Barley and Mushroom Casserole

Saturday, June 17, 2006
Usually I make this in the late fall with a bright piece of squash roasted alongside. Stirring these ingredients together in June felt very unseasonal, but some comfort food was needed to offset this week's cool and drizzly weather.

Cooked barley is satisfying and sustaining with an appealing chewy texture; dried mushrooms are more economical than fresh, easier to store, and give you a bonus of mushroom flavoured soaking liquid when you reconstitute them. I used shiitakes but any strongly flavoured dried mushroom would work. You could also use fresh, though the bland white ones will make a dish with less character. You need a cup of barley, an onion, four to five reconstituted chopped mushrooms, and four cups of cooking liquid that could be chicken stock, beef stock, or the mushroom soaking liquid mixed with more water. Mince and saute the onion gently til softened, then add to a casserole with the mushrooms and liquid. Taste at this point for salt - because I soak mushrooms in salt water to keep them longer, I didn't need to add any. Cook in 350 degree oven until the barley is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. (You could also leave it in the slow cooker on low all day.) Pearled barley, with the outer layer removed, cooks much faster than pot barley but has less nutrition.

This recipe makes a lot - it would fill up three to four people or make a side dish for six to eight. The leftovers will probably need more liquid added when warmed up because the barley will continue to absorb it.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Frozen premade dumplings wrappers, sold as wonton skins or gyoza skins, are natural for making ravioli. You can stuff endless things inside them - just make sure it is a uniform mixture that sticks together but is not too wet. Leftover mashed potatoes, mixed with garlic and maybe cheese, would be fabulous. I just made ratatouille from a big gorgeous pile of vegetables bought at H&W produce (where eggplants are 79 cents each right now) and made ravioli with the finely chopped leftovers. Am also planning to try a mung bean puree.

For another filling, I used homemade goat's milk ricotta, spinach, green onion, garlic, and oregano. The onion and garlic are precooked a bit so when the ravioli are boiled they are cooked through at the same time as the more delicate spinach. I enjoyed these most with no more than olive oil, salt, and pepper. The spicy tomato sauce I originally tried drowned out the delicate flavour of the cheese. If cooking for kids or someone extremely averse to goatiness, slosh on the tomato sauce.

For the herbed cheese ravioli filling: 3 green onions and two garlic cloves, chopped and cooked til soft; 1 1/2 cups homemade ricotta; 2 handfuls spinach leaves, julienned; generous dusting of dried oregano; 1 lb dumpling skins. Combine filling and taste for salt, then make into ravioli. I did them in the same shape as the mandu, though you can make big square ones by using two skins per raviolo. Freeze in single layer before putting into a freezer bag and use within a couple months.

Many food bloggers have posted on making cheese, so I will not go into details on this rather than to note that my best flavour/texture results have come from using a slow cooker on high to heat the milk and lemon juice for the acid. I also don't have a thermometer; just wait for the curds to form.


Perhaps we should call all edible living things by their scientific names. The name 'grains of paradise' make you excited about using them, but saying Aframomum granum paradisi tastes almost as good as the spice itself - Latin, like other romance languages, feels very nice in the mouth. This might also aid understanding in our increasingly international blogosphere - I noticed that some of Mahanandi's recipes have two or three names for ingredients. When I was in India recently and would ask what to call an unfamiliar fruit, seasoning, or scent, the most common reaction was "In what language?"

Fragaria is the name of an imaginary country where I would like to live someday. It also means strawberries. For much of the world the strawberry season is well under way but this far north the wild ones are just starting. These are small and sweet with ten times as much flavour as their cultivated relatives, and cost only the effort to hunt for them. They like to grow in ditches, in pastures, alongside dirt roads, and in lightly wooded areas. They are best eaten right there because you can spend a very long time picking and still end up with barely a pint, though my mom manages to get enough for jam every year. (In Edmonton there are also lots of saskatoon bushes along the river valley which have mostly lost their flowers by now, but the berries will be another four to six weeks. )

Karelian Hot Pot, from Cooking with Oil

Saturday, June 03, 2006
In honor of the Stanley Cup finals beginning this week between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes, we bring you a hockey themed post.

A Canuck blog post on hockey and cooking led to a discussion of NHL team cookbooks, with titles such as Cookin' on Ice (Flyers), What's Bruin' (Bruins), Flaming Foods (Flames), Red Hot Recipes (Flames), Goal Scorers and Gourmets (Penguins), and Cooking with Oil (Oilers).

The only one of these classics that the Edmonton library has is Cooking With Oil. Thankfully this is no sport and mayhem themed cookbook like Tiger Williams' "Done Like Dinner". The book is a collection of a couple dozen recipes for some of the Oilers' favourite dishes, each with a picture of the player and the cook. Having come out in 2002, the book has a few recipes from those who have moved on such as 'Dallas Dip' from Tod Marchant and a Jiggs Dinner from Newfoundland born Daniel Cleary, now with Detroit. We do have Jason Smith's favourite lasagna, Shawn Horcoff's favourite bruschetta, and the baklava that Steve Staios' mom makes.

At first I was afraid that finding a frugal recipe to blog in a pro sports team cookbook would be like trolling a recipe collection from the Forbes list, but many of the recipes were simple and approachable and close to budget. The Laraque Ham and Cheese Bake nearly made it, but called for a cup of cream and Cheese Whiz, which I didn't have on hand. Even the Jiggs Dinner called for 3 lbs of corned beef. (Could have made it if I used less meat and cured it myself, but even here there are limits to fandom.) One recipe that worked with the budget was Karelian Hot Pot, from Finn goalie Jussi Markkanen's mom. Like many Scandinavian dishes, it has basic ingredients and an uncomplicated presentation. If you want to follow the serving suggestion but don't have lignonberries, you can use cranberries.

Cut 1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, beef roast, or stewing lamb into generous cubes and coarsely chop 2 onions. Layer meat and onions in a large roasting pan, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Add a teaspoon of allspice and water to nearly cover. Bake uncovered for three hours at 350 degrees, making sure water level does not get too low. Cover near the end of cooking time if needed. Serve with boiled potatoes, boiled turnips, grated carrots, and lignonberry sauce.