Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Farro: My New Favorite Grain

While browsing around The Pantry, one of my favorite local gourmet markets, I came across a package of farro. I had eaten farro a number of times, but had never cooked it myself. Farro, also known as "emmer wheat" is a hulled wheat common in Italy. What I discovered, was that it was similar to barley in texture, but nuttier and more delicious.

The day after I purchased the farro, I received an email newsletter from one of my favorite bloggers, Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks. It was as if the food planets alligned and I had a culinary "moment". Heidi's email was about none other than farro! Coincidence? Perhaps....but how do you account for the fact that all the ingredients listed in her recipe were also items I'd randomly purchased the day prior? Butternut Squash, walnuts, and goat cheese all found their way into my grocery cart before ever having seen her recipe. Paired with the red onions and fresh herbs I always keep on hand, I could make her "Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash" without having to return to the store (now THAT is a first!). You call it coincidence, I call it foodie-divine intervention!

My attempt to make "risotto" out of barley delicious, and I even included it in a "Holiday Side Dishes" class I am teaching this season. So, I figured making a similar dish with farro might yield an even bigger reaction. I was right. My Farro Risotto with Mushrooms was even better than the version with barley. Better yet, it cooks even more quickly. Give it a try!

Farro Risotto with Mushrooms

Serves 4 as a side dish

5-6 cups hot low-salt chicken broth,

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup farro

3/4 lb Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced (or your favorite mushroom variety)
1 t dried thyme
olive oil
salt and pepper

1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Parmesan cheese (optional, but totally recommended!)

In a medium sauce pan, heat chicken broth and cover to keep hot.

In a large chef's pan, saute onion in olive oil until softened. Add farro and stir to coat with oil. "Toast" the farro for a minute or two.

Add 1 cup broth, and stir. When broth is nearly absorbed, add 1/2 - 3/4 cup more broth, stir, and allow to absorb. Repeat this procedure until farro is tender to the bite (this should take about 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a medium fry pan, saute mushrooms in olive oil. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until softened.

When farro is tender, add mushrooms and parsley. Stir to combine.

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Turkey Leftover Solutions

 If you are like me, I make an extra big turkey on Thanksgiving because I enjoy the leftovers more than the actual meal. The next day, instead of fighting the crowds at the mall trying to get a head start on Christmas shopping, I prefer to relax at home ... with my leftovers. I admit having a weakness for cold stuffing and turkey sandwiches slathered with mayo, but I also enjoy coming up with new ways to use the remains of of the day prior.

One of my favorites is a Turkey-Cranberry Salad Wrap. Think chicken salad, with a Thanksgiving twist. I combine diced white meat turkey, veggies, dried cranberries, and gorgonzola cheese with a touch of mayo to make a perfect filling for a whole wheat wrap. The crunch of the veggies and the tang of the gorgonzola give this a leg up on regular-ol' chicken salad! In addition, the cranberries give it a great red "pop" of color.

To warm up on a chilly November day, try my Quick Turkey Noodle Soup. Since I tend to have a lot of dark meat leftover, I shred it up and add it to some broth, along with fresh veggies and noodles. If you have leftover carrots and green beans, you can even toss those in for an even quicker cooking soup!

Relish in your leftovers!

Turkey-Cranberry Salad Wrap
Makes 4 wrap sandwiches

2 cups diced cooked turkey (preferably white meat)

1/4 cup diced celery

1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

1/3 cup light mayo

salt and pepper to taste

4 romaine lettuce leaves (or substitute 3 oz baby spinach)

4 whole wheat wraps

Combine turkey, celery, cranberries, gorgonzola and mayo in a medium bowl. Stir until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lay out 4 whole wheat wraps on your work surface. Line each with one leaf of romaine lettuce (or divide baby spinach equally among wraps).

Place 1/2 -3/4 cup of salad in center of each wrap, and fold/roll as desired.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Quick Turkey-Noodle Soup

Serves 4

6 cups low-salt, canned chicken broth
2 carrots, diced (or 1 cup leftover cooked carrots, diced)

1/2 lb green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1" lengths (or 1 1/2 cups cooked green beans, roughly chopped)

1/2 cup fine egg noodles

2 cups shredded turkey meat (white or dark, or a combination of both)

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

In a medium-large saucepan, combine broth, fresh carrots, fresh green beans, and pasta. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook approximately 5-7 minutes, or until veggies are tender and noodles are cooked.

