SPICY MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE

I found this vintage mussel dish on ebay.

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It’s kinda ugly in an interesting sort of way.  I believe it was made in France in the 1950s by Vallauris.

Have you ever heard the saying “some days you’re the pigeon and other days you’re the statue?”  How about “some days you’re the dog and other days you’re the hydrant?”  Well, I’ve got another one for you — some days you’re the seagull and other days you’re the mussel.  Seagulls have a taste for mussels and other shellfish.  To get at the meat inside the shell, they carry the mussel high in the air, and then drop it on rocks below.  They do this over and over until the shell finally cracks open, and then they feast.  (A nice video of this, with some sea lions as an added bonus, can be seen here.)

After certain unpleasant and entirely fascinating recent events in American politics, I think we all might feel a little mussel-like, as if we’d been repeatedly dropped on sharp rocks until a seagull can come and pick our innards out.  This feeling, together with the mussel dish, is the inspiration for this recipe for Spicy Mussels in White Wine.

On Fridays and Saturdays, the Costco near me has a sort of pop-up seafood shop, and they almost always have 3-pound bags of beautiful Prince Edward Island (“PEI”) mussels   — rarely a broken shell in the whole bunch.  In researching mussels, I learned that the size of the mussel varies with the season — they are largest in October and smallest in March.  If a batch of mussels appears to be different colors, don’t worry — pale white meat indicates a male mussel, and a warmer, more orangey colour, a female.  (Yep, another step closer to being Cliff Clavin.)

This recipe is quick and easy, and is  a delicious light meal any time of year. Crusty bread is, of course, mandatory for sopping up the broth.  For times when you are perhaps feeling mussel-like, a soothing, steaming, savory bowl of mussels in white wine will help you feel like you are soaring with the seagulls in no time, at least momentarily.

SPICY MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE
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Recipe type: Seafood, Main Courses
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2¼"-thick slices of lemon
  • 2 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any broken shells or that won't close)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chopped seeded tomatoes
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt, and saute until onion is golden, approximately 4-5 minutes. Add wine and lemon and bring to a boil over high heat. Add mussels and cook, covered, until mussels open, stirring once to rearrange mussels, approximately 6 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to individual serving bowls. Boil liquid remaining in pot until reduced to 1 cup, approximately 3 minutes. Season broth to taste with salt and pepper. Pour broth over mussels. Sprinkle with parsley and tomatoes, and serve hot.
  2. (Note: Have lots of crusty bread on hand to sop up the broth.)

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THANKSGIVING DAY GIVING

It’s not that we don’t have seasons in Houston — it’s just that they tend to not be very dramatic.  It’s been unseasonably warm this fall — too warm for the leaves to turn color — and the signs that Thanksgiving was approaching were subtle.  One clue was the ripening pecans hanging in clusters, which made the squirrels very happy:

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Another clue was the appearance of acorns.  I pass some kind of oak tree on my way to work that had the BIGGEST acorns I’ve ever seen:

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There was an occasional colored leaf:

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Soon, turkeys started going on sale at the grocery store, along with canned pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and Pepperidge Farm stuffing, leaving no doubt that Thanksgiving was nearing.  And that meant it was time for my son’s Boy Scout Troop’s 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Day Luncheon for senior citizens living in and around our little community.

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When my son was working on his Eagle project (a fence around utility structures in a neighborhood park), a city employee suggested that the Troop might consider hosting this luncheon, which had been abandoned 5 or 6 years ago by the group that had previously hosted it.  Sure, why not?

Last year we had 19 guests, but this year word spread and we had close to 50.  Through donations of ingredients and dollars, we were able to provide a mostly home-cooked meal (meats and pies were purchased) of roast turkey with gravy, smoked ham, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, Southern-style corn, green bean casserole, fresh cranberry relish, vanilla cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, and assorted pies with whipped cream.

