Barley with Mushrooms and Roasted Delicata Squash

I have been meaning to post this recipe for a while, but November has been so darn busy! I came and went so quickly, I barely even had time to register it and now it’s December. And not only is it December, there’s about 6 inches of snow on the ground and I’m a week away from ending my stint here in Canada. Where does the time go? So before I say goodbye to my temporary home and all my new life-long friends, here’s a post about my new favorite squash and my new favorite wintery dish.

barley with mushrooms and squash

I’ve been really into barley lately. It’s got this great texture and it puffs up taking up a ton of flavor from the broth it cooks in. Also, it’s got all this protein and fiber, making it the perfect base of a vegetarian meal. This is called Pearled Barley. I buy it in bulk at the local natural foods store. And it cooks just like rice. So, as with rice, it has a lot of starch so it’s important to give it a good rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Even after rinsing, as it cooks it gives off starch and the final product is very similar to risotto – creamy and rich – but with an nutty aroma and firm texture.

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Then there’s squash – I’ve always been a fan of butternut squash, but delicata squash is amazing! It’s sweet and creamy and because it’s smaller it cooks much faster (yay!). I drizzled the squash with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled a little salt, brown sugar and cinnamon on it and then roasted it in the oven at 350 for about 20 min, or until it was fork tender, and crazy delicious. Seriously, you could just have this as a side dish for any meal this winter and be happy.

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So, now that the squash is roasted and the barley is rinsed, it’s time to cook. I cook the mushrooms on their own, on medium high, and then set them aside until the last couple minutes of cook time for the barley, which takes a good 25-30 minutes to cook, so that they don’t get weird and rubbery. This is a really simple, straight forward dish to make, but it’s flavorful and hearty – and perfect for the winter.

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Ingredients: (makes 2 servings as a main course)

Squash

  • 1 delicata squash, opened lengthwise, seeds removed and sliced into 1 inch semi-circles
  • 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over the slices
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • a couple pinches (1/4 teaspoon) of cinnamon

Barley

  • about 10 medium cremini mushrooms (or any type you prefer), approximately 4 cups sliced
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil, separated
  • 1 small onion (1 cup), finely chopped
  • garlic (optional)
  • 1 cup pearled barley, well rinsed and drained
  • 4 – 6 cups broth (vegetable or chicken, whatever you prefer), heated in a small sauce pan
  • 1 tablespoon of goat cheese, crumbled for the garnish

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prep the squash and spread, skin side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, sugar and cinnamon. Bake for about 20 minutes, until fork tender.

2. Wash, dry and slice the mushrooms. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to medium-high and sauté the mushrooms, tossing every couple minutes, until lightly browned – about 5-6 minutes. Set aside on a plate.

3. In the same pan, lower the heat to medium and heat another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and garlic (if using), season with salt and cook until the onion starts to become translucent. Add the barley and keep cooking another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently so that the barley doesn’t stick to the pan. It will start to give off a toasty smell.

4. Add 2 cups of broth, stir and lower to low heat to simmer gently until all of the liquid is absorbed. Then add another cup of broth, stir and allow to absorb again. Do this again 1 to 3 more times until the barley is al dente (just try one grain to see if the center is cooked through). The amount of liquid can depend on the barley, so just keep an eye on it. Add the mushrooms, stir and turn off the heat.

Serve with a few slices of squash and a crumble of goat cheese (or Parmesan if you prefer). Enjoy!!

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Curried Butternut Squash and Coconut Milk Soup

Fall

Fall is here, which is kind of sad because it’s getting colder and the days are getting shorter, but it’s just. so. beautiful. I don’t know…there’s something romantic about the colors of the leaves changing and the cool air arriving. It’s cozy. Soups are good for cozy weather, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First…these trees!!

Rideau Canal

Last weekend we took advantage of that sweet spot between mid-september when most of the leaves have turned and the first serious rains which make the leaves fall off and took a little hike up into Gatineau Park. (By the way, I don’t just know these things – fall sweet spots and whatnot – the more experienced ones tell me. They say, “Lisa, it’s time. This is the weekend to go see the leaves.”)

Gatineau Park

They were right. And the views from the top did not disappoint.

Gatineau Park

It looks like a colorful carpet! And that’s lil’ ol’ Ottawa in the distance. We even saw a few Turkey Vultures.

