Category Archives: Grains

Sockeye Salmon and Mixed Grains Rice with Citrus Miso

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Japanese cuisine is still a bit of a mystery to me. In my imagining of what Japanese food I always think of few ingredients, simple presentation, clean flavors and of course seafood. This is, I am sure, an oversimplification of a diverse cuisine. Recently I found myself at home with a free night. The kids and wife were away with the in-laws and I was free to try something that might or might not be up their alley. It also needed to be quick because I had a lot of chores to get through. That’s how I ended up playing around with some Japanese inspired flavors using pristine salmon, miso and sushi rice.

Fish-Grain Rice-Citrus Miso

Elizabeth Andoh’s book Washoku is one of a few Japanese cookbooks I own but is one I reach for often for inspiration or a quick recipe. I love her approach and the recipe usually deliver wonderful dishes. I knew that I will be making rice for my meal of course and her recipe for “Rice with Mixed Grains” is a terrific method for preparing it. I washed the sushi rice until the water ran clear and then mixed it with a few tablespoons of the grains (I used buckwheat, sesame and some flax seeds). Andoh’s method for cooking the rice is very detailed and relies a lot on the sounds of the covered pot more than anything. That strikes me as very romantic and…Japanese. The end result is a perfectly cooked bowl of rice. I kept some of it warm and slightly cooled some of it for my sushi plate. The slightly cooled rice was mixed with a little Mirin and rice wine vinegar.

I love the flavor of miso and have used it in marinades and sauces. The sharp savory salty flavor works so well with all foods, from meats to vegetables. I borrowed another recipe from Andoh’s book for a citrus miso. This is just white miso flavored with citrus zest and juice (lime and lemon) and cooked with sake to a delicious thick sauce.

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Slicing the fish for sushi is where practice -or lack of it- really shows. Sushi masters practice years to be considered proper sushi chefs worthy of slicing fish properly. If you have not seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, stop reading right now and go check it out and you’ll see what I mean by perfection in making sushi. My fish slices were fine but lacked that proper angle and finesse that good sushi has. The flavor of those bites was fantastic though.  I formed the rice into small mounds and dotted it with a bit of the miso sauce. The salmon went on top and got a garnish of grated daikon radish, finely sliced pickled ginger, sesame seeds and  a pinch of hot pepper powder. I plated the sushi on top of thin cucumber slices to add another texture. This dish was excellent with the perfect textures and lovely fresh balanced flavors ranging from nutty to salty and savory with a hint of sweetness.

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Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of the Nobu restaurant empire is probably one of the best known modern Japanese chefs. He does “fusion” well where the flavors of Japan mix with those of South America in a combination of classical and modern preparations. He was the first person I’ve seen pouring boiling hot oil over pieces of fish in order to barely cook them. He calls the oil “New Oil” in his book Nobu Now. It’s something he said he came up with to appeal to those squeamish about eating raw sashimi. So, I gave that a shot. I placed the sliced salmon on a plate and topped it with grated ginger and shopped scallions. Then I heated a few tablespoons of oil till smoking and drizzled that all over the fish.

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I plated the fish on top of the rice in a bowl and served it with a few small spoons of the citrus miso sauce. The barely cooked fish had a nice texture and was gently warmed. It worked  perfectly with the nutty rice and sharp sauce. It’s definitely a technique and dish that is easy to prepare and I will be exploring some more in different variations.

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Pok Pok: Wild Duck Laap, Thai Pork Fried Rice, Cucumber Salad


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I travel a lot for work typically for a project in one city that could take anywhere from a few weeks to over a year. Travelling every week for a few days to the same city can be weary. The upside to this latest particular engagement is that it is in the lovely city of Portland, Oregon. The weather is just perfect for me, the scenery is beautiful and the food is brilliant. I honestly have not had a bad meal in this city. One of the places that I had on my list to visit in a city full of good eats is Andy Ricker’s Thai place, Pok Pok. I’ve eaten several fantastic meals over there so far so getting the book and trying a few of the dishes at home was of course to be expected.

galangal paste

We’ve enjoyed several meals from the book and all have been very good. The papaya salad I tried first was pretty much identical to what I had at Pok Pok. The stir fried rice noodles with pork, Chinese broccoli and soy sauce (Phat si ew) was an excellent one dish meal. So, I was very pleased when Nathan chose a few recipes from Pok Pok for our Friday dinner. The recipes are pretty simple but involve a lot of chopping and prep work. The fried rice, like all stir fries, really needs all the ingredients ready to go in order into the very hot wok or else you end up stressed and the your stir fry crappy!

