Orecchiette alla Norcina (pasta in a sausage, herb, and mushroom cream sauce)

One of my favorite restaurants in the city is Landmarc at the Time Warner Center.  It's one of those casual elegant restaurants that's just as welcoming to tourists in jeans or flip-flops as it is the power-lunch crowd.

With an expansive dining room that takes up an entire side of the building, there is rarely a wait, which means it's great for spur-of-the-moment meals and they always accompany the check with a handful of homemade salted caramels.

I've been there for dinner many times with Eugene (including this remarkable evening), have had brunch there with my family and friends, and when I was working at Hearst and my office was just a couple blocks away, I would always schedule lunch meetings there.

The fact that my train station is located directly beneath it doesn't hurt either!

One of my favorite dishes to order at Landmarc is their Thursday pasta special--orecchiette all norcina, which I was introduced to by my lovely friend Aryanna, who once tasted it at an event and then raved about it for days until we finally escaped for a mid-day feast to see what all the fuss was about.

This creamy comfort dish originated in the Italian village of Norcia, located in the southeastern part of the Umbrian region of Italy. Norcia is legendary for its black truffles, pork, and wild boar products, particularly sausage, and to this day pork products in Italy are referred to as "norcineria."

The sauce reflects these regional flavors with tiny bite-size pieces of sausage and pasta in a rich cream  and mushroom sauce. It's the sort of dish that's perfect for a rainy evening, or even for lunch on one of those days when you need a little something extra to get you through the rest of the day.

It's been months since I've actually been to the restaurant to order it, but while poking around in my fridge the other day, I realized I had everything I needed to create a similar dish. Note that this isn't meant to be an exact copy of that dish, but it's definitely pretty close. Even better because it takes only minutes to whip up and ends up costing just a few dollars per serving.

I added one major twist to my version--cremini mushrooms. The version I tried at Landmarc doesn't have mushrooms, but I had a package in my fridge and knew they would pair nicely with the other ingredients.  As the Umbrian region is also known for its truffles and mushrooms, I didn't think the additional earthy flavors would be out of place.

I chopped them up coursely and absolutely loved how they seemed to melt right into the dish, adding bulk and nutrition (one cup of cremini mushrooms provides up to 18 different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant phyto-nutrients).  I infused the sauce with fresh rosemary and nutmeg,  and added red chili flakes for heat--all of which gave the rich cream sauce a layer of depth that kept me going back for more.

I use orecchiette in this dish as inspired by the restaurant version, and I love the way each of the little bowls (orecchiette actually means "little ears" in Italian) scoop up the sauce for a perfect bite every time. If you prefer, you can of course substitute any kind of pasta you'd like.

P.S. The pretty cloth to the left of the bowl with the brown and red tree came from an incredible new company called Janum that I'll be sharing more about soon. The blue-striped cloth on the right is my sock...on my foot, which is bracing me while I snap the photo from above. 

Loved this pasta recipe? Here are three other easy pasta recipes you might like:

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Thanks so much for reading!

Orecchiette all Norcina (pasta with sausage, herb, and mushroom cream sauce)
Inspired by a dish at Landmarc restaurant in New York City

Print this Recipe

8oz orecchiette pasta (or other small pasta such as rigatoni or penne)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
1/2 pound hot Italian pork sausage (substitute mild or turkey sausage, if you prefer)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
8oz cremini mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (skip if you prefer less heat; use more if you'd like a lot of spice)
1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt and add pasta. Cook until al dente (about 10 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

While the pasta cooks, remove the sausage from casings and break up into small pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy pan over medium heat and add the sausage. Cook for 2 minutes until lightly browned.

Add the onions and garlic cloves, saute together for 3 minutes until fragrant and soft (you don't want to caramelized the onions). Add the chopped mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes or until cooked down and any liquid has reduced.

Add the cream, rosemary, nutmeg, and red pepper. Let the sauce cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the cooked pasta and the cheese and toss to coat evenly. If sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water. Season with Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.

20 Cooking Questions Answered in 20 Words or Less

Back in my previous job, we used to do a thing called something along the lines of "Crazy Dirty Sex Questions Answered in 20 Words or Less."  I always thought it was a super clever concept to answer a bunch of questions so quickly and succinctly, and so I'm borrowing the idea and creating a food version through which I can answer your cooking questions in 20 words or less. [And yes, I know it should actually be "fewer," not "less," but I'm going with quip-y and recognizable over grammatically correct.]

