Farro and Pomegranate Salad

Chewy farro flecked with pomegranate seeds, feta, bacon and almonds makes a colorful and hearty main-course salad. The salty-tart flavor of preserved lemons adds a unique twist.

a bowl of farro pomegranate salad

When it comes to the latest dietary fad or junk-science eating recommendations, I’m an avowed denyer. In my humble opinion, sugar is not evil. Unless you have celiac disease or wheat sensitivity, gluten is not the devil’s work. Dairy is not the enemy and caffeine will not kill you.

When it comes to eating, I trust in the axiom, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” I believe that, holistically, it’s healthier to stop stressing about what goes in our mouth and just eat – a variety of food (I said “food” – not chemicals or genetically modified food-like stuff), mindfully, when we’re hungry, in moderation. I think the worry, the self-denying, the strict adherence to dietary “rules” that seem to change weekly cause more toxicity in our bodies than a well-marbled, 3-oz. grass-fed steak. If you want the cookie, eat the damn cookie. Just don’t eat the whole dozen. …or if you DO eat the whole dozen (guilty!), don’t do it all the time (that’s the “moderation in moderation” part).

I had a conversation recently about the healthfulness of farro. We had overindulged during the holidays and were talking about “cleansing” to help our sluggish-feeling systems reset. I mentioned making a farro salad for lunch. She looked at me as if I had just said I was going to eat nothing but Twinkies for a week. “That’s not cleansing – don’t you know farro contains (the ominous and deadly) g..g..g..gluten!!!” Obviously, our ideas of “cleansing” are different. Gluten is not my enemy.

Farro is a nutritious whole grain. It’s an excellent source of protein, fiber and nutrients, and contains a variety of antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids, phytosterols and selenium. Add some fiber and vitamin-C rich pomegranate seeds and hunger-satiating fat with almonds and olive oil. Satisfy the splurge factor with a bit of bacon and feta and…voile, a toothsome grain salad.

Whether you consider this a healthy meal or death on a plate is determined by what camp you sit it. I hope we can all agree, at least, that this Farro and Pomegranate Salad is damn tasty. Mmmm…

p.s. I love the pop of the pomegranate seeds in my mouth when I eat this salad!


Farro and Pomegranate Salad

Chewy farro flecked with pomegranate seeds, feta, bacon and almonds makes a colorful and hearty main-course salad. The salty-tart flavor of preserved lemons adds a unique twist.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked farro, cooled
  • 2 cups pomegranate seeds
  • ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ cup toasted almonds (or pistachios), roughly chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped preserved lemons
  • 3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup good-quality olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 strips crisp bacon, crumbled

Directions

  1. In a bowl, combine farro, pomegranate seeds, feta, cilantro, almonds, and preserved lemon. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you may not need salt due to the salty feta and lemon). Add bacon just before serving so it remains crisp.

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Fromage Fort

Fromage fort – a fabulously thrifty and tasty French solution for repurposing all those nubs of leftover cheese.

a bowl of fromage fort with chips
Giving credit where it’s due, this was my sister S’s suggestion – not her recipe, but her idea. On Boxing Day, I was grumbling about a refrigerator full of holiday leftovers, including the six different cheeses rapidly aging in the cheese drawer. What was I going to do with six nubs of various cheese before they went bad?

That’s when she mentioned fromage fort. Fromage fort is a French cheese spread, literally meaning “strong cheese,” that’s made by blending together various pieces of leftover cheese, a bit of leftover white wine, garlic, and herbs. There’s a dozen of recipes out there – Pépin, Smitten Kitchen, Alton Brown, David Lebovitz, Sauver – all very similar, all very adaptable, because the idea is to use whatever leftovers you have on hand, making this thrifty French solution for too much cheese more spectacular than the sum of its parts. I recommend steering clear of very strong cheese, like blue cheese, which will overwhelm all other flavors in the final dip.

Oh, and there’s a German version, too – mixed with beer (of course!) – called Obatzda.


