Secret Recipe Club: Hearty warm farro salad of ricotta and blue cheeses melted into the cooked grain, topped with balsamic grilled kale and plums.
Sorry to be MIA lately. I’ve been busy pursuing a PhD in ‘Downsizing Homes’. I had considered writing my thesis on “Living with Tiny Bedrooms, Closets, Storage & No Garage’ or ‘Surprises After Buying a 100 Year Old House” (I now have loads of recent research data for either), but settled on “Moving Into a Small Kitchen”. It’s been a challenging program, but I think I’m through the worst of it.
Let me start by admitting that I own more kitchen paraphernalia than I can possibly use. Ever. Yet I was completely incapable of parting with any of it when packing in preparation to move. The stove top smoker, a total of four juicers, and a large copper bowl for whipping egg whites that hadn’t been used in years, all moved with us into a house and kitchen half the size of what we had left. Boxes stacked two and three high quickly filled both the kitchen and dining room, and for a brief time, spilled out onto a deck. I quickly realized that no matter how much sense downsizing made on the whiteboard, actual execution was going to take a great deal of patience and creativity. It was going to take a PhD.
First of all, it’s not a simple matter of unpacking. It’s researching the best place to store, say, mixing bowls, based on kitchen workflow. You adjust the height of the shelf to maximize space, and solve the Rubik’s cube of nesting the bowls in the only way they’ll all fit, and close the cabinet door in relief.
But wait. You unpack another box and realize that THIS is the stuff that needs to go there. So you find a new home for the stuff you just put away, readjust the shelf, and re-solve the stacking puzzle.
Two days later you unpack another box, and yes I know you see this coming, THAT’S the stuff that needs to go there. So you take a break for a few days while you reconfigure the entire kitchen.
We’ve made some changes.
The small pot rack protruding from a wall has been invaluable. Unfortunately it crowds the refrigerator, forcing us to heave it out at an angle if we need to remove the box of ice for drinks. But it’s worth it to be able to hang my pots and pans a mere three feet from the stove and free up several shelves of cabinet space.
Cabinet space is prime real estate, and it must be earned. If a kitchen item isn’t used at least once a week, it can’t come inside. It’s banished instead to the shed out back, where it sits on a shelf next to the smoker, the large copper bowl for whipping egg whites, and three of the four juicers. I would prefer retractable shelves that would release down from the ceiling into the kitchen, but this will have to do – at least until the rains come this winter.
Then there’s the challenge of limited counter space and my desire to prep food without bumping into canisters. Clearing the kitchen table for prepping, which is also our formal dining room table, photography table, temporary office, and the holder of all mail and random pieces of paper, is not a good solution. I had to find ways to clear the counters.
First to go was the wooden knife block. We now have a streamlined, stainless-steel magnetic strip mounted on a wall next to a prepping area by the sink. It’s handy, but the magnetic strength is industrial level, and we live in fear that we’ll yank a knife off the strip too abruptly and the whole thing will rip out the wall.
Canisters, toaster oven, espresso maker: all gone. Instead, we purchased a microwave oven that doubles as a compact, fast-heating convection oven; and we make drip coffee by placing a red plastic gizmo lined with a brown paper filter on top of our coffee cup. The coffee is so good we’ve switched from tea, and go through this ritual every morning.
I bought a cookbook stand, although in retrospect that seems silly since I never follow a recipe. But it hides a bunch of plugs, gets my cooking notes off the counter, and makes me appear more organized than I really am. For now it stays.
The only thing I haven’t puzzled out is where to put the Kitchen Aide mixer. I can’t imagine going to the shed in the rain and lugging it into the kitchen when I want to whip up a cake, no matter how great a dieting technique that may be. So for now it’s a centerpiece on the kitchen/dining/office/photography/junk table, although it’s too tall to stay there permanently.
I’ll be posting more in October. It’s one of my favorite times of year to cook, and except for the Kitchen Aide, I’m finally ready to begin. And this year, as the cold rain and wind sweeps in with shorter days, I’ll nest in my cozy kitchen, made bright with all the windows, everything a convenient two steps from the stove.
I’m kicking off my return with this fantastic recipe from Shari at My Judy the Foodie blog for this month’s Secret Recipe Club. Judy was her mom. After Judy died from breast cancer, Shari found a treasure trove of handwritten recipes she grew up with, and was inspired to learn to cook, using her mom’s recipes as her guide. She went from microwave dinners, and not knowing how to make pasta, to a fantastic menu of recipes for her family. Her blog shares recipes of her journey and from her childhood. In fact, her blog has so many recipes I want to try, I had a really hard time deciding which to feature here. But when I saw some of the last of the season’s plums at the market, the decision was made.
I saw Shari’s recipe, adapted from Bon Appetit, in one of my first forays of looking through My Judy the Foodie, and couldn’t get it out of my mind. I kept thinking I wanted to make it a little heartier for a vegetarian dinner entrée, but I wanted to use all the same flavors. So I stirred a little Point Reyes Blue cheese into the ricotta, sprinkled a little fresh thyme on top, and melted it into steaming hot farro. I grilled the kale on the stove using my grilling pan (conveniently hanging on my nifty pot rack), and decided at the last minute to grill the plums too. The dressing was the perfect final touch.
This was a wonderful late summer/early fall vegetarian dinner for me, and fancy enough for a dinner party. This will go on regular rotation now! Thanks Shari for a fantastic recipe!
- 1 cup dried farro
- 2 cups water (or vegetable broth)
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup fresh ricotta cheese, drained
- 1½ Tbsp blue cheese (I use Point Reyes Blue)
- ½ tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
- pinch kosher salt
- 1½ Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
- ½ tsp honey
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp dried pequin pepper flakes (a mild red pepper)
- few grinds of freshly ground pepper
- 4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium plums, pitted and halved, and sliced into 8 slices per plum
- 10 - 12 curly kale leaves (medium sized leaves)
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the garlic, salt, and dried farro. Simmer for 30 minutes or until chewy-tender. If there is any liquid left, strain it out but reserve it for thinning the salad if needed.
- Whisk the ricotta and blue cheese together in a small bowl. Stir in the thyme and salt. Set aside.
- Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl except the olive oil. Once the salt is dissolved, continue whisking while drizzling the olive oil into the vinegar base. Correct for seasoning.
- Drizzle 1½ tablespoons of the vinaigrette over the whole kale leaves. Light rub to ensure complete coverage.
- Heat up a dry grill pan or skillet over high heat on the stove. Add the leaves in one layer - it's okay if they're touching. "Grill" them for one minute and flip. The edges should be crispy and a little charred. "Grill" for an additional 30 seconds to a minute. Remove and allow to cool. Repeat until all the kale is grilled. (You can use your outside grill too, using a heated vegetable pan.)
- When the kale has cooled enough for handling, remove the center stem and tear the leaves into large pieces.
- Drizzle two teaspoons of the vinaigrette on the plums and toss. Add them all at once to the hot dry grill or sauté pan. Cook for 30 seconds or until just beginning to soften.
- Stir the cheese mixture into the warm cooked farro, reheating if needed. Add one tablespoon of the vinaigrette. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Spoon into a serving bowl. Top with the kale and plums. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.
- Serve warm.