Tag Archives: quick dinner

Restaurant Junkie


Just so you know, when you eat out or order in for a full month your wallet shrinks and your waist-line bulges. It may be fun and relaxed during that time. The feel of a menu in hand may become second nature. Different places you “always meant to try” are given a chance. You call a friend up for a quick bite out more often. If your poison is dining out, you may stroll around the neighborhoods, taking walks after meals more readily than if dining at home.


“Try this,” prompts the bartender and suddenly you are tasting an amazing wine you’d be ignorant of had you been home sitting in your pajamas drinking PBR eating PBJ. Ordering in allows you the luxury of trading in that humble PBJ for a swankier calzone while still donning  pajamas. Eventually however, you do not come to feel very well. Your body becomes accustomed to, addicted to even, greasy take-out. Your cells yearn for fresh produce. Lack of dish-washing, it seems, also equates to lack of energy. The doorman might receive you with looks of either pity or judgment each time you go to pick up your super spicy hot pepper beef with extra veggies and a side of egg rolls. Your neighbors may single you out as the one whose recycling burgeons out with plastic take-out trays and menus.


And even if you have mastered the art of ordering the healthiest dishes offered, it is unlikely your income can keep up forever. $40 worth of food ordered from a restaurant is not equivalent to $40 worth of groceries. No amount of justifying leftovers or Groupons will make up for that. Also, dining out often leads to drinking out which ups the tab considerably, 1- because drinks are expensive and 2 – drinks make you forget the price of drinks which leads to ordering more rounds of drinks.


It wasn’t an experiment or a  conscious decision. I have not been travelling (unfortunately) or trying to woo anyone incessantly. It just somehow happened that I ate out for an entire month. Whether ordering, picking up food on the way home or eating out I avoided home-cooked meals. My bank account and body suffered tremendously as a result. To break myself of this terrible streak I made a shopping list the length of a Russian novel and headed with my boyfriend- the incredibly patient Ryan – to the grocery store to fill the pantry and fridge with mostly healthy things.


Following my absence from the kitchen (aside from re-heating delivery pizza) I decided to ease back into cooking with a fond, nourishing dish easily thrown together with sausage, swiss chard and some type of grain. Luckily I had picked up farro, one of those versatile, filling grains with a deliciously nutty quality that I somehow always, and unforgivably, overlook.

I am not sure if it is every Trader Joe’s or just the one we go to down State Street, but it has about two dozen different varieties of chicken sausage.  Curiosity led me to grab the Maple syrup and apple package that works in this dish  if you love sweet and savory flavors together, but I see how it could be more successfully highlighted at breakfast.


So here is a recipe after a month-long hiatus of cooking. Something simple, clean and refreshing after all of the deliciously heavy meals I have had this month. Something to warm you up if you are as cold as I am here in Chicago and something to fill you up if you are lucky enough to be warm right now and just simply hungry. Enjoy.

Farro and Chicken Sausage with Rainbow Swiss Chard

For the farro:
½ c quick-cook farro*
1 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
olive oil
2-3 chicken sausages, cut into rounds
1 Tbsp butter
½ c diced onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

For the swiss chard:
1 bunch rainbow swiss chard, cleaned and dried
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp olive oil
¼ cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper, to taste

Add farro to 1 cup broth in a saucepan. Set on high and cover until boiling. Watch as it has a tendency to boil over at this point. Reduce heat to low, cover again and let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat  when it’s al dente and let farro stand for another 5 minutes, still leaving pot covered. Drain any excess liquid. Season with some salt and pepper and set aside.

Next, prepare the swiss chard. I chose rainbow to add some color to the meal, but it really doesn’t matter. You can even substitute kale. Take the swiss chard stalks and chop them into small pieces. Set a medium sauté pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the garlic and sauté until it becomes lightly golden in color. Add the swiss chard and the broth and stir to coat the leaves. Cover pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir leaves again and check for tenderness. They should be just wilted but not too crunchy in the center. Add the red pepper and salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat add a dash of olive oil. Add the chicken sausage pieces to the pan and brown them. Once done, remove these to a plate.

Add the butter, onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté these until tender, adding a little pat of more butter if you need to. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the farro, chicken sausage and stir everything together until warmed through. Serve on top of or stir together with the swiss chard.

* I found quick-cook farro at Trader Joe’s, however this can be done with regular farro just be sure to pre-soak the grain for 30 minutes, drain and then gently simmer for about 30-45 minutes.


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Monday Ritual

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a haphazard bowl of ingredients thrown together that warms you, fills you up and happens to taste good. I go for salty, briny or spicy concoctions in deep ceramics, caressed by a kitchen towel on my lap and ladled out with a big spoon or one of the over-sized antique forks my mom bought from a flea market in England that somehow have passed now into my hands, as antiques will do. I preface my little scenario with ‘there is nothing wrong’ because some might cast my cozy meal off as dull or adolescent, but in curling up to an earthy homemade dinner after a long commute home I feel justly relaxed and satiated. On Monday night, when not always up for the treat of a meal out, we all deserve a comforting one-dish-meal as we slouch in front of the TV or sip on a glass of red wine at the dinner table, envying our weekend selves.


