Tag Archives: vegetables

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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So Now It Is

Very warm outside since my last update.Posting has been much an afterthought for me lately. My typical day has taken on the following pattern. Commute. Work. Commute. Sleep. Commute. Work. Commute. Sleep…and so forth. I am still learning how to throw in balanced eating and bits of fun. There is a bar downstairs with a Thursday night karaoke…never mind that incident though.

Last week I was into my ‘rice bowls’ – basically a bowl of brown rice mixed with fresh (and canned) ingredients on hand. Rice-bowls are my perfect go-to for filling up the healthy way. This one is the product of some pre-cooked lentils and spicy Indian curry. I added tomatoes and beans as well.

Or there was the night of spring vegetables, such as a favorite, snap peas, finally making an appearance…

Strawberries are in season now too, I should pick some up for snacks or dessert. Friday night we went to The Publican in Chicago’s Fulton Market district. The most surprising dish for me was a strawberry and burrata salad with balsamic vinegar and spring onions. The salty cheese with the exceptionally sweet strawberries created this perplexingly amazing combination. Omit the onions and you could almost get away with serving the dish as a sweet and savory dessert. The only picture I have of our night unfortunately is a slanted one taken with my phone.

It was a lovely place and I really want to go back to try the craft beers and pork for which they are known. I’d like to bring a few more people so that we could add several dishes to our order and get more of a taste for the place. This time I tried the sweet breads, fish stew and strawberry salad paired with a cabernet–merlot; all very delicious.

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Soup does seven things

I have been terrible at getting hungry and not wanting to cook. I love cooking, but lately it has been quick things on bread, everything I can do with an egg, and frozen pizzas (though, Trader Joe’s has a knack of illuding you into feeling fancy with their “frozen galettes”).

I owe my gratitude to Mr. David Lebovitz for getting me out of my rut and inspiring me with this lovely and simple Potato and Leek soup recipe. I am glad that it is vegetarian and has a dairy-free base, allowing you the option to add a spoonful of cream if you wish for a richer version. You can add nearly anything as a topping. My fridge and condiment drawer being quite barren, I broke out the white truffle oil that I got from a trip to Galena last year to experimentally top off my first bowl and was very pleased. Spinach leaves, fried shallots or creamy marscapone would have done the trick as well. The white pepper Lebovitz suggests adds an interesting flair and I am glad I stumbled across the recipe or else it is something that would have never crossed my mind for this soup. Having said that, the more you read and the more you cook, or not even cook, but simply do and perform, the more you will know about things – gain an understanding. I need to venture outside of comfort barriers I linger behind at times due to familiarity or indolence. It is then that I discover these wonderful things, sometimes so small, like fancy white pepper in a soup.

I aim to make more soups and stews this winter, and this little fit may have seduced me into it. Homemade stews are healthy, turn your kitchen into this alluring little fragrant cove of roast veggies and herbs, and are fairly easy as long as you can chop. My pot of choice is a heavy hand-me-down from my great-grandmother (Nonni). That mustard-colored-flowered pot holds heat very nicely and I am sure it has softened a billion garlic cloves in its lifetime so far. Knowing that Nonni was a great cook helps me hold myself accountable every time I set it out and pour in a tablespoon of oil on the bottom. When I can get the recipe from one of my aunts I will try and recreate her chicken cacciatore….in that pot.



Potato and Leek Soup

2-3 tablespoons butter or oil
4 leeks washed and sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon chile powder
6 cups water or broth
1 1/4-pounds pounds potatoes , peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper

  1. In a large pot heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat
  2. Add sliced leeks and season with salt. Cook over moderate heat for about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until completely soft and wilted.
  3. Add thyme and chile powder. Stir for about 30 seconds, cooking them with leeks to release  their full flavors.
  4. Pour in the water or broth. Add the potatoes and bay leaves.
  5. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender when poked with a sharp knife. This could take from between 15-30 minutes depending on the potatoes used.
  6. Using a slotted spoon, take out the bay leaves. Puree the soup with the white pepper in a blender covered with a thin towel to let out the steam from the hot liquid. Make sure to do this in increments, filling the blender only half-way each time. This can also be done using an immersion (stick) blender.
  7. Pour into soup bowls, top with desired condiments and enjoy.

Serves 6-8

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