Gatineau Park

A couple more, and then I’ll tell you quickly about my soup.

Gatineau Park

Gatineau Park

Really, the soup is simple; I needed an excuse to show you all the fall! I know most of you, my lovely readers, are still in hundred degree weather that shows no signs of ever letting up, and I’m sorry about that. And about what it’s doing to our beautiful state. And you probably don’t feel like even thinking about making or eating or even looking at soup. But I do. You all can just keep this one in your back pocket for when the temperatures do finally cool down.

Butternut Squash SoupIt’s a quick and simple soup with a rich silky texture. Oh, also, it has like only 200 calories per serving. That’s always nice. Also, if you’re totally bored just thinking about cutting and peeling that sucker, you could slice it down the middle and then roast it in the oven.

Curried Butternut Squash and Coconut Milk Soup

Makes 4 servings or 8 cups

Ingredients:

4 pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less or not at all – up to you!)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 can of light coconut milk (reserve 1/4 cup for garnishing, if you want)

1 or 2 cups broth (whatever kind you like, I use vegetable)

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (optional)

  • Peel and chop the butternut squash and chop the onion.
  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to lightly brown. You may need to lower the heat so you can get some color, without them burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan. About 5 – 8 minutes
  • Add the spices to the onion and stir to toast the curry a bit. About a minute
  • Add the chopped butternut squash, coconut milk, and then add broth until the liquids just barely cover the squash. Cover and bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally.
  • In the mean time, lightly toast the pumpkin seeds (if using them) either in a pan or in the oven. Keep an eye on them – they toast super fast and I am guilty of throwing away more than one batch!!
  • Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Or pour it into a stand-up blender in batches. Serve and garnish with a tablespoon of the reserved coconut milk, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and the pumpkin seeds.

blueberry lemon cheesecake

I’m obsessed with this new cheesecake recipe. Like really, every excuse to make it, I do. It’s been a birthday cake twice now.

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

It’s not like I don’t talk all the time about how much I love summer fruit, so blueberries in cheesecake is a no brainer. But it’s the tangy lemon that takes this one over the top. And it makes cheesecake refreshing on a hot day. So, really, no complaints.

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

The process is super simple – cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and two eggs get beat together until they are silky smooth. Then you add the blueberries, reserving about a quarter of them to sprinkle on the top, and pour the mixture into the crust and then sprinkle the reserved berries on top.

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

The crust is the hardest part, and it’s not even that hard, it just takes a little patience. You have to grind up the graham crackers in a food processor (or go old school and crush them by hand), add a little cinnamon and sugar and melted butter, tossing it all together until you can press the cracker crumbs against the side of the bowl and they stay. The last step is to press them into the bottom and sides of a greased springform pan. You can also stretch this recipe out and make cheesecake bars using a rectangular pan and in that case, just don’t put the crust on the sides of the pan (note: line the pan with parchment paper to make it easier to get them out after they’re baked).

That goes into the oven for about 30 to 35 minutes until it just slightly jiggles in the center. The residual heat continues cooking it after you take it out of the oven, so it firms up as it cools. Speaking of cooling, you want cheesecake to be nice and cold when you eat it, as its cooled down enough, put it in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

There she is!

This recipe is adapted from Tyler Florence, or at least so says the blogger behind Epicurean Mom. Her pictures are really pretty, so if I haven’t convinced you, she will!

 

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

Crust:

9 graham crackers

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 stick butter + extra for greasing the pan

Filling:

16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

2 eggs

1 lemon, juice and zest

1/2 cup sugar

1 & 1/2 cup fresh blueberries

What to do:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease the bottoms and sides of a springform pan.

2. For the crust: crush graham crackers in a food processor until they have the consistency of bread crumbs, add sugar and cinnamon. Melt the butter and mix into the graham crackers, pulsing  a couple of times until fully incorporated. Press evenly into the bottom and sides of the springform pan.

3. For the filling: mix the cream cheese, eggs, lemon, and sugar in the food processor or using an immersion blender until smooth. Add most of the blueberries and pour the mix into the crust. Sprinkle the remaining blueberries over the top (it’s just so that some of them show).

4. Bake for 30 t0 35 minutes, until the center only jiggles slightly. Cool completely before refrigerating for at least 3 hours.

