My farro & chayote squash salad: make it in the fall, make it all year-round!

Who here is a fan of farro? I’ll admit I’ve never had farro in savory applications until recently. Sweet, however, is a totally different matter. Growing up, ever so often, my aunt would make me a dessert that is very popular in my home country, which involves a combination of farro, sugar, cinnamon, chopped nuts and sometimes lemon. I used to love this dessert so much that I would often dream of it – yes, really πŸ™‚ Coming in contact with the cooked farro, the nuts would turn into a velvety mass of milky goodness – and that’s exactly why I liked this dessert so much. What’s not to love about a creamy, ever so comforting sweet treat?

My farro repertoire has expanded recently, and for a good reason. I’ve been trying to find ways to use up a boatload of organic farro I got on sale from the grocery store – and in the process, I came up with a simple recipe for a vegan farro salad we absolutely love.

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Chicago Food Planet Chinatown food tour: from bao buns to astral signs, and a splash of bubble tea!

What is your favorite Chinese dish? Is it bao buns or sweet & sour pork? Spring rolls or Szechuan chicken? As for me, I love them all, without exception – and there’s a reason for it πŸ™‚

Growing up, I never got the chance to experience Chinese food. There was one Chinese restaurant in our city, but my family and I never visited it, for various reasons. Having lived with zero Chinese food for the better part of my life, nowadays I feel spoiled for choice living in Chicago – a big diverse city, where restaurants and cuisines are as varied as they are flavor-packed. It is this variety which sometimes confuses or overwhelms me. How to make sense of a myriad of regions, styles and interpretations? How does one begin their exploration of Chinese cuisine in Chicago – and, equally important, where?

Luckily, Chicago-based food tour companies have taken on the task of making Chinese cuisine accessible and easy to understand by tourists and local residents alike. Take, for example, Chicago Food Planet, whose “food ambassadors” have worked hard for the past 13 years to connect their clients “to the greatest food city in the world and the gourmet artisans who call Chicago home.” I was very excited when Chicago Food Planet (CFP) contacted me and asked me to review one of their food tours. I needed all the expertise I could get to gain an in-depth understanding of Chinese food in Chicago – so I said yes to their Chinatown Adventure Food Tour 😉

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Cabbage and curry roasted potato salad: fresh and fiery – and perfect for fall!

I can’t remember the first time I used curry powder in my cooking, but I’m sure it happened while I lived in the UK. Indeed, back in those days, I would find the sophisticated pungent aroma of curry pretty much everywhere: in the dorm room I used to live in while working on my postgraduate dissertation; intermingled with the deep-fried smells coming from the local chippy; on my hands after lunch in the noisy cafeteria. Steeped in a long history and perceived by some as a tool for re-imagining a cuisine largely characterized by robust ingredients and rustic applications, the lasting impact of curry on British dishes is nothing short of extraordinary. Indeed, I fell in love with this ingredient while living in the UK – and I will cherish it forever πŸ™‚

This salad pays tribute to my ongoing fascination with curry while also epitomizing my belief in plant-based eating, which has fueled my inspiration in the kitchen these past few years. I have been roasting a lot of veggies lately (it is fall, after all, lol), and for this recipe I decided to pair roasted veggies with fresh carefully picked ones to create a balance of flavors and textures. This salad is all about the present (fall roasted veggies) and the future (fresh veggies in all their colorful glory). Something fresh, something roasted – and a lot of plant-based goodness in between πŸ™‚

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Basic Invite review: ‘Tis the season for great food and fabulous party invitations!

Nothing says holidays like delicious home-cooked food and precious moments spent with family and friends. Indeed, if there’s any time when I can’t seem to get myself out of the kitchen, it is around the winter holidays. The smell of decadent roasted turkey or ham, the crunching sound of crispy fresh baked cookies, the soothing velvet layers of potato and zucchini casseroles – there’s nothing quite like these, right? πŸ™‚ And yet, the food we eat is only one component of our usual winter holiday magic. When it comes to organizing festive gatherings, I like to show my appreciation for my loved ones by thinking things through, not just in terms of food alone, but also table setting, choice of wines, and party favors. Every little detail matters – and it all starts with a beautiful invite.

Thankfully, my knowledge of stationery companies has expanded recently upon being contacted byΒ  Basic Invite, who expressed their interest in a collaboration. I jumped at the opportunity – and who wouldn’t? I love festive cards and invitations, and the quality of the products I had seen on Basic Invite’s website appeared unsurpassed by any other company currently on the market. So I said yes to Basic Invite’s offer – and I let the invites roll 😉

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Stuffed mushrooms are on the menu this fall: so delicious!

What’s your go-to fall dish? Maybe a creamy soup? Maybe a hearty stew? I don’t know about you, but soups and stews are big hits in our family at the moment. As soon as the mornings get cooler and the nights get longer, these two kinds of quintessential comfort foods start calling out our names πŸ™‚ They don’t necessarily have to include meat – as a matter of fact, we thorough enjoy vegetarian or even vegan dishes at this point in the year. I grew up eating lots of fruits and veggies (we didn’t have access to meat back in the day), and my earliest childhood experiences cooking alongside my mother have inspired me to continue this family tradition of eating a diet chock-full of produce.

And yet, soups and stews are not the only things you can eat during the fall, right? Enter these delicious stuffed portabella mushrooms I’ve been making with increased frequency lately 😉 I wanted to get out of the usual “soup and stew routine” and to challenge myself, and the weekly sale at the local grocery store could not have come at a better time. My recipe is vegetarian, but you can leave the cream cheese out or use a plant-based alternative for the ultimate vegan treat. Stuffed mushrooms can be such an exciting and creative dish, after all!

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Purple cauliflower, red bean and chickpea salad: one more light dish before fall kicks in!

How do you like your salads: light as in chock-full of greens, or filling as in chock-full of pasta? I’m asking because to me, eating salads is a seasonal experience. While during the summer I usually gravitate toward less calorific lettuce-based offerings, when the cold weather kicks in I want nothing more than a bowl of hearty warm salad, brimming with all the carbs I can find. Since the days are still reasonably mild and the fall seems far and away, I think eating light is the way to go at the moment. Enter one of my latest creations, featuring purple cauliflower, red beans and chickpeas.

I developed this recipe by chance, following a shopping trip during which I found purple cauliflower on sale. It was not just any cauliflower, but organic cauliflower, grown by Amish farmers and sold at one of my favorite local stores. I wanted to treat this nutrient-packed cauliflower variety right, and the recipe development period which followed was truly a labor of love.

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My review of etta: tasting the magic of the hearth

I’ve always thought eggs are a pretty straightforward affair. Hard boiled, poached, scrambled, covered with hollandaise, smothered by chimichurri. There are numerous ways to reinvent tradition, and yet many of them invariably gravitate towards a few tried-and-tested standard applications. I believe that to make your breakfast/brunch eggs brighter and to make you truly happier, a journey of a special kind is needed – one which combines a passion for innovation with a love for quality ingredients, flamboyant and versatile, and most importantly, bursting with rich, immersive flavors. I recently embarked on such an incredible culinary journey at etta, and I’m here to tell you all about it.

Located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, etta is famous for its wood-fired hearth, which bestows charred flavor to dishes ranging from focaccia to meatballs and from salmon to pizza. I visited etta (short for β€œHenrietta,” which in French means β€œkeeper of the hearth”) for brunch a couple of weeks ago, and I was impressed with the high quality of the ingredients used, as well as with Executive Chef Danny Grant‘s hearth-informed vision.

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