Thursday, January 29, 2009

Barley with Creamy Sundried Tomato Sauce

Since we visited the Iron Barley Restaurant in St. Louis on New Year's Eve, and Clint and I have been experimenting with barley in our cooking. It was served to us on that evening in so many different formats—smoked with tomatoes, in an orzo dish, as a salad—that our eyes were really opened to what a versatile whole grain it is.

I tried to replicate the sundried tomato barley that came with Clint's oak-roasted prime rib, at the restaurant. I didn't even come close, but what I did "invent" was delicious.

(I went the "low-fat" route on this recipe, and used fat-free Half & Half, and low-fat mozzarella.)

Barley with Creamy Sundried Tomato Sauce

*Cook barley separately, and set aside. (See Notes on Barley, at the end of this recipe.)

Onion, chopped
Garlic, chopped
1 portabello mushroom cap, cubed
sundried tomatoes (I used tomatoes packed in oil)
parsley (I used curley)
splash of red wine, if desired
1 c. Half & Half
1/4 c. mozzarella
Parmesan cheese

Saute onion, garlic and mushroom in a little olive oil. Add the tomatoes and parsley, and a splash of red wine, if desired. Cook down til wine reduces.

Stir in the cream and cheeses. Simmer and stir on low until cheeses melt, and sauce thickens .

At this point, I just stir in barley until I find a nice ratio of vegetables to grain. I prefer my dishes to be a little heavier on the veggies and sauce.

Not a gorgeous photo of the finished side dish above, I know, but it tasted mahhhvehlous, dahlink. Give it a try, adjust your veggies and sauces, and let me know how yours turns out!

A Few Notes on Barley

There are different levels of processed barley. I'll just give a quick rundown; if you want more info, click here.

Quick (Pearled) Barley cooks in 10 minutes. It's processed, has outer hulls stripped off, and cooks faster, but it's not as good for you as hulled barley. Think instant/white rice v. brown rice, or instant v. steel cut oats. The 10-minute stuff is fine, but I'm out for high-fiber and more nutrition, and prefer hulled.

I found two different types of Hulled Barley at Strawberry Fields. It is much cheaper than the boxed quick barley, at $1.59 lb. Read the bins! One type of barley takes 45 minutes to cook, while there's another that requires an overnight soaking. I plan most of my meals on the fly, and an overnight soaking doesn't work. I get the 45-minute stuff.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Food Buzz 24-24-24

I was blessed with an invitation, on Saturday night, to join some local food bloggers for dinner at The Apple Dumplin, in Urbana.

FoodBuzz held a contest: 24 bloggers from 24 cities joined to cook or eat out, and then blog about their event, within the same 24 hours. Champaign's own Lisa Morgan of Champaign Taste, was one of the bloggers chosen to participate.

Lisa's theme was "Comfort Food on the Prairie," and she invited local food bloggers to join her in the eating of the Midwestern comfort food, and to discuss that entailed, to us.

I was thrilled to be invited to come along for the event, and to meet other local bloggers. I addition to great Midwestern fare at the Apple Dumplin, I left the meal smiling over how much we covered, conversationally, in 2.5 hours we were there.

We all seemed to grow up from different regions, so our "definition" of comfort food varied a great deal. We discussed Thanksgiving dinners: Homemade noodles on mashed potatoes in some households was unheard of, while it was as important as the pumpkin pie in others. Some of the guests there had never eaten a homemade noodle, and we laughed when one asked the waitress what the difference was between a biscuit and a roll.

We talked about cooking. About our Mother's cooking: "Doesn't everyone think their mother was a fantastic cook, though," Lisa asked. A few of us shook our heads NO, and I was "forced" to regale the table with tales of my mother's soup that my sister and I entitled "Garbage Soup."

We discussed baking, and desserts, and Kitchen-aid mixers. The layouts of our kitchen, and the layout of our dream kitchens. We talked about catering, and restaurants.

It was great fun, and very interesting. I left surprised at how much I learned in the course of the evening, and how we actually stuck to topic. You you go to a book club and no one ever really discusses the book? Perhaps I was expecting a bit more of that.

