Thursday, December 30, 2010

Falling in Love with Farro

Part of our Christmas bounty was a basket of hand-picked food gifts from Dan and Renae, stuff they know we’d like to try, if only we could find them! One goodie was a bag of farro and I think I’m in love.

Frankly, I’ve read about farro and the healthy me said, “You really ought to get some ‘whole-grain goodness’ into you.” Then the practical me, in an all-too-rare appearance, said, “But you’d end up eating in all yourself and too much of a good thing is still bad for you.”

So while the spirit was kind of willing, it wasn’t until I had a bag in my pantry that I did something about the urge. Renae provided a recipe from Giada for a farro salad, so yesterday morning, I started the process by cooking the grain and then letting it mellow in the vinaigrette overnight and taste-tested today. A definite hit. I sampled the farro just freshly cooked and I liked it –- nice and chewy, a liitle nutty, a little bit sweet, not overly grainy, as I’d feared. I can see myself eating this warm tossed with some veggies. But the salad! Oooh! After marinating with herbs and tomatoes and the dressing, it had a new life.

If farro is as new to you as me, it’s the Italian name for emmer wheat, and is becoming more available lately, and more popular like a lot of whole grains. If my novice outing with farro is a clue, I’ll be trying a lot more whole grains. Quinoa, anyone?

With the addition of my new Kumato, I was in food explorer heaven yesterday. The kumato was an excellent addition to the salad, but I think I’d rather have eaten it all by itself, sans salad; it was that good.

Farro Salad
From Giada DeLaurentiis

1-1/2 cups farro
2 1/4teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (or Kumatoes!)
½ medium onion, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh chives
¼ cup flat leaf Italian parsley

Put farro in medium saucepan with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until tender (about 20 minutes). Add 2 teaspoons salt and simmer 10 minutes longer. Drain and let cool.

In a medium bowl, mash garlic with salt. Whisk in vinegar, then pepper, then oil. Combine farro with tomatoes, onions and herbs. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat. Taste and season again (or not!) with salt and pepper.

Can be made one day ahead and refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiter! There's a Kumato in My Salad!

It's delicious!  It's beautiful!  It is engineered, but when you're hungry for something that's fresh and juicy after all the holiday indulgence (and it's not over yet!) this new kind of tomato called the Kumato more than fits the bill.
My sister brought me one of these mahogany colored gems she bought at Wegman's the other day and I posted the question  here "What kind of tomato is this?" My first comment came bright and early from Wegman's, the store where she bought it. I have only been in a Wegman's a couple times but each time I'm like a kid in a candy store -- so many new and different things to me. And my eyes get bigger than my stomach (and my shopping cart) and I get more than was on my list (which doesn't happen if my husband is along for the ride.)
It has a harder, stronger skin than our usual tomatoes, which means it has a longer shelf life.  (The official Kumato website says they will keep uncut on your counter for up to two weeks.  But do refrigerate them once they're cut.)  They're predominantly available in European countries but are becoming more readily available in the United States as well, especially in more metropolitan areas.
Guess I'll be making more trips to Erie to Wegman's, with a cooler, and without you-know-who.
Tomorrow?  The Kumato in my farro salad.
Kumato product shot

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Kind of Tomato Is This?

I need to get out more.  My sister brought me this tomato the other day.  Couldn't resist holding it out in her hand and asking "Do you know what this is?"  Well, I didn't, of course, but it looked like a tomato.  "What kind of tomato is this?" I ask.
"Dunno," she responds.  "Just thought you'd like it."
She's lucky -- lives only 30 minutes from a Wegman's, which is the premier supermarket around here.  In the boonies, where I live, I couldn't even get fresh Brussels sprouts when I wanted them. 
I'll look this up later -- and I'll eat it, too; I'm dying to know what it tastes like. In the meantime, maybe you know -- What kind of tomato is this?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holy Moly! It's Christmas Cannelloni!

