Beef Barley Soup with Mushrooms

We make (and eat) soup year-round, but appreciate it most during colder months, especially when it’s a soup that involves homemade broth and takes time to simmer away on the stove.  This is not a quick and easy weeknight meal, but it’s perfect for a lazy Saturday or Sunday when your most pressing concerns are making this delicious soup, tending a fire in the fireplace, and maybe finding a good TV show or movie to watch while the soup cooks.  The key to this soup is the homemade beef stock, recommended in the original recipe found in  Cook’s Illustrated’s book, “The Best Recipe:  Soups and Stews.”  You could probably make beef barley soup with store-bought beef stock, but simmering the meat and bones with onion, red wine and water for several hours creates a rich and meaty broth far superior to the stuff available at the store.  So if you have the time and inclination, homemade beef stock is worth the effort for this hearty, beefy soup.

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Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

We’ve made orecchiette with broccoli rabe before, and enjoyed it as a quick and healthy vegetarian meal.  Broccoli rabe (also known as “rapini”) is a leafy green packed with nutrients, including calcium, vitamins A, C and K, potassium and folate, just to name a few.  It’s known as one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.  So why not negate all that nutrition by adding sausage to your rapini dish?  The Italians do it, so that is good enough for us.  Of course — even with the sausage — you still receive all the health benefits of broccoli rabe, and the method of roasting the sausages according to Ina Garten’s recipe in her book “Foolproof” makes them seem at least a little less unhealthy.  Adding the sausage and a tomato sauce elevates this pasta dish in terms of both flavor and texture, and makes it a lot more appealing (to us anyway) than the vegetarian version.  We still appreciate the meat-less meal, but really like the addition of sweet tomato to counter the somewhat bitter rapini flavor.  We’re also curious to try a version using turkey sausage sometime, to keep the dish a bit more on the healthy side, without sacrificing the meaty component.  But when in the mood for a hearty, comfort-food meal that we would imagine an Italian grandmother making, this recipe is the way to go.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Best food court food ever

We’ve mentioned it before, and last weekend made a pilgrimage to the always awesome Asian grocery store, Super H Mart, for Dan’s kimchi fix (stay tuned for a post on kimchi fried rice in the near future.)  We’ve always been curious to try something from the food court there, and are so glad we finally did!  I had a noodle stir fry dish with chicken, Dan had a spicy Korean chicken dish (similar to this), and we were quite impressed with both meals, which tasted like they came from a high-end Asian restaurant, rather than a grocery store food court.  Our only disappointment is that we were too full to order anything from the little dumpling shop.  Next time.


Whenever I find calla lilies on sale, I usually buy a few.  We used them in our wedding, so I’ll always have a soft spot for them.  Plus they last at least a week if you get them really fresh.

January Patio Win

We both have a soft spot for a nice lunch on a patio.  While the Northeastern half of the country is experiencing record low temperatures (sorry suckers friends and family who live in those places!), we’ve been lucky to enjoy a few unusual-for-January days with temps in the 70s.  Yet we will still likely have at least a few more cold-enough-for-a-fire-in-the-fireplace days before Spring officially arrives.  Fickle Texas weather at its finest.

Aunt Ella

I debated whether to post anything here, especially since it certainly is not a “favorite” by any means, but ultimately decided I couldn’t talk about our week without mentioning a significant family event.  Last week we lost our much beloved Aunt Ella, who passed away after a massive stroke.  Ella is my dad’s aunt and somewhat of a matriarch of our family.  Although she never married or had children of her own, Ella looked after so many of us in her very special, loving way.  Not just family members either — she touched lives and made a difference for countless people in her community, church (where she was a member for 80 years!) and life’s path.  She lived a long and fulfilled life — the kind that makes you stop and wonder what you might do to improve your own journey and live better — and passed the same way she lived:  with peace, grace and her quiet, comforting presence available to all the many loved ones who came to say goodbye.  We will dearly miss our sweet Aunt Ella.  May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

Roasted Acorn Squash w/ Lemon-Tahini Sauce

We are fortunate in this great country of ours to have an abundance of basic produce available year-round.  We can find tomatoes, citrus, apples and other fruits, as well as a variety of greens and other vegetables at local grocery stores whenever we want.  But there is something to be said about eating vegetables and other produce when they are in season.  They arguably taste best that way and they definitely are less expensive during the peak of their seasons.  Although generally available throughout the year, the prime time for acorn squash is fall and winter.  We’re all for eating seasonal (and local) food where possible, and wanted to find an acorn squash recipe that we really like for the colder months.  We tried this one, but thought it was a little too sweet for our taste, especially since acorn squash tastes pretty sweet on its own.  For our next acorn squash experiment, we adapted this recipe, which incorporates a bit more spice, and adds a little Mediterranean flair, while complementing the inherent sweetness of the squash.  And just like that, we have a new favorite side dish.  This acorn squash is easy to make — roast it while basting with a combination of olive oil, cumin, garlic and green onions, then finish with red pepper flakes and a sauce made with lemon juice, tahini and olive oil — and it’s fun to serve as a savory and filling side complete with its own, homegrown, bowl.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Breakfast of champions

We tend to get in a rut when it comes to breakfast — having the same couple of dishes over and over — so we tried something new this week.  We love smoked salmon and usually serve it on toasted English muffins with cream cheese and chopped red onion.  This time, we ditched the muffin, spread the cream cheese on a tortilla, added layers of salmon, chopped green onion, hard-boiled egg and slices of cucumber and celery for crunch, then rolled it up and cut it into several pieces.  It was delicious and will be added to our breakfast rotation.

