Roasted Butternut Squash, Acorn Squash, and Apple Soup

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For 2018 I hope to be here more than I was in 2017. I’m envisioning more of a journal of sorts, where I can feel free to pop in and say “I just made this for dinner! I’m not apologizing for the bad photos! Here’s the general technique and ingredients so you can make it too, if you so choose!” I’m saying goodbye to weighing vegetables and judiciously measuring out olive oil. Maybe I’ll even share some (gasp!) meaty recipes here. We’re going to write our recipes in real time!

2017 was a strange year for me in that it treated me personally very well and it was still painful to go through. I have a feeling that 2018 is going to be much of the same. Since the last time I checked in here (which was what, August?!?) Aaron and I have moved and started talking seriously about getting a dog. I left cooking professionally and became more focused on writing. And I started to cook seriously at home again for the first time in a year or more. Jobs. They drain you of what you love.

We started 2018 as we mean to go- a chill open house filled with friends, water, and soup. We called it “Yes, Soup for You”, and spent the entirety of New Year’s Day at home, with friends coming and going, sharing food. Aaron made some mulled wine, friends brought treats, and I made three soups- my mom’s chicken chili, a vegan version of this coconut red lentil soup, and a creamy and sweet-but-not-too-sweet roasted squash and apple soup inspired by Smitten Kitchen. It was such a success that we’ve decided that we’re going to do this every year from now on. It’s hard to think of a better place to be than surrounded by lovely people and good food.

I’ll see you more in 2018. May you start as you mean to go.

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Roasted Butternut Squash, Acorn Squash, and Apple Soup

inspired by this recipe over on Smitten Kitchen

The timing for the roasted squash and caramelized onions will depend on how much moisture is in your vegetables, and how much attention you’re paying to them.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Quarter and deseed 1 medium butternut squash, 1 large (or 2 small) acorn squash, and 4 apples. Divide between two cookie sheet (I placed the butternut squash on one and the acorn on another), and drizzle liberally with olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper. Place in the oven and roast until the squash is tender and the apples are shriveled, between forty minutes and an hour.

In a large heavy pot over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add in 4 yellow onions, thinly sliced, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they have lost at least half of their volume and are becoming golden in color. Add in 4 cloves of minced garlic and about 2 tablespoons roughly chopped thyme. Continue to cook until the onions are at least amber, though you can take them darker if you desire.

Remove the squash and apples from the oven. Peel away the skin from the squash and roughly chop it into large chunks. Add the peeled squash and the roasted apples to the soup, along with about 1 cup of white wine (if it’s the remainder of a flat bottle of bubbles, so much the better) and 4 cups of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, just to let the flavors melt together.

Add 1 cup heavy cream and puree soup, either in an upright blender or with an immersion blender. Taste, and adjust the seasonings with sherry vinegar and dark soy sauce as necessary. If it’s too thick, add some more cream or more water (or both). Serve hot, with lots of crusty bread and butter.

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Eggplant and Arugula Sandwiches

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Hello and happy August. It feels strange to come back without acknowledging why I was gone. Life, essentially.  Two weddings (one in Texas, one in Illinois) meant there was quite a bit of travel. We drove to Chicago  so that I could scream the lyrics to my desert island album with 70,000 other people. (Seeing U2 was everything I had hoped it would be. After the show I told a friend it was like being baptized.) We spent a week with Aaron’s parents when they came up to Minneapolis for the 4th of July where we took them to a few of our favorite restaurants and went for a lot of walks. We spent the next week with my family in the North Woods of Wisconsin where we had a bonfire every night and drank about a case of wine. When we weren’t traveling places and hanging with people I was working my new second job leaving me with only Mondays off. And all my creative juices had been funneled into writing. Three weeks ago I wrote the last sentence of the first draft of a novel. It’s been full in the way that life gets full- messy and good and hard and ugly, all at the same time. So here’s some things I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks, and a killer new recipe.

Writing a first draft of a novel is a heady thing. Revising it will be harder. I’ve been steadily working my way through the podcast Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert, and every episode is like a balm for my uncertainty. Gilbert is equal parts guru and fairy godmother in addition to being a brave and lovely writer herself, and I find that whenever I’m feeling blah or uninspired or struggling that listening to her (or reading a passage from the accompanying book) helps get me sorted out.

