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.

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.

Holiday Baking Round-up

It’s December and my holiday baking is in full swing.  This week, I baked fig and orange sweet buns and made 8 dozen soon-to-be-on-the-blog hazelnut-orange cookies for the neighborhood cookie exchange (yes, orange plays a starring role in my holiday baking, as you will see below). I also picked up paper baking molds to try my hand at Panettone this weekend.  In addition to all of this baking, there’s some annual holiday treats that I would be remiss not to bake again this year…it’s tradition, after all.

A basket of Gibassier

Gibassier
Gibassier are a Christmas morning tradition in my house.  My sister and I originally discovered them during our Christmas escape to Portland in 2013.  Best consumed with a steaming coffee drink, these yeasty fists of dough are subtly flavored with olive oil and orange blossom water and studded with candied orange peel and aniseed.  Once they emerge hot from the oven, they are given a bath of clarified butter and coated with sugar, giving them a sandy crust worth licking from one’s fingers.  If I could pop one of these in my mouth every day along with my morning cuppa, life would be grand, but for the sake of my waistline, I limit baking them to once a year.

4 loaves of Stollen

Marzipan Stollen
In 2016, my sister, S, was inconsolable upon hearing I was forgoing the annual holiday Gibassier to try my hand at Christmas marzipan stollen. If this fruit-studded yeast bread didn’t pass muster, I’d receive coal in my stocking for sure.  Fortunate for me, it was a holiday triumph, the downside being that sis now expects Gibassier AND Stollen each Christmas morning.

A Plate of British Eccles Cakes

Eccles Cakes
An Eccles cake is a small, heavily spiced pastry filled with currants and candied orange peel wrapped in a flaky (rough puff) pastry.  The Eccles cake may have been created about 20 years before Dickens was even born, yet these are just the type of sweetmeat I imagine gracing Mr. Fezziwig’s overladen Christmas Eve party table. So, if you aren’t tired of candied orange peel after the Gibassier and Stollen, these may just be the ideal holiday treat for you.

Macadiamia Nut Pie

Coffee Caramel Macadamia Pie
If you aren’t planning to make figgy pudding to finish off your holiday meal, I’d like to suggest a slice of this oh-so-sinful tart as an alternative.  This pie is inspired by Hawaiian coffee-glazed macadamia nuts – a little salty, a bit sweet, with a dash of coffee to compliment the buttery richness of the nuts…all encased in a flaky pastry crust. A small slice is the ideal ending to a big holiday meal. And, no orange!

Cape Breton-Style Oatcakes

Cape Breton oatcakes are a simple, buttery, not overly-sweet, utterly addictive oat cookie.

Oatcakes

Wandering around my local cheese shop the other day, I came across something called Cape Breton oatcakes from Nova Scotia. They were advertised as a tea biscuit, cheese cracker, or a lightly sweetened cookie. Being a baker, it’s rare for me to purchase a package of store-bought cookies, but I was intrigued by something that could be called all three.

I bought a box to serve alongside an oozy hunk of triple-crème brie and fig jam…except the oatcakes never made it to the cheese plate. I broke into the package just to see what they tasted like – delicately crunchy, buttery, simple, slightly salty-sweet, and utterly addictive. I devoured the entire box in a matter of days.

In an attempt to replicate my new discovery, I found a number of Cape Breton oatcake recipes online, but none seemed to match the cookie (cracker?) I was trying to duplicate – some were thick, some were loaded with sugar (both brown and white), some made with shortening, many lumpy with whole oats. So, as I often do, I forged out on my own…


Cape Breton–Style Oatcakes

Cape Breton oatcakes are a simple, buttery, not overly-sweet, utterly addictive oat cookie.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups old-fashion rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. In the bowl of food processor, pulse oats until the texture of meal. Add flour, sugar, baking soda and salt and process to combine. Add very cold butter and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add milk and process until dough just begins to come together. Turn dough out onto work surface and form into two balls. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Dust your work surface with flour and, working with one ball at a time, roll the dough out until ¼ inch thick. Cut with a 2 ½ inch round cutter or cut into squares. Transfer to baking sheets and refrigerate again for 10 minutes.
  4. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container, if you don’t eat them all immediately.