Weekly Winner:  Addicted to Amazing Asparagus … and apparently farro too

The asparagus this season has been amazing. I find I simply can’t not buy it.  I’m grilling it, roasting it, sautéing it and adding it to anything I can think of.  Also, if you peruse past entries, it appears I have quite the culinary crush on farro.  I find it so much more interesting than rice, quinoa or barley. So, when a hearty salad combines those two things and adds nuts and cheese (which is always a bonus in my book) I knew I’d love it. And I did. This is one of those salads I could easily and happily eat once a week.

The only problem is that I’m at a loss as to where I found this winner of a recipe. Various internet searches have come up empty.  All I know is that it was a magazine.  The good news is I cut it out so I have it forever and am sharing it with you so we can all make it whenever we want —  even if I can’t give appropriate credit.  

Toasted Farro & Asparagus Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 lb thin asparagus

6 Tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed

1-1/2 cups pearled farro

Kosher salt

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste

Grated zest of 1 lemon

3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup pistachios, finely chopped

3 oz feta, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh tarragon

Procedure:

  1. Snap off the tough bottom of each asparagus spear and discard.  Gather the spears into a bundle, cut off the tips, and cut the spears into 1/4-inch coins.
  2. In a wide saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the farro and stir to coat the grains evenly.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt and enough water to cover the farro by at least 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the farro is al dente, about 25 minutes.  Drain.
  3. While the farro is cooking, in a large skillet heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil, the butter, and the red pepper flakes over medium-high heat, stirring a few times so the pepper flakes evenly toast, just a couple of minutes.  Working in batches in needed, add the asparagus tips and sauté for about a minute, then add the asparagus coins and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tips and coins are bright green and crisp-tender, a minute or two more.
  4. Add the drained farro to the asparagus. Add the lemon zest and juice and 2 tbsp of the olive oil, tossing well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add up to another Tbsp of olive oil if you’d like. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then add the pistachios, feta and tarragon and toss again.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Weekly Winner – Crushing on Cashew Chicken Kebabs

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a good peanut sauce (heck, I’ll eat a bad peanut sauce!). In my mind, the only thing that can make peanut sauce better is if you use cashews instead.  And seriously, how fun are kebabs???  So, put the two together and you know you’ve got yourself a winner.  Combine all that goodness with a fresh, crisp, cold veggie and rice noodle salad and you quite possibly have the perfect summer dinner.

Cashew-Chicken Kebabs comes from Martha Stewart Living magazine and is super easy and if you can convince someone (aka your husband) to grill the kebabs, it doesn’t even heat up the kitchen.  The only change I made was to julienne the carrots and cucumber rather than serve them in long, wide ribbons.  I thought the julienne shape matched better with the rice noodles.  (Sorry Martha!)

Cashew-Chicken Kebabs

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups unsalted roasted cashews,plus more, chopped, for serving

3 to 4 Tbsp red curry paste (depending on desired heat)

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (1-1/4 pounds, total)

8 oz vermicelli rice noodles, broken in half

1 English cucumber

2 large carrots, peeled

Safflower oil, for brushing

1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce

Lime wedges, for serving

Procedure:

  1. Soak eight 8-inch skewers in water 15 minutes.  In a food processor, pulse cashews with curry paste and 3/4 cup water until smooth. Combine 1 cup cashew mixture with 1/3 cup water.  Toss chicken with remaining mixture; lightly season with salt.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook noodles until just tender, about 2 minutes; drain.  Rinse with cold water and drain well.
  2. With a vegetable peeler or mandolins, shave cucumber and carrots into wide, paper-thin ribbons.  Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high; lightly brush with oil.  Thread chicken onto skewers; grill, in batches if needed, 6 to 8 minutes per side, transferring to a plate as done. Serve, with noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, cashew sauce, chopped cashews and lime wedges.

Weekly Winner: Craving the Creature Comforts of Carbonara with a side of smoke

Yeah, I know.  It appears I’ve taken a leave of absence. It has been a busy beginning of the summer and now that I can sit back and take a breath, I’ll get you up to date on some of the tastiness that’s happened around here.

Awhile back my best friend came for a visit.  This is always cause for celebration and usually quite a bit of decadent eating and drinking.  While all of that happened, I also had a party to cater so most of the eating and drinking took place at restaurants and bars, with the exception of this dinner. Smoked Gouda Carbonara.  O. M. G.  This is amazing.  I mean downright luxurious and definitely decadent.  But how often down your BFF (who, by the way is Italian) come to visit?  Time to bust the diet, open a bottle of wine and enjoy.

