Autumnal Farro Salad with Smokey Roasted Grapes, Walnuts & Mushrooms
Last weekend I threw a casual buffet supper for a few 'dead-celebrity' impersonators before we all headed to a Hallowe'en party where being an expired famous person was the raison d'etre. As you all know, celebrities can be a needy bunch and consequently I had to juggle several dietary preferences in a meal where I hoped I could include things that everyone might like. I wanted to make a seasonal salad that would be wholesome and comforting without screaming out "Hey I am a *vegan* salad".
The inspiration came from a fabulous feast we were invited to last Christmas day at the home of some restaurant-owning friends who had built a wood-fired oven in their back yard. One of the the appetizers they sent out was a wonderful smokey dish of roasted grapes and walnuts. So simple, but delicious, it had been playing on my mind ever since a more recent roasted grape salad at Incanto had reminded me of it. Now that grape season is upon us, I wondered if I could riff on that idea a little and create something inspired by the grape and walnut combination in my far-less-glamorous-than-a-wood-fired-oven electric stove.
Turns out that my gut instinct served me well and I knocked up a dish that I was congratulated on from several quarters. It couldn't be much simpler to make, here's how:
Cook up half a pound (or more if you are feeding a larger group), of farro in salted boiling water. I find that using the farro I purchase from Boulette's larder, it only takes about 10 to 15 minutes before the grain is perfectly al dente. Use your own taste buds to make that judgment. Drain the farro.
In the meantime, heat the oven to 400F and pop a handful, or two of walnuts into a roasting pan. Toast them in the heated oven until you start to smell their nutty aroma, but before they become too deeply browned. Remove the pan from the oven (using gloves of course) and throw in some seedless grapes (I like the green/blush ones), and small whole mushrooms. I favour a mix of shiitake, tree oysters and maitake (which I tear into smaller pieces). Sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika and a couple of bold pinches of Maldon salt before dousing in a decent glug of olive oil. Using a spatula, fold all the ingredients together until everything is evenly coated and well mixed. Pop back into the oven to roast, for 20 about minutes, stirring once half way through.
Once you can smell the mushrooms, the grapes are just on the verge of starting to shrivel and everything else looks golden brown you can remove the pan from the oven and stir in the strained farro grains. Taste and add more salt as necessary (but be careful doing that whilst those grapes and nuts are still piping hot).
I like to serve this salad warm or at room temperature. I am hoping you might like to too...
Long hours at work over the last month have kept me out of the kitchen and away from my rewarding exercise schedule. Whilst the contents of my Mariquita mystery farm box have been idly languishing in the fridge my mealtimes have, sadly, descended to a sorry catalog of unhealthy options I am almost afraid to admit to. Nature's Valley Oat & Honey bars from the vending machine and sandwiches with butter, salt and vinegar crisps and Marmite have been the highlights of my dietary calendar for the past few weeks.
A few days ago, I managed to find a few minutes to flick through the pages of the Saveur magazine I get delivered to my home. The October 2009 issue is all about lamb and when it comes to lamb, I am a huge fan. 'Lamb Rules', Saveur declares, and I agree. As a child who grew up in a household where every week 'Sunday Roast' lunch was a given, I was always happiest when the rotation through the traditional center pieces for this signature meal - pig, cow, chicken - settled on a cut from a baby sheep. Oh yes, I do love lamb.
The minute my greedy eyeballs scanned the ingredients for the Lamb Salad on page 66, I knew it was something I needed to make as soon as possible, albeit with a substitute for the anchovies my dining partner is loathe to enjoy. For that I decided upon a few black olives and set about a late trip to the Farmers' Market with the sole purpose of gathering the ingredients for this dish.
To my mind, a recipe such as this does not need to be followed to the letter. What does it matter if my potatoes have brown skins instead of red? Will the recipe start screaming heresy at me if I favour maitake over oyster or shiitake? No, I don't think so. And so, with my tweakages justified, at least in my own mind, I set to work.
And work it was: A collection of mini-recipes strung together, one-by-one, before finally being introduced to each other just before serving. Roast a whole head of garlic for an hour then use it to make a strong, pungent vinaigrette with salty capers and sherry vinegar. Roast some potatoes. Fry up some mushrooms. Cook a piece of lamb. Chop some toasted nuts. Toss some salad greens. Compose on a plate. [See picture above.]