The centerpiece of our family Christmas dinner was my all-time favorite Italian dish: cannelloni. Everybody but the littlest kids liked it, but I wanted them all to eat more, longer, because it took a little more than 30 minutes to get it together! The time consuming part was making the crepes. I guess I could have bought dried manicotti shells, but it wouldn’t have been as special. And it had to be special of course . . . it’s Christmas! (And I’ve been so occupied cooking and all, I haven’t made the time to keep up the blog. Ironic, huh?)

The crepe making (as opposed to crepe hanging) really was a fun job, with a little help from some Christmas music cranked up. The first crepe is always a mess – it’s just for practice as Julia says. And once you get the heat just right and your rhythm going, you’re a one-man assembly line. Ethel without Lucy maybe. If you’re interested in making the crepes, go here. Otherwise, just buy the shells. But I have to warn you, they won’t be as good. The crepes are rich and tender and the perfect envelope for the ground beef, chicken liver and spinach ensemble. And the two different colored, and flavored, sauces were just the right finish. A little extra cheese, a little extra butter for browning and the dish is complete. Very Christmassy.

The beauty of the whole dish was, for me, that it could all be done ahead of time, no last minute fussing to get everything to the table, which meant more time for visiting. A good swap of time. And spending time with family is the best part of Christmas. The food comes second.

Adapted from Three Rivers Cookbook #1
From the Child Health Association of Sewickley (PA)
Submitted by Mrs. Edward A. Montgomery, Jr.
Makes 36 cannelloni. Serves 12-16

For Filling:
2-10 ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds ground chuck
6 chicken livers
¼ c grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons heavy cream
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil

For Béchamel Sauce:
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (or three or four scrapes of a fresh nutmeg)

For Tomato Sauce:
4-15 ounce cans plain tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano

For topping before baking:
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350. Butter (or spray) two 13 x 9 pans, preferably glass.

Heat oil in a large skillet and cook onion and garlic over moderate heat for 7 – 8 minutes, until soft, not browned. Add spinach and cook for another five minutes. When all of the mixture is gone, transfer to a large bowl.

Melt half the butter in the pan and add the chuck, browning lightly and stirring constantly to break up the meat. Add to bowl. Melt the rest of the butter and add the chicken livers to the pan and cook until lightly browned outside and pink inside. Chop the livers coarsely and add to the bowl. Add Parmesan, cream, eggs and herbs and stir all together until thoroughly blended.

Place about 2 tablespoons filling down the middle of a crepe, fold the edges over the middle and place seam side down in prepared casserole.

For Béchamel sauce: Melt the butter over moderate heat, add the flour, then slowly add the milk and cream. Whisk it together and bring it to a low boil, then turn down to a simmer until sauce coats the wires of the whisk.

For Tomato Sauce: Mix the herbs into the plan sauce. Or just use jarred spaghetti sauce, with very little or mild seasoning.

To assemble: Pour the Béchamel sauce evenly over the filled crepes. Then distribute the tomato sauce evenly over all, too. Sprinkle with Parmesan, and dot with butter. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes. Slide under the broiler, if you want, for a few minutes to brown the top.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bacon- Wrapped Jalapeno "Thingies": One Easy, Peasy Appetizer

Only three ingredients in these dandy little appetizer treats. How hard can that be? Not very. Zero. Nada. Unless you’re counting cleaning the jalapeno peppers. That does take a little time and patience. And if you’re sensitive, do be sure to wear gloves or you’ll be wondering why your lips are so tingly after you touched them, even after a good hand-washing. I have a nervous habit of rubbing my mouth in my worry/think mode and my lips sure were a-tingling after cleaning these babies!

The creaminess of the soft cheese balances the crispness (and mild heat) of the pepper and the salt of the bacon (what doesn’t bacon perk right up?) for a delightful tumble of flavors in your mouth. And all from three ingredients! I was tempted to complicate this and add some crunch to the cheese (celery? onion? herb?) but there’s no reason. They’re simple. They’re delicious. Try ‘em.

