Pantry Essentials

Having lived through both hurricanes and blizzards in my lifetime, I’ve learned that my home should always have a good supply of food, home cleaning products, medicines and personal hygiene products. While my pantry usually has a good assortment of items for preparing several unplanned meals, COVID-19 has suddenly changed how I stock my pantry, refrigerator and freezer for the foreseeable future.

When I started writing this article, there were no cases of the coronavirus in our area of Florida (we now have 8) and yet shoppers reacted in a way that I was not prepared for when I visited our local supermarket. Areas of empty shelves in the store and very little meat and fresh seafood has become the new norm. Instead of buying mostly fresh foods for our meals, I’ve had to alter the way I shop. My pantry is now well stocked with long lasting, shelf stable products I can use to prepare meals for the weeks ahead and I thought I would share what my pantry includes.

I have a good supply of canned and packaged foods to use as a base for meals as they have a long shelf life and are usually easy to prepare. A big portion is made up of dried items like pasta of many shapes and sizes, rice (different varieties like basmati, brown, and arborio), couscous, farro, a variety of beans, split peas and lentils, grits and polenta, different kinds of crackers, and a variety of nuts and seeds. Items like flour, salt, sugar and breadcrumbs are essentials for the meals I will be creating.

The shelves of my pantry hold a variety of soups, canned tuna, chicken and minced clams, shelf stable milk and cheese that can be used as fresh meat alternatives for nutritious meals. Canned vegetables like tomatoes, beets, potatoes, beans, chickpeas  and corn will add to the variety of meals I can prepare.

Stocks and broths can be used as the base for homemade soups and will also add flavor to almost any savory dish I prepare. I’ve also got a good supply of olive oil that can be used for sautéing and also for creating sauces with the addition of herbs (either dried or fresh) that will top pasta. I also have several different types of vinegars for salads, vegetables and to bring out flavors in stews and other dishes.

Different mustards, barbecue and hot sauces, salsas, olives, pickles and capers as well as spices from various countries can be added to meats, pasta, grains and beans. Jarred peanut butter, jams, jellies and honey as well as canned and dried fruits will add sweetness to some of our meals. And of course, there are multiple boxes of tea and coffee for us to enjoy at the beginning of each day.

I’ve bought fresh vegetables that have a long storage life like potatoes, carrots, cabbage, hard squash and broccoli. Unpeeled onions, shallots and garlic cloves will last for several weeks sitting out on my counter. I have several tubes of herb pastes such a ginger, lemongrass and cilantro to replace hard to find items in the produce section at our market. Herbs I normally buy such as oregano, thyme and rosemary, are now growing in pots located in the garden just outside our front door.

Instead of buying sliced cheese from our deli, I’ve bought hard cheeses that are vacuum sealed and will last several months in my refrigerator as well as some processed cheeses that have a long shelf life and don’t need refrigeration. I also have a couple cartons of eggs that can last several months stored in my refrigerator.

I am using my freezer to extend the shelf life of fresh items like butter, bacon, meat, poultry, vegetables and a few bakery items. Chicken breasts, lean pork chops, ground beef, sausage, pasta sauces, homemade stock and nuts fills the majority of the freezer. I’ve repackaged some items so that they don’t take up too much room in my limited freezer space.

Since restaurants and bars are closed, our drinks cabinet has been topped off with wine and ingredients for our favorite cocktail. While maybe not considered an essential, sharing a cocktail before dinner helps ease the stress when listening to the news of the day.

As far as keeping ourselves and our home sanitary, I have common household disinfectants and bleach as well as alcohol wipes and solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol in my laundry room cabinet.

I’ve made sure to have necessary toiletries such as toothpaste and brushes, soap, hair products, skin care and personal hygiene products and a small amount of the all important hand sanitizer in my linen closet. By the way, if you don’t have any hand sanitizer but are able to buy aloe vera gel and 70% alcohol, you can make your own using 2 parts gel to 1 part alcohol.

I hope you have made preparations to have enough food to sustain yourselves for the weeks ahead. Pantry items that we would normally have in our kitchens can run out quickly when we have to rely on them for more than a few days. If you have room, I believe a two to four week supply of nonperishables as well as fresh produce that can be successfully frozen is what you and I need to keep in our kitchens for the foreseeable future.

To my friends and readers around the world, you are all in my thoughts during these unprecedented and worrisome times. Please do everything to stay safe and healthy.

