Kitchen Helper

“What’s your house like?” asked a little girl Lilli was on a playdate with. “It’s…messy. Really messy.” I’d actually found myself in a similar conversation with a rabbi I’m working with days before. There are always projects going on — not renovations, more like this morning’s empty milk carton is about to become a robot’s head. And used toilet paper and paper towel rolls are clearly supposed to be arms and legs of figurines waiting to be made. Empty pizza boxes are dragons’ mouths; close your eyes and you can practically already see their teeth.

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And then, of course, are the kitchen projects. Nowadays Lilli is always by my side, armed with a butter knife, ready to cut anything soft enough. Ripe stone fruit work. So do tomatoes and some cheeses. And then there is the veggie sausage she cut for the vegan jambalaya, made with the okra Lilli and I would hand pick at the farm each week. That sausage came from a Western Mass company called LightLife, which invited me to enjoy some of their vegan sausages and hot dogs this summer.

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They also sent us a cute little portable grill, with a case that doubles as a cooler; a very handsome set of grilling tools, and Sir Kensington condiments. Beatrix, as it turned out, is a Lightlife hot dog fanatic. She gobbles them up, then asks for more while smashing her hands to sign “more” to hammer home the message. I ended up sending cut up pieces of the fake dogs in her lunch box this summer.

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I can report that Rich grilled the hot dogs successfully on the tiny grill, though he felt slight ridiculous with his Weber kettle standing at the ready. But let’s talk about this jambalaya recipe I developed this summer and love making. It starts with New Orleans Holy Trinity flavor base of onions, green peppers and celery. I add a healthy dose of tomato paste, which I keep flattened in a plastic Zip Loc in the freezer, to bolster the flavor.

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Once the veggies are softened, I browned the sausage, then added the okra, a small can of tomato sauce, then stock or water. My personal choice is water and the vegetarian Better Than Bouillon. To keep things simple, I use a can of black beans, drained. And instead of rice, which is totally fine to use, I tend to reach for the 10 Minute Farro from Trader Joe’s. That really cuts down on the prep time, making this an easy weeknight dinner. Because there is always squash in the fridge, I’ll sometimes quarter one and add it to the pot when I add the okra.

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This makes an immense amount of food. It can serve four adults as a main, with leftovers for days. It also freezes well; I have some in the freezer now.

Vegan Jambalaya

Ingredients

1 package Lightlife sausages, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small white onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 fresh okra, chopped or 1 cup frozen

1 small yellow summer squash, quartered

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 14.5 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro or 1 cup brown rice

2 cups vegetable stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)

Salt

Directions:

In a very large, lidded skillet with sides, soften the pepper, onion and celery in the tomato paste. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt.

Once softened, add the chopped sausage; brown it. Add the okra and summer squash; cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, black beans, farro and stock. Stir and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.

Cook the stew until the farro or brown rice has softened. If you’re using the Farro, check it in 15 minutes. If you’re using the brown rice, it will be closer to an hour.

Check to see if the farro has cooked. Serve.

This post was sponsored by Lightlife. Opinions are my own.

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Little Black Dress

My mother swears that the only thing I ate until the age of 12 was broccoli. Sylvie agrees, and a family friend once reminisced about my being in a high chair, too young to form full sentences, but making my points using fistfuls of broccoli. Well, Lilli is a bit like her mom in that regards. She is a broccoli fiend. It’s very cute to watch because she eats it upside down: She holds the floret in her fist and starts at the stalk. I keep on trying to explain to her that the stalk is the perfect handle, but she seems very set in her ways for now. Hey, she only learned her name about a month and a half ago. Baby steps.

Lilli and her broccoli

I’ve only served it to her roasted, which, in my humble, broccoli loving opinion, is the yummiest way to eat the vegetable. When you roast it, bits of the shrub brown and caramelize and taste almost candy-like. Sylvie was in Seattle last January, and something called blasted broccoli had become very chic in the city. That, and Macklemore. I kind of can’t believe I just wrote that there’s a hot new broccoli dish around, but I did. I poked around online and gave blasted broccoli a shot. It was good, but unnecessary. All you need is a sprinkling of kosher salt, some olive oil, and a hot, hot oven.

