Mushroom Barley Soup w/ Mini Meatballs

Beef barley soup is a classic old-world dish, and it’s been simmering away in pots for centuries, probably as long as people have been making soup. It just makes sense ~ the little white pearls of barley add lovely texture, as well as extra nutrition and satisfying bulk, all important things when you’re trying to make dinner out of a pot of soup. For an added bonus, barley’s natural starch thickens the soup as it cooks.

Beef Barley Soup is classic comfort food that you can make on the stove or in the crock pot. The soup has roots in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Mushrooms were popular in these cold-weather countries because they could be harvested, dried, and stored for later use.

Barley was also plentiful and easy to grow in the Eastern European climate, making it a common addition to hearty winter dishes like soup. Barley’s history goes back even further; in fact, it is arguably the world’s first and most ancient, cultivated grain.

As far as the meatballs, texture can be an issue. If the meatball is too wet, it will disintegrate when cooking in soups. If it is too dry, it will lose its flavor and potentially break up into pieces. Using the right amount of liquid or eggs for the mix to keep them moist, but equally so, enough breadcrumbs or flour to bind them adequately. Remember, you can never get enough seasoning, so don’t be gentle with it, and use spices and herbs liberally.

One of Brion’s favorite soups has always been mushroom beef barley, so now seems a good time to make some.

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Mushroom Barley Soup w/ Mini Meatballs
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Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, combine the broth, water, barley & thyme. Season with salt & pepper; bring to a boil. Cover & cook over low heat until the barley is nearly tender, about 18 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil. Add the mushrooms & shallot, season with salt & pepper; cook over high heat until tender and browned, about 8 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, 1/2 teaspoon of salt & 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Knead the mixture until blended, then roll it into sixteen 1-inch balls.
  4. Add the meatballs & mushrooms to the soup. Simmer over moderate heat until the meatballs are cooked through & the barley is tender, about 8 minutes. Discard the thyme. Stir the parsley into the soup & serve in bowls with sour cream.

Flammekueche – Alsatian Pizza w/ Onions & Bacon

Nestled on the border of France and Germany is a little area known as the Alsatian (All-Say-Shun) region. There, cultures have collided, blended, and meshed to create some of the most unique culinary experiences. One such specialty is the Flammekueche, also known as the Alsatian Pizza, or Tarte Flambée. A combination of baked flat dough topped with fresh cheese known as fromage blanc, bacon, and onions. All of this is baked to a crisp perfection.

The most underrated and underused topping in every pizzeria is the onion. The flavor potential of this glorious root can be either bold or a sublime succulent whisper, but it is usually taken for granted.

Known as flammekueche in Alsatian and flammkuchen in German, tarte flambée is pure and uncomplicated. Typically made on a piece of thin, rolled-out bread dough, it has only three or four other main ingredients: the sour cream, cheese, onion and the bacon.

But don’t let the few ingredients fool you because they’re wonderfully paired. The creamy, slightly sharp sour cream is tamed by the sweet onions and salty bacon.

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Flammekueche - Alsatian Pizza w/ Onions & Bacon
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Potato Pizza Crust
Caramelized Onions
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Potato Pizza Crust
Caramelized Onions
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Instructions
Pizza Crust
  1. Cook potato, peel & mash. Combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. Add butter, salt, sour cream & potato; mix well. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Caramelized Onions
  1. In a large skillet, heat oil. Add onion & sprinkle with salt. Cook & stir about 15 minutes or until moisture is evaporated & onion is soft. Reduce heat, sprinkle with vinegar. Cook & stir until golden. Stir in brown sugar; cook & stir until caramel brown in color. Remove from skillet & set aside.
Bacon / Cheese
  1. In skillet, sauté bacon until it is halfway to crisp, 2-4 minutes. Remove bacon to drain on paper towel. Break or cut bacon into small pieces. Grate cheese.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press dough into 4 ovals. Transfer with paper to a baking sheet.
  3. Add minced garlic to sour cream & spread over crust, leaving a small border. Distribute onions & bacon evenly over sour cream. Top all with grated cheese & a sprinkling of black pepper.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & slice.