Want your questions answered pithily in my next article? Email me and I'll add them to the queue!

1. Which side of the foil are you supposed to cook on?
Technically the shiny side, but the difference is negligible so don't worry about it.

2. What's the best way to melt chocolate? Chop it (or use chips) and melt in the microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring each time until completely smooth.

3.  I purchase eggs from a farmer and they are often irregular sizes. How do I properly weigh or divide them for use in baking? Crack and whisk together, then measure. 1 large egg equals 3 tablespoons or 70g or 2.5oz of beaten egg. 

4. Why does my pound cake deflate when I take it out of the oven? Possible reasons: Over mixing the batter, irregular oven heat, opening the oven door during baking, or expired baking powder. [Ed. Note: Read more about how to prevent collapsing cakes here.]

5. What's the best way to improve knife skills without taking a course? Look up an onion chopping tutorial on YouTube and practice with a full bag of yellow onions. (Freeze the diced onions.)

6. Which herbs and spices are OK to buy dry? Which are better fresh? As a rule, go dry for spices and fresh for herbs. Oregano is the exception. It's better dry.

7.  Which part of the green onion (scallion) is supposed to be used—the green or the white or both? For garnishes use only the green; for cooking use both green & white up to about 1” from the root.

8. If a recipe calls for wine, is it best to choose a dry wine?  Use exactly the same kind of wine you would pair with the meal if drinking it.

9. What’s the best method for cooking a burger indoors at home without a grill? A cast-iron griddle or grill pan. Only flip once and never press. Open the window to air out inevitable smoke.

10. Why do shrimp turn red when cooked? Embarrassment. Just kidding. Actually protein bonds that appear blackish in raw/live shrimp release & reveal natural red carotenoid pigments underneath.

11. Is "wild caught" salmon really healthier than "farm raised"? Yes. More usable omega-3 fats, significantly fewer antibiotics/pesticides, natural carotenoids--no synthetic pigments added for color. More environmentally responsible.

12.  My wife prefers well-done steaks. How do I cook a quality steak to the well-done stage without drying the meat out? Sear it quickly on the stove in a cast-iron skillet; transfer to 400 degree oven w/ meat thermometer until steak hits 145 degrees.

13.  What are good ideas for winter salads that have more than just lettuce and tomatoes? Grain salads (farro, wheatberries, quinoa). Peppery/hearty greens (arugula, watercress, upland cress, kale). Citrus & onion salads. Roasted vegetable salads.

14. Is it true that eggs that have never been refrigerated don't actually need to be? It's true! Fresh, unrefrigerated and unwashed eggs can be stored at cool room temp (around 75 degrees) for a week or two.

15. How do you say hanger steak in Spanish? (I live in Venezuela and would like to know how to buy/order it.) "Solomillo de Pulmon," though local dialects vary. The French word "onglet" is also pretty universal.

16. What is the best way to protect my dried goods from little critters?  Buy fresh, sift, then transfer to large glass jars with tightly-sealing screw-top lids or rubber gaskets. (like Mason/canning jars)

17.  How can I safely defrost my eggs if my bum refrigerator keeps freezing them? Let sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Or place in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for 5-10 minutes. [Ed. Note: My fridge does this too, and I hate it!]

18.  For more delicate baked goods, such as macarons and souffles, what is the best way to adjust for minor altitude (3000 ft in my case)? It's trial-and-error, but try reducing sugar by 1 tablespoon & replacing w/ same amount of flour. Increase baking temp by about 15-25 degrees F. 

19. How long does it take to preheat an oven? All ovens vary, but on average about 15 minutes to preheat to 350 and 20 minutes to preheat to 400.

20. How do I keep hard-boiled eggs from turning green near the yolk? Cook them gradually. Place eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off & let sit for 10 minutes.


Spinach Asparagus Soup

When one essentially cooks and eats for a living, there will inevitably come a time when one starts to feel a bit sluggish. For me, this time came last week.

I usually do a detox of some kind about once a season.  I find that it helps me hit the "reset" button, so to speak, and leaves me with more energy and just feeling cleaner and refreshed after months of indulgent eating.  My favorite is the BluePrintCleanse, which is both delicious and ridiculously convenient (the bottles are literally numbered---doesn't get easier than that!). But unfortunately, the BPC price tag is way too steep, so I usually have to wait for one of their 20% or 30% off coupons to pop in my inbox before I'll order it.

