BEEF AND BARLEY SOUP


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I found this boomerang at an estate sale.  This is not just any boomerang, it is a piece of hand-painted aboriginal art:

One definition of boomerang offered by Urban Dictionary is a “frisbee for a kid with no friends.”  I had a boomerang once, but forgot how to throw it — then it came back to me (groan).  Fortunately, this boomerang came with directions:

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Too much math for me

The boomerang is loosely based on the concept that what goes around comes around (no kidding, right?).  This is also the concept on which leftovers are based, and which has inspired this recipe for Beef and Barley Soup.

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about a dish known as Mississippi Roast “one of the most popular recipes on the web.”  The recipe calls for a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Mix and a packet of McCormick Au Jus Gravy Mix, which you sprinkle over the chuck roast you have placed in your slow cooker, and top with a stick of butter and a few peperoncini.

Roast 1

Cook on low for 8 hours, and voila:

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The roast was just fine, and could not have been easier, but the packets are a deal-breaker for a lot of folks — you know, chemicals, sodium, etc. — the whole “factory-to-table” thing.  I’d have to admit that I prefer my own recipe for pot roast, with seared meat, tomato paste, red wine, herbs, and veggies.  Anyway, we had a lot of leftovers, and there’s only so many nights in a row you can eat the same meal (our limit being two), so I had to repurpose the leftover roast.  Beef and Barley Soup has become one of our favorite hearty soups.  Whenever we have a roast or steak, we always make sure to save a piece in order to make the soup, so having leftover Mississippi Roast was actually something we were quite happy about.

BEEF AND BARLEY SOUP
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Recipe type: Soup
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup chopped leftover beef (roast beef, pot roast, etc.)
  • ½ cup pearled barley
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent. Add beef, barley, broth, water, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 1 hour, until barley is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. If necessary, thin soup with additional beef broth.

 

Soup’s on!

boomerang

BAKED CARDOONS WITH BREADCRUMBS AND PARMESAN

We’ve been enjoying glorious spring weather here in Houston.  Cultivated bluebonnets are appearing in neighboring yards:

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Frilly azaleas are in full bloom (on the heels of the redbuds, lorapetalum, and Japanese magnolias).  It’s almost as if the city were spray painted with big splotches of pink, purple, and white:

Those are what I call azaleas!

These huge azaleas tend to be found on older homes.  Landscapers today tend to favor Encore azaleas, which grow in tidier formations not much more than about 16 inches tall, and promise to bloom year round.  (The “bloom year round” thing, unfortunately, is kind of a joke.  They manage to choke out a few blossoms in the warmer weather, but they are decidedly not spectacular.)

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  Encore azaleas

I came across a tree that was filled with birds that I didn’t instantly recognize.  There must have been 30 of them, flitting about, eating the berries on the tree.  I sat and watched them for a while, completely mesmerized.  I later learned that they were Cedar Waxwings.

 

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Cedar Waxwings

The farmers market was packed this weekend, with people coming from all over to enjoy the great weather.  I came home with some beautiful produce, including tender broccoli side shoots (we love these):

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Green onions in bud (I think these look like baby leeks, but am always told they are green onions):

And never-cease-to-delight-me candy-striped Chioggia beets:

IMG_2495 Don’t be fooled by their plain exterior

The beauty within

Most of the produce came from Atkinson Farms, one of my favorite vendors.  As I completed my purchase and started to walk away, I noticed something on a back table, a sort of Land of Misfit Vegetables.  Beep, beep, beep — I backed up to get a better look.  Wait.  Was that . . . .   Could it be . . . ?  Cardoons?

Mr. Atkinson confirmed that they were, in fact, cardoons.  Up until then, I had only read about cardoons, and at this point, my nose was probably twitching with excitement.  I asked him what do you do with them, and he answered with the same answer I get whenever I ask him about any vegetable he sells — “eat them.”  I told him I figured that out, and he kind of smiled and very patiently explained to me how to prepare them.  Turns out, they are a bit of work, which is why, he said, people don’t like to buy them.  Silly people.  He handed me a bunch, told me they were on him, and to let him know what I thought of them.  Oh, Joy is my new middle name!

Cardoons, like artichokes, are thistle-like members of the sunflower family.   Mr. Atkinson was right, they are a bit of work.  You first have to strip the leaves, which are bitter, and trim the outside layer, which is stringy.  I’m not sure how to describe the inside of the stalk — it looks like a series of tubes.  As the stalks mature, they become hollow and more stringy.

Next, the prepared cardoons need to be simmered in salted water for about 30 minutes until they’re tender.  Then they’re ready to be used in any number of ways — sliced and added to pasta, breaded and fried, gratineed, etc.

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I topped my cardoons with a mixture of 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, then dotted it with about a tablespoon of butter and baked at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the topping was browned.

IMG_2574Looking at cardoons, you might expect them to taste like celery.  You would be wrong, and really, why would you want to go to all that trouble for something that tastes like celery, when you could just eat celery?  You may have heard that they taste like artichokes.  More accurately, they taste EXACTLY like artichoke hearts.  And for that, the hassle is worth it.