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Ravioli With A Creamy Mushroom And Asparagus Sauce

Ravioli With A Creamy Mushroom and Asparagus Sauce is the perfect spring meatless meal. Surprisingly, it is prepared without any cream whatsoever. While cream is not bad as long as it is used sparingly, it is not needed in this delicious pasta recipe that your family and friends will truly love.

ravioli with asparagus and mushrooms

Ravioli With A Creamy Mushroom and Asparagus Sauce

Ravioli With A Creamy Mushroom And Asparagus Sauce

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 1  9 oz. pkg. of fresh mushroom ravioli or agnolotti
  • 2 Tbsp. butter plus 1 addition Tbsp.
  • 8 oz. mushrooms (I used shiitake and baby bella) stemmed, caps thickly sliced
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, woody stems removed and remainder cut into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. flour (I use Wondra, a fine milled flour for sauces)
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1 c. 2% milk
  • 1/8 tsp. truffle oil (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Locatelli Romano or Parmesan cheese to taste

Add 2 Tbsp. butter to a sauté pan and melt over low heat until it starts to foam. Add the mushrooms in an even layer and cook until they start to turn golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook another minute then season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the asparagus and cook until tender crisp, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size.

Remove a few of the mushrooms and the asparagus tips from the pan to be used as garnish and keep warm.

Add wine to the pan, stir to loosen any browned bits and bring to a boil then cook until the liquid almost evaporates. Add the additional tablespoon of butter and when melted sprinkle mushrooms with flour and cook about 30 seconds, stirring frequently. Slowly add milk, stirring until smooth then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick. Add the truffle oil, stir, then taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.

Cook the ravioli according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water.

Add the cooked ravioli to the sauce and toss gently. If the pasta seems dry, slowly add in the reserved pasta water until desired consistency is reached. Divide the ravioli between the plates, top each portion with the  reserved asparagus tips and mushrooms. To serve, offer a topping of freshly grated cheese at the table.

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You don’t have to sacrifice taste when trying to create healthy meals. Your family and friends will have no idea that this ravioli meal, with its meaty and delicious sautéed mushrooms and fresh asparagus in a wonderful rich and creamy sauce, that you serve them was made with 2% milk instead of cream. What’s more, the mushrooms in both the pasta and sauce, with their meaty texture and taste, are a great ingredient to use when you want to create a meatless meal.

On a personal note, I would like to take this moment on the first day of spring to spread the message to take care, stay safe, stay healthy and be mindful of others. We all need to pull together in these very uncertain and trying times, stick it out as best we can and above all, keep looking forward.

 

 

 

 

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St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef And Cabbage

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Irish pubs in America will be filled with merriment as people gather to enjoy a pint of Guinness stout, sing Irish folk songs and enjoy a plate of corned beef and cabbage. The Irish however, while they will be enjoying their pint or a good Irish whisky along with a song or two, will probably not be eating corned beef.

mural of an Irish village

Mural Of An Irish Village

On the Emerald Isle, food tends to involve simple, hearty, family cooking that follows the seasons. One common item that you will find at most meals is the beloved potato. Boxty, a potato pancake served with eggs at breakfast is very popular. A  hearty stew of lamb or mutton with onions and potatoes and fish and chips are favorites for a main meal. Instead of corned beef that we associate with St. Patty’s Day, the Irish usually make a traditional meal of boiled bacon, cabbage and potatoes.

While my husband and I will not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at a pub or cooking at home, I will be having a traditional Irish American dinner. We will be sharing a meal with friends at a restaurant that serves corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes, tender lamb shanks as well as salmon on their buffet…all very good.

If you will be cooking at home on St. Patrick’s Day and have never cooked corned beef and cabbage, this Irish American lass will share my recipe as well as how to prepare colcannon, another classic Irish potato dish.

corned beef and cabbage

Beer Braised Corned Beef And Cabbage Served With A Side Colcannon

Beer Braised Corned Beef And Cabbage

Serves 2 with leftovers for sandwiches or hash, adjust the recipe according.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees when ready to cook.

  • 3 lb. corned beef (I prefer a flat cut brisket), figure about 1 lb. per person
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1 bottle of your favorite dark beer, preferably Guinness
  • 4 or more garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. pickling spices
  • 1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 10 juniper berries
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 head of cabbage cut into quarters
  • 1 small bag of carrots, peeled
  • 6 – 8 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 4 parsnips, peeled
  • 4 onions, peeled and quartered

Take the corned beef out of its packaging, washing it well, and then soak the meat in water for a minimum of an hour and up to 24 hours, changing the water several times if possible. (I do this as corned beef can be salty because of its brining process.) After soaking the corned beef in water, dry throughly and then season with pepper on both sides.

