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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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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ROBIN’S SPINACH AND OYSTER DRESSING

This is my Facebook friend Robin:

Robin profile

I’ve never met Robin in person.  She and I are part of an informal  network of recipe contesters, most of whom initially met through conversations on the website Cooking Contest Central.  Eventually, most of the conversations moved to Facebook and other social media.  Over time, many in the group have forged genuine friendships, looking forward to meeting up at cook-offs, and visiting when passing through.  Since I’ve never been to a cook-off, I haven’t met many of the group in person (OK, I’ve only met one in person), but after years of following these cooking friends, and depending, of course, on the frequency and content of a person’s posts, I feel like I have come to know many of them pretty well.  Robin was one of those friends.

I remember when Robin was a finalist a decade ago in the Pillsbury Bake-Off — the holy grail of cooking contests — with her Tomato-Crab Bisque:

crab bisque

On more than one occasion she posted photos of perfect eggrolls, which she used to roll by the hundreds:

egg rolls

Robin had a passion for canning and preserving, and had a thriving  Etsy shop called Thyme Square Herb Farm.  I marveled at the beautiful rainbow of vegetables, salsas, chutneys, and the like that she prepared for her shop:

 

Robin did not have it easy.  She had multiple sclerosis and steroid-induced diabetes, and was confined to a wheelchair.  Last year around this time, she was fighting for her life after several surgeries to remove clots in her right leg.  Between the poor circulation and other complications, her right leg never did heal, and in October she had a below-knee amputation.  We all admired Robin’s determination, her grit, and her positive outlook. When the doctors finally decided that amputation was the only real option, she wrote, “Right now, I have a few days to fall apart and break a few things and punch a few pillows . . . but I’ll be fine.”  That was Robin.

Unfortunately, the amputation wound didn’t heal well, and shortly thereafter she had a subsequent above-knee revision.  I was aching for her when she wrote: “I’m tired physcially and emotionally. I’ve had enough. When they wheeled me back for the last amputation, I remember the last thought in my head was praying for God to let me go peacefully in my sleep. But in my world, God doesn’t see fit for anything to go smoothly  . . . whether it be love or happiness, it is not his intention for me to take the easy road.”  And so she persevered, writing “I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m learning to do everything all over again in a different way. It can get frustrating and many, many times I’ve felt like it would just be easier to give up. But with so much encouragement from family and friends and total strangers who have stepped up to help, I can’t possibly let them down. I have to stay strong. One day all of this will be behind me and I will . . . be able to move on and do big and important things with my life.”

As soon as she was out of the rehabilitation hospital, she was frequenting the farmer’s market and back in the kitchen.  Look at this beautiful fudge she made for a client’s wedding — 14 pounds of it!

fudgeShe cooked the entire Thanksgiving meal for her family, including what she described as a “competition ready” turkey, and which her family called a “Food Network turkey”:

thanksgivingOn Thanksgiving she wrote, “Thank you God! This time last year, I was in the ICU on life support fighting for my life. Thank God for giving me another year to spend with my family and give thanks. While it may be difficult at times, I thank you for the opportunity to fight the fight and win the struggle.”

On December 15, just shy of 44 years old, Robin had a massive stroke and died shortly thereafter in her daughter’s arms.  I was stunned to read that she had passed. Although I never met her, I can’t shake the sadness I feel for her and her family, and that she faced so many devastating medical conditions in the last year of her life.  My admiration for her undefeatable spirit, however, remains strong.

Winning a recipe contest is a thrill.  Seeing your recipe in print is another thrill.  Yet another thrill, perhaps the most personally satisfying one, is to have someone make and enjoy one of your recipe creations.  Today happens to be Robin’s birthday — she would have been 44 — and to honor her memory, I made her Spinach and Oyster Dressing, a recipe she said was one of her “most prized recipes.”  I’ve printed the recipe here exactly as written.  The dressing is delicious, and the smell of the bacon and garlic as it baked had our mouths watering in anticipation.

