Today, I put on a pair of workout pants for the first time since the beginning of November when a stress fracture squashed my marathon dream temporarily. Today, I started my road back to running. Today, I started a new workout routine to build back my strength and prepare my muscles for this return. I’ve been working out lightly the last two weeks to prepare for this day, but oh it felt so good to be in real workout clothes again. I will admit that I needed the mental and physical break from my routine following marathon training. It felt so good to have an extra hour or two in the morning to sip coffee, write, plan or just surf the internet. If felt good not to rush, or worry about being late to work if I ran an extra mile because I was feeling good. The extra pounds do not feel quite as good and will likely not come off as easily as they went on, but who cares. Life is way to short to worry about it and every day is a new day to start again.
Keeping with my meatless meals journey, today we are having a meatless Monday. I am roasting two chicken breasts and some sweet potatoes for quick meals during the week, but today we are eating Butternut Squash and Farro. If you haven’t tried farro, I highly recommend you check it out. It is a grain, that has the consistency of pasta which is probably what appeals to me the most about it. It can be added to any stew, soup or side dish that calls for rice, or pasta. It reheats beautifully and can also be eaten cold. The possibilities for this grain are endless.
My mom has Alzheimer’s disease and has for almost ten years now. When she first started showing symptoms, she stopped cooking. We thought it might be the fact that it was just her and my dad at home and easier to eat out. We thought perhaps she was slightly depressed and had no desire to cook anymore. We thought anything other than the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. As she got progressively worse, I tried cooking extra food to bring over every weekend. With my work schedule, this became harder and harder for me to keep up with so I knew I had to teach my dad how to cook. He actually found that he loved cooking and was quite good at it! He whipped up a beautiful meal for dinner each night, and like me found it very therapeutic. Cooking can be a beautiful distraction from the ugliness that life often serves up.
One year, at Christmas, my dad called me and told me one of his friends from the morning crew at Dunkin had given him a gift – a cookbook. He was excited to have the cookbook and said he would show it to me the next time I saw him. The following weekend, when I got to their house, my dad showed me the cookbook gift he received. It was an Ina Garten book called – Make Ahead Recipes. It’s no secret Ina is one of my favorite chefs. Her recipes are relatively easy to follow and always turn out beautifully. When I opened the book I noticed a card with a beautiful message to my dad. It read,
Enjoy this book as you cook meals for your beautiful wife. Your love and devotion to her is truly admirable. The care you take of her really demonstrates your commitment and love. There are not many who could walk this walk so selflessly and I am honored and humbled to know you. I hope you find many recipes to enjoy for years to come.
Anyone who knows my dad and has watched him as a caretaker knows these words capture him perfectly. He has set the bar pretty darn high for us to follow.
My favorite side dish in this book is Butternut Squash with Farro. I’ve made it every Thanksgiving for the past few years and we all enjoy it. The recipe calls for bacon, but for today’s meal we are leaving that out. One important tip I’ve learned since making this recipe is how to peel the butternut squash. I struggled with this many times in the past, including pounding on my knife with a mallet, banging it on the cutting board and just plain cursing. My husband kept telling me to buy the already chopped squash, but I wanted fresh. When I figured out how to easily peel the squash, I laughed at myself for how difficult I made it. Here are the simple directions to peel butternut squash:
Poke the squash with a fork all around. Cut the end off the bottom and top of the squash. Place it in the microwave oven on high for 3-4 minutes. Let it cool off. Cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut into cubes and peel as you go. Super easy!
I will share the recipe as written by Ina and include within the tweaks I made to make this a meatless meal. If you are vegan, you’ll have to substitute out the cheese, broth and butter.
Butternut Squash with Farro by Ina Garten
Photo courtesy of Food Network magazine (This is what the bacon version looks like)
- 6 thick-cut slices applewood-smoked bacon (I left this out for meatless Monday)
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil (I only use the butter)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large chopped yellow onion
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups pearled farro
- 3 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade (Use vegetable stock if you don’t want meat based stock)
- 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. (Skip this step if going meatless)
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. (For this step I just sprinkled with cheese and left out the bacon)
This is such a hearty side dish that tonight we are eating it as our meal. I’m hoping to have some left over to pick on during the week. It is really delicious with and without the bacon. If you make it, leave me a message to tell me how you like it. I know you won’t be disappointed as I’ve cooked many of Ina’s recipes for my holiday parties.
My review, it’s WAY better with the bacon! So, unless you’re vegetarian keep it in. If you are, find a spice that will give it a smokier taste. Let me know what you figure out and I’ll try again.