Thursday, December 30, 2010

Creamy Tomato Basil Farro Risotto

It was dark outside, 5 o'clock, and I stood at the stove making a tomato farro risotto. I added the extra-virgin olive oil in the hot pot, and the chopped 1/2 white onion. I stirred it and peeled the garlic cloves. On my IPod, propped on the kitchen counter and a JBL speaker system, Frances Mayes read from her book "Everyday in Tuscany", an audiobook I have been listening to for a few days now whenever I do something in the kitchen. The onions were still white, nevertheless I grated the small garlic cloves into the pot and stirred, wondering if I added them too early and they would burn before the onions were translucent. Frances Mayes ".....even that I added the cold olive oil, the garlic browned so fast that I sometimes have to start again." I smiled. I added the measured farro into the pot with the onions and garlic and oil and stirred to toast it. Frances Mayes ".... I added the farro to the onions, and garlic and carrots and parseley and it would have all afternoon for the flavors to come together in the salad". I smiled again, feeling slightly eerie.  Frances went on to describe the building of her new pizza oven in the garden and the pizzas they made, 30 pizzas for friends at a garden party. And I finished making the creamy tomato basil risotto. I almost felt like being there, in the garden in Tuscany.

Makes 1-2 servings:
1/4 cup farro
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion
1-2 large garlic cloves, grated (microplaned!)
1/4 cup white wine (red would be good, too!)
1/2 can no-salt added tomatoes (I like the Wholefoods brand)
handful of cherry tomatoes (or 1-2 roma tomatoes)
1/2 cup of un-flavored almond milk
1 ts Rapunzel vegetable bouillon
handful fresh or frozen basil

Pour the canned and fresh tomatoes and the almond milk in a food processor, and puree. Add it to a microwave safe container, and heat on high for 2min. Add the bouillon to it, and stir.

In a pot, add the olive oil, heat and add the chopped onion. Stir and heat through until they are translucent. Now, add the grated garlic, and stir gently. Cook until fragrant but the garlic is still on the white side (it gets bitter once it turns dark). Now, add the farro, and toast for 1-2 min, stir continuously. Add the white wine, stir, and simmer until all the wine is evaporated. Add 1/4 cup of the tomato mix at a time, and also add the basil  at this point (*). Slowly simmer on medium-low for 25 min (altogether), adding regularly 1/4 cup of tomato liquid at a time, and  simmer, until the farros is cooked and creamy, and the risotto thick (you might not need all the liquid). If non-vegan, grate in some parmesan cheese, if vegan just serve with some black pepper!

(*)Note: Typically, I grow a bunch of basil in the summer, often more than I can use. A good trick to preserve it is to cut the leaves off the stems, chiffonade the (roll 5-6 leaves like a cigar, and finely slice), and put it into ice cube containers. Basically you stuff the ice cube compartments with sliced basil. Add some water to each compartment so that it is filled, and freeze the tray. Once frozen you can store the individual basil cubes in a ziplock back in the freezer. --- It makes for a great addition to pasta sauces in the winter without needing to live in Florida or pay an arm and a leg for it.

Insalata Di Farro (by Frances Mayes)
Farro Salad
Farro is sometimes translated as spelt but is actually its own distinctive grain. Tuscans love it with chickpeas in a rousing winter soup. In summer, faro salad is an inspired choice for lunches because it is easy, abundant, and tasty. Leftover faro salad keeps in the fridge for 3 or 4 days and is handy for wraps or to serve in radicchio leaves on an antipasto platter. Serves 10

2 cups faro
4 tomatoes, chopped, or ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
2 or 3 ribs celery, chopped
½ cup green olives, cut in half if they’re large
2 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ to ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup basil leaves, torn
1 cup parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Follow the directions on the package of faro. Usually it cooks in less than 2 hours. While the faro is cooking, mix the other ingredients together. Drain the faro and add it to the vegetable mixture, correct the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.

And then there was skiing, and lots of it..

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Farrotto? (Farro Risotto)

Giada di Laurentiis was cooking a risotto with farro the other day on Giada At Home. I was enticed. Farro is a ancient grain and looks like wheatberries. It has a nutty flavor, and it works really well in salads. 

Her farro risotto is prepared like a regular risotto, and at the end she added sultanas, pine nuts, feta cheese and parseley. For me it ended with the sultanas, because I dislike anything raisins. So, I rolled with the base idea and turned it into a mushroom farro risotto, adding mini portabella mushrooms, dried porcini and some pecorino. It was very flavorful and creamy, and I must say I almost like it better than the arborio rice version because the nutty flavor and creamy texture of the farro went perfectly well with the mushrooms.

