My New Best Friend Barley

I tried it. I liked it. And I made it again, and again. That’s the way it went with this Sausage and Barley Jambalaya recipe. It wasn’t the first time I’d had barley, as my blogging pal Eva at KitchenInspirations has been making barley risotto for a long time because of its health benefits.

Barley deserves all the credit for giving this dish a lovely nutty and creamy texture that is quite unique. It also makes the dish hearty, filling and good for you!

A cereal grain, barley is heralded for its ability to help reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, among other benefits. Go figure! It is also what I would call a “low profile” grain—it goes along its way quietly, while quinoa continues to make a splash in culinary circles, even landing a couple of book deals. I find it all a bit surprising, given that barley is a key ingredient in one of the world’s most popular drinks.

I decided that since I liked the Barley Jambalaya so much, that I needed to try it in something else, something other than a soup or a stew. So, I came up with a new barley salad that I think you may like…

It’s a Mediterranean Salad that combines all of my favourite summer flavours—olives, basil, feta, grape tomatoes, lemon and roasted red pepper. 

There you have it. There are lots of reasons to give barley at try—it’s inexpensive, versatile and a healthy alternative to orzo or rice.

If you decide that barley isn’t for you, then you might like Betsy’s Couscous Salad, over at Bits and Breadcrumbs, which also features kalamata olives, basil and feta with a lovely lemon dressing.

Sausage and Barley Jambalaya

Slightly adapted from Judith Finlayson’s, Delicious & Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes

  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well
  • 1 can  (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 8 oz medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined
  • 1 roasted red pepper, chopped (I use jarred)

 Directions:

  1. Cook sausage over medium-high heat, breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Drain excess fat from pan. At medium heat, sauté onions until softened. Add garlic, thyme, paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and cook for one minute. Add barley and stir well. Add tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boi.
  3. Pour mixture over sausage and stir. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Add shrimp and roasted pepper. Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes, until shrimp is heated through.

 Mediterranean Barley Salad

  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well under running water
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 6 to 7 fresh basil leaves finely chopped
  • ¾ cup feta, diced (I used low fat feta)
  • 2.5 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped (I use jarred)
  • ¼ cup kalamata olives (pits removed and ripped in half)
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 scallions, sliced finely

 Directions:

  1. Add rinsed barley, along with 3 cups of water to medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain excess water and allow barley to cool to room temperature in a large bowl.
  2. Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil in small bowl. Add mixture to barley and stir well. Add feta, pine nuts, red pepper, olives, tomatoes and scallions. Mix well. Serve at room temperature.
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Bumble Crumble in a Skillet

In Canada, we celebrated Victoria Day today. It’s a holiday that we embrace with open arms because it usually marks the first long weekend of the year with warmer weather–and this year didn’t disappoint. The weather this weekend was spectacular.

As it heats up outside, I the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but I love it when there’s an easy alternative. Such was the case this weekend when I made a humble bumble crumble in a cast iron skillet on the barbeque. I cooked it on our barbeque at home and then transported it (by wagon) to our friends that live in the neighbourhood. It was so easy to throw the skillet on the barbeque at low heat (just to warm the crumble) while we ate dinner. I’ll definitely be making this again (and again) this summer. Now I know that for some of my European friends barbequing isn’t an option, so of course this crumble would work just as well in the oven–with or without the skillet. 

In case you’re thinking that this sounds and looks a lot like a crisp, I did a little research and confirmed that according to my trusted Cobblers, Crumbles and Crisps book that I’ve had for decades, crumbles and crisps are interchangeable. Both have a sweetened fruit base topped with a crumbly shortbread pastry. Apparently crisps are called crumbles in Great Britain, where the toppings often contain rolled oats in addition to flour. I’ve used a family recipe for the crumble–adding the slivered almonds and a bit of cinnamon to the mix.

I’ll take a crisp or a crumble for dessert any day. It’s such a simple dessert, but when served warm with ice cream, there’s nothing like it.

Bumble Crumble [in a Skillet]

  • 4.5 cups of mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and diced
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch

Topping

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds

Mix the fruit with the sugar and corn starch and place in the bottom of a 10″ cast iron skillet. (A 10″ pie plate can be used if you are not cooking this on the barbeque.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, rolled oats, cinnamon and slivered almonds. Mix in butter with a fork or stand mixer until the topping is crumbly. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit.

Turn barbeque to high heat for about 10 minutes. Turn heat to medium high and turn off one side of grill. Place skillet on side without direct heat and cook for 40 to 45 minutes until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbly.

