Monday, July 20, 2015

Meatless Monday: Farro Salad

Summer is for salads, especially now that cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes are in plentiful supply at the farmers’ markets. At the end of a long, hot day like today, a salad in the fridge is a welcome sight indeed. 

All it takes to make this happen is a little advance planning when you hear the forecast for a stretch of hot weather.

One option is to prepare extra servings any time you cook a grain and to marinate the leftovers in the refrigerator. Simply add a scoop or two of the marinated grain to your favorite salad, and you will have a satisfying meal. See this past post for some ideas. 

Another option is to prepare a grain salad that you can serve atop a bed of mixed greens. For a  potluck contribution to a Memorial Day picnic, I made this beautiful (and very easy) farro salad  based on a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis found online at the Food Network site.

Farro Salad

  • 4 cups water
  • 10 ounces farro (about 1 1/2 cups) [I used a bag of Trader Joe’s 10 Minute Farro.]
  • Salt to taste [or a vegetable bouillon cube]
  • 1 pound plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped 
  • 1/2 sweet Vidalia onion chopped
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • Combine the water and farro in a medium saucepan. 
  • Add salt or bouillon. 
  • Bring to a boil over high heat. 
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes for conventional farro, less for the Trader Joe’s. 
  • Drain well, and then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
  • Add the tomatoes, onion, chives, and parsley to the farro, and toss to combine.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. 
  • Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to coat.

The salad can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

It is delicious served on top of salad greens. With additions such as chopped celery, cucumbers, kalamata olives, or crumbled feta, farro salad can easily become a complete meal. 

If you don’t have any farro on hand, you can substitute orzo or small bowtie pasta, but you will miss out on some nutritional benefits. One serving of farro has 10 grams of protein, 2% of the recommended daily value of calcium, and 19% of the daily value of fiber vs. 7 grams of protein and 8% of fiber for conventional pasta.

Get creative. And enjoy your time outside the kitchen.

Happy Summer! Happy Meatless Monday.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What Have I Been Doing? Where Have I Been?

Nauset Beach Orleans, Massachusetts
I admit that my posts have been a bit sparse so far this year. Last week I had a legitimate excuse. I was away from my desk, relaxing on Cape Cod in a quiet cottage colony on the shores of a kettle pond. While we were there, the sky was mostly blue, it rained mainly at night, and the ocean water was invigorating.

Our arrival in Chatham coincided with the tagging of the first great white shark off its shores, as it has for the last few years. Great whites love to dine on seals, and Chatham has plenty of them.

When the sharks arrive the media is close behind…
Seagulls love the fish pier, too.
Since 1972, seals have been protected by the Marine Mammal Protection ActAround 2005 the population really took off, and with that growth came the sharks. According to one report, there were an estimated 16,000 gray seals on Cape Cod and the islands in 2013, and one marine scientist opined that the population grows some 20% a year. Once a novelty confined to the waters of the fishing pier or lounging on the rocks in the harbor, seals can be spotted swimming off Nauset Beach on most days. As for the sharks, in 2014, 56 individual sharks were identified by shark researcher Greg Skomal

Still, with the exception of the tagging being done by the marine biologists, there have been few close encounters between human and shark in Cape Cod waters. The lifeguards now have a purple flag they can raise to warn of dangerous marine mammals, but we did not see it fly. So far the commonsensical warnings to avoid swimming at dawn and dusk and never with the seals seem to be working.

The town of Chatham decided to celebrate the sharks’ yearly return with signage, t-shirts, screenings of Jaws at the local theater, and Sharks in the Park, an auction sponsored by the Chatham Merchants Association.

Humans checking out the sharks in the park
The week flew by. We explored Chatham and the nearby towns of Harwichport and Brewster, braved the chilly ocean waters in Orleans, read books, played cards and Scrabble, enjoyed many meals on the screened porch while watching birds, and ate onion rings and homemade hermits on the beach. FYI, the hermits did improve with age, but how long they would keep getting better we will never know as this batch is long gone. We even went to a movie in the newly-restored Orpheum Theater — “Inside Out!” [I loved it, but it made me cry.] 

Focaccia transformed
Before we knew it, it was time to think about the trip home. That meant serious late in the week menu planning focused on how to use up the groceries already on hand without buying too much more. Our inventory included red wine, goat cheese, and an excess of bread, in particular a local focaccia purchased at the Chatham farmer’s market. We had olive oil and an excellent cast iron pan. My husband Don thought of creating crunchy sticks by slicing the focaccia into one inch widths and then lengthwise into thirds, which he then toasted over medium heat in the well oiled pan. 

