Weekly Winner – Digging into a Big Bowl of Goodness

There is little I look forward to more than being able to curl up on the couch with my favorite evening show (or in my case, Cubs baseball) and eat dinner out of a big ‘ol bowl.  More often than not, however; the more comforting and satisfying said Bowl is to eat, the less healthy and virtuous it is to have consumed.  Not in this case. Today I present a big bowl of comfort, joy and about the healthiest thing you can eat for dinner.

I find myself eating like this more frequently than I have in the past.  Rather than a protein, veggie, starch, etc artfully displayed on a plate, I now enjoy throwing a bunch of goodness in a bowl, mixing it up and digging in!  Grain Bowls with Chicken, Spiced Chickpeas and Avocado has a bit of everything and keeps you happy and picking away until the very end.  The chickpeas and the avocado add perceived luxuriousness without any guilt.  Their creaminess is a nice contrast to all the fabulous crunch in this dish and it all of it comes together with a bright herby vinaigrette.  The recipe comes from Epicurious and while they gave a choice of grains to use in this dish, my go-to grain of choice is always farro and that’s what was used here.

Grain Bowls with Chicken, Spiced Chickpeas, and Avocado

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the chickpeas – 

2 tsp olive oil

1 15.5-oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, patted dry

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp kosher salt

For the dressing – 

1-1/2 cups parsley leaves

3/4 cup mint leaves

1-1/4 cups olive oil

6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp salt

For the bowls – 

4 cups cooked quinoa, farro, barley or brown rice

4 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 mini seedless cucumbers, halved, sliced

2 avocados, halved, pitted, sliced

4 cups baby arugula

1@ cup pickled red onions

4 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Procedure:

Make the chickpeas – Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook chickpeas, cumin and cayenne, shaking to coat, until heated through.  Increase heat to medium-high and cook, shaking occasionally, until chickpeas are golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels and season immediately with salt.

Make the dressing – Meanwhile, pulse parsley and mint in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add oil, lemon juice, honey, and salt and pulse to combine.

Assemble the bowls – Toss grains (farro in my case) with 1/2 cup dressing in a large bowl.  Divide among individual bowls.  Toss chicken with 1/4 cup dressing in the same large bowl.  Arrange chicken, cucumbers, avocados and arugula over farro.  Top with chickpeas, pickled onions, and sesame seeds.  Serve remaining dressing on side for drizzling.

Weekly Winner:  A Clean Start to the New Year with some Nutty Chicken

It has taken me a while, but I finally think I have figured out the Food God’s evil, master plan.  It makes you crave – then gorge on – all of that excessive, sugar-laden, rich, gooey, nostalgic food over the holidays simply so that come New Year’s, you actually crave healthy, clean meals. And it works…..every time.

Last night was the first night we either weren’t traveling, entertaining house guests, eating out with friends, or simply trying to clear out the fridge of the holiday dregs that still lingered..tempting us.  We needed a clean break, literally and figuratively from all the crap we’d been eating (and loving, I might add).  The problem is, after such a gluttonous long week, bland boring “diet food” would not cut it.  I wanted something healthy-tasting but with loads of flavor. Something that felt hearty yet wouldn’t weigh me down.  My “dinner in shining armor” arrived in the form of Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Warm Barley Salad.  Since hubby prefers farro to barley (and yes, I take full credit and much pride in that fact!), I made that swap.  The dish is amazing.  Perhaps the best testament is that even though its insanely healthy, I’ll gladly make and eat this dish anytime — not just when trying to cut back and clean up my act.  The recipe comes from Eating Well and is a wonderful mix of flavors, textures and all-around wholesome yumminess.

Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Warm Barley Farro Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Olive oil or canola oil cooking spray

2 cups water plus 1 Tbsp, divided

1/2 cup quick barley (or pearled farro)

1 cup salted shelled pistachios, divided

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 large egg white

2 8-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut in half crosswise

1/2 tsp salt, divided

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 Tbsp white-wine vinegar

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 450F.  Coat a wire rack with cooking spray and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  2. Bring 2 cups water and barley or farro to a boil in a small saucepan.  Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 10-12 minutes.  Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, pulse 3/4 cup pistachios, breadcrumbs, orange zest and garlic powder in a food processor until the pistachios are coarsely chopped.  Transfer to a shallow dish.  Whisk egg white and the remaining 1 Tbsp water in another shallow dish.
  4. Place chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap.  Pound with the smooth side of a meat mallet to an even 1/2-inch thickness.  Sprinkle the chicken with 1/4 tsp salt, coat with the egg mixture and dredge in the pistachio mixture, patting to adhere.  Place on the prepared rack.  Coat both sides of the chicken with cooking spray.
  5. Bake the chicken until and instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 165F, about 15 minutes.
  6. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add tomatoes and vinegar.  Cook until the tomatoes just start to collapse, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat.
  7. Drain barley or farro, if necessary, and stir into the tomatoes along with the remaining 1/4 cup pistachios, 1/4 teaspoon salt and parsley.  Serve with the chicken.

Weekly Winner:  Another Fabulous Foray into Farro

Can I just say that farro rocks??  I am beginning to realize that I have a serious crush on this grain.  While it makes a perfectly fine side dish, I prefer to make it the star and that usually means some sort of grain salad that lets the farro shine.  This is that salad.

Farro, Chicken and Grape Salad comes from Fine Cooking and it is perfect for this time of year.  It can be eaten with the farro and chicken warm for a dinner as we did this week or chilled and taken to work for a hearty lunch.  I suspect I’ll be making this a lot in the coming months — for myself and for several of my clients.

Farro, Chicken and Grape Salad

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

2 cups pearled farro, rinsed and drained

3 Tbsp mirin

3 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp Asian (toasted) sesame oil

1-1/2 Tbsp minced jalapeño

Freshly ground black pepper

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

1-1/2 cups green seedless grapes, halved

1-1/2 cups small-diced seedless cucumber

1-1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

Procedure:

  • In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the farro with enough water to cover.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the farro is tender but still slightly chewy, 15 to 18 minutes.  Drain.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the mirin, lemon juice, sesame oil, jalapeño, 1-1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil on medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and cook, flipping once, until brown on both sides and just cooked through, 8 to 12 minutes total.  Let rest for 5 minutes, then cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
  • Add the chicken and any accumulated juice, the farro, grapes cucumber and dill to the vinaigrette.  Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Farro + Feta = Fabulous Fall Fare

Even though it has started to cool off a bit here, I still have those days that I crave a salad.  But it needs to be a season-appropriate salad.  A bit on the hearty side, with a warm element or two and a recipe that uses the best of fall produce.  And, if it has bacon in it…. even better!!  My answer is this spectacular salad.

Apple, Farro and Bacon Salad with Warm Feta Cheese comes from Woman’s Day magazine.  It’s a salad that definitely stays with you for a while — you won’t be hungry thirty minutes after eating it.  Roasting the bacon also makes it a bit chewier than if you simply fried it which, along with the farro, gives you something to sink your teeth into.  And besides that … its bacon, so it has that going for it already.

Apple, Farro and Bacon Salad with Warm Feta Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 slices of bacon

4 oz feta cheese

2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp fresh thyme

Kosher salt and pepper

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1 cup red seedless grapes, halved

1 crisp red apple, cored and cut into thin 1-inch pieces

1 bunch arugula, thick stems discarded

Procedure:

  1. Heat oven to 425F.  Cook the farro according to package directions.  Place the bacon in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until crisp, 12-15 minutes; crumble and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, place the feta in the center of a piece of foil.  Drizzle with 1 tsp. oil; sprinkle with thyme and pepper.  Pull the foil up around the feta to create a pouch.  Bake for 5 minutes just before serving.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper.  Add the onion and toss to coat; let sit for 5 minutes. Add the celery, grapes and apple and toss to combine.
  4. Add the farro, drizzle with the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil and toss to combine. Fold in the arugula and bacon and serve with the feta.