There’s so much darkness going on in our country. The events in Charlottesville have left me shook, and probably you as well. I have never seen, in my lifetime, so many people empowered to say and do such hateful and destructive things. White supremacy is a disease that’s been festering in the soul of America for too long. There is no room for such things here. I have no hot takes about Charlottesville, and it will be a long time before my thoughts are coherent enough to write them down here, but this essay was floating around Facebook after Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of Philando Castille. I think it’s still deeply relevant, and it’s heartbreaking. Smaller, and Smaller, and Smaller.

Someone who always has words about the darkness and light of our country is my good friend A. If you are a fan of getting the thoughts of supremely intelligent and highly empathetic people in your emails, I’d recommend checking out her tinyletter. She signed her most recent update as “Stay Angry. Stay Safe. Take Care of Each Other.”, and that might be some of the best advice I’ve heard recently. She also includes pictures of her good dog in almost every letter, so that’s also worth checking out.

Can we acknowledge how weird our language around food has become? We talk about “clean eating” rather than dieting and “getting healthy” rather than losing weight. We get preached to about body acceptance as if it was that simple to ignore all the complicated, contradictory messages about our bodies and ourselves. It’s good that we’re not talking so much about numbers on a scale anymore but instead now we’re cloaking our language about food and weight in terms of virtue and vice in a way that’s sneaky and dangerous. I found this article from the New York Times to be illuminating and resisting easy answers. I don’t think we have easy answers. Anyone who says anything else is lying to you.

On the topic of food, I’ve been mostly riffing on leftovers and following other people’s directions. There are seasons when I feel super inspired in the kitchen, but summer isn’t one of them. I know, I know, everything’s fresh and beautiful and so simple, but cooking at its core is about transformation. And when it’s too hot to turn on the stove you end up doing a lot less transformation and a lot more grocery shopping. When following other people’s leads I made this farro with tomatoes, which was tasty and as simple as promised. I finally made Northern Spy’s kale salad (with apples instead of squash) which is, indeed, genius. I made these tacos multiple times, and declined to post them for fear of this becoming an Anna Jones fan blog. (Let’s ignore the fact that it kind of already is.) (See also: her California miso and avocado salad, this warm tomato and kale salad,  and the pasta that convinced to put avocados in spaghetti.) I’ve riffed multiple times on my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. And I made these killer eggplant sandwiches, brought them to trivia one night, and proceeded to make everyone jealous.

It’s a simple conceit. Roast eggplant, brushed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, sliced thinly and piled onto bread. A couple big handfuls of arugula, and a smear of butter. It almost sounds unremarkable, but while reading Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year, lazily looking for inspiration, I stopped. Something about these sandwiches seemed elegant and delicious and simple and unexpected. And I’m so glad I did- these sandwiches are all those things, as well as phenomenal. I’d highly recommend you make them for your next opportunity to bring your dinner with you.

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Eggplant and Arugula Sandwiches

I call for smoked salt here, as I like the way it accentuates the meaty, savory flavors of eggplant. If you can’t find smoked salt (I’ve had luck at co-ops, Whole Foods, and gourmet stores at a wide variety of prices) regular salt will still be perfectly lovely. Ruth suggests using ficelles to make these sandwiches, which I had never heard of before this recipe and Google informs me is like a very thin baguette. While it does sound particular, having made these sandwiches I can attest that you want a higher filling to bread ratio than you generally think. My game plan moving forward is to shave out the center half inch or so of my baguette.

adapted from My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl

Makes 2 sandwiches

2 medium sized eggplants, compact and shinny
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cookie sheets
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus extra for drizzling
smoked salt
ground black pepper
a couple big handfuls of arugula
one baguette
a few tablespoons softened unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 425. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on two cookie sheets, and then set aside.

Trim the edges off of the eggplants. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife slice the eggplant longways into thin, crisp strips about 1/4 inch in thickness. Lay those slices out onto an oiled cookie sheet. In a small bowl or jar, whisk together the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Using a pastry brush, brush the olive oil-balsamic blend onto the upwards facing side of the eggplant, then sprinkle with the smoked salt and black pepper. Place both trays into the oven, and roast for 10 minutes.

Carefully remove the trays, and using tongs, flip the eggplant over. Brush the new side of the eggplant with the remainder of the olive oil-balsamic mixture, sprinkle with more smoked salt and black pepper, and roast for another 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To assemble your sandwiches, slice the baguette into two pieces, and slice through the middle of each piece. Smear each side of the baguette with butter. Layer the now-cooled eggplant as you would lunchmeat, folding and draping as you go. On the other side heap on a generous handful or two of arugula. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Eat, and make everyone around you jealous.