The recipe comes from Food & Wine Magazine and like all good carbonaras has a minimal amount of ingredients.  The only tweak with this one is using smoked Gouda in place of the Parmesan.  The smoked Gouda emphasizes the smokiness of the bacon without becoming overwhelming.  It is just different enough to be sublime.  

Smoked Gouda Carbonara

Serves 6 [not in this house, but that’s what the recipe says]

Ingredients:

1 lb. spaghetti

5 large egg yolks

1 large egg

1 cup (4 oz) finely shredded smoked Gouda, plus more for serving

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 Tbsp olive oil

6 oz slab bacon, finely diced

3/4 tsp crushed red pepper

Procedure:

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the whole egg, the 1 cup of Gouda, 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of black pepper.  Very gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water to temper the eggs.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until rendered but not crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the pasta, crushed red pepper and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water.  Cook, tossing until the pasta is coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape the pasta mixture into the large bowl and toss vigorously until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes; add more cooking water if needed.  Season with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta into bowls and serve, passing more Gouda at the table.

Weekly Winner:  Seriously Spiced Steak and One Crazy Korean Pasta Salad

You can’t go wrong putting a marinated flank steak on the grill, right?  I mean, you can pretty much marinate it in anything, throw it on a hot grill and you’re going to have a great meal (and hopefully leftovers afterward).  And pasta salad is a very common accompaniment to anything on the grill.  It’s a barbecue staple.  This pasta salad, however is the craziest version I’ve ever put together. There were things in this salad that I never could have imagined putting together in any kind of dish.  I mean, squash, pineapple, and …. peas???  With mayonnaise?  But you know what?  It worked!

Gochujang Flank Steak and Korean Pasta Salad is not for people with timid taste buds.  The steak has some nice subtle heat, but the pasta salad is very spicy. That’s where the pineapple and mayonnaise really works their magic to help cool down the fire in your mouth. But its an addictive heat and can be mitigated by using less gochujang (which I actually might do next time).

The recipe comes from Food & Wine, and if you really want to shake up your next cookout and spice things up a bit, this is your recipe. The recipe calls for cooking the flank steak in a skillet on the stove. That seems sacrilegious to me.  Fire up the grill and let that thing rip!

Gochujang Flank Steak and Korean Pasta Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

STEAK:

6 Tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)

3 Tbsp mirin

1 Tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

4 garlic cloves

1 Tbsp chopped peeled fresh ginger

1 2-lb flank steak

1 Tbsp canola oil

PASTA SALAD:

1 lb fusilli

1 cup mayonnaise

3 Tbsp gochujang

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise

1 medium yellow squash, halved lengthwise

1 8-inch long slice of pineapple (from 1 peeled, quartered and cored whole pineapple)

1 Tbsp canola oil

1 cup thawed frozen peas

3 scallions, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

Procedure:

  1. Make the Steak – In a blender, puree the gochujang with the mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger until smooth.  Put the flank steak in a large resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours.  Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking.
  2. Meanwhile, make the Pasta Salad –In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the fusilli until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cold water until cool; drain well.  In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the gochujang and lime juice until smooth.  Fold in the fusilli.
  3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet.  Lightly brush the zucchini, squash and pineapple with 1 tablespoon of the oil and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until charred and tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and let cool.  Cut the vegetables and fruit into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the pasta.  Fold in the peas and scallions and season with salt.
  4. Grill the Steak – Remove the steak from the marinade, letting the excess drip off, and grill over a moderately high heat, turning once until desired degree of doneness
  5. Transfer the steak to a work surface and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice steak and serve with the pasta salad.

Weekly Winner:  Move over Miso — it’s Tahini’s turn

I always think its funny how certain ingredients are suddenly hip.  You can’t flip through a food magazine or watch a cooking show without seeing four or five references to them.  Turmeric, Sumac, Pomegranate Molasses, and most recently miso have been everywhere and in everything.  It’s not that these ingredients are new or novel, but for some reason, all of a sudden they’ll be rediscovered and flaunted on and in everything.  Now, the latest ingredient to get a new manager and hit the road in shameless self-promotion is….tahini.

Tahini-Marinated Chicken Thighs with Cucumber and Tomato Salad is an excellent use of tahini.  It really doesn’t make the chicken taste like sesame, but ensures that it remains incredibly moist. Also, much like yogurt, it helps make really nice, impressive char marks on the chicken when grilled.  While the recipe calls for the leftover marinade to be used as a sauce for the chicken (and is quite tasty as such) I think next time I might mix it into the rice to make it a bit creamier and more interesting.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and is also a nice introduction to the warmer weather we’re finally having in Chicago.  The chicken gets grilled outside and a tomato and cucumber salad just always screams “summer” to me. Hurry up and make this recipe before tahini become “so last month”!!