Enjoy!

beer & orange glazed chicken and barley risotto

Sometimes, you just gotta have a bunch of your friends over and feed them. I love dinner parties. Maybe because you don’t have to wear shoes. Or maybe because you can just keep opening bottles of wine all night, long after the last of the food has been eaten, just enjoying that special chemistry that can only exist over a table full of empty plates.

Anyway, I’ve been needing an excuse to try this chicken recipe I found on another food blog that just looked so yummy and I needed some guinea pigs to try out the concept of barley risotto. Luckily, when food is involved, usually your friends will be willing subjects.

This beer and orange glazed chicken recipe, which I got from How Sweet It Is, is so so good. Also, it’s super easy, but it tastes like a lot of work went into it – perfect for impressing guests.

Beer orange glazed chicken

The chicken comes out juicy with a crispy skin and that sauce…oh, the sauce… The key to that crispy skin is searing both sides in a piping hot pan before putting it into the oven to finish cooking. In the original recipe, she uses a cast iron skillet, but I don’t have one, and even if I did, I needed to make chicken for 7 people. So I seared the pieces in a pan – super important: don’t move it around, just be patient and leave it about 2 minutes on each side so that it gets golden brown – then used some of the beer to get the yummy bits off the bottom of the pan and added both the chicken and the glaze to the dish before popping it into the oven.

Citrus chicken barley risotto

Then I also made risotto, which is a little more labor intensive, but always worth the trouble. I read about using barley for risotto in the Cooks Illustrated and was curious. I’ve been experimenting with grains lately because, while rice will always hold a special place in my heart, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of nutritional benefits on it’s own, whereas barley, for example, has much more protein and fiber. It also has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture, like al dente pasta, so it works perfectly for risotto which can get a little mushy if you overcook it even slightly.

I used white wine (what was left from a bottle of verdejo that love), mushrooms, chicken broth and a little parmesan cheese to pack in as much flavor as possible as that barley cooked and I have to say it was a successful experiment. I’m not saying I’ll never make it with rice again, but it’s going to be perfect for a vegetarian meal on it’s own since it will keep you full longer than rice.

orange beer glazed chicken and salad

And to round it off and get some green in there, a nice light salad. I’m also really into adding fruit to salads lately. I adore summer fruit, so I try to consume as much of it as I possible can to make up for the fact that I have to go back to eating bananas and apples in the fall. It’s like a three month race to eat as many peaches, cherries and heirloom tomatoes as I possibly can. So yeah, I’ve been throwing them into big ol’ salads lately, especially on those really hot days, and it’s awesome. This one’s got some mixed greens, white peaches, toasted pumpkin seeds, and goat cheese with a lime juice and olive oil vinaigrette – simple stuff.

plated

Mmm hmm, that’s some dinner right there.

 

Beer Glazed Citrus Chicken recipe from How Sweet It Is – check her out, she makes some good lookin’ food!

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms (as a side dish, serves 8, at least)

What you need:

2 cups pearl barley (rinsed)

5 – 8 cups of broth (chicken, veg, whatever you like)

1 cup white wine

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 lb mushrooms (I used cremini)

1/2 cup parmesan cheese (freshly grated if possible)

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

What you gotta do:

1. Bring the broth to a boil, then leave it on the minimum heat, covered on the stove to keep warm. Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan, heat 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion, cooking on medium-low heat until soft (about 10 minutes) and then add the garlic, cooking another minute or so.

2. Stir in the barley and increase to medium heat, cook stirring often for about 5 minutes until the barley is lightly toasted and aromatic. Add the cup of wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until it’s absorbed completely (about 2 minutes).

3. Stir in 3 cups of broth and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until absorbed completely and the bottom of the pan is dry (22 – 25 minutes). Add 2 more cups of broth and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until all of the liquid is absorbed again (18 – 20 minutes). Then continue to cook, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time and stirring occasionally until it’s completely absorbed, until the barley is cooked through but still a little firm in the center.

4. While the barley is cooking, wash and slice the mushrooms and then, in a large pan add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon and cook them on medium high heat until lightly browned. If any liquid accumulates in the pan, you can drain it off into the barley (more flavor!) and then continue browning.

5. When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, mushrooms and half of the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use the other half of the chopped parsley on top, to garnish.

