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.

 

Taco Soup

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This is my planned sequel to taco night. I make this soup about once a month. It’s one of those mixtures that improves in flavor as a leftover. Like its second cousin chili, it tastes better after resting for a day or two in the fridge before reheating.

I usually use leftover ground beef taco filling in this soup, but other taco-seasoned meats could work in this recipe, too.

Taco Soup

Makes 8 servings

  • 1 lb leftover taco meat
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
  • 1 quart reduced sodium beef broth
  • 1 15 oz can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 15.25 oz can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook sliced mushrooms in a dutch oven coated with cooking spray over medium-high heart until mushrooms are golden brown in spots. Add leftover taco meat, breaking up the meat until it is heated through and well combined with the mushrooms. Add broth, beans, and corn. Heat to a gentle boil and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Stir in hot sauce and black pepper to taste.

Diced tomatoes and shredded cheese are good toppings for this soup.

Quick Johnny Marzetti

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This is not the first time I’ve posted a recipe for Johnny Marzetti on this blog. Today I had neither the time nor the need to whip together a dinner so large, so I tried to make this as simply as possible with some convenient ingredients.

By the time I started making dinner today, I’d already walked 15,000+ steps, so I was more than willing to toss aside any culinary aspirations. I admit that I used a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce in tonight’s dinner. Yes, it possible to buy a can filled with nothing but the same sauce that blankets the famous ravioli of that same brand. Strangely enough, whenever I use this spaghetti sauce, the resulting dish does not scream of canned ravioli. Instead, the sauce lends a bit of complexity with its hints of Romano and fennel.

My husband was the one who introduced me to the Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce. It’s one of those tips that have been surprisingly useful in the kitchen, like his suggestion to cook hamburgers “low and slow” on the stovetop (which actually makes delightful burgers, by the way).

Quick Johnny Marzetti

Serves 4

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 8 oz sliced white mushrooms
  • 1/2 t seasoned salt
  • 1 15 oz can spaghetti sauce
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 cups cooked pasta, such as macaroni or small shells
  • 1 medium tomato, diced

Season beef and mushroom with seasoned salt in a 10″ or 12″ skillet. Cook and crumble over medium heat until beef is well-browned and mushrooms are soft. Drain fat. Stir in spaghetti sauce and diced tomatoes. Heat until bubbling. Add pasta to skillet, tossing gently until it is covered in sauce. Sprinkle cheese over mixture and stir until cheese is melted.

This recipe goes well with sweet peas and Texas toast on the side.

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.