I Must Be Nuts

You may know this already, if you know me personally or if you’ve been reading along for oh I don’t know, a week – but I can be a bit nutty sometimes. One time, I booked the wrong flight from NC to IL and got to the airport only to find that my flight left me the day before! My mom was selfishly ecstatic; meanwhile, Hubs was bitterly picking a Benjamin from our money tree. I forgot to include a dryer sheet the other day and I had static cling all morning until I was rescued by the static cling fairy one of the admins in my department. Static cling just isn’t pretty. I’ve missed my train stop a couple of times in the past month or two because, as opposed to most other people who miss their stops because they are sleeping, I’m just daydreaming. And just now, I received an email from someone searching for me because i forgot to include contact information on a hotel booking form. Thank goodness for google searches, eh?

I even went to culinary school once. Isn’t that just batty? I was in class three nights a week learning how to use aspic and how to make puff pastry from scratch, among other things. And as silly and nutty as that may have been, I loved every second of it. I miss it, in a way. And since finishing that last class and getting my official ‘culinary certificate’ in the mail, I’ve wondered where my place is in that world. I’ve wondered how to comfortably nestle my career as a genetic counselor into the arms of something I find even more rewarding, invigorating, and downright satisfying on so many levels – food. Not just eating food, but the entire process of it and the happiness that comes when you cook for others. Nourishing them, expanding limits of what they will eat, expanding limits of what I will eat – ultimately, that is what makes me smile, and that’s what this is all about.

Which brings me to ‘step 1’ and item #3 on my New Years Resolution list.I am officially for hire! Is that crazy, or what? So go on and read here for the details, and then spread the word! And if you’re up for being my sous chef one day, just holler :).

To really seal the deal on all this talk about nuttiness, I find it nothing short of mandatory to discuss homemade granola bars. Seriously, you really shouldn’t buy them at the store as they are loaded with all sorts of icky things. Plus, they are so freakin’ easy to make it’s not even funny. There are oodles of recipes online, so I’m not suggesting that you have to make these, but I’m biased and I can vouch for them – they will knock your socks off, even if you’re wearing two to three pairs these days.

I’m not sure what it is that makes these so awesome, but usually anything containing molasses is enough to make me drool like a St Bernard. Most recipes I saw used honey, but I had plenty of other sweeteners I wanted to try and I do love me some Grandma’s Molasses and have very fond memories of pouring it onto Aunt Faye’s buttermilk biscuits as a child. I think the agave nectar refines the taste a bit so that the bars aren’t overloaded with molasses, and you could surely use honey if you prefer, or even maple syrup. Either way, they truly are morsels of utter tastiness – sweet enough, chewy enough, and loaded nuts which add just the right amount of texture.

To boot, they are healthy and chock-full of all those good-for-you things that you want to consume first thing in the morning. Or afternoon. Or as a late night snack. No matter when, it’s a kind of nutty thing you just have to do, and you’ll never go back to those quaker granola bars again – unless you’re even nuttier than I think you are :).

Easy Granola Bars
makes 12 individual bars

yes, the version below is overflowing with ingredients. the thing about granola bars is you can totally make them your own by adding whatever suits ya. i’ll put an abbreviated recipe below so you can see how creative  you can be. because i’m all about making your life easy – especially making granola bars easy. because they are…

printable recipe

2 c oats
3/4 c pumpkin seeds (or other seed combo)
3/4 c ground flax seeds
1/4 c macadamia nuts, finely chopped
1/4 c pecans, finely chopped
1/2 c walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 c almonds, finely chopped
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/4 c agave nectar
1/4 c molasses
3 T unsalted butter, optional
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 c dried apricots, finely chopped
1/4 c dried figs, finely chopped
1/4 c golden raisins, finely chopped

preheat oven to 350 F. mix oats, seeds, and nuts into 9×13″ baking dish. toast nuts for ~20 minutes. dump in large mixing bowl when toasted and wipe down baking dish. toss in coconut and dried fruits and mix well.