With no coupons in site (I even asked on their FB page and they brushed me off!), I decided to design my own home detox. As it's getting chilly out there, I can't do just pressed juices, so I went with a combination of pressed juices for breakfast and simple pureed soups for lunch and dinner.

This asparagus and spinach soup is one of my favorite detox recipes, but it's actually just as good on regular days too. Eugene actually loves it and was sad when our last batch finished. He also kept urging me to post it here, so here it is.

This soup reheats really well, and so I know that making it will leave me with meals for at least 2 or 3 days (the recipe doubles easily). To make it a little more substantial, you can add cooked crab meat or shrimp to the soup.

Spinach Asparagus Soup
Another great thing about this soup is that it can be easily adapted to the season or what's on sale at the store. I've made the same one using broccoli instead of asparagus and will swap in watercress or arugula instead of spinach. It's always good! This makes about two-three servings.
Print this Recipe
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of fresh asparagus, diced
4 cups water (or low sodium vegetable broth)
8oz fresh spinach, washed and chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the crushed garlic and diced onions and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add the red pepper flakes and diced asparagus and saute for about 5 minutes.

Add the water and raise the heat, bringing it all to a boil. Lower to a simmer and let it cook for about 10 minutes or until tender.

Add the spinach and then use an immersion blender or transfer in small batches to a regular blender to puree it until smooth. NOTE: Always be cautious when blending hot liquids in a standard blender as the steam can cause the top to blow off and you'll end up with hot soup everywhere. Blend only a cup or two at a time (depending on the size of your blender) and go slow. If you have time, let the soup cool before blending it, or use a food processor or immersion blender instead.

Return the pureed soup to the pot and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. (If you're trying to detox, I suggest that you limit the salt and instead use fresh lemon juice to perk up the flavors a bit.)

Creamy Nutella Milk (Dairy Free Chocolate Hazelnut Milk)

While cleaning out my freezer the other day, I found a bag of raw hazelnuts leftover from a homemade condiments cooking class I taught a couple months ago. We had used some of them to make homemade nutella, and I had packed away the leftovers for  a future project that I never quite got around to.

While looking at them, I suddenly got the idea to make a homemade nut milk with hazelnuts as the base and raw cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, and maple syrup as flavoring. Essentially, a kind of "nutella milk" that could be enjoyed for breakfast or as a dessert.

Making homemade nut milks is a simple process. (You may have already tried my homemade pecan milk recipe, which is similar to this one.) The nuts are soaked in water for anywhere from 8 to 24 hours, during which they will swell up and soften. This step can be frustrating if, like me, you prefer instant gratification when it comes to recipes, but it is necessary and actually much better for your digestive system.

Some people find that they have trouble digesting raw nuts. The reason for this is that all nuts (and seeds) naturally contain high amounts of enzyme inhibitors that are designed to keep the nuts from sprouting prematurely. In nature this makes sense because it gives the squirrel a chance to run off with the nut so that it can then sprout elsewhere. But it can wreak havoc on the digestive system and also make it more difficult for your body to absorb all the good nutrients in the nuts.

Soaking nuts in warm water with a touch of salt help combat this by neutralizing the enzyme inhibitors and simultaneously promoting the development of new and beneficial enzymes. Essentially, by soaking them, you're giving the nuts a head start so that when you finally consume them, you're body won't have to work as hard to break them down. Soaking the nuts also makes them softer, which will make it possible to puree the nut milk as thoroughly as possible, making for a really rich final drink. This is actually a very traditional way of preparing nuts, seeds, and grains, and one which has been followed for thousands of years.

For the chocolate element in my nut milk, I used a combination of raw cacoa nibs and unsweetened cocoa powder. I liked the layers of flavor using both added, but if you don't have--or can't find--one or the other, you can just use all of either kind. I also added a tiny bit of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt to balance out the flavors. Sweetener is totally optional, but I like how it worked. I chose to use some dark Grade B maple syrup and was thrilled with the way it tasted. Honey, stevia, or regular sugar would also work.

The finished milk keeps for about 3-4 days in the refrigerator. I store mine in a glass mason jar and shake it up well before pouring into my glasses (the solids in the milk tend to settle after it's been sitting for a few hours). You can also freeze a portion of this to consume later, if you'd like.

