Brilliant Barley Salad




This was a using-up-leftovers dish that wound up serendipitously delicious–

Brilliant Barley Salad

Start with:

cooked & cooled grains (mine was a dinner side dish mix of barley, wild rice, onions, dried cranberries, and corn)

Add:

fresh Clementine sections
halved cherry tomatoes
diced avocado
bits of goat cheese
vinaigrette

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Banana bread

It serves bakers well to be naturally alert early risers. Unlike much stovetop cooking where there’s lots of wiggle room for variation, substitution, and off-the-cuff experimentation, baking tends to be a more exact science. Recipes come down to us, revised and devised through precise attention to chemistry: so much leavening to so much fat. Creating a balanced blend of wet and dry ingredients and flavor harmonics:  acid and salt, savory and sweet. In baking it’s physically necessary to handle your work with a varying touch: vigorous with gluteny yeast breads and glancing with pastry trifles, where little left-behind butter lumps serve merely to make the finessing pockets of fat that define the delicacy.

Sometimes, when you wake up before the sun has rightly risen and hit the kitchen with a hungry stomach, your wits may stay abed and let you make silly mistakes like half a pound of butter instead of half a cup. (Ahem. Those stick counts always throw me.) And sometimes you, all unawares, encounter baking disasters you never could have seen coming.

I grew up in a house that loved itself some banana bread. Anytime we had two or three bananas that had ripened too far for acceptable peeled eating or cereal topping, my mom would crank up the mixer to create a fragrant, nutty loaf for several mornings’ enjoyment. The first thing I learned to bake, but of course, was chocolate chip cookies. The second was banana bread. It was tried and true, reliable and delectable.

But on one memorable occasion the result of Mom’s culinary concoction emerged from the oven, cooled, and was sliced with typical mouth-watering anticipation only to hit our tastebuds with a repulsive– I could only describe it at the time as soapy– flavor, which I ran at once to spit in the sink.

What in tarnation could have gone wrong? We wondered and were unilaterally flummoxed.

Mom had used the traditional banana bread recipe, sleep-walkingly familiar, but somehow the result had turned out perfectly awful. Ten-year-old me took to troubleshooting: were the eggs bad? Nope. Butter? Fresh as could be. What the heck could have made that disgusting flavor? By process of elimination I winnowed suspects down to the sugar canister, only to find it full of salt.

Well. That explained it. A full cup of salt in place of sugar would surely produce a problematic breakfast bread.

To this day The Salt in the Sugar Canister Conundrum remains one of those lingering family mysteries. My mom for her part blamed the messenger, assuming I’d done the deed to be vexatious. Fuming in my room, I cursed my older brothers, surely more prone to such shenanigans than me. Years later I still wonder– could it be that Mom, granted a little flighty post-brain surgery, had herself made the mixup? (my sister’s theory) Or was the culprit farther back along the chain, a store who’d stocked its bulk goods bins with the wrong white granular stuff?

We’ll never know. But the taste of that single soapy bite lingers on my palate to this day. Every time I make my own banana bread and take that first bite a little part of me lurches in anxious expectation– and then I’m flooded with the flavor of sweet, buttery goodness, melting into contentment.

This morning, I must admit, rather more buttery than intended.

Banana Bread

Yield: 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream together:
1/2 cup butter, softened (that is, ahem, one stick)
1 cup sugar

Add:
2-3 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, beaten

Sift together and add:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Roughly chop and mix in:
1/2 cup walnuts

Fill a bread pan, center in oven, and bake for about an hour (should be solid, no jiggling). Cool in pan for 10 min, cut around loaf, and tip out to cool on a rack.

Slice and enjoy with a nice cup of tea. :)

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Flu and soup refrain

Around these parts we’ve been knocked on our collective keister for the past week-and-then-some by the first of the Season’s nasty viruses*. I was quick to take to bed, relinquishing my enervated (and after a few days stinky) self to long pools of recuperative drowse. Even Chris, gallant man of the all-hours stoical slog, collapsed on the heels of a near all-nighter, only to rise with any sort of equilibrium after six days prone and with a sinus infection for his trouble.