while toasting oat/seed/nut mixture, heat sugar, agave nectar, molasses, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. pour hot mixture into the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

line baking dish with parchment paper and pour sticky mixture into dish. spread evenly. use another sheet of parchment paper to press down on mixture with your hands to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed, but also to ensure there are no bubbles and that the mixture is packed densely.

remove from dish by grabbing parchment paper and lifting up. turn out onto cutting board and cut into whatever size you want (i cut into 12 rectangular shapes). they can be stored at room temp for a couple of weeks or stored for even longer in the freezer.


Easier Granola Bars
makes 12 individual bars

as promised, here’s the short and sweet version

printable recipe

2 c oats**
1 1/2 c seeds*
1 1/2 c finely chopped nuts
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/2 c liquid sweetener
3 T unsalted butter, optional
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes, optional
3/4 c dried fruit, chocolate chips, or both

preheat oven to 350 F. mix oats, seeds, and nuts into 9×13″ baking dish. toast nuts for ~20 minutes. dump in large mixing bowl when toasted and wipe down baking dish. toss in coconut and dried fruits and mix well.

while toasting oat/seed/nut mixture, heat sugar, liquid sugars, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. pour hot mixture into the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

line baking dish with parchment paper and pour sticky mixture into dish. spread evenly. use another sheet of parchment paper to press down on mixture with your hands to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed, but also to ensure there are no bubbles and that the mixture is packed densely.

remove from dish by grabbing parchment paper and lifting up. turn out onto cutting board and cut into whatever size you want (i cut into 12 rectangular shapes). they can be stored at room temp for a couple of weeks or stored for even longer in the freezer.

*any seed combo. or wheat germ. if using flax, grind them first!
** gluten-free oats available at Whole Foods


Flame Kuchen + Getting Shanked

This recipe is included in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook – check it out!!

Heading to the South for the holidays involves a set ‘to-do’ list: visiting gramma, eating homemade biscuits, Aunt Faye’s chicken pastry & the rest of her spread, getting a chicken biscuit at Bojangles, finding a good NC BBQ joint (complete with Cheerwine & eastern NC vinegar sauce), spending loads of time with family, and going bowling with high school friends. This year, a brick oven and a guy named Mark were added to this list.

Mark & his wife, Dee, are good friends with my in-laws, and they have rotating dinner parties with a decently large group of other couples such as the Coxes & the Balls (no, I did not make up those names – the “Hickeys” are also good friends of theirs, but they don’t participate in the dinner festivities). Word on the street was that Mark is a pretty hard-core cook, and so someone got this wild idea for us to hang out and cook together while Hubs and I were home for the holidays. The email strings started shortly thereafter, and in no time Mark and I became cyber foodie buddies and were planning away.

It’s not every day that I get to chat about cooking techniques, pizza flours, and olive oils with someone who is thoroughly interested. I mean, I generally spend plenty of time talking (or typing) to myself and to those of you in cyberworld who care to read, but at the end of the day, I have a totally different career from food and in general, I don’t get into those conversations nearly as much as I’d like to (although one of my resolutions may change that).

Let’s be clear, the food conversations with Hubs are almost as difficult as cutting a perfect tournée. Although he likes hearing about some things, like how to make healthy fried chicken or how I infused bacon into soup without us actually eating bacon (which is by definition infusing), he could care less about watching either gelatin and sugar syrup morph into marshmallow fluff or a tiny ball of yeast and flour become a colassal mass of yeasted goodness, and I’m sure he wonders how even the ‘simplest’ things make me grin like a Cheshire cat.

But grin I do. It’s the seemingly minute aspects of life that really “do it” for me – like talking about pizza flour and how the nice (and cute) Italian guy at Pasticceria Natalina sold me Caputo 00 flour out of his bulk bag (and for cheap!), or sitting here watching snow fall like confetti at New Years parties and thinking I must be inside a snow globe because it’s so thick and white and pretty (yet I’m still dry…that is, until I have to walk down the sidewalks full of it).