I mention my broccoli love well into the third year of writing this blog, because there is a farro and roasted broccoli salad that I make pretty constantly. For me, it’s a bit of a little black dress recipe: Something that’s totally reliable and always tastes good. It’s so the norm in my kitchen that I’ve never bothered to mention it, but, it’s been a weeknight staple in our house for a long time. Roasting broccoli takes about 20 minutes, which is how long it takes to cook the farro in my pressure cooker.

roasted broccoli and farro salad

When both are ready, I heat a pan with oil, add some minced garlic, break off about a tablespoon of tomato paste I keep on hand in the freezer, then add the farro and roasted broccoli and cook it all up for about five minutes. I’m not exactly sure where I came up with this method, but a few months back I was reading about the history of Israeli cous cous (extremely fascinating and worth the read) and I noticed that the tomato paste sauté is a popular way to serve the pasta in that country. I don’t remember learning that at any point, but perhaps it’s my Zionist leanings leading the inspiration.

Although I’ve read a few places online recently that you don’t have to soak your farro, I consistently do. I can’t risk having uncooked grains when we need to have dinner. I promise you, soaking grains is simple and not a big deal. Right before I go to bed, I pour a cup of farro into a bowl on my counter top, cover it with water, and walk away. That’s pretty much my go-to with all the grains and beans in my pantry. Except for lentils; those I know for certain don’t need any soaking. At some point, I’ll share a killer lentil soup recipe. Good freezer recipe, I might add. Speaking of freezers, farro, like most grains, freezes beautifully. I wouldn’t freeze this salad, but if you have extra farro in your fridge and worry you might not get to it, just pop it in the freezer. It defrosts like a dream.

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

Roasted Broccoli and Farro Salad

1 bunch roasted broccoli

Pinch of kosher salt

About a Tablespoon and a half of olive oil

1 cup dry farro

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

Directions

Soak your farro the night before. See note above for more of an explanation why I insist on doing so.

Preheat oven to 400F.

When ready to cook, add the farro to your pressure cooker. Cover with water. I tend to add water until it’s a half an inch past the grain.– I always add a bit more water to the cooker than I might need to. I’d rather drain off water than scorch my pot. The farro will cook in 20 minutes once pressurized.

While the farro is roasting, clean your broccoli by giving it a good rinse, trimming the green leaves off the stalk, and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. I use my stalks too; just trim off the woody parts and it’ll be fine.

Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil. I do this first, a. because my hands are about to get oily because of the broccoli toss and b. so I don’t have to give the pan a good scrubbing in my kitchen clean up.

In a large bowl toss the broccoli with the kosher salt and enough olive oil to coat. Dump the broccoli onto the foil-covered baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the broccoli roasts and the farro is cooking, mince up two garlic cloves.

When both are done cooking, and you’ve drained your farro in a colander in the sink, heat up a skillet with enough olive oil to coat the pan, and add the garlic and tomato paste. Because I always use frozen tomato paste, it really becomes a matter of melting the paste into the garlic and oil. Once the tomato paste has coated the garlic, add the farro and broccoli. The farro will turn an orangey hue. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Heat everything together so that it combines. This should take about five minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Last week I decided to add a little chile pepper to the tomato paste step. Good stuff if you have it on hand, but not necessary.

Cough, Cough

Five years ago, right around this time, I started coughing. I coughed in the morning, I coughed in the afternoon, I coughed in the evening, and when I put my head down at the end of the day, I coughed even more. Nothing seemed to help; in fact, lozenges, hot tea, and sips of water only seemed to aggravate it. Some doctors thought I had asthma and began treating me with steroids. Others suspected it was a nervous cough that would go away once I got married that June. But after our wedding day, while we were on the cruise ship for our honeymoon, the coughing seemed to be even worse.

In August of that year, after enjoying a rich meal at the French restaurant Sel De La Terre during Restaurant Week, my cough was worse than usual. “You know,” Rich began, “I don’t think you have asthma. I think eating is making you sick.” And he was right. It turned out I had severe acid reflux – Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease or GERD, to be more precise. Basically, the coughing was me choking on stomach acid. I know, gross.

Having figured out what was wrong meant I could start treatment and get better, but we soon discovered just how sick I was. Nearly everything I ate ended with me coughing. And I started to cut back on foods that made me sick, which, as it turned out, was pretty much everything I put in my mouth. Sure, there are certain trigger foods – chocolate, citrus, mint, spicy foods, alcohol, pickled things, caffeine and fat — but most fruits, and even many vegetables, were making me cough.

