In case you've been checking back here regularly, because I'm sure soooo many of you are, you will see a significant absence of posts. How is it that back in November I'm saying, "Oh look I'm in Seattle!" and then...nothing? Not a whisper of elaborate dishes, no artfully constructed tabletops, no sun-drenched flights of beer while gaggles of beanie-clad folk mingle and laugh in the background.
If I must be honest, food for me these days is more about eating on a budget in a kitchen the size of Harry Potter's cupboard under the stairs. I buy takeout with coupon codes and turn it into leftovers. My default uninspired dish of "a pot of rice" emerges more than I care to admit. And then there’s the fact that a trip to the grocery store requires a half-mile and uphill walk, meaning I limit myself to one reasonably-sized bag.
In addition, the Seattle winter has lived up to its reputation of dreary, drizzly and cold with the occasional spring-like day thrown into the mix that elicits a mindset of, "what soup shall I make this week?" whenever I think about meal prep. I then live on the soup for 5 days, heating up leftovers that precariously tilt and tip in the bowl balancing on my knee while I endlessly tie the knots of some macramé project or another.
Every now and then I look over at this compilation of years and years of my inspiration and fascination with cooking and get worried that the passion that once filled me so much got muddled somewhere along the way. I used to live for combining flavors, obsessed over putting together lists of recipes I want to try. Now I just linger around the produce aisle in a rut of indecisiveness. “Broccoli or Asparagus? Broccoli or Asparagus?”
Strangely, a few weeks ago, I was struck with an idea out of nowhere for a myriad of flavors that I craved all at once. A grain salad of sorts that combined protein and fiber, crunch and chew, salt, fat, and acid. I went to Trader Joes in a frenzy and once home, concocted something that I loved so much, that I found so incredibly craveable, that I made it again as soon as I was out. It’s by no means genius but it was mine. For the first time in so long I was inspired and, trusting only what I’ve learned in my years of cooking about how much/how long/how to, I made something that really worked. The inspiration was of course not lost but tucked away, hiding behind the same low-hanging clouds that scrape the tops of the buildings I see from my window. At last, the fog could be lifting.
Grain and Kale Salad
8 oz. quick-cooking farro
1.5 lbs chicken breasts
2 small leeks, trimmed
2 cloves of garlic
2 bunches of lacinato kale, cleaned with leaves stripped from the stems
1/3 cup dried cranberries
6 oz. crème fraiche
½ cup roasted and salted pepitas
salt and pepper, to taste
manchego or pecorino cheese (optional)
Prep the vegetables. Cut the trimmed leeks lengthwise and then cut crosswise into ½ inch half moons. Transfer the leeks to a colander and thoroughly rinse. Mince the garlic and then tear the cleaned and dried kale into rough pieces.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the farro and cook according to the package instructions. Once cooked through, drain, return to the pot, cover, and set aside to keep warm until ready to use.
While the farro cooks, add olive oil to a large and deep skillet and heat over medium. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken and add to the skillet. Cook until golden on the outside and all of the pink is gone in the center, 6-7 minutes per side. When the chicken is cooked through, transfer to a cutting board to rest. After a short rest, chop into bite-sized pieces.
In the same skillet that you used for the chicken, add another splash of olive oil, the kale and the garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring frequently until slightly wilted. Add a ½ cup of water and cover, leaving a small vent for steam. Let the kale braise like this for about 5-7 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and add the cranberries, chicken, and the cooked farro. Cover and let sit for another 5 minutes until the cranberries become soft. Remove the pot from the heat and add the zest and juice of the lemon, the crème fraiche, and the pepitas. Mix well and taste, adding salt and pepper as needed.
To serve, dish up a bowl of the grain salad and top with shaved pieces of the cheese, if desired.