Not amused

You can tell it’s been a bit of an off week when a Friday Favorite is an out-of-focus picture of our cats at the vet.  But the older they get (they’re around 12 or 13 we think), the more relieved we are when they have an excellent check-up result.  Livestrong, Kitties!  (Too soon?)

Spaghetti squash

We tried spaghetti squash for the first time this week and considered it a success.  No doubt we enjoyed it mostly because of the sauce we drenched served it with.  Dear friends of ours gave us a pasta-of-the-month subscription from Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. for Christmas this year, and our first delivery included a jar of the homemade Eggplant Sauce.  We loved it!  The sauce was rich and tangy with hints of basil and garlic, and no vegetable-y taste whatsoever.  Spaghetti squash looks like spaghetti (hence the name, how clever), but the texture is more crisp than pasta.  Once you get used to the texture, it’s actually pretty good, especially when you keep in mind how healthy it is.  It’s also really easy to make — just cut the squash in half (that’s the hardest part), place it cut-side-down in a baking dish, fill the baking dish halfway with water, cover the dish with foil, then bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Uncover the squash halves and carefully turn them over, then re-cover with foil and bake for another 15 minutes.  Allow the squash to cool a bit, then scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard.  Use a fork to pull the “spaghetti” pieces away from the rind and that’s it!  We might not have liked it as much without such an amazing sauce (thanks Paula and Matt!), but we’ll make it again.  Maybe next time as a healthy side to complement a giant slab of veal parmesan.


Skillet Strata

And now for something completely different — breakfast for dinner!  “Strata” typically refers to a layered brunch casserole made with day-old bread, eggs, cheese and milk, put together hours in advance and resulting in a final dish that resembles a savory bread pudding.  We’ve never made strata before and thought it sounded pretty complicated, especially for a weeknight dinner.  But we found a recipe from one of our old favorite cookbooks, “The Best 30-Minute Recipe” that simplifies the process without sacrificing any of the flavor or the delicate-yet-hearty structure.  The ingredients are simple — bacon, onion, eggs, milk, cheese and bread — and can vary depending on what kind of strata you want to make, which is another reason to love this recipe.  Once you have the technique for building and cooking a successful strata, you can modify the flavors and ingredients to suit your preferences and pantry.  For example, you could use sausage instead of bacon.  Or use leftover steak and add green chiles for a migas-style strata.  Leave out the meat altogether and add mushrooms and spinach for a hearty vegetarian strata.  There are tons of possibilities for this versatile meal, not just in terms of ingredients, but also timing — served as breakfast, lunch or dinner, it’s a tasty, filling and satisfying dish that is easy to make, easy on the eyes and pleasing to the palate.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:


Dan has renewed his obsession experimentation with homemade bread.  Specifically, he’s working on perfecting the Dutch-oven-baked, boule-style bread.  Actually, rather than perfect, we’ll settle for crusty outside and less-dense-than-a-hockey-puck inside.  Out of three loaves this week, we got one with a perfect crust but dense middle (see above), another with a beautifully airy inside and weirdly over-floured outside, and one that was mediocre inside and out.  To be continued.

Goodbye Christmas

Just a few weeks post-Christmas (but still less than a month!), we finally packed up the trees and all the Christmas decor.  We blame the delay on attempting to pack everything in a more organized manner this year (hooray for new bins with matching lids that don’t have to be duct-taped shut, decorations organized by room/purpose, and labels!)  Dan is always a little sad to see the Christmas stuff get put away in the attic (possibly because he is the one who has to actually be in the attic, storing the bins that I pass up to him), but the Scrooge organizer in me loves to have my house and all of its stuff back in order after the holidays.

Green Chile Chowder

We made our first batch of green chile chowder so far this season.  It’s rich, creamy, hearty and a little bit spicy — perfect for a chilly winter evening.

Steak Salad

“Dinner salad” takes on a whole new meaning when you add grilled steak, caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes and homemade blue cheese vinaigrette.


Dan had a quick work trip to Palo Alto, CA this week — one of his (and my) favorite places, in no small part due to the Calzone Quattro Stagioni at Cafe Renzo.  It doesn’t get much better than perfect pizza dough filled with salami, prosciutto, artichokes and mushrooms, baked until golden brown, then topped with a light marinara sauce.  Dan loves this lunch so much that I’m pretty sure this is not its first appearance on Friday Favorites.  And probably will not be its last.