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Hey! I’m making soup! Beef, mushroom & barley

Holy crap! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a recipe, mainly because my rampant cooking has been quelled of late by Rob’s sense of frugality. Stupid frugality. Well, here’s a meal (or 4) that won’t break the bank, and your house will smell deliciously beefy for days.

If you’re a preemptive cook (unlike myself), you may have quarts of beef stock sitting in your freezer. I didn’t — yet this was still done in one day. One glorious, aromatic, and beefy day.

Stock:
3-4 lbs beef short ribs, bone in
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
1/4-cup parsley stems
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black peppercorns
Cold water

1. Preheat oven to 450. While you wait, deal with the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot. When oven is heated, roast short ribs for 30 minutes, at which point they’ll be nice and brown and much of the fat will be rendered. Get rid of that.

2. Place meat, veggies, herbs, and salt/pepper in a big pot, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Go play video games.

3. After about 3 hours, when meat is fork-tender and begging for shredding, pull it off the bone and reserve. Continue to simmer the bones etc. to your heart’s content. It just gets better.

4. When stock reaches the desired beefiness (I took off the lid and let it reduce for an hour), strain and allow fat to separate. If you’re smart (I’m not), you’ll have enough time to refrigerate and pull it off in one big chunk. I just skimmed it with a 1/4-cup measuring cup. Reserve 2-3 tbsp, and get ready to make soup!

Soup:
Lots of brown mushrooms — I think we got about a pound — sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
(And here’s where normal people would chop a carrot, but I HATE them and therefore did not)
Meat! (Cooked in stock, shredded a bit with a fork)
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups pearl barley
2-3 tbsp stock fat or olive oil
Beef stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

1. Heat fat/oil over low-medium heat. Cook onion, garlic, and mushrooms until softened.

2. Cover veggies with beef stock. Add reserved meat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. This can basically sit forever. About 45 minutes before serving, continue to step 3.

3. Add celery, tomatoes, dried mushrooms, and barley. (I add the celery now ’cause I like it to have some texture. If you want it way mushy, cook it with the mushrooms and stuff.) Simmer until barley is plump and tender — about 30-45 minutes.

4. Season to taste. Add parsley, and serve.

I’ve never really been into cooking soup, but this is hearty enough to be a meal in a bowl — AND it makes a ton, cheaply. Hell, it’s worth it just for the smell in the house. Yes, I hate winter, but I LOVE winter cooking. Cheers!

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The Corn Wound (or, Everything is Dangerous, People!)

Everybody on alert! It is time now to respect things that we once viewed as harmless. Because I, ladies and gentlemen, have been wounded by corn.

Yes, CORN.

It is a longstanding tradition in my family household: The kids get stuck shucking the corn while our parents sit and drink. Nevermind the fact that the kids are all pushing 30, and some of them don’t even like corn! (Yes, I am talking about me.) We stand over the outdoor table covered in those awful silky hairs, making ourselves crazy by trying to remove every last one. (Perhaps this is why I don’t like corn? The thought has occurred to me.)

I was snapping off the big knob at the bottom of one ear — very bravely and powerfully — when it happened. A remarkably firm bit of husk sliced right through the skin of my finger. The corn drew blood! So much, in fact, that I was forced to run inside for a band-aid! I can see the blood right now, as it has seeped almost all the way through to the surface. I have been visibly wounded by CORN!

My siblings, of course, viewed my corn wound as a desperate ploy to relieve myself of shucking duty. While this was not my intention, the shucking was complete upon my return — so the wound was ultimately worth it. Still, though, this is the second lamest injury I have ever sustained.

The first, if you must know, was from a nut.

I was cracking it. A piece got wedged into my palm like a splinter. It took weeks to work its way out. And I don’t even like nuts!

Lesson learned, I suppose. I will be very careful next time I handle a carrot.

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Happy belated b-day, America: Here’s some Brit bashing!

Okay. Until today, I really had nothing against the Brits — except for the fact that their culinary offerings are suspect enough to discourage me from ever vacationing there. I suppose this egregious case of chip discrimination is of the same vein.

I’ll warn you, the article is a bit dry — so, even though the tone is entirely appropriate considering the subject matter, I’ll sum it up for you:

Crime #1: They don’t tax many foodstuffs in the U.K., but they DO tax potato chips (or “crisps,” as they’re called across the pond). Is it like the cigarette tax? Do they know that we chip people are absolute addicts who will pay anything for a fix? What the fuck is that all about?!

