Baked Shrimp with Feta and Spinach

This dish gives you a great excuse to eat right out of the pan – it’s not only recommended but almost required! Add to the equation tomato sauce that’s baked in the oven and lots of bread for dipping, and you have my ideal recipe for a hearty winter meal.  Even though it is a beautiful and sunny day in New York and I can almost forget that it was snowing here last Saturday.  Almost.

This recipe is very straightforward with no surprise ingredients.  Just heart-healthy spinach and crumbly feta, with onions, garlic, and of course plenty of tomato sauce.


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Winter Persimmon Salad with Pomegranate Seeds, Farro, and Avocado

After the intense grilled cheese sandwich I ate for lunch yesterday, I figured I would give my body a little present by filling it with the fruits and vegetables it has been calling out to me for.  After browsing through a bunch of different seasonal salad recipes on FoodBuzz, I decided to stick with ingredients I mainly had at home, and that’s how this winter-fruit salad came about.  I should tell you that after I took a few bites of this salad, my eyes widened and I said to myself out loud, “this might be the best salad you’ve ever made Ash!”  Truthfully I don’t know if that statement is true or if I was just really hungry after my run this morning.

Either way this salad definitely hits the spot and gives you so many textures to enjoy: creamy avocado slices, crunchy pomegranate seeds, silky persimmon strands and of course the very unique texture provided by farro.  If you’re particularly drawn to pomegranate seeds, I recommend checking out this beautiful Arabic Salad recipe which includes another favorite ingredient of mine, pomegranate molasses. Don’t know what a persimmon is? Neither did I a few years ago, but after trying a ripe one with my mom one winter I quickly became hooked.  Here’s a photo of what they look like:

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Monday’s Marvelous Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Happy Halloween! Am I scaring you with my food?

I sure hope not.  I actually just want to talk to you about the very un-scary topic of favorite childhood meals.

At first I was going to write about the classics, such as spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, and of course grilled cheese.  But as I thought about it more I decided that while I love these foods (especially grilled cheese!), they don’t exactly embody my childhood eating experience.  My mom is neither American-born nor very fond of cooking, so she gave herself the liberty of dabbling in all sorts of cuisines and picking and choosing whatever pleased her and us.  What did we eat as children?  We enjoyed everything from Chinese-inspired (I use inspired very loosely here) chicken dishes served with Basmati rice to chicken and shrimp fajitas with loads of caramelized onions.  Throw in a few traditional Iranian dishes and several variations of roast chicken and you are looking at the Fahr family’s childhood fare.  So grilled cheese was never actually a staple in my family, and that is probably exactly why I like it so much now.

In my mind there is very little more satisfying than putting both hands around a hot sandwich and biting into crunchy bread, only to find oozy, melted cheese in the middle.  Kind of like what happened here:

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Orange You Glad You Made This Pasta?

I used this title to try and catch your attention, did it work?  Either way I really do think you’ll be glad to make this orange-tinged pasta! I made this for myself the other day when I was feeling the fall cold more than I would have liked, and I decided that I needed a little pasta pick-me-up. It definitely satisfied any hearty cravings, even though it’s a vegetarian dish and is relatively low-fat.

This time I’m including a set of additional photos because my friend Colleen (same friend I mentioned in the last post – she was full of good ideas when I saw her!) mentioned that often when she goes to a supermarket, she will know the name of what she’s supposed to buy but she won’t know what it looks like.  I forgot that I had that problem for a long time too – I’ll never forget babysitting some family friends’ kids when I was 20 years old.  Their mom asked me to pick some basil from her garden, only to find me returning with a handful of weeds! Thankfully things have improved for me since then hehe.

Rambling aside, please look at the top right photo below to see what red kuri squash looks like.  I placed it behind my beloved chef’s knife so you can get a feel for its size.