Thai mise

Pok Pok refers to the sound cooks make when using the mortar and pestle. That’s where many of the “salads” are prepared like this cucumber salad. Strictly speaking this is my version of Ricker’s cucumber salad (Tam taeng kwaa). I simplified it a bit and removed the noodles he serves with it since we are already having rice. I prepared it like I do the papaya salad in the granite mortar by mashing some garlic, limes, palm sugar and salt together. Then the sliced cucumber goes in and gets a bit bruised along with cherry tomatoes before being seasoned with more lime juice and fish sauce. I garnished the salad with crushed peanuts for texture and because they taste wonderful with the cukes and the rest of the menu.

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Laap is another dish that in typical Thai menus in the US is referred to as a “salad”. I’m not sure why that’s the case honestly, but really these are mixtures of minced meat (pork, chicken, fish or game) that are cooked fairly quickly with lots of traditional Thai aromatics. This version is labeled as Isaan minced duck salad (Laap pet Isaan) and is a bit more complex than previous versions I’ve cooked. Typically Laap is flavored with lime juice, shallots, lemongrass and some herbs with a sprinkling of toasted rice powder for crunch. This Isaan version adds more spice in the form of a galangal-garlic-shallot paste. I first broiled the sliced galangal along with the shallots and garlic then wrapped them in foil and let them bake and soften. These were then pounded in the mortar to form the paste.

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I still had boneless skinless wild duck in my freezer from my hunt in the fall. It made perfect sense to use those in place of store-bought ducks. The wild duck’s gamy flavor worked great in this heavily spiced and fragrant dish. I used my cleaver to slice and mince the duck meat to maintain a nice texture and it’s quiet relaxing really. It took maybe 10 minutes to reduce the duck from breasts to minced meat.

duck laap

The duck is cooked with the paste and sliced shallots until just cooked through then flavored with sliced lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, green onions, dried chilies, lime juice and fish sauce. Before serving I tossed in plenty of herbs (Thai basil, basil, mint) and toasted sticky rice powder. It’s a very exotically flavored delicious dish with more toasted rice powder sprinkled on top for more crunch.

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The Thai fried rice is really simple, but like I said before it works much better if you prepare all the ingredients and have them ready to go into the wok (or large skillet).  The whole cooking process takes maybe 6 or 8 minutes and you do not want t be chopping shallots in the middle of that. I’ve really been enjoying using my outdoor propane burner (a.k.a turkey fryer rig even though I’ve never fried a turkey) for stir-frying in my large carbon steel wok. I use that same rig to brew beer and whenever I deep fry anything. Using the wok on it though is such an exciting way to cook and feels like playing with fire! I get all my ingredients on the outdoor table next to my wok and start tossing them in one after the other sizzling and charring where needed before getting the sauce in to bring everything together. It’s quiet the rush! For this recipe first goes the shallot oil, then the egg followed by shallots and garlic. Everything gets tossed with pork…stir…toss (up in the air if you feel like it) until the meat is cooked through. In goes the rice and gets fried for a minute then a sauce goes in made from soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and some lime. Done and delicious with fish sauce marinated chilies.

Thai fried rice

 

 

Duck Stuffed with Farro, Figs, and Hazelnuts

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From the minute I read the title of this lovely recipe I knew I had to give it a shot. It’s a whole de-boned duck stuffed with a hearty mixture of grains (Farro), dried figs, herbs and nuts. Then The bird is roasted and basted till succulent and crispy. A bit labor intensive? Yes. Just take a look at this beauty and you should know that it is so worth it.