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Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomatoes

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If there’s one thing I hate it’s living up to stereotypes. In college I never told people (read: a specific breed of men) that I liked to cook. It was the best way to avoid the inevitable women in kitchen “jokes”, not that it stopped them. As someone who now makes her living in the kitchen I have fantasies about telling such ignorant louts. (These fantasies are essentially channeling Colette from Ratatouille.) There’s something icky about matching up with these stereotypes, like you’re failing to be a fully complex human being.

But to my shame some stereotypes are accurate. Specifically, I’m terrible with technology. I like to say that I’m as good at computers as the average 50 year old, but my Mom is in her 50s and is more proficient than I am. And let’s clarify that this is a me thing, not a gender thing. The other week Aaron and I went over to our friends Anne and Brian. Aaron quickly fell into conversation about tech with Anne, while Brian and I skipped off into their basement to check out their foundation with a marble. As we hurried away Anne quipped that it was computer skills verses actual skills. Our two groups each trouble shot in our own ways- Anne figured out the computer problem at hand, and Brian and I expertly decided their foundation was sound.

All this is to say that this post almost didn’t go out today, because I couldn’t get my camera and computer to synch. I still haven’t solved the problem, and my own personal IT guy (Aaron, who in addition to bar tending used to work for an actual big tech company) has yet to troubleshoot it for me. But today I did discover, after owning my computer for almost a year, that my laptop has an SD port. Problem solved? Absolutely not. Workaround found? Yes. Good enough for me? You know it.

My reticence towards technology spreads to the kitchen sometimes. I know how to sous vide and use liquid nitrogen, but I forget about them both for long stretches of the time. That kid of cooking is deeply impractical for daily life. I have a high speed blender, and I love it, but not nearly as much as I love my chef’s knife and bench scraper. I’m much more interested in fermentation than spherification. At work it’s fun to play with ideas and techniques, but at home I love the simple and the rustic.

Rustic is the adjective I’d chose for this tart. It’s made with an olive oil tart dough, which comes together with less fuss than a butter crust. There’s no cutting in the butter, and no worries about temperature. The crust is sturdy, well suited to the type of thing to make and then leave in the fridge for a week’s lunches.

I’ve paired this tart dough with a sort of faux-quiche. Ricotta and eggs make a lovely, sturdy custard, creamy and substantial. The  custard is filled with leeks, which bring sweetness, and topped with cherry tomatoes, provide brightness in both taste and color. It’s delightfully old-fashioned,  the sort of thing people might bring on classy picnics, with champaign and designated picnic baskets. I initially made this in hope for a classy picnic of our own, but the weather has not cooperated. Instead we have been steadily chipping away at this tart for lunches (me) and dinners (Aaron) in the safety of our apartment, tasting sunshine in its absence. 

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Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomato

I would highly recommend making this ahead of time, as it keeps so lovely. 

Serves 6

1 parbaked olive oil tart shell, recipe below
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced and well washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup (8 ounces, 226 grams) ricotta
3 eggs
sea salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a sauce pan over medium heat warm the olive oil. Add the cleaned leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, with a pinch of salt until the leeks have softened, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, thyme, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the softened leeks. Pour out into the prepared olive oil tart shell.

Gently spoon the filling around the shell so that it’s level. Place the cherry tomato halves into the filling, cut side up. Press down gently so that the cut side is level with with the filling.

Bake for 40 minutes, until filling is set and the tomatoes have shrunk and concentrated a bit. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve room temperature or cold.

Olive Oil Tart Dough

Makes 1 tart shell

3/4 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cold water

Whisk together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in olive oil until the dough begins to clump together, then stir in the water. Using your hands, form the dough into ball, kneading it together if necessary. Wrap in plastic then refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and roll out onto a well-floured surface until it’s an even circle a few inches longer than your pie dish. Transfer the dough to the pie dish, patching up any holes as they occur. Crimp the edges of the tart dough down and trim as necessary, then prick the bottom of the tart a few times with a fork.

Bake the tart dough, uncovered, for 20 minutes. The tart shell should be firm to touch. Set aside until you’re ready to make the tart.

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Mushroom Risotto with Salsa Verde

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There are stacks of books on my nightstand. Books for reference, books I’m halfway through, and books that I want to read next. Our dining room table is used less for, you know, dining, and more as a makeshift desk. It’s piled at this moment with fifteen books (actual truth. Not an exaggeration). That’s not counting the heaps of books in the living room, some in front of bookshelves where there’s no space left, some set apart so I remember they belong to a friend.

