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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Barley Vegetable Salad

Sometimes, silly mistakes turn out well. I have one sweet potato left in the pantry and wanted to combine it with lentils for a great curry. In a hurry to get the lentils cooking, I pulled the "lentils" jar out of the cupboard and emptied the pound bag into a pan. It was only when I started to add water to the pan that I realized what had been in the mislabeled jar was barley. By now, of course, the grains were wet and had to be cooked, so what could I make that would be relatively fast and good to serve to some vegan friends who would be coming for lunch?

A quick look through the refrigerator and freezer resulted in this salad. While the flavors would be even better if it was refrigerated overnight, the dish was a hit after only an hour or so of chilling.

Barley Vegetable Salad

2 to 3 medium carrots, coarsely grated (about 2 c or 5 oz)
10 to 11 oz frozen sweet corn, thawed
2 c pearl barley, cooked without salt and drained (about 8 oz before cooking)
1/2 to 2/3 c chopped sweet or red onion
1/2 c diced bell pepper, any color
1 c diced celery
1/2 c sliced black olives
1 t dried basil
2 to 3 T balsamic vinegar
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 to 1 t garlic powder
1 T sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 t salt, or to taste

black olive juice, as desired

1.  Combine the barley, vegetables, and basil, tossing together until evenly mixed.
2.  Shake or stir together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the barley and vegetable mixture, adding a little of the black olive juices if needed to moisten the salad.
3.  Chill for at least an hour, but it will be even better if left in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Will keep well in the refrigerator for several days, though the colors of some of the vegetables may be less bright over time.

Serves 10 to 12 as a side salad, 6 to 8 as a main dish.

Variations and Other Thoughts

The variations on this are really endless, depending on what you have in the refrigerator. Diced cucumber or  broccoli flowerets would be good additions. Leftover vegetables (carrots or peas for example) could also be stirred in. You may want more or less bell pepper or onion or whatever. Adding thinly sliced carrots (raw or steamed for a minute or two in the microwave to soften) could give a different appearance to the salad too.

We are a family that loves olives, so I buy these in large quantities at Costco for a very reasonable price. If they seem too price-y or if you are not such big fans, you can cut back the amount a great deal or just eliminate them entirely. The use of the brine around the olives boosts the flavor and works as part of the salt in the salad overall, but it too could be eliminated if desired. 

This is one recipe where garlic powder may be a better choice than fresh, simply because the flavor may be more evenly blended throughout, but fresh garlic would of course be a great choice instead. If you have fresh herbs, they would be a wonderful substitution, whether basil or rosemary or even a bit of mint.

Barley:  This grain is under-utilized in most of our kitchens, yet it is easy to prepare, inexpensive, and nutritious. I like to cook a pound at a time, following the package directions but without adding any salt. Then I can put the extra into freezer bags or refrigerator containers. By not adding salt, I can use the extra barley for any recipe, adding seasoning as needed.

Friday, June 7, 2013

I need some help! (Oh, and a couple of lemon hints too)

The recipe I just posted calls for the grated zest of a few lemons, and the flavor boost that lemon boost gives is really important. However, I sometimes delay making anything using grated lemon rind (or orange rind for that matter) because of this:

You don't see the problem? Well, look a little more closely. There seems to be a lot more lemon zest on the grater than in the bowl! I have tried graters of many kinds and currently have at least five  different shapes and sizes in my kitchen. And, with every one of them, I still end up with the same problem. Often, I end up just taking my sharpest knife, meticulously peeling a thin layer and then cutting it in itsy bitsy pieces. The problem with this approach is that my itsy bitsy pieces are never as small as the grated bits, so someone is likely to end up biting into more lemon zest than they may have really wanted.

So now I ask for your help. If you have found a solution to this problem, please, please share it with me. Not necessarily a specific product but perhaps a way to get these little shreds off the grater without losing skin from my fingers or cutting off pieces of spatula in the attempt to dislodge at least a little more of the peeling. Leave a note here and I will be deeply grateful. Thanks!

Now, for the hints promised:

Not enough lemon juice for the recipe

So the recipe calls for 1/3 cup lemon juice, "about the juice of two lemons" but you end up with only a quarter of a cup of juice from your little lemons. You have two options:
Fill the measuring cup to the level called for with water
Use some bottled lemon juice (ReaLemon or a similar type)

I like to keep the bottled lemon juice in the refrigerator for the convenience of having it when a recipe calls for just a little lemon juice and I don't have any of the fresh ones on hand. It also works well in a recipe like this.

Getting all the juice from the lemons

This hint is published in a lot of places but, in case you haven't seen it, here it is again:
Put the lemon(s) in the microwave for a few seconds (I put the four for today's recipe in for 22 seconds) on high. Remove and juice; you will be amazed at how much easier it is to get all the juice out.

If you don't trust yourself with the microwave version (what if I put them in too long and they start to cook?), then take each lemon and roll on the countertop, pressing hard as you go. This will soften the lemon substantially, also allowing for easier juicing.

Raspberry Lemon Squares

Here is a dessert with a buttery crust, a raspberry layer where sugar does not overwhelm the tang of the fruit, and a smooth lemony topping--a perfect ending to a light spring or summer dinner.

