RECIPE: Farro, Broccoli and Cannellini Bean Gratin

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This recipe was adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, which was a happy find in my local library. The book is very utilitarian, and less beautiful than it is useful-as all America's Test Kitchen's materials are. This dish was in the vegetarian section. But I did not want to make it vegetarian, and I also was hesitant about adding broccoli rabe in the dish as the original recipe called for. I was not sure if my 9 year old was going to go for the bitterness. But I dug using farro with the Fontina, so I adapted it more for our family.

Farro is a great, ancient grain. It is different than whole wheat berries. The outer bran and germ is partially "buffed" out so that it takes less time to cook, often calling it "pearled" farro. Usually whole wheat berries take up to two hours to cook. True Italian farro only takes about 30 minutes or so. The Italian species is known to be more tender than regular wheat berries. I find it in the grocer's grain aisle. You may try whole foods or online to get it. It is a great substitute for risotto if you are trying to cut down on starch, as it has more fiber and protein. As I am on a whole grain diest at the moment, this dish fit the bill. The cheese was cheating, but worth every calorie!

Farro, Broccoli and Cannellini Bean Gratin


For Farro:
2 tsp. olive oil1 onion, minced2 garlic cloves minced2 cups chicken broth (I use "Better than Bouillon")1 1/2 cups water1 cup grated Parmesanground pepper

For the Gratin:
1 lb. broccoli florets, large ones cut in half
2 tsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 15 oz. can Cannellini beans, drained and well rinsed
3/4 cup grated fresh Fontina or Fontinella, not aged


In a large skillet, heat the 2 tsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Add the minced garlic and onion and sauté until beginning to brown. Add the farro to the pan, lower heat slightly and toss until farro beginning to brown. Meanwhile, I heat up two cups of water to boiling and add 2 tsp. of Better Than Bouillon. Mix it up. Add 1 1/2 cups of water to that, and add it all to the pan when the farro is lightly brown, scraping the bottom. Simmer farro for about 20-35 minutes uncovered, or until all the liquid is absorbed and farro is tender yet chewy. Take off the heat, and toss in the 1 cup grated Parmesan and ground pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven, boil about 4 qts. water with 1 tsp. salt. Once you have a rolling boil, add the broccoli and blanch them in the hot water for about 5-8 minutes. Drain. Place your Dutch oven back onto the stove, and wipe the inside dry. Heat up the 2 tsp. olive oil in the same pot. Add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until garlic is beginning to brown. Toss in the drained broccoli, and stir until sizzling hot and evenly oiled. Add the drained and rinsed beans as well, and toss gently until they are heated through and everything is coated in oil.

Toss the broccoli mixture in with the farro mixture, and using two wooden spoons, toss around as you would a salad. Pour mixture evenly into a 3 qt boiler safe baking or casserole dish. Sprinkle the grated Fontina evenly over the top.

Turn your broiler on Low and make sure you have a rack about 6 inches away from the broiler. Broil the dish until the Cheese is melty, bubbly and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes or so. Serve warm.

RECIPE: Healthy Citrus Infused Chocolate Almond and Hazelnut Biscotti

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So, if you have been following any of my social feeds, you have heard my woes on the 17 day diet. I am now in phase 2, which aligns more to how I eat normally. So I made it through! In the second phase, you switch up days with two "approved" grain days with no grain/low carb days. It's "calorie" confusion for your body, forcing it to not plateau. The approved grains are more of the ancient, high fiber grains. Unfortunately, whole wheat is not on the list. However if you really want a sweet treat reward on the weekend, whole wheat is better than regular. So you're "sweet cheat" is not soooo bad.

These biscotti have vegetable shortening versus butter, and low sugar amounts. They are also packed with protein-rich nuts. If you want to substitute butter, regular flour and a full 1 cup of sugar to make them yummier but not healthy...I guess have at it, I would if I could! But I have to say, I have lost almost 10 lbs on this diet. My skin is clearer and I have a lot more energy. It seems to be working out, but it is not an easy diet, I have to say. These biscotti sweeten the deal for me!

Healthy Citrus Infused Chocolate Almond and Hazelnut Biscotti


1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temp.
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup sugar substitute (or 3/4 cup sugar)
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped in a processor until fine
zest of one small orange (about 1-2 tsp.)
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt


Preheat oven to 350˚. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, beat the vegetable shortening until light and creamy. Add the sugar and sugar substitute, whip until fluffy. Add the eggs and whip some more. Then add the zest and whip.

In a smaller bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda and salt. Add into the wet batter and mix until just combined. Add the extracts and mix until just combined. Take the bowl off the mixer. Add the chopped nuts by hand with a spatula or with your hands. Separate into two even balls of batter.

Shape each into a 10 inch long rectangle shape onto the prepared sheet, with a lot of space in between both logs. Flatten with your hand. Bake for about 20 minutes in the oven, until the cookies are beginning to crack on top and have grown puffy. Take out of the oven and let sit for 15-20 minutes at room temp. Lower the oven to 250˚.