Crime #2: Pringles, by virtue of their very suckiness, are exempt from this tax. Because, as we all know, they are not real chips (or crisps or food or whatever you call them). In the words of Some Supremely Stuffy British Business Dude:

“It has none of the irregularity and variety of shape that is always present in crisps. It has a shape not found in nature, being designed and manufactured for stacking, and giving a pleasing and regular undulating appearance which permits comfortable eating. In this respect, it is unlike a potato crisp and, I would add, a potato stick or puff.”

And because of this, you see, Proctor & Gamble totally deserves a tax break that’ll save ‘em a few million dollars a year.

England, I know you guys don’t really have a history of respecting food, but this is a little extreme. I’ll take some solace in the fact that your Department of Revenue is considering an appeal … but for now, you’re totally on my shit list. Crappy place to be, isn’t it? Tell Robin Williams and Jerry O’Connell I said to suck it.

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Edgar the Salad (read: shrimp, lentil, and goat feta salad)

I’ll admit it: Naming this salad Edgar was Rob’s doing, but I like the idea of giving all my recipes dude names. My clam recipe from a few days ago? I think I’ll call it Midge.

So anyway. This was SO easy and fast, and just the salad alone was enough to fill us up — and I have (pre-dressing) leftovers for lunch!

Edgar the Salad

For shrimp:
3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, de-tailed, etc.
1 tbsp olive oil (or just enough to coat)
1/2 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper

Salad:
About a handful of greens per person (I used mache; anything but arugula would be fine)
1 can lentils, rinsed and drained (the mere 20 minutes it takes to cook ‘em from scratch was more than I had tonight)
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1 bell pepper (not green), roughly chopped (because that’s how I like it. You are more than welcome to slice it.)
1 tomato, quartered and sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/3 cup goat’s milk feta, crumbled (SO GOOD, and relatively low in fat according to Whole Foods Dude)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Dressing:
(Really, any standard vinaigrette would work fine. I used my old standby:)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 (small) clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp white wine
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Olive oil to taste — for me, less than 1 tbsp (If it’s still too tangy, I add more wine in favor of oil)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. In a zip-top plastic baggie, toss shrimp with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

3. Do everything else: prep veggies, drain and rinse lentils, make dressing.

4. Place shrimp in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast 6-8 minutes (just 6 for mine) until opaque.

5. Meanwhile, toss everything but the dressing into a big ol’ bowl.

6. Once cooked, let shrimp cool just a bit, then add dressing and toss with the salad. Personally, I liked this one a little warm and wilted. The feta starts to melt and ooze through the whole thing … which means you don’t need as much of it but you get it in every bite.

7. YUM!

I would totally put Edgar the Salad up against any of Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals. (Seriously, it only took about that long — and there wasn’t much to clean up, either.) Invite Edgar into your home. Let me know what you think!

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Littlenecks, cannellini, and chicken sausage: a lowfat match made in heaven

I had a friend over for dinner tonight. I was hoping we’d go out, but she requested my cooking — at about 3 p.m. while we were both at work. “I want something light, healthy, and delicious,” she said. Some sort of flattery followed, though I can’t remember the details because my mind was already freaking out about what to make.

“It’ll have to be something quick,” I told her. And here’s what I came up with.

Littlenecks with chicken sausage and cannellini
For two!

20 littlenecks (see below for my grit-free technique)
Olive oil, a couple times ’round the pan (real fast!)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 hot (or sweet) Italian chicken sausage (and yes, pork would be delightful)
1 cup dry white wine
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup clam juice
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (though you probably won’t need salt)

1. Soak clams in cold water for about an hour, changing the water every twenty minutes. The grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl each time. In the meantime, prepare the rest of your ingredients.

2. When the clam water has been changed twice and everything is chopped, start cooking. In a big skillet with a cover, sweat garlic and shallot in olive oil over medium heat until shallot is almost softened — nothing should be browned.

3. Over the pan, push the sausage out of its casing (sorry, butcher) and cook, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until just cooked through.

4. Add white wine and simmer away until reduced by about half. Toss in the beans and stir a bit — it’s good if they break up and thicken the sauce a little. (This is a good time to rinse the clams one last time!) At this point, taste for pepper and add it … but wait till the end for salt. I added a bit at this point and wished at the end that I hadn’t.

5. Place clams in skillet in an even layer. Pour clam juice over them and cover. Allow to steam until clams open — I start checking after about 7 minutes.

6. Here’s where I get anal. Remove clams as they open — it’s okay to let them get room temp because you’ll toss them in the warm sauce later. (If you leave ‘em in and they get rubbery, don’t come crying to me.) When the last couple are about to pop, throw in the parsley and stir.

7. At this point, if you see no signs of opening (in my experience, they take 15 minutes tops), they may be dead — but I always give them a fighting chance. Return the opened clams to the pan, toss to coat, and squeeze in lemon juice. Turn off the heat. Let your guest (and you, of course) start on the open ones, and then cover the pan. If there are still unopened dudes when it’s time for seconds, you could turn the heat back on and coax them if you want, but at this point I generally give up on them.

