Perfect for a Potluck: Barley, Corn, and Provolone Bake

Maybe it’s a Vermont thing, but I find several times a year we’re invited to a potluck supper. Everyone brings a dish to share, be it appetizers, casseroles, or desserts and I always love these, since I like to take a little taste of everything. A couple of weeks ago I was lamenting what to take to a potluck supper. I admit, sometimes cooking for a crowd has lost its appeal of late; so many people have food allergies, it sort of takes the winds out of my sails when I am deciding what to make. This time, I decided to make a homey casserole that I brought warm. And it was perfect—and I went home with an empty dish! Please note, this is barley, so it contains gluten and cheese, but it was the perfect dish to warm you up before an evening of dancing. And this would be a great weeknight dish to put together; just cook the barley in the morning when you’re fixing breakfast and lunch! My only switch was I used a cup of frozen corn. This was delicious and I plan on making again for dinner for two!

barleyBarley, Corn, and Provolone Bake
This recipe originally appeared in the November 2000 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 3/4 cup).

3 1/2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt — divided
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onion
1 cup corn kernels — fresh (about 2 ears)
1 cup diced red bell pepper — (about 1 large)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup provolone cheese — or fontina, or part-skim mozzarella (3 ounces)
Cooking spray

1. Combine water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Add barley. Return to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and corn; saute 6 minutes. Add bell pepper; saute 3 minutes. Stir in cooked barley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, parsley, thyme, and black pepper. Remove from heat; stir in cheese. Spoon into a 2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray; cover with lid. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover; bake an additional 5 minutes.

england's flagMVK Eats London, Part Deux
(To read Part One, click here.)

A month or so before we left on our trip, our friend, Jen, asked me what I thought about a sunrise breakfast at the tallest building in London. Yes please! So at the ungodly hour of 5:30 Monday morning, we got up for 6:30 breakfast reservations at the Duck and Waffle restaurant atop the Heron Building. As we took the glass elevator to the tippy top of London, we all looked at each other with sleepy eyes and said, “this better be worth it.” And it exceeded all of our expectations! I thought the restaurant would be full, but we were just one of three tables. (As an aside, at the table next to us were seated two players from the Dallas Cowboys, who played an exhibition game in London the night before. And they won, too! Thanks for the mimosas, guys!) Seated in a rounded booth that overlooked the city, we were able to watch the sky grow light and every five minutes or so, everything came into view, so we kept getting up and taking more pictures. London Bridge, the Gherkin building, everything grew more and more beautiful as the sun came up. Oh, and breakfast was delicious! I got an egg scramble with avocado which was really yummy, Jen got the Duck and Waffle (when in London!), and the Eater of the House got the traditional English breakfast. Two pots of tea, our stomachs full, we headed out for a very long day of walking and sightseeing. (As an aside, Jen cooked up blood sausage [or blood pudding, as it is sometimes called, which is definitely not pudding!] she brought back from Scotland for my first British breakfast! Don’t think about the name and don’t look up what it is, but if you ever have the opportunity to try it, I found it delicious! And was thrilled when I found some in my local meat market when I got home, although I didn’t find it as good as the “real” thing.)

 

The view from atop London.

The view from atop London.

For those of you who are book lovers, I just had to share this with you. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is one of my favorite books of all time. For decades, Hanff corresponded with this small London bookshop, buying books from them. It is a lovely story, and one that I discovered while in London is truly American. While I knew the shop was no longer there, I knew there was a plaque somewhere on a building. We walked up and down Charing Cross Road several times and for the life of me I couldn’t find number 84. I went into 82, they didn’t know. I went into a bookshop, the clerk didn’t know. I went into another bookshop and the clerk said, “yes, it’s there.” But where? “It’s there,” was all he said. So I said I’ll walk up the street one more time and after that I give up. I expected the plaque to be eye-level, but when I looked up, there it was. My Holy Grail. I’ll admit I got very weepy when I found it; I’ll just blame it on jet lag and the early morning rise, but I tend to get emotional over sentimental things. So the photo of me in front of it has me with a red face and teary eyes. Oh well.

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This statue outside the National Gallery was in honor of the World War I soldiers.

This statue outside the National Gallery was in honor of the World War I soldiers.

Like I said, Monday was a BUSY day! We walked to the Tower of London to see the poppies dedicated for World War I, the National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery, then we walked down to Parliament, past Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, and down to the St. Ermin’s Hotel, because I had a date with Jen for high tea! We selected this hotel because they have their own bees and make honey, but we didn’t see any bees–or did we have any honey! Finger sandwiches and lots of sweets and delicious tea. It was a wonderful way to loll away an afternoon. But we couldn’t stay too late, we had a date with best-selling author David Mitchell! After the reading and having our books signed, we went out for tapas in SoHo, this time Peruvian, but I was so tired and hungry I didn’t take any pictures, but trust me, it was an amazing meal.

Look at the cute shelf they use for our sandwiches and goodies!

Look at the cute shelf they used for our sandwiches and sweet treats! And I loved that my china was in my favorite color–pink!