Add shredded turkey, fresh parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and serve hot.

NOTE: If using leftover veggies, cook noodles in broth first, then add cooked veggies, shredded turkey, and parsley after noodles are tender.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Books: Skinny Bitch

Normally, I would never buy a book called Skinny Bitch ( by Rory Freedman & Kim Barnouin, Running Press, 2005). The title alone gets me riled up for a variety of reasons, which I won't go into right now. However, when my friend JH recommended this book, I decided to give it a read. JH is wholly committed to healthy living, organic food, and holistic healing. She described it as a book to help get you on track to healthy eating---so that seemed worth checking out, even if I do hate the title.

Skinny Bitch is basically, a guide to healthy eating, but written in an "in-your-face" style. The two authors, Ms. Freedman and Ms. Barnouin, don't mince words when they say things like "you cannot keep shoveling the same crap into your mouth and expect to lose weight" and "...foods like meat, eggs, cheese, milk, and processed, refined foods....can clog up your ass." Okay, thanks for that visual. I will say that they make a sometimes rather dry subject pretty interesting, even if they have to pepper the book with profanity and vulgarity to make the reader pay attention.

What I DO like about this book is that the authors have clearly done their research. As vegans (that's a vegetarian who also does not eat ANY animal products like dairy, eggs, etc), they defend their lifestyle choice with solid scientific evidence that makes you wonder why you're eating so much junk. They talk about why meat and dairy are really not meant to be part of our diet, and why complex carbohydrates ARE . They tout the importance of buying organic and the dangers of artificial sweeteners. They discuss what caffeine does to your body, and why cold medicines interfere with Mother Nature's plan. And then, they give you four weeks worth of daily menus to help you get started on cleansing your body.

What I DO NOT like about this book, is that most of it is couched in terms of "this is what you need to do to get skinny", or, as they put it, to become a "skinny bitch". From a pure marketing standpoint, I know as well as anyone that books about getting thin sell, books about getting healthy don't. Let's face it, most people who watch what they eat and hit the gym every day do it to look good---not necessarily because it is healthy (that's just a nice bonus). However, true as it may be, I still find it insulting. Basically, the only reason I'd completely change my lifestyle---give up meat, dairy, Splenda, coffee, soda, etc.---is to be a "skinny bitch"? I'd better feel pretty darned terrific and live to be 100 to give up all that!

All kidding aside, I found the book a tiny bit depressing. Mostly because I believe what they say is right. I agree that giving up meat (or at least cutting back significantly) is healthy. I agree that dairy isn't really something we're meant to ingest. I know that the Splenda I put in my coffee every morning---and even the coffee---really aren't that great for me. I know I probably would feel a lot better if I started eating according to their plan. But I also know that for me, especially as a cooking instructor catering to a wide variety of clients, it is a tall order. Yes, I can eat less meat, but not none. Yes, I did order a soy latte at Starbuck's the other day (and skipped the Splenda), but I probably won't do it every time. And yes, I did go and buy a tub of organic Earth Balance spread to slather on my sprouted whole wheat toast (both of which are actually tasty!). But I'll tell you right now, I draw the line at cheese!

Skinny Bitch is definitely worth reading, if you can get past the constant "skinny" references and the somewhat arrogant tone of the book. Overall, I found it pretty informative, and it makes me think twice before shoving a handful of Oreos down my throat. Besides, who wouldn't love a book that has an entire chapter devoted to pooping?

The "bitches" are coming out with a new book in December (surprise, surprise, right in time for the holidays!), called Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, a cookbook for those of you who "want to stop cooking crap and start looking hot!". Hmmmm. For now, just try this vegan recipe and see if you feel any bitchier.

Vegan Stir Fry with Tempeh

Serves 2

1 - 8 oz package tempeh, cubed

1 red bell pepper, cut into a large dice

8 oz sugar snap peas

3 medium carrots, sliced

2-3 T canola oil

3 T soy sauce

3 T sherry
1/2 t sugar

In a measuring cup, combine soy sauce, sherry and sugar. Stir to combine and set aside.
In a large chef's pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the ingredients in the following order, cooking for approximately 1-2 minutes in between each addition:

carrots, red peppers, tempeh, snap peas

Add the soy sauce mixture, raise the heat slightly, and cook another minute.