With a sharp knife, cut up the logs into 1 inch strips, on an angle. Turn each cookie on it's side on the same sheet. Bake the cookies again for 10 minutes. Then, carefully turn the cookies on to their other sides, and bake for another 10. Take sheet out and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

RECIPE: Creamy Quinoa with Apples and Almonds

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Quinoa is often a grain that is thought of for pilafs and salads. But I wondered if you could also use it as a cereal grain for breakfast. I have been on the 17 day diet, moving into phase 2 where you can introduce specific grains back in your diet in small amounts on certain days. Quinoa is a grain that is packed with protein and low in carbs, and on the "approved" grain list. So I whipped up this breakfast dish, being so sick of eggs every morning! It turned out yummy, and even my 9 year old ate it with pleasure. If I were to throw "diet caution" to the wind, I would sub milk for the water amount. I would also add honey or brown sugar and more butter. I would also saute the apples in the butter first before adding the grains and milk. But as healthy as this was, it had great flavor and the quinoa (often bitter) was creamy and delicate. We're keeping this in the meal rotation even after I am off this diet!

Creamy Quinoa with Apples and Almonds

1 tart apple, cored and chopped
1 cup quinoa
1 cup low fat milk
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. butter
2-3 Tbsp. sugar substitute or real sugar
1-2 Tbsp. toasted sliced almond (I used the pretoasted salad topping ones to save time)

Extra milk, honey or sugar on top for garnish


In a mesh strainer, rinse the quinoa very well over cold water, tossing and draining as you go. I do this for quite a few minutes. It helps to take the bitterness down from the grain by rinsing very well.

Add the quinoa to a saucepan and add the milk, water, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Cook on medium heat until it begins to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, and add the chopped apples, sugar and butter. Mix every few minutes. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and grains and apples are tender. Take off heat and let sit a few minutes. Serve with a generous sprinkle of almonds on top, and a small drizzle of extra milk. If you wish, drizzle with honey as well.

CRAFTS: Revive a Sad Looking Coffee Table with Decoupage!

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Now I know we all have some pieces of furniture from our dorm room days, or "beer run" days, that in some ways we still need to furnish our nests with. Budgets these days can't allow for a furniture shopping spree for most of us. Thus that eye sore of a coffee table or end table irks you daily like nails on a chalkboard. But fear not! We have all seen some Trading Spaces. It's amazing what you can do with a bottle of glue and a little design sense!

In the past, I have revived some old pieces of furniture by gluing paint chips from the hardware store, in a mosaic fashion on the wood, then varnishing it. At first, the effect was cool and colorful. The problem, however, is over time the varnish yellows and gets a funky texture to it. Recently, I have been doing some decoupage work with my girl scout troop, and have been using some beautiful paper from books found in the scrap booking section at the craft store. So when a group of us at work decided a certain cracked and ugly coffee table needed to get tossed, I wondered if I could breath new, creative life into it through decoupage. I have to say, the process was fun and easy, and everyone is really happy with the results (see above).

One important thought about decoupaging furniture that I have found. You need a unifying "theme'. That theme can be a color palette, a story theme, an art style, a type of paper, etc. But because decoupage is a mix of things layered on top of each other, it can look either beautiful and interesting, or a chaotic circus that doesn't match anything in the room. SO have a plan, and then start collecting your items to glue down. Our theme was lightly based on the design industry, and more importantly, we kept to a color palette of orange, green, black, purple and baby blue. We grabbed paper pieces from everywhere, being fortunate to have a lot at our fingertips from being in the visual arts industry.

Here is a list of ideas on where to get material for your decoupage.

Vintage, old or new magazines

Vintage, old or new book pages

Print outs, black and white or color, of images off the web, which can be anything. Use stock image sites or Pinterest for ideas and patterns to print off

Paper from the craft store

Paint sample chips

Pantone chips

Victorian clip art from books

Old greeting cards

Music CD covers or color copies of record album covers

Board game pieces

Origami paper

Commercial paper sample booklets

Stationary, invitations, postcards, business cards

Old commercial artists/photographer rep books (like Workbook or Blackbook)

Old cookbooks

Old or new photographs

Wrapping paper

Maps, old or new, travel brochures or books, atlases



You get the picture!

Other supplies you will need:

white glue, such a Elmer's
plastic cup and paint brush
burnisher (or the edge of a popsicle stick will do)
decoupage sealant and glaze, such as ModPodge
sponge brush
clear acrylic spray varnish for finishing acrylic paintings

And then you go!

Lay out your pieces roughly on your furniture so you have a sense of where you want to put things. I work with my bottom layer with bigger pieces first and then layer over as I work. This is the chance to see if you have enough paper or if you need more. Remember where you want to put things, grouping paper in sections on the floor where you are working so you don't get too messed up. Then clear your surface, and make sure it is clean and dry.

