Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Newest Obsession - Farro

I love my whole grains, especially in the winter time.  They're rich, nutty and hearty and leave you with this, fabulous satisfied feeling when you incorporate them into a great meal.  Recently, I've learned about the wonder of farro - a dense, Italian grain that has a sesame-like nuttiness and pairs amazingly with bright, citrus flavors.

Some quick background info: Farro comes from a certain variety of wheat plant and has regional affiliations throughout Italy.  It can be used almost interchangeably with barley in many recipes because they share a lot of basic characteristics.  It also comes in a variety of sizes and holds up a lot of it's bite when you cook it making it ideal for soups and stews.  Check your supermarket's bulk section - it's by far the cheapest way to buy any grain, including farro.

So now that you've learned all about farro, I want to share a recipe I've put together that can be served warm or room temperature as a salad.

Citrus Ginger Farro Salad

3 cups water
1 cup pearled farro
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely diced shallot
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 tablespoon grated fresh young ginger root
1/2 cup dried cherries (I prefer sour cherries if they're available)
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup sprouted peas (I added these for protein, but they could easily be omitted if you don't like peas)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped mint (if you have grapefruit mint available, that's my favorite with this recipe)

- Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan
- Add sesame oil, salt and farro and cook on a low simmer for 20 minutes or until tender to the bite (it will still hold an al dente quality)
- Whisk together citrus juices, zest, ginger, olive oil and shallots to form the dressing
- Soak the cherries and peas in the dressing while the farro finishes cooking
- Drain the farro well and add to the dressing mixture while the farro is still warm
- Add pistachios and herbs (reserve a pinch of each herb to top with for serving) and gently fold into the salad
- Top with remaining herbs and serve (you can make it ahead of time and serve at room temperature as well)

One great thing about this salad, is you can use whatever you have in your pantry.  I've used walnuts and pecans in lieu of the pistachios and substituted raisins or cranberries for the cherries.  You can also cook the farro in a 2 cups water and 1 cup chicken stock and mix in chopped onions, carrots and celery for a pilaf-style side dish.

Holiday Favorites 2011 Edition - Part 3

So James and I hosted Christmas Eve dinner in our new home and I decided that I wanted to tackle cooking something that was uncharted for me... roasting a whole duck.  As I've mentioned in the past, I consider duck to be the pinnacle of all poultry and thought it would be the perfect way to kick off the holidays.  Being that this was new territory however, I had to consult the professionals for some advice and Alton [Brown] and Julia [Child] certainly did not lead me astray.

First and foremost, you need to start this process 4-5 days before you actually want to eat your meal.  Leave the whole Peking duckling in the refrigerator over night to thaw, then by removing the innards and the neck which were neatly tucked in the cavity and set those aside (for some duck neck sausage and liver mousse later).  Next, you need to butterfly the bird to help insure even cooking (unlike a chicken or turkey, ducks are shaped differently because they paddle rather than walk which can lead to uneven cooking).  This basically involves folding the wings under and cutting out the spine with a pair of sturdy kitchen shears (I know this sounds unpleasant but I promise, it's not that bad).  This is when we started our scrap pot for our duck stock.  The spine is full of flavor and I don't believe in wasting anything you don't have to... but more on that later.  Score the area between the breasts gently and flip over your duck.  It should now be laying flat in well, a butterfly shape at this point.  Now you want to VERY GENTLY score the skin over the breasts to help the fat escape during the roasting process.  Use a boning knife (the long, skinny, really sharp one) and slice sideways (blade pointing to the side, not down into the bird) along each breast panel.  You just want to slit the skin into the fat, not cut down into the meat.  Now for every pound of duck, you want to use 1 tablespoon of koshering salt and coat your duck on both sides and gently massage it in.  Place the bird on the roasting pan that comes with your oven (the two piece pan with slits on the top) and place a paper towel in the bottom  portion.  Now comes the easy part: leave your duck, uncovered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.  Yes, 3-4 days.  The idea is to let the salt draw the moisture out of the skin and get it to separate from the fat to a parchment like consistency.  This is what gives you that deliciously crisp skin when you roast it.  It's going to look dried out and get a slight grey color on the drumsticks... this is good, so don't let it freak you out.

Now, once the duck has cured, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the paper towel from the bottom compartment of the roasting pan and cook your duck for 30 minutes.  Rotate your bird and then cook for an additional 30 minutes.  Remove the duck from the oven and raise the heat to 475 degrees.  Once the oven has reached temperature, return to duck for 12 minutes.  This is to crisp the skin and bring the bird to 180 degrees internal temperature.  I know this is a high temp for poultry, but because we cured it initially, the meat will still be moist and juicy... I promise!  Allow the duck to rest for 5 minutes and carve to serve.

Drain off the rendered fat from the bottom of the roasting pan into a container and save for roasting vegetables, potatoes and general cooking.  Duck fat is more or less the equivalent of culinary gold and I promise anything cooked in it will miraculously taste 300% better.

Once you've taken all the meat off, add the carcass to your stock pot along with any vegetable peels, cores and scraps from the prep of your side dishes (we used onions, carrots, sunchokes, fennel, parsnips, celery root, shallots, garlic and corn).  Add one bottle of white wine and then cover with cold water and bring to a boil.  Once is starts to bubble, reduce to a simmer and leave on the heat for 6 hours.  This will extract all of the flavor from the bones and vegetables and give you a fantastic, aromatic stock for soups and sauces.  You can jar and freeze your stock for up to 3 months.

