Thursday, January 28, 2010

Warm Farro Salad with Squash and Chickpeas

As cliche as it may be, one of my New Years resolutions was to eat healthier. More whole grains, daily fruits and vegetables, less processed carbs and snacks. A month into January, I can't say I've followed up on that (or any of my resolutions) 100%, but I have cooked a few new healthy vegetarian recipes I thought some of you might like to know about.

First up is this warm winter farro salad inspired by a "fall" farro salad I had a few months ago at The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights with pumpkin, nuts, parmesan, and poached egg. The farro salad was one of the most memorable parts of that overpriced, small plates evening, so I set out to recreate my own version recently. Squash substitutes well for pumpkin and is just as available at the local farmers market in winter as in fall. I wasn't easily able to find farro at the Park Slope Food Coop (though I now know where to find it there), so I was pleasantly surprised to find it at my farmers market instead - from Cayuga Pure Organics in Ithaca, which isn't exactly local, but probably much closer than the coop's source.

I'm now obsessed with farro. It's plumper and toothier than brown rice, but easier to cook, since it doesn't become a starchy gluey mess like all of my rice attempts. Be prepared to wait a while for it to cook. I didn't soak mine overnight and the cooking felt like forever, probably an hour or so, so I do recommend letting it soak for a day first. More detailed instructions on how to cook faro can be found here.

While researching farro, I also found a similar squash and farro recipe over on 101 Cookbooks. But my version includes chickpeas for protein and lots of garlic for flavor. I make big batches of chickpeas at one time and then freeze them in cup-size portions in old glass jars, so for this I was able to just defrost some pre-cooked chickpeas by running water into the jar to loosen the frozen chickpeas and then heating them up in a small pot of simmering water. (While you could use canned chickpeas, I don't recommend that because the BPA lining in cans is getting more and more attention lately as a potential health hazard.)

The soft and sweet carmelized roasted squash is the perfect foil to nutty, crunchy farro here, and the combination of chickpeas and farro was hearty enough for the resident vegetarian naysayer. I think the zest and juice of half a lemon would be a nice addition to the salad, as well, but I didn't have that on hand.

Warm Farro Salad with Squash and Chickpeas
1 cup farro
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 small butternut squash
1 small head of garlic
1/4 shaved parmesan
olive oil
zest and juice of half lemon (optional)

Let farro soak in water in a covered pot overnight. Add enough water to reach the height of the first joint of your index finger above the farro in the pot. Bring to boil and then simmer covered for 20 minutes or more until it reaches your desired crunchiness.
Preheat oven to 450. Peel and cube butternut squash. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast for approximately 20 minutes until browned; flip cubes and roast additional 10-15 minutes until other side is browned and squash is fully tender.
Mince garlic and set aside. Use a cheese scraper to shave parmesan into small pieces and set aside.
Combine cooked farro, chickpeas, squash, garlic, and half the parmesan in a bowl.
Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and top with remaining parmesan shavings to serve. Makes 3-4 servings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brooklyn Flea

I've never made it to the outdoor versions of the Brooklyn Flea, but last weekend I checked out the new indoor Flea at the recently restored One Hanson Place, aka Williamsburgh Savings Bank clocktower in Fort Greene. It is a beautiful space, which they have made great use of by sticking vendors in all its nooks and crannies.

It was mad crowded, which I expected since it was opening weekend and normally I would have avoided it for that reason, but I really needed an excuse to get out of the apartment.

I am not that big on shopping because I don't like to part ways with my money for stuff, even if it is vintage stuff. So I kind of went more to check out the infamous food vendors than for the vintage and artisan wares. The food court is located inside the old vault in the basement. Look how thick that vault door is!

The Red Hook Lobster Pound lobster roll is just as good as they say. At $14 it is pricy for vendor food but cheaper than lobster rolls sold in most NYC restaurants. Bun was deliciously lightly toasted in butter. I only wish there had been more of it to savor.

With the crowds, it was hard to take too close of a look at anything, so I didn't think I'd actually buy anything. But surprisingly, something caught my eye: a pair of wooden Danish mid-century modern candlesticks for $15. Which have been on my "to buy someday" list for a while so I gave into temptation. Now I just need to get long beeswax candles from the farmers market. And officially have way too many candles in my home considering that I always forget to light them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Cheesy New Year's Eve

I didn't go to the Hamptons as planned for New Years (the house rental fell through). Instead: a small gathering at my sister's apartment uptown featuring a quantity of random fruity mixed drinks not seen since college; lots of chatter; ignoring the ball drop on TV; a brief blurry stop at a bar; and I may or may not have thrown up on the subway ride home (a rite of passage for twentysomething nyc'ers, right?). I blame my undoing on the bizarre combination that day of cheese straw overdosing + fancy sushi dinner + fruity drinks .

I didn't have occasion to make focaccia and pumpkin rolls as hoped, but I still spent time baking a few festive treats to bring to the party, including cheese straws! I don't know why I waited so long to try this recipe, since I mastered regular crackers long ago (which reminds me I need to post that recipe). Cheese straws taste just like cheez-its but are a thousand times better for you, especially if you cut the butter and add whole wheat flour to healthify. I also added dried herbs and gouda instead of cheddar to fancify my version.