We did most of the cooking two days before, using Senior Services’ well-equipped kitchen.

img_3821The day before, Troop volunteers set up the activity room.  Working within our budget and the fact that we had to use paper and plastic tableware, I think we managed to make the room look worthy of our guests.

Our guests started arriving about 30 minutes before the start of the meal, and it gave us an opportunity to visit with them.  They were excited to be joining us, and many came elegantly dressed.  The room was buzzy with happy chatter.

The scouts did a great job of serving up the meal and interacting with the guests:

We sent each guest home with leftovers, for later in the day (because really, it isn’t Thanksgiving without leftovers):

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Each guest also received a festively-wrapped loaf of homemade Pumpkin Ginger Bread or Cranberry Orange Bread, for snacking on later in the day:

I’ve previously posted the recipes for Pumpkin Ginger Bread and Cranberry Orange Quick Bread.  These are such great little loaves — fragrant and moist, not too sweet.

The luncheon was a great success, and I enjoyed it as much as our guests.  As one of our guests was leaving, he called me over and said “I only have one complaint — everything was so good that I have nothing to complain about.”  He gave a little chuckle and said “That’s my joke.”  That’s the kind of complaint I love to hear!  I hope you got lots of “complaints” this Thanksgiving as well.  🙂

(Note:  Although I didn’t get to cook for my family this year because of my involvement with the luncheon, my husband’s two sisters made a delicious Thanksgiving dinner that we enjoyed with the whole family later in the day.)

 

HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING WITH LA MADELEINE

This morning I attended a special holiday event at the original Houston location of La Madeleine County French Cafe, located at 10001 Wertheimer, in the Carillon shopping center, featuring some of the restaurant’s new offerings.  This bright and spacious location is one of my favorites.

La Madeleine’s first location opened in Dallas in 1983, and since then has grown to approximately 70 locations nationwide.  The restaurant’s casual atmosphere and French-inspired dishes make it a relaxing place for a leisurely meal, or to savor a cup of dark French roast coffee with a freshly-baked croissant or pastry.

We were ushered into a private room, where orange juice and champagne were waiting at each place setting for guests to make their own mimosas.

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What a great way to start the day!

We were told that we were going to be served three courses — breakfast, lunch, and dessert — in order to sample a variety of La Madeleine’s new holiday dishes.  The invite should have read “Dress — stretchy pants.”

First up was the new Country French Brunch from the catering menu, which included Egg & Cheese Croissant Bake, Cheesy Potato Gratin, an assortment of mini croissants (plain, almond, blackberry, and chocolate), and Fresh Cut Fruit Salade.  If you have it delivered, the restaurant will set it up like this:

You can also pick it up packaged and ready to bake at home (350 degrees for 20 minutes, I believe) (this is a more economical option, if you have an oven available):

The two hot dishes were rich and cheesy and just plain delicious.  Even though we all knew there was more coming, there were a lot of members of the Clean Plate Club.  If you need a dish to bring to a holiday potluck, or something special for a holiday weekend brunch, or just don’t feel like messing up the kitchen yet again this holiday season, the Country French Brunch is your answer.  The fruit salad, prepared fresh daily, was a nice complement to the rich dishes, and looked pretty on the plate.

Next up was the Holiday Cafe Sampler, which included the new Turkey and Cranberry Puff Pastry (also referred to as a friand), with a side of the restaurant’s famous Caesar Salade and a cup of the equally-famous Tomato Basil Soup:

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The sandwich, which also had gruyere inside, was accompanied with a side of gruyere cheese sauce, just in case there was a button on your pants that hadn’t popped open yet.  The sandwich, with everything it had going on, was a meal in itself, although that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the soup and salad.  The cranberries in the sandwich provided a nice tart contrast and a bit of color, and definitely felt Thanksgiving-ish (or maybe day after Thanksgiving-ish).

