Learning As I Chop

Experimenting with Grains: Barley Edition

Posted in Baking/Cooking by R @ Learning As I Chop on July 31, 2010

Yesterday I was thinking about dinner and decided I wanted to try something new. Inspired by other blogs, I was in the mood to use a grain I hadn’t prepared before. For some reason, barley immediately came to mind. Barley, though I eat it rarely, surprisingly reminds me of my childhood. There’s something comfortably mushy (in a good way) and filling about it. Combine some cooked barley with mushrooms and it’s a meal. So I proceeded as usual – searched epicurious – and found this recipe. I wasn’t sure H would like it, so I whipped up some standard staples for safety (chicken schnitzel and salad) and dug in. Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 12 ounces coarsely chopped button and/or crimini mushrooms
  • 1 large portobello mushroom, gills removed, cap and stem chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 5 cups (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Add all mushrooms; sauté until golden brown, adding 1 to 3 tablespoons water if mixture is dry, about 15 minutes. Stir in herbs and garlic. Add barley and stir 1 minute. Add 4 cups broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook until liquid is almost absorbed and barley is almost tender, about 30 minutes.

Stir 1 cup broth and tomato paste into barley. Cook uncovered until barley is tender and mixture is creamy, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if necessary, about 10 minutes. Stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Here’s a picture of the preparations. I love showing chopping pictures because they make me feel professional.

I had a great picture of everything in the pot, but it’s gone missing. Looked like an asian-style mushroom soup.

Barley is easy to prepare and reminds me of couscous. In fact, I would probably say that couscous is its toastier cousin. When making the recipe I omitted the thyme, since it ruins every dish for me,  the tomato paste and the portobello since H hates them. I wanted a simple flavor and felt the tomato paste would take this recipe in a direction I wasn’t interested in heading. Normally it’s a gamble to tweak a recipe before you first try it as is, but I figured why not. H already had stuff he could eat and I could always microwave some soup if I failed. But I’m glad I listened to my gut. The dish came out great! Velvety and creamy without any milk or butter. Filling, comforting and tasty. I definitely recommend this dish but H and I agree that it’s more of a cold-weather thing. Guess I know what I’ll be making this November!

Admittedly, the dish could use more color (I guess that’s where the thyme helps) but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice taste for beauty.


What do you eat for breakfast?

Posted in Food Philosophies by R @ Learning As I Chop on July 30, 2010

H is one of those rare people that truly eats to live. Sure, he has his favorites (mostly meat-based dishes), and will usually try anything I make, but 90% of the time he eats because he’s hungry or knows his body needs food. I, on the other hand, am not like that at all. I wouldn’t say I live to eat, but I definitely love food. On average, I’d say I spend at least 1/3 of my day either thinking, reading, planning, making or eating food. I go to bed thinking about breakfast, and plan dinner while eating lunch. Needless to say, I am not one of those people who can forget to eat. I just don’t understand those who can.

But lately I’ve hit a wall. I’m bored, especially with breakfast. While I was following the plan described here, I settled into a tried and true breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs and ½ of a banana with almond butter. It wasn’t the most exciting breakfast but I could carry it with me to work (I eat my breakfast while checking my emails and settling in for the day) and it covered most food groups –especially protein.  Protein is my challenge. I have to push to meet my daily minimum.

So, I need help. During the week, what do you bring for breakfast? I’ve tried oatmeal, and while I love it, I need more variety. Weekends are fine – you can usually find me making French toast or oatmeal pancakes – but the weekdays are harder.  So leave some ideas for me, and I will pick my favorite. The winner will be prepared and written about in the coming weeks.

Summer Soup: Part Deux

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Food Philosophies by R @ Learning As I Chop on July 28, 2010

A few days ago, my friend J brought H and me some soup. Before I get into the soup, a few words about J.

We met in college and partook in the usual fare of burgers, beer and brownies. A few months ago, however, J went the way of vegetarian. She had read a lot of books on the meat industry and health, and decided meat-free was the route for her. Since then, J has traveled the road to veganism and I can honestly say she’s never looked better. Between her new habits, and the ½ marathon she recently ran!!!, J is like a new person. I’m just so proud of her.

Ok, enough gushing. When she gave me the soup, my first question was “is this vegan?” Naturally, I was met with a “yup!” I loved the color of the soup and was very excited to try it. Here is the recipe:

1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small hot pepper, seeds removed and chopped
2 ribs celery, strings removed and chopped
2 medium (12-14 ounces) gold potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
1 1/2 pounds small yellow squash, chopped (or young zucchini)
1 pinch white pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for color)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tablespoon tahini (optional)
salt and white pepper, to taste (optional)Garnish: slivers of red bell pepper

Heat a large non-stick or enamel-coated pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, covered but stirring every minute or so, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes (add a little water if it tends to stick). Add the garlic and hot pepper and cook for another minute.

Add all remaining ingredients except the optional ones. Cover and cook until the potatoes are completely tender (they will mash if lightly pressed with a spoon), about 25-40 minutes.

Remove half of the soup and put it into a blender* and puree at high speed until completely smooth. (Be careful–hot liquids can erupt from your blender; I always remove the center cup from the lid and cover the opening with a kitchen towel.) Once it’s blended, pour the soup into another pot. Add the remaining soup to the blender, along with any optional ingredients you choose to use, and blend well. Add to the other half of the soup, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls, garnish with slices of red bell pepper, and serve.

*I like this soup blended smoother than my hand blender can get it.

And here are some comments from J regarding the recipe:

I used two cans of cannelini beans, drained & rinsed, in place of the potatoes. I added the turmeric in at the same time as the oregano & other ingredients, instead of waiting until I was blending. I added an extra tablespoon of tahini and an extra clove of garlic. For the hot pepper, I used the tiniest sliver of a habanero pepper (made it WAY too hot on my first attempt the other week).

Needless to say, I loved it – this soup is comforting while healthy. I normally don’t like spicy foods but this one has a nice kick that pleasantly swims around your mouth. (Am I getting over my fear of spicy foods?) Despite the absence of milk, the soup also looks and tastes surprisingly creamy. I would venture that’s the tahini at work. I know some people are scared by the word “vegan” but I’ve always wondered about that lifestyle. Not specifically about tempeh or seaweed, but more about focusing on simple ingredients that come straight from the earth. Anyone who’s interested in veganism should try this recipe. It’s a baby step into a new lifestyle that might be right for you.