Oh, we also talked about food photography. For an example of everything done wrong there, here's a photo of the final course of the evening: An Apple Dumplin:

Tsk. White balance is off, who put that shrimp tail on that butter thing, and seriously, clean that spot of caramel off of the edge of the bowl. Presentation is everything.

Or not. I'm sure the lousy photography isn't deterring you from realizing how yummy that dessert is. Be ready to split one, I could only eat half, and packing up the melted ice cream to take the other half to Clint didn't sound appetizing.

This blog has lately been more of a holding place for my recipes for my own personal reference. Lisa has lately motivated me to post here, more often, and was kind enough to include me as a "food blogger" for this event.

I'm going to try to update it so it's a "proper" Food Blog, and make Lisa proud.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Giving LeCreuset a Run for the Money: Crofton Enameled Cast Iron pans

For all of the cooking that we do, I'm embarrassed to admit that I do not have a decent set of pans. Good knives, cutting boards, baking stones, a plethora of gadgets and lots of good ingredients, but my pans are an abomination to cooks everywhere.

Tsk. I'm working on that. As we work on building our new kitchen, we dream about the pans we'll buy, possibly one-by-one until we have a respectable set. Some good anodized Calphalon pans, perhaps.

I drool over LeCreuset enameled cast iron pans. I recently nearly flipped when I read that I'd missed out on a vintage set at the Habitat for Humanity store on University Avenue. Still, I imagine that even if I had gotten to them first, I'd have have been unable to afford even the used set.

It's good though, because look what the cast iron pan fairy left me this weekend:

My sister actually left that enameled cast iron grill pan in my car this weekend. She knows my pans suck, and decided to get my collection started. She told me where she bought that pan, and that there were others to add to my collection, if I was interested.

You won't believe this:


Yes, our local discount grocery has a series of Crofton brand, enameled cast iron pans, and they're on sale this week. When she told me this, I went immediately to Aldi, and bought the 5-quart dutch oven to match the skillet.

I've done a bit of research on the Crofton pans, and the reports are positive. No warping, no chipping of enamel; everyone seems pretty darn pleased with their Crofton cookware.

LeCreuset 5-quart Dutch oven: $200.75

Crofton 5-quart Dutch oven: $29.99

My initial review, after cooking up one batch of vegetable soup and 1 good winter steak (summer steaks are on the grill, you know): Love them. They heated evenly, and cleaned up like a dream. Be forewarned that they're heavy and require some care and strength to manipulate. I imagine myself giving them away when I'm a little old lady, but I can get a lot of good cooking in between now and then.

Aldi's only has the set in red. I love the red myself, but if you're collecting another color, you're out of luck.

Next blog: My latest food lesson: How to cook a great steak in a cast iron pan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Seafood Orechiette with Garlic Chips

I'm not sure if I've overlooked orechiette in the local grocery stores, or if I lucked out when I recently found it at ArtMart. Nonetheless, I was eager to try this pasta that I've never cooked with before.

Seafood Orechiette with Garlic Chips

Garlic Chips: Slice cloves of garlic as thin as you can. Fry on medium heat in a pat or two of butter until they crisp up and remove to paper towel. These will keep, to sprinkle on other italian and asian dishes.

Seafood Orichiette:

1/2 lb shrimp
1 lb bay scallops
1 to 1-1/2 c. fish stock (I used fish boullion)
olive oil
1/2 c. fresh curly parsley, minced (reserve some for garnishing)

Saute minced garlic in olive oil until it begins to brown.

Add shrimp and scallops and cook for about 3 minutes.

Add about 1 cup of the fish stock, and the parsley. Simmer until stock reduces and thickens, add extra stock as necessary. I put a teaspoon of cornstarch into the last 1/2 cup of broth, to thicken the sauce before serving.

Toss sauce over cooked orechiette pasta, and garnish with fresh parsley and garlic chips.

Brussels Sprouts

The brussels sprouts are sliced as thinly as possible, and sauted for a minute or so in olive oil and minced garlic. Serve them just as they warm through, so they're still crunchy & nutty, and not wilted. If you like, a splash of fresh lemon is good on these also.