It’s a nasty bug with several legs– over a foundation of chills and fever dreams, first day and half brought splitting headache followed quickly by back and muscle aches, sneezing/coughing/stuffy/itchiness, and, in a sort of revolting crescendo, gut cramps and the quick expulsion of most solid foods. Apologies for TMI– but fun, right?!

Myself a few days ahead in the sick cycle**, I took to making medicinal chicken soup (it’s been tested and proven somewhere, I know). Several sustaining brews emerged from the base ingredient of poultry bird in pot. My personal favorite, detailed here, packs flavor to knock your stuffy-headed socks off. For another yummy variation leave out the cilantro and tomatilloes and add a bunch of fresh chopped ginger.



Tart & Pungent Chicken Soup

bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes:
1 4.5 lb chicken
1/2 an onion
1 stalk celery in quarters
1 carrot in quarters
1 bay leaf

Remove chicken from pot, let cool enough to handle, remove meat, return bones to pot. Simmer for 3-4 hrs.

Strain and remove fat from the stock. Easiest way to do this is to refrigerate until to fat solidifies and then skim. I was less patient, so simply skimmed the top layer from the pot the best I could into a glass measuring cup, where I could see it separate, etc.

Slice and saute:
6-8 small young white bulbed green stemmed onions
6-8 cloves garlic
1 stalk celery
4-5 tomatilloes
1 plum tomato

Add broth and bring to a boil.

1 6-oz. package soup-sized pasta (star shaped is fun; today’s is bowtie)

Simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Add 1 cup of the chicken meat cut in bite-size pieces, juice of 2 lemons, and 1-2 cups chopped fresh cilantro.

Heat through and serve.


*Note to self: flu shot

**Yeah, okay, so I presumably “gave” my husband this contagion. Can we finally just put this catholic construction to bed and agree that influenza is a guerilla terrorist that hijacks one and all the same? I’m really working on covering my mouth when I sneeze, I swear. Kthanxbai.

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Fall fare

Here in Chicago over the last week or so those omnipresent grace notes of August, cicadas, have stuttered into silence in the cooling, imperceptibly shorter days.

With changing weather comes the slapdash donning of stray cardigans and odd socks to ward off chilly mornings. Yesterday witnessed season-appropriate culinary observances around here with concoctions of hearty bean soup, Golden Nugget bread, and a zucchini and green onion quiche so light and creamy it was like biting into a gently collapsing cloud of savor (just ask Chris, it’s true).

The chopping, the kneading, Vivaldi on the radio, pots of tea, afternoon sun, my honey at the end of it all. A very good day.

Hearty Bean Soup
Some would say I cheat by using canned beans. I would retort vehemently, “Bah!” Canned beans are both readily available and ready-cooked to a pleasing texture. It seems to me one of those no-brainer modern conveniences like ketchup and the washing machine. Hey, if you‘ve got the stamina and will to plan ahead and soak that pot of pebbly nodules overnight or–a shortcut of some questionable efficacy– bring it to a boil and let stand to soak for an hour– if, that is, you’re confident that the end product of all this additional effort won’t ultimately emerge in the form of wrinkly little al dente abortions… Well, then I say, fine, have at it, you. I remain unconvinced and unwooed, both flummoxed and jaded on the subject of dry legumes– black-eyed and split green peas entirely aside.