As you might guess, at this point, there wasn’t much room for dessert, so we were invited to pack a to-go box to enjoy later.  The desserts, in true La Madeleine style, were beautiful and worth every calorie.  There were 3 creme brulee creations — caramel creme brulee, creme brulee cheesecake (cheesecake with a layer of creme brulee on top), and a gingerbread creme brulee tart.  There was also pumpkin pie, pecan tart, sacher torte parfait, and a fruit and cheese danish.

You can check out pricing and order online here.

Before we left, we were given a gift bundle, prettily packaged for holiday giving, which included a 12-pack of k-cups of La Madeleine’s french roast coffee, a cheerful coffee cup that said “joie de vivre,” a giant heart-shaped linzer cookie, a jar of La Madeleine’s tomato basil soup, and a soup bowl decorated with tomatoes that said “Bon Appetit.”

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I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be as thrilled as I was to receive one of these great bundles for a gift.  For that person who is difficult to buy for, or maybe just for someone you really like, keep this in mind.

I get invited to events like this from time to time.  Sometimes, if I’ve previously been to the establishment and was not impressed, I decline.  Sometimes it conflicts with my day job.  And sometimes I go and end up not writing about it because if I can’t, in good conscience, enthusiastically recommend an establishment, I won’t post about it — too many other places to find negative content on the internet.  This was one of the nicest events I’ve been invited to.  The staff was warm and welcoming, the food was wonderful, and everyone had a good time.  My family has been going to La Madeleine for decades — the sachertorte and strawberry napoleon have been desserts at many a special dinner here, I craved their blueberry scones when I was pregnant, and we always have a bag of their croutons in the refrigerator for Caesar salad.  I expect that the Country French Brunch is about to become a new holiday tradition for my family.

 

GREEK SALAD

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I found this Brownie Girl Scout Beanie at an estate sale.  I was a Brownie, and my daughter was a Brownie, and we both just could not get excited about being Brownies.  Maybe it was the hat, described as “a  six section beanie with loop at top.”  The Girl Scouts website states that it is made of “rayon/wool felt,” immediately followed by the statement that it is made of “100% polyester felt.”  So confusing, but really, it doesn’t matter — it could be made of cashmere and it would still look goofy.  The little dancing figure on it always looked vaguely satanic to me:

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Current beanies have blue figures, which look less sinister:

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My kids attended a middle school that was housed in a Greek Orthodox Church.  One day when I was picking up my son, a Brownie scout walked by.  My son pointed to her and said, “Look, she has a baklava on her head!”  He had recently been to a bar mitzvah, and meant to say she had a yarmulke on her head, but given that we were in front of the Greek church, confusing a Greek pastry with a Jewish skullcap was understandable and smirk-worthy.

Inspired by the Brownie beanie and Greek middle school memories, I made a Greek salad.  I believe purists would argue that a real Greek salad does not have lettuce, but I am neither Greek nor a purist, and I kinda like it with lettuce.  Some people like to add anchovies, but as I’ve mentioned before, we think they look like eyebrows and don’t add them to anything.  But really, it’s all about the dressing.  I’ve included photos for two different ways to prepare it, as a tossed salad and as a composed salad.  As with any vegetable salad, you can adjust the ingredients and amounts to suit your tastes.

GREEK SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad
Author:
Ingredients
  • For dressing:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • For salad:
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 12 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced into ¼" thick slices
  • 1 small red or green bell pepper (optional), sliced into ¼" rings
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 12 Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 12 pepperoncini
  • Optional salad ingredients -- sliced celery, capers, sliced radishes
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Instructions
  1. Place all dressing ingredients in a jar, and shake vigorously to combine. Place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before using.
  2. Place all salad ingredients except feta cheese in a large bowl and toss to combine. (Note: All salad ingredient measurements are approximate -- vary amounts as desired.) Pour dressing in desired amount over salad and toss to combine. Sprinkle with feta cheese and serve. (This salad is especially nice served on chilled plates.)