Or like cooking with, and for, people who until very recently were practically strangers to me (although I apparently met them at our wedding) and how all the while, I felt as if I’ve known them for years. Food does that – it brings people together, unites them in a way that few other things can, minus sports. It doesn’t matter how young or old we are, how many kids we have, whether we have cats or dogs or both, or even if we pray and what or who we pray to. You cook good food, and it makes people happy. And that’s something to talk about for hours.

That does it for me.

And during those few hours, we whipped up a feast for six although it felt and looked like enough for a dozen. We threw together some pizzas with whatever was in the fridge, cooking it the “right” way – via an ultra-hot wood-burning brick oven. We braised lamb shanks and served them with butternut squash (among other things) and spinach – all with an Asian flair, the night’s “theme”. We ate and ate and drank good Spanish wine and then we ate dessert – a rich, creamy green tea and pomegranate panna cotta I concocted in advance.

In the end, we had a great time with great conversation, and the food was more than edible. I fell in love with the brick oven and with a puppy, much to Hubs’ dismay. I have no idea which one I might procure first – likely the brick oven from the sounds of it, and that’s not even happening in this decade. Ultimately we added one more stop to our NC holiday itinerary. But next time, next time screw the Viking stovetop –  it’s the brick oven all the way!


Asian-Spiced Lamb Shanks
Original recipe, adapted on the fly by my new friend, Mark; serves 4 but is easily adaptable to more

i hope you like flavor because these are loaded with it. we served our shanks with a butternut squash puree (ours included onions and various root vegetables (Christmas leftovers!) pureed with brick oven-roasted butternut squash with soy sauce, brown sugar, 5-spice powder, cinnamon, ginger, milk, and lime juice) and wilted spinach (sauteed with garlic & ginger). enjoy!

printable recipe

1 T evoo
4 whole lamb shanks
salt & pepper
2 T five spice powder, divided
1/2 t g cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 star anise pod
3 T Chinese rice wine
1/3 c soy sauce
2 T tamarind concentrate*
2 T brown sugar
2 T chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle of Chinese beer**
1 T flour (or 1 T cornstarch dissolved in a little water)
lime juice, if needed

Heat large skillet over med-hi heat with oil. Combine salt, pepper, 1 T five-spice and ground cinnamon in small bowl. Rub mixture onto lamb shanks. Sear lamb shanks on each side until nicely browned and remove from pan, place on plate and sit aside.

Preheat oven to 225 F.

Toast cinnamon stick, chili flakes, remaining five-spice, & star anise pod in a small skillet. Mix with Chinese rice wine, soy, tamarind concentrate, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, beer. Arrange seared lamb shanks in large dutch oven, pour spice mixture over. Cover.

Place dutch oven in oven and braise for 1 ¼ hr. Increase heat to 300 and braise another 1 ¼ hr. Increase heat again to 350 F and braise another 45 minutes – 1 hour, until meat is falling off the bone. Remove from oven, and keep warm.

Strain braising juices into another pot. Add 1 T flour and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer until sauce is thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper and freshen with lime juice if desired.

Optional: if preparing lamb shanks ahead of time, place shanks and thickened braising liquid back into dutch oven and refrigerate up to 3 days. Reheat over medium, skimming any fat that has accumulated.

Serve shanks with thickened sauce and your chosen sides.

*There was no tamarind concentrate to be found in Greensboro, NC (and not time to mail-order), so Mark found tamarind pods at Harris Teeter and crushed them and let them simmer in some orange juice until reduced to a thick consistency.

