We decided that we should go back to our lives today. Maybe just have a day, not one riddled with depth and longing and all that stuff. Grieving is exhausting. Despite the fact that you can't turn it on or shut it off at will, it also gets boring. No one tells you that part. You're gonna go through it as long as you go through it, I'm convinced of that. It seems to defy acceleration or control of any form. But even in the midst of any given wave of it, there are times when you think...Christ, this is getting old. Not in a histrionic sense. Don't know how to describe is other than it gets boring.
It's good to take a day off. After not working the last couple of days I have some work things to catch up on but not enough to fry the whole day. Kim's working, Erin's living, it's just me and Caya. Rough start...It was 36 degrees when Caya and I started the day.
This is Caya last weekend when the temperature was in the 60's.
This is Caya today with the temperature below 40...
Caya is not happy about how very North we are in Minnesota. Only one thing will pull a dog out of a "all my humans are gone and it's cold out" funk. Meat. I'd wanted to play with a recipe I saw in the New York Times, Charlie Bird's Farro Salad. I don't usually follow recipes to the letter unless I'm working with something that is way out of my wheelhouse. Farro qualifies. I've only cooked with it once before. My liberating revelation as it pertains to cooking was the realization that pizza is only 30 minutes away. Doesn't matter how bad I screw something up, I can always call for a pizza rescue. I came to this realization out of necessity. It coincides with the last time I tried to cook with Farro. But I wanted to give Farro another go...it's loaded with nutrients and the nature of it is that it is lower in gluten than most of today's wheat (it's an ancient variety) and that gluten is dramatically broken down in the cooking. But I also wanted to hedge my bets in case the Farro didn't go so well and to up the nutritional content by trying the same salad with quinoa. For those unfamiliar - quinoa acts like a grain but is actually a seed, and an amazing one at that. It's a complete protein. Way healthy. Also, if Caya is the sous chef there has to be meat. She could give a rat's ass about Farro or quinoa. So, decided I'd pan roast a couple of chicken breasts with a really flavorful spice crust consisting of paprika, ground mustard, cumin and fennel. Caya does not particularly care about the spice rub. She's all about the meat.
When meat is in play, this is Caya...
I had one other thing I was trying to accomplish - breaking my reliance on the meat thermometer. Seems like folks who cook a lot can just poke the meat with their fingers and they know exactly how it's doing. That seems rather freeing. So, I wanted to pull the chicken off when it felt right and then measure it and see how close I got. Prevailing wisdom is to cook chicken to 165. A few years ago it was 155. I shoot for 160, not because I'm inherently given to compromise, but because at 165 it seems is a little dry.
So - here's how we did. To set the baseline: I used boneless skinless chicken breasts, pearled farro (cooks faster than the unpearled or semi-pearled versions but isn't as healthy because the entire bran is removed), and red quinoa. I find red quinoa is the tastiest form of the seed I've come across. It has a nice nutty flavor and a fullness to it I don't find with standard quinoa.
It's a really, really great recipe and it's healthy as all get out. The recipe works with quinoa but is way better with Farro. The Farro absorbs the cider and the bay leaf aroma in a way quinoa can't touch. I didn't taste the apple cider at all in the quinoa and got a nice hint of it with the Farro. So, if you want to avoid grains, quinoa is a good substitute, but you'll be losing out on a core flavor.
You'll also notice the recipe doesn't call for any ground pepper. Between the arugula and the radish, you're getting plenty of peppery goodness.
Finally, I went with parsley instead of basil or a mix. I'm glad I did. I think the parsley might work better with all the mint. I'm sure it's just fine with basil but the parsley's vibrance played well with the other ingredients.
With the chicken, laid down some salt and pepper on each side and then I used the spice rub mentioned above and I slathered it on. There was nothing subtle about how much of the rub I used. Generally, 3 parts paprika to one part each of ground mustard, ground fennel seed, ground cumin . I have no idea how many teaspoons or tablespoons or whatever I put on each piece of chicken. Lay it on thick, like you're putting mortar on a brick. Have a skillet jacked up to medium high heat and blazing hot. Drop it in, let it sear for about a minute, lower the heat to medium and hang out for another five minutes or so. Flip it, add some lemon juice and a splash of water, cover, and let it go for awhile.
I almost got it right. I occassionally poked and prodded until I was convinced I had the consistency that said this bird is done. I was at 150 degrees. Better than I thought I'd do. The spices crusted up really nicely but still had it nice and juicy. Let it rest, sliced it up, laid it on top of the salad. Good to go.
Caya approved heartily of the the chicken. Then again, Caya always approves of the chicken no matter how badly I screw it up.
Here's the clearest I can frame up this salad. I had a huge plate of it and what amounted to half a chicken breast accompanying it. Finished eating it, cleaned up the kitchen and Caya and I went out for a nice long walk. Maybe 15 minutes passed between I finished eating and the dog and I heading out. The farro gave it some heft but it doesn't weigh you down. Pretty good weekend lunch or even late breakfast before heading out and doing something active.
Caya, of course, thinks I need to do another round of chicken. You know, practice makes perfect, etc.