Heat a large roasting pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat and place the corned beef, fat side down, in the pan and sear until brown. Turn and sear on the other side then remove to a plate. Add the sliced onions to the pan (add a little oil if necessary), and sauté until translucent. Deglaze the pan with the beef broth, scraping up the browned bits. Return the corned beef, fat side up. Add the beer, spices, garlic and vinegar. Cover tightly with heavy duty foil and place in the oven and bake for approximately four hours, basting occasionally, until tender.

During the last hour, add the vegetables to the broth, return to the oven and cook until vegetables are done but not soggy. Add in a little water if the brisket seems dry during the cooking process. When the corned beef is tender, transfer to a cutting board and let sit 10 minutes. Trim off any excess fat, then slice against the grain into 1/4 inch slices.

Notes:

  1. Corned beef is essentially pickled in salt. Straight out of the package it can be way too salty so I suggest soaking the meat in water for a minimum of an hour up to 24 hours. Change the water several times, if possible.
  2. Do not trim the fat from the corned beef before cooking, it will help keep the meat moist. Instead trim any excess fat after it is cooked and before slicing and serving.
  3. Do not let the meat boil. If you boil corned beef, it can get tough, chewy and shrink. A low, gentle simmer while braising will make it moist and tender.
  4. As a general rule, you should plan to cook the corned beef about an hour per pound.
  5. Slice the meat across the grain about 1/4 inch thick, any thinner and it may fall apart, any thicker and it may be chewy.

You might want to cook a larger corned beef so that you will have enough to make Rubin sandwiches or corned beef hash with fried eggs for the next day.

  1. corned beef has with fried eggs

    Corned Beef Hash Topped With Fried Eggs

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Colcannon

  • 2 lbs. Yukon gold or russet potatoes (about 5 or 6), peeled and cubed
  • 4 Tbsp. butter plus additional when serving
  • 1/2 c. milk or cream, warmed
  • 1/2 small head of green cabbage or 2 c. of chopped kale
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt 4 Tbsp. of the butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the cabbage or kale and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the scallions and cook about 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. In the meantime, boil the potatoes in a pot of salted water for 15 to 20 minutes until tender. Drain and then return them to the pot, add butter, milk, salt and pepper. Mash until desired consistency, add reserved cabbage and mix. To serve in the traditional Irish way, make a well with the back of a spoon in the middle of each portion and put a large pat of room temperature butter into each one.

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However you choose to celebrate, think of the lush green fields of beautiful Ireland and its warm and friendly people because on St. Patrick’s Day…everyone is a little bit Irish.

 

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Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Mexican Stuffed Peppers are made with colorful bell peppers filled with seasoned beef, rice and a fresh pico de gallo sauce then topped with cheese and baked until tender and golden. I like to serve the delicious peppers on a bed of charred corn with fresh tomatoes, avocado and multigrain chips on the side. This easy, no fuss dish is perfect for a weeknight meal.

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Mexican Stuffed Peppers On A Bed Of Charred Corn

This is a recipe that is easily adjusted to your own family’s preferences. Spices can be altered so that the stuffed peppers are as mild or hot as you like. Not cheesy enough, add some extra to the stuffing mixture but make sure to use a cheese that melts nicely. If you don’t care for beef, ground turkey makes a good substitute. Want something heartier, add some black beans to the mix. If you don’t want to prepare your own fresh pico de gallo, you can use a store bought refrigerated product or even a jarred salsa…just be sure to check the nutrition label as some jarred salsas are very high in sodium and sugar. And finally, you can eliminate the beef and double the cooked rice for a healthy vegetarian meal. If you do decide to make this a meatless meal, I would suggest adding a little more seasoning for extra flavor.

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Serves 2 to 4 depending on the size of the peppers, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 bell peppers, cut in half from top to bottom and seeded
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground beef or turkey (1 c. cooked and drained of fat)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. cooked rice
  • 1 tsp. chipotle Tabasco
  • 1 c. homemade pico de gallo (see recipe below) or store bought fresh pico de gallo
  • 1/4 c. grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese

Mix the smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic and onion powders, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper together and set aside.

Place the peppers cut side down on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and steam for 3 minutes in a microwave. Carefully remove plastic wrap, drain any liquid, turn cut side up and let cool. (Optional step to reduce baking time and ensure the peppers are tender.)

