Embracing The Fungus – Mushroom Barley Soup

The weather has been pretty nuts here lately.  Not that I’m complaining, with my absolute hate of the bitter cold.  But it seems a bit odd to me when the days of January are sporting temperatures in the 50’s and (low) 60’s; and that oddness is compounded when you’re eating stews and other wintry-themed dished.  Madness!

Mushrooms Pearl Barley

Heather and I have both been trying to expand our horizons this year; returning to ingredients that we have less than pleasant feelings towards.  One of the big ones for me is the mushroom.  It’s a friggin’ fungus!  As a friend of mine once said: “you might as well lick the bottom of your shoe.”  To be fair, I’ve been slowly coming around to these suckers.  The stock I made for Slow Cooker week was quite successful and Lost Dog Cafe has, by far, the best veggie burger I have ever had (WITH mushrooms).  So here I go, jumping into the world of mushrooms!

The Makings Of Soup

Barley is not an ingredient you see very often in recipes, which is a shame.  Pearled barley is simple, healthy grain to work with and has a nutty flavor with a chewy texture.  It serves as an excellent thickener too.  I used this to complement some white button mushrooms.  And the result?  A tasty mushroom soup I’ll actually enjoy eating!  The flavor is subtle, but delicious.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Mushroom Barley Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion; chopped
1 carrot; diced
1 stalk celery; diced
1 cup pearl barley; rinsed and drained
10 oz mushrooms; cleaned and sliced (I used white button)
6 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 fresh chives
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat a large stock pot under medium heat and cook the onion, carrot and celery with olive oil until softened; approximately 5-8 minutes. Add your remaining ingredients and simmer until the barley is soft but chewy. Serve and enjoy!

Take That Winter! Thick And Hearty Lentil Stew

Happy 2010 everyone! I hope you all had a joyous holiday and a fun (and safe) New Years Eve. I traveled to the windy and disturbingly cold Chicago for Christmas to see quite a few members of the extended family. Despite the shivering, it was a great time and well worth the twelve hour drive it took to get there (that’s right, we drove there).  My family, with our German roots, is not big on the vegetarian cuisine and the term “light” does not enter the vocabulary either (I believe the word is “licht”, in case you were wondering).  There will be much to make up for these following months.

The new year has started off wickedly cold up here in DC and the strong winds we’ve been getting lately have been so horrid I have given serious thought to becoming a professional hermit.  I suppose moving would be a little more realistic….  Regardless, I shall be cutting down on any non-essential trips out of my building and surrounding myself with whatever keeps me warm.


I’ve always loved meals with copious chunks of fruit or vegetables and this is because I’ve always been a picker.  I would always start munching on whatever Mom was making for dinner before it was ready until she kicked me out of the kitchen.  My sister HATED this (“he’s putting his hands in our food!”).  You can’t really “pick” a piece of biscuit or spaghetti.  You’re either going to get caught or burned.  But fruit salad, roasted vegetables?  Score.

ANYWAY, with winter in full swing I wanted something as well as filling, so I took a recipe from my hero Alton Brown and stewified it; making it heartier.  Next time, I shall add a potato, I believe, but the broccoli was a great addition as part of the soup and for picking potential (you can pick from soup.  it’s just harder).  Try this next time you’re looking for something to warm the deep chill out of your bones.

Thick and Hearty Lentil Stew

Thick and Hearty Lentil Stew
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions; chopped
2 medium carrots; diced
1 stalk celery; chopped
4 cloves garlic; minced
1/3 cup fresh chopped cilantro
3/4 lb green lentils; rinsed and drained
1 head of broccoli; chopped into small florets
3 medium tomatoes; chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
12 cups water/stock
1/4 cup lemon juice
10oz spinach; roughly chopped

Sweat the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and cilantro until the onions have softened. Add the lentils, broccoli, tomatoes, spices and water/stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the spinach and lemon juice and simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Third Annual Bake-a-Thon

So Bake-a-Thon was a little different this year. In year’s past, a bunch of us have gathered at Edwin’s apartment where we work like a chain gang for an entire day – measuring, mixing, chilling, baking, cleaning, repeat.

edwin mixing

This year we hosted the event at Jane’s house, which provided us with a lot more room to scamper around in the kitchen. Bake-a-Thon also coincided with a historically large snow fall on the east coast that barricaded us inside (except for Edwin, who seems to enjoy taking his life in his hands).

