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…

Chicken and Buttermilk-Chive Dumplings

Chicken and Buttermilk-Chive DumplingsFalling Ill
Fall is here! You know how I know? I’ve already had two kids stay home from school sick. There is something about the transition from hot to cool that plays havoc with the immune system. Since our weather has been a bit non-committal with one week being chilly and the next week climbing back up to 90, it’s no wonder the two of them went down without much fight. And don’t get me started about flu season…

With the possibility of more colds to come, I bought a bunch of chickens and got to making stock. Perhaps it’s a myth, or an old wife’s tale, or even just plain witchcraft but something about chicken soup helps people recover from colds quicker. Really. I think they even did a study on it. Check Google.

While I love a good chicken noodle or, even better, a matzo ball soup, I almost always head in the direction of comfort food when I am not feeling well. My “older son” is the same way. (He’s a twin. He’s only older by a minute but to him, it’s an important minute.) Which is why I found myself making him some chicken and dumplings Saturday night to get some of the magical chicken qualities in him and to make him feel better. I like to tell myself it was just for him but I know better.

Anytime is a good time for chicken and dumplings and I haven’t made anything like this since last fall. I love chicken and dumplings but this is the same son who can finish an entire large pizza by himself and still want dessert so I made a big pot. It was marvelous but there were no leftovers. Sigh.

The good news is he was back in school the following Monday. Whether that was because of the soup or sheer boredom from being at home remains a mystery. I choose to believe it was the chicken stock. The recipe is below if you would like to try your own experiment….

Chicken and Buttermilk-Chive Dumplings
Adapted from Tyler Florence and the Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

Oktoberfest Sausage Stew

Oktoberfest Sausage StewOcto-beer-Fest
Oktoberfest is wrapping up over in Munich, but for those of us here on the other side of the pond the party is just beginning. Given the number of 19th-century German immigrants who came to our country, you would think that we would have a better idea as to the proper time to partake in Oktoberfest but Americans, it seems, have decided that October is the time.

For the next month, you will easily be able to find any number of Oktoberfest celebrations and Beer Gardens that will quench any thirst for a good quality ale—as well as tasty fare to go along with it. For the beer aficionados out there, October can be a little like Christmas. For others who drink a beer once every two years or so, like myself, Oktoberfest isn’t that big of a deal. If we’re talking about cooking with beer, that’s a different story. If that’s the case, I’m all in…

Here’s the thing. I don’t like the way beer tastes when you drink it by the pint or from a bottle BUT I do like the way it smells. (I know. It’s weird.) This is why I like to use beer when I cook. It adds the flavor of the beer without making the recipe taste like beer. The best example of this is a recipe for Beef Short Ribs Braised in Dark Beer with Bacon and Red Onion that is a fall staple in my family. Of course, in my opinion, you can’t make decent fish and chips without using beer in your batter. Same goes for chili and let’s not forget that the only proper way to eat a Bratwurst is to boil it in beer first.

So for my Oktoberfest, I am going to search out all of the beer recipes I can find to test them out starting with this recipe for Oktoberfest Sausage Stew…it sounds like the perfect meal for a cool-weather dinner.

Oktoberfest Sausage Stew 
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine
Yields 6 Servings

This recipe is based on a traditional Hungarian sausage, tomato and bell pepper stew called lecsó (LEH-tcho). The beer adds a rich, dark flavor. 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…

Moroccan Caramelized Carrots

Moroccan Caramelized CarrotsSpring Break
This week is spring break. So, I have kind of taken the week off. The plans we had to go out of town fell through for a number of reasons so now we are enjoying a stay-cation at home. The problem with that is there is no lounging poolside in the sun while some wonderful individual continuously brings you beverages with umbrellas in them. Alas, what really happens is you catch up on the laundry you’ve been ignoring for weeks and you find little projects around the house to keep you busy.

One such project for me was reorganizing my cookbook library. I have to do this every few years for two main reasons. First, I am not always great about putting the books back in the same spot when I am finished with them. And, second, and most importantly, because I am constantly adding and subtracting from my collection. Eventually, I need to reorganize to make room. After I had pulled the 250+ books out of the shelves I took a picture of my collection and posted it on Facebook just to see what the reaction would be.

The people who know me well weren’t surprised at all by the giant piles but what I found most interesting were the friends who suggested I just use the internet to find recipes and other inspiration. While I do use websites to look for ideas as well as ingredients, there is no way that the internet would ever be a decent replacement for my cookbooks because it’s not just about convenience and millions of options at my fingertips. My cookbooks are more than just the recipes they contain. There are masterpieces from the giants of culinary tradition like Escoffier, Child, Rombauer, and Beard. Some of them are family heirlooms that hold the family’s history and traditions on dog-eared pages. Still, others tell the story of a new skill or technique learned between food stained chapters. And then there are the books that recount the journeys and exotic foods of far off lands and encourage the dreams of flavors yet to be experienced firsthand.

Nope. You will never convince me to get rid of my cookbooks. And, if the price I pay for that is the need to do a little spring cleaning from time to time, so be it. It also means I revisit some of my old favorites that haven’t been in my dinner circulation recently like this recipe for Caramelized Carrots.

I haven’t pulled my Moroccan cookbooks off the shelf in a while but my project gave me a craving. I made grilled halibut with fresh chermoula and these carrots on the side. Everyone cleared their plate…

Moroccan Caramelized Carrots
Adapted from Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Morse
Yields 4 Servings Read more…