**You can use water or beef stock if you prefer. If you do though, increase the spices a little bit.

p.s. – thanks, Susan (my MIL), for the pictures! Yours turned out much better than mine since I accidentally left the macro setting on. oops! xoxo

Alcohol, A Holiday Necessity

Boy am I cutting this one close. By now you’ve probably already spent more than enough time with your Uncle Billy or Aunt Jane, right? Sure, that store-bought eggnogg does the trick if it’s loaded with brandy, but after a while all that egg yolk and cream starts to really get the tummy sloshin’, not to mention the slurs and inappropriate comments you might blurt out from drinking said ‘nog.

And believe-you-me, I’m not here to tell you to act any differently. It wouldn’t be the holidays without a drunken blowout or a few comments that leave your relatives feeling just a wee bit uncomfortable. Don’t worry – the great thing about relatives is that they have to love you, even if they don’t want to. And when you open up that hand-made sweater that’s a few sizes too big or perhaps the 2009 cat calendar, you won’t feel the slightest bit bad about those comments anyway :).

So, before ol’ Saint Nick comes down the chimney, let’s kick it up another notch or two, alright? I have just the drink that will do the trick – sangria. And not just any sangria because that wouldn’t quite fit the wintry mood, but spiced sangria. Consider it apple cider’s trendier cousin or something.

Whip it up, sit back and let the drama unfold, just like magic.

Happy Holidays!

Spiced Sangria

Not to worry if you’re lacking some of these ingredients – it’s an extremely forgiving recipe. Even the OJ isn’t a necessity. I’ve added all sorts of fruit juices (and even left them out altogether and doubled up on the brandy club soda). The fruit? Sure, you could live without that too, if you must. But without it, you can’t class it up by picking apples slices outta the pitcher and sucking the wine out :(.

printable recipe

1 bottle red wine (I use Yellow Tail Cab/Shiraz blend)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 t black peppercorns
2-3 whole cloves
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c orange juice
1/2 c brandy (white rum works too, even sake if there’s an open bottle in the fridge)
1-2 oranges, sliced thinly
1-2 apples, sliced thinly
any other fruit you have, if desired, save some for garnishing
club soda or citrus soda (Sprite or 7-up)

In a pitcher, pour wine (save 1 cup), OJ, and brandy. Add fruit and refrigerate. Can be done well in advance.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 c wine, spices, and sugar. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and let cool, then add to pitcher and keep refrigerated.

Immediately before serving, add club soda to taste (~2 c). Pour into wine glasses & garnish with a fresh fruit slice.

Fashionably Late Party Tricks

edamame wontons

One. More. Day. I’m slowly trudging through one nightmare of a week. Things would be much better around these parts if the threat of impending snow wasn’t littered through the morning news, if the construction crew across Michigan Ave could take a few days off (just for me – why is that so impossible to arrange?), if some youngin’ didn’t hit me (well, not me, my car) while we were trying to park for the Weezer show, or if I weren’t forcing myself to eat like a rabbit all week. Yeah, a rabbit. I suppose rabbits don’t eat lean cuisines, but either way I’ve found myself nibbling every little morsel of food with the ferocity of those little critters – making sure I’m tasting each and every bite, because let’s be honest – there aren’t many bites in those lil’ boxes.


So let’s recap – I’m hungry. I want to bake some cookies or make fudge or maybe even another loaf of pumpkin cranberry bread. Shoot – give me cassoulet or chili – something warm and hearty and I’d shut the hell up. But as I remind myself that the week is almost over and it’s almost time for me to reward myself with some of the above, I also remind myself that I don’t want to buy a new wardrobe because my pants stopped fitting. Or because I busted through them. That wouldn’t be pretty. No sir.

wonton step1

Shoot – I’d wrestle a kitten for those pretzels I made the other day. And yes, the freezer stash was also among the casualties this past weekend. But in making those pretzels, eating them and then re-eating them this past weekend, I reminded myself just how much I love appetizers, and I definitely don’t make enough of them. Truth be told, even the ones I make somehow never make their debut here, and that’s a cryin’ shame. Well, for you it is. I get to eat them either way.