Fromage Fort

  • Servings: about 2 cups
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A fabulously thrifty and tasty French solution for repurposing all those nubs of leftover cheese.


Ingredients

  • 8 oz. mixed leftover cheeses (hard cheese grated, soft cheese cubed)
  • 3 Tablespoons full-fat ricotta, or 2 Tablespoons softened butter (if you don’t have ricotta on hand)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • ¼- ⅓ cup white wine
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, blend cheese, ricotta (or butter) and garlic until well-blended.
  2. Slowly pour in wine with motor running until the desired consistency – I prefer a scoopable, yet slightly chunk spread. Add thyme and pepper and pulse until combined. Fromage fort can be used immediately, allowed to ripen for up to 5 days, or spread on bread and toasted in the oven.

Bacon Gruyère Gougères

Bacon, Gruyère cheese, and  crispy, light choux pastry. I fell in love with gougères in culinary school – I’ve gilded the lily with the addition of bacon.  Appetizers as glamorous as they are delicious.

Bacon and Cheese Puffs

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville

You may think of book clubs as a bunch of shy, mild-mannered, nerdy types – and that may be true…until someone starts stealing our schtick, then we get all gangster.

If you’ve been following this blog with any regularity, you might remember that I started a book club in January, meeting at a local downtown bar & restaurant. It’s been my pet project, and reasonably successful.

A few months ago, I noticed someone else launched a similarly-named book club that happened to meet just 325 feet from our location (coincidence?). While, at the time, I did feel slightly encroached upon, I also thought, “That’s okay. There’s plenty of readers to go around. Good luck to them.” We were meeting monthly on the second Tuesday; the newbies were meeting weekly on Wednesdays. There was enough dissimilarity between our two groups that new members wanting to join our club wouldn’t (I hoped) be confused.

Today I noticed that, starting next month, this copy-cat usurper club will start meeting monthly on the second Tuesday – at the exact same time as our group. So, not only did they copy our name and steal our location, now they are appropriating our dates and times, too. I’m quite surprised they haven’t pilfered our reading list as well. WTF?!

I’ve heard the idiom, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” a million times, but this is downright thievery. I am not flattered. I no longer wish them luck – I wish their ersatz book club a swift and immediate demise. In fact, next month, I’m suggesting a pre-book club brawl to my group. I’m confident we could take them down.

Speaking of imitation and idea-pilfering, the following is not my own, but a riff on a ubiquitous gougères recipe. Guilty as charged.


Bacon Gruyère Gougères (Cheese Puffs)

These are best served piping hot from the oven. If needed, reheat at 350˚ until warm and crisp.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese, plus more for sprinkling
  • 6 strips crispy bacon, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons chives, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, milk butter and salt to a boil. Add the sifted flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until dough pulls away from the side of the pan and becomes a smooth ball. Continue stirring about two minutes to dry out dough.
  2. Transfer dough to the bowl of a mixer. Let cool a few minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the pepper, nutmeg, cheese, bacon, and chives.
  3. Transfer the dough into a piping bag and cut the tip to allow piping generous tablespoon-size mounds about 2” apart on the baking sheets (alternately, drop rounded spoonfuls onto sheets). With a wet finger, tap down any pointy “hats” on the dough. Sprinkle with additional cheese and bake 20-22 minutes until puffed, firm to the touch, and a rich golden brown (do not open oven before 20 minutes or they may deflate). Serve hot.

Homemade Vermouth

Sure, I’m familiar with vermouth…it’s that mixer in the green bottle pushed to the back of the liquor cabinet that plays a supporting role in martinis and manhattans. The alcohol that, along with Galliano, has a shelf life longer than Twinkies. The perpetual cocktail bridesmaid – never the bride.

How very wrong I’ve been.

