Farro with Cranberries and Pecans

Farro with Cranberries and PecansSide Job
Truth be told, I am a Thanksgiving freeloader which means I do not usually host Thanksgiving. However, since food is my job, I have been thumbing through numerous magazines and cookbooks looking for interesting recipes for the big day and I have found a few that are intriguing enough that I gave them a try.

Most people are pretty traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving and are resistant to change, myself included. I have been known to pout like a child if certain things are missing. However, if the usual required dishes adorn the Thanksgiving table alongside a few new introductions I can be talked off the ledge. The bonus is sometimes you run across a recipe that works in everyday life and not just for special occasions. The recipe below falls into that category.

I have always loved the nutty flavor of farro. The fact that it is easy to prepare is a bonus. Farro is the perfect fall side dish. Whether it’s plain with a little butter or dressed up with garlic and onions it can be a welcome change from the usual when served beside your favorite roasted meats. In this case, the addition of cranberries and pecans just screams turkeys and pilgrims. Ergo, it would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving feast.

You don’t have to wait for Turkey Day, though. I made this the other night and served it alongside some pan-fried pork chops and it was delicious…

Farro with Cranberries and Pecans
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Yields 6 servings Read more…

Caramelized Butternut Squash

Caramelized Butternut SquashFall Flow
The changing of the seasons is always a weird time food-wise, especially for us here in California. The calendar may tell you that it is fall but the 90 degree weather says differently. And, the thought of a succulent fall roast from a warm oven is off-putting. On top of that, we are blessed to be able to get whatever produce we want year-round unlike other areas of the country where certain produce can only be found seasonally. This means that there is less seasonality to our cooking and the chances of a cooking rut or ingredient boredom are high. Whenever I feel like I am in a rut or need some inspiration I head to the farmer’s market. And, if I can’t get there I camp out in the produce section and try to find something that sparks my interest.

I can’t quite explain it. There’s something about standing in the middle of botanic abundance that makes my inner farmer happy. The same thing happens when I am picking anything from my own garden. It’s the thought process that starts when you have to consider how you are going to use the homegrown wealth in front of you. It is also the same feeling you get when presented with beautiful examples of farmed art piled high in a vast array of colors beneath the tents of people who love working their land.

It’s been a while since I have been able to get to my Sunday farmers market and it is making me kind of itchy. I have also been struggling with the daily “What’s For Dinner?” grind. So, I know I am overdue for a trip. I need the therapy you can only find while loading more fruits than necessary into your market basket. I also need the thrill of the first squash sightings and the hearty greens that go with them. For me, that first taste of an in-season butternut captures more of fall than any pumpkin latte ever could.

As I sit here and write this I am beyond thankful for a responsibility-free weekend. I can already feel my creative culinary juices flow while the anticipation of a “fruitful” Sunday morning buzzes through my body.

Caramelized Butternut Squash
Adapted from Ina Garden and The Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

Chewy Chocolate Brownies

Chewy Chocolate BrowniesBrownie Brain
Labor Day weekend is almost here…which is awesome because, Hey!, a three day weekend! Tradition suggests that I am supposed to be thinking about barbecue but truth be told, I’m kind of sick of grilling. With as hot as it has been lately, I haven’t even looked twice at my oven. Everything we’ve eaten in the past two weeks has been hot off the outdoor grill. Needless to say, I am finding it hard to get too excited about a barbecue for Labor Day.

That being said, I will be going to a barbecue on Sunday. The good news is the decision to figure out what to throw on the grill rests entirely on my sister’s shoulders. I have a feeling that I will be in charge of bringing something sweet to the party. And, for some reason lately, I have had brownies on the brain.

I can’t tell you how long it has been since I have made a batch of brownies. I love brownies and because of that love I just can’t have them lying around. I will simply end up eating them. Hence, I have not made them in over a year. As a general rule, I am a brownie purist but I am not above swirling in a little peanut butter before they go in the oven or even mixing some espresso into the batter. There are never any nuts in my brownies. Not because I don’t like nuts—but I just don’t want anything to interfere with my chocolate intake. And, no nuts means there is more room for chocolate in each bite.

Brownies, or chocolate anything really, are a great way to end a barbecue because chocolate just goes well with grilled meats. Even better, you can serve them with the ice cream of your choice on the top for a sundae. Or, take it a step further and use the brownies as the base for an ice cream cake!

Chewy Chocolate Brownies Read more…

Tomato Chile Melon Salad

Tomato Chile Melon SaladTomato Treasure
This is the time of year when tomatoes are at their best. And, if you are growing your own, chances are you have more than you can handle. For me, that was always the best part of gardening. There is nothing better than a homegrown tomato. Giving a portion of your bumper crop to someone who understands and appreciates that a homegrown tomato is worth its weight in gold is just as satisfying as eating one. In fact, I tended to over-plant just so I could give some away. Mainly to my mother who lived for a summer tomato sandwich.

Time constraints and squirrel invaders have prevented me from planting a tomato garden in recent years. So, I have become hopefully dependent upon the generosity of my tomato-growing friends and I am beyond grateful when they share.

Summer tomatoes make the best meals because they don’t require you to do anything with them. They are basically the perfect snack. The flavors are so good that to hide them under or in a heavy sauce or as an ingredient in a complex recipe is in my mind criminal. If you ask my husband, the best way to eat a summer tomato is to slice it up, sprinkle it with a bit of sea salt and eat it with a fork. That was how my grandmother liked to eat hers, too. But, she would also serve them sliced alongside some avocado wedges and sprinkled with a little bit of Italian dressing (and the occasional dollop of mayo). I think that is one of my favorite “salads” that I serve with grilled steaks. Having a variety of heirloom tomatoes sliced on a platter can be a very pretty yet simple side dish addition to any meal.

I think if I had to pick my favorite way to eat peak of season tomatoes, though, it would be sliced and set atop some creamy fresh burrata cheese that has been spread on a slice toasted baguette. Heaven! (Add a little prosciutto and you have the perfect picnic!) Which is probably why this Tomato Chile Melon Salad recipe appeals to me so much. It’s basically an appetizer platter in a bowl.

Tomato Chile Melon Salad
Yields 4 Servings Read more…

San Diego Livin’

San Diego Livin'Traveling the World…Series…Kinda
Ahhh, vacation. Nothing like getting away to unwind and relax, right? As you read this, I am enjoying all that is beautiful on the shores San Diego…sort of.

In actuality, I am probably sitting in a chair or in a bleacher seat with a cooler full of water watching my dudes play baseball in the World Series. This is what our family vacations have become. The funny part is that this is the second leg of our World Series tour. Our daughter had hers last week and I have to be honest, I prefer this week’s venue by the sea to the hot dusty fields of the Central Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the kids play—and certainly playing at this level. But, you have to have a sense of humor about the fact that you’ve traded a vacation week on the sand in Cabo for vacation sitting in the stands on the diamond.

The upside is that we get to explore San Diego which is a place where I have not spent much time (outside of a few random food shows over the years). Needless to say, I have researched where we want to go, what we want to see and, most importantly, where we or should I say I want to eat. That is really the first thing I look for when heading to a new destination. Where do you find the good eats? Where do the locals go, etc.?

Of course, it goes without saying that I will be on the hunt for the best Mexican food I can find. And let’s not forget the seafood. We will be on the ocean after all.

I plan to squeeze as much fun and relaxation out of the time we have down there as I can because the minute we get back? School is back in session.

For those of you who are also squeezing as much out of the summer as you can, here is a list of San Diego inspired recipes to help you out. Read more…