Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

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My birthday is just days away, so I went to the license bureau to renew my car’s registration. One of my neighbors works there, and she asked me about my back. It so happens that she is also having trouble with her lumbar spine, so I commiserated with her briefly about my muscle spasms that have been flaring up this week. She advised me, “You need celery.”

The line was moving too quickly for me to ask how celery had helped her. Obviously food choices do have an impact on health. I’m uncertain of what magic celery could work on muscle spasms. Perhaps it is one of many fruits and vegetables that reduce inflammation.

This is the second time this week my curiosity has been piqued about celery. Yesterday I read a superb food history article called “Celery Was the Avocado Toast of the Victorian Era” by Heather Ardnt Anderson. It seems strange indeed that such an unremarkable vegetable once occupied center stage on the dinner table.

All of this reflection on celery inspires me to share my favorite recipe that includes this vegetable.

Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
  • 5 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking barley
  • 1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 4 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (I used a whole bunch from the grocery store because I love parsley)

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrot, celery, ground pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, beans, barley, and broth. Cover pan with lid and let simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables and barley are tender. Stir in chopped parsley, remove bay leaf, and serve.

 

Experiment: Simple Ham Slow Cooker Dinner

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My quest for new simple dinners continues. Today I tried to push the limit of how basic I could make a complete ham dinner with a slow cooker. This experiment was of limited success. The long hours of stewing produced a rich amber broth that lent a robust flavor to this dinner, but I made some mistakes in cooking time and volume of ingredients that toughened the ham and potatoes.

My 5 qt. slow cooker has a liner that can be removed, so I decided to assemble the dinner the night before and store it in the fridge until morning. As I was filling the crock, I noticed that I had erred in a scaling the recipe: the crock would be full to the brim if I continued. I’ve had three slow cookers over the years, and all of them came with instructions that the cooker should be 1/2 to 3/4 full for best results. Today I learned that I should not have ignored this advice.

I also learned that a ham can’t quite withstand an entire work day of slow cooking. It starts to fall apart and dry out a bit, even if it is submerged in liquid.

I present this recipe with the corrections I’d make if I were to cook this again. The taste was great, but I think these alterations would greatly improve the results.

  • 3 lb boneless hickory ham
  • 8 oz sliced button mushrooms
  • 1 small red onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1/2 lb baby carrots
  • 1 lb baby red or yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 cup water

Place ham cut side down in slow cooker. Add sliced mushrooms around the ham. Top mushrooms with cut onion, separating wedges if needed to make a full ring around ham. Next layer the potatoes and carrots over the onions and pour the cup of water over all.

Cook on low 6-7 hours.