  • 1 yellow and 1 red onion
  • 5 large cloves garlic
  • 2 ham hocks
  • 2 cans diced tomato
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 1 can butter beans
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaked red pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh or 4 T dried parsley
  • salt & pepper to taste

Zucchini and Green Onion Quiche

I was, incidentally, tempted just now to call this recipe “Green Quiche,” quite liking the sound of that– but realized that, really, Green Quiche would of course be made with pesto. Just so happen to have a cup and a half of the stuff in the fridge– may need to be a two quiche week.

tart pastry:

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) cold butter cut in pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons ice water

quiche filling:

  • 1 cup zucchini, roughly shredded
  • 1 cup green or young onion sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (saute in)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs + 1 white leftover from the pastry
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese

Golden Nugget Bread
(from The Fanny Farmer Baking Book)

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • 3-3 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
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Gimme smore

(Be advised: The crumbly/gluey quotient of today’s Food Porn entry practically pleads for enjoyment al fresco— so get on out to that back deck while the weather’s still fine. I can see smores making a big retro comeback at this year’s Labor Day barbecues. Just saying.)

This here little slice of childlike heaven ranks among the three or four all-time top reasons to love a campfire, as this cowgirl well knows: packable, stackable treat for assembly under the stars above that dusty trail.

Even hiked ‘way up over the speedy traffic of a big hoss town like Chicago a gal might work up the craving for some toasty marshmallow from time to time and crank up a flickering blue ring of fire on that ole gas range.

I prefer mine all golden and gooey, while my cowpoke feller likes ’em singed to carbon and uncomplicated by augmentation. I’ll slap that oozing badboy inside a combo wedge of Hershey’s/Graham, and we’re in business for a sweet tooth fiesta.

side note: be careful when you’re grabbing the marshmallow off the skewer that it’s not still actually flaming… else you can give yourself a small searing molten sugar burn.

not that I’d know anything about that, personally.

 

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Holy guacamole

Not long ago I discovered that I can once again eat avocados, as for many years I had quit because of a peculiar but apparently not uncommon stomach sensitivity which is interestingly documented here. I can’t explain why I haven’t recently been experiencing adverse reactions where once I did excruciatingly, but, heck, I welcome this twist of fate or chemistry or fickle mother nature with wide open mouth.

Indeed I’m not quite sure how to adequately express just how much this means to me– just how dearly I adore that array of flavors: avocado, lime, garlic, salt and crunch!

I really think you need to taste it to understand:

holiest of guacamoles

3 ripe avocados, mash-o-la’d
juice of 1 juicy lime
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 small onion chopped fine
1 red tomato chopped small
small bunch fresh cilantro chopped roughly

scoop with crisp corn chip rounds.

savor flavor heaven.

 

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Fresh basil pesto

summertime means…

… lots and lots of basil! and, consequently, time to make some yummy pesto.

Basil & Walnut Pesto

  • 5-6 cups fresh basil leaves (basil is traditional– also try interesting and nutritious variations using other leafy greens like arugula, spinach, chard, etc.)
  • 1 cup walnuts (pine nuts are traditional– vary using other nuts like pecans, cashews, macadamia nuts, etc.)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (optional– I love garlic. not everyone does.)
  • 1/2 cup pecorino romano or parmesan
  • enough good olive oil to reach desired consistency

Blend in food processor.

 

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Supperclub afternoon

the other day chris and I met up with one of his coworkers for midafternoon delight at one of our very favorite places to eat, club lucky, quietly glamorous, tucked away on a residential corner of bucktown– for exquisite “traditional” italian fare. we love the old-timey supperclub feel of the place and the gracious swoop of the front room bar and seriously considered hosting our wedding party here before settling on a restaurant in our neighborhood. still, it’s one of our very favorite food haunts.

icy cold gin and tonics expertly served by a polished bartender

tender calimari grilled to perfection and served in a light tomato sauce

penne arrabiata, perfectly dressed in savory sauce

 

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A visit to the sugar fortress

not exactly what you’d expect to encounter rising monolithic from the cornfield-lined secondary highways of indiana: albanese candy factory, purveyors of all things gummy and whizbang with a vivid, spectacular, and psychedelic front of the house, live, perpetually-glurping chocolate fountain tower, and a nifty rampway peepshow of the sugar-dusted manufacturing floor, scuttling with head-to-toe white-plastic-clad workers– but no taking pictures of the factory, they pray you!

one can only presume the shyness of oompa loompas or, more darkly, defense against  slugworths of the plains states.

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