Cook the ground beef in a sauté pan, breaking up any large chunks, about 5 minutes then drain any accumulated fat off the meat. (If you use turkey, you may have to add a teaspoon of oil while cooking to prevent sticking.) Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Add the spice mix, the cooked rice, chipotle Tabasco and the pico de gallo and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste. Remove from heat a let cool slightly.

Place peppers in a baking dish or on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Fill the peppers with the beef and rice mixture and sprinkle with the cheese. Place in a preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes until the mixture is hot and the cheese is just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and serve.

Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca)

  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped
  • 1 – 2 jalapeño, stemmed, seeds removed and diced (depending on desired spiciness)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice from a fresh lime
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Toss the tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice in a small bowl; season with the cumin, salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes for the flavors to meld.

fresh mexican ingredients

Fresh Mexican Ingredients

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Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

These colorful Mexican stuffed peppers make a terrific weeknight meal as the filling can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed. The recipe is easily doubled and any leftover filling can be used in tacos, burritos or as a topping on nachos or salads. I hope you try this flavorful, quick and easy meal that is budget friendly and perfect for the next time you want a taste of Mexico on your plate.

 

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Sunset On Longboat Key, Florida

Sunset on Longboat Key is spectacular but it isn’t the only reason to visit the lovely barrier island just minutes away from downtown Sarasota. If you are thinking of an island getaway, you don’t have to fly off to the Caribbean, just head to the west coast of Florida and visit Longboat Key.

sunset longboat key florida

Sunset On Longboat Key, Florida

Longboat Key, with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Sarasota Bay on the other, has 11 miles of beautiful white sand beaches and clear turquoise water. There are lovely resorts, small beach cottages and old time Florida motels, lots of four star restaurants and seaside seafood shacks, boutiques and souvenir shops as well as plenty of nature and water sport activities for an enjoyable visit. For my husband and I, sunset might be reason enough to drive across the state of Florida to Longboat Key.

A couple of months ago, a magnificent sunset was the perfect ending to a day long adventure to a part of Florida we had never visited. After reading about the Sunrise To Sunset Florida Coast To Coast Road Rally through the Space Coast Porsche Club of America, which my husband is a member of, we immediately signed up.

coast to coast road rally

Starting The Sunrise To Sunset Road Rally In The Rain (Photo:Robin Hoffman)

Driving across Florida from Melbourne, where the rally started in the rain, to Longboat Key where it ended, would normally take about 3 1/2 hours. However, we were allowed 6 1/2 hours to find all the clues and complete the event. The “Evil Rally Masters”, actually they were very nice, had some interesting challenges and some that unfortunately were impossible for us to find.

I wish I could say we won but we felt like winners anyway when we checked into Zota Beach Resort after finishing the rally. The contemporary yet casual beachfront boutique hotel is right on the Gulf of Mexico. The glass walled lobby is decorated with a fun and colorful mix of furniture and art work, there is even a sandcastle under the staircase.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slideshow. 

We loved our beautiful accommodations with the great view from the corner room. Amenities included a coffeemaker, minibar, flatscreen TV, evening turndown and bottled water which was replace daily. The bathroom had a large walk-in shower and plenty of counter space for the two of us.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slideshow. 

From the wraparound balcony, we had a view of the hotel’s lovely palm lined infinity pool and hot tub. Dozens of lounges line the pool and there are several cabanas with ceiling fans, comfortable seating, flatscreen TV, a minibar and even a safe that guests can rent. What we loved most, however, was the wonderful view of gulf and the white sand beach lined with seagrass, flowering shrubs and palm trees that we enjoyed from the balcony’s comfortable lounge chairs.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slideshow. 

After checking out our wonderful room and a quick change of clothes, the final stop on our road rally was for an awards banquet. (No we didn’t get one of the many trophies but did well for our first try.) Dinner was at the Beach House Waterfront Restaurant where the outdoor deck is “the place” for a cocktail as you watch sunset. Everyone is hoping to see the “green flash” as the sun slowing sinks into the Gulf. I only wish my camera could have captured what the sky looked like in person, it was beautiful.

beach house restaurant longboat key

Sunset At The Beach House Restaurant

After breakfast the next morning in the hotel’s restaurant, we decided to explore the island. The resort’s location is in the center of the island in a quiet residential section. It’s just a short drive north for casual shopping, entertainment and restaurants. Head south to St. Armands Circle shopping district for upscale boutiques, galleries, outdoor cafes and restaurants. From there, simply cross a bridge and you have access to downtown Sarasota with the Ringling Museum of Art and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

We discovered that there are many options for vacationing on the island, from a resort stay like ours to a weekend at a small beach cottage or an airbnb. For longer stays, most visitors rent a condo for a week or more, they seem to be available at a wide range of prices. January through April is the high season, with prices higher than the rest of the year so keep that in mind if you are planning a trip to Florida to escape winter.