FattedCalf-Porchetta

In the Charcuterie is the book by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller, these folks are the people behind Napa’s amazing butcher shop The Fatted Calf. Back in March when we were in Napa for a wedding and a dinner at the French Laundry we also enjoyed a fat plate of the most delicious porchetta at The Fatted Calf. The place is a lovely butcher shop with everything from duck to lamb, beef, pork, goose, goat and veal. The proprietors also sell a variety of prepared foods and lots of charcuterie (confits, terrines, sausages, cured meats…) . Even though we had planned on having burgers that day for lunch we just could not resist grabbing a plate of the porchetta with the crackly skin that the butcher was slicing. It was sublime. Fatty, heavily flavored with garlic and herbs it was a memorable meal. When the book was announced, my friend quickly pre-ordered a copy for each of us. Thanks Sev!

Duck

Duck-Deboned

To make this dish I had too completely debone the duck. I did this by cutting down the spine of the duck and then gently and carefully detached the meat from the bone all around. The key is to do this without damaging the skin. That took about 30 minutes or so, but it’s a process I really do enjoy  and a very cool skill to master.

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For the filling I first prepared the dried figs. I simmered a variety of warm spices and herbs with sugar and red wine to infuse the liquid. That was poured over dried Black Mission figs and the whole thing was allowed to macerate overnight. The figs get plump as they absorb the spiced wine and when I am ready to finish the filling I drained them and cut them into quarters.  I mixed the figs with parsley, breakfast sausage, cooked farro and toasted hazelnuts.

Fig-Farro Filling

I laid the boneless duck on a cutting board skin side down. Then I formed the filling into a thick log and put that on top. I rolled the meat around the filling and basically reformed the duck as best as I could into it’s original shape. I tied the duck with twine to secure everything in place. I scored the skin and then roasted the bird at 375 F, basting it occasionally with its drippings, until a thermometer read 140 F in the center and the skin turned a crispy golden brown.

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Now how to serve this delicious roast? In the recipe we are simply instructed to slice and serve. That really works since the duck and the stuffing make for a nicely complementary meal, but I wanted to add a bit more to it. We had this for two dinners so I played around a bit. The first time around I served it with a bit of blanched broccolini , some leftover farro and a tart mustard vinaigrette.

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For the second meal, I pan seared the sliced roast not to just heat it up but also to add another layer of flavor and texture. I served it with a bit more of the same greens and added sweet and sour pumpkin. The recipe for the pumpkin is a simple but really tasty one from Mario Batali where pumpkin cubes are cooked in a mixture of garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar and garnished with mint. I also prepared a sauce to go with this dish that is pretty much the same one I served with the Teal dish last year, a reduced spiced red wine sauce to echo the spice and the flavor of the figs.

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Kibbeh Nayeh – Raw minced Beef and Burghul with Spices and Herbs

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Almost more than any other Lebanese dish, I crave Kibbeh Nayeh the most and immediately request that my mom or grandmother make a plate of this iconic dish as soon as I am back home visiting. Growing up this was our typical Sunday lunch. Back then I honestly did not appreciate it as much and would’ve happily wolfed down a plate of pizza or some fried chicken instead. Not now though. Now, I love a properly made raw kibbeh.KibbehNayeh

It really is about the proper ratio of fine, not coarse, burghul (cracked wheat) to meat. Too much burghul makes it too dense and crumbly (even if my grandmother likes it exactly like that). Too little burghul and it’s too much like beef tartar with the wrong texture. It should be served served drizzled with good extra virgin olive oil alongside fresh mint, raw sweet onions and radishes. It is traditionally made with lamb or, in the case of my family, with lean goat meat. Normally though I use lean beef or a mixture of beef and lamb.

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Since this is raw meat it is good to keep in mind some safety considerations. Buy the meat whole NOT ground. Eating raw ground meat from a grocery store (even a high end pricey all natural one) is a bad idea. In beef any harmful pathogens usually are on the surface of the meat. Grinding a bunch of meat together at a grocery store or packing plant ensures that any nasties are mixed in through the meat. So, buy a whole piece of lean beef/lamb and rinse it well. This also removes anything that might be on the surface. Lastly, I like to freeze the meat for a couple of days at least before partially thawing and grinding. Freezing also helps in eliminating anything that might be on the meat. That being said, this is raw meat you are eating. I’ve never had an issue and I’ve been eating similar foods since the age of 10, but you never know.