A nut milk bag or thin muslin bag is very useful for straining the milk, but I actually just use a fine sieve layered with some cheesecloth. In a pinch, I've also layered a colander with paper towels. Clean (preferably nude to avoid leeching of dyes) pantyhose also work.

I've been enjoying a large glass of this for breakfast with a little sprinkle of cinnamon on top. It's also great in coffee or tea, and can be heated up for a cozy nighttime beverage on a cold night.

Love Always Order Dessert?
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Creamy Chocolate Hazelnut Milk (Dairy Free)
Makes about 4-5 cups

Print this Recipe

3-4 cups warm filtered water (for soaking)
1 tablespoon sea salt (if you can get it, use celtic sea salt)
2 cups raw hazelnuts (skin on or off is fine)
4 cups cold filtered water
1/2 cup raw cacao nibs
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
sea salt

First soak the nuts: Combine the 4 cups warm water and sea salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Add the raw hazelnuts, making sure the nuts are covered with water completely. If necessary, add more water. Cover and let soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24.

Drain the nuts and rinse with cool water. Proceed with recipe.

Prepare a fine sieve or colander by lining with cheesecloth and placing it over a large bowl. If you have a nut milk bag, use that.

In a large blender, combine the soaked hazelnuts with 4 cups of fresh filtered water (not the same water you used for soaking), the cacao nibs, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and maple syrup. Puree in the blender until completely smooth (about 1-3 minutes on a standard blender; less if you have a high-speed blender like a VitaMix).

Pour the pureed mixture through the sieve, using a spoon to push the liquid through. Strain well, squeezing the cheesecloth at the end to expel all the liquid. TIP: reserve the nut and cocoa pulp to add to baking recipes or for making crackers. I keep mine in my freezer and add to banana bread, muffins, or pancake batter.

Taste and add additional sea salt or maple syrup, if desired. Transfer to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Kitchen Tip: Freezing Cookie Dough

A large batch of cookie dough can be a dangerous thing. Especially when there aren't that many of you in the house. (Or even if there are.) But rather than cutting down on the recipe, I prefer to make the full batch and reserve 2/3 of it for freezing and baking at a later date.

Here's what I do:

1. I use a cookie scoop or spoon to portion out and roll evenly-sized balls of dough. I lay these out on a plastic-lined baking sheet (don't need to be spaced out) and then cover the tray with another sheet of plastic.

2. I pop the whole tray into the freezer for 2 hours until frozen solid. (This is done to keep the dough from smooshing together when you transfer them to the freezer bag.)

3. Then I drop the frozen dough balls into a heavy duty zipped freezer bag. Squeeze out all the air, seal, and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. (Longer than that, I find that they start to absorbs freezer smells.)

And you're done! 

The benefit of this method is that, come baking time, all you have to do is pluck as many dough balls as you'd like cookies out of the bag, arranged them on a baking sheet, and bake. You don't even need to let them thaw! Just increase the original recipe baking time by 1-3 minutes, depending on your oven and the recipe (keep an eye on it the first time until you figure out the perfect amount.)

While you can, of course, also just roll all the dough into a tube for a "slice and bake" style cookie, I prefer this method because it's best for baking just one or two cookies at a time when you get a craving.

(Which I guess can also be a pretty dangerous thing...)

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And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!   

Inspired Entertaining: DIY Chalkboard Wine Glasses

Last month I got an email from one of those "deal of the day" websites featuring a very cute set of wine glasses with chalkboard stems from a company called Chalkboard China.

I've seen chalkboard glasses before, and always thought them to be a fun and chic way for guests to keep track of their glass throughout the night so you don't end up with mixed-up glasses or dozens of half-full glasses left around the house.  But all the ones I've seen in stores feature a strip of chalkboard paint across the bowl of the glass, which I've always felt looks awkward and takes away from the beauty of the wine or beverage in the glass. What I like about this version is that the writing part is at the bottom on the stem and foot of the glass, so it doesn't compete with the beverage.  I also like that the simple black foot on the glass is in itself an elegant design element, and would work just as well with no writing on it.

What I did NOT like about the glasses, was the price. $19.95 per glass is absurd and totally unnecessary.  Especially when you want to be able to entertain a large group of people, or simply not worry about breaking glasses.