Ask anyone where you should go for lunch and they all recommend Mar Vista. It is a laidback bayside restaurant that serves “Old Florida” cuisine. Sit out back underneath the shady buttonwood trees by the water or on the covered patio. Order a delicious grouper sandwich, fried seafood or oysters along with your favorite cocktail, beer or wine.We enjoyed our lunch, the view, the breeze and the fast, friendly service.

We made reservations before leaving home for dinner at a recently opened restaurant just a few minutes drive from Zota. Shore, a popular restaurant on St. Armands Circle, opened a second hip and extremely popular restaurant in a residential neighborhood on the north end of Longboat Key. It seems to be “the place to dine” right now so I suggest making a reservation ahead of time.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slideshow. 

We were given a table outside but it seems that every table at Shore, both inside and out, has a great view of the bay. The restaurant has a modern menu that specializes in local seafood that has an Asian flair. We had a delightful dining experience with before dinner cocktails and rosemary olive bread and spreads of smoked salmon, goat cheese and a spinach eggplant dip. For entrees we had red snapper with wilted spinach and arancini cake and miso marinated black grouper with sticky rice cake and shiitake mushrooms. All delicious but too dark to share photos of the food. I have to thank the manager Matthew Horan for taking and sharing some beautiful photos he took with his iPhone for me that evening…talk about service!

If you love fresh, seasonal seafood, days spent on white sand beaches, tranquil evenings with soft breezes and beautiful sunsets on a sophisticated yet causal tropical island, then Longboat Key is for you. For those not participating in a 6 1/2 hour road rally, Longboat Key on the west coast of Florida, is just a 30 minute drive from the Sarasota airport, a little over an hour from Tampa’s Airport and 2 1/2 hours from the city of Orlando.

sunset on longboat key

Sunset From The Balcony Of Zota Beach Resort, Longboat Key

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The sunsets on Longboat Key are stunning, the turquoise blue Gulf waters and white sand beaches are wonderful and there is an array of good restaurants in every category. We soon learned that the island and neighboring Sarasota, with The Ringling, which is home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the U.S. has so much to offer that I’m hoping to return soon…perhaps next time with friends. Road trip anyone?

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Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

Pan Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto is a healthy Mediterranean alternative to the classic American chicken and rice casserole that is often made with canned mushroom soup.

chicken with mushroom farro risotto

Pan Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

Farro, an ancient form of wheat, is used in this recipe. Also known as emmer, it often replaces the Italian Arborio or Carnaroli rice normally used to prepare risotto and is then called farrotto in Italy. Unlike rice, farro doesn’t get mushy and retains a slightly chewy texture similar to wheat berries, barley or al dente pasta. Farro doesn’t release starch while it is cooking in stock so it doesn’t need to be constantly stirred like you do when preparing risotto. Fresh assorted mushrooms and Parmesan cheese add additional flavor to the farrotto that I think you will love as a side to the sautéed chicken that’s marinated with fresh herbs, garlic and green pepperoncini.

Pan Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

Serves 2 generously, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

  • 1 1/2 c. chicken stock (I used unsalted)
  • 1/2 c. mushroom broth (made by soaking several pieces of dried porcini mushroom in boiling water, then strained through a coffee filter) or you can use chicken stock
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1  4 oz. pkg. of assorted mushrooms (I used baby Bellas, shiitake and oyster) sliced into bitesize pieces
  • 1/2 c. semi-pearled or pearled farro (I used Campanini which is semi-pearled)
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan or Locatelli Romano cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Combine chicken stock and mushroom broth, a total of two cups, in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. (You can use all chicken stock, if you wish.)

Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat until just bubbling, add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat. Sauté until the mushrooms have released their moisture and turned golden brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then set aside.

In the same sauté pan, heat the olive oil, add the onion and sauté for 3 – 4 minutes until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the farro, stirring until it is lightly toasted. Add the wine and cook about a minute.

Pour in the stock, add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is nearly absorbed and the farro is tender (it will be slightly chewy) and creamy. It should take about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the farro you use. Add the reserved mushrooms, heat through. Take off the heat and remove the bay leaf. Stir in the Parmesan cheese then taste for additional seasoning, if needed. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes for the flavors to meld before serving.