If using an oven, bake at 375° for 35-40 minutes until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbly.


5 Grab N’ Go Snack Ideas for Kids and Adults Alike

Quinoa Oatmeal Breakfast Bars, Herb & Parmie Baked Tortilla Chips, Chocolate-Zucchini Cakes, Dried Pineapple and Smoked Paprika Roasted Chick Peas.

I’ve been on a bit of a health kick lately, and as a result, everyone in the family is eating more fruits and veggies. I’ve been sending carrots, cucumbers and grapes to school with my grade one ponytail — and that worked well for a couple of days. Then I started to notice that the veggies and grapes were still in her lunchbox at the end of each day. When I asked her about it, she said that she was too busy at the monkey bars and didn’t have time for her snack. Although, she did have time for the goldfish that I sent for her morning snack.

I recently mentioned this interesting observation to my mom friend Carolyn  and she said that any time she sends carrots or cucumbers for snacks, they end up back home at the end of the day as well. Hmmm, what’s a mom to do?

Thanks to some terrific fellow bloggers and informative websites, I can offer five fairly easy snack ideas that are quite family friendly. Some of them manage to sneak in some dried fruits and veggies in a very tasty way.

1. Quinoa Oatmeal Breakfast Bars — This recipe from Yummy Chunklet is fantastic! (I’ve just started following this blog and I’m really enjoying it.) These bars are quick to make and I just loved the texture that the quinoa adds. I swapped chopped dried cherries for the hazelnuts, so that they are safe to send to school and I used 3 eggs, as suggested in the recipe. I also added a handful of butterscotch chips on the top of the bars before baking. (The Kitchen Sink Granola Bars that I posted a while back are another breakfast bar option as well.)

2. Herb & Parmie Baked Tortilla Chips — These are easy peasy to make. Spray 4 to 6 medium tortilla’s with cooking spray. Cover with finely grated parmesan cheese, a dash of both garlic salt and onion powder, and a pinch of dried parsley. Cut each tortilla into six wedges. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake for 5 minutes;  turn over the tortillas and bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Careful, they burn easily. You could also try other seasonings, such as chili powder, lime juice and dried cilantro. Since these don’t really require a recipe, you can make as few or as many as you like — although they do seem to disappear quickly!

3. Chocolate-Zucchini Cakes — I followed a Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe, but omitted the walnuts to make them nut-free.

4. Smoked Paprika Roasted Chick Peas — I slightly modified a recipe for Garlic and Cumin Roasted Chick Peas by Charles over at Five Euro Food. (If you haven’t read his blog, I highly recommend it. Charles was one of the first people that I met when I started blogging and his upbeat personality really shines through in his blog.)  The girls really loved the Smoked Paprika Almonds that I made recently, so I figured this would help them to give the chick peas a try. It worked! Modifications: I used 2 tbsp oil instead of 3,  2 tsp smoked paprika, a pinch of pepper and one clove of garlic. Everything else was according to the recipe.

5. Oven Dried Pineapple  – I followed the directions for oven drying fruit on eHow. I baked the pineapple pieces for about 5 hours at 170°, as that was the lowest setting on my oven. I left them on the pan in the oven overnight (turned off) and then stored them in a plastic container. I skipped the process of leaving them for 10 to 14 days in a pot, as I found other sites that didn’t include this process. (I also noted that others who tried this techinique baked their fruit for 6 to 8 hours.) The dried pineapple had an intense, delicious flavour. We ate them in a couple of days, so I’m not sure how long they would keep this way. I’d like to try using them in my next batch of granola bars. I plan to try this process on some cherries this summer as well.

You can never have too many good snack ideas, so I welcome any other suggestions you may have. I’d also love to hear about your experience with oven drying fruit, as this was new to me.


Memories of Denmark and Ebelskivers

Do your favourite travel memories revolve around food? Now of course there are the places that you wander between meals—the museums, the artisan markets, or the ancient burial grounds. But does your mind always drift back to that incredible triple cream brie that oozed perfectly over your baguette or that rum and raisin scone with the to-die-for clotted cream that made you believe you were a member of the royal family? Am I all alone on this one?

It’s been more than five, ten, okay, 20 years, but I vividly remember the day I was greeted by a family friend’s sister at the Aalborg train station waiving her little red and white Danish flag so that I’d recognize her. Thanks to my warm and welcoming host and her family, I learned a lot about the Danish culture during my five-day stop-over and I saw a lot of the local sights and sounds, including the Aalborg Tower and Zoo. But what really stands out in my mind? (No, not the aquavit.) I clearly remember the celebratory family dinner with the entire Christensen clan, where I was introduced to the Danish tradition of eating ebelskivers on special occasions.  (Okay, and maybe I remember  a cute Danish boy as well.)