I settled into a diet of plain rice, grilled fish or grilled chicken, sashimi, rice cakes with a shmear of jam, pretzels, and because they were fat-free, jelly beans and black licorice. I saw a nutritionist who recommended quinoa and amaranth, grains that would keep me healthy and wouldn’t irritate my stomach. But overall, my diminished options led to me losing a lot of weight. On June 24, 2007, my wedding gown was a size 10. By January 2008, I was a size 4. I was thin, but I was absolutely miserable.

Slowly, I began adding foods back into my diet and gained back some weight. But by February 2009, the coughing came back and was even worse than before. I went back to my horrible diet, and again lost a ton of weight. Things seemed to have found a proper balance for the next two years, but by August 2011, I was coughing again. I ignored it as best I could, but my coughing was once again being disruptive.

I finally saw my ear nose and throat doctor on Thursday afternoon who informed me my throat was as irritated as it was the first time she met me in 2007. “I know what to do,” I sighed. “But I really don’t want to. I have a food blog. What’s the point of a food blog if I can’t eat food?” My plan was to keep on cooking food and to pretend I wasn’t sick. But since this is going to impact what I’m able to eat (and cook), I’ve decided to come clean.

Hi, I’m Molly Parr, and I have acid reflux so bad, that there are times in my life I can’t eat. I don’t want to stop eating through this newest course of treatment, so you’re coming on the journey with me. I might offer a recipe with notes suggesting how a dash of Aleppo or Srichacha can kick things up a notch, but I will most likely ignore my own advice.

I told my doctor how the winter time, with all its low-acid roots, would make things less difficult this time. But then I remembered all the nice citrus that brightens cold January mornings and I started to get whiny.

It will definitely be a fine line at times. A mellow garlic in a soup will probably not irritate me as much as a garlicky dressing brightening up a raw kale salad would. There will be more grains this year, harkening back to the nutritionist’s advice of an ancient grain diet. This past weekend I made a dish of a parboiled onion, chickpeas and boiled turnips and carrots which was all tossed together with some low-fat Greek yogurt. I ended up having to pick out all the onions because they were too pungent for me. This isn’t going to be easy, I know that for certain, but it will be an adventure. I entertained while I was sick and plan on continuing to do so. I think there will be more braises and stews in my future, which is just fine for January.

This recipe from Cook This Now, the newest cookbook by Melissa Clark (she of the stuffed pumpkin fame), is the perfect example of a dish that can be altered to combat reflux. One can skip the minced raw garlic step as well as ignore the suggestion of sprinkling Aleppo when serving. We decided to throw caution to the wind tonight and added the minced garlic: the result was extraordinary. We had a slew of Parmesan rinds in the fridge which we added to our pot, but if you skip the cheese, this dish is vegan.

White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro

Ingredients

1 pound dried cannellini beans

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (reserve celery leaves for garnishing)

1 large onion halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together

1 whole clove (stick in the onion half)

2 rosemary sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

Piece of Parmesan rind, if you like

2 ½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste

1 cup faro, rinsed (We used wheat berries which I first soaked and then cooked for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker)

Flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel

¼ teaspoon Turkish or Syrian red pepper such as Urfa, Maras or Aleppo

Chopped celery or parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Lemon juice and/or Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

If you have the time and would like to soak your beans ahead, this will shorten your cooking time. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak for as long as you can. Overnight is optimal but even a few hours will hasten the cooking.

When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw it into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Cover everything with water and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you go them.

A test of doneness is to place a bean in your palm and blow on it (the natural thing to do since it will be hot). If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Of course, tasting is a better way to tell. If your bean pot starts to look dry before the beans finish cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans. (If it’s too liquidy, ladle the extra out and discard.)

Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, prepare the farro. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon what kind you use. Drain well.

Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves

When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan ride if you used it (you can leave the garlic cloves in the pot; they are yummy). Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced raw garlic, and puree. Return the bean puree to the pot. (You can skip this step and just stir in the minced garlic; the broth will be thinner but just as tasty).

Serve the beans over the farro, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper, and celery leaves or parsley. If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors. Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice. But make sure not to skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper when serving, unless you have reflux.

  • You can really substitute any dried bean you like for the cannellini beans. This basic bean recipe will work with any of them, though cooking times will vary.
  • Look for semi-pearled farro. It cooks more quickly than whole farro – 20 minutes instead of an hour.  If you can’t find farro, you can substitute wheat berries.
  • To add some color and turn this into more of a whole meal, add a bunch or package of spinach, or a small bunch of kale (torn into pieces). Simmer until the greens wilt before serving.