Tahini-Marinated Chicken Thighs with Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

CHICKEN:

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste), well stirred

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1 small shallot, finely grated

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lb.)

Cooking spray

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

SALAD:

1 1/2 cups chopped cucumber

1 1/2 cups chopped tomato

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups hot cooked brown rice

Procedure:

To prepare chicken, combine first 10 ingredients in a bowl. Place 1/4 cup tahini mixture in a small bowl; reserve. Place remaining tahini mixture and chicken in a large ziplock plastic bag; seal, turning to coat chicken. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat grill to medium (350°F to 450°F). Coat grill grate with cooking spray. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken with salt. Arrange chicken on grill grate; cover and cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Arrange chicken on a platter; drizzle with reserved 1/4 cup tahini mixture.

To prepare the salad, combine cucumber and next 6 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt) in a bowl; toss gently to combine. Serve cucumber salad with chicken and rice.

Weekly Winner:  Conquering Coconut Curry Chicken

Here’s a weird thing about me:  I despise coconut. Flaked, shredded, right out the shell… can’t stand it.  Nothing makes me more upset than biting into a luscious piece of chocolate only to find coconut.  I also don’t understand why anyone would want perfectly lovely shrimp coated in that stuff! Nope, not a fan of coconut at all …. unless its coconut milk. That stuff, I love!!  Go figure! I know, I’m a conundrum.  I also can’t stand green beans, but that’s another post!

So back to coconut and this post.  This chicken rocked!  The recipe actually comes from my Vitamix “Simply Natural” cookbook that accompanied my all-time favorite kitchen toy, my Vitamix 7500 (red, of course!).  Rest assured you do not need a Vitamix to put this meal together — any blender or food processor will do.  And while this recipe does take quite a bit of time, its super easy, and almost all of the time is unattended in the oven. Basically you mix the sauce up in your blending-machine of choice, pour it over the chicken and bake away! But it’s so much more fun, when said blending machine of choice is a stylish red Vitamix…just sayin’!

Coconut Curry Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup peanut butter

1 (14oz) can light coconut milk

1/3 cup chicken stock

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 Tbsp packed brown sugar

1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tsp red curry paste

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 pounds bone-in chicken pieces

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 cups cooked brown rice – (to which I added peas)

Procedure:

  1. Place peanut butter, coconut milk, chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, red curry paste, ginger, garlic and cayenne in blender.  Blend mixture until smooth, scraping down sides if necessary.
  2. Preheat oven to 300F
  3. In a plastic bag, combine flour, salt, and black pepper. Add chicken pieces to flour mixture, shaking to coat.
  4. In a large skillet, cook chicken in hot oil until browned.  Transfer to an ungreased rectangular baking dish.  Pour sauce over chicken, cover with foil, and bake for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until chicken is very tender.
  5. Transfer to a serving platter.  Spoon sauce over chicken and serve over cooked rice.

Weekly Winner – Back in Balance…with bread!

My gluttonous moment has passed and I have put away all my gooey cheese, pasta, and pork products (temporarily, of course –everything in balance).  I am back to embracing salads and my favorite type of salad is one that includes bread.  I don’t care if its croutons or a roll on the side — I’m in.  My all-time favorite, however, is a panzanella salad.  What is better than crunchy bread brought back to life with a little dressing?  OK, yes, bacon… but we’re being virtuous this week, so work with me!!

There were a couple of things that caught my interest with this recipe for Chickpea Panzanella which I found in Cooking Light magazine.  First of course, was the chickpeas.  I adore chickpeas.  The other was the fact that this salad had artichoke hearts.  I cannot say I love artichoke hearts.  I didn’t think I hated them either.  Truth be told, with the exception of spinach artichoke dip, I just haven’t had much exposure to them.  I thought this would be an excellent time to try them out.  Everything else in this salad I know I adored so perhaps this would be the vehicle to win me over.  The salad was excellent.  The artichoke hearts?  Meh.  I can honestly say I would like the salad more without them.  Maybe next time I’ll swap them out for cucumbers or roasted peppers.  My husband can have his dislike for watercress, I apparently dislike artichoke hearts.

Chickpea Panzanella

Serves 5 – (seriously, that’s what they say!)

Ingredients:

1 (8-oz.) ciabatta loaf

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 (15-oz.) can unsalted chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 (8.5-oz.) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained

3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove and discard crust from ciabatta; cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread bread cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 12 minutes or until toasted and golden.

Combine toasted bread, tomatoes, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, feta, onion, and basil in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl, combine oil, vinegar, oregano, pepper, and salt. Stir with a whisk. Pour over salad; toss to combine. Garnish with chopped fresh basil.

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