Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Make Soup: Mushroom Barley Edition

My last encounter with barley was in December. I spent New Years Eve vacationing in the mountains, nearly snowed in with a bunch of great friends. So I made barley soup for everyone. Not exactly the life of the party, but good hearty eating for sure.

Although not currently snowed in, I decided that today was a perfect day to make soup. In mid-January San Diego is still a sunny 65 degrees, but it was a little breezy today so it felt a bit like winter. (I'm really stretching it here, I know.) As I sat in my backyard enjoying the sun, helping my husband brew a batch of Steam Beer, the smell of malted grain and barley got to me. (Yes, I am married to a brewer!) He turns barley into beer, I turn barley into soup. I think it's a good set of talents to have in one household.

The first step in prepping this soup is to pour yourself a fine beverage, preferably one that pairs well with hearty soup. This Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir from Au Bon Climat is a favorite of ours. I can attest that it was certainly a pleasure to cook with a glass of this in hand.

A Quick note: The thing about barley soup is that it takes commitment. Once you get some broth boiling and toss in the barley, it takes over an hour to cook the grains. An hour and a half even if you use hulled barley. Perfect if you've got an afternoon to putter around the stove; not so good for a last minute weeknight dinner. Also, in this soup vegetables are added near the end, allowing them to cook until just tender without turning them to mush. Enjoy!

Mushroom Barley Soup.
Yield: 1 pot!
4-6 cups vegetable broth (Trader Joe's brand or homemade are my favorites)
1 cup barley (pearled cooks faster, hulled barley is higher in fiber)
1 can diced tomatoes, or 2 actual diced tomatoes
1 tsp salt, but reduce if using packaged broth containing salt
several grinds of black pepper
2-4 cups water, as needed
1-2 carrots
2-3 ribs celery
8 ounces cremini mushrooms
plus broccoli, cabbage, or other assorted vegetables.

In a large soup pot over plenty of heat, bring the broth to a boil. Add the barley, tomatoes, pepper and salt, then let liquid return to a boil. Turn the heat down and allow the barley to cook at a generous simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The barley will soak up a lot of liquid, so add water as needed to keep everything well hydrated.

While the broth and barley simmers on the stove filling your house with great aromas, chop up the carrot, celery, and mushrooms. If you've got them, now is the time to also chop broccoli, cabbage, etc. After 1 hour of cooking the barley, add in the chopped vegetables. Slightly lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook the soup for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the barley is cooked through and the vegetables are just tender. Taste for salt before serving.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Graduate Student no Longer


Cheers! Sunday evening is a great time for a cocktail, is it not? I just recently finished up school and started my first real job, finally becoming a contributing member of society. My husband also just started up a new year at his job after taking the summer off (teachers need the whole summer to recuperate, so I'm told). We just realized we're all ready to face another week ahead, and wanted to sit back, relax, and enjoy the evening. So naturally we headed to the liquor cabinet.

Living in San Diego, in such close proximity to Mexico, great margaritas should be flowing on every corner, in every cantina. Unfortunately, we've been searching for the perfect margarita for quite some time here, and have yet to find it. Sure, we have our favorite watering hole where the tequila is good and chips and salsa are fresh. But most places seem to cater to the tourist crowd where margaritas are served pre-mixed, in huge glasses, and with plenty of high fructose corn syrup and "lime flavoring." Sad, so so sad. So when we want a perfect margarita we have to take matters into our own hands.

Break out the shaker! The best rule I've found to making a decent margarita is to use just three ingredients:
a. tequila
b. orange liqueur (we use triple sec)
c. fresh lime juice

The ratio that our tastes prefer is a 3:2:1. Simple, right? Easy to remember even when tired after a hard day's work, or when tipsy after a few rounds.

So, here we go, Margaritas for Two-

Measure out 3 shots of tequila into a glass.
Add 2 shots of triple sec.
Top off with 1 shot of lime juice.
Shake with ice, then pour into margarita glasses.
Savor with ease; it's not Monday yet.

Feel free to salt the rims of the glasses, but I usually don't. The salt in the chips and salsa should be enough!

A fun tip: One lime usually equals about one shot, how convenient is that? But juice yield per lime can vary, so I usually squeeze the lime into a separate glass, then measure out a shot.

Here's to hoping we all have a great week!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sometimes, a Girl Needs a Cocktail


I've been busy the last few weeks. I just submitted my dissertation to my doctoral committee, summarizing the past 7 years of my research. It felt Really Good to finish that huge tome and hand it over to the six men who's signatures determine my fate.

In celebration of that feat, and to ease the accumulated tension of seven stressful years, I'm throwing a few back tonight. Just thought I'd let the internet know.

I'm starting off with a fresh mint mojito. Fresh because the mint came from the plant that my husband grows on our balcony. Can't really get fresher than that.