 

 

Cabane a Sucre

In the early spring, when Canada begins to thaw, the Maple trees get drained in order to make Maple Syrup. This has not happened on time this year because of the longest-winter-ever we’re experiencing, which means no new syrup, but I read somewhere that Canada has emergency reserves of the stuff. I like to believe this is true. And now I also understand what kind of national emergency would require such a thing. Anyway, the point is that it’s a Quebecois tradition to go eat at a Cabane a Sucre, or Sugar Shack, to celebrate the fact that it’s gotten warm enough that the sap is no longer in solid form and can be tapped, harvested and turned into liquid gold.

The taps are drilled into the trees and have buckets that hang below them to catch the sap. These were empty, and yes, I checked.

Sucrerie du Terroir

Sucrerie du Terroir

So off we went, because when in Canada…consume Maple Syrup. The Sucrerie du Terroir is a log cabin about half an hour from Ottawa, in the countryside. There is a pretty walk around the grounds, which you can also do while riding in a sleigh pulled by the most gigantic horses I’ve ever seen.

Sucrerie du Terroir

Sucrerie du Terroir

The snow is deeper than it appears and it will not hold your weight. Instant regret.

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Inside you dine family-style at large wooden tables. In fact, this is clearly a family tradition and most of the other parties were family groups of 8 or more, which gives the place a great, cozy atmosphere. There’s traditional Quebecois music playing, the waiters are dressed in some kind of colonial garb, and you don’t even need to bother ordering – everyone gets the same thing and you can order more of any of it, it’s all unlimited. It’s also BYOB (the Pink Zinfandels and Rieslings we took worked well, their sweetness goes well with food covered in syrup).

Sucrerie du Terroir

Sucrerie du Terroir

I walked out of there feeling like it was Thanksgiving. First, split pea soup.

Split pea soup

Then, an egg soufle in a cast iron skillet, potatoes, maple ham, sausages, maple baked beans, and super crunchy bacon. And, the star of the show, Maple Syrup. I poured that ish all over everything and it was amazing.

Egg Soufle

Sucrerie du Terroir

Then there were pancakes and pastries with Maple butter cream for dessert. All in all, a diabetic’s nightmare. Oh, and then when you think you couldn’t possibly consume more maple… Maple taffy cooled on snow.

Maple taffy

Maple taffy

Maple Syrup

Ok, no joke this was a lot of Maple syrup and we consumed almost all of it. It turned out that the owner – who told us his story – bought the place because he read in the newspaper that it was closing down. He had fond memories of going there with his family and felt sad that it would close, so he bought it and now runs the place.

Coconut Curry Lentils

Getting to spring around here feels like a little game of two steps forward, one step back. This week we had the warmest day in the two months I’ve been here (38 degrees – watch out!) followed immediately by one of the largest snowfalls in the two months I’ve been here. As I see pictures go up on various social media sites from friends and family around the world, all of them excited about the first flowers, picnics, and cañas al sol, I can’t help but feel a little left out. Apparently this is the worst winter Canada has experienced in 20-some years. So, I’m just warning you, when it does arrive, I’m probably going to talk about it a lot (not that I don’t already talk about it a lot).

Cold weather requires warm food. Lentils are filling without being heavy so they are perfect for winter (or Canadian spring) when you need some serious food as fuel to stay warm out there. These coconut curry lentils are so savory and comforting, and a little sweet from the winter squash.

Coconut Curry LentilsStart by letting the lentils soak over night, or if you plan to cook at night, you can let them soak during the day while you’re at work. You don’t have to soak legumes, but they cook much faster if you do. Soak them at least 8 hours in the pot you’re going to cook them in, covered by 2 or 3 inches of water. Then drain the water and fill the pot with fresh water, again covered by a couple inches. Then cook for 20 -30 minutes at a very soft simmer, so they don’t break apart, until they are tender.  1 and 1/2 cups dry lentils equals about 4 cups cooked, which will give you minimum 4 servings. I did this in the morning while I was having breakfast and getting ready for work, then I just drained the water and let them cool all day, but you can certainly do this while you make the remainder of the recipe.

Next, prepare the squash. I used one whole acorn squash, but, due to their irregular shape, they are kind of a pain to peel. Butternut squash or any other winter squash you like will work too. Cut, scoop out the innards and peel, then cut it up into 1 inch cubes.

Acorn squash

Then, in a large pan, heat 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté 1/2 of a large onion and 1 clove of garlic, both finely chopped. Add 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of yellow curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.