Weekday Pasta

Serves 2

½ box orecchiette
* ½ jar of favorite pasta sauce
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 cup chopped cooked pork or ¾ cup chopped pancetta, lightly pan-fried
4oz mushrooms, sliced.
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Cook box of orecchiette according to the package. In saucepan stir together tomato sauce and ricotta cheese and heat on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Cook the mushrooms with a little olive oil, garlic and a dash of salt in a small pan for a couple of minutes on medium heat. Drain the pasta and add to a large bowl. Add the sauce, mushroom mixture, parsley, some fresh black pepper and toss everything together until pasta is evenly covered with the sauce. Serve with some extra cheese and red pepper flakes in big bowls.

*I used a Pomo Doro sauce that I found at the French Market, a very good store-bought import from Italy that is great if you are able to find. If not, try making your own by mixing ricotta into a sauce of your choice as suggested.

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One of my resolutions is to learn more about sports, in particular football. I am terrible. There was a Buffalo Wild Wings ad on the radio awhile ago where a guy is posed with the question along the lines of – “Who are you going to watch the game with this weekend?” One of the suggestions turns out to be his mother who then goes on to exclaim “Football is my favorite show!!!” That is kind of how I am with the sport. In my defense, I spent quite a bit of my childhood in Europe where soccer reigns. Perhaps if I understood what a sack was other than a cloth or burlap container… I do, however, love how football games bring people together and give us an excuse to drink beer and eat some pretty fantastic comfort food. There have been times when I catch  the wing-feast extending well into the middle of the week for no reason and I have to plead with my hedonistic side to stop because my hands have taken on the smell of vinegary buffalo sauce no matter how much ‘japanese flower’ scented hand soap used and there is a faint, but present, red discoloration around my mouth. Sigh.

Aside from my self-declared love for wings smothered in buffalo sauce, chili coupled with delicious corn bread is one of the game-day foods I love the best to make. I whip up the cornbread, pop it in the oven then start with the main dish. Chili comes together fairly quickly, allowing you to top off your choice libation and make use of the simmer-setting on the stove. Set out bowls and let people spoon out portions as they please. I have opted to include a richer turkey-chili recipe, the beer and the peppers in the adobo sauce add all the depth you might fear would be absent in a chili lacking red meat. For extra spice serve jalapenos along with desired condiments.

Robust Turkey Chili


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, coarsely chopped + 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from can
1 pound ground turkey
1 bottle or can beer of your choice (stray from fruity, but that is just a recommendation)
1 (14.5 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 (15.5 oz) can kidney or red beans, drained & rinsed

Suggested Sides: Sour Cream, Scallions, Jalapenos, Shredded Cheese, Cilantro, Tortillas or Chips

Heat olive oil on medium high heat in a large pot. Add the onions and garlic. Cook until slightly softened, stirring occasionally. Add salt, chili powder and oregano. Cook stirring occasionally for two minutes. Add tomato paste and desired amount of chipotle peppers. Stir until ingredients are blended. Add the ground turkey, breaking up the meat in the pan with your spoon. Stir until browned. Pour in beer and turn heat down to medium low, simmering until liquid has reduced by half (about 8 minutes). Next, add the tomatoes by pouring the juice into the pot then breaking tomatoes up by hand and adding them to chili. I have found that it’s easiest crushing them while they are still in the can to avoid splattering. Stir in the beans. Occasionally I’ll toss in some canned corn for color and a bit of sweetness. Let the chili simmer on low for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally.

Adapted from Food Network Kitchens

I am still on the search for a cornbread recipe I cannot wait to share. The last pan I made seemed so promising as the recipe had you add the batter to a pool of melted butter. While it smelled amazing in the oven and looked rather pretty upon presentation:



It was upsettingly drier than anticipated and I have had better luck with other (all-in-a-box) recipes. For curiosities sake, below is the recipe I used. On the upside, while not as moist as I usually like my cornbreads, it was definitely easy, tasty and soaked up the chili very nicely.

Old Fashioned Cornbread


4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups medium-grind cornmeal
1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk, more if needed

Variations: You may add bacon, shallots, corn, grated cheese, chili powder etc. if desired. –you just might need to adjust amount of liquid you add.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put butter into 10-inch cast-iron skillet or an 8-inch square baking pan. Place pan in oven to melt the butter. Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix eggs into milk and stir and stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, combining just with a few swift strokes. Do not overstir. If the mixture seems dry, add another tablespoon or two of milk. When the butter and oven are hot, remove skillet or pan from the oven, pour batter into it and smooth out top. Return pan to oven. Bake about 30 minutes, until top is lightly browned and sides have pulled away from pan; a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.

Adapted from The New York Times

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