(makes 2 servings)

1/2 cup dried farro (available on or
1 TB olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt, pepper
1 cup portabello button mushroom, chopped
1-2 oz dried porcini
3 cups of beef bouillon, heated
pecorino (or parmesan cheese)

Heat the beef stock, and add the porcini mushroom to rehydrate for 5 min. Remove and chop.

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and add the shallot, and saute for 1-2 min. Add garlic and saute for another 1 min. Add the farro and 'toast' it in the oil, shallot and garlic mix for ca 1-2 min. Add the white wine, stir and cook down the wine until almost evaporated (all on medium heat). 

Now, add all the mushrooms and porcini and 1/4 cup of the beef stock, and stir and slowly cook down the liquid. Once the risotto become dry, add another 1/4 cup of beef stock. Repeat until the farro is softened, about 25-30min. Always check, and stir, and add more liquid (you might need more or less than the 3 cups, but make sure to add hot broth). Once the farro is soft and creamy, take it off the heat, and grate in a few tablespoon of pecorino and stir. Serve!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mediterranean Cauliflower

Flipping through food magazine at Borders, I came across a recipe that inspired me: an unusual combination -- anchovies and cauliflower?! But since I like both cauliflower and anchovies, chili flakes and olives, I decided to try it out together, it also looked pretty good in Jamie Oliver's christmas magazine. Taste test:  fabulous!

1/2 head organic cauliflower (or a bag of frozen cauliflower)
1/2 TB extra-virgin olive oil
1 ts chili flakes
3-4 anchovy fillets in oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt, pepper to taste

green olives, halved
cherry tomatoes

Clean the cauliflower, and cut into rosettes. In a large pot, bring about 1 quart of water to boil, and place the cauliflower florets in a steamer inset on top of the boiling water so that it does not touch the water, but is cooked only by the steam. Cover with a lid. (You can also cook it in water, but it will leech more vitamins). Steam for about 10-15min. 

In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil, and add the anchovy fillets. They will heat and melt into the olive oil. Now, add garlic, olives and chili flakes and brown garlic a little bit (be careful to not overcook it because it will get bitter). Now add the cauliflower, mix well and heat through. Serve! 

This can be a light lunch with a slice of bread or a savory side dish.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cauliflower Curry

When I asked myself what I wanted to eat for Christmas Eve, I had a clear idea: cauliflower curry. A lot of cauliflower, some coconut milk and the curry spice part. Light, yet festive. 

1 bag of frozen cauliflower (or a half head, fresh, cut into florets)
1 ts grapeseed oil
1/2 ts black mustard seeds
1/2 ts cumin seeds
3-4 curry leaves
1/2 can light coonut milk
1 ts chili flakes
2 garlic cloves
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 ts red Thai curry paste

In a large skillet, heat the grapeseed oil and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, and wait until the mustard seeds start to pop like popcorn (in hot oil, ca. 30 sec.). Stir, and heat for ca 15 sec, and then add the cauliflower and the coconut milk. Mix well, and cover with a lid. Simmer on very low heat for ca 30 min, until the cauliflower gets cooked through and slightly mushy. Makes sure the liquid does not evaporated (therefore, simmering on REALLY LOW), or add a bit of water. Once cooked, add in the Thai curry paste and mix well. Serve with some blanched almonds.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Vegan Kale Alfredo with Spaghetti and Cherry Tomatoes

Today, I turned the proportion around from yesternight's alfredo dish: lots of kale, a few spaghetti, a bit of leftover vegan alfredo sauce and some cherry tomatoes. Very good!

3-4 large leaves of organic kale, stems removed and sliced into strips
2-3 TB of white wine
1 garlic clove, minced using a microplane
salt, pepper to taste
1 oz of leftover cooked spaghetti
handful cherry tomatoes, halved

Heat a large skillet, and add the kale, and the white wine, and let it wilt down for 2-3 min (I like to keep kale on the raw side to preserve the enzymes, etc.). Add salt and pepper, and the garlic clove. Stir well, and cook for another min. A spaghetti and cherry tomatoes, and cook another 2-3 min until heated throw. Add the alfredo sauce, and saute for 30sec to 1 min. Serve!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Vegan Spaghetti Alfredo with Porcini Mushroom, Kale and Sundried Tomatoes

A few days ago I accidentally caught a new show on Cooking Channel -- The Veg Edge. Not sure it is a new show, or was just a one-time broadcast. Nevertheless, all our favorite vegan youngster chefs were featured. From Post Punk Kitchen to the adorable Chef Chloe from LA. Her recipe for vegan fettucini alfredo looked interesting enough to give a vegan 'cheese sauce' a first try (I just cannot stand anything that has nutritional yeast in it!) Result? Love it! It is rich, and quite filling if you give it some time to sit in your belly. 