The internet is marvelous but books are magical. I know I’ve met a kindred soul when we both enthuse over the scent of books. Ink and paper and age make an enchanting perfume, one that I would bottle and spray on myself if I could. The best thing about books is what’s contained inside of them. There are lives not my own that I can dip into. There are daring stories. There are Opinions and Facts and Personalities that I get to linger with. And there’s knowledge.

Because of this marvel I can never stick to only one book at a time. There are too many things to read and learn. Some days I want to read novels, others memoirs, others poetry. And always cookbooks. One fascinating thing about choosing what to read is that when you’re reading multiple things they bleed into each other. There are connections to be found that would otherwise be undiscovered.

I recently found a deeply discounted copy of Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food at my local bookshop, and found I could not ignore its call to take it home. If you ever have the opportunity to read Waters’ work I would recommend that you take it. She speaks with efficiency about the dignity and grace of simple cooking. And I love anyone, especially as esteemed a chef and restauranteur as she is, who confesses that she’s a luddite in the kitchen, preferring a sharp knife and a mortar and pestle to anything with a plug.

At the same time I’ve been steadily working through Near and Far by Heidi Swanson, a book I’ve cooked from here before. Swanson is just as gracious as Waters, and with the same emphasis on good ingredients and good eating, but where Waters is classic Swanson is contemporary. She tops a dish of soba noodles and radishes with paprika, suggests substituting yuba skins

in for pasta, and adds nori to her granola. When I came across her recipe for grilled porcinis I remembered the chapter on rice I had just read in Waters’ book, and the quart of mushroom stock languishing in the freezer. Thus this risotto was born.

Risotto has a recipe for being finicky. It’s considered date night food, not something you’d make on a weeknight. Risotto does require attention, and it will make a killer date night. But risotto can also come together in half an hour without difficultly. While making this risotto I also purged my refrigerator of old food. That’s not something you can say about a fearsome beast of a dish.

Risotto is, at its core, comfort food. It’s creamy and tender and a perfect vehicle for toppings. Risotto will happily take leftovers and turn them into something divine. However, I will argue that these mushrooms in salsa verde are a perfect pairing for risotto. They’re concentrated in flavor from grilling and topped with a tangy, herbaceous dressing. The portobellos I used in lie of porcinis echo the taste of the mushroom stock, rich and savory without becoming heavy. It tastes of early spring- both the fresh bite and the richness not yet faded from winter, and the plate looks like spring- the brown of the earth with the greens and the purples that are always the first to arrive.

Happy Friday. Happy Spring. And to those who celebrate, Happy Easter and Happy Passover.

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Mushroom Risotto with Salsa Verde

If you don’t have mushroom stock then you can easily substitute whatever sort of broth you have on hand. Risotto is adaptable in this way. If you have a little less than 5 cups of stock, feel free to lengthen it with hot water. I have not tried this trick myself, but Waters swears that if you have no white wine (and no red wine or beer to stand in for it) then adding a tablespoon or two of white wine vinegar in with the first addition of stock gives the risotto the acidity it needs.

serves 4

adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters and Near and Far by Heidi Swanson

For the risotto

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
5 cups mushroom stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese

For the mushrooms

2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 tablespoons thyme
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing mushrooms
salt and pepper

To make the risotto, melt two tablespoons of butter in a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and stir. Let the onion cook until it’s become soft and translucent but hasn’t taken on any color. Add the rice and stir well. Cook until the rice is becoming clear and is coated with the butter, but is not taking on any color.

While softening the onion and toasting the rice bring the stock to a boil in another pot. Once the stock is boiling turn off the heat. It will stay warm enough without any heat underneath it.

Once the rice is turning translucent add the wine. Stir well and let the wine simmer away. It should not take long for the wine to be absorbed. Once the wine has all cooked off add one cup of the stock, reduce the heat to low, and stir well.

Watch the risotto and stir often but not constantly. When almost all the stock has been absorbed add another 1/2 cup of stock and stir. Continue this way, watching the risotto and adding the stock as necessary. Your additions of stock should slow as the risotto cooks. Start tasting the risotto about 12 minutes into cooking the rice. The rice should be perfectly tender but not mushy. In my kitchen this took about 25 minutes. Once the rice is fully cooked add just enough broth to make it creamy but not soupy. You may not need all the stock. If for whatever reason you find you need more, feel free to stretch your stock with hot water. Stir in the final tablespoon of butter and the Pecorino cheese and season as necessary with salt and pepper.