So I figured, "I can totally make that myself!" I had a can of chalkboard spray paint in my cabinet left over from when I created a small chalkboard wall in my kitchen (you can see a bit of that wall here) and I have plenty of inexpensive wine glasses left over from my bridal shower (they were used for the favors), so I go to work.

Here's how you can make your own set of inexpensive chalkboard wine glasses:

1. Krylon Chalkboard Aerosol Spray Paint. I bought this at Lee's Art Shop in NYC, but it's also available at stores like Michael's, Pearl, and other craft shops. You can also buy it online. I prefer the standard version in black, but chalkboard paint does also come in other colors (red, hunter green, etc.) so choose what works with your decor.

2. Clear wine glasses. I used a couple inexpensive wine glasses I already had in my cabinet. They were leftovers from bridal shower favors and I believe my bridesmaids purchased them at IKEA. Feel free to use glasses you already own, or pick up cheap ones at a thrift store or restaurant supply shop.

3. Painter's Tape. You'll use this to block off the rest of the stem. Be sure to get masking or painter's tape, as other kinds of tape may leave sticky residue on the stem of your glass.

You'll also need:
A small waterproof dropcloth to protect your floor or work surface--I just used a few old Target grocery bags that I spread out on the floor. You'll also need a well ventilated area. I sat on the floor in front of an open window and turned on a fan for good measure; if you have outdoor space you can work in, that's even better as the spray paint fumes are pretty strong.

Step 1. Wash and dry your glasses thoroughly. If there is any oil or residue on the glasses, use rubbing alcohol to wipe it off. Decide where you want the chalkboard part to end on the glass and tape the rest of the stem that won't be painted. (For example: I wanted it to go up about an inch above the foot of the glass so I taped off the rest of the stem.) If you use more than one strip of tape, be sure to overlap them slightly so you don't end up with any paint between the tape strips. Tape off all your glasses at once before you start painting.

Step 2. Spread your dropcloth over the area you'll be working on. Shake the paint well and, holding the nozzle about 2 inches away from the glass foot, spray the paint lightly until it coats the entire surface. Set down and repeat with all the other glasses. Let dry for about 20 minutes before repeating with a second coat on each glass. Let dry for 2 hours.

Step 3. After about 2-3 hours, gently remove the painter's tape, then turn the glasses upside down so the stems are up. Let dry overnight this way until the paint fully dries.

Once the glasses are completely dry (about 24 hours) they're ready to use! When entertaining, leave a small container of white or colored chalk so guests can write their names (or whatever they want) on their glasses and keep track of them throughout the night.

These would also make a great (and inexpensive!) DIY holiday or hostess gift idea! I recommend that you pair a set of the glasses with a favorite bottle of wine and a small package of chalk. Note that the chalkboard paint is NOT dishwasher safe, but the finished glasses can be washed by hand in the sink with warm water and dried with a dishcloth (or left in the rack to air dry).

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Thanks for reading!  

Creamy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Butternut squash mac and cheese is not a new concept by any means, but it's one I've definitely been wanting to try for a long time.

The premise is that it's a somewhat healthier version of the classic macaroni and cheese recipe because it swaps out a good portion of cheese for pureed butternut squash.

The base of the sauce is the pureed squash so there is no need to create a flour-and-butter-and-milk-laden bechamel, which again helps with the health factor.

To be honest, I was less seduced by the alleged health factor, than by the fact that it provided the answer to the limited ingredients in my end-of-the-week refrigerator; I only had a 1/2 lb of cheese and no milk on hand but was seriously craving a bowl of cheesy pasta.

I also happened to have a butternut squash perched at the end of my counter, just waiting to be used.

And so I did.

There are a few methods for making the butternut squash base; some prefer to roast the squash and then puree it with milk and stock, but I went with a simmered version based on an old Martha Stewart recipe that I found pretty simple. For the cheese, I used some stinky raclette in my dish (it was on sale when I bought it), but a good extra-sharp cheddar would be much more appropriate. And less stinky. I also used whole wheat pasta because it's really the only kind of pasta I ever use; I'm not under any illusions that it's really all that much better, but I figure even a smidge of less-refined-ness is better than nothing.

A word of warning.  I'm a stovetop mac and cheese girl all the way. 

At the end of my recipe, you could conceivably top it off with bread crumbs, grated cheese, and butter, and pop it all in the oven for 20 or so minutes until bubble and crunchy on top, but I didn't. Because I can't stand breadcrumbs in my macaroni and cheese. I've literally never understood the appeal.

