Black barley with baby kale (and roasted mushrooms, potatoes & pecans)

Barley & kale

I know I shouldn’t go on about it, but it’s on my mind. My dog died a couple of months ago. I still miss her everyday. I still look for her each morning, where her bed used to be. I dream about her incessantly. I’ve dreamt of her as a puppy, I’ve dreamt that she’s lost or not well, and I can’t save her, I’ve dreamt that she never died at all. The strangest dream was probably the most like actual life. She died, and I missed her, and it felt so unaccountable. Why do the most literal dreams feel so odd? I don’t want another dog, I really don’t. But I miss canine companionship. Our house feels so human, somehow, without her. The other day Isaac said, “Mom, you can’t just go up and pet every dog you see!” And he’s probably right, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and trying not to think that Steenbeck would have gone crazy if I’d gone home smelling like another dog. So yesterday, when I went to get the boys from school, and I saw a tiny, dark, bundle of puppyhood…I attacked it. I dropped everything (literally! it’s lucky no little children were standing below me because my umbrella is quite pointy). I grabbed it. Oh, the soft, round little belly. The hot little body, the racing heart. The little puppy eyes and ears! The puppy smell!!!! She didn’t really want to be held by me – she wanted to be running around, with the kids her own age. But I wasn’t taking the hint. I couldn’t let her go. My boys looked at me with sideways, skeptical looks. “Who is that?” they asked? The little kids who actually owned the dog danced around me, looking anxious. “When is she going to give it back?” they asked their nanny. Never! I cried. But I did. I put her down. The little dog was sort of blacky brown. She had that short, dark fur that looks almost purple or blue in certain lights. In other words, she looked like black barley. You see? There is a connection. Barley would be a good name for a dog, wouldn’t it?

This black barley dish is almost like a risotto, but like a risotto made by a very lazy person that didn’t want to make a broth or stir it every minute of the day. The barley is cooked till it’s tender but toothsome (if that means al dente). And it makes its own creamy sort of sauce, just like a risotto. I warmed some butter and white wine and herbs in a big frying pan, and added the barley with its creamy broth. Then I added some water and let that cook down a bit. I found baby kale at the grocery store, and I was quite excited about it. It does have a kale taste, but not as assertively. It has a little bite. I cooked it for much less time than I usually cook kale – I tossed it into the barley broth towards the end, and cooked till it was nicely wilted. (You could easily use regular kale, cooked first, or baby spinach, which wouldn’t need to be cooked at all.) I also made roasted mushrooms and tiny crispy roasted potatoes, to toss on the dish. And I toasted some pecans. I like all of these tastes together – and they all go so well with sage, rosemary and thyme, which I used to flavor pretty much every element involved. I topped mine with some crumbled bleu cheese, too, which added a lovely creamy/salty element, but nobody else in my family did, cause they’re not fans of the bleu cheese. The whole thing added up to a very savory, meaty meal – the smell of barley and roasted mushrooms lingered in my house all evening. It’s a nice smell!

Here’s Rebecca Sugar with Sleepy Puppies. I think it’s lovely!
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Roman gnocchi “pizza” with chard and roasted mushrooms

Roman gnocchi pizza

The power went out for about an hour this morning. It was the crucial coffee-making hour. I panicked, and bought two large coffees after taking Isaac to school. ($5.30? Really?) By the time I got back home, the power was on and all was right with the world. Well, that coffee must have been stronger than our usual coffee, cause I feel a little odd! I’m wired, my heart is racing, and I feel on the verge of seeing spots or possibly experiencing tunnel vision. But I’m strangely tired, too. I could take a nap, in fact. Except that I can’t take a nap, because I’ve had too much coffee!! And I feel like I’ve got too much to do to take a nap, but we all know that’s not true, because I’m a lady of leisure. A roustabout, a ne’er-do-well.

I would like to tell you about my roman gnocchi pizza, though. I’m a big fan of roman gnocchi. Basically, roman gnocchi involves applying a cream puff technique (one of my very favorite cooking techniques) to semolina flour. It’s baked rather than boiled. It doesn’t call for potatoes, but it does call for eggs. So it’s light and fluffy. Dense and soft on the inside, cripsy on the outside. Very comforting and delicious. You can add all sorts of things to the batter – herbs and cheese being the most likely (I was going to make a joke about adding nails and pennies, and legos and other small household objects, but I thought you might think the coffee had made me crazy!). I like to make a big plate of roman gnocchi in the summer, and then have lots of little dishes along with it – fresh tomatoes and basil, chard and raisins and pinenuts, basil pesto, crispy eggplant, a good salad. It’s one of my favorite meals! This time of year I thought it would be nice with chard and roasted mushrooms. And I further thought that it would be nice to combine them before I bake the roman gnocchi, and to make it in a sort of pizza shape. So that’s what I did. It was quite simple to make. Generally, when you make roman gnocchi, you make the dough and then let it sit, so that you can cut it into shapes before you bake it. The sitting step was eliminated in this version, because I just scooped it onto a baking tray and arranged it with a spoon.