wonton step2

But I do occasionally make appetizers. Especially when we have company, as they’re sure to impress. Like these little morsels of delight. Aren’t they just the cutest? Little nibbly pretty envelopes of edamame, so cute I could pinch them in two. I made these in September, and I forgot about them. Can you believe this?! But thankfully, I remembered – partially due to my self-induced hunger and the need to continue that torture by perusing all of my old food photos. But also thanks to the pretzels for reminding me how heavenly appetizers can be. Better late than never, right?

wonton step3


So, thank you pretzels. Thank you, edamame and your salty, toasty dipping sauce. Thank you week for almost being over so that I can make more appetizers and cookies. The question is, what do I make?

wonton step4


Edamame & Ginger Wonton Ravioli with Soy Sesame Dipping Sauce
Serves 4, makes about 32 wontons


printable recipe

Ok, so first I’ll apologize for being late on sharing this recipe. I should have, but I was a little bit more excited about finishing culinary school – my bad! But, this should not keep you from making this for an upcoming party, as they are sure to dazzle your guests. Plus, they taste good! Who doesn’t love edamame, right? And the dipping sauce? drinkable..


wonton ravioli
2 2/3 c shelled edamame
2 T coarsely chopped ginger
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1 garlic clove
1 t fresh  lime juice
salt & pepper to taste
About 32 dumpling or wonton wrappers

dipping sauce
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
1 t chopped garlic
1 t chopped ginger
1 t chopped scallions
1 t toasted sesame oil
1/2 t honey

puree edamame in food processor; add in ginger, cilantro, garlic clove and lime juice. season with salt and pepper, to taste. add more lime juice if mixture appears too dry.

place ~1 rounded t of mixture in the center of each wrapper. brush wonton lightly with water to moisten. fold one corner of wrapper onto other corner, making a triangle shape. fold all three sides of triangle inward to make an envelope. keep wontons folded as they’re being made so as not to dry up.

meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. boil in 2 batches until tender, about 2-3 minutes each. remove with slotted spoon.

whisk together ingredients for dipping sauce.

I Did it All for the Gnocchi

sweet potato gnocchi

Someone please tell me that I’m not the only person in this world to remember, to vividly remember, Limp Bizkit. Please… You don’t have to tell me they were your favorite band of the 90’s – well – if you did you’d be lying anyway because that answer should be someone like Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Red Hot Chili Peppers. Just tell me you remember them, if only just barely.

Sometimes I worry that I’m actually stuck in the 90’s. I remember telling my sister she was stuck in the 80’s – I still tell her that, particularly when she ‘facebooks’ (yes, a verb!) her account of the recent Def Leppard show at Walnut Creek. The 80’s were cool and all, but I prefer the 90’s, especially in terms of music. Don’t get me wrong – I love Wilco, Ryan Adams, the Killers, and so on. But most days I’d prefer PJ or RHCP, even Blind Melon, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, or a little Alanis Morissette and Lauren Hill.

gnocchi dough

I could also be just fine if I could wear my dad’s old flannel shirts and curduroy pants every day. I’d love to work 40 hours a week selling Siamese fighting fish at Walmart rather than racking my brain about someone’s family history.  I wish (sometimes) that weekends only meant one thing: the beach. I’d like my excitement of the day to be looking forward to what was going to be in my Happy Meal, and I’d be pretty content vacillating between sweet and sour sauce or honey mustard on my fries, fries cooked in trans fat of course.

But I suppose change is good. In most cases. Sure, my job now pays more than my high school job at Walmart, and my pants have less holes in them and usually no frays at the bottom. And the fries at Mickey-D’s are healthier (if that word can be used in the same sentence as McDonalds..).  I grew out of my Lenny Kravitz infatuation, and I took my eyebrow ring out a loooooong time ago. Also, I don’t listen to Limp Bizkit anymore. I don’t know – I think they were just too angry for my liking.

cut gnocchi

But I love that song “Nookie”, and every time I hear the word “gnocchi” that song comes into my head. Hence the rambling….