Pear & Gorgonzola Pastries

The fall season seems to orchestrate a return to the kitchen, to lure us who enjoy to cook, back to the stove. With the cooler days and nights, heating up the oven and cooking or baking becomes conceivable once more.

Autumn fruits are everywhere and pears are definitely in season. Pears & Gorgonzola are such a great pairing. The crisp, sweet, sometimes-earthy, sometimes-citrusy flavor of pears is naturally enhanced by the unique rich flavor of this Italian blue cheese.

Gorgonzola is named after a town outside of Milan, Italy where it was originally made. This soft, creamy cheese with blue-green marbling has a slightly pungent, savory flavor. The main difference between the different types of blue cheeses, is the region or country that they are made in or what type of milk is used in them.

Neither Brion or I like the strong flavored blue cheeses, but we sure wouldn’t pass up Gorgonzola used in either a sweet or savory recipe. These little pastries are a great fall/winter dessert. A bit more fidgety than making a larger tart or pie but as always, I love individual desserts …. there just so special!

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Pear & Gorgonzola Pastries
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PASTRIES
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PASTRIES
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Unfold puff pastry sheet & cut into 3 long rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 3 equal size squares.
  3. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Placing tarts about an inch apart. Score a crust about 1/2-inch from edge of each tart. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg wash just across the outer crust of each tart.
  4. Divide fig jam between pastries. Spread jam across the center of each pastry, keeping it within the scored lines.
  5. Place 3-4 slices of pear in the center of the pastry, overlapping them. Sprinkle with walnuts.
  6. Divide the Gorgonzola between the pastries, gently pressing it into pears/walnuts.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges are golden brown & pastry is baked through.

Baked/Stuffed Picnic Loaf

Bread, cheese, bacon & leeks all baked together in the ultimate picnic loaf! This recipe idea derives from a Portuguese traditional stuffed bread made in the North of Portugal called ‘Bola’. This was made by the farmers wives for their husbands to take to work when they were out working the fields. It consists of bread dough enriched with ‘lard’ or butter and then put in layers in a baking tray, filled in the middle with meat leftovers like roast pork, veal, chicken or chourico (smoked pork sausage).

This kind of reminds me of Pan Bagnat, the traditional Nice ‘sandwich’, in which the top of a round loaf would be sliced off and some of the crumbs hollowed out, mixed with tuna, olives, anchovies, etc. then spooned back in and the ‘lid’ put on top. Later variations are often made with ham and cheese and sometimes peppers are added.

In September 2017, I posted a blog on Pan Bagnat. Once the flavors all meld together the taste was incredible. I thought this stuffed bread would be perfect for an outdoor summer meal or picnic.

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Baked Stuffed Picnic Loaf
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Instructions
  1. Very lightly grease a skillet with olive oil, put in the bacon & sauté until browned. Add the chopped shallot; sauté until softened, then add the leek. Stir together and remove from the heat – you want the leeks to keep their color so don't overcook.
  2. In a bowl, whisk sour cream, eggs, mustard & spices together. Don’t overmix: keep the mixture a little lumpy.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  4. Slice into the bread, but not all the way through. You need to cut deep enough into the bread to open out the loaf and fill between the “slices, while leaving the loaf connected at the base. Place the bread on a sheet of parchment paper.
  5. Into each slot in the bread, place a slice of potato, followed by some of the bacon, shallot and leeks.
  6. Use the paper to lift the bread onto a baking tray. Spoon some of the sour cream/egg mixture into each slot, so that the bread absorbs as much as possible.
  7. Finally insert the slices of cheese. Enclose the loaf fully in the baking paper and then wrap it in foil to make a tight parcel.
  8. Put the wrapped bread into the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, then remove the tray and open the foil and parchment paper. Return to the oven until the top of the bread and its filling is golden brown. Remove and serve!

