Spinach & Pesto Wheatberry Salad

Spinach & Pesto Wheatberry Salad

Today was my first day back in the kitchen after a two-week accidental cooking hiatus. It wasn’t that I was purposely trying not to cook, just that I haven’t really been home. And I have to say, picking up my chef’s knife felt great.

One of the dishes I made was a long time coming. The inspiration of making a spinach and pesto salad stemmed from one I’d had at Protein Bar a few weeks back (Protein Bar is a fairly new fast food chain in Chicago and a brilliant concept at that). That dish came with quinoa, but I wanted to change it up a bit to incorporate a different whole grain I haven’t used before – wheat berries.

I started by cooking the wheat berries (which I got for about 65 cents from the bulk foods section at Whole Foods), then moved on to the pesto, which was a bit different from a traditional basil pesto. While it does include basil, I also added spinach and arugula to give it a light and super fresh taste, which went wonderfully with the slightly earthy taste of the wheat berries. When the wheat berries were done, I mixed in the pesto, a handful of baby spinach, quartered cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts to round out the dish. You can also easily bulk this up into a main dish by adding chicken, which is exactly what I’m going to do for lunch tomorrow. :)

So, about those wheat berries: 1) They come in different varieties, but for this recipe look for hard red winter wheat berries if available; 2) A general ratio for cooking wheat berries is 1:3 (1 cup wheat berries to 3 cups water), but if there’s water leftover at the end simply drain the wheat berries through a strainer; 3) The cooked texture should be chewy but not too firm; 4) Wheat berries are a whole grain – you can read about why they’re good for you here.

Here’s the recipe. Give wheat berries a try and tell me what you think.

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Peach Salad with Champagne Mint Dressing

Last weekend I got to experience my newish favorite summer activity: picking peaches in Michigan! A lot of peaches. And by a lot, I mean A FREAKING LOT -  something like 90 peaches! And those were just mine! My friend, Anna (known here as the Culinary School Dropout), also picked a bushel and half. It’s safe to conclude we may have gotten a little carried away, but we were having such a good time!

Two days later and I’m still up to my eyeballs in peaches despite handing them out left and right, and also trying to think of new ways to use them. I’d planned on canning most of the peaches, but it’s just so hot out that I’m still talking myself into it. However, this Peach Salad with Champagne Mint Dressing is perfect for these hot days – I even brought it to an outdoor concert last night where it was enjoyed in by all. The salad is cool and refreshing, especially with the mint and Champagne vinegar dressing and sweet-savory sauteed peaches.

Sadly, I also made the rookie mistake of not getting a good photo, so the sad shot of the salad in it’s plastic container will have to suffice. So 2008, oops.

Here’s the recipe for Peach Salad with Champagne Mint Dressing:

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Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but today my life changed forever and it’s all thanks to a sauce. Or rather this specific oven-roasted tomato sauce, which is unspeakably good – so fresh, so vibrant, I’m convinced I will never be the same as no other tomato sauce could possibly live up to this one.

What makes it so good, you ask? I think it has to be the slow-roasted fresh tomatoes. Or maybe it’s the simplicity of the ingredients – there aren’t many (so unlike me, I know). Or maybe… I don’t know, just take my word that it’s damn good!

I made this version with striped Roma tomatoes I picked up at the farmers’ market, but regular Roma tomatoes would also be great.

I’ll admit I upped the ante a bit by making fresh pasta, but dried is fine, and is in fact what I’ll probably use next time. As much as I love fresh pasta and as simple as it is to make (see video), some nights I just don’t have the energy.

Try this recipe and let me know if it changes your life, too!

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Roast Bison with Port Sauce

I’ve been going through a bit of a flexitarian phase lately, meaning that while I’m in no way a vegetarian or opposed to eating meat, I just haven’t been wanting it as much and have been planning meals around vegetables instead. Fearing I was headed down a dangerous path and could be turned off meat forever, I decided it was time to do something drastic.

So there I was, perusing the meat counter at Whole Foods when I saw they had bison roasts on sale. Perfect! Just like that, I was back in the meat game!

This was seriously simple and extremely delicious. As a rule, bison is leaner than beef (has less fat), and therefore cooks faster. It also has a different taste than beef that may take a bit of getting used to. It tastes gamier, which I describe as an iron-rich flavor.

The port wine sauce and onions are a great compliment to the bison, adding a little sweetness and depth that takes just an extra five minutes.

Here’s the recipe for Roast Bison with Port Sauce:

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Rigatoni alla Vodka

Rigatoni alla Vodka

Rigatoni alla Vodka

Cooking has been a little challenging for me lately, mostly due to lack of inspiration. The problem is I’ve been trying so hard to eat healthy and graze throughout the day on (mostly) nutritious snacks, that I haven’t been cooking the foods I really want to cook, which I suppose are not considered overly nutritious.

The thing is, I love fish, vegetables, fruits, and all sort of healthy and nutritious food combinations. But I find that most of my inspiration comes from cooking with seasonal ingredients and really embracing what is just right to eat in right now. This is a great way to eat if you live in, say, southern California. Here in the frigid, windy tundra known as Chicago, well, not so much.

Today I decided to throw in the towel, so to speak, and make myself a big, steaming bowl of rigatoni alla vodka. I love this dish but rarely eat it. In fact, it’s one of the first I tried to make when I was brand new to cooking. This was when I was living in Italy during college and I tried SO hard to make pasta with vodka sauce on more than one occasion, but each time ended with a big fat FAIL. I’ve learned a lot since then and have moved onto recipes written in English (I like to think my poor Italian language skills were partially to blame), and now this dish has become easy for me to pull together on the fly.

Rigatoni alla Vodka

Rigatoni alla Vodka

I don’t make it often as I’m trying to stay away from pasta-centered meals, but tonight was a worthy exception. After all, what’s the point on living a healthy life if you can’t have a cheat once in a while?

Here’s the recipe:

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