These crisp fingers of bread were delicious and the perfect vehicle for the remaining soft cheese. In fact, they were so good that we brought home the last of the bread and prepared it the same way on Sunday night. For a spread we used some tomato pesto I had stored in the freezer—a little taste of our vacation as we prepared for our first day back.

So here I am, rested, refreshed [at least so far], and ready to blog once more. This is my new mantra.

Look for me again soon. Until then, get out there and enjoy your summer, wherever you are!


Monday, June 29, 2015

Meatless Monday: Remembrance of Things Past

For Proust it was “les petite madeleines.” For me, hermits are the sweet treats that evoke intensely happy memories of times gone by. The hermits I crave came not from my mother’s kitchen, however, but from bakeries near the shore. 

Hermits are most commonly bar cookies baked in a cake pan, like brownies, and cut into squares. Packed with chopped nuts and raisins, hermits are redolent of the molasses and pungent spices that flavor them.

These cookies keep extraordinarily well. Hermits have a long history in New England, dating back to the days of the clipper ships when they were packed in tins to accompany sailors as they traveled to distant lands. Many claim their flavor improves with age. 

In recent years, however, they have fallen out of favor. Corner bakeries stopped making them, and even commercial cookie baker Archway dropped hermits from their line. 

Over the past long winter, as I dreamed of warm days at the beach, I scoured my cookbooks and searched the web for the recipe that seemed most like the beloved cookie I remembered. I settled on the recipe found in my Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1984 edition), first published in 1896.

Most of the ingredients were familiar, but the recipe called for mace, the dried covering of the nutmeg. While I could not find mace in the baking section of any supermarket, I was able to get it at Penzey’s.  

One cool, rainy day earlier this month I thought I was all set to give the recipe a try, but I hadn’t read it carefully. There was one other mystery ingredient — cream of tartar. This I was able to find at the local store, but I found myself wondering what exactly this white powder was and why it was essential to this recipe.

Here is what I learned from Wikipedia: “Potassium bitartrate, also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, with formula KC4H5O6, is a byproduct of winemaking. In cooking it is known as cream of tartar. It is the potassium acid salt of tartaric acid (a carboxylic acid).” It has a number of uses; in my hermit recipe it serves as the acid to activate the baking soda, causing the cookies to rise. [This is an old recipe.]

With the advent of modern baking powder, cream of tartar has been pretty much replaced as a leavening agent, but it remains valuable for a long list of uses from stabilizing egg whites and whipped cream to cleaning metals.

But back to the Hermits. With cream of tartar on hand, here is the recipe I used:

(36 Squares or about 60 Cookies)

  • 1/4 cup raisins or currants [I used raisins.]
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts [I used walnuts.]
  • 2 cups flour [I substituted whole wheat for 1 cup.]
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses [I used Blackstrap.]
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Grease a 9 x 13inch cake pan or some cookie sheets.
  • Toss the dried fruit and nuts in 1/4 cup of the flour; set aside.
  • Cream the butter; then add the sugar and beat well.
  • Add the salt, eggs, and molasses and beat well.
  • Mix together the remaining 1-3/4 cups flour with the remaining dry ingredients, and beat thoroughly.
  • Stir in the raisins and nuts.
  • Spread in the pan or drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheets. 
  • Bake only until the top is firm and the center chewy, about 15-20 minutes for the squares, 8-10 minutes for the cookies. [A cake tester inserted into my bars at 15 minutes came out clean.]

A panful of perfect Hermits

The hermits turned out just as I hoped (and remembered). I couldn’t eat just one… The remainders are in a tightly closed tin. I hope to test the theory that they will get even better with age, but I don’t imagine my experiment will last as long as a sea voyage.

Lone hermit on a plate.

I will let you know how it goes.

Hermits should still be a “sometimes treat,” but as cookies go, they are far better for you than most. Blackstrap Molasses, nuts, and raisins are high in fiber and have significant food value. And, If you swap out half the white flour for whole wheat as I did, you will add even more fiber and cut the glycemic index of your cookies, making them even better. 

One more thing, a bit of Hermit trivia. You might be wondering, “Where did this cookie get its name?” There appears to be no definitive answer, but the Old Farmer’s Almanac offers several theories. My favorite one is: “Very likely the old recipe for the hermit cookies goes back to the 12th or 13th century religious hermitages, where these basic ingredients would have been in common usage at bakers’ tables. The terms for those confines — ‘hermite’ from the Old French or ‘heremita,’ from the medieval Latin — may have been assigned to this treat by the residents.”

Happy baking. Happy eating. Happy Summer. Happy Meatless Monday.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”