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Top 10 (or 11) Most Handy Kitchen Items

A bit of background if I may: last night I got drinks with my good friend Colleen, who works in the fashion industry and who just moved into her own 1-bedroom apartment (congrats love!).  She is another friend of mine whose cooking abilities are very limited but who hopes to learn at least the basics.  I really appreciated her honesty last night; Colleen told me that the idea of cooking is daunting, primarily because she doesn’t know where to start.  Most of the food websites she looks at have explanations and instructions that are already over her head, so it’s tough for her to get some type of beginner’s guide.

When she asked me for a list of tools/equipment she should have in the kitchen, I quickly became animated and started listing everything that in my mind was an essential: cheese grater, pasta pot, large and small skillet, you get the point.  This got us talking and we both agreed that this would be a great addition to the blog!  So that is how I landed here, hoping to give you a short list of goodies which will help make your cooking experience(s) less intimidating.

Basic equipment:

1. Small skillet – great for omelettes or a steak fillet or chicken breast

2.  Large skillet – great for pasta sauces, sautéing vegetables, or cooking a few fillets at a time

3.  Small saucepan with lid – good for boiling small things like eggs or baby potatoes

4.  Large pot with lid – great for pasta and soups

5. Strainer – to drain your amazing pasta!

6. Spatula – to flip eggs, cuts of meat

7.  A few wooden spoons – I use these more than anything else

8.  Cheese grater – I say it all the time, but cheese is just so great.  Even greater when it’s grated.

9.  Knives – you can either buy a set of knives, or just buy several serrated knives and one big chef’s knife.  I know chef’s knives are expensive (and I think well worth it!) but I found on the Macy’s website a Martha Stewart Santoku knife at the astoundingly low sale price of $9.99.  I unfortunately have never tried it (I can’t be torn from my Wusthof knife) but the reviews are good so I’m including a link here.

10. A salad spinner – eat your vegetables kids.

11.  A cutting board

Extra tools that you may want to invest in:

-A ladle, aluminum foil, a few tupperware containers, a vegetable peeler, a blender/food processor or immersion blender.

In terms of food items, it’s your job to get creative and decide what your favorite food items are that you always want to have on hand.  For me this changes, right now it’s parmesan cheese, whole milk, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Regardless, I think every person should have salt, pepper, sugar, and olive oil.  From there the kitchen is your oyster.

Does this help you?  Would you include anything else on this list?  Let me know, leave a comment!

Farro with Red Kuri Squash and Leeks (Plus easy kale chips)

The beauty of this recipe lies in its effortless presentation of sumptuous fall flavors.  When I was living in Paris I fell in love with potimarron, a small pumpkin-looking squash that was very popular among Parisians, and which I adored cooking with.  So much so that during the month of October I think my go-to dinner was simply cooked potimarron with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

I was ecstatic when I saw some potimarron, or red kuri squash, at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange today, mainly because they are the perfect size for one person! Red kuri squash has a distinct chestnutty flavor that comes out beautifully when the squash is roasted or braised.  I paired it with leeks and some chopped parsley in this recipe, but I definitely believe that you should add your personal touch and change this recipe based on what you have on hand.  It is very flexible, and cooking farro in this way gives you a sort of carte blanche to do with it what you want.

My only regret while making this dish is that I didn’t make more.  I would be thrilled to have some of this goodness waiting for me in the fridge on a day when I don’t feel like cooking.  If you decide that you want to double the recipe, you can do that very easily:  keep all amounts the same, just up the broth to 2 cups, and the farro to 2/3-cup.  You may want to add more chopped parsley and fresh parmesan cheese.

If you can’t find red kuri squash, which is a sad but realistic truth, you can easily substitute acorn squash.  Although in this case you won’t achieve the mind-blowing chestnut flavor, so I sincerely hope you succeed in finding red kuri!

Lastly, I’m including a recipe for the easiest (and maybe the healthiest) chips on the planet: kale chips, made from the fresh leafy greens that become crispy, tangy, and delightful when roasted.  I’ve wanted to try them for a while, and after seeing an easy recipe on SarahFit’s Tumblr page I decided to give it a try.  You can just toss them in the oven at the same time as the red kuri squash, since they cook for about as long.  I know 2 cups of kale chips seems like a lot, but it’s really not – I ate them all in one sitting, and I didn’t even feel bad about it!