…. but I’ll stop that and slap myself back into November (eeps!) 2009. Where was I, anyway? Gnocchi. Yes, gnocchi.

brown butter sage sauce

Gnocchi cooked and tossed in a brown butter sage sauce. That is, soft, pillowy, morsels of creamy potatoey goodness infused with aromatic sprigs of sage cooked in sweet, nutty brown butter.

No matter how you choose to pronounce it, you just can’t beat the taste of it. And the versatility. And honestly, the ease of making it. Bake potatoes, mix with flour and egg, roll into strands, cut and cook. 

gnocchi close-up

“nyo kee”, if you insist.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi w/ Brown Butter Sage Sauce
Adapted from multiple sources; serves 4-6

printable recipe

1 1/4 lb russet potatoes (~2 medium)
1 lb sweet potato (1 large)
1 large egg
1/2 t salt
1/2 t fresh grated nutmeg
1/3 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (plus more for serving)
1 1/2 c ap flour (plus more for dusting)
4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
10 small fresh sage leaves
fresh ground black pepper

special equipment: potato masher, ricer, or food mill


  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Pierce potatoes with fork, bake on sheet pan for about 1 hour. Cool slightly, then peel and use special equipment above to mash. Let cool completely on sheet pan.
  3. Lightly flour clean surface. Beat together egg, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 t pepper in small bowl.  Gather cooled potatoes into a mound on lightly floured surface. Make a well in the middle and add egg mixture. Knead into potatoes (will be very sticky). Knead in cheese and 1 cup of flour, adding more as necessary, until mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Dust top lightly with flour.
  4. Cut dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece out into a 1/2″ thick rope and cut rope into 1/2″ long pieces. (Will have to continuously dust surface to keep from sticking). Place cut gnocchi on sheet of parchment paper.
  5. Repeat with remaining 5 pieces. Meanwhile, bring water to boil in large pot.
  6. Cook gnocchi in 2-3 batches. Cook about 3 minutes, or until gnocchi rise to the surface. Transfer to plate with slotted spoon.
  7. Meanwhile, heat butter and sage leaves in a medium skillet. Let butter cook about 3 minutes, until fragrant and nutty. Once gnocchi is finished cooking (all batches), add all to the skillet and mix into the butter sauce.
  8. Sprinkle gnocchi with fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese and fresh cracked pepper.

Gnocchi variation: Russet potato – Use all russet potatoes (2 lbs); Carrot-Potato – use 2 lbs russet potatoes and 1/2 c carrot puree and ~2 T more flour

Sauce variation: Parmigiano-Reggiano cream sauce – simmer 3/4 c heavy cream for 2 minutes. add gnocchi and 1/4 c P-R cheese and cook until cheese is melted, about 1 minutes.

Barley is Gnarly

butternut squash and barley risotto with cheese

Oh how the tables have turned. It wasn’t long ago that Chris was sitting at home playing his video games while I was busy crafting pies or pasta in the kitchens at school. We’ve since traded places – me chillin’ at home, him – well, not learning to make pasta – but learning whatever it is he’s learning en route to his MBA. Either way, he’s mad busy these days – if not in class he’s working on something for class. Which leaves me time for – you guessed it – cooking for numero uno. Yes, me!

Which reminds me, in addition to free time for cooking, I’ve also finally had enough spare time to move my blog to another host. Please forgive the organized chaos. I’ve ironed out a lot of the tweaks, but still have a few to go. In the meantime though, let’s talk about some food now, shall we?

barleydiced onions

We all love risotto, right? I know I do. I mean really, what’s not to like? Rice slow-cooked to a rich, creamy but still somewhat firm consistency – with additions of almost anything you could conjure up. And why stop with changing around the vegetables and proteins? I figured, why not shake it up a bit more and try a different grain – maybe it’s not your traditional risotto, but it sure tastes good.