Bottles of homemade vermouth
I discovered vermouth – real vermouth – a few months ago at Amar Santana’s Vaca restaurant. He’s managed to elevate this non-descript mixer into something sublime – it’s house-made, poured from the tap, served on the rocks and garnished with a thick slice of orange zest. And it tastes like…well…on my first sip, I proclaimed it tasted like, “Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one.” His version is redolent of warming spices – cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, slightly sweet with hints of vanilla, and tertiary notes of herb (sage? thyme?) and orange.

Thus began my quest to make my own vermouth at home. Vermouth, I’ve discovered, is aromatized, fortified wine; wine that has been infused with herbs and spices (aromatized) and has alcohol (in this case, Sherry) added to it (fortified). The sweet version of vermouth also has caramelized sugar added. My final version below is a world away from Vaca’s recipe ( I can aspire!), but still quite tasty; similar to higher-end bottled vermouth I’ve sampled in recent months – like an Amaro – a bit sweet, a bit bitter, and loaded with spices and herbs.

The first thing you’ll notice is there’s a daunting list of ingredients. But don’t be deterred, the actual hands-on time is about 30 minutes total once you have your supplies. My recommendation is to order your herbs and spices online from a reputable retailer (I bought mine from Monterey Bay Spice Company) and the remaining ingredients can be purchased from a well-stocked grocery store.


Homemade Vermouth Recipe

  • Servings: about 4 cups
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The perfect aperitivo – a bit sweet, a bit bitter and loaded with spices and herbs. Play with the proportions to highlight your favorite spice.


Ingredients

  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 juniper berries
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon wormwood
  • ½ teaspoon chamomile flowers
  • ¼ teaspoon dried sage leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Entire zest of an orange, peeled using a potato peeler
  • 2 strips of zest from a lemon, peeled using a potato peeler
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • Scraped seeds from ½ vanilla bean
  • 1 bottle light white wine such as Pinot Grigio (I use Tesoro della Regina)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup sweet Sherry (I use Osborn Cream Sherry)

Directions

  1. Crush cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, juniper berries, and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. Scrape them into a medium stock pot. Add wormwood, chamomile, sage, nutmeg, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla seeds. Pour white wine over ingredients, bring to boil, remove from heat, cover with lid and let steep for 24 hours.
  2. In a small pan, make a caramel by combining sugar with 2 Tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until caramel is dark golden. Carefully add sherry to caramel – the caramel will bubble and splash. If the addition of Sherry causes the caramel to harden, return to stove to re-melt the caramel.
  3. Strain and squeeze the wine mixture well through a coffee filter or two layers of cheese cloth. Add the Sherry mixture and stir to combine. Serve on the rocks with an orange zest.

Hazelnut Orange Cookies

Delicate, crumbly cookies with a wonderful snap, flavored with the unique combination of hazelnuts and orange – a perfect addition to a holiday cookie plate.

A stack of Hazelnut Orange cookies tied with a green ribbon

It was 1997 and the Barnes and Noble store at the nearby suburban strip mall had recently opened. I wasn’t a competent baker then; my sister was the baker. The book I chose was the Pillsbury Best Cookies Cookbook – plenty of recipes, plenty of photos. These hazelnut orange cookies were the first recipe I tried. I thought they were delicious at the time, with a delicate, crumbly texture and pretty appearance. I resurrected the recipe this year for our neighborhood Bunco cookie exchange and they are just as special as I remember them. This recipe makes a ton of cookies – about eight dozen, enough for the Bunco cookie exchange and a few dozen for the office, or just cut the recipe in half.


Hazelnut Orange Cookies

A delicate, crumbly cookie with a wonderful snap, flavored with hazelnuts and orange.


Ingredients

  • 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ (generous) teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Sugar
  • Hazelnut halves for garnish

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, powdered sugar, softened butter, oil, orange zest, vanilla and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture until combined. Stir in finely chopped hazelnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat oven to 375⁰ F. Shape dough into scant 1” balls (15 grams each) and roll in sugar. Place 2” apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, top with a hazelnut half.
  3. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until barely golden around the edges. Cool for 1 minute; remove to racks and cool completely.