Food moments of the moment

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Once again, I dared to try my hand at preparing one of my favorite restaurant dishes. And once again, it’s a dish from Eataly’s Verdure. This time around I was attempting to make their decadent Farrotto con Piselli which is farro cooked in the style of risotto with peas. I can gladly say that the dish came out tasting fantastic and pretty darn close to the original! I’ve said it before, I am head over heels in love with the texture and taste of farro. The ridiculously awesome chewiness is a texture that works great in salads and soups and just completely shines as a star in dishes like the risotto. This recipe might be vegetarian but it isn’t exactly “healthy”. There are very generous amounts of butter and cheese melted into the creamy mixture. But you know what? Sometimes you just need to indulge and enjoy every bite on your plate. I did add bright, nutritious peas and served it alongside a salad made with roasted butternut squash and shallots, toasted pumpkin seeds and an apple cider vinaigrette. As long as your indulgence is balanced out I don’t see anything wrong with it.

This whole try-to-recreate-restaurant-dishes-at-home have become my food moments of the moment. I’ve started with really easy ones so it’s not that impressive. It helps when the menu lists ingredients (and sometimes cooking techniques). I knew this dish was cooked risotto style and included peas and pecorino. I happened to have Parmesan on hand so I used that instead. I also knew that they must have used vegetable stock versus chicken stock because Verdure is the vegetarian restaurant of Eataly. I also knew they used lots of butter to finish off the dish because you REALLY taste it and it’s divine. They always have some variation of this dish on their menu. Back in the fall, the risotto was made using a butternut squash puree. Yum. I feel like the combinations for this dish are absolutely endless. Below is my recipe for Farrotto con Piselli inspired by Verdure.

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

1 cup pre-soaked farro (follow package directions)

4 cups vegetable stock

½ yellow onion, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ cup frozen peas

1-2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, plus extra for finishing the dish

salt

black pepper

Heat the vegetable stock in a saucepan over low heat and keep the stock warm.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sautee until soft. Add the garlic, and stir for one minute. Add in the farro and stir for about one minute to get the grains covered in oil and toast a bit. Add in a couple of ladles of the stock and continuously stir the farro until the stock has almost all been absorbed. Continue adding one ladleful at a time, stirring and letting it absorb in between until the farro is cooked through and a thick, creamy sauce has formed, about 30 minutes. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the frozen peas and keep stirring. Off the heat, add in 1-2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter and ½ cup of the grated cheese, stirring until the butter has melted. Serve with extra cheese if you so wish.

Spring makeover extravaganza

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It has been a weekend of truly wonderful food moments. Friday’s took the cake, though. A few weeks ago I was at Nordstrom to buy some face cream I had run out of and the sales woman suggested I sign up for their spring makeover extravaganza. It was to take place on a Friday night, a friend and I could come get a facial and makeover, and Sarah Jessica Parker was going to be there promoting her new shoe line. I told her I was most likely not going to buy any of the products they attempt to sell you on but she said, “Come and join the party anyway!” So I enlisted my best friend Jenny to be my plus one and we made it into a date. A bit of backstory here…I lived with Jenny just after she gave birth to her beautiful daughter to help take care of Cynthia and get Jenny back on her feet. She had some complications during and after the birth so I wanted to make sure my BFF was in good hands. It was one of the best times in my life! We had so much fun getting to know this new, tiny human and spending some quality friend time with each other after living apart for years. We developed an almost nightly ritual of eating a great dinner prepared by moi, grabbing our glasses of wine and some cheese, getting into bed and watching episode after episode of Sex and the City. Those were some good days and wonderful memories.

Fast forward almost 10 years later and Jenny and I are sitting down to a fantastic dinner with a glass of wine, getting ready to pamper ourselves and catch a glimpse of the beautiful and stylish SJP. It was like everything had come full circle in a way. If I may take a moment to mention the food. Chicago was blessed with the opening of Eataly a few months ago. This place is ridiculously awesome! Every Italian culinary product you could possibly imagine with several restaurants to sit at and enjoy some quality dishes. We chose to dine at La Verdure, which is the vegetable restaurant. After several wine tastings we settled on a beautiful Tuscan red and bathed the slices of fresh baked bread in golden olive oil. Jenny and I are both huge veggie fans but what came to us was something of our dreams. We started with the Scarola alla Grilglia which was grilled bitter greens with pine nuts, currants, Parmigiano Reggiano, and aged balsamic. Simple, right? Yes, but the flavors made it into a much more complex dish. The smokiness of the grilled greens combined with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar was out of this world. I have never drooled so much over a salad in my life. We then split the Farrotto con Zucca which was farro cooked in the style of risotto, with butternut squash, Parmigiano Reggiano and butter. Lots and lots of butter. This might have been one of my favorite things I have ever eaten…EVER. There was no pasta, no cream, and not that much cheese but this dish tasted better than the best macaroni and cheese. I don’t understand how they did it but you can bet I’m going to be attempting to create this at home. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Unfortunately, by the time we got to Nordstrom Sarah Jessica Parker had come and gone. Not that we minded much. We both agreed that the meal beat any spotting of a celebrity. The women who gave us facials and did our makeup were asking where the two of us were going afterward since we looked so gorgeous and made up. To a hot dance club? To a trendy bar to sip trendy cocktails? Nope. We promptly went back to Jenny’s house to get into our cozy pants, snuggle up on the couch with her daughter Cynthia and watched a Harry Potter movie. Life is grand!