Perhaps it's because I grew up eating Velveeta Shells & Cheese and Stouffer's (my mom made most things homemade, but mac and cheese was not one of her dishes) so I associate the comfort factor with a bowl of creamy pasta, not that crumbly topping so many people prefer.

Either way, if you prefer that crunch top, feel free, but I honestly love the simplicity (and instant satisfaction) of being able to eat it as soon as I mix the sauce in.

Unlike regular mac and cheese recipes, which tend to congeal into a solid mass once refrigerated, this version stays creamy and moist for days.

I've been scooping out big spoonfuls of it to enjoy for lunch this week, and the texture has never once failed; a fantastic discovery as it means I can add it to my list of recipes that are great for making on the weekend in advance of a long and busy week. (I've even learned, while impatiently waiting for the microwave to do its thing, that it also tastes good cold!)

You're probably wondering about the flavor. It definitely tastes like normal macaroni and cheese! There is a tiny hint of underlying sweetness, but the creamy, cheesy flavor is there, and with the addition of spices, it's difficult to tell there is anything else hidden in the mix.

I honestly love it, but I will confess that my husband, who professes to hate butternut squash, wouldn't eat more than a bite of it. I think it was the fault of the stinky raclette, though; I intend to make this again with just cheddar and will see what he thinks.

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Creamy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart Living
Print this Recipe
1 medium sized butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3-4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3-4 fresh sage leaves
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you'd like additional heat)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (can also use gruyere, fontina, or other semi-soft cheese)
1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni

Peel butternut squash with a vegetable peeler, then cut in half. Scoop out seeds and chop the remaining squash into 1" pieces. Combine in a medium saucepan with the chicken broth, making sure the broth covers the squash completely. Add the sage leaves and bring all to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until squash is fork tender.

While the squash cooks, bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the pound of whole wheat macaroni and cook according to packaged directions until al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Drain squash, while reserving the chicken broth. Add the cooked squash and sage to the blender or food processor and process in batches until smooth, adding about a cup of the reserved chicken broth. Return the pureed squash to a medium pot over low heat and add the heavy cream, spices, and grated cheddar, stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce is completely smooth (you will see tiny bits of the pureed squash if you look closely, but that's OK). Tip: If this sauce looks too thin and watery, just simmer it a bit to evaporate some of the liquid.

Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and stir until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve. This can be made up to two days in advance, and will keep well in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for about one week.

Watch Alejandra on Emeril's Table This Week!

Back in May, Eugene and I taped an appearance as guests on Emeril's new show for the Hallmark Channel, Emeril's Table. The show is finally going to be airing THIS week on Thursday, October 6 at 11AM/10c so be sure to tune in and watch us! (Check your local listings for exact time and channel in your area.)

Here is a little rundown of our experience on the show!

The new show (produced by Martha Stewart's company) is designed in a kind of roundtable style where a group of 4 or 5 guests join Emeril at a table and watch him prepare a meal.

On each episode, the guests all have something in common; our episode featured newlyweds, while other episodes featured themes like "book club members" or "poker players," etc.. On our show, the theme didn't have anything directly to do with the food we made, but it gave us something to talk about (besides food, of course!). We also got to help a bit with the cooking, and were encouraged to ask Emeril questions throughout the show.

Our episode is called "The Magic of Phyllo," and in it we learned to make several buttery flaky phyllo dishes included a tuna tartare, baklava, and phyllo-wrapped prawns.

The taping was SUCH a blast! We got there early in the morning and started off with hair and make-up. I absolutely LOVED the make-up artist as she was really funny in this really no-nonsense sarcastic way, and did a great job with my makeup. I told her I tend towards the more theatrical with my make-up (and, let's face it, everything) so she gave me a bold pink lipstick and these incredible false lashes that I didn't want to ever take off.

After make-up, the hairstylist tried unsuccessfully to tame my cowlicks (::sigh::), and then we headed to wardrobe, where a stylist picked outfits for us from clothing we brought from home (all solid, bright colors). They only shot us from the hip and up, so I was wearing comfy leopard print slipper flats on my feet the whole time (shhhhhh).

The other newlywed couple on the show was a blast. They both had a great sense of humor so the four of us spent most of the down time cracking jokes with them and trying to keep a straight face when the cameras were on.  (I admit that on one occasion they shushed us, which of course made us crack up even more. We were like schoolkids.)

