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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Black Ice

It wasn't until I moved to Pittsburgh that I really started to appreciate exactly how dangerous black ice can be.  In fact, back in California, black ice was one of those things that happened to other people in other places like Minnesota.  Or Buffalo.  Or Maine.  Places I never envisioned spending the winter.  Or the summer.  Or even a long weekend.  Places like Pittsburgh.

But here I am, living in black ice country.  Let me tell you, black ice is not fun.  At all.

My experience with black ice has not been good.  A couple of winters ago, I slipped on an icy sidewalk and fractured my back.  That little "accident" also resulted I'm my having the mother of all bone bruises.  I thought I was going to die.  That bone bruise made childbirth seem well, enjoyable.

My dear friend Mona had a run in with a set of icy steps last Saturday.  Let's just say that the steps won.  She is, fortunately, doing fine, but I thought I'd bring she and her family dinner so she didn't have to worry about it.

The bonus of bringing Mona dinner was that we also got to have a lovely visit when I dropped it off.  Mona was one of my very first friends in Pittsburgh, and I still am amazed that I was so fortunate to have found such a like minded friend so quickly.  That's one of the reasons I knew that Mona and her family would love this Baked Farro and Butternut Squash.  It seems simple, and it's pretty easy to make, but the flavors are complex and comforting.  Perfect for a cold winter day.

I also brought along a delicious celery and parmesan salad, and my favorite dark chocolate and sea salt brownies.  A perfect way to round out dinner.

Mona took these pictures of dinner.  From all accounts (and photographic evidence), it appears dinner was a success.

Recipe:  Baked Farro and Butternut Squash
Ina Garten, Make It Ahead, 2014


6 thick-cut slices applewood-smoked bacon
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups pearled farro
3 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade
3 cups (3/4-to-1-inch-diced) peeled butternut squash
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the bacon on a baking rack set on a sheet pan and bake it for 20 to 30 minutes, until browned (it won't be crisp). Cut the bacon in very large dice.

Meanwhile, in a small (9-inch) Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until tender and starting to brown. Add the thyme, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the farro and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Place the squash on top of the farro mixture, cover, and bake in the same oven with the bacon for 30 minutes, until the squash and farro are tender. Check once during cooking and add a little chicken stock if it's dry.

Sprinkle the bacon and parmesan on the squash and farro and bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates, the farro and butternut squash are tender, and the cheese has melted. Serve hot directly from the pot.

Recipe:  Celery and Parmesan Salad
Ina Garten


1/2 cup good olive oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cups thinly sliced celery hearts, tender leaves included, sliced on an angle (about 12 stalks)
4 -ounce chunk aged Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Whole flat-leaf parsley leaves


At least 1 hour before you plan to serve the salad, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, the shallots, celery seed, celery salt, anchovy paste, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Place the celery in a mixing bowl and toss it with the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. (Even though these ingredients are in the dressing, believe me-this step makes a difference.) Add enough dressing to moisten well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the celery to crisp and the flavors to develop.

When ready to serve, arrange the celery on a platter, shave the Parmesan onto the celery with a vegetable peeler, then sprinkle with walnuts, parsley leaves, salt, and pepper and serve immediately.

Recipe: Chocolate Sea Salt Brownies
Adapted from Mon Aimee


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (suggested Oban chocolate)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened dutch process cocoa (suggested Cacao Rouge cocoa)
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoons flaked sea salt


Preheat the oven to 350F.

Line a 9 inch metal pan with foil draping over the edges.  Lightly butter the foil.

In a saucepan, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate.  Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl.  One ingredient at a time, whisk in the cocoa powder, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and flour.  Combine until smooth and shiny.

Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle the sea salt evenly over the mixture.

Bake in the center of the oven for 35 minutes.  Center will be a bit soft.  Let the brownies cool in the pan for at least an hour.  Then refrigerate for at least another hour, until the center is firm.  Peel off the foil and cut into 16 equal sized squares.

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