Beef Cabbage Rolls – Reconstructed

Some years ago I acquired a great little book from the Lea & Perrins Company. The main focus of the book was to promote their Worcestershire Sauce.

Worcestershire sauce was created in the heyday of the great English table sauces. In 1838, the commercial Worcestershire sauce was ‘born’. The story of the origins of the recipe for the sauce is entangled in a web of legends, but the common thread is that its place of origin was India. Versions of how the recipe came to England usually credit a member or members of the prominent Sandys and/or Grey families. Typically the stories indicate an effort to reproduce a Bengali recipe for a sauce with the assistance of chemists (pharmacists) John Wheeley Lea & William Henry Perrins of Worcester. In most editions of the tale, the first attempt is a failure, but the results are stored away; fermentation occurs and a later tasting reveals the delightful concoction now enjoyed all over the world.

The exact recipe is ‘secret’, but it is known to include both common and exotic ingredients: anchovies, shallots, chilies, cloves, tamarinds (brown pods from a tropical tree), garlic, sugar, molasses, vinegar and salt. There are about as many ways to incorrectly pronounce Worcestershire as there are ingredients in the sauce. The tremendous depth of flavor of the sauce is the result of many different ingredients being fermented individually, blended and fermented again.

Worcestershire sauce contains something for everyone …. sweetness, acidity and saltiness. This probably explains the reason we still see it on our grocery shelves 184 years after it was first created.

I’ve used this simple little recipe from the Lea & Perrins book numerous times and it always tastes great.

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Beef Cabbage Rolls - Reconstructed
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Instructions
  1. Cook cabbage & rice: set aside. Sauté chopped onions; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine beef, cooked rice, salt, Worcestershire sauce, egg & catsup (or BBQ sauce).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  4. Roll out meat mixture between 2 sheets of parchment or foil paper into an oblong 1/2-inch thick. Spread meat with cabbage & onions & sprinkle with Italian seasoning.
  5. Using the help of the bottom sheet of paper, roll up in jelly-roll fashion. Place on greased shallow baking pan.
  6. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Slice & serve as is or with a sauce of your own choice.

Amaretto Cherries w/ Dumplings

It may seem hard to believe, but the importation of amaretto liqueur to North America did not occur until the 1960’s. The almond flavored cordial quickly became a hit in cocktails and food preparation. By the 1980’s, it was second in sales only to Kahlua.

While its known that the drink was made in Italy, pinning down its exact origin story can be tricky. Two different families claim responsibility for the cordial with both having equally interesting stories to back up their claim.

Although, amaretto liqueur has an almond flavor, surprisingly, it may not contain almonds. The standard base of the liqueur is primarily made from either apricot pits or almonds or both. The drink like many other alcohols may contain any number of added spices and flavorings.

While amaretto cookies are probably the best known recipe made with this liqueur, its actually got many uses in the kitchen. You can add it to pancake batter for a richer flavor or to ice cream and is a common ingredient found in tiramisu cakes. You can even use it to add a touch of an almond kick to savory meats like poultry and fish.

These Amaretto Cherries w/ Dumplings are such a nice ‘homey’ dessert for this time of year.

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Amaretto Cherries w/ Dumplings
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Amaretto Cherries
Dumplings
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Amaretto Cherries
Dumplings
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Instructions
Amaretto Cherries
  1. In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch & salt. Stir in the reserved cherry juice; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking until thickened. Remove from heat & fold in the cherries. Pour cherry mixture into a 8 X 8-inch baking dish. Drizzle amaretto over cherry mixture. Cover & keep hot until dumplings are mixed.
Dumplings
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest & salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together milk & melted butter. Add to flour mixture; stir until moistened.
  4. Drop by tablespoons on top of hot cherry mixture. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of dumplings comes out clean.
  5. If desired, serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Blackberry Roly Poly Pudding

Roly poly pudding also known as shirt sleeve pudding is a traditional British pudding. It was probably created in the early 19th century. The dessert was traditionally made with a ‘suet’ (hard animal fat) dough that was spread with jam and then rolled up and steamed or baked. It got the name ‘shirt sleeve‘ as it was steamed in an actual shirt sleeve.