Recipe for "You're almost there! Mojito"
Serves 1

3 sprigs mint, fresh cut.
1/2 lime, quartered or otherwise cut up
2 shots white rum
splash of simple syrup to taste
club soda

Cut some mint stems from your plant. Rinse off the leaves if there is dust or bugs. Or skip rinsing entirely, because basically it's just another step standing in the way of you and your drink. Put the leaves into a cocktail glass with the lime. Use a muddler to muddle the crap out of the produce. Or use a wooden spoon like I did because let's face it, no one actually owns a muddler. Add in the rum and some ice. Start with a bit of simple syrup (or sub white grape juice if you happen to have it in your fridge, or really anything sweet and not overpowering in flavor) and fill the glass with club soda. Or tonic water, like I did, because I happened to have a cold can of it. Stir it all up, top with a pink bendy straw, and drink to your success. Repeat as necessary.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Breakfast for Dinner- Tofu Florentine


I love a big hearty breakfast, something that sticks with me a good part of the day. Incidentally I also love a big hearty breakfast eaten at dinner, preferably washed down with a cocktail. I just got home from a long day (long week!) at work and I'm starving as usual. I would die for some of these florentines right now. I found this picture that I'd taken awhile ago, during testing for Veganomicon.

The florentine is composed of a toasted english muffin (whole foods brand is vegan last time I checked) stacked with steamed spinach, broiled tofu, and smothered in a tangy cheezy sauce.

I'm going to pretend that's what I'm eating for dinner tonight. In reality I'm likely going to end up having margaritas and some tums. That's all I have energy for. But I can dream, sweet florentine dreams.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Frosting Tip

I decided to take my cupcake decorating to the next level and invest in some quality hardware. I found this tip in the discount bin at a local kitchen supply store. I have no idea what the numbers on it mean, but they make me feel scientific.

Google tells me the tip is a rosette nozzle, but basically the frosting comes out looking similar to soft serve ice cream. So I practiced my skills on some mini cupcakes.

After a little practice, the frosting looks presentable. I'm not quite ready to submit my resume to Charm City Cakes, but I kinda impressed myself.


Vegan Buttercream Frosting

With a hand mixer, beat together equal parts shortening and margarine. I used about a half a cup each non-hydrogenated crisco and Earth Balance. Add in about a cup of powdered sugar and continue to beat. Throw in a splash of soymilk to make it smooth. You'll realize you probably added too much liquid, so now add in some more powdered sugar. Keep adding a bit more soymilk and powdered sugar until you get a fluffy frosting.

Sidenote: The frosting pictured above was this recipe but with broken Chocolate Joe Joe's cookies blended in. I used the cookies 'n creme frosting for some other cupcakes, then kept the frosting in the fridge for a week. I brought it to room temp, re-beat it with some soymilk, and the cookies dissolved and made chocolate frosting. And it still tastes good. Gross? Probably. Do I care? Evidently not.

Burger Time

My Trader Joe's has these WildWood Tofu Veggie Burgers for $2.69 and I've walked past them a few times thinking they're too expensive. They come two burgers per pack, and although $2.69 is not a ton of money, it's a lot when I consider the 19oz block of tofu sitting right next to the burgers is only $1.19. But enough grocery details, the point is I finally unscrewed my tightwad attitude and bought a pack.

They don't come with cooking instructions, or at least I didn't see any. I guess they figure if you're brave enough to buy a Tofu Veggie Burger you're probably too brazen to follow directions anyway. So into my cast iron skillet they went. When in doubt, fry.

They came out pretty tasty, crisp outside and firm yet tender inside. The burgers seem like they would be sturdy enough to cook on a grill too. WildWood doesn't attempt to make them taste at all like meat, which is an asset in my opinion, so the taste is of a basic seasoned tofu. I'll keep these in mind for summer parties, they're definitely better than other veggie patties I've tried.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Afternoon Delight


I've been away from my kitchen for awhile, out gallivanting on the other side of the country. While I was living the high life in New York and Boston, my kitchen in San Diego was lying dormant, the stove collecting dust. Yes, my husband was still at home while I was away, but he reverted to full bachelor mode and only used the kitchen to store empty pizza boxes.

This afternoon I made these chocolate chip pecan cookies as a little welcome home present for myself. They're a much needed comfort food because the delicious but greasy cuisine of New York left me with a heavy feeling in my stomach.

And I'm always looking for an excuse to break out the Big Red. It's serious about mixing.


There's no messing around here. Well, actually there was a small incident with the speed control that flung a few glops of cookie dough out of the bowl. But other than that I mean, there was no messing around.


The recipe is from "The Joy of Vegan Baking," by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. It makes my kind of cookie: crisp exterior with a soft and yielding interior. And we just discovered that if you eat enough of them straight out of the oven, there really isn't any need to eat dinner. A meal replacement cookie, sort of.