Please give me any feedback you have – did you substitute the leek or squash for another vegetable?  The more ideas the better, so please leave comments!

Farro with Red Kuri Squash and Leeks – serves 1
1 red kuri squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cups vegetable broth
1 small onion or shallot, chopped
1 leek, green stalks and stem removed, rinsed, and thinly sliced crosswise
1/3-cup pearled farro
1/4-cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Toss red kuri with 1 tablespoon olive oil and brown sugar on a lined baking sheet.  Bake in oven until soft and slightly browned, about 15-20 minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, bring vegetable broth to simmer in a small saucepan.
4.  In another small saucepan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.
5.  Add onion and stir until softened, 3-4 minutes.
6.  Add leek and cook until silky and softened, about 8 minutes.  Gently break apart leek rounds with a wooden spoon.
7.  Add farro, and toast in saucepan for 1 minute.
8.  Add white wine, and cook until all liquid is evaporated.
9.  Add one ladle full of broth and simmer, reducing heat as necessary, until broth is absorbed.  Continue adding ladles of broth until farro is fully cooked, making sure that each ladle full is absorbed before adding another, about 18 minutes.
10.  Once farro is fully cooked (you can cover pot for five minutes to ensure doneness), add red kuri cubes.  Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add additional parmesan if desired.
Easy Kale Chips – makes about 2 cups
1 bunch fresh kale, stems removed and leaves torn
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Toss kale with oil, pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper on a lined baking tray.
3.  Cook until kale is crispy, tossing once halfway through cooking time, about 15 minutes.

Bacon and Parmesan Frittata

 

To all nervous novices out there: I think you’ll like this recipe.  I made a larger version for two friends for lunch and they both remarked upon how easy it was to make and how much flavor the final result packed in.

I’d like to tell you a little about said friends, because they represent in my mind the exact type of people I hope to convert into cooks.  These two work in finance and explained to me today that their favorite home-cooked meals come in boxes usually bearing the title “Lean Cuisine” or another similar variation.  Perfect, I thought, hopefully this easy recipe will convince them that cooking is not as hard as it seems!  Unless they were just trying to make me feel good (and that would be so sad), I think I succeeded.

I hear from a lot of my friends that they would like to learn to cook for their significant others.  I hope you will use these recipes as a starting point to get yourself familiar with cooking.  Since a great majority of these dishes can easily be doubled, you will have no problem impressing someone else with your newly acquired skills!

Frittatas are great because they are easy and almost fail-proof, and you can alter most recipes to cater to ingredients you have on hand or that you prefer.  In this case, you can substitute arugula (that has been sautéed and slightly wilted) or chopped cilantro for the parsley.  You can also change the cheese – don’t want to splurge on a large hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano?  Opt instead for pecorino romano, gouda, swiss, or Gruyère.  Any hard cheese that can be grated will actually taste great – let’s be honest, cheese is just fantastic anytime, in any form.

You’ll need some time to cook the caramelized onions but I promise you it is will worth it – only when onions have been slowly cooked over low heat does their natural sweetness come out and shine.  They pair beautifully with the salty bacon and crisp parmesan cheese.  Caramelized onions are pretty low maintenance, just watch over them in the beginning or they may risk burning.

Bacon and Parmesan Frittata – serves 1
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, stems removed and thinly sliced
2 slices thick bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
2-3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1.  Heat olive oil in a small ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
2.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until onions are caramelized and golden in color, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3.  Meanwhile, cook bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until crispy, about 10 minutes.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and dry off excess fat with paper towels.  Discard bacon fat.
4.  In a small bowl, beat eggs with heavy cream (or milk if using) and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Turn heat under onions up to medium, and add egg mixture along with parsley and bacon bits.
5.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until bottom is set.  Tilt the pan and push cooked egg towards center of skillet to let uncooked eggs run underneath.
6.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over frittata and finish cooking in the oven until center is just set, about 4-5 minutes.