No Bam!

Once we were all dressed, the producer came by to instruct us on a few guidelines for the show and walk us through the process. We were told to always address Emeril as "Chef" (vs "Hey, Emeril!"). And, most importantly, we were also specifically asked to NOT say the word "Bam!" at any point during the taping.

We started laughing when we heard that and she explained that apparently people always just want to say "Bam!" to him, but he doesn't do that anymore. I think he is trying to evolve his brand a bit past the "Bam!" with this new program, which would explain it.

While we waited for our taping to start, we hung out in a conference room decorated with a bunch of Martha's EMMY and Golden Globe statues. They also had tasty homemade granola and yogurt there for us to snack on, which I thought was "very Martha" of them.

Once the first show he was taping finished, Emeril came out to change into a fresh chef's coat (I think he wears a new one for each show) and greet us before our taping. He was super friendly and it was nice to get a chance to meet him before going on set.

On Set
When it was time to tape the show, we headed to the set (which is also the set for the Martha Stewart show), and took our places at the table. We were each served a glass of prosecco, and in just a few minutes, the show began!

I was totally fascinated with the way the show was produced. It was shot very quickly in real time (with breaks between segments) though all the recipes were prepared to different stages in the test kitchen by a staff of cooks and a head chef. Emeril would run through some of the steps on cameras and then they'd break for commercial and swap out what he was working on for the almost completed dish, which he would then finish on air.

When the cameras were off, Emeril was very focused, but as soon as the cameras were rolling it was like a switch would go on and he'd get into lively TV mode. It reminded me of the way my dad (who is a news anchor) has his own on-air/off-air switch that he turns on whenever he's in front of cameras (or even just a crowd). It's definitely a TV personality thing. I need to start working on my own... ;)

One thing I thought was pretty cool was they way that whenever they finished taping a dish, an assistant would come and whisk it away to a little mini photography studio set in the corner of the room where they would take beauty shots of the food. Once they finished photographing, we (and the staff) were then able to eat it.

At one point, Emeril called the other husband and me up to help him finish one of the dishes (I believe it was a tuna tartare appetizer). They told us to act really excited so we did, throwing our heads back and laughing and smiling at each other and Emeril like a pair of maniacs. (That's what's going on in that photo up there.)

After Emeril's part of the show was done, they took some random shots of us just eating and talking to each other, during which we were encouraged to talk about the food we ate. (It was really good and we said as much.) I did my best to eat elegantly; not the easiest thing when the food in question is a giant phyllo-wrapped prawn complete with eyeballs and long tentacles!

The one thing that made me laugh for days after the taping (apart from the no "Bam!" rule) was the way that Emeril just could not seem to get my name right throughout the show. I actually can't wait to see the final show to see if they edited it in any way because he literally called me by about 6 different names throughout the taping. All close variations of Alejandra (Alexandra, Alexandria, Alezandra, etc.), but just never quite right.

On one occasion, a producer pulled him over and reminded him of my name, which was funny because he then proceeded to say it out loud perfectly to me about 6 times, only to call me Alezandra again once the cameras started rolling. I wasn't alone though; he also had some trouble with equally tricky sriracha sauce and kataifi (shredded phyllo), which he kept calling "gaddafi." Yes, as in Muammar.

Despite his wacky pronunciation, you can tell he really knows his stuff. In between takes, some of the producers or test kitchen staff would ask him questions about food, and he always knew the answer and would elaborate with a little story.  I would have loved to have been able to hear more of those!

Once the taping finished, we took a group photo with Emeril in front of the set, and then we all got to take the food we made back with us to the green room where we literally finished every single bite. Of all the dishes, my favorite was definitely the prawns, followed by the tuna wraps. Once every speck of phyllo was gone, we all packed up our clothing and headed out. The staff was really relaxed and funny, and it was great to work with them throughout the entire morning. On our way out, they even gave each of us one of Emeril's cookbooks to keep!

Want to check out the show? Tune in THIS Thursday, October 6th at 11AM on the Hallmark Channel. (Check your local listings for channel info.) Note that they show 2 episodes of the show back-to-back and we're on the first one (the Magic of Phyllo episode).

(Unfortunately Eugene and I don't actually get the Hallmark Channel with our cable package, so we're going to have to try to finagle a way to see the show since they can't provide DVDs for us. If any of you have it and can figure out a way to record it and email it to me, please email me and let me know as that would be awesome!) UPDATE: I upgraded our cable! So we get the channel now!