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Since my meat grinder was in storage at the time I used the food processor. It worked really well as long as I pulsed the mixture instead of letting it spin. The recipe I tried out this time is a bit non-traditional in that it incorporates some herbs in the meat mix as opposed to just meat, burghul, onions and some spices. The recipe comes from the Australian-Lebanese team of Greg and Lucy Malouf’s book MALOUF: New Middle Eastern Food. The book, like all of their other efforts, is filled with beautiful modernized and refined renditions of Lebanese and other middle eastern recipes. The Malouf Kibbeh incorporates green chilies, basil, mint and parsley into the meat, burghul and onion mix. It looks lovely with green speckles in it and has a delicious spicy herby flavor.

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The Recipe 

Kibbeh Nayeh with Herbs and Green Chiles

Adapted from MALOUF

  • 75 gr. Fine burghul (#1)
  • 90 gr. Onion, chopped
  • 1 Green chile, seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 Cup chopped basil
  • 1/3 Cup chopped mint
  • 1/3 Cup chopped parsley
  • 300 gr. beef, lamb or a mixture, very lean
  • 1 Tbsp. (or more) Lebanese spice mix – A combination of cumin, black pepper, dried marjoram, dried rose buds, a bit of cinnamon and allspice (or you can use just some black pepper, chili powder and cumin to taste)

Soak the burghul in cold water to cover for about 10 minutes. Drain well and squeeze as dry as possible.

Grind the onion, chile and herbs through using the fine die on the meat grinder (or use a food processor). Cut the meat into thin strips and mix with the spices and onion mixture. Grind the meat mixture twice to get a smooth paste (or if using a food processor, you would have to pulse it until smooth).

In a bowl, mix the meat and burghul with some salt and a couple of ice cubes. Use your hands to mix everything well until the ice melts. Taste and adjust salt or spice to your liking.

Spread the Kibbeh in a thin layer on a plate. Make dimples or ridges in it with a spoon or fork and drizzle with good olive oil. Serve it cold with fresh radishes, chilies, fresh mint leaves, raw sweet onions and pita bread.

French Laundry: Braised Pork Cheek with Yellow Corn Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables and Sweet Garlic

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A week before our much awaited dinner at The French Laundry (I’ll post something about that at some point…hopefully soon) I wanted to make the family a meal from one of my favorite cookbooks. I thought of it as an appetizer of sorts. Of course my meal was not a 10 course 4-hour extravaganza but only a couple of courses, a main dish and a dessert. When both come out so perfectly delicious though, it really is a treat. In the book there are several recipes for “cheap” cuts of meat, not just pricey and exotic cuts. Chef Keller uses cuts like beef cheeks, tripe, pig head and transforms them into refined three-star plates of beautiful food. This is such a recipe. I’ll post about the dessert in a subsequent post.

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In the book, the recipe is made with veal breast. That’s, more or less, the equivalent of a pork belly on a calf. It’s tough, sinewy and flavorful. It’s also very tough to find at almost any store. I was not about to mail order it so I decided to improvise and see what I have in my deep freezer. I had two excellent pork cheeks in there and I figured these would make a very nice substitute for the veal breast. The recipe, from Keller’s pre sous vide days, braises the meat traditionally (sear, cook in stock with aromatics gently). I opted to first sear the meat really well and then bagged it  with carrots, celery, leeks, herbs, stock and white wine and cooked it sous vide at 82.2 C for about 8 hours. When the meat is cooked I removed it from the bag, discarded all the herbs and vegetables and strained the liquid to make a sauce from it later on. The meat went in the fridge to rest and set.

