Friday, December 19, 2008

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale

This is what you need for those between-party days during the holiday season. These are days when your meals are not comprised of hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and cookies. No, these are the days when you have the luxury of cooking a simple, healthy homemade meal to get your body rested and ready for the next festivity.

The kale gets a head start in the pot before quick-cooking barley is added. In the meantime, I saute a whole lot of mushrooms and add them to the soup at the very end. This helps maintain their texture and flavor--mushrooms really don't benefit from being simmered for any length of time. It's as simple as that.

And just in case you are on the Christmas-Cookie Diet, there was a great article in the New York Times on Wednesday about how to handle your butter for better baking. There are some great tips, so check it out!

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale
You could certainly throw in meat or beans to add some protein. Try chicken or crumbled turkey sausage.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of chili flakes, or to taste
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
12 oz. chopped kale
1 heaping cup quick-cooking barley
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. portobello caps, sliced and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil on medium-high. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and browned. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook 1 minute.

Add the broth and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and add the kale. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the barley, cover and cook 15 minutes or until barley is tender. (If the package directions call for a longer or shorter cooking time for your barley, adjust accordingly.)

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until they release their liquid, stirring often. Raise the heat to high and continue cooking until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender and lightly browned. When barley is finished cooking, add the mushrooms. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gifts for Foodies

I heard that today could be the biggest online shopping day of the season. If you're still looking for gifts for your favorite foodie friends, I have some ideas. Everyone loves books, so I've suggested three of my recent favorites. Plus, there are some cool kitchen goodies and eclectic eats. And if you're thinking this is the year for homemade gifts, you'll find my picks at the very end. Happy gifting!

The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet, $32.00. This weighty, impressive book with plenty of full-color photos will delight your favorite baker. It's a well-rounded, comprehensive reference, and it's full of tips revealing "what the pros know." With plenty of sweet and savory recipes, it's a great collection. Get a taste of Mushet's familiar-with-a-twist style with this recipe for Butterscotch Pie on

The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Christina Arokiasamy, $19.77. Quite the opposite of the previous book, this is a small little jewel full of specialized recipes. Arokiasamy's mother ran a spice shop in Kuala Lumpur, and she weaves her stories in with her recipes with are tailored for American home cooks. A great gift for the cook who loves to dive into a particular cuisine and explore it in depth.

Fat by Jennifer Mclagan. $21.45. What a great idea...Mclagan tells us everything we ever wanted to know about fat, including how to exploit all its unique properties for our culinary enjoyment. There are tons of great recipes, from pâté (pork fat) to shortbread (butter). This is a book any cook, short of the truly fat-phobic, can enjoy. To learn more, read this interview with the author by fabulous food writer, Monica Bhide, on

File Folder Chopping Boards, $85.00. These are pricy, but I think the design is so cool!

Cuisinart Handheld Blender, $49.99. The kind of gadget you don't know you need until someone gives it to you as a holiday gift. It is so nice for pureeing soups--no more transferring to your blender in batches. And this model comes with a mini chopper--bonus!

Nigella Lawson Salt Pig, $16.95. I received this from my lovely husband last Christmas. I have no idea why it's called a "pig," but it's so cute, stylish and useful!

Rose Petal Preserves, $6.99. I love rose petal preserves, jams and jellies. They are popular in France, the Middle East, Greece and more, I'm sure. Unfortunately, they're tough to find in the United States. Definitely a fun stocking stuffer for foodies who always want to try new tastes.

Mustapha's Moroccan Harissa, $7.99. For heat lovers! A dollop of this spiced chile sauce can perk up tagines, roasted lamb, flatbread, and plenty of non-Moroccan dishes too.

Koeze Cream Nut Peanut Butter, $8.50. Sold through fab specialty foods retailer, Zingerman's, this natural, artisan peanut butter is described as "velvety" and "intense." I'd wrap it up with some of your favorite chocolate bars for a sort of d.i.y. chocolate-peanut butter experience.

Make it Homemade:

These chocolate capuccino cookies with cinnamon chips are my new favorite easy drop cookie since making them a couple weeks ago. Big shout out to Cookie Madness--these are keepers!

Russian Tea Cakes, Pecan Crescents, Mexican Wedding Cakes...I call my version of these easy, soft, buttery cookies Pecan Balls. They freeze well and are sturdy enough for gifting.

Spiced nuts are such a simple idea, it doesn't seem like they could be so addictively good. Make a few batches and package them in mason jars with pretty ribbons and you'll have a gift that will be well-appreciated.

Spritz cookies! Do you have a cookie press? I just bought one and I'm going to use this recipe. Just think about how much better your homemade butter cookies will be than anything your friends and loved ones can buy. And so cute!

Bacon Brittle. Enough said. That link will take you to the recipe, and I wrote about it here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad

Did I mention that I made two Thanksgiving dinners before Thanksgiving? If you've read the last few weeks' posts, you know that I wanted to try out new side dishes and roast my own turkey at home before I went to have the real holiday with my family in Connecticut.

So, instead of making a huge spread just for me and Mike at home, I had one meal consisting of turkey and a couple of other dishes, and another meal of substantial sides like cornbread-chorizo stuffing and this seasonal salad.

If a side salad requires any effort at all, I save it for a special occasion. Our stand-by everyday salad is just baby greens, red onions and diced tomatoes dressed with a splash of olive oil and either balsamic or lemon. This is definitely a bit more special. I think this would be a beautiful addition to a Hanukkah spread--I know honey and pomegranates often pop up on Jewish holiday menus. Replacing the apple with avocado would also play up the Hanukkah theme.

The honey dressing here adds a nice sweet note. I used raspberry vinegar, but if you only have red wine vinegar in your pantry (or Sherry vinegar), use that by all means. The type of lettuce you use is flexible too, although I wouldn't go with anything too peppery, like arugula. One thing you shouldn't substitute or skip is the fresh mint. I'm a fan of this herb in many dishes, but even a little bit adds a wonderful bright hit of flavor that complements the pomegranates and apples. Even if you don't make this part of a holiday meal, it's a great way to use in-season pomegranates in a tasty, healthy way.

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad

Cut the pomegranate in half crosswise and submerge one half in a bowl of water while you remove the seeds by hand. The seeds will sink to the bottom so you can lift any flesh out of the bowl, then strain the seeds. This method also keeps the juice from staining your work surface.

Serves 4

For salad:
2 small heads Boston lettuce, or other mild-tasting lettuce, leaves separated and torn into bite-size pieces (about 6 cups leaves)
1 Fuji apple, thinly sliced
1/3 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/2 pomegranate, seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

For dressing:
2 tablespoons canola
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoons honey

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, about 3/4 of apple slices (save the rest for a snack), onion and pomegranate seeds. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar with a tight lid and shake well until emulsified. Drizzle about 3/4 of the dressing over salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Add additional dressing if necessary. Add the sunflower seeds and mint and toss again. Arrange salad on individual plates and serve.