Welcome to my house, please don’t lick the walls…

Almond, banana & cherry smoothie and a different type of mimosa

Almond, banana & cherry smoothie and a different type of mimosa

As if it wasn’t obvious enough that my life is immersed in culinary culture, it is particularly apparent when you see all of the jars of paint samples in my house. See, my husband and I have been trying to agree upon a color for our living room (and kitchen and bedroom) so we’ve been buying sample after sample to test out on the walls.

Our living room now boasts some fun (and delicious sounding) modern art:

tasty sounding paint colors

Oh cornbread…you looked so good on paper, wow, were you ugly on the wall.

After a long uninspiring battle with various shades of yellow, we have changed tactics and moved on to blues. Last weekend my husband suggested I paint an even larger section of the living room with sea salt (so far the front-runner) to see if we both still like it.

To get my strength (and sanity) up, I made a smoothie. A fabulous smoothie, in fact. I based it on the banana almond smoothie from the BA Food Lover’s Cleanse but added a few extra goodies to coax it into excellence.

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Challenge Accepted! Cooking for #covertocover13

Strozzapreti w/ Preserved Lemon and Spinach

Strozzapreti w/ Preserved Lemon and Spinach

The Bitten Word is a blog I love for many reasons, though two stand out the most. First the name — it’s so perfect that every time I read it, I get jealous that it isn’t the name of my blog. (I’m trying to get over that but it’s hard!) And next, because they clearly love food magazines just as much as I do.

I love comparing their opinions on recipes after I’ve made them and I also read their reviews if I’m hesitant about trying something. In fact, their hilarious and clever review of Food & Wine’s General Tso’s chicken was what encouraged me to make it in the first place.

So when I saw that the writers do a cover-to-cover challenge for Bon Appetit’s Restaurant Issue, I signed up immediately. Here’s the low down: submit the form and get an email with your assignment a few days later.

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A sauce so good I could live on it…

Roasted Pork w/ Spinach Yogurt Sauce

Roasted Pork w/ Spinach Yogurt Sauce

One of things I find funny about my life is that people assume I eat so well simply because my husband is a chef. I will admit that we both love food to a point of almost obsession, and that certainly affects my eating habits. After all, he is the one who has planned our dinners to the Herb Farm, the French Laundry, Au Pied de Cochon and (coming soon) Willows Inn. But unless I visit him in at his restaurant or guilt him about buying a new cookbook, he rarely cooks more than ramen at home.

And, since I spent many years cooking professionally, I totally understand why. Even on your days off you’re exhausted and, quite frankly, sick of looking at food unless it’s something someone else has made.

For us, this seems to work out perfectly though — I love being the one to cook. I get to play around with new recipes and slip in more fiber (and less butter!) without him there to interfere.

But every once in a while, he surprises me by cooking something epically delicious on a day off. I will come home to the the thermal circulator chugging away, the pressure cooker giving a quiet whistle or homemade raviolis being pressed together with a fresh egg yolk in the center. And it’s always so good, I get a wave of, “I can’t believe I get to eat this at home!”

For example:

Iberico solomillo (tenderloin), with sous vide egg, scallions and nasturtiums

Iberico solomillo (the tenderloin from Spanish acorn-fed hogs ), with sous vide egg, scallions and nasturtiums

The dinner he made for me a few weeks ago was one of those meals — though it was incredibly tame by his standards. Nothing was dehydrated or fried in duck fat, and yet it made a serious impression on me, mainly because of the sauce. I guess you could call it a spinach-yogurt sauce, which is totally boring, but perfectly accurate. I don’t know of what else I could name it, but I do know this stuff rocked.

The raw garlic gave it just a little kick, which was tempered by the creamy tangy coolness of the yogurt. The spinach and parsley added a grassy herbaceous quality but gave a lovely vibrancy to the finished product.

This was a sauce that could be almost anything you wanted it to be — make it a little thicker and spread it on a sandwich. Thin it out with more lemon juice and use it as a salad dressing. Drizzle it in a soup or on a plate of grilled vegetables. It was one of those creations that just seemed to taste good with anything — well anything that would taste good with garlic.

Spinach Yogurt Sauce

Spinach Yogurt Sauce

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Learning to love frittatas…

Frittatas are one of those foods I’ve always felt I should like. I love eggs, I love breakfast foods at any time of the day and I love dishes that allow you to utilize whatever produce you have on hand. And frittatas are all of those things. They are made with eggs. They can be eaten for breakfast, brunch or even, as magazine writers love to recommend, as “a light supper.” And they can be made with just about anything you happen to have hiding in your fridge.

So what’s my problem? It seems like frittatas and I should love each other and yet, I keep my distance. My main issue is that they always seem dry. I like my eggs runny — there is nothing sadder to me than overcooked eggs. My friend Ariel has actually made me the one and only frittata that I’ve enjoyed — it was moist and delicious. All of the others I’ve eaten tasted like disappointment. So I learned my lesson. Whenever I see a frittata recipe, my eyes skip right over it. I avoid them on breakfast menus. And I certainly have never bothered to try to make one.

Until last weekend when I made this beauty…

I was actually hoping to make something entirely different, but I didn’t have all of the ingredients. Then a recipe from Bon Appetit poked out of my binder and caught my eye. I had ripped out the page for a different reason (these ricotta tortelloni) but when I started reading the Onion Frittata recipe, I decided just to go for it. I had all of the ingredients (for the most part) and it seemed easy as well as healthy. And, as an extra bonus, I only needed one pan to make it.

First up, I cooked a cup of sliced onions until they were golden brown and tender. (Next time I might dice them to lessen their stringiness.) Once they were finished, I added in some fresh spinach for some extra oomph. Then I dumped in the whisked eggs which were mixed with grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and herbs.

I was short on some of the herbs, but I did — for once! — have basil so I threw that in along with some red chili flakes to give it some pep. Eggs love pep.

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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!