I’ve been thinking about ebelskivers for all these years and finally decided to buy myself the special pan required to make them. Allow me to introduce you to ebelskivers if you’re not familiar with them.

Apparently, Denmark is famous for its apples, which are known as “ebler.”  The literal translation of ebelskiver (pronounced “able-skeevers”) is “sliced apples” although most ebelskivers do not include apple slices. Abelskivers are in fact little pancake balls (called “pancake puffs” in the US) that according to Wikipedia are “solid like a pancake but light and fluffy like a popover.”

While one of the traditional ways to serve ebelskivers is with strawberry or raspberry jam and icing sugar (especially on special occasions and during the Christmas season), these versatile little round spheres can be served anytime of day—as desserts, savory snacks or at breakfast, depending on which fillings or toppings you choose.

This is my new ebelskiver pan

The abelskiver pan itself is a real conversation piece. There’s one story that tells of Vikings returning fiercely hungry from a battle and placing their damaged shields over a hot fire and cooking the pancakes in the indentations. (This is the image that was floating through my mind as I used my cast iron pan.) The special pans are often passed down from generation to generation. For example, when my mom’s best friend immigrated to Canada from Denmark more than 50 years ago, she didn’t bring much with her—but she did bring her grandmother’s ebelskiver pan.

I made these ebelskivers a second time this weekend, as we had an early Mother’s Day brunch with my mom (since we won’t be able to see her next weekend.) The girls just love pancakes, and these little “pancake balls” didn’t disappoint. Although I think it had something to do with all that dipping in jam and icing sugar!

We served the ebelskivers on my grandmother’s platter,
which was just perfect for a mother’s day brunch (Note the hotel for dolls on the couch behind!)

Classic Ebelskivers

From Ebelskivers, by Kevin Crafts

Basic Batter

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-½ teaspoons sugar
  • ½   teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract (omit for savory ebelskivers)

For Preparing and Serving

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • Confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for dusting
  • Strawberry/Raspberry Jam

Preparing the batter

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the milk, melted butter and vanilla extract (if using). Add the yolk mixture to the flour mixture and, using a wooden spoon, stir until well blended. The batter will be lumpy.

In a clean bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. Using a spatula, fold about one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the rest just until no white streaks remain. Use the batter right away.

Cooking Ebelskivers

Make batter.

Here’s my mom taking a turn flipping these little jewels.

Brush the wells of the ebelskiver pan with some of the melted butter and place over medium heat. When the butter starts to bubble, add about 3 tablespoons batter to each well. (I used an ice cream scoop for this and it worked well.)

Cook until the bottoms of the pancakes are lightly browned and crisp, 3-5 minutes. Use 2 short wooden skewers to turn all the pancakes and cook until lightly browned on the second side, about 3 minutes longer.

Transfer the finished pancakes to a platter and keep warm in the oven while you repeat to make 2 more batches. Dust the warm pancakes with the confectioners’ sugar and serve right away.

Makes 21 pancakes.

NOTES

  • When you want advice on something, you ask the experts. So, I asked Elly (my mom’s best friend from Denmark) and my Danish colleague Maria, and they both recommended the cast iron version of the abelskiver pan. There were enough comments on amazon.com about scratches on the non-stick version that I decided cast-iron would be best.
  • There are quite a number of abelskiver pans available through amazon.com. Here’s a  pan similar to the one that I have, which I absolutely love so far. I bought mine at Placewares at St. Lawrence market for $35. While I wanted a solid cast iron pan (without a wooden handle), I decided not to bother going through the effort of shipping.
  • Apparently you need to make sure that the cast iron pan will work on your gas stove. The pan doesn’t have a flat bottom; it rests on the bottom of the pan’s skirt, so this needs to work with the metal grate on your stove. The grate on our stove is flat and so the pan works just fine.
  • I made a second batch of abelskiver this weekend and filled them with strawberry jam during the cooking process. This added a level of complexity that I wasn’t ready for. The directions called for one teaspoon of jam, but I found this to be too much and the jam stuck to the wells in the pan. I don’t think I’ll try this again for quite a while. Next time I make them, I’m going to try adding chocolate chips and serve them as dessert at a brunch.