Tip: Whole grain farro can take about 30 to 45 minutes to cook, the semi-pearled variety I used took 30. If you plan ahead, you can pre-soak the farro overnight and it will only take about 10 to 15 minutes to cook. Cracking whole grain farro in a blender before cooking also helps it cook faster.

Herb Marinated Pan Sautéed Chicken

  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 3 – 4 pepperoncini (Italian or Greek mild pickled green peppers) stemmed, seeded and cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil plus more for sautéing
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (4 – 6 oz. each) pounded to an even thickness
  • salt and pepper to taste

Make a marinade by combining the rosemary, thyme, garlic, pepperoncini and 2 Tbsp. oil in a shallow dish and stir well. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and place in the marinade, turn to coat. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes, turning once and making sure both sides are covered with the herb mixture.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick sauté pan over medium high heat. Place the chicken breasts smooth side down in the skillet and cook for 3 – 4 minutes until brown. (If you have a cooking weight, it will help with even browning). Turn the chicken breasts and cook until done and they reach an internal temperature of 162 degrees. Let rest for several minutes before serving.

To serve this meal, spoon the farro risotto onto each plate and then top with one of the chicken breasts. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with additional grated cheese, if desired.

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The farro risotto has a nutty flavor and chewy texture that my husband and I throughly enjoyed. Hearty and full of flavor, farro is a healthier and more nutritious alternative to Arborio rice and is rich in fiber and high in vitamins, minerals and protein yet low in gluten. As you can see from the photo, this is a brown looking meal. Since we eat with our eyes as well, you might want to add some color to the plate. I added some cherry tomatoes to the sauté pan right before the chicken was finished cooking to serve with the meal. Green beans or some wilted spinach would make another nice addition to the plate.

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Seared Scallops With Watercress, Orange And Pistachio Salad

Sweet citrus, peppery watercress and crunchy pistachios are served with tender pan seared sea scallops for a delicious yet very healthy meal. Include a whole grain roll and a glass of red wine and it is a good example of a heart healthy Mediterranean meal that is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and extra virgin olive oil.

scallops with watercress, orange and pistachio salad

Seared Scallops With An Orange, Watercress And Pistachio Salad

Seared Scallops With An Orange, Watercress And Pistachio Salad

Serves 2 as main course or 4 for an appetizer, adjust the recipe according.

Honey Citrus Vinaigrette 

  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. honey, more or less
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together to emulsify. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste, if necessary. Set aside until ready to use then whisk again.

Salad

  • 1 or 2 bunches watercress, tough stalks removed (arugula may be substituted)
  • 1 or 2 oranges or tangerines, peeled and sectioned (canned mandarine oranges, packed in water, may be substituted)
  • 1/4 c. shelled pistachios

Trim tough stalks from the watercress, wash and dry well. Peel and remove white pith from oranges then cut the flesh between the membranes into segments. Toss the greens and orange segments gently with some of the vinaigrette and sprinkle the pistachios on top just when you are ready to serve. Once plated, drizzle remaining vinaigrette over scallops.

Pan Seared Scallops

  • 4 or 5 large dry sea scallops per person (2 for an appetizer portion)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil for sautéing (I use high heat peanut oil)

Pat scallops dry with paper towel and season both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Coat a nonstick sauté pan with a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot, add the scallops in one layer and cook undisturbed for two minutes or until golden. (Do not overcrowd the pan…cook in batches if necessary.) Turn and cook for another minute or two, depending on size and thickness. Serve immediately with the watercress and orange salad to the side of the scallops so that the heat doesn’t wilt the greens.

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A Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest ways of eating and is recommended by the World Health Organization to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

  1. Did you know that according to the CDC’s Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables list, watercress is ranked number one, with a nutrient density score of 100 percent.
  2. Pistachios are one of the lowest calorie nuts and have almost 6 grams of protein per 1 ounce serving. They are also an excellent source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are essential for eye health.
  3. Oranges are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, thiamine, folate, and antioxidants and have multiple health benefits.
  4. Extra virgin olive oil, which is the best quality oil available, is rich in antioxidants, which help prevent cellular damage caused by molecules called free radicals.
  5. Six large scallops, approximately 125 grams, are only 125 calories and have 25 grams of protein and nutrients that promote heart and brain health.

Not only do the scallops and salad make for a delicious meal, you can see that is is a very healthy one as well.

When we lived in New England, we enjoyed having scallops often. Here in Florida, they are expensive so we only have them once in a while. If you live in an area where good scallops are not reasonably priced or are hard to find, pan sautéed or grilled shrimp would make an excellent substitute.