Any leftover duck meat (pending there are leftovers), makes a great pizza.  We used a multigrain dough from the grocery store (yes, I do condone some shortcuts) stretched thin over a cookie sheet.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Brush the dough with a tablespoon of duck fat (see, I told you saving it would pay off) and bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, flip, brush the other side with 1 tablespoon of duck fat and bake for another 5 minutes.  Cover the warm crust with 10 slices of drained (pressed between paper towels) buffalo mozzarella ( you can also use a fresh whole milk mozzarella), the leftover duck meat and any left over roasted vegetables from your dinner.  If you like a really crispy crust like I do, egg wash the edges.  Bake the pizza for an additional 7 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is fully melted.  Sprinkle with fresh thyme finely chiffonade basil.

So by following my mantra of let nothing go to waste, we not only had a great meal for Christmas Eve, we had delicious leftovers and enough stock for over a gallon of soup (or a fabulous duck consume!).

Holiday Favorites 2011 Edition - Part 2

So this next recipe I wanted to share is a fabulous quick and easy plated dessert for when you're having guests over for dinner and want something light to end a meal.  These Strawberry-Fig Balsamic Tarts are sure to be a crowd pleaser and they're not overtly sweet, which is one of my favorite things about them.  It's not particularly "holiday" in any sense, in fact... it would be easier to make in the summer when the ingredients are in season, but at any rate... they're delicious.

Strawberry-Fig Balsamic Tarts
For the crust:
·         1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 cup shortening, chilled
·         3 tablespoons ice water

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium size bowl. With a pastry blender, cut in the cold shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs
·         - Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water over flour. Toss mixture with a fork to moisten, adding more water a few drops at a time until the dough comes together
- Gently gather dough particles together into a ball
- Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling
- Roll out dough, and press into individual tart shells (you can also make one large tart in a pie plate if you don't have individual tart shells)
- Bake shells until they are slightly golden brown (about 10 minutes)
**Modification: you can cheat and use pre-made pie crusts here if time if of the essence

For the pastry creme:
·         1 ¼ cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

- Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps
- Warm the milk over low heat in a small saucier pan until steam begins to form
- Slowly add the milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly
- Return mixture to the pan and heat for 2 minutes while continuing to stir until the custard reaches 170 degrees and thickens
- Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla extract
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours
- Spoon into tart shells and bake for an additional 7 minutes

For the fruit topping:
10 medium to large sized strawberries
5 Turkish figs (if fresh are unavailable, you can use dried)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar

- In a medium saucepan, combine balsamic, vanilla and brown sugar and simmer until the liquid is reduced to half it's original volume and begins to take on a slight syrupy quality
- Remove reduction from heat and allow to cool
- Slice strawberries into 1/4 inch segments (about 6 slices per berry)
- Slice figs into 1/4 inch segments (about 6 slices each for fresh figs and 4 slices per fig if using dried fruit)
- Toss strawberries and figs in the reduction until thoroughly coated
- Top tarts with the fruit mixture and serve immediately

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday Favorites 2011 Edition - Part 1

So first and foremost,  I would like to extend an apology to my loyal readers for my prolonged absence.  Since my last posting, James and I have moved into our new house and with end-of-the-year chaos at work, my poor little blog took a beating.  Also contributing to that would be the fact that for the month leading up to our move, we ate out 6 nights a week and believe me, it was nothing noteworthy.  Now that I'm in a kitchen that I'm proud to call my own and we've survived the craziness of the holidays, it only seems appropriate that I share some of the fabulous creations that have emerged over the past few weeks.

In lieu of going crazy buying everyone we know presents this year, we decided to do two things... we sponsored an underprivileged family to help them have a great holiday and we baked our tails off to put together some homemade treat boxes for our loved ones.  After a long debate and toiling over how our first (hopefully annual) holiday cookie box should be filled, we decided on a fabulous list of eight scrumptious treats that we felt represented some of the things we love:
Salted Caramel Bars
Black & White Truffle Popcorn
Cranberry-Hibiscus Shortbread
Saltine Toffee Brittle
Lemon Creme Polenta Sandwiches
Cocoa Dusted Saffron-Cashew Truffles
Dark Chocolate Bacon Bonbons
Almond-Oat Florentines

Per a handful of requests, I wanted to share a few of these recipes with you all so that hopefully, they can continue to be enjoyed throughout the year as well.  

Cranberry Hibiscus Shortbread Cookies
3 sticks of unsalted butter
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
2 ¾ cups of all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon of kosher salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup of dried hibiscus flours
1/3 cup of warm water

- Soak hibiscus flours in the warm water for 15 minutes, strain and reserve the liquid
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and hibiscus water together for 2 minutes
- Sift flour and salt together and slowly add into the creamed mixture on low speed
- Gently fold in cranberries
- The dough will have a soft consistency
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour
- Shape dough into balls 1 inch in diameter and gently press to flatten
- Be sure to place one inch apart on a cookie sheet as the cookies will spread as they bake
- Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are golden brown
- Cook on wire racks

Polenta Sandwich Cookies with Meyer Lemon Crème
For the Cookies:
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup polenta
2 tablespoons of Meyer lemon zest
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line cookie sheets with parchment paper
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar for 2 minutes
- Mix flour, polenta, cocoa, zest, salt and baking powder together and slowly incorporate into the creamed mixture on low speed
- Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes
- Roll dough in 1 inch diameter balls and gently press flat onto the lined cookie sheet
- Bake for 10 minutes
- Allow cookies to cool and create sandwiches with lemon crème filling
**Modification: for chocolate-orange cookies, substitute ½ cup all purpose flour for ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder and Meyer lemon zest for orange zest

For the Filling:
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice

- Cream all ingredients together in a stand mixer with a  paddle attachment until smooth and fluffy
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set
- Sandwich in between cookies
**Modification: for chocolate-orange cookies, substitute Meyer lemon juice and zest for equal amounts of orange zest

I'd be happy to post any other recipes from our holiday cookie assortment upon request!  Please enjoy and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!