Recipe: Farro with Sautéed Leeks and Mushrooms

The other day I had one of those moments in the grocery store where I stared blankly at the produce shelves thinking, “Why did I not plan what I’m going to make dinner next week before coming into the store?”  Because that’s the thing, if I don’t go in with a game plan, I come out with 17 random things that can’t possibly be put together into a sensible/edible meal.  Then I had a small epiphany right there next to the bananas, realizing that a favorite and easy meal favorite of mine are vegetables sautéed with some kind of grain.  I knew I had something in the barley/risotto/rice family at home, so I bought two vegetables that I thought would make a yummy meal: leeks and mushrooms.  I’ve met a lot of people who have a lifelong aversion to mushrooms.  I plead with you — give them another shot!  They are tender, filling, flavorful and they make so many dishes really tasty.  If you aren’t familiar with leeks, they look like scallions that have been roid raging.  They similarly have an oniony flavor, although not an overpowering one.  When I got home, I decided the leeks and mushrooms would be best with farro, an “ancient” Roman grain — props to my Italian ancestors for cultivating this wonderful food.  Yes, this is a vegetarian recipe, but the hearty farro and mushrooms easily make it a main dish.  Hope you enjoy it!

 Ingredients

2-3 medium leeks (or 1 ½ REALLY BIG ones)
3 large portobello mushrooms or 1 pint button mushrooms
1 cup farro
2 cups vegetable broth (you can use  vegetable bouillon cubes and water)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt (if desired) 

Put the vegetable broth and farro into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook for about 20 minutes or until the grain is tender and the liquid is almost all absorbed.  Remove from heat.  Meanwhile, slice leeks crosswise into ⅛ inch slices. Rinse in a colander (leeks grow in sandy dirt and often bring the outside in with them when they are harvested).  Clean the mushrooms by wiping them gently with a dampened paper towel.  Cut mushrooms into ½ in pieces.  On medium heat, melt butter and olive oil together in a large saucepan or dutch oven.  Just as the butter starts to become golden and bubbly, add the leeks and mushrooms.  Add the salt.  Stir to coat with the butter and oil and stir every few minutes until the vegetables are tender. Mix the vegetables with the cooked farro, and serve warm.

 

Cleaning House

A dear friend of mine gave me a really thoughtful gift the other week — a book called The Naturally Clean Home.  It’sHomemade non-toxic cleaning text-pic a neat little book containing basic homemade recipes for easy concoctions to clean anything in your home from wood furniture to bathtub tile to carpet.

I already liked the idea of homemade, natural cleaners because conventional cleaning products often contain harsh and toxic chemicals.  The smell of bleach makes me dry-heave.  But so far I had only tried a vinegar and baking soda mix to clean pans with burnt-on food (which works well!).  This little book has many variations of cleaners, but it seems that castile soap, vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice are the main stars.  Surprised that so many cooking ingredients can be used for cleaning?  Vinegar and lemon juice have antibacterial properties.  And baking soda is a great alternative to toxic chemicals in household cleaning scrubs.  The other benefit of these homemade cleaning formulas is that they are very economical.  You can buy huge containers of white vinegar and baking soda from Costco and use those for several different cleaners rather than separately spending $9 on bathroom cleaner, $8 for counter spray, $7 for wood cleaner, and so on.  Check out this great little book or do some online research about homemade non-toxic cleaners.

In the meantime, here’s a little recipe of my own that works well to clean things around the house that can get grimy, like an electric facial cleanser brush head, razor handle or make-up brushes.

Hilary’s Cleaning Concoction

Fill a glass with two teaspoons of baking soda, ½ cup of white vinegar, and ½ cup warm water.  Sink the item into the glass — it may float, so to keep it immersed in the cleaning fluid you can hold it in place with a clean butter knife or something similar.  Keep it submerged for a few hours or overnight.  For makeup brushes, rinse with cold water and lay out on a clean washcloth to dry.  For plastic or rubber items, you may need to lightly scrub with a clean toothbrush to remove grime or mildew before rinsing and drying.