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To complete the meat portion, I cut the cheeks into 2 inch rounds using a biscuit/cookie cutter. The cheeks are not as nice and even as a veal breast would be. See this post for an idea how the cooked cheeks look in one of the pictures. So some pieces were more even than others. Right before serving, I rubbed the meat with Dijon mustard and then rolled the flat sides in panko bread crumbs. Then I pan fried them well in grape seed oil and got them ready for plating. The meat from pork cheeks is really something special. It has a very deep almost slightly gamy flavor and unique texture. Braising the meat then pan frying it till crispy and luscious on the inside. Cutting the meat into rounds creates a good bit of extra chunks and uneven pieces that I used for the next few days in fried rice and tacos for the best ever crispy carnitas.

The rounds of pork sit on crispy corn cakes, aka polenta cakes. These are fairly classic made with polenta cooked in water and enriched with mascarpone cheese and butter. I then mixed in some chopped chives and poured the porridge in a silicone square cake pan to set. The cakes are finished similarly to these hominy cakes by rolling in flour and pan frying in some butter until browned and crisped.

Polenta

The vegetables in the book (carrots, turnips, celery root, beets) according to the recipe are supposed to be cut into different shapes. The beets into tiny pea-size marbles (parisienne), the carrots into small ovals (turned), the trunips into small fluted shapes and the celery root into small batons. So, I have no parisienne cutter and no vegetable fluter. I also opted not to use the the celery root since I did not have a kitchen brigade doing my bidding. Instead I cut the beets into small coin shapes and the turnips into small cubes. Then I turned the carrots. It really takes some time and skill to turn hard vegetables into acceptable small football shapes. It really makes one appreciate all the work that goes into creating and executing one of those dishes at a place like the French Laundry. It took me about an hour to make maybe 20 carrot ovals and they were by no means perfect.

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Chef Keller in the recipe blanches the vegetables separately to cook them. Instead I bagged the carrots and turnips together and separate from the beets (to avoid discoloration since beets really stain)  and then cooked the two packages sous vide at 85C until perfectly tender. To finish the vegetables and plate them they get sauteed in some butter and sugar to glaze them (again the beets are glazed separately) and then they are warmed in a small pot of beurre monte, Keller’s ubiquitous butter-water emulsion. The last vegetable in the mix is the sweet garlic. These are garlic cloves blanched in several changes of boiling water and then slowly poached until very soft and then sauteed in butter to brown them and further flavor them. The garlic and the rest of the vegetables get tossed together at the last minute, right before serving. If I could change one thing about this recipe, it would be that last step of tossing in the beets. Even with all the care and even though the beet coins were mixed in at the last second, they still managed to slightly stain the turnips and garlic a shade of pink. Really I should’ve plated the beets without tossing with everything else.  

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To make the sauce for the dish, the braising liquid is reduced and flavored with chopped shallots and fresh parsley. At the last minute is is enriched with more of the beurre monte. For plating I put a spoonful of the sauce on the plate first and topped it with a corn cake. On top goes a round piece of crispy pork cheek and that gets topped with the glazed vegetables and the sweet garlic cloves. Is it good? Damn right it is. It is a delicious dish that combines comfort with Michelin – star cuisine. The flavors are deep and rich and the textures are amazing. Everyone loved it including the kiddos. It was a bit funny when my 9 year old asked for seconds and requested that the meat be cut into a circle again for plating and my 6 year old now routinely asks if we are cooking more food from “French Laundry”! That’s a lot of pressure. Next is dessert, another French Laundry classic…

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables

Wild Duck, Cabbage, Fried Hominy and Red Wine Beet Sauce

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I’m still working on my wild duck cooking skill and the best result I’ve gotten so far is through removing the breasts and legs and cooking them separately. I’ve made a “quick salad” for my kids and I recently and I basically sautéed everything for different times and then sliced and served on top of a tart green salad. That was very nice and I achieved the well cooked crispy legs I complained about missing in this post. I also managed to get the breasts to be medium with a crispy skin, but some parts were over-cooked a bit and overcooked wild duck is not a very good thing.