Spices

Side note: I love these adorable little spice jars!

Once the onion is translucent, add the squash and cook for a few more minutes at a medium-low heat. Then add about 4 cups of fresh spinach. Give it a rough chop first so the pieces aren’t so big. That cooks down really fast, so once it does, add the cooked lentils, 1/2 cup of cashews, 1 whole can of coconut milk + a can-full of water.

Spinach and lentils

And that’s all there is to it. Let that simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and a lot of the liquid has evaporated. The consistency should be thick, not brothy. Top it all off with about 1/2 cup of fresh chopped cilantro. I adore cilantro, but if you don’t feel as strongly about it as I do, leave it out, or substitute basil! That would be equally amazing.

Coconut Curry LentilsIt’s ready to serve right away, but also stores nicely. And now I’ll shamelessly plug my mom’s amazing ceramics! She gave me this bowl last time I was home, said it was a “mistake” and that the glaze somehow slipped off, but I love it! It reminds me of waves. Everything tastes better out of a pretty bowl!

ceramic ocean bowl

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone!! I heard Ottawa takes it seriously, so I’m going to get out there and have myself a green beer!

Coconut Curry Lentils – Recipe (Serves 4-6)

  • 1.5 cups dry lentils or 4 cups cooked lentils
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons yellow curry
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 acorn squash (or other winter squash) peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1 can coconut milk + 1 can full of water or broth
  • 1/2 cup cilantro or basil, chopped

One month Canadaversary

Today marks a special moment for Canada and me. It’s our one month anniversary. Right about now I really miss my boyfriend, my dog, and temperatures above freezing. But I’m not dwelling on it because I actually really like it here. I feel at home. Maybe it’s because everyone speaks English and even after four years in Spain it still feels so good to speak English. Like somehow I’m more me. There is also that trait particular to North Americans, that “please, thank you, and sorry” thing. It’s like, everyone is sooo nice! I heart Canada! Rainbows and puppies!

But then there’s the cold. And dayum is it cold! Before I left Spain there would be mornings when I’d take Rolo out at -4 (Celsius) and be convinced that I would die upon exiting the plane in Ottawa, it just felt so cold. And you all know I dislike the cold. I’m a California girl, before I moved to Spain I really thought scarves were just accessories. But now, and it still feels strange to say this, -4 is a beautiful, let’s-go-outside kind of day. Because I now know what -25 with a wind-chill of -32 feels like. That’s the kind of cold that knocks the wind out of you.

Is it strange that I have personified my coat and feel an emotional friendship towards it?

It’s a lot of paraphernalia everyday: snow boots, big-ass wool scarf, coat with an eskimo hood, gloves… and that’s just what you put on the outside of your body. But, you know what, I’ve come to realize it’s not that bad. Our bodies are way more resilient and able to change than we give them credit for. Not only that, our need for fresh air and contact with people is so strong that we WILL go outside. And once we go outside, we realize there are fun things to do out there in that cold. Canada is used to this and they make the best of it.

Though there are mornings that look like this:

Ottawa

There are also evenings that end like this:

OttawaAnd there are things to do! I mean what kind of Canadian capital would it be if it didn’t have the worlds longest outdoor skating rink? The 7.8 kilometer Rideau Canal – kinda have to buy your own skates for that!

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal Skateway

Or what about an outdoor festival with an ice sculpting competition? Winterlude runs for a few weekends from the end of January through February.

Winterlude

Winterlude

There is also beautiful architecture. The Canadian Parliament Building.Ottawa Parliament BuildingAnd yummy treats!! (You knew it just HAD to be coming!)

OK, Maple Syrup. Amazing! But what about maple syrup taffy cooled on snow?

Maple Syrup Taffy

Maple Syrup TaffyAnd BeaverTails (copyright, trademark and patented, or whatever). Flat, fried dough with a choice of toppings like cinnamon sugar, chocolate, or **Maple Butter**. You know which one I got…

BeaverTails

BeavertailsThese are the most decadent, filling things ever, but they taste like heaven after a long day (like 1 or 2 hours, because let’s face it, that’s all you can handle you tourist!) out in the snow.

So there you have it. One month in Canada. Not bad, if I may say so myself. Now, if I can just get drunk enough to try Poutin…
Canada