We’ve all done it. You get home from work and you’re basically ravenous. You can’t be bothered with setting an actual place for yourself. You grab a few nuts, pour a glass of wine, break out the leftovers, and go to town. Or if you’re me last night, it goes a little something like this: You spend the late afternoon making and photographing a beautiful dish of warm grains and cabbage and time’s ticking away. You’re meeting Katie, your old high school friend, for drinks so you rush out the door. You’re wearing a pretty, flowy scarf and feeling a little like you can take on the world as you’re strolling down Divisadero towards your favorite neighborhood bar. You catch up. You laugh. You cry a little. You envy the fact that your friend has a real job (yay, Katie!). You drink maybe one more than you should considering the fact that you haven’t eaten since 11 a.m. Then you get home, pull your hair up into a high bun, break out the boxer shorts, and to the fridge you go. You find yourself sitting in a dark, quiet kitchen lit only by the security light from the building next door–tipsy and grateful for such an amazingly nourishing salad.
So while I’d love to wax on about what a lovely side dish this is and how well it would compliment pork or add to any vegetarian spread, it’s just as good in your scivvies late on a Tuesday night. I guess that says a lot.
I was drawn to this recipe because it looked like a fairly perfect dish to me. While I’m no longer a vegetarian, I cook that way most of the time and I’m a big farro fan. Yep, I’ve been in farro’s corner for a long time now. So this warm salad combines colorful cabbage, crunchy walnuts, hearty grains of your choosing (could use barley, spelt, wheat berries, or short grained brown rice) and the delightfully crumbly and slightly salty ricotta salata. It’s got a lot going for it. And I’m pretty sure you’ll love it as much as I did, whether you’re a worn-in boxer shorts or a cocktail dress kind of gal.
I’ve adapted the recipe, opting to cook the grains in chicken stock instead of water to enhance the flavor. I also used more thyme and added minced garlic. See the chart below for the proper liquid/grain ratio and cooking time for your chosen grain. Food and Wine did split up the recipe into two parts, giving you directions for making the Thyme-Scented Grains and then separate directions for the warm salad itself. I’ll do the same for ease, but just know that the former is quite common sense so don’t be overwhelmed by the length of the directions. I think this dish would be fantastic with the addition of spinach or kale as well. That’s on my to-do list next time around.
I’ve adapted the recipe, opting to cook the grains in chicken stock instead of water to enhance the flavor. I also used more thyme and added minced garlic. You can use any grain for this salad and the cook time will obviously vary depending on your choice (See the chart in the Directions, below, for the proper liquid/grain ratio and cooking time for your chosen grain). I think this dish would be fantastic with the addition of spinach or kale as well. That’s on my to-do list next time around.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
For the Grains:
For the Salad:
Cook the Grains: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the grains and cook over moderate heat, stirring until lightly toasted; the grains will turn slightly opaque just before browning. Add the onion and thyme and cook over low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about five minutes. Add the chicken broth and 1 tsp. of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over very low heat until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender. Fluff the grains and discard the thyme sprigs. Season the grains with salt if necessary and serve (Makes: About 4 cups)
Prepare the Salad: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate or baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes until golden and fragrant. Let cool, then coarsely chop.
In a large skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the cabbage, garlic and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and cook. Stir occasionally until the cabbage is barely wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme and water, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender and the water has evaporated, 20 minutes. Stir in the the Thyme-Scented Grains, ricotta salata, and toasted walnuts. Transfer to a bowl and serve.
Grain Cooking Chart: For 1 1/2 cups of your chosen grain, consult this chart for amount of liquid and time:
Barley, pearled/ 3 cups liquid / 25 minutes
Farro / 3 cups / 25 minutes
Short-grain brown rice / 2 3/4 cups / 35 minutes
Spelt / 4 cups / 1hr. 25 minutes
Wheat berries / 5 cups / 2 hours
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)