Baked Duck Legs

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For this dish I took it to the next logical level and did what experienced cooks and chefs always instruct us to do: cook the breasts and legs separately each to their optimum doneness. It’s that “optimum doneness” part that can be a bit tricky while shooting for a crisp skin on such lean small birds. The way I tackled it is to cook the breasts sous vide and the legs baked in a very hot oven. The legs were well-done and crisp and the breasts were a lovely medium rare and a nice rosy color, even after a quick sear in a hot pan to crisp the skin. Before cooking the meat I simply salted it and rubbed it with a bit of thyme the night before and the breasts were packaged in FoodSaver bags with a bit of butter in  there before going in the  water at 55C for about an hour.

To go with the duck I made red braised cabbage and fried hominy cakes. The cabbage is from Gordon Ramsey’s “*** Chef” that I posted about a while back. It’s a very simple recipe of cabbage, butter and vinegar. The end result is delicious and very flavorful, much more than the sum of its parts. The hominy cakes are another direct rip off from Hank Shaw where he also pairs it with duck, canvasback to be exact. I followed Hank’s recipe verbatim and it worked perfectly. The grits cakes held together and had a great crispy exterior and a lovely soft interior. The flavor was mild and it really offset all the other robust flavors in the dish from the duck, cabbage and sauce. The dish needed the texture and the cakes delivered it in strides. The bread crumbs I used were made from a loaf of bread I baked with poppy seeds and that’s why the cakes’ crust has all these little black specs in it. That looked pretty neat and worked well with the sort of Germanic theme of dish.

Hominy Grits Cakes

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The sauce here is based on the duck carcasses. After removing the breasts and legs, I cut up the remaining bones and trimmings and made a stock with them. I wanted the stock to be robust and full of flavor, so I first roasted the cut up oil-rubbed carcasses and sautéed a bunch of aromatics in the drippings in the pan. Then I deglazed the pan with Madeira and sherry vinegar. Everything went in the pressure cooker and cooked at 15 psi for about an hour and half. I ended up with a good 1.5 quarts of amazing duck stock. I used about a cup for the sauce and the rest is now frozen for other applications (possibly an oyster and duck gumbo to use up the last three birds I have in the near future). The sauce is prepared like a traditional red wine sauce made by simmering red wine and aromatics with the addition of chopped fresh beets. I added the beets for color and flavor, another item that to me sounds Germanic as well. After the wine is reduced I added in the duck stock and allowed that to reduce a bit as well before enriching with a bit of butter. The sauce had everything I was looking for a rich color and deep flavor.

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Roasted Teal with Delicata Squash, Farro and Spiced Red Wine Sauce

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About a month or so ago I finally got all my plans in order and booked a hunting trip with a local guide to see if I can get myself some wild ducks. It’s been many years since I’ve been hunting but finally I get myself a gun, license and practiced some clay shooting at local range to get the rust out of my shooting. In no small way I have Hank Shaw to thank for the motivation. To say his hunting, fishing and cooking articles at his blog and in his book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” were inspiring is an understatement. All in all, I ended up with several mallards that day and a couple of nice teal. Teal are small, about the size of a pigeon and are supposed to be delicious so I wanted to show them off by cooking them whole.

Teal

I roasted them simply by following Hank’s instruction. I first seasoned them with salt and a mixture of orange zest, allspice and thyme. I then baked the birds in a very hot oven to a medium rare. That worked well for the breasts, but honestly I was not crazy about the texture of the legs. They remained a bit tough for my liking and the skin did not crisp as well as I would’ve liked either. The flavor of the teal though was very good. They tasted rich and robust but not too gamy. I’m glad I made a full-flavored sauce to go with them. The sauce is from a Mario Batali recipe in the Babbo Cookbook and it’s not much more than a reduced red wine sauce flavored with allspice and cloves. Batali serves it with venison and a pumpkin caponata.

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I took another page from that recipe and made a much simplified version of that caponata using Delicata squash which is amazingly sweet. I roasted it and then tossed it with sauteed onions, raisins and red wine. To make this more substantial I tossed the squash with cooked farro. The combination was very tasty, like a rustic and comforting risotto.  The flavor of the birds was wonderful with the spiced wine sauce and the earthy squash farro.