EASTER-Y DEVILED EGGS

Every year around this time I get lots of visitors to the blog looking for cute deviled egg ideas for Easter.  Apparently deviled eggs are not just popular in the South!  So for those of you hunting for a fun appetizer for an Easter meal, here’s the updated 2016 annual roundup of Easter-y deviled eggs.

Your family will cluck with approval at these cute little chicks from swellkid:

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Use a small ice cream scoop to make these stand-up stand-out Easter chicks from delish:

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 A plateful of cute Easter critters from saveonfoods.com:

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These colorful ones from Real Mom Kitchen are sure to wow:

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Little hens and chicks from eye candy (not sure which one she made first, the hen or the chicks):

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Keep ’em guessing with deviled egg bunnies/mice from MyFudo:

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T’was the night before Easter and all through the house . . . .

Everyone will ooh and aah at this pretty springtime presentation from Hungry Happenings:

Making deviled eggs into daisies [1]

What kid could possibly resist these adorable bunny eggs from Paas?

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Another cute bunny idea (although I might leave the whiskers off) comes from PapaWow:

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And adorable bunny feet eggs from Hungry Happenings:

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A basket of deviled egg cuteness (soak celery in water to make it pliable for the handle):

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Here’s another adorable Easter basket deviled egg from Taste of Home with candy-coated sunflower seed eggs:

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If you’d prefer something a little more reverent for Easter, you might try these carrot crosses from Happier than a Pig in Mud:

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Not deviled eggs, but here’s a few fun ways to serve hard-boiled eggs for Easter and use up those leftover dyed eggs:

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fivehearthome.com

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Gather a few giggles with these hatching eggs from Hungry Happenings:

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Here’s my own recipe for Easter Lily Deviled Eggs! Feel free to use your favorite recipe for deviled eggs, or try a new one — like this great-sounding one for Chipotle Cilantro Deviled Eggs from Savoury Table.

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EASTER LILY DEVILED EGGS
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Recipe type: Appetizers
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 mini fillo shells (recipe developed with Athens brand)
  • Paprika (sweet or smoked), to garnish
Instructions
  1. Slice eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks and place in a small bowl; set whites aside. Add mayonnaise and mustard to bowl, and using a fork, mash together with yolks until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon or pipe yolk mixture into fillo shells. Cut triangular petals from reserved egg whites with a sharp paring knife. For each deviled egg cup, arrange 5 petals decoratively around filling, sprinkle paprika lightly over filling, and serve.

 

easter-lily[1] Happy Easter!

BLACK WINTER TRUFFLES

There’s a Houston woman named Jeanne DeBell Polocheck, who is known locally as The Truffle Lady.  This is because Jeanne imports fresh truffles weekly when they’re in season, and sells them to local restaurants and lucky individuals.  The truffles come from Les Pastras Organic Farm, an organic olive farm in the village of Cadanet in Provence.  Jeanne sells the truffles, as well as truffle salt, truffle oil, truffle honey, organic olive oil, and a few other items she imports from France, through her Facebook page The French Market, and also at the Memorial Villages Farmers Market.

Before the black winter truffle season ends, I splurged and bought a  45-gram  order of 3 truffles.  They don’t come cheap — this order was $80.

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Beautiful, no?

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I always thought truffles were sniffed out by pigs, but the farm uses dogs to hunt truffles.  These are the cuties that found my truffles, Éclair and Mirabelle:

I would appreciate it if my dogs, Jasper and Maisy, would get off their backs and go find me some truffles:

The truffles are only good for about 10 days, and storing them in a jar of rice in the refrigerator helps keep them fresh as long as possible.  (The truffle-scented rice is a treat for another day).

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I am fascinated by my truffles.  They’re like pets.  I take the jar out, open the lid, and inhale deeply pretty much every time I open the refrigerator.  I almost hate to use my truffles.  But, of course, I do.  Jeanne advised me that they need a base of fat and salt to bring out their flavor.  Say no more.

I don’t like to make elaborate dishes with my truffles.  I prefer simpler uses.  One way I particularly enjoy them is over scrambled eggs (scrambled, of course, in a generous amount of butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper).

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Mine, all mine.

Our favorite way to enjoy them, however, is shaved over buttered baked potatoes, preferably Mountain King Butter Golds (these are, incidentally, the best potatoes we have ever had — family is still talking about them from Thanksgiving.  Watch for them.).

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Mountain King Butter Golds

It’s nice to have a truffle shaver, although a sharp paring knife will work to cut thin slices from the truffle.

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Truffle shaver

I promise you, a buttered, sea salted, truffled baked potato is a special indulgence that you will not soon forget.

I shared one of my precious truffles with my friend Susan, and she sent me this quote from a feature on The Huffington Post (which also gathered some great-sounding truffle recipes) — “It’s a crazy world out there, and you never know what will happen.  One day, you could be minding your own business and suddenly be presented with an opportunity to buy a real black truffle. . . .  If you can afford to, you should absolutely do it this one time, so that you can experience what black truffles really taste and smell like. Oh, you’ve had truffle oil?  Forget everything you think you know about that and dive into the real thing.”  Excellent advice!