Besides, why stop at beer when it comes to barley? In granular form, it may not offer that malted flavor we brewsky drinkers fervently enjoy, but it does have some other admirable qualities. For one, eating barley can help to regulate blood sugar for up to 10 hours post-consumption. Rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber (both soluble and insoluble), it wins against plain old rice any day of the week. What does it taste like? Chewy and crunchy, nutty and earthy – similar to brown rice but even more satisfying.

apricots,currants,parsleybarley risotto

I know – I’m not the first person to make barley risotto – and I hope not the last. If you haven’t tried barley, or any of these other fancy grains – I challenge you to give them a try. Give that arborio and that box of Uncle Ben’s a break, will ya? Pretty please, and thank you.

Need a little more guidance? Some more inspiration perchance? Check here for a recipe using farro (lovely, just like barley but gluten-free as barley is not), and check here for a quinoa salad. Have you made something with any other grains? Kamut? Wheat berries? Amaranth? Leave a link or two (or even three, if you please) in the comments section and share away!

butternut squash and risottobutternut squash barley risotto plated

Barley & Butternut Squash Risotto
Original from chiknpastry.com; serves 4

 printable version

3 c chicken or vegetable broth
2 c water
1 lb butternut squash, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
olive oil, for drizzling over squash
1 t 5 spice powder
1 t cinnamon
1 t cayenne pepper
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, small dice
1 c pearled barley
1 t garlic, minced
1/2 c dried fruit (I used 1/4 currants, 1/4 apricots)
salt & pepper
1/4 c pecorino-romano cheese, shredded
1 T basil, chopped
2 T pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 F

Mix broth and water together, heat in medium saucepan; keep warm

Mixed cubed squash with ~2T olive oil and spices (5 spice, cinnamon, cayenne). Spread on baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, turning halfway through.

Meanwhile, heat 1 T oil in medium-sized Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Throw in onion and cook for ~5 minutes; add garlic and cook ~1 minute. Add barley and let cook 1-2 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, and begin adding 1 ladle-full (1/2-1 c) of broth/water mixture at a time, stirring (almost) constantly until liquid is almost dissolved. Continue until barley is cooked, about 30 minutes. (There may be some broth mix leftover)

Remove risotto from heat, add in roasted squash & dried fruit. Top with cheese, herbs, nuts and season with salt and pepper.


On Conquering Fears

five spice calamari
I took one of those “How Well Do You Know Me?” quizzes on facebook a while back. They clearly are no indication of how well you know someone, but rather a way of showing how many (or how few) tidbits you can ‘guess’ right. I let out a huge guffaw when reading that most people think I would rather mingle at a party than people-watch. wtf? I’m one of the best people-watchers I know, and I cringe at making small talk unless it’s about a new all-clad pan or pasta roller attachment.

I also got a few chuckles out of the question about my fears. I used to think I didn’t have any of those. Spiders? No. Heights? Heck No. Snakes? Not really, but they do make me shiver when I see them on tv. I finally admitted it after years – I do have a fear…

The big ol’ ocean. Or rather, any large body of water, with waves and a ‘deep end’.

before scuba

Yep, I said it. I marry a swimmer and I’m afraid of the ocean. And can I swim? Does doggy paddling count?! You see, a long time ago, in grammar school, I got caught in the undertow. It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal, but this stupid wench I was with decided to stand on my shoulders so that she wouldn’t go under. Yes, wench. Wouldn’t you agree? It was traumatic at best. And needless to say, I only go into the water if I’m sweating bullets.