Recipe: Homemade Chocolate Candies

Valentine’s day is on Saturday and Russell Stover is hoping that you stock up on its candies made with corn syrup and “natural flavor.”  But why not give your special someone a homemade treat that says ‘I made an effort for you and here’s something homemade without questionable ingredients’?  Man, I should be a greeting card author…

I came up with this recipe for chocolate candies because every day after lunch at work I crave a little something sweet. A palette cleanser if you will. And yeah, I will, because I like to be fancy. But seriously, if I don’t bring a little sweet treat with me I end up going to CVS and buying those little homemade chocolate candies text graphicHershey’s nuggets and 3 other things I really didn’t need. So one day I thought, why not make my own chocolate candies?  I like dark chocolate, but most “dark” chocolate is still so sugary sweet, ick.  On the other side of the spectrum, unsweetened chocolate is also pretty gross.  It’s a bit of a Goldilocks dilemma.  I figured if I made my own candies, I could combine the two to make the chocolate as semisweet/dark as I want.  (Hint: look at the percentage of cacao in your chocolate.  If it’s less than 65-70%, it’s going to  be pretty sweet and sugary.)  And let’s face it sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you feel like 3 nuts and Almond Joy isn’t almond-y enough.  With my own candies, I can choose the filling I want and make them extra nutty and crunchy.

When you make these, you can use whatever filling you like best! Try: pecans, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, coconut flakes, dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried pineapple, or any other fruit or nut. It’s pretty much as easy as melt, drop, harden, and eat.  Have a happy Valentine’s Day!


Ingredients:

6 oz. unsweetened chocolate (easiest to buy a bar of this kind of chocolate)
1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (semi-sweet has more sugar than bittersweet)
1 cup filling (nut, dried fruits or both) 

Recipe:

Fit a baking sheet with a Silpat liner or wax paper.  Fill the bottom of a double boiler* with water and bring to a boil.  In the top part of the double boiler, melt both the semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate together, stirring constantly until smooth.  In the meantime, on the lined baking sheet,  form small clusters of nuts/dried fruits 2 inches apart.  For a 12 x 16 baking sheet, I can fit 24 clusters.  With a spoon or small spatula, drop about a tablespoon of melted chocolate on each cluster, being careful to let the melted chocolate get in all the nooks and crannies to bind the filling together. With any extra melted chocolate, add an additional drizzle to each cluster so that all the nuts and fruits are fully encased in the chocolate.  Put the baking sheet in the fridge for 2 hours or until the chocolate is hard.  Transfer the candies to an airtight container. Enjoy for many weeks!


*I WISH I had a double boiler.  For now in my tiny apartment, I boil water in a large saucepan, with a glass mixing bowl settled on top. Tiny kitchens require creativity!

Recipe: Crock-Pot Granola

Who knew that you could make granola in the crockpot?  Well, you can and it’s changed my breakfast routine.   I used to buy granola in the health food section of the grocery store, but there is so much sugar in most store-bought granola.  And a box of organic granola is not cheap.  Also, how frustrating is it to buy some “nutty crunch” cereal that has maybe one measly nut per every few spoonfuls?  Lame.  The best part of making granola at home, besides how easy and inexpensive it is, is that you can add as many nuts or fruits as you want.  Me, I like a little oats with my nuts and dried fruit but you can customize this recipe to your tastes by eliminating or reducing some off the add-ons.  This original recipe came from my sister on a trusty little 3×5 card that I’ve lovingly spilled on and wrinkled over the years.  That recipe only specified “oil” so canola oil or most others will work.  But I like coconut oil because of the taste and the great health benefits.  You have to be close by to stir it often so it doesn’t burn, so it’s a good recipe for a Sunday afternoon, or when you work from home.  Your kitchen will smell delicious while it cooks.

Ingredients

6 cups rolled oats
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup honey
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger

 

Add-ons

½ cup each of the following — feel free to substitute and be creative:
dried cranberries
raisins
golden raisins
dried apple pieces
coconut flakes
pecan pieces
walnut pieces
pumpkin seeds

Put the first seven ingredients is a crock-pot and stir together.  Set the crock-pot on low for 2 hours.  Stir after the first 30 minutes, and then stir every 15 minutes after that, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot.  Cool completely, then stir in the add-on ingredients.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for several weeks.