Risotto is a deliciously creamy rice dish using Arborio rice, which is high in carbs and calories. I've replaced the Arborio with farro, a wheat like grain, containing more protein and fewer carbs. When cooked long and slow the farro breaks down and produces almost the same creamy consistency. The trick is to cook it until the grains start to open and release its starch. This normally takes a bit longer, but if you soak the farro first, it speeds up the cooking process. To improve on the creaminess, I make a "parmesan cream" and stir it in at the end. The result is a decadently rich creamy "Farrotto".
  I use red wine and beef broth is this recipe, but it can be substituted with white wine and any broth you have on hand.

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups farro
5 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion (minced)
2 large garlic cloves (minced)
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 Italian sausage link (sweet or hot)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thinly
1/2 cup red wine
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup parmesan cheese (fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano is best)
1/2 cup heavy cream (I cheat and use fat free half and half)

  Place farro and 3/4 cup of boiling water in a bowl and set aside for one hour. Combine cheese and cream in another bowl and set aside. Meanwhile, pour broth in a pot and bring to a simmer.
  Saute onion and sausage (remove from casing) in a large pot in olive oil. When onion is softened, add garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir in fennel seeds and continue stirring for 30 seconds. Set aside.
  Once the farro has absorbed all the water, add it to the sausage mixture, and stir on medium high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until all of it is absorbed. Using a large ladle, start adding the hot broth, 2 ladles at a time (about 3/4 cup) and stir constantly until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue doing this until all the broth is used and the farro is just starting to open up (it will still be a bit al dente.)  Add the butter and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the parmesan cream, saving a few tablespoons to drizzle over each serving. Top with extra parmesan.

Cast Iron Roast Chicken

  Does anyone really need another recipe for roast chicken? ..... Yes, particularly when it tastes this good and is prepared with such little effort. This recipe turns out a bird that is moist and juicy, and salting it in advance, ensures a crispy golden skin. And if that's not  enough...... I added ramps (tis the season, but can be substituted with scallions) and vinegary capers to create a delectable pan sauce.

1  4 1/2 pound whole chicken
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
1 bunch ramps (or scallions) trimmed and cleaned
1 lemon, quartered
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
1 tablespoon capers (I prefer the ones in brine)

   2 hours before you are ready to cook the chicken, salt and pepper it, inside and out. Refrigerate it uncovered. This is an important step to ensure a crispy skin.
In a 500*F preheated oven, place a large (10-12") cast iron skillet for 30 minutes. While it's heating up, you can remove the chicken from fridge and let it warm to room temperature. If you choose, you can remove the backbone with kitchen scissors or just splay the legs until you feel the joints pop on each side. Make a small cut into the skin that connects the leg to the breast, this will make it easier to splay.
  Rub the thyme onto the breast and legs and stuff 2 quarters of lemon into the bird. Carefully transfer the chicken, breast side up, to the hot skillet, flattening the thighs and legs to make contact with the hot pan. Drizzle it with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes. Add ramps or scallions to the pan, along with garlic and capers and coat them with the pan juices. Continue cooking for 10 minutes or so, until chicken is cooked through and ramps are tender. Remove chicken and let it rest 5-10 minutes. Squeeze the remaining lemon into the skillet, and stir into the pan drippings to create a sauce. Serve along side the chicken.

Spaetzle with Herbed Butter Sauce

 This recipe was prompted by the pre Mother's Day present I just received..... a spaetzle maker! This gadget makes it so easy to make quick, light and fluffy little dumplings, that you'll want to make them everyday.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped herbs (which ever you prefer or have on hand)
2 tablespoon butter

  Whisk milk and eggs together in a medium bowl until well combined. Add salt (to taste) and nutmeg. Add flour a bit at a time, and fully incorporate with each addition, until all the flour has been added and the dough is smooth. It will resemble a very thick pancake batter.
  Press dough, using a spaetzle maker or a strainer with large holes, into boiling water (or broth). Do this in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pot. When spaetzle rise to the top, continue cooking for about 1 minute.
  Meanwhile, melt butter in a saute pan and add the herbs. When spaetzle are done, remove with a slotted spoon and add to the saute pan. Toss to coat with the butter/herb sauce and serve hot.