Here’s Mississippi John Hurt with Coffee Blues. This song kills me, because it’s so beautiful, but it’s actually an advertisement for a particular brand of coffee!
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Non-sausage rolls with roasted mushrooms and white beans

Non-sausage rolls with roasted mushrooms

Here’s another installment in the non-sausage roll series. I made these for our shadfestivities. They’re the easiest of all the small savory pastries to make, in my opinion, because you slice them apart, rather than painstakingly forming each one. The mushrooms are roasted with sage and rosemary and thyme, and then a little Spanish paprika is added because I can’t resist it! And to give it a slightly smoky flavor, of course!.

Rather than go on and on about them, I’ll share this cartoon I recently saw.

Alex Gregory's New Yorker cartoon

I’m thinking of going back to the pointless barking!!

If you’ll cast your memory back, you’ll recall that for my last shadfest savory pastry post, I added Desmond Dekker’s Intensified Festival track. Well, this is Toots Hibbert’s recollection of the same event. Desmond Dekker came first!

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Eggplant, roasted mushroom, red bliss, spinach bake

Eggplant mushroom bake

There are certain things in the world I like a lot. I think of these things as “Claire-y.” Otters, for instance, or green chairs with unexpected drawers, or boxes with little secret compartments and little bottles in them. These things are claire-y. I was trying to think of a way to describe this, and I kept coming back to the word claire-y. I love eggplant, mushrooms, spinach and potatoes. I love them cooked these ways, and I love them all together. I also seem to be drawn to odd dishes that defy definition and categorization. I’m not sure what to call this? Is it a gratin? A tian? A bake? A casserole? (For some reason a casserole seems like something my fourth grade teacher from the 70s would make. The one with the polyester suit and the glasses on a chain.) As I understand it, most of these words describe the dish it was baked in. But I don’t know what my dish is called! ACK! I decided to call it a bake. Because it’s baked. Here’s what it involves…thinly sliced vegetables, each prepared in a slightly different way, layered together with some cheese and baked. That’s about it. The potatoes are boiled, the eggplant is fried, the mushrooms are roasted, and the spinach is sautéed. It’s quite easy though! It sounds like a lot of steps, but they’re all pretty easy and quick. And then when it’s done, what is it? It’s hearty and satisfying enough to be a main course, but it also works quite well as a side dish. It’s whatever you want it to be, I guess!

Eggplant mushroom bake

Today friends, instead of finding a song about casseroles, tians or bakes, I’m going to post this song that has been haunting me. It’s so beautiful and plaintive. When a song like this is an earworm, it’s like having a little ghost howling in your head! It’s Tommy Johnson’s I Want Someone to Love Me.

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Vegetarian toad in the hole

Remember the scene in Bedknobs and Broomsticks when Charlie rebels against eating nettles and declares that he wants some “toad in the ‘ole”? My boys were intrigued. What is this toad-in-the-hole, of which he speaks? So I broke out my handy dandy Rupert the Bear cookbook (circa 1974), and Malcolm and I schemed together to make our own, vegetarian version. It’s fun flipping through the pages of my Rupert cookbook. These must have been some of the first things I learned how to make. I’ve been wracking my brains lately, trying to think of the absolute first thing. I just don’t know! David said his was cinnamon toast, which seems like such a nice thing to know how to make. Do you remember the first thing you knew how to make, all by yourself?

So we decided to follow the recipe for toad in the hole (which is a strange practice for me!) accept that, obviously, we wouldn’t be putting sausages in! We could easily have used fake sausages from the store, the boys love them! But I wanted to try something a little more inventive, so we used mushrooms, marinated in sausage-y herbs and spices, and then roasted till they were quite crispy. It turned out delicious!! I added a little bit of smoked gouda to the pudding batter (Just can’t leave well enough alone!) because I think it adds a nice meaty flavor to mushrooms. Other than that, we stuck to the recipe pretty carefully. Which I might not do next time – the book only calls for one egg, but I think with two it would have puffed up much more nicely. That’s how I’ll write the recipe – with two eggs!

Here’s Teddy the Toad by Count Basie
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Spice mix!

I love the idea of spice mixes. Berbere, zatar, Ras el hanout, garam masala, jerk seasoning. Even the names are wonderful! In the past I’ve tried to recreate some of these using the spices most available around here – but it’s sort of exciting that, when they’re at home, these mixes contain spices that are extremely hard to find where I live. Everything about spices appeals to me – the textures, the fragrances, the colors, and, of course, the taste. It’s no wonder that they were once considered precious.