Weekly Winner: The Perfect Answer to “Polar Vortex 2 – The Sequel” in Chiberia

2015/01/img_1524-0.jpgThis is the type of soup I would usually save for a dinner, possibly even a Sunday Supper. However, within the past three days here in Chicago the daytime temps have hovered around zero and we won’t even discuss the windchill – minus 20 to 30 have been the norm with howling winds. You need something substantial to keep you going through that kind of weather. You need soup. But not some wimpy, pureed, vegetable-based soup. You need meat!

Having said all that, it is also January which means my annual attempt to eat healthier and lighter has also kicked in. What a conundrum! How will I satisfy my need for hearty sustenance with my desire for more veggies and healthy stuff? The answer: Beef and Farro Soup. Yes, it has beef. But it also is loaded with carrots, celery, tomatoes, KALE, and my new favorite grain, farro.

I got the recipe from a recent issue of Food & Wine and while it does take quite a while to prepare, it is super easy to make. And an added bonus is while you are hunkered down in the house waiting for the temps outside to inch into the double-digits (which I’m still waiting for, by the way), the house smells amazing!

Beef-and-Farro Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 9 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 head of garlic, pierced all over with a knife
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 leek, light green and white parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
  • 3 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 small bunch Tuscan kale, chopped (3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons white miso
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Procedure:

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil.  Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Add half to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, turning, until browned, about 5 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large plate.  Repeat with the remaining meat.
  2. Pour off all of the oil from the casserole.  Add 1 cup of the stock and stir, scraping up any browned bits.  Add the remaining 8 cups of stock along with the meat, garlic, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, about 1-1/2 hours.
  3. Stir in the farro and bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook over moderate heat until the farro is almost tender, 20 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, leek, celery, carrots, kale, miso and paprika.  Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Discard the garlic and herb sprigs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls.  Garnish with cheese and serve.

 

Weekly Winner: My First Foray into Farro … Fabulous!

Tis the season.  What season you ask?  Marathon training season.  Oh good God, not for me!  But for several of the clients that I am currently cooking for.  Now, while that means different things to different people, what it means for my clients is that they are looking for healthy, filling (but not heavy) recipes to power them through the added mileage they will be putting in.  Some want carbs, some do not — but all want seriously healthy, tasty food.

Of course kale is popular as is quinoa.  I’ve made more quinoa in the last few months than I ever thought I’d make in a lifetime.  I’ve gained a new-found appreciation for the ancient grain.  It’s basically a blank canvas.  But I digress.  This entry is not about quinoa but about farro.  One of my clients asked if I did much with it and I had to admit that I did not.  But that made me curious.  Then Martha came to the rescue.  Martha Stewart that is.  Not her personally, but her magazine Martha Stewart Living.  It was there that I found this recipe for Kale and Farro Salad with Feta.

Kale and FarroWhen I found myself with a free afternoon on the same day that my favorite Green City Market was going on, I knew what I had to do.  Test the recipe!  All for myself.  Dang it was tasty.  Really quite extraordinarily good.  The farro was wonderfully toothsome and nutty.  All around an incredibly satisfying dish and one that you just couldn’t help but feel good about eating.  I immediately put it on my marathoners’ menus and have a feeling I’ll be making a lot of this salad in the coming months.

And don’t worry — I’m proof that you don’t need to be a marathoner (or even a runner) to enjoy this recipe.

Kale and Farro Salad with Feta

Serves 4 -6

Ingredients:

1 cup farro

2 cups packed torn Tuscan kale leaves (about 2 ounces)

1/4 red onion, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup packed mint leaves, thinly sliced, plus whole small leaves for serving

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup crumbled feta, preferably French

Procedure:

Cover farro with 3 inches of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until grains are tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.

Transfer farro to a large bowl and add kale, onion, sliced mint, lemon zest and juice, and oil. Toss until farro is well coated. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with feta. Let stand 30 minutes before serving, topped with small mint leaves. Salad can be stored in refrigerator up to 2 days.