is nice because you don’t want to cover up the fresh flavor of all the tasty veggies. This is a light pesto sauce that will just enhance everything with a pop of basil-y goodness.

Once everything is incorporated, it’s time to plate up. You’ll notice I didn’t use any of that luscious goat cheese. I was saving that for the finishing touch. There’s already Parmesan in the pesto and I didn’t want to muddle the rich tanginess of the goat cheese, so instead I sprinkled it right on top of the dish. And I am not embarrassed to admit I totally ate a spoonful of it too. Judge away — I won’t care, I’ll be too busy enjoying my leftovers!

Reason #215 to love onions

Onion Tart

I have always been a huge fan of the onion family — raw, sautéed, grilled, whatever, however — you name it and I love it.

As a kid, my family used to be alternately amused and disgusted when I would stuff my face with fresh chives from my grandma’s garden. I would eat so many, my eyes would practically water but yet I couldn’t stop. Then I would run around and breath on people. Yeah, I was a charmer.

So when I saw this recipe for an onion honey tart made with puff pastry, I was sold. I have been meaning to make this forever, well since February 2011, but I never have créme fraiche around. The fact that I just wrote that sentence is one of the many things I miss about being a professional cook. In a restaurant, everything is accessible, especially in a fine-dining kitchen where Marcona almonds, Epoisse cheese and foie gras are always around. Not that I encourage stealing from work, but I doubt if anyone would have missed a scant half cup of créme fraiche. Of course, it wasn’t hard to find it in a more honest fashion — I bought a little container at an upscale grocery store and it certainly wasn’t expensive, about $6 for 7 oz. And now that I have some left in my fridge, I’m sure I can find a few more recipes I need to make soon.

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