jane scary face

But those who weren’t already at Jane’s when the snow started falling could never make it over, thus our chain gang was cut in half. And since everyone brings a recipe of their choice to the event, we were down in cookie varieties. Some bakers even had technical difficulties (sigh… me…). Bake-a-Thon 2009 was, you could say, a struggle. I could tell you tales of hardened espresso powder and overly softened butter…

jane espresso

We also had distractions – watching snow accumulate outside, a whining furry puppy trying to steal butter wrappers out of the trash and New Super Mario Brothers for Wii – we were bombarded on all fronts. It was also the first time I had actually seen Edwin and Jane since moving to Charlottesville in August. Now that I think about it, it’s truly amazing that any cookies were made at all.

edwin stirring

Holiday baking is a battlefield. I also forgot my apron and hat – Qué lástima!


There was also some PDA in the kitchen. Tye set up a video camera in the kitchen, so I’m sure there is a time-lapse video of all the trials and tribulations somewhere.

edwin's doughbutter

Edwin probably walks away with the cookie award for his perfectionism in the kitchen. He moved along on schedule and his cookies looked beautiful.

jane tea

Jane enjoyed some tea.

mario party break

Right before a round of Super Mario Bros Wii.

steak break

Yeah… there was a steak break, too. Courtesy of Dong.

edwin circles

Edwin drowned his guilt about gorging on steak by heading back to work.

edwin butter

See? He’s not even looking at the pretty snow outside.

jane espresso dough

We all had a laugh at Jane’s Espresso Shortbread Cookie dough. Something is just odd about pouring dough in a Ziploc.

jane edwin

Edwin arranged his cookies to cool, while Jane ate them.

cherrycherry cookies

Edwin’s Sour Cherry Hamantaschen

russian tea cakesfinished tea cakes

I was very embarrassed about my Russian Tea Cakes. I’ve made them 100 times without problems, but the 101st time really got me. Two batches – one with butter softened via microwave and one with it left out for 45 minutes – neither was perfect.

espresso shortbread

Jane had success with the Espresso-Chocolate Shortbreads from Smitten Kitchen.


Tune in next year for the 4th Annual Bake-a-Thon! Will we have another record-breaking snow? Will Edwin finally fall victim to distraction? Will I ever reconcile my differences with room temperature butter? Time will tell…

A Pot Pie That Isn’t A Brick

Vegetable Pot Pie

Pot pies.  That term does not stir up pleasant images in my head.  Thick pies of lead is what I see.  This image was not improved upon when I began my fast food career in high school.  There is nothing behind those counters that makes your mouth water and pot pies are certainly no exception.  I’ll leave at that, only saying that twenty pound tubs of butter are gross.

Vegetable Pot Pie

I don’t think we ever did the pot pie thing in my family and, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had one.  The weather here has been pretty nice for November but every now and then it dips down and I want something warm and hearty.  Having nothing to really go on with regard to what a pot pie should be, I decided to just go with what I would want out of a pot pie: strong presence of veggies with something that doesn’t make me feel like I ate a brick.

Vegetable Pot Pie

Vegetable Pot Pie

Any pie crust (flaky, biscuit, etc)
3 pounds yellow onion; sliced in halves
5 ounces butternut squash; cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 ounces broccoli; cut into small floret pieces
1 carrot cut into 1/2 inch half slices
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup cream (heavy, light, your choice)
1/2 vegetable stock
1 tablespoon dried marjoram

Prepare a 9 inch pie pan with your crust and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400.

Saute the onion under medium high heat with 1 table spoon of oil until browned, stirring only occasionally; approximately 6 minutes. Move to a large mixing bowl and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute the squash and carrots in two teaspoons of oil for 3-4 minutes until browning and add to bowl of onions. Saute the broccoli, corn and peas in one tablespoon oil for two minutes then add the vegetables back to the pan. Toss to mix, and the cream, stock, marjoram and mix together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fill the pie pan with your vegetables and either top with more crust or sprinkle with cheddar. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the crust (or vegetables) have become browned or crisp. Serve and enjoy.

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves – Cooking with Winter Vegetables

My husband got me a really interesting new cookbook for Christmas called In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruits by Sarah Raven. I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about ways to cook using vegetables that are in season; a better description of my style would be haphazard or erratic (and let’s face it, I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about vegetables, period). But this is a beautiful book with a lot of great ideas.