The addition of raspberries to the long favorite lemon bars makes these more than just a cookie. In fact, if you wanted to make them in a springform pan, the presentation could be especially dramatic.

The key here is to use frozen raspberries. Not jam, not preserves, not even fresh berries--you need the frozen kind, in order to be able to drain the juices from the fruit for a crisp crust and non-soggy lemon layer. I still have a few packages of berries from last year's backyard crop in the freezer, so this is a good way for me to make way for the berries I expect in the next few weeks.  Even if you don't have your own raspberry patch in the back yard, you can duplicate this with a package of frozen raspberries from the store.

Raspberry Lemon Dessert

1/2 c butter
1/4 c ground pecans or almonds (if these are not available, use a total of 3/4 c butter)
1 c sugar
1 1/2 c flour

16 oz frozen raspberries (with NO sugar added), thawed and drained 

6 eggs
Juice of 3 to 4 lemons, enough for 2/3 c juice
Zest of 2 to 3 lemons
1 1/4 c sugar
1/2 c flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Prepare the raspberries. Place the thawed berries in a colander over a bowl and press lightly with a wood spoon or spatula to extract most of the juices. (See below for an alternate method of extracting the juice.)

3.  Prepare the crust: Melt the butter in a 9 X 13 pan. Cut in the ground nuts, sugar and flour with a fork and then use your fingers to press the well-mixed dough evenly over the pan.

4. Spread the well-drained raspberries evenly over the crust and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Beat the eggs and sugar until thick and light colored. Fold in the lemon juice and zest and flour, stirring just until blended. Pour over the raspberries and crust and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (If the top begins to brown too soon, cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil.)

6. When cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut in small squares after cooling. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Makes 36 to 42 squares, depending on the size serving you prefer.

NOTE: I have raspberries in my garden and freeze them in 8 to 12 oz bags. As an alternative method of extracting the juice, I thaw the berries and then, while still in the bag, allow the juice to flow into a bowl, squeezing the berries to be sure they are well-drained.  Just don't press so hard that you  squeeze out all the pulp and are left only with the seeds!

What to do with the Raspberry Juice?

I usually have as much as a cup of raspberry juice left from the squeezing. That is just too wonderful to throw away so here are a couple of uses for the juice:

Prepare a 12 oz can of frozen lemonade concentrate according to directions but stir in a half cup of raspberry juice and an extra cup of water.

Add some raspberry juice to your next slushy drink; this is especially good with an orange or apple juice and frozen banana combination and provides a brisk counterpoint to some of the other very sweet fruits.

Make a raspberry sauce for serving over a basic cake, ice cream, vanilla yoghurt,pancakes, or even rice pudding.

Raspberry Sauce

1/2 c raspberry juice
1/4 c water
1/4 to 1/3 c sugar--to taste
1 T cornstarch

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a microwave-safe bowl. Because the sauce will bubble up when cooked, be sure the bowl is large enough. Stir in the water to make a thick paste and then gradually stir in the raspberry juice. When well blended, put in microwave on medium power for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once or twice, until it has bubbled up and become clear. Store in the refrigerator.

Variations: Add a half teaspoon of lemon juice or a quarter teaspoon of almond extract after removing from the microwave; stir in well.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Confession:  I have never been an asparagus lover.

When I was growing up in Wisconsin, there were three foods that signaled spring: chives (or wild onions, depending on what your yard held), rhubarb and asparagus.

The chives meant Mom's wonderful potato salad would soon grace the table, and that was good. The other two, however, horrified me. I don't think I was a very fussy eater (well, all right, I was the kid who didn't like Jello and never cared for ice cream or anything carbonated, but the rest of the foods I was served I ate readily), but spring menus brought a lot of anguish. Never mind that we had the luxury of country roads filled with wild clumps of asparagus free for the taking and that every homestead yard had swaths of rhubarub plants decades old and still producing enough ruby red stems for dozens of pies and crisps. I still was not convinced that either was really an edible substance.

As I have posted earlier, I  have come to tolerate rhubarb--and find it a very inexpensive "filler" to add to other fruits like strawberries and apples--but I don't eat too many desserts and so can easily avoid eating it myself even as I serve it to others more appreciative of its charms.

Asparagus, however, is something that I recognize as healthy and more than tolerable, even to the point of enjoying it at times. I will admit I still find it at its best raw, nibbling at the freshly picked tender stems as I carry them in from the back yard. And yes, I do have a small planting of asparagus in the garden, nestled in among the ever encroaching raspberries. Perhaps as a sign of my growing appreciation of these fat spears, I am even contemplating planting a few more next year, even though it will take several more seasons to get any substantial harvest.

For you real asparagus lovers out there, just brushing a little olive oil over the spears before grilling (or roasting) lightly is all the "recipe" you need.  For those of us who are more "moderate" asparagus fans however, this could be a new favorite.

Quick Asparagus Saute

1 /2 c chopped onion
1T olive oil
2 c.  Asparagus, cut in 1 inch pieces
1/4 t dried thyme (if fresh thyme is available, use 1 to 2 teaspoons, to taste)
Salt to taste
1-2 T water

1.  Sauté onion in oil until translucent.
2.  Stir in asparagus, sprinkle with thyme, cover, and cook over med high heat, stirring once or twice, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add a little water if asparagus browns too quickly.