The pudding is a nostalgic one for many British adults, as it was very popular 30-40 years ago as part of British school dinners, topped with a custard.

Today, roly poly is not only made with a jam filling but also with fresh fruit and served when one needs a comforting ‘retro‘ dessert.

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Blackberry Roly Poly Pudding
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Dough
Filling
Topping
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Ingredients
Dough
Filling
Topping
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Instructions
Dough/Filling
  1. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder & salt. Cut in shortening & butter until crumbly. Add sour cream & blend until ball forms. Roll out on a floured surface into a 15" x 10" rectangle. Spread with 1/4 cup softened butter, sprinkle with remaining filling ingredients. Roll up, jelly-roll style, starting with the long side. Cut into 10 slices. Place slices, cut side down, in a 13" x 9" baking pan.
Topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a saucepan, combine water, brown sugar & cinnamon. Bring to a boil; remove from heat & stir in cream. Carefully pour hot topping over filled slices.
  3. Bake, uncovered for 35 minutes or until bubbly. The center will jiggle when dessert is hot out of the oven but will set as it sits for a few minutes. Serve warm.

Saskatoon Clafoutis

Some might consider clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-tee) just a lazy cook’s way to pie or cake, but its truly luscious comfort food complete with a French pedigree. Born in Limousin, in southern central France, a couple of centuries ago to showcase its fresh cherries. Very likely, the creation of a hurried & harried home cook with a glut of cherries to use up. Traditionally made with unpitted black or tart cherries. The pits supposedly added an almond flavor when baked.

The name clafoutis comes from the verb ‘clafir’, a rustic old word that means ‘to fill’ because after you arrange the fruit on a buttered baking dish, you fill the pan with eggy batter. It bakes into a light, custardy confection with a consistency somewhere between pudding, pancake and soufflé.

Clafoutis is a dessert you need in your life. It is neither difficult nor time consuming and it requires few ingredients.

The first time Brion & I ever tasted clafoutis was actually in France in 2001. Strangely enough, I’ve never got around to making it even though we had enjoyed it.

By using one simple batter recipe, you can make a variety of clafoutis by changing up the fruit and flavorings you use. Of course, there are some who would say that a clafoutis made with any fruit other than cherries would be properly called a ‘flaugnarde’, but what’s in a name when it comes to comfort food!

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Saskatoon Clafoutis
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine European
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Ingredients
Batter
Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine European
Servings
Ingredients
Batter
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Place all batter ingredients into a blender. Blend until well combined.
  3. Butter a large pie dish & sprinkle the 1 Tbsp sugar evenly over the butter. Pour the batter into the dish, then sprinkle the saskatoon berries evenly throughout the mixture. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the surface of the clafoutis & place in the oven.
  4. Bake until the clafoutis is puffy & nicely browned on top, about 35-40 minutes. To check if its done, remove it from the oven & gently giggle the pan. It should shake softly, but not look overly liquid. You can also test with a knife tip to ensure its set.
  5. Dust with powdered sugar if you wish & serve immediately.

Fried Meatballs w/ Potato

Meatballs are one of those incredible inventions that travel the world uniting cuisines from across the globe.

Polpette is a word denoting Italian meatballs, traditionally consisting of ground beef or veal that is shaped into small balls. These meatballs are usually enriched with a wide variety of ingredients such as parsley, eggs, garlic, mashed potatoes & Parmigiana Reggiano.

Although some might think that polpette are served with pasta, that is mostly a North American thing. Italian polpetti are typically consumed on their own as a snack, appetizer or finger food.

These little meatballs are incredibly soft due to the good amount of mashed potatoes in them. Instead of being appetizers, I added some extra veggies to make it a main course. We really enjoyed the whole combination.