For January and February cooking, the book recommends cabbages, chicories, citrus, evergreen herbs and winter salad greens. I decided to try a stuffed cabbage recipe.

rice onions turkey bacon and pork

Back in November, Edwin posted a quasi-Indian style vegetarian cabbage roll dish. This one is pretty different from that (the original recipe author is from Hungary). The recipe in the book called for a lot of things – bacon, ground beef, chopped mixed herbs and sauerkraut. It was my goal to pare it down a bit. I also tried to make it a little healthier, eliminating the bacon for turkey bacon and holding off on the ground beef completely.

cabbage rolls

This was my first dish from this book, and I was a little disappointed at the way the instructions are written. A few of the steps seem to leave a great deal to the imagination. For example, Edwin’s cabbage recipe calls for boiling the cabbage head until the leaves begin separating. My recipe didn’t mention anything about that, and so I found it very difficult to peel off the leaves in one piece. I probably pulled off about 6 large, fat leaves and the rest were moderately ripped and shredded in the process. Hopefully it was just a fluke for this recipe.

I think this turned out well and I will likely make it again. What do you put in your cabbage rolls?

cabbage rolls ready

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
adapted from In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruits
(yields about 20 rolls, total prep and cook time is approx. 1 1/2 hours)

1 cabbage
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup (6 ounces) turkey bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon marjoram, thyme and dill
salt and pepper (dash)
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup cooked long-grain white rice
1 egg, beaten
1 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350F.

(I’ve inserted Edwin’s instructions here for peeling the leaves so that you don’t have the same problem I did) – Core the hard part of the cabbage (the stem mostly) from the base. Boil in a large pot of boiling, salted water. In about 5-10 minutes, when the leaves begin separating, remove from the pot. Let cool.

Remove the thickest part of the cabbage leaves to make them easier to roll.

Fry the turkey bacon in a shallow pan and set aside. In the same pan, add onion, garlic, marjoram, thyme, dill, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper on low heat so as not to burn it.

In a large skillet, combine raw pork, cooked rice, cooked turkey bacon and onion mixture. Add the beaten egg to bind the mixture and season with salt and pepper. Stir occassionally until cooked.

When cooked, place approximately two spoonfuls of the mixture on a cabbage leaf. Roll the leaf, starting from the stem and and tuck in the edges. Place the rolls, seam down, in a shallow baking or casserole dish. Pour brother over the leaves and add bay leaf and a dash of dill. Cook, covered, for approximately one hour.

Bake-A-Thon 2008 – Love In Edible Form

December is a special time of the year for many of us. Whether you’re celebrating the religious or secular aspects of the season, there’s a bit of magic in the air. It’s a time to enjoy family and friends, to reflect on the year, to simply remember what’s important in life.

Finishing Touches

Part of that for me is making sure the important parts aren’t drowned out by the unimportant. I talk specifically about the rampant commercialism that seems to go hand in hand with the holidays. I’m sure this is nothing you haven’t heard before. We all want to express our love and appreciation for those special people in our lives and somehow this has evolved into purchasing gifts for them. This isn’t to say a symbol in material form is inherently bad, but it’s easy to get caught up in a belief that love must be expressed in through a price tag.

Rugelach FunRaw Cookie Dough

I have many people in my life that I am truly grateful for; people that are hard to imagine without. And I want to tell them this. I want them to know what they mean to me and that I am thinking of them; whether they be someone from my past who I’ve fallen out of touch with or someone new and still getting to know. And I want to do this without attaching a receipt to the act or making them feel obligated to do the same. (How many times have you received a gift from someone only to feel a twinge of regret for having not bought them one as well?)

White Chocolate Cherry ChunkiesRugelach Slicing

I started a tradition last year with some friends that I call Bake-A-Thon. Bake-A-Thon is a day in December where a bunch of my fellow baking enthusiasts (Heather included) and I get together to bake cookies for the entire day. After all the baking is done and the cookies have been cooled, we divvy them up and send them to out respective loved ones. This is our way of taking our passion and using it to show our love and appreciation for those special people in our lives.


Bake-A-Thon 2008 took place this past weekend and went even better than last year’s. Each baker selected one cookie recipe and together baked several batches from each. This year’s line up was Lebkuchen, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Rugelach Pinwheels and White Chocolate Cherry Chunkies. We all had fun and the cookie turnout was immense. Bake-A-Thon will be a tradition for years to come.

Our Bounty