While the risotto is cooking, make the salsa verde and mushrooms. Place the shallots in a small bowl and cover with the white wine vinegar. Let the shallots hang out in the vinegar while preparing the mushrooms.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat, and brush the mushrooms on both sides with olive oil. Once the grill pan is hot place the mushrooms on the pan to sear and cook on each side for about 3 minutes, or until the mushrooms start to shrink just a bit and have definite grill marks. Place to the side.

In a small bowl, combine the shallots, vinegar, thyme, parsley, and olive oil. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Toss the mushrooms in the salsa verde.

To serve, create a bed of the risotto on a plate and top with the mushrooms and salsa verde. Serve hot.

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Carrot, Farro, and Kale Salad

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In high school I knew a girl who used to study while watching movies. It seemed like such an efficient system. She got to pair something boring with a reward. I would try to do it myself again and again, only to find I couldn’t focus on either. I was the dork who would listen to Vivaldi instead. I know better now. I know this doesn’t work for me. But I still try sometimes- try to catch up on the TV shows everyone else is already done talking about (The Magicians) or to breeze through a podcast (S-Town) or to re-watch a favorite film (Harry Potter, always). I can listen to music while writing. Sometimes those songs can even contain words.

Creative work needs time and space. This is a lesson I keep forgetting and keep relearning. It doesn’t have to be a lot. When I taught I would bring my laptop to work and write during my lunch break. I wrote a first draft of a novel that way. It was not a great first draft, but I did it by scratching out thirty minutes a day. And yet every time I start a new creative project I freak out because my life doesn’t have space for new work. I don’t have enough time. There’s never enough time. I forget that I’ve always found a way to make time before. And I will again. If not having enough time were enough to stop creativity we as humans would have never made anything.

These past few weeks have been filled. We celebrated Aaron’s birthday (several times over) and his parents came to visit us in Minneapolis. We’ve been eating out a lot recently, which means less time for creation in the kitchen. I just started a new writing project that I’m immensely excited about. It’s a busy season, and I’m still trying make everything fit. I’m trying to adjust without guilt, to figure out a way to be present here as often as I want and to forgive myself if I’m not. Thanks for sticking with me through this season.

As metaphorical seasons change so do actual seasons. Spring is here in the bright, tentative, and cold way I’ve come to know. I love this time of year- when the light stretches and everyone who was hibernating away the winter comes outside again. I’ve seen pictures on Instagram and other blogs of people who live in warmer climates glorying in their bounty of asparagus and rhubarb and ramps and peas. Whenever I see those pictures, particularly of the brilliant pink rhubarb I find myself bursting with envy. Here it’s still root vegetables, hearty greens, and pantry staples with the occasional leek thrown in.

For a hearty but not heavy early Spring salad I roasted carrots and tossed them with cooked farro, shredded kale, and a mustard vinaigrette. I’ve been making a variation of this salad for years this time of year and I always forget how good it is until I make it again. Roasting carrots brings out their sweetness, and shredding the kale helps tame its intensity. I top this salad with white cheddar, sliced radishes, and pepitas, but you could go wild. I’ve added in walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and feta before and that’s a killer variation. One of my absolute favorite things about this salad is how well it sits. I’ve brought it on long bus rides, eaten it at picnics, and toted it to work during Saturday doubles.

What are your favorite meal salads? I hope you love this one.

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Carrot, Farro, and Kale Salad

This is an excellent lunch or potluck salad. It keeps well for days at a time, and tastes best when at room temperature.

Serves 4

3 medium carrots, peeled and quartered then sliced in half inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt
pepper
chili flakes
1 cup farro
1 medium bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves cut into thin ribbons

dressing:

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard}
salt and pepper to taste

to serve:

radishes, thinly sliced
pepitas
cheddar cheese, cut into matchsticks

Preheat the oven to 400. In a large bowl toss the carrots, olive oil, and a sprinkling each of salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Turn out the carrots onto a baking sheet. Roast the carrots, tossing halfway through, for 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender on the inside and crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile bring a pot of salty water to boil. Add the farro and boil for 15 minutes, until the farro is tender. When the farro is ready, drain the pot.

While both the farro and carrots are cooking, make the dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl add the shredded kale. Top with the farro and the carrots. Drizzle with the dressing and toss the salad. Top with your desired amount of radish, pepitas, and cheddar cheese. Serve room temperature.

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