Off to Cambridge for an overnighter! Just a quick 40-minute train ride, and you are off in another land of academia and tiny bookshops. It was lovely and the architecture was incredible. We had lunch in The Eagle Pub, where in 1953 Francis Crick announced that he and James Watson discovered DNA! No announcements that day, although I’d like to announce I had a great plate of fish and chips! I also discovered a food treat at our B & B that I’ve been making since we got home, bircher muesli. Basically, yogurt with muesli or oatmeal and apples, stir, and then everything is nice and soft when you go and eat it. It’s delicious!

 

Cambridge.

Cambridge University.

Our goodbye dinner was at Simpsons On the Strand. I had wavered back and forth if this was a good decision, but we all agreed it was as we left the restaurant. My parents had eaten there more than 30 years ago and had told me what a special time they had, so I wanted to replicate the evening. And we did. My other BFF from Switzerland “popped” over for a quick weekend, so her joining us made the evening extra special. Simpsons is a London landmark, and if you order the beef, they will bring the huge roast to your table and carve it for you right there. Beware all vegetarians of the below photo! I like my beef rare, and this was cooked perfectly and just the right portion, too. Thinly sliced with freshly grated horseradish, I was in heaven. It was a lovely way to end an incredible week in London.

simpsons2

simpsons1

simpsons3
A quick girls only walk in the morning before we headed to the train station to go back to Heathrow. We did so much during these days and I only touched the surface with my stories! Tea in Hyde Park! Tea at Fortum and Mason! A stroll through Selfridges department store’s amazing food court! How my Munich-made, via Zurich, via London white sausages were confiscated at customs! (But I was able to keep the cheese!) And so many delicious meals! But alas our fabulous journey had to come to an end and we had to go back to reality.

And this was MY reality Monday morning!

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Lentil Mushroom Soup with Barley

A few weeks back I was sitting with a friend in a bakery and he was eating what looked like a mushroom and lentil soup with maybe some barley in it. It looked and smelled delicious, so good I actually pondered grabbing a spoon and joining him! I actually never caught the true name of the soup, but since I was on my way to the grocery store, I added lentils and chicken broth to my list, making a mental note I had some barley in the larder.

During the month of December which is dark, cold, filled with way too many sweets, a hearty and cozy soup like this is just perfect for lunches and even dinner. I found this a perfect comfort soup; warm, flavorful, healthy, and the best thing of all, super inexpensive!

DSCN0894

Lentil Mushroom Soup with Barley
Makes 4-5 cups, but can easily be doubled.
Takes 30-40 minutes from start to finish

I like the heartier flavor of baby bella mushrooms in this soup; it adds a certain earthiness to the broth. To save money on the grocery bill, buy just the right amount of lentils and barley in bulk.  

2 teaspoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, large, finely minced
1 medium onion, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced finely
2 cups chopped mushrooms
½ cup brown lentils
½ cup pearled barley
4-plus cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
A splash of white wine (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. When warm, add the garlic, onion, and carrots, cook until the onions are transluscent and the carrots soft. Add the mushrooms and stir until they start to lose their juices. Add the broth, and lentils and barley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until the lentils and barley are finished cooking. Add more water or broth to the soup to thin it out if needed. Add a couple splashes of white wine for flavor to the broth if using.

Cook’s Notes: While this is tasty without herbs, I thought perhaps some thyme might be a nice addition. Also, if you have any spinach or kale in the fridge, it wouldn’t hurt to add those as well.

Spring Cleaning 1: Asparagus Barley Risotto

Don't forget the freshly ground pepper and shaved cheese!

Not sure why, but I have a bee in my bonnet these days. Perhaps it’s the interminably long winter we’ve had here, but I want to clean. Not just clean the house, open the windows, and let the fresh air in, but really hoe things out, including the fridge, freezer, and cupboards. So, in this quest to start anew, I’ve started to look in the larder and create recipes from the grains I have waiting to be used. Staring at me in their glass jars are wheat berries, quinoa, barley, black beans, lentils, and whole wheat couscous.  What to do, what to do?

Last Sunday, I had a craving for a risotto I make each spring when I see the first young asparagus in the store, but is made with the usual Italian short grain rice. Instead of rice, I substituted barley. It was delicious and heated up well for lunches during the week. With this recipe, I was able to use some barley and a jar of homemade chicken broth I defrosted from the freezer. This takes some kitchen time, you have to constantly stir the barley, or if you’re like me, try to constantly stir the barley, sometimes my attention wanders elsewhere! There’s still one more cup of barley left for tomorrow night’s dinner, but I’m making headway. Stay tuned, recipes will be coming!

Asparagus Barley Risotto

1 cup pearled barley
1 cup finely diced onion
3 cups-plus chicken broth
Young asparagus
A couple of dashes of white wine or dry vermouth
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

1. In a sauce pan, heat the chicken broth and add some chopped asparagus (a cup or more, depending on how much you’d like). Once heated through, turn to low and keep it warm. (Note: I didn’t cook the asparagus before putting it in the stock, it cooked while in the broth. If you find they aren’t soft, you might have to bring the broth to a short boil, then turn down to low.)

2. In a stock pot, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil. Add onion and cook until translucent. With a large ladle, add some of the stock. Stir the barley until the liquid is almost gone, and continue, one ladle at a time adding stock until the barley is cooked. During this time, add a couple dashes of white wine, continuing to stir. Make sure you leave just a touch of moisture in the dish, you don’t want the barley to be completely dry.

3. When ready to serve, top with freshly ground black pepper and a few grates of Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve warm.