 

 

 

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A New DASH Mediterranean Lifestyle

A new DASH Mediterranean Lifestyle is something I’ll be occasionally writing about on Back Road Journal. If you aren’t familiar with DASH, it is the most recommended diet in America. The diet is not a weight loss diet but rather a healthy way of eating that promotes overall health. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was originally designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure.

healthy salad

A Heart Healthy Duck Salad With Roasted Pumpkin And Mushrooms

The diet can help you live a longer and healthier life by eating foods that are rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium but low in saturated fats, sugar and salt. The easy diet includes lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry, fish, lean meat, beans, nuts  and low fat dairy and concentrates on the size of the portions not calories.

Now if you are a foodie like myself, you are probably thinking that loosing a few pounds is always a good thing to do from time to time. I will be happy if this new lifestyle results in that. It is, however, not the reason I’m sharing this new way of eating with you. Over the last few years, my husband has had several serious heart issues and during a recent hospital stay, tests indicated heart failure. If you are not familiar with the term, it sounds worse than it is, thank goodness for that. His medications have been updated and he was advised to restrict sodium, watch fluid intake and eat a healthy diet for  improved health.

We have decided to combine the DASH diet and the similar Mediterranean diet, to achieve a healthier lifestyle. As you know from all the recipes that I have shared, we do for the most part, eat healthy meals of freshly prepared food instead of ordering takeout, preparing something from a store-bought mix or buying an already prepared meal from our market.

We do however, have a very busy social life and go to restaurants several times a week with friends. From now on, my husband will only be having the occasional hot dog or deli sandwich piled high with smoked meats at lunch. Dining at our favorite restaurants shouldn’t be too difficult with DASH. We will make sure to select the healthier items on menus, order sauces on the side and ask for extra veggies instead of salty fries.

I’ll be modifying what I cook at home to include as many fresh ingredients as possible as most of the sodium in a typical meal comes from processed foods and cheese and baked goods. When buying condiments, I’m going to compare similar items then pick the ones that are the lowest in sodium, fat and have the fewest calories. When I find a product that I think is really good, I’ll be happy to pass on the information to you. If I discover a way to increase the flavor in dish without adding as much salt, I’ll be passing that along as well.

The recipes that I have shared in the past usually say “salt to taste” and that won’t change as each of us have different dietary needs. If I decide to update one of our favorite meals to make it a healthier dish, I will share the recipe in a new post.

While this change in eating habits is a necessity, I’m hoping that by us making heart smart lifestyle changes and eating a Dash “Mediterranean” style diet, we will both enjoy a longer and healthier life. If you happen to be cooking sodium restricted meals and have a favorite recipe that you think my husband will enjoy or have a trick to make a meal more flavorful without using a lot of salt, I hope you will pass it along.

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Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

My recipe for Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts will remind you of the ever popular Pad Thai dish that everyone seems to love.

While not an authentic dish that you might find in Thailand, the recipe does have all the umami flavors you would expect and is made with ingredients that you should be able to buy at your local market. If you are like me and can’t find good Thai food in a restaurant just around the corner from your home, then this is an easy recipe that you can prepare yourself the next time you want a taste of Thai .

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

This is a recipe that can be put together very quickly so make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and ready before you start cooking. Remember that the mincing and dicing of ingredients takes longer than the actual cooking of most stir fry meals.

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

Serves 2 adjust the recipe accordingly

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

  • 6 oz. rice noodles, soaked according to package directions or you can use other noodles of your choice*
  • 2 Tbsp. peanut or canola oil for stir frying
  • 2 c. broccoli florets, cut in half if large, blanched for 30 seconds, drained, blotted dry
  • 1/2 small onion, cut into slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into uniform pieces
  • 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, sliced 1/4 inch across the grain
  • peanut ginger sauce (see recipe below) or store bought
  • 1/4 c. more or less of dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)

*Soak the rice noodles in hot water, according to package directions, until softened. Rinse under cold water, then drain well. Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with 1 or 2 tsp. of oil and toss to coat to prevent sticking together. If using another kind of noodle, cook al dente then drizzle with oil until ready to use.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan or wok until hot but not smoking. Add the broccoli, onion and red bell pepper and cook until just tender crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until lightly brown, about 3 or 4 minutes then remove to the bowl with the vegetables. Add the peanut ginger sauce and noodles to the sauté pan  and toss well. Return the chicken and vegetable mixture to the pan along with the peanuts, tossing for another minute until everything is well coated  with sauce. Serve immediately with wedges of lime to squeeze on top, if desired.