I made these a few weeks ago to take to a party and they were gobbled up, just like Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, said they would. The event was a birthday party for a good friend and as I was putting the last toothpick in the last jalapeno, I remembered that Anna doesn’t like hot things! At the party, she asked if they were really hot and everyone said, “Not very.” So she gamely tried one and immediately ran to the sink and chugged some ice water and fanned her mouth. So if you try these, you’ve been warned. Unless you take out all the seeds, and all the ribs, they’re going to have some heat – too much for some.

I’m thinking New Year’s Eve for my next batch!

Bacon Wrapped Thingies
From The Pioneer Woman

20 (or so) whole fresh jalapeno peppers, each 2-3 inches
2 8-ounce bricks cream cheese, softened
1 pound thin sliced bacon, cut into thirds

Prepare the peppers -- Wear gloves if you have them. Cut the peppers in half, lengthwise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and the ribs. (The seeds and the white membrane of the ribs are where the heat is; so if want more or less heat, remove these parts as much or as little as you like.)

Fill the pepper halves with the softened cream cheese. Wrap a third of a slice of bacon around each half and secure with toothpicks. (You can freeze the peppers at this point, uncooked.)

Bake on a pan with a rack in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Check them to make sure the bacon doesn’t shrink too much, letting the cream cheese ooze out. The peppers should still have a little firmness to them. If you want the bacon to brown a bit, turn on the broiler for a minute or two to finish them.

They’re great served immediately or at room temperature.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tater Tots Grow Up

As a kid, I loved tater tots. One of my jobs, as a 10 year old, was to make dinner. Mom worked all day as a schoolteacher, then after school would go to my father’s pharmacy and do the bookkeeping in those prehistoric days before computers. So by the time everyone was gathered home for dinner, it was late, she was pooped, and I loved to be put in charge of the family’s dinner.

Mom gave me my assignment and went to relax a little. My repertoire was pretty slim at that age and tater tots were on the short list. Dinner was a broiled meat (we often had flank steak), a vegetable (frozen, from a bag), and some kind of starch (frozen French fries or tater tots, sometimes Rice-a-Roni, "that San Francisco treat.")

Now that I’m (very) grown up, my repertoire has expanded but my early lessons in balanced meal planning stuck. But these days, to try and keep my waistline from expanding along with my cooking repertoire, I don’t cook potatoes as often and look for low-carb alternatives.

Suzanne Somers’s Caulifower Tater Tots are one way to do that. Remember Suzanne Somers? The ditzy blond on the old TV sitcom “Three’s Company”? She’s become something of an institution – selling all kinds of health, food and beauty products both on Home Shopping Network and on her own site, and is outspoken about hormone replacement, breast cancer, and carcinogens.

One of her brainstorms was to create tater tots from pureed cauliflower. I’ve often pureed cauliflower and passed them off as mashed potatoes, despite the sidelong looks from my husband. But I’d never tried the tater tots till the other day, even though the well-worn index card I’d dashed down the recipe on would make it seem otherwise. (In how many different ways can I keep recipes! Index cards, magazine and newspaper clippings, scribbled bits of paper, internet pages. I thought my computer was going to help keep me organized, not add to the mess!)

But one day last week, I tried them and I really liked them. (My husband, the ultimate judge, wasn’t around; I froze the rest.) They were surprisingly good, although the texture I got was not as stiff as I would have liked. Perhaps there was too much water in the cauliflower, or too much pureeing. And next time, I’ll add some chopped onion. But they were still pretty good. And my grown up condiment, instead of ketchup? Roasted red pepper salsa.

Cauliflower Tater Tots
from Suzanne Somers

1 pound cauliflower florets
2 T water
4 T butter
2 large egg yolks
1 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cauliflower and water in 2 quart casserole. Cover and cook in microwave -- 8 to 10 minutes until very soft. Drain and place in food processor. Add butter, egg yolks and cheese. Process until smooth. Put in plastic bag and cut corner to make tip for piping into 1 inch lengths on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until browned.