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter! Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter (@nandita), become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!  

Bagged Lunch Ideas: Curried Sweet Potato Farro Salad with Dried Fruit & Nuts

I love good, hearty grain salads year round, but especially in the colder months when a light salad of mixed greens just doesn't feel like enough. No way am I ever going to have "just a salad" when it's freezing outside.

But if "just a salad" is packed with gorgeous nutty grains, roasted sweet potatoes, dried apricots and cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, and lovely warm spices well then, yeah, I can totally get behind that.

Farro is one of my favorite grains--nutty and packed with fiber and protein, it's one of those grains that you can really feel good about eating. Essentially whole spelt, it feels healthy and wholesome, like it can erase whatever food sins you committed earlier in the day.

Skipped breakfast? Have a bowl of farro!

Ate chocolate chip cookies for lunch? Farro!

Went out late last night, overslept, and got into work late? Pretty sure a bowl of farro will fix that!

When I first started cooking with farro I learned that I had to soak it for a couple hours before cooking with it. Not much in terms of effort, but definitely required a bit of advance planning. But the other day I happened to glance at the directions on a new bag I had just bought and saw that it recommended simply rinsing and cooking it in boiling water or broth, much the way I would a pot of quinoa or rice.

I decided to give it a shot, rinsing it thoroughly then combining with the water and bringing it up to a boil. In about 15 or so minutes, it was done! Fluffy, with a little bit of a chewy texture.

Unlike rice, cooked farro doesn't absorb all the liquid it's cooked in, so I drained it and then rinsed in very cold water before proceeding with my recipe. (The final rinse was just to cool it down since I was making a salad; for hot dishes there is no need to rinse.)

I tossed the farro with sweet potato that I'd diced and roasted, along with some chopped dried apricots and cranberries. I made a quick dressing with balsamic vinegar (I chose a strawberry one I had in the pantry to complement the dried fruit, but any good balsamic will work) and olive oil, seasoned with lime zest, curry powder, cayenne, and a few other herbs and spices. At the end, I folded in some lightly toasted sliced almonds and pumpkin seeds, for a bit of added crunch.

The results were exactly what I'd been craving and I ate two bowls of it right on the spot (all under the pretext of "recipe testing," of course).

This is one of those dishes that is really best at room temperature, so it's perfect for bagged lunches or for entertaining a crowd. You can make the dish well in advance as it keeps for about a week (if not more).

You should also feel free to improvise, swapping out other nuts or dried fruits, using butternut squash or zucchini, or even adding in cooked shrimp or diced chicken to make it a heartier dish.  If you don't have or like farro, you can use wheat berries, couscous, quinoa, barley, or even brown rice instead (just follow prepare each of those according to their specific directions before proceeding with the recipe.) When I had some yesterday afternoon, I topped it with a dollop of Greek yogurt and found that it added a perfect bit of tang.

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter! Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter (@nandita), become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!  

Curried Sweet Potato Farro Salad with Dried Fruit & Nuts

Print this Recipe

1 1/2 cup uncooked farro (whole spelt)
4 cups water
kosher salt
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, washed and diced (but not peeled)
4-5 sage leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
1/4 cup parsley, minced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
For the dressing
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Zest of one lime
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the farro and water in a medium pot and add about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes until the farro is tender with just a bit of chew. Once ready, drain the farro well and rinse under cold water to cool. Let drain in a colander while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

While the farro cooks, toss the diced sweet potatoes and sage leaves with a few teaspoons of olive oil and season well with kosher salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the pieces are fork tender. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Toss the cooled farro with the cooked sweet potatoes (including the sage), parsley, scallions, cranberries, and apricots. Make sure everything is evenly distributed.

Combine the almonds and pumpkin seeds in a large skillet and toast over medium heat about 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan regularly and keeping a close eye on them so they don't burn. You just want them to warm up and smell a little bit toasted. Remove from heat and let cool.

Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing: olive oil, balsamic, lime zest, curry powder, turmeric, and cayenne. Pour dressing onto the farro mixture and toss to coat evenly. Fold in the cooled and toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds. Season with additional kosher salt and black pepper, to taste.

Serve at room temperature or chill, if desired. Will keep well in an air-tight container in the fridge for at least one week. 
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