As I finally sat down to eat a proper home-cooked meal with Fred, for the first time in far too long, my level of expectation could hardly have been higher. Which is probably why it felt like a balloon had just been popped with a pin and the resulting shreds of rubber were whistling around the room laughing and taunting me with their heckles. I am sure, less would have been more. Too many flavours were fighting against each other for recognition and the poor little lamb was getting lost in the fray.
Should I beat myself up for substituting 10 anchovy fillets with 6 black olives? Did I break the recipe - or was it already broken before I even started?
PS - Please note - the ingredient list for this recipe states that "1⁄2 cup loosely packed mixed flat-leaf parsley and mint leaves" are required. However, the instructions for preparation do not make use of them at any stage, neither could I conjure up any reason to add them or a place to put them. Thanks to Hande for pointing out my oversight. They are indeed mentioned as herbs. I read the recipe several times and even visited the website where I did a search for 'mint' which of course was of no use to me. I certainly get today's prize for FAIL!
PPS - *"This Must Be a Luxury Salad" was Fred's comment on sitting down to eat. Fred perhaps preferred this dish more than I did. He is not as keen on lamb as I am and the fact the strong vinaigrette masked its flavour probably meant it worked more in his favour.
Blogher Food '09 attendees are invited to join me on an early morning urban hike prior to the start of the conference. This 5 mile walk will energize you for the day in store, give you a head start at meeting other attendees and provide you with a healthy helping of fresh air before heading indoors for the rest of the day, as well as affording you with some of San Francisco's most loved views and famous land marks. This, in particular, is a great way for first time visitors to San Francisco, to see a little more of the city than the inside of a hotel room!
Meet outside the front door of the St Regis Hotel at 6.15 am. The walk will start at 6.30 sharp. If you need a coffee, please leave yourself time to pick it up before we begin. There is a Peet's less than a block away on the corner of Mission and 3rd that opens at 6AM. I still need to check to see if the St. Regis concierge will allow us to leave any bags with them whilst we walk.
Our urban hike will start off in darkness as we head through the corner of downtown towards China Town. As we walk, the rising sun will start to light our way as move through North Beach and up the gentlest route to the top of Lombard, famed worldwide for its windy section of road. From there we will switch direction, towards Telegraph Hill. At its peak, from our vantage point by Coit Tower, (no fog, willing), we'll enjoy spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Marin, Oakland and Berkeley too. From here we'll head down Filbert Steps, an almost tropical micro climate where, if you are lucky, you'll spot the hoards of green parrots who have made it their home.
Once we reach flat ground again, it's all plain sailing back to the hotel, as we make our way along the Embarcadero, with views of The Ferry Building before continuing down Market towards the St Regis. Our estimated arrival time is before 8.15 am, allowing plenty of time to join the other attendees for the networking breakfast before the welcome speech begins.
I have completed this walk twice, for test purposes. On both occasions I have not rushed, stopped to take plenty photographs along the way and it has taken me 1 hour 40 minutes. This won't be a leisurely amble, but neither will it be a power walk - I have tried to balance it somewhere in between. Training shoes or walking shoes are advisable. There are a couple of hills, but in each case I have chosen the least steep routes up them. Also be aware that there are also downhill steps to tackle. We will be aiming for a pace of 20 minutes maximum per mile so please feel comfortable with maintaining that rate over 5 miles.
Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions, and although sign up isn't required - it's for whoever shows up in time - it would be cool if you'd like to drop a note to say you intend to join me. And I really hope you will - I look forward to meeting you all on Saturday 26th September.
Below is a link to the GPS route of the last time I completed this exact same walk, to give you some idea of how it looks on a map. (Ignore the wobbly bits - I wasn't drunk - the GPS system I have sometimes heads a little off kilter!):
In which I make my way around the City searching for sophisticated yet sober cocktails. Best mixologist attitude to a mocktail yet. And was their 'virgin' tasty? Yes, you bet.
Third time lucky: At last! Staff who don't bat an eyelid when I put in my request for a non-alcoholic cocktail. Because the Heaven's Dog drink menu is actually flush with soda and juice options, I almost didn't dare to ask if they might indulge me in something a little more fanciful. I am so glad I did. The cocktail waitress was enthusiastic in her response to my question. "But of course, the bartenders love to create virgin drinks - what kind of thing do you like? And so the conversation continued to establish my tastes. The result was a long, cool, feisty fresh ginger and citrus drink with a serious kick.