Peanut Ginger Sauce*

  • 2 tsp. peanut oil
  • 2 tsp. sesame seed oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. tamari sauce or soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. sweet Thai chili sauce, or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sriracha, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 c. chicken stock, more if necessary

Heat the oils in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add all the other ingredients except the chicken stock and simmer until the peanut butter is melted and smooth. Slowly add the chicken stock a little. at a time, until the desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Keep sauce warm. *If you don’t want to make the sauce from scratch, you can use store bough peanut sauce and thin with chicken stock to the desired consistency.

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If you are lucky enough to have a great Thai restaurant near you, you might think “why should I try this recipe” at home. I would answer that it is easy, delicious and is adaptable to your own tastes. As you can see, I added broccoli to my recipe to add more vegetables to our diet. If you have a member of your family who doesn’t care for broccoli, you could add in carrots, scallions or other vegetables of your choice. Want a really spicy dish, add sliced Thai bird chilies to the dish. Looking for a little additional sweetness, try adding palm sugar or a little dark brown sugar. Make Thai style noodles with chicken, broccoli and peanuts your own way and I think you will be pleased with the quick and flavorful meal.

 

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Cuban Black Beans Done Quickly

We all need shortcuts in our busy lives and this easy recipe for Cuban Black Beans is perfect for one of your weeknight meals. When you don’t have time to soak dried beans and cook them for several hours, try this quick recipe using a few simple ingredients from your pantry. You can transform canned black beans into a delicious, healthy and inexpensive side dish that you and your family will enjoy.

cuban black beans

Cuban Black Beans Served With Roast Pork And White Rice

Years ago, a friend who was originally from Cuba, shared her recipes with me for slow roasted lechon asado (roast pork) and frijoles negros (black beans). Over the years, I have made a few changes to the quantities listed in the recipes she gave me but they are still true to her original. I’ve shared my version of Cuban roast pork but never the recipe for Cuban black beans.

If you have a big family, cooking a large pot of beans is a wonderful way to serve a healthy, satisfying and economical meal BUT if you are cooking for just one or two, you might be more inclined to cook a smaller amount and that is where using can beans is a good alternative. In fact, many canned beans today match the quality of dried beans so I make no apologies for using shortcuts when I want a meal on the table in less than an hour.

cuban black beans

Cuban Black Beans

Quick Cuban Black Beans

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper*, diced (while most recipes call for green, I often use red bell pepper for added color and flavor)
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1  15 oz. can of black beans
  • 1/2 c., more if needed, chicken stock, vegetable broth or water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • cilantro for garnish (optional)
  • wedges of lime and finely chopped onion (optional)

Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a pot over medium heat, add the onion and pepper then sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the beans, stock, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the liquid thickens and the flavors meld, adding a little extra liquid if necessary. Add the remaining oil and the vinegar, stir then taste for any additional seasoning, if needed. To serve, remove the bay leaf then garnish with the cilantro, if desired. Lime wedges and  finely chopped onion, as a side for the beans, can be served at the table.

Notes:

  • There is a question among cooks and food experts on whether you should drain and rinse canned beans. If you do rinse canned beans, add some water, stock or broth to make up for the drained liquid as the beans will thicken as they cook.
  • A sofrito of onion, green pepper and garlic is traditionally used in Cuban cooking. Some people find that green bell peppers are hard to digest and if so, red or yellow bell peppers can be substituted. If you like spicy dishes, you could use a hot chili pepper as well.
  • If you are serving 4 to 6 people, I suggest using 3 cans of beans and double the other ingredients. I would also suggest the same if you want to make the recipe using dried black beans, cook as directed on the packaging…double the vegetables and seasonings.
  • The beans can be prepared ahead of time, just add a little water when reheating.
  • The added bonus of the Cuban black beans is that they are high in fiber, low in fat, vegetarian and vegan (if using water instead of chicken stock) as well as gluten free.

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I grew up having a bowl of beans, usually navy or pintos, as a main course about once a month when my mother had a leftover ham bone. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Miami, that I tried black beans at a local Cuban restaurant. I was thrilled when my friend gave me her recipe and have been cooking Cuban style black beans ever since. While I love beans cooked from scratch, you need to plan ahead. There is the long soak, usually over night, before simmering the beans for several hours. When you are like me and don’t have the time yet want a healthy and quick side dish, try this recipe using canned black beans.

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