 

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It’s all about the dressing

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Just lettuce eat our Greek salad

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Prepare it as a composed salad, but only if you like the sound of oohs and ahs

WEEKEND IN AUSTIN

Last weekend I went to Austin with my husband, son, and son’s girlfriend for Austin City Limits, a music festival stretching over two weekends.  I just went along for the ride and to keep the peace, if necessary, because I’m pretty much done with music festivals.  The last one I went to was Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid when I first started law school. The concert was in an open field in the middle of July, which is the second worst month for an outdoor activity in Texas, August being the worst.  My nursing friends came up for the concert, and without going into detail, I’ll just say they behaved very badly.  I haven’t seen them or been to a music festival since.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Austin, located on the shores of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), which was the closest hotel to the festival.  We usually stay downtown when in Austin, but I have to say, the Hyatt worked out great — comfortable rooms, pretty lakeside views, and easy self-parking.

The festival was, of course, the highlight of the weekend.  But we also had a great time dining in Austin.  There has been an explosion of restaurants in recent years, and we hit some old favorites and what are certain to become new favorites.

First stop was Chuy’s, en route to the festival.  The Mexican restaurant hasn’t changed since my law school days, and was as tasty and gut-busting as I remembered:

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Another old favorite (of more recent vintage) that we visited, at my son’s request, was Hopdoddy, which I’ve written about before.  Not much more to say, other than that we love Hopdoddy.

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Looking for a place to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, we stumbled upon Cenote, in East Austin, an area that has been undergoing an exciting revitalization.  Cenote is located in a historic house, built in 1887.  We were charmed by its patio, friendly service, and excellent coffee.

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While the kids were chowing down on food truck fare at the festival, my husband and I enjoyed a fantastic meal at Emmer & Rye, located on Rainey Street, an area described by Texas Monthly as being filled with “hot bars and restaurants, a massive amount of construction, and a whole lot of hip young people.”

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The restaurant has an attractive patio, which was packed on this pleasant evening:

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The interior space was equally inviting:

Emmer & Rye focuses on seasonal and local cuisine, and boasts that it mills “heritage grains” for its pastas, breads, and desserts.  Along with the menu items, there are dim sum style rolling carts with daily specials to choose from.  Here’s Tom, our “dim sum guy”:

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We selected a few dishes from the cart (and believe me, it was really hard to pass up every other dish that rolled by), including the excellent beef tartare:

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From the menu, we had the very rich cacio e pepe:

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Confited short rib carnitas with corn, kohlrabi, chilis, salsa rosada, and flaky roti to tuck it into:

And the dish I cannot get out of my head, grilled butternut squash with deliciously creamy and pungent ome camembert, mesquite vinegar, pecans, and puffed sorghum.  This dish was so much more than the sum of its parts:

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We ended with a simple-looking but complex-sounding and tasting cocoa bean ice cream sandwich with white sonoran koji cookie and mesquite caramel:

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But wait, there’s more!

The next morning, before we headed home, we had brunch at Jacoby’s, a “transparent, value driven, vertically integrated, ranch-to-table dining experience located in East Austin on the Colorado River.”  That’s a mouthful!

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Come hungry for the hearty brunch offerings.  My gang chowed down on Duck Confit Migas:img_8468 3 Little Pigs Sandwich, piled with crispy schnitzel, shaved ham, bacon, and a fried egg:

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And Chicken Fried Steak & Waffles with Sausage Gravy and Maple Syrup:
img_8471We waddled out of Jacoby’s, stuffed ourselves into the car, and made one last non-food stop before getting on the road — East Austin Succulents, a sort of magical, if kinda prickly, plant nursery my husband discovered on a recent visit.

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If you are into plants, and really, even someone with a brown thumb should be able to grow a succulent or cactus, then you’ll love this place.

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You’ll find whimsical arrangements:

Beautiful rocks sold by the pound, for your garden and containers:

And, of course, tons of cacti and succulents:

They even had a few of my favorite spineless totem pole cactus (although the child in us refers to them by another name):

img_8491We headed home, our trunk filled with plants, and our hearts filled with memories of a wonderful — make that, really wonderful — fall weekend getaway.

