Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Beef Barley Soup

This isn't mainly a recipe-based dish. It's mainly a few-rules-of-cooking dish.  The rules that fit here are:
  • Beef that doesn't look pretty is better for soup. White streaks of fat through it are a plus for flavor in this kind of a dish.  The white stuff is sometimes called marbling. Helpfully, it's also cheaper.
  • The onions and mushrooms will develop more flavor if you begin by cooking them slowly, over not-high heat, in fat,  for a while. It's called "sweating" them. You don't want them to get brown the way you do when you saute things. You want the onions to turn sort of translucent, and you want the mushrooms do get softer.  For sweating, it's okay for the pan to be crowded.
  • The barley wants to drink up all the broth--which sort of results in not-soup. You fight that off by cooking the barley in one pot and the beef, mushrooms, onions, and broth in another, and only combining as much as you want to eat a few minutes before you eat it.
  • Barley comes in kinds: some cook in 20 minutes and some in 90, and I haven't figured out which is which. My best advice is buy a package that has directions, and obey. Next best, if you're buying from a bulk bin, is to start checking after 20 minutes and keep checking until it's soft and tastes like it should.
  • Store-bought beef stock usually doesn't have much beef flavor, because it's a lot of work to do right. Vegetable stock or chicken stock are better. Use one of those.
And with that background, here comes a recipe...

Cooking  equipment

You need a medium sized boiling pan for the barley.

You also need something you can use to brown things in fat and something that can hold several quarts of soup.  Option 1: a dutch oven does both.  Option 2: a frying pan for the browning and a soup pot for the quarts.  Your choice.

Ingredients For Four Servings
1/4 cup barley
4 tablespoons butter (one half-stick) (or you could use olive oil)
1 small yellow onion
1/2 lb. button mushrooms (or you can include other kinds, including some dried ones that your mom might make you take, but still mostly button)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock--or you can replace a bit of that with red wine.1/2 lb. boneless beef, looking for something that's cheap and marbled. 

Start the barley cooking according to the recipe on the package.

Peel the onion and cut it into little pieces.

Pull the stems off  the mushrooms. Cut the smallest stems in half, and the bigger ones to about same size. Cut the smallest caps in quarters, and the bigger ones, again, to about the same size.

In a skillet or dutch oven, melt half of the butter over low heat.  Not all of the butter, half of it. Throw in the onion and mushrooms, and stir about once a minute. You can work on the beef at the same time.

Cut the beef into bite-sized chunks, or maybe a little smaller.

When the onions look sort of glassy and the mushrooms are all softer and a bit darker, take them all out, putting them on a plate or in a bowl

Melt the second half of the butter in the same pan, but raise the heat to medium or a little higher.  Add the beef making sure there's a little space between the pieces. You do want the beef to brown, and get bits of that nice dark brown that looks like it'll taste wonderful.  So, after two full minutes, turn over one piece to look at.  If it doesn't have dark brown bits, wait a bit longer, and try again. Then turn all the bits to another side, give them two minutes, and then stir to some other side. This can't be precise because, ya know, they aren't all the same size.  So what you want is for nothing to be red any more, and some sides of most pieces to be that pretty dark brown. 

Remove the meat to the plate or bowl with the onions and mushrooms.

Add about half a cup of water to the pan and let it fizz up to a boil.  As that happens, gently scrape the brown stuff stuck to the bottom loose.

If using a dutch oven: add all the broth, and then add all the beef, mushrooms and onions.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer (just barely boiling, but boiling), cook for ten minutes, and try chewing one piece of beef. If it's lovely soft, it's done.  If not, repeat at five minute intervals.

If using a frying pan and soup pot: Pour the liquid from the frying pan into the pot, and then add all the beef, mushrooms and onions.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer (just barely boiling, but boiling), cook for ten minutes, and try chewing one piece of beef. If it's lovely soft, it's done.  If not, repeat at five minute intervals.

If you're not ready to serve it: Store the barley in one container and everything else in another.