Mix 3 parts Elmer's glue with one part water. You should then have slightly diluted glue. The glue will stiffen up as it sits out so make sure you have extra water on hand to add a little as you go. The glue should be brushable, but not too watery. Too watery and your paper will bubble and warp too much. Brush down an area you plan on starting with and layer a few of your paper pieces down. Burnish it down with the edge of a popsicle stick or a roller trying to push any air bubbles out and keep things very flat to the surface. Brush a thin layer of glue on top of the paper and over the furniture surface, working from the center outward. Now continue with other pieces. Add thin layers of glue on top of paper that you wish to overlay other pieces on. Keep going until all your pieces are glued down and you feel happy with the composition.

Instead of Elmer's glue, you can also use the decoupage glazing and sealant in this manner. However, it is a little expensive. I prefer to use it only as a sealant on top in layers, and use cheaper glue to get everything down. I am not sure there is much of a difference, but if there is, someone please comment!

Now at this point, I let the furniture sit overnight. One, to let things set and cure. And two, to let my creative brain sleep on it. I move so fast when I work, and sometimes a night's sleep brings clarity to your art. You can look at things fresh and maybe see areas you want to add more to or change. Changing can be hard, because you can't really pull things up. You can add over areas to change things, however.

Now using your sponge brush, brush thin layers of decoupage glazing over the furniture in long, even strokes. It dries quickly, so don't go over areas you just brushed down that are drying, or you will get streaking textures in the glaze. I liked Matte glaze for my piece, but there is Gloss as well if you want things shinier. After your first coat, let it sit for 20 min. Then do another coat, and another. The bottle said between 3-5 coats. I layered 5 coats on my table. I wanted to make sure if someone spilled something on it, it was somewhat water resistant.

After the 5th coat, I spayed a thin layer of clear acrylic, matte finishing varnish used for acrylic paintings over the table as a final sealant. Let it dry fro another 20 minutes.

And voila! Jenky, cracked Ikea table is now a pretty, hip table with an homage to the office color palette and to the advertising/design industry. I bet your piece will go from eyesore to a creative focal point in your room!

CRAFTS: Designer's "Must Have" Tool, Pantone Chips, Inspire these DIY Pillows

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Some of you may be familiar with Pantone®. It is a color system for people that work in the visual arts to specify color during production. Pantone can be used in graphic design, textile design, fashion design, product design, etc. If you need a specific color matched in any kind of production, you are probably referring to a Pantone swatch book. And Pantone has started to creep into the mainstream culture, and the company has noticed. Now they offer all kinds of fun products in the Pantone Universe Store that plays with the shape and design of Pantone color chips in various things. So when we began to spruce up our ad agency's office space, we went to the Pantone store to perhaps get some textiles, mugs or just ideas. What we really wanted were accent pillows for seating in the space. Sadly, none exist ANYWHERE. Not on Etsy, the Pantone store or any other home store.

So my friend and Associate Creative Director Rachel and I looked at the chips in sadness and then had a Eureka moment. We could easily make them! We just needed the right pillow proportions and some iron on transfer paper to mimic the type, and we had Pantone chip pillows!

Below is what you will need if you make them how we made them. We think they are pretty fun and hip. Easily add designer color to your room by making a few yourself. The color of the year was recently announced at Tangerine Tango! We chose chip colors that matched our space, then brought the chips to the fabric store so the fabric matched the numbers we would be ironing on them.

List of materials:

Color cotton fabric matching the chip numbers and colors you are mimicking measure against your number and size of pillow form, adding 2" extra all around ( we also did a metallic chip, so we used a costume satin as well.)

White muslin
White thread, needle, scissors
Printer safe iron on transfer paper for light fabric
A desktop program and computer to set the type and print it
12 x 16 pillow forms


First set your Pantone type. Measure your space on the pillow, and set the type in Akzidenz Grotesque the way the chip is set. Use it as a guide on how to type it all out. We were able to fit copy for two chips on each sheet of transfer paper horizontally. Now "mirror" the copy blocks so they look reversed.

Print the copy on the iron on transfer. Be sure it says ink jet only to use ink jet. Be sure to feed it the way the instructions say to. Cut them out, leaving only a little extra around the type. If you leave too much paper around, you will get the transfer paper texture taking up too much of the white area, and it will look funky.

Cut two squares of the color fabric, about 2 inches longer than the pillow size. If you are using 12 x 16 pillows, we cut squares to be 16 inches high x 16 inches wide. You want the color block to be about 10 inches high when sewn.

Cut rectangles of the white muslin, about 16 inches wide by 10 inches high.

Now create two sides by sewing the white rectangle edge against the color block edge, right sides together. You will have two sides with a big color block and a white strip underneath.

Lay the sides, right sides together, and stitch the sides and top together, leaving the bottom open. Turn them right side out, and iron them flat if necessary.

Place the type block with ink jet side down about 1 inch from the white edge and 1 1/2" from the left. With a hot iron, rub the paper firmly for about 50 seconds, let the paper cool down for about 20 seconds, and then gently peel up. You will have the type nicely set in place.

Stuff the pillow into the case. Now tuck edges in on the open end, and stitch the bottom closed by hand.

Ta da! A Pantone chip pillow.

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