ROBIN'S SPINACH AND OYSTER DRESSING
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Recipe type: Side Dish
Author:
Ingredients
  • 12 cups French or Italian bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ pound pancetta or bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup thinly sliced leeks
  • 1-1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
  • 1tablespoon minced garlic (about 6 medium cloves)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth
  • 1 (10-ounce) container shucked oysters, drained
Instructions
  1. Arrange bread cubes on sheets of wax paper or foil in a single layer and let dry overnight. (Or place cubes on foil-lined oven racks and bake in a 325 degree oven 25 minutes, or until golden.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels.
  4. Add olive oil to pan drippings. Stir in onion, leeks and celery. Reduce heat to medium and cook until celery is tender, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Combine bread cubes, pancetta, onion mixture, spinach, butter, sage, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss until well blended. Stir in broth and fold in oysters. Spoon mixture into pan.
  6. Bake, covered with foil, 30 minutes, until thoroughly heated. Remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer, or until lightly golden.

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Ready for the oven

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Ready!

robin with dog

Happy Birthday Robin.  May you rest in peace.

GREEN CHILE AND CHEESE GRITS

002 004I found this cobalt blue depression glass alphabet plate at an estate sale.  It’s only about 6″ in diameter, and perfect for little folks.  It makes we want to go cut some grapes in half and cube some cheese.

When my kids were younger, most of their plates and dishes were glass ones in a rainbow of colors that I picked up for a few dollars at estate sales.  They preferred these over the melamine ones that are so popular today.  They drank their milk from amethyst-colored glass goblets and ate cereal from carnival glass bowls.  Their favorites were the green glass divided grill plates, much like these ones currently available on ebay:

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I remember learning in nursing school that toddlers do not like the items on their plates to touch, that they like to keep everything separate.  For this same reason, toddlers tend to not like casseroles (silly kids).  I’ve seen it as a diet tip, too — TNT, or “things not touching,” although I don’t really see how putting space between your mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese leads to weight loss. In any event, my kids loved these plates and how one whole section could be used just for ketchup.  🙂

Two weeks ago I had oral surgery that requires me to be on a liquid/puree diet for 3 to 4 weeks.  (My husband has informed me that I have milked this for all it’s worth, but he didn’t have surgery, and I must respectfully disagree.)  It’s not hard to manage that at home, but eating out can be challenging.  Last week, for example, my husband and I went to Haven, one of our favorite restaurants, after a long week at work for both of us.  It was one of those nights when the restaurant was packed with happy diners, and the tables were not turning over as quickly as they usually do, so we wound up waiting quite a while, despite having reservations.  It turned out to be our lucky night, though, because we were offered the opportunity to “Dine on the Line,” usually reserved for 6-course tasting menus.  We happily sat there watching the frenzied action in the kitchen and listening to Chef Randy Evans shout out orders:

photoDine on the Line at Haven with Chef Randy Evans

There wasn’t a whole lot on the menu I could eat, but I can’t really complain about what I ended up with — sweet potato soup, cheese grits, and chocolate pie (filling only).  To say this is not a meal I would normally put together, would be an understatement.  But I felt like the biggest, happiest toddler.  It was great fun to “dine on the line,” and we plan to go back for the full 6-course experience in the future.

Back at home, inspired by the cute little child’s plate and my toddler meal, I made cheese grits for the first time.  Cheese grits made with Velveeta are a popular Southern dish, but since I was feeling particularly self-indulgent, I wanted something a little more “gourmet.”  So instead of Velveeta, I used Irish cheddar, and added some roasted Hatch chiles.  The grits were really delicious.  And once again, I dined like the biggest, happiest toddler.

GREEN CHILE AND CHEESE GRITS
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Recipe type: Side Dish
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup corn grits (I used Bob's Red Mill Corn Grits a/k/a Polenta)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces Irish cheddar or sharp white cheddar, cut into ½" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup chopped roasted green chiles (use Hatch chiles, if available)
Instructions
  1. Place broth and water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Whisk in grits, reduce heat, and simmer until grits are tender, approximately 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and add in cheese and butter, stirring until melted and thoroughly combined. Stir in green chiles. Serve hot.

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 Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits (also known as Polenta)

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 Simmer until grits are tender, stirring frequently

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Soft diet bliss!