When you're ready to serve it: Combine the right amount of soup and barley in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for three minutes before eating. (Or, of course, microwave them together.  Microwave is better for one serving, stove top for four.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Lemony Chicken and Farro in Half an Hour

General concept: While the farro cooks, you cut the chicken and start it cooking.  Then you prep the shallot and garlic and lemon while watching and turning the chicken. It's fast because you're doing it all at once.

Saucepan with lid, large skillet with lid, tongs, knife, cutting board,

2 cups farro
1 pound boneless chicken breast
1 lemon
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
12 ounce bag of frozen peas
Olive oil

In saucepan, bring four cups water to boil
Add the farro
Bring back to a boil, cover, and lower heat to a simmer
Set timer for 20 minutes.  All the other cooking can be done in those 20 minutes

Start heating skillet over medium heat
Cut chicken into bite size pieces
Add olive oil to skillet to cover the bottom very lightly, and heat until you smell it
Add chicken pieces to oil, spreading them out

Peel and mince shallot and garlic

Check a piece of chicken to see if it has some nice brown on the bottom.  If it does, turn over all the pieces so they cook on another side.

Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice into a cup.
Add water to make the cup a full cup.

Check the chicken again and turn

Watch the chicken, turning as need to get all sides to look cooked and have some nice brown sides.

When all sides look cooked, add the shallots and garlic, stirring them rapidly around the pan until you smell them and then for another 10 second

Add the lemon and water to the skillet and bring to a boil
Add the peas to the skillet, spread them out, and bring back to a boil
Cover the skillet and turn the heat to low
Cook for about five minutes

While chicken and peas cook, combine two tablespoons of water with one tablespoon of cornstarch (or flour) to make a smooth liquid

After chicken and peas have cooked the five minutes, stir in the cornstarch liquid to thicken the liquid.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

When timer goes off, drain any remaining liquid from farro, and combine it with the sauce.

Serve in big bowls or mugs

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Rosemary Black Beans with Rice

This is happy vegetarian food, and only the optional yogurt makes it not vegan. It takes very little effort, but does need a cook paying vague attention  to the beans in the oven for several hours.  It's at its best if you have Rancho Gordo midnight black beans in the pantry ahead of time.

Strainer or colander
Dutch oven with lid
Stovetop pan with lid
Oven mitts
Measuring cup
Big spoon

One pound dried small black beans
Rosemary, either several sprigs fresh or a tablespoon dried
Three cloves of garlic, either crushed or minced

Two cups rice (brown for added nutrients or white for beauty)

Yogurt or sour cream (optional but good)
Salsa (optional but good)

Preheat oven to 325.

Rinse the beans in a strainer.

Put beans, rosemary, and garlic in a dutch oven. Add enough water so that there's a full inch above the beans.

Bring to a boil on the stove top. (This article notes that you do want to do things a little differently with red pinto beans or white cannellini beans, and also confirms that you don't need to soak beans when you use this oven method)

Cover and place in the oven.

Set a timer for 70 minutes and carry the timer with you everywhere you go.

After 70 minutes, take one bean out of the pot give it a few seconds to cool, and bit it.  It'll probably have a bit of crunch and a bit of dryness inside.  If so, set your timer for 10 minutes and put the beans back in the oven.  Expect to do this repeatedly until you really like the texture and taste of your beans.

Meanwhile, bring four cups of water to a boil in a pan on the stove top, and add the two cups of rice. Reduce heat to very low, and cover the rice.  Figure out how long it needs to cook (often 20 minutes for white and 40 for brown), and set another timer for that.

When the rice timer goes off, check that the rice tastes done. If yes and the water is gone, recover and set somewhere off the heat for five minutes. If yes and there's still water, drain and then set somewhere for five minutes.  If no and there's still water, cook two minutes and check. If no and there isn't still water, add a quarter cup or water and cook two minutes and check.  When you think the rice is done, do the thing about the five minutes.

When you like your beans, drain them in a strainer.

Serve with optional yogurt and optional salsa.

The first time I made this, I put a tablespoon of butter in the rice pan, melted it, and added a half cup of chopped onions.  I cooked the onions on low heat until they were very soft, and then added the rice and boiling water. That adds a really nice added flavor.  Done with oil instead of butter, would also work for vegan friends and lactose intolerant pals.