Or scubadiving.

scuba gear

I avoided the dreaded scuba in Fiji. I nodded every time Chris mentioned it for this past vacation, secretly hoping he’d change his mind. I was terrified. And not just at being in the middle of the Caribbean. Sure, it’s gorgeous, but there. is. nothing. under. my. feet. for feet. And to even think of, on top of that fear, of remembering to breathe, and remembering to equalize my ears.

during scuba
Equalize my ears. That’s another er, issue. A couple of years ago, my ears wouldn’t equalize for days after a flight. Days. I just knew I’d make it all the way into the big scary water and after it all, I wouldn’t be able to go past 5 feet because of my stupid ears.

Did I ever mention that I’m practically blind without my contacts? Thanks, Dad. My contacts are -6.5, if that means anything to you. That’s why I don’t wear glasses – I’m scurred that they’ll “fall off” and then I’d be lost, and blind, and then I’d run into stuff. And who knows what you might run into in Chicago. So on top of the ocean fear and the pressure fear, I also have the water-is-going-to-get-in-my-mask-and-then-my-contact-will-fall-out-and-then-I-can’t-see-anything fear.

I suppose that, when you love someone, you sometimes put your fears aside. You take one for the team, so to speak. I knew Chris, being a certified diver, was über-excited about the scuba venture. But I won’t pretend that I enjoyed every second of it. I won’t pretend I didn’t almost give up at least 10 different times (7 of those in the pool during ‘training’). I think I almost used my whole air tank by hyperventilating the second I got in the sea, just on the way down the rope. One time, my ears started making this crackling noise, and it took all my might to not shoot straight up to the surface. Another time, I thought I felt water creep into my mask, just a little, and again thought about bee-lining to the sun.

steamed calamari
But I did it. And after about 20 minutes of hyperventilating and dreading seeing even the prettiest fish of them all, I finally started to enjoy it. I started to realize that, underneath the big scary body of water, there is another world, completely separate from our own. It was amazing, and gorgeous and beautiful and all of those nice words. And afterwards, I felt accomplished. I felt like, if only for a few moments, I’d conquered three ‘fears’ in one. And I survived it.

So in light of said fear-conquering, I thought I’d cook up some water creatures that many might be afraid to even eat, much less prepare – squid, or more fancily, calamari. I myself, will admit that I was a little apprehensive about cooking the little buggers. Rightfully so – the first recipe I tried was a dud – and by dud I mean neither one of us could eat the leftovers. That’s bad, folks.

I should have known – the recipe used steamed calamari, the wicked stepsisters to the succulent little fried mollusks served alongside your sauce of choice. And while many people prefer the ‘rings’ or ‘bodies’ of the calamari, I’d take those tentacles, umm mmm, hands down.

fried calamari
With that being said, I set out to conquer calamari once and for all. The right way. I felt a little sad about the steamed calamari from last week, and figured why continue to mess around? I was in it to win it. I’d say I knocked it outta the park, this time. The fried squid are perfectly crispy with the flour and bread crumb crust, and the addition of spices adds a little kick – so good that I had a tough time not eating them as they drained. But try to wait for the sauce – it’s light which is a nice alternative to the usual aioli or creamy dip served in restaurants.

Cooking squid isn’t so scary after all. The jury is still out on the scuba …

Five-Spicy Calamari w/ Soy-Sesame Dipping Sauce
Serves 4 as an appetizer

canola oil (for frying)
1 c ap flour
1 c panko bread crumbs
1 T five-spice powder
1 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 c
1 lb cleaned calamari; tentacles whole; bodies cut into 1/2″ rings

dipping sauce
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice vinegar
1 t minced garlic
1 t minced ginger
1 t sesame oil
1 t honey or agave nectar

pour oil to about 3 inches in heavy bottom pot. heat to ~350-375 F. whisk flour through black pepper in large bowl. place buttermilk in another bowl. add calamari to milk, then into bowl with flour. toss to coat and fry in oil in batches, about 2 minutes for each batch. remove with slotted spoon and place on plate lined with paper towels to drain.

for dipping sauce, whisk all ingredients together and adjust ingredients as needed.