Stuffed Peppers

   These aren't my mom's stuffed peppers!! They are so good....it's hard to believe they are very low in carbs.

4 Long Italian peppers (also known as Cubano or banana peppers, bell peppers work as well)
2 Italian sausage links, remove casings (can replace with chorizo, bacon or pancetta)
1/2 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 plum tomato, chopped
1 egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil plus more for drizzling
1/2 cup white wine

  Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan and add sausage and ground beef. Saute until browned slightly. Add all the vegetables and saute until softened and golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, and pepper flakes. Combine well and remove from heat. Add herbs and set aside to cool.
  In a large bowl lightly beat the egg, add cooled meat mixture. Cut off top of pepper and halve each lengthwise. Salt and pepper each half and stuff with mixture. Drizzle olive oil over and top with grated cheese.
  Place peppers in a lightly greased casserole and pour in the wine around the peppers (not on top).
  Place in a 350*F oven, uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until the peppers are tender.

Moroccan Lamb Stew "Pressurized"

  I recently "discovered" a tool my mom has used for decades. It's a Pressure Cooker! Like many of you, I was afraid it may "blow up" or create a mushy dish...... it did neither! Instead, it cooked the most fall apart tender lamb I have ever had, and it did it in under 30 minutes!! I am a convert!

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lbs boneless lamb shoulder (may substitute with beef or pork), cut into 1" pieces
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dried apricots, halved
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup peanuts
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup packed fresh mint leaves

  Heat oil in Pressure Cooker. Season lamb with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides in batches. Remove lamb and set aside. Add onion to the pot and brown slightly. Stir in garlic for about 30 seconds and return lamb to the pot. Add remaining ingredients and stir well on medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cover with lid.
  Lower heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let it cool down for about 10 minutes (or until the pressure has dissipated).
  I served this stew with roasted cauliflower, but rice or cous cous would be great as well.

Crispy Southwest Black Bean Cakes

 Here is a low carb, yet very satisfying dish that can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The cakes are lightly fried and become crispy around the edges and tender in the middle. I serve them with guacamole on the side or with a fried egg.

1 15 ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 ounce can of lentils, rinsed and drained
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Hot sauce (I use Cholula)
1 large egg
4 tablespoons ground coriander
4 tablespoons cumin
4-6 tablespoons flour (I use chickpea flour to cut carbs)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil

  Saute onions, peppers, and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add 1 tablespoon each cumin and coriander. Add salt and pepper and combine well. Remove from heat and add cilantro. Set aside to cool.
  In a medium bowl, partially mash black beans. Add the lentils, remaining cumin and coriander, lime juice, egg, hot sauce (to taste), salt and pepper, and cooled onion mixture. Combine well and add the flour, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until it resembles the consistency of a thick cookie batter.
  Heat enough oil in a saute pan to just cover the bottom. Measure a 1/3 cup of bean mixture and pour directly into pan, flattening it a bit with the back of the measuring cup. Fry until very dark and crispy and turn over to brown other side. Repeat until all the mixture is fried. Add more oil as needed.

Sausages and Grapes

  Grapes are in peak season right now.  Most of us just pop them in our mouths from the fridge, but did you ever try roasting them! It brings out a sweet smoky flavor that is phenomenal! This recipe pairs them with sweet and spicy sausages. It is not only an elegant presentation, but a truly affordable one. It's also a great, quick  meal to serve at dinner parties.

3 lbs Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 cups of seedless grapes (I prefer red)
4 tablespoons red wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven 500*F

  Heat a large, oven proof saute pan (or roasting pan if you're making a large quantity) on stove top on medium high heat. Add olive oil and sausages. Brown them on all sides and remove from pan and set aside. Pour out grease and return pan to heat. Add butter and grapes and toss to coat thoroughly. Add red wine and sausages, along with any accumulated juices. Stir to coat grapes and sausages.
  Place in oven for 25 minutes, turning the sausages half way through the cooking process.
  Return the pan to the stove top on medium high heat and add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. Reduce until the sauce thickens and serve. I serve broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes along side.
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