Heaven's Dog: 1148 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 863-6008 [Website] Visit: August 2009 Menu: Fresh juices and sodas are listed on the menu in the bar (but not on the website). However, do note their "Freedom from Choice" option where the Bar Staff choose a cocktail for you. This can be specified as a 'virgin' drink. [menu here] Bartender's reaction: We were sitting in the lounge area, not at the bar, so all of our interactions were with the cocktail waitress who was stellar. She dealt with about a dozen people all cashing out of one giant bill individually with far more patience than most human beings could ever muster. Someone told me that Jackie Patterson, whom I know from her Orson days, was working that evening so I went up to the bar to catch up with her. She explained to me that because Heaven's Dog has a good variety of handcrafted syrups to hand, making up an interesting mocktail is never a problem for the bartenders. Price: Mocktails: $6 each.
4505’s spicy chicharrones $3.- [not pictured, but transported to England and thereafter enjoyed, but only by my dad and myself. The rest of the family are clearly chicharrone-wimps] lemongrass-thai basil lemonade $2.50
Today I visited Michael Recchiuti's flagship store in the San Francisco Ferry Building to stock up on gifts to take to my family when I head to England, tomorrow, to visit them. Whilst shopping, something new to the Recchiuti range caught my eye, so I had to buy myself a little present too. I was told that this is a seasonal item available for this month only...
In which I make my way around the City searching for sophisticated yet sober cocktails. Cocktails, mocktails and local eats, like popcorn, nuts and salami meats.
Last week marked my return to a scene I had been taking a break from for the first half of 2009. A group of my friends get together on a regular basis, to try out cocktail bars all over the City. Initially I reigned in my attendance on account of the effects of the recession, but after cutting back on alcohol too, I wasn't sure if there would be any reason to ever return to these highly spirited gatherings. Eventually I missed the social aspect too much and I wanted back in. Plus, these days I am intrigued - just what is a mixologist who doesn't have alcohol to fall back on, capable of creating?
Clock Bar: Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 397 9222 [Website] Visit: July 2009 Menu: No non-alcholic cocktails listed. [menu here] Bartender's reaction: The first bartender I spoke to wasn't wildly enthusiastic at the notion of creating a non-alcholic cocktail. "It's just going to be juice", she remarked. After being pushed a little further by my requests for some something more imaginative she suggested making a dry version of their "Scottish Mule" - fresh lime, cucumber and ginger beer without the gin. The resulting drink, made by her male colleague, was great; refreshing, perfectly balanced and with very subtle nuances of cucumber. Bartender #2 was much more game for being experimental and he made me a second drink with lime and muddled rosemary. The result wasn't as successful, but I appreciated the attempt. Full marks for trying. Price: Mocktails: $5 each.
I was pretty excited, a couple of months ago, when I was wandering around the Farmers' Market with my friend Jen and she stopped to chat with Nigel from Eatwell Farm, whom she knows. Accompanying Nigel on that particular Saturday was his fiance, Lorraine, who started telling us about her work with naturally fermented sodas. As someone who is currently interested in non-alcoholic libations, I was attentive and excited to learn that Lorraine would be selling her creations soon.
The time to try Lorraine's Drinkwell Sodas is now here. You will find her at the back of the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings, selling a selection of her sodas. I fell hook, line & sinker for the seasonal grapefruit flavour. I have always loved grapefruit drinks anyway, but this one, with it's muted fruit accents, gentle effervescence and softly tingling aftertaste was incredible. I bought a refillable Kanteen, priced at $20, so that I will be able to keep drinking Lorrain's sodas every Saturday, at $8 for 18 ounces. Alternatively, you can purchase by the cup in smaller amounts. Drinkwell Sodas cannot easily be bottled and sold through stores, they need to be consumed whilst fresh, which is why you will need to go to the source if you want to treat your tastebuds.
When you buy your soda, you can pick up an informational leaflet which will tell you about the lacto-fermentation process used to create the sodas, explaining that these sodas are live, active and containing probiotics which help you maintain healthy intestinal micro flora. At last we have something pure, natural and healthy that is local to boot and tastes really good too. If I were you, I'd give it a shot...
'Becks and Posh' is modern cockney for 'nosh'. Follow English-Girl-Abroad, Sam Breach, on her culinary travels, mainly in the San Francisco Bay Area, but also further afield, whilst she plays at being amateur restaurant critic, wine taster, food photographer, cocktail connoisseur, party planner, good food forager and practising home cook, with trusted French advisor, Fred, by her side.