It felt like I was baking allll day, probably because it took forever to roll and cut out all these thin little sticks. So take this lady's advice instead and roll the dough into a log to be able to quickly slice it into thin round crackers. And if you make an extra log of dough to store in the freezer, you can slice and bake off a few crackers at a time to satisfy cheez-it cravings within minutes. I recently learned this freezer trick, which also works for cookie dough, and it is transformative. One downside to my lifestyle of making things from scratch instead of buying processed foods is the daunting lag time between a craving and the final product coming out of the oven ready to eat. Keeping dough in the freezer solves this problem by offering both instant gratification and portion control.


Herbed Cheese Crackers
6 tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp dried herbs such as rosemary, sage, oregano, or thyme
1 1/2 cups cheddar or gouda cheese
1 tbsp milk plus more as needed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all ingredients but milk in food processor and pulse until the butter is broken down into little crumby bits. Add milk a tablespoon at a time while pulsing until it is moist enough to come together as a dough ball. Divide dough in half and roll into logs. Store in plastic wrap in freezer at least half an hour to allow dough to firm (or up to a few weeks). Slice dough into rounds as thinly as possible. Bake in batches on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

photo 1 via flickr; atrociousness of photo 2 and 3 are all my fault

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Eskimo Burgers

When I grill burgers outside in the winter, I call them Eskimo burgers. I am lucky enough to have a little propane grill just outside the door so it is easy enough for one to shuttle back and forth between the warm kitchen and the chilly smoky patio.

Normally we make burgers using local grass-fed meat topped simply with a little cheddar and ketchup, but I just wasn't feeling it this time...I wanted some more pizzazz. So I went to twitter for advice. This is the beauty of twitter: Ask and ye shall receive responses in time to go to the grocery store before dinner. There were lots of helpful suggestions, like adding whisky (!), kofta spices, and Celia sent me a whole slew of toppings, including grilled radicchio, caramelized onions, arugula pesto, and even some things I had never heard of before (what is frico??). It was just what I needed to get out of my rut. Check out the recipe below to see what fixings we ended up with. What's your favorite way to make hamburgers?

I also picked up half a dozen Bluepoint oysters for an appetizer. I order oysters at restaurants, making me feel like the biggest yuppie ever, but it was the first time shucking them at home and it was a success, with a little dish of horseradish and lemon slices on the side. I see a lot more cheap, local oysters in our future since they sell them at the Grand Army farmers market for only $1 each.

Eskimo Burgers
1 lb grass-fed ground beef
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried thyme
5 splashes of worcestershire sauce
1 shot whisky

Form into patties. (We usually get 3 patties per pound of meat). Grill over medium low heat for four to five minutes on each side. Top with slices of gruyere cheese about 1 minute before done (the more cheese the better). Set burgers aside (on a plate in the oven is a good way to keep them warm/out the way of dogs) and and grill thick slices of hearty bread until toasted. Assemble with toppings:
caramelized onions (sliced onions sauteed in olive oil over low heat for 20-30 minutes until soft and browned)
baby spinach

*Celia, do the rest of us a favor and share the whole burger inspiration list on your blog! The world will thank you.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Long Weekend in the M.O.N. (Middle of Nowhere)

Catching up on what happened in December before the holidays...I have a sorta-annual tradition of going away for a long weekend in mid December, to celebrate my boyfriend's birthday. This year we picked the Roxbury Motel in the Catskills for its pomo decorated rooms and hot tub onsite.

In the wintertime, for those who don't like skiing, there isn't much to do but sleep in, relax in the hot tub, drive around, drink, have dinner early, and watch TV. Not so bad. But I did get kind of bored after three days of that pattern.

It really felt like the middle of nowhere because we had to do so much driving to get places. I was relieved when we parked the car in Brooklyn and could walk to the grocery store again. I'm a very nervous driver/passenger generally, but I'm even more nervous in cars in the winter because of black ice fears and an incident in which I once had to abandon a car on the side of the road in a snowstorm when it was too slippery to drive. While my inner monologue constantly debates whether I would rather live in the city or the country, this trip helped me realize that if I move to the country, I must live within walking or biking distance of a happening town like New Paltz.

Also, we had a typical city slicker moment on the ride there. We went a back way, after picking up a car from my parents' house on route from the city. Thanks to a mislabeled road on google maps and a dearth of street signs, we found ourselves driving miles out of the way on one way roads with no cellphone service. I started panicking and worrying that we would keep turning around and trying different roads and run out of gas before we got anywhere. Luckily, the old-fashioned method of asking directions from the rare passing cars, plus some good intuition, put us where we needed to be. Sometimes our reliance on cell/iphones turns out to be not so helpful...

And what did the birthday boy get? Dinner at Peekamoose (Which I became obsessed with as soon as we walked in. A homey log cabin with twinkly christmas lights? An indoor swinging lounge chair? Antlers galore? Vintage salt and pepper shakers? Edible Hudson Valley to read while I sip my local beer? Grass-fed short rib sandwich? Yes please.) And a harpoon. Yes, a real harpoon that once killed whales was found in an antique store in Andes, prized for its craftsmanship, and is now standing in the kitchen.