8. I served this with some crusty bread (to soak up the juice) and a simple salad. Easy — and light — weeknight supper!

I still owe my blog my jalapeno/green olive vinaigrette from last night (burrito night!), but that’ll have to wait.

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Biscuit dough and basketball (or, “Holy crap. Who am I??”)

I spent the first 3 hours of my night making Chilean empanadas. Not exactly unlike me, except for the fact that I tried it with — hold the laughter, please — refrigerated biscuit dough. I totally do not recommend this, people. But I saw it in a recipe online and thought it might be a welcome option for the old folks who read the mag I write for work. Of course, now that I think about it, people in our demographic have more than enough time on their hands to make their own dough. So back to the drawing board with that one. The designer is totally going to kill me. (On the upside, the filling was a knockout. I’ll probably post it eventually.)

ANYWAY, now that I’m done with my cop-out recipe, I’m sitting on the couch. Again, absolutely not unlike me, except for the fact that I’m watching — wait for it! — basketball. Yes, there’s a bit of Boston pride in me, I suppose … and even to my completely athletically-challenged eyes, what I caught of the second quarter was pretty damn awesome. So watching basketball it is.

Of course, before the Celtics win or lose, I’m sure I’ll be fast asleep on the couch, no matter how exciting the game may be. When that happens, I’ll be back to my old self — this is merely a temporary transformation. I’ll find out who won on Boston.com in the morning.

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Holy crap, dudes! Flavor invader!

Check this out! Can I make dinner that tastes like dessert? Crap that tastes like culinary greatness? Sounds like a fun party. Who’s in?

Sure, them there “miracle fruits” are expensive, but at $2 a pop it might be worth it … especially if said “miracle fruits” were available in small quantities (though I suspect they’re not).

Admittedly, as a person who prefers sour and/or spicy over sweet, this phenomenon might be something of a waste for me. But still, I want to get my hands on this stuff. Regardless of your palate’s idiosyncrasies (and mine has many), it’s still so fascinating to imagine tasting the opposite of what your mind expects.

New York friends, I’m waiting for a hookup. All the syrup and hot sauce in my refrigerator will be yours.

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Jicama: My New Summertime Friend

After getting a bit too accustomed to the unexpectedly warm temperatures this morning, I became fixated on making a light and refreshing summer dinner — and even after the day turned (predictably) to crap and I was windblown and damp upon arrival at Whole Foods, I was not to be deterred. And I must say, it doesn’t get more light and refreshing than this. The tilapia with mango salsa, though pretty (and pretty tasty!) is an old standby of mine. What ultimately pleased me most about this meal was the salad.

Tilapia with mango salsa and cucumber jicama salad

I am a big fan of cucumber salad in its many glorious forms. I make them Italian, Asian, and Mediterranean. This time I decided to give it a Latin flair … and for that, I dove into the depths of the unknown!

Well, not entirely unknown. I do know that jicama is extremely yummy. I love its crunchy texture, something akin to an under-ripe pear, and its just-a-bit sweet flavor. I did not know, however, that jicama is a total pain in the ass — and pretty damn ugly, too. I peeled its tough skin off with a paring knife, and used all my muscle to cleave it in half with a chef’s knife. From there, however, it was pretty smooth sailing towards the yummiest and prettiest salad I’ve made in a while.

Cucumber, Jicama, and Lime Salad
Serves: probably 4?

1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 medium sized jicama (mine weighed about 2 lbs), peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely minced (or lazily pressed)
Juice of 2 limes (I zested one in there, too, ’cause it looked pretty)
1/4 cup scallions, finely sliced (both white and green parts, methinks)
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
Big splash of white wine vinegar (maybe a tablespoon? Probably more?)
Healthy pinch of salt
Drizzle of olive oil
Black pepper to taste

You’ll notice that just about everything is “finely minced” or “thinly sliced.” This is the hard part. To put it all together, combine everything in a big ol’ bowl and toss. Easy!

Per usual, I’m thinking about what could make this salad truly awesome had I not been trying to be healthy. Queso fresco would be amazing, as would diced avocado. I would consider cilantro, and only omitted it because I was worried about overkill next to my salsa.

I’m also thinking about how this is most likely one of those salads that’s better the next day … and if the cucumber doesn’t hold up, the jicama definitely will. I’ll find out at lunch tomorrow!

Did you know … ?
You can slice jicama into wedges or matchsticks and dip it in guacamole for a healthier alternative to tortilla chips! Yay, potassium, vitamin C, and dietary fiber!!

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