Flakiest, tastiest, butteriest crust

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Spring is nowhere in sight here in Chicago. This last week we were back to negative degree wind chills and several inches of snow. I made a big pot of soup at the beginning of the week and was feeling a little souped out. But I still craved the kind of soul warming fare reserved for snowy winter nights. Then like a gift from the culinary fairies the new issue of Bon Appetit arrived in my mailbox. On the cover was the most delicious looking photo of short rib pot pies. Coincidentally, Kevin and I had recently been to Billy Sunday and had split a mouth-watering short rib pot pie while sipping cocktails at the bar. I had a recipe in my hands, cold weather outside and a hungry belly. Why not try to whip up this pot pie on my own?

The pot of meat simmered on the stove for 3 hours filling the house with such an intense beefy smell that I couldn’t wait to dig in. The recipe says to stir in order to break up the short ribs but I scooped the meat out, shredded it with a fork and then added it back to the pot. The stirring wasn’t doing the job. Besides the ribs, the only other filling the recipe calls for is pearl onions. Granted, the only pot pies I grew up eating were chicken but they were always stuffed with a variety of vegetables. In this case, I happened to have carrots in the fridge and peas in the freezer so I threw those in. You can never have too many vegetables, especially in a pot pie. Despite the very satisfying and incredibly tasty filling, the one word that made my tastebuds want to scream with pleasure was “crust”. Crust. CRUST! God bless the Bon Appetit chefs for giving me this recipe for pot pie crust. I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical when the recipe called for equal parts butter and vegetable shortening. Shortening? Why on earth would I need shortening when butter is available? Butter is supposed to be best, yes? In the case of this dough, shortening was the magic ingredient that elevated this crust to something of mythical proportions. I have never used shortening. This was my first time…and it won’t be my last! Since I was at Whole Foods to buy the short ribs I went ahead and bought the organic butter flavored vegetable shortening there, as well. I don’t think all shortening is butter flavored but I would advice you not to use anything but. What came out of that oven was the flakiest, tastiest, butteriest crust I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. I thought the crust would be second string to the short rib filling and boy was I wrong. This was one food moment I was not expecting. It’s such a joy and relief when a recipe you’ve never tried before comes out better than you could have hoped.

 

Adding butter and cheese to a tortilla

Last night I made a quesadilla. Due to leaving town at the end of the week, and some laziness, we haven’t gone grocery shopping. I was home alone for dinner and decided to use the few master ingredients left in the fridge to make myself a little treat. Containing absolutely no nutritional value and stuffing myself with sodium before bed, it probably wasn’t the best idea from a healthy diet perspective. But boy, oh boy, was it tasty. There is nothing quite so devilishly delicious as adding butter and cheese to a tortilla. I curled my legs up on the couch, covered them up with a blanket, grabbed the remote and ate my quesadilla in bliss. Crispy, golden tortilla glistening with melted butter and the warm, gooey, pillowy soft cheese (Monterrey Jack, thank you) joining forces to give you the most comforting of Mexican treats…what’s not to love?!

I do not like to order quesadillas at restaurants, however. Is it ever really as good as you can make it at home? Sure, they add fancy things like chicken or grilled steak. They might even throw in some roasted chiles or perhaps an onion. But A) I don’t think it’s worth it to spend money on a quesadilla at a dining establishment. With all of the other amazing dishes to be had (hello, queso fundido!) why waste your hard earned cash on a quesadilla? and B) these things really do taste better when made at home. You can add any amount of butter you want to the pan, you’re not limited to the few ingredients a restaurant is willing to add (although I am a cheese only purist) and you can even make that second or third one if you want because there are lots of tortillas in a package and nobody will judge you. I promise.

I used to make a lot of quesadillas when I lived in L.A. They’re cheap, yummy and make you bloated enough to feel like your stomach is actually full. But rather than getting giddy over a weekday night alone eating junk on the couch, it was too much of the norm back then to make me happy. I worked a lot of part-time jobs and I was up at 3:30am to get my days started which left me continually exhausted and, oddly enough, broke. I didn’t have much of a rockin’ social life in L.A. So I stayed in most nights and ate things like quesadillas …alone…on the couch…maybe with a bottle of 2 Buck Chuck (it was still $1.99 then). But now I find myself surrounded by loved ones and I’m almost always doing something worthwhile for others or myself. So when I get a lazy night alone now, I relish in it. That means stuffing my face with a quesadilla and smiling as I lick the dripping grease off my fingers.