Serve alone or with rice.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

BBQ Class for the Teacher

Mmmm... ribsIn 1995, I decided to combine my passion for food and cooking with my love of teaching, and began teaching cooking classes. I started by teaching through the local Continuting Educaton Program. After less than a year, I built up a bit of a following and decided to go into business for myself. However, despite my busy schedule running a small business and teaching classes at my house each week, I still make time to teach for the Continuing Education Program that took a chance on a passionate home cook and gave me my start in this field.

Last month, as I was checking my listings in the catalog of classes sent out by Continuing Ed., I noticed a new class being offered through the program. "BBQ Passion: The Basics of Barbeque Cooking" was a new, one-time class and would be taught by the owner of a popular local barbeque restaurant. Bobby Q's of Westport, Connecticut, was featured on the FoodNetwork at one point last year, and has become somewhat of a hotspot for good barbeque in Fairfield County. My husband and I have been talking about installing an outdoor kitchen-barbeque at our home, and I figured it couldn't hurt to go learn from the experts before taking the plunge.

Being on "the other side of the counter" was definitely a fun experience. Bob LaRose, owner of Bobby Q's brought the class to the restaurant's rooftop deck, where a demonstration table was set up. Each participant received a multi-paged "book" with everything one would ever want to know about authentic barbeque, which, we learned, is entirely different from the backyard grilling we normally refer to as "barbeque". Grilling is cooking food on grates and over high heat for a relatively short period of time. Barbeque, on the other hand, is typically done with indirect heat or smoke, and requires several hours of cooking time. The Boston Butt pork Bobby Q's uses to make their most popular menu item, pulled pork, is cooked for almost 20 hours!

We started with dry rubs. We sampled basic rubs, fancy rubs, sweet rubs, and spicy rubs. Dry rubs are the cornerstone of barbeque at the restaurant, and the chef demonstrated how he applies rubs to racks of ribs, briskets, and Boston Butt (which, is not the "butt" at all, but rather a cut of meat from the pig's shoulder). We discussed which cuts of meat marry better with which rubs (the chef prefers brown sugar rubs with pork and granulated, white sugar rubs with beef and chicken).

We then talked about sauces, which at Bobby Q's, are used primarily for dipping tableside. Again, we sampled a wide variety of sauces to determine which flavors were our favorites. We covered home smokers, types of wood for smoking, and how to tell when something is ready to eat. Then, finally, came the eating!

First we tasted the St. Louis Ribs, which are smoked with a simple rub. According to Bobby, "authentic" barbeque is supposed to have a little "pull" to the meat (meaning you need to work a bit to get it off the bone), the ones we tried were as tender as could be, and literally fell off the bone into your mouth. He noted that in the northeast, people tend to like the more tender meat, so he gives the people what they want. He also stated that while in other parts of the country, people prefer the St. Louis style ribs, here in Connecticut, the Baby Backs are by far the better sellers. Different demographic, different tastes.

It was time to move indoors into the kitchen, where we gathered around the smoker large enough to shelter a small family (a mere $25,000, if you're in the market for one). When the door opened, we saw a gigantic Boston Butt coming around on the rotisserie, which operated much like a ferris wheel (the meat sitting on one of the "seats", which is really a large, moving rack). Luckily for us, it was just ready to come out of the smoker, so the chef pulled it out, deboned it (the bone literally slid right out), and began to shred the meat. To say it was tender would be an understatement. Then the brisket came out. I felt this particular cut had been a bit dry and overcooked (and the chef concurred), but it was still decent. It perhaps just needed some of that tableside dipping sauce to moisten it up.

All in all, the class was informative and fun. It didn't surprise me that the participants were mostly men, whereas my classes consist almost exclusively of women. I suppose people consider barbeque more "manly" than other types of cooking. Manly or not, it is certainly one-sloooow-process, for which I'm not sure I have the patience. The results are great, but waiting 8 hours for some ribs to cook is not my kind of weekend activity. I think I'll leave the smoking to Bobby Q's.