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:

roast 2

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.