After years of feeding our vegetarian kids and grandkids every possible permutation of pasta-sauce-cheese, I've been mining the pantry for new ideas. A recently discovered package of farro, purchased ages ago at one of Providence's Italian markets, inspired a main course dish that pairs this nutty, chewy grain with earthy mushrooms, crisp broccoli, crunchy almonds and salty feta. It's an explosion of taste and texture that satisfies, as an entrée for vegetarians, or a side dish with roast turkey. You can buy instant farro at Trader Joe's; it cooks in ten minutes, but the texture isn't as chewy as the regular farro that takes only a few minutes longer. In the time it takes to cook the farro, prepare all the rest of the ingredients, so the whole dish comes together in less than half an hour.
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Most of the time, I'm not the person who encourages you to open a bunch of cans and call it cooking. Today, I'm that person. Some regional ingredients, like the enchilada sauce and roasted green chiles in this chicken tortilla casserole, are hard to find in my part of the world in any other form, and if that's your situation, you have my permission to reach for your can opener. Although I call this a tortilla casserole, the recipe only calls for two tortillas -- oat bran tortillas, which are low in calories and carbs. Swap in your favorite whole grain tortillas, but don't omit them; they keep everything else from collapsing before the casserole cooks through. For an easy worknight dinner, use a rotisserie chicken or any leftover cooked chicken. You can prep the chicken-and-bean filling a few days in advance and store it in the refrigerator. Then, when you're ready to serve the casserole, assemble the layers with tortillas and cheese, and bake. Serve with traditional tortilla toppings like chunks of avocado and sour cream on the side.
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I'm a gal who loves a good burrito, the overstuffed kind that dribbles down your chin when you bite into it: meat, beans and rice, guacamole, maybe some sour cream, and salsa, bundled up in a tortilla. I love it all. Everything except the tortilla goes into this slow cooker chicken and pinto bean burrito bowl. You probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry, and the slow cooker works its magic while you're out for the day. You can roll the filling into a tortilla for a traditional burrito, but if you're cutting down on carbs, like we are, you'll love it in a bowl. All you have to do is add some fresh garnishes -- avocado, chopped cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese -- and you can sneak a few tortilla chips on the side.
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Have you ever thought about why you like some foods and not others? Or why you like a food in one form and not in another? I ponder these questions a lot, but still can't explain why I love raw carrots and fresh strawberries, but not cooked ones, or why I love oatmeal cookies, but not boiled oatmeal in a bowl. My husband Ted does love oatmeal, especially the coarse steel cut (a.k.a. Irish) oats when they're still a little bit crunchy, so this pumpkin spice oatmeal with raisins and pecans is for him, and for you. Steel cut oats are whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) that have been cut into two or three pieces; because they are minimally processed, they take longer to cook than rolled oats, and have a wonderful chewy texture. Store leftover oatmeal in the refrigerator in breakfast-sized containers, and reheat in the microwave at home or at work later in the week.
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