HALLOWEEN DEVILED EGGS — MERRY TO MACABRE

Who says deviled eggs are just for Easter?  They’re also fun to dress up for Halloween — cute or creepy, your pick!  Get inspired by this updated annual roundup of Halloween deviled eggs, from the merry to the macabre.

Who could resist a cute little pumpkin deviled egg, like these from Tadka Pasta?

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Too generic?  How about a grinning Jack O’ Lantern, like these from Ochikeron’s You Tube channel:

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Or these from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:

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Who wouldn’t get a kick out of these owl deviled eggs from Maker, Baker, Glitter Shaker?  Hoo?  Hoo?

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Spider deviled eggs are cute without being too creepy, like these black olive ones from The World According To Eggface:

halloween1And these green olive ones from Momtastic:

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Of course, you CAN make them creepy, like this albino black widow spider deviled egg found on Hairpin:

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If you’re going to have spiders, you might as well have spider webs, like these from health-actually.com:halloween7

Food Planet kicks spider web eggs up a notch with a bright green filling;

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Devil horns are an easy way to dress up deviled eggs for Halloween, like these from Cookin’ Canuck:

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You can have lots of fun coming up with devilish little faces on your deviled eggs, like these from So Lovely Sweet Tables:

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Or these amusing little devils from Kraft:

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Skeleton deviled eggs from Thrifty Fun are a scream:

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It wouldn’t be Halloween without some eyeballs, like these from Kath’s Kitchen Sync:

halloween4  Or these zombie eyeballs from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:

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Or next level creepy with piped on capillaries from Mom Foodie:

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These black and orange eggs from aol.com/food might be too scary for some people:

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These red ones found on Homemade Recipes puts the devil in deviled eggs:

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Deviled eggs make cute ghosts in a graveyard, from Chef Morgan:

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These green goblin eggs from Betty Crocker are pretty scary:

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But nothing could possibly be creepier (or less likely to be eaten) than these Satan’s Spawn deviled eggs from Kravings.blog.  Nothing.  Ever.

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Happy Halloween!

P.S.  Do you know why ghosts don’t like it to rain on Halloween?  It dampens their spirits!

FREEKEH WITH FARFALLE AND MUSHROOMS

September is National Whole Grains Month — a great time to sample new grains and cook with old favorites.  So when Freekehlicious offered to send me some freekeh to try, I gladly accepted.

According to information Freekehlicious provided, freekeh is an ancient grain, with a lot of healthful qualities.  The roasted wheat is harvested while it’s young and green, then parched, roasted, and dried.  “Freekeh” means “to rub” in Aramaic, which refers to the method by which freekeh is made.

Nutritionally, freekeh is low on the glycemic index, and high in fiber, protein, and calcium.  It cooks much like rice, but is lower in carbs than brown rice.  A serving of freekeh (42 grams) provides, among other things, 150 calories, 6 grams of dietary fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 25 milligrams of calcium.  An added bonus is that it has prebiotic properties, which aid in digestion.

Freekeh is available two ways — whole grain and cracked:

I chose to try the cracked freekeh first:

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I followed the package directions, cooking 1/2 cup of freekeh in 1-1/2 cups of water for 20 minutes.  The freekeh cooked up plump and fluffy:

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I used the cooked freekeh to make Freekeh with Farfalle and Mushrooms, which is a riff on Kasha Varnishkes, a dish my parents used to make using kasha, also known as buckwheat groats.  With the addition of the sautéed onions and mushrooms, the freekeh was a filling and toothsome side dish, an excellent accompaniment to the grilled sausages we had that night.

This month, why not let your freekeh flag fly!

FREEKEH WITH FARFALLE AND MUSHROOMS
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Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup cracked freekeh
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup cooked mini farfalle
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Place freekeh and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 20 minutes, until water is absorbed and freekeh is tender.
  2. Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until golden. Add mushrooms, and continue cooking until mushrooms are tender. Stir in cooked freekeh, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

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