I realized the other day, as I was typing up a recipe for this very blog, that I tend to use the same spices over and over. I’ve got different combinations I like to use, but there are a few that I use a lot. I decided to embrace that fact, and to try to distill the different spices into one perfect (for me) mix. So I did! And I’m very enamored of it, because I think it’s very pretty and smells very good, too. It’s smokey, a little bit hot…it combines some sweet herbs with some more piquant spices. I test-cooked it first with some roasted cauliflower, and that turned out well, so I decided to use it in these little pies. They’re stuffed with roasted mushrooms, white beans and hazelnuts, and seasoned with my spice mix. Very nice!

white bean hazelnut pies

Over the summer, my son Malcolm invented a spice mix of his own. So I decided to accompany the pies with sweet potato fries cooked with Malcolm’s supreme spicy spice mix. They went very well with the pies! And we had a fun time putting it all together.

Here’s Mix it Up by the Kingstonians. That’s the way I like it.

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Vegetarian Haggis

vegetarian haggis

I know, I know – I missed Burns’ Night. I seem to be missing everything lately! I put it all into a big pile somewhere in my mind, and then I forget about it till it’s too late. Well, it’s never too late for vegetarian haggis! This dish would be delicious whatever you called it. (Possibly more delicious if you didn’t conjure pictures of actual haggis!!) It is comprised of french lentils, roasted mushrooms, oatmeal, nuts, herbs & spices and a dash of whisky. I’ve baked it inside of pastry before (surprise! surprise!). But my all-time favorite way to eat it is baked inside of big beautiful chard leaves. I think it looks pretty, and the chard adds a lovely flavor as it holds everything together. I first had vegetarian haggis on my honeymoon in Edinburgh – out of a can! It was surprisingly tasty. This is my recreation of that canned delight, but it also happens to be a collection of many of my favorite foods. I put butter and cheese in mine, but you could easily leave those out, and then you’d have vegan haggis.

Here’s The Gourds with I Ate the Haggis (thanks, TFD!)
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Ricotta tart with tarragon, smoked gouda and roasted mushrooms

ricotta tart

Mushrooms smell so good when they’re roasting. It really does make your house smell like a holiday. And their nice, meaty, roasty flavor goes so well with smoked gouda! We’d been eating soups and stews and saucy dishes all week, and yesterday I cracked! I made something with a crust! Because I’m crazy! Actually, it’s because I bought some fresh ricotta at Trader Joes earlier in the week, and I was eager to use it. And I bought tarragon earlier in the week, and I was eager to use that as well. I like tarragon with eggy cheesy meals, something about its bright surprising flavor harmonizes well with comforting foods. And this tart is comforting, but also complex and delicious and even elegant. And also fairly easy to make! It has a toasted walnut crust (because walnuts and tarragon play so nicely together) which makes especially good Isaac crackers. All-in-all, a nice winter meal, with potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary, and a crisp arugula salad.

Here’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, by Thelonius Monk.
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Portobello Wellington

Portobello Wellington

Does it seem like I’m stuck in a wellington rut? Perhaps I am. I had thought about making eggplant wellington for Christmas Eve dinner with my family, but my dad doesn’t like eggplant (obviously he’s never tried eggplant everybody can love!) And it occurred to me that the steakiest of all vegetables has to be portobello mushrooms, and wouldn’t that suit a wellington! Yes, it did!

Apologies in advance if this seems garbled. I’ve got a boxing day haze all on my brain. But here is what I did…I cut the portobellos in thick slices, and cooked them in olive oil, white wine and balsamic till they were dark and crispy. I also roasted some white mushrooms with shallots, garlic and herbs to form the first layer on the pastry. And I cooked some big chard leaves until just tender to form the second layer. Then came some sharp cheese and then piles of portobellos.

I used paté brisée instead of puff pastry because I just didn’t have time to do it all! It worked out fine, I think. Crisp and flakey. And we had it with herbed walnut sauce, which I had added a bit of white wine to in the early stages.

Here’s Duke Ellington’s Toot Toot Tootie Toot from his Nutcracker Suite. Because Ellington rhymes with wellington, of course! Plus, it’s brilliant.
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Roasted chickpea & tarragon pie

This pie is full of flavors and textures!! It’s got roasted chickpeas, mushrooms and shallots! (All together they turn out pleasantly crispy/substantial/soft.) It’s got spinach sauteed with hot red pepper, garlic and lemon! It has smoked gouda! It has a flaky lemon-pepper crust! And it has tarragon!

And it all works beautifully together. Although it looks and tastes complicated, it’s really fairly easy. Being so handsome and deliciously impressive, this would make a nice holiday meal for the vegetarians in your life. I made the edge of the crust quite tall so that you could pile your holiday mashed potatoes right on top.

Since Christmas is A-Coming, we’ll let Leadbelly tell you all about it.
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