I made some changes to the original recipe (spaghetti instead of fettucini, and dried porcini instead of fresh shitake, and only half the ingredients, tossed the spaghetti with only half of the already halved sauce).  -- Makes 2 servings.

Spaghetti Alfredo (serves 2)

4 oz spaghetti 
1/2 TB olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 leaves of curly kale stems removed and chopped  
3 oz dried porcini mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced, and reconsistuted in hot water
4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
Almond Alfredo Sauce (see below)

1/2 cup raw blanched almonds
1 cup water
1/2 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 small-medium sized loves garlic, minced  
1 teaspoon mellow white miso paste

Make alfredo sauce first:
In a skillet, saute the chopped onion with oil, salt, and pepper until soft and translucent (not brown). Add the chopped garlic and let cook a few more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Add the almonds and 1 cup of water as well as the miso paste. Heat gently and just 1-2 min until the miso is dissolved. Cool.
Blend the mix in a blender (vitamix is best, no need for straining). If using a blender,  strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth set over a bowl or use a fine mesh sieve. Discard the solids. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Before use, heat the sauce over a very low flame until hot.

Cook the pasta according to instructions. In a large skillet, saute reconstituted porcini in olive oil over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper and cook until they are  lightly browned. Blanch the kale in boiling water for 15 seconds, drain and shock the kale in icewater so that it stays bright green.Toss the cooked pasta with the mushrooms, kale, sun-dried tomatoes, and almond alfredo sauce. Enjoy!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Free Vegetables

WeightWatchers overhauled its Points system. I am personally not familiar with the WW system, I roughly know that in the older system 1 point is about 50kcal. Eaten however you want it. Now, points are distributed differently. 

"The new plan, company officials say, is based on scientific findings about how the body processes different foods. The biggest change: All fruits and most vegetables are point-free (or free of PointsPlus, as the new program is called). Processed foods, meanwhile, generally have higher point values, which roughly translates to: should be eaten less" (source: NYT article)

So, Weight Watchers goes clean eating...
What will the Twinkie professor say about that?

Cheesecake Factory's Vegetable Salad

Do you copy-cat the food of your favorite restaurants? For me, salads have always been a major inspiration. This is a salad I love to eat in The Cheesecake Factory: Fresh vegetable salad. Since all portions at the CCF are ginormous, it is listed under the appetizer salads, and believe me, it is a full-meal salad. It consists of a large portion of equally sized cubed vegetables: apples, celery, cucumber, asparagus, green beans, roasted beets, edamame, and white cheddar and all on a bed of radicchio and romaine, and a pomegranate vinaigrette. I had it at different locations all over the US, and mostly the salad is more seasonal combination. Today, I felt like replicating it. Here is my version.

2 handfuls of fresh arugula
1/3 apple, peeled and diced
1/4 cup chickpeas
3-4 radishes, cubed
1 stalk celery, washed, cut lengthwise into 4 long strips, and then diced
1/3 English cucumber, peeled, diced
2 TB crumbled blue cheese (I like the crumbled Gorgonzola from Trader Joes)
salt, pepper

Arrange the arugula as a bed in the salad bowl. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Mix all other ingredients in a separate bowl, and layer on the salad bed. Serve!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Brussels Sprouts Salald ?

I really like brussels sprouts. Sauteed. Roasted. But I never saw them as a salad vegetable. Giada di Laurentiis changed my mind. The combination is a winner -- arugula and shortly blanched outer leaves of brussels sprouts with a balsamic vinaigrette (add in some apple, radicchio and blue cheese). It helps to still have an abundance of fresh brussels sprouts from the weekend.

Criminal Soup?

Yesterday, not feeling up to par because of a lingering head cold, I was browsing the grocery isle and a (to me) new Campbell's soup struck my fancy: chicken wonton soup! What can be better than chicken noodle soup when you feel sick, and you don't even have to cook it yourself?

So, I bought a can. I heated it, diluted it with 1 can of water, and that was dinner. Until I read the label: this soup contains 870mg of sodium for a half can! So, if you eat this entire can, you have consumed 87% of your daily sodium intake. In one can. Now, that is truly criminal.