Despite my previous enthusiasm, I’ve decided that I’m done with this recipe. It’s just – boring. And it makes WAY TOO MUCH. And those two things are a bad combination in my book. Let me back up.
Photo by citymama
The weather was brisk today, and I anticipated spending most of the day helping my friend Olivia move into her new house. I knew I wouldn’t want to have to think about dinner when I got home – and that Shane wouldn’t be home until later either. In hopes of avoiding a fast food dinner and also stocking the fridge for a week of solo eating, I took half an hour to prep dinner and get it in the crockpot before leaving for the day.
After a morning of heavy lifting and maneuvering, a fair amount of pizza, and an invigorating moped blast around town, I arrived home not particularly hungry despite the wonderful smells coming out of the crockpot. I turned the temperature down and took a long hot bath. I read for a while. I pulled the short ribs out of the crockpot, coarsely chopped the meat, and added it back into the soup. And then I measured out THREE QUARTS, ONE PINT, AND ONE SMALL BOWL of beef barley soup.
Make that boring beef barley soup. I’m finding that it’s really difficult to accurately season large quantities of liquid destined to be in the crockpot for several hours. I’m not shy with seasoning, but I am concerned about over seasoning when the cooking is going to take place when I’m not around. As a result, this soup was a total snooze. I’m going to pick up some sherry to see if it will improve the flavor profile – but even if it does, we are going to be eating this soup all winter. How boring.
Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup from Smitten Kitchen
I think there are only two things I would change about this dinner. First, in an attempt to save some calories and fat, I made the polenta with our normal recipe (instead of with whole milk and vegetable broth), and I swapped out the heavy cream in the sauce. The polenta was as good as ever, but I would use the heavy cream, as the sauce really could’ve used the richness to complement the vermouth and leeks.
Second, there’s basically no seasoning in this recipe at all. I can understand that as it is prepared in a number of separate steps – blanch the beans and peas and set aside, prepare the polenta and set aside, make the leek-vermouth sauce and set aside, saute the mushrooms – and so the potential for over seasoning is significant. I skipped the seasoning of the leek-vermouth sauce, as it was flavorful enough on its own, but would generously season the mushrooms, adding more salt and pepper to taste when the beans and peas go into the pan.I might also saute some garlic with the mushrooms, as that might give a bit of oomph to the final flavor.
A bonus addition, if I’m allowed it, would be to skip the shallots and instead add some crispy fried onions when plating. The flavor is all but lost, and I think this would give a nice bit of extra texture.
Despite all of that, I’m pretty damned pleased with a flavorful and filling vegetarian that looks as good as the magazine photo.
Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks from Bon Appetit
Basic Polenta from Giada De Laurentiis (for two portions, we’ll cut this recipe down to 1/3)
Dinner really couldn’t have been easier, which is such an amazing thing to be able to say when the dinner in question is hearty, healthy, and delicious. The recipe? Prep your ingredients, put ’em in a pot, and let ’em simmer away for 3 hours. That 3 hours is the worst part, as within 30 minutes your kitchen will smell amazing, and it will be all you can do to stay away for the remaining 2:30.
At least that’s what happened with us and this soup, which was just the right thing for a rainy and cold Saturday. I had good intentions of documenting it as well as Smitten Kitchen did – but then I got hungry and forgot. A word of caution, though – this makes DRAMATICALLY more than any two people could possibly eat, with 8 cups of soup left after generous dinner portions. Some will go into our freezer, some will go home with a friend, and the rest will be lunches for the next week – all of which are good things, though next time I’ll probably just halve the recipe.
Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup from Smitten Kitchen
While we haven’t had anything quite like the snowpocalypses that our friends back in DC have experienced this winter, that doesn’t mean the cold isn’t wearing on us. I’ve basically decided it isn’t worth doing my hair until hat season is over, and can frequently be found under several layers of blankets and several layers of clothes complaining about how cold I am. Shane seems to be handling it a bit better – when the temps popped above freezing today, he commented that it would’ve been a good night to work on the moped.
This recipe, then, was just the thing for a cold night. After about an hour of prep, simmering, and amazing smells, I ladled out big bowls of soft grains and cold weather veg – leeks, mushrooms, and kale, plus tomatoes canned last summer. We both added salt at the table, which I think is probably the most appropriate point in this recipe – any earlier, and you’d risk over-salting in order to make the flavor pop. The stew was warm and hearty, full of pleasing textures and varying veg flavors. We made a full batch – about 6 generous servings at about 240 calories each – so a winner for calories, nutrition and enjoyment.
Barley Stew with Leeks, Mushrooms, and Greens from Bon Appetit
We planned this week’s meals over breakfast at Plum Market this morning, flipping through cookbooks and magazines spread around our coffee cups and pastry plates. I like this part of the weekend – anticipating what we’ll feel like eating for the week ahead, picking out the more intensive recipes for a special weekend meal.
For dinner tonight, Ina Garten’s Fresh Pea Soup, made from The Barefoot Contessa at Home, a Christmas gift a few years ago from my Mom (who really wanted the book herself). We’ve made a very similar recipe from Jamie Oliver several times, but I think this is the winner – a soup that just bowls you over with its, well, greenness. I liked how even after pureeing, the soup had some heft to it, something to spoon onto soft French bread, each bite releasing a bit of mint or chive. Jamie Oliver’s recipe is accompanied by garlicky prosciutto croutons, which would’ve been a lovely addition – but with warm bread and a bit of salt, tonight’s soup was just perfect without.
Fresh Pea Soup from The Barefoot Contessa at Home