The season for black winter truffles is just about over.  It won’t be too long, though, before summer truffles come into season.  Milder in flavor, and about half the price of winter truffles, they are nice too, and fun to play around with (truffle ice cream was quite popular with Jeanne and her friends last summer).  But be warned, they are gateway truffles, and soon you’ll be craving the hard stuff (i.e., black winter truffles).

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

Happy Chinese New Year!   Chinese year 4714 began on February 8, and is the Year of the Monkey.  The monkey is the ninth animal in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle (other monkey years include 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, and  2004).

People born under the monkey sign are purportedly clever, and intelligent, especially in their careers and financial affairs.  “They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile,” and “their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life.”  But they are also “jealous, suspicious, cunning, selfish, and arrogant.”  They are perfect matches for those born under the sign of the ox and rabbit and are bad matches with those born under the sign of the pig and tiger.  Check your compatibility with monkeys here.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, I baked a batch of Chinese Almond Cookies.  I remember having these in Chinese restaurants as a kid growing up in New York, but I don’t see them anymore.  Give these a try — who knows, maybe your family will go ape for them.  :)

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2-3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ⅓ cup whole blanched almonds
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Cut butter into pieces and add to flour. Pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the beaten egg and almond extract, and process until combined and dough forms. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet, flattening slightly. Press an almond on top of each cookie. Using a pastry brush, brush tops of cookies with egg yolk mixture. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.
  4. Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.

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Ready for their egg wash

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The egg wash gives them a nice gloss

Beautifully golden and glossy

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I think they should start serving these in Chinese restaurants again

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Happy Year of the Monkey!

GRAPEFRUIT AND RED ENDIVE SALAD WITH BABY LETTUCES

I recently discovered Sweet Scarletts — sweet red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley.

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These are the sweetest grapefruits I have ever tasted.

IMG_2334 IMG_2337We’ve been enjoying them in salads, and thought I’d share one that was particularly nice.  I started with beautiful baby lettuces from Sustainable Harvesters, which I bought at the Eastside Farmers Market.  Next I added sliced red endive, grapefruit, and chopped pistachios.  Finally, I drizzled a simple dressing over it made with olive oil and Peach Balsamic Vinegar from Texas Hill Country Olive Company (which I also bought at the farmers market).  So pretty, and really great tasting.

GRAPEFRUIT AND RED ENDIVE SALAD WITH BABY LETTUCES
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Recipe type: Salad
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 heads baby lettuces (a mix of red and green is pretty), chopped
  • 1 head red endive, sliced
  • 2 large red grapefruits, peel and pith removed, cut into sections (reserve 1 tablespoon juice for dressing)
  • ¼ cup chopped pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons peach balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon reserved grapefruit juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Divide lettuces among 2 salad plates. Scatter endive over lettuce. (Note: If you carefully slice the bottom of the endive and hold it together, you will have a rosette-like piece to place in the center of the salad). Arrange grapefruit sections over salad. Sprinkle pistachios over salad.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, peach balsamic vinegar, and grapefruit juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle dressing over salad and serve.

Great colors

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Slice the end of the endive carefully for a pretty endive rosette

ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP

I found this lace collar made by Teena Brown at an estate sale, in a pile of vintage linens:

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My research didn’t turn up anything about Teena Brown, but I did find several other styles of lace collars made by the company on ebay and etsy.

There doesn’t appear to be much demand for this frillery today.  Nevertheless, I did find one willing wearer.  When our puppy Maisy was spayed a few months ago, her incision took forever to heal, and she had to wear the dreaded Elizabethan collar of shame to keep her from licking the wound.  It turned out she didn’t mind wearing it — we think she enjoyed the attention:

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What’s your story, morning glory?

So naturally, I asked her to model the fancy lace collar.

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What’s up, buttercup?

I think I’ve discovered a new market for these vintage collars!

Happily, lace still rules at weddings, and last weekend we saw a display of beautiful lace.  It was my husband’s niece’s wedding — very exciting, especially seeing as she is the first grandchild (or cousin, as my kids see it) on either side to get married.  Her lace gown was stunning:

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And her lacy wedding cake was beautiful:

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Inspired by the lace collar and the beautiful lace gown, I made Italian Wedding Soup, which is really great on the cold nights we’ve been having lately.  If you’re not going to serve the whole pot in one sitting, I suggest not adding the pasta to the pot.  Instead, add pasta to individual soup bowls just before serving to help keep it from getting mushy.

ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP
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Recipe type: Soup
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the meatballs:
  • ½ pound ground veal
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup plain bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 medium head escarole, chopped
  • ½ cup small pasta, uncooked
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Instructions
  1. For the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the veal, beef, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, grated cheese, and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Form into 1-inch meatballs. Place on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove meatballs to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions , drain, and set aside.
  2. For the soup: Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrot and saute until onion is golden. Add the garlic and saute one minute more. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the escarole, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for a few minutes more, until meatballs are heated through. Just before serving, stir in the pasta. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese, if desired.

IMG_3520These pasta circles are a fun shape

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The meatballs brown nicely in the oven, no frying necessary

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Escarole and its many shades of green

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A satisfying soup, worthy of a special occasion