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Fried Meatballs w/ Potato
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Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water & boil gently until tender.
  2. In a large skillet, combine oil with 1/2 tsp minced garlic & the rosemary. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant but not colored. Add the ground meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt & pepper, cook stirring occasionally until browned. Drain any fat from meat & transfer to a large bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, soak the bread in the milk for a few minutes; it should absorb as much as possible.
  4. Drain the potatoes as soon as they are tender. Peel them while still hot & mash or rice them. Place in the bowl with the meat; add soaked bread & remaining 1/2 tsp garlic, parsley, 1 egg & the Parmesan cheese. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Break the remaining egg into a small bowl & beat it lightly with 2 Tbsp water. Spread the bread crumbs on a plate. Lightly roll the meat mixture into 1-inch balls. Dip the meatballs first in the beaten egg, lifting them out one at a time & letting any excess egg drip back into the bowl. Roll them in the bread crumbs & set aside on a platter.
  6. Pour about 1/2-inch veg oil into a large skillet & heat. Add as many meatballs as will fit loosely in the pan & fry, turning as necessary, until evenly browned all over, about 4 minutes. Transfer the browned meatballs to a wire rack or paper towels. Continue to fry remaining meatballs. For our supper I added some mushrooms & peppers.

Mandarin Orange Cream Puffs w/ Craquelin Topping

Cream puffs start with choux pastry, a heady mixture of butter, milk, water, eggs & flour. When you combine these ingredients, they become so dense and sticky that it seems impossible they’ll come together as soft, puffy, light, tender. Heat is what initiates the expansion of the dense paste. Steam from the milk and water expands the pastry’s edges, puffing up its capacity until the oven heat provides just enough crispness and structure to hold the puffs’ boundaries. A cream puff expands so dramatically in the oven that it creates a cavern inside to hold any number of things—whipped cream, pastry cream, ice cream or savory fillings.

Cream puff pastry (or choux pastry) is the base for profiteroles (smaller puffs filled with ice cream), éclairs (elongated puffs filled with pastry cream and glazed), croquembouche (a tower of cream puffs held together and drizzled with caramel) and savory appetizer puffs called gougeres with cheese and herbs.

Craquelin (pronounced kra-ke-lan) is a thin biscuit layer that can be added over choux pastries before baking them. It is used to create a crackly appearance, crunchy texture and a buttery sweet taste as well as helping the choux pastry bake evenly to form hollow rounds. This topping reminded me of a similar cookie-like topping used on Mexican sweet bread called ‘conchas’. It certainly dresses up ordinary cream puffs.

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Mandarin Orange Cream Puffs w/ Craquelin Topping
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Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
Choux Pastry
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Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
Choux Pastry
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Instructions
Craquelin
  1. In a food processor, process sugar & butter pieces until it forms large crumbs. Add flour, salt & vanilla; process until a dough forms. Bring the dough together to form a disk.
  2. Roll the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper until 1/16-inch thickness. Place covered in the freezer for at least an hour then cut the dough into (18) 2-inch circles & keep circles in the freezer until ready to use.
Pastry Cream
  1. In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch until it turns pale yellow. In a saucepan, combine milk & orange zest; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, slowly add the egg mixture a little at a time, whisking well until fully incorporated.
  2. Return mixture to heat & keep whisking over medium heat until it thickens. Stir in orange juice. Transfer to a bowl & cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream. When it comes to room temperature, refrigerate.
  3. When cooled & you are ready to use the pastry cream, whisk with an electric mixer for 15-20 seconds to a smooth texture.
Choux Pastry
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a saucepan, combine milk, water, butter & salt; bring to boiling. Add flour, all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook & stir until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat & add eggs & egg white, one at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.
  3. Place dough in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe (18) 1 1/2-inch circles. Cover each with a frozen craquelin round circle.
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden & firm. Transfer to a wire rack & allow to cool.
Assembly
  1. Carefully slice puffs. Fill a pastry bag with mandarin orange pastry cream & gently fill each puff. Place on serving platter & sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.