Rain, glorious rain! Yes, if you’ve been living anywhere in California you know that we’ve been getting record amounts of rainfall over the past six weeks. Did you know that Northern California is officially out of the drought and Southern California is also almost there? It’s amazing! Don’t get me wrong, I love the rain. I love being able to wear sweaters and Uggs during the winter months. It’s been kind of a novelty recently. But this week we had sun! It was warm. The boys actually wore shorts and T-shirts! It was wonderful! I wish it would last. But unfortunately there’s more rain scheduled for this coming weekend. That rain means more chilly temperatures and more sweater weather. But it also means it’s the perfect time for stews, soups and chilis.
A few weeks ago the rain was pelting the windows and all I wanted was a big hot bowl of soup. But not that boring see-through broth, and absolutely nothing that came out of a red & white can. I wanted something thick and hearty, with vegetables and maybe even a little meat. Something that would stick to your bones and make you feel all warm and cozy inside. Then I remembered this amazing stew I had at a food blogger L.A. event back in December.
It was our annual cookie swap and everyone made and brought cookies. But Judy from My Well Seasoned Life didn’t just bring cookies, she also brought this amazing Beef Barley Soup. It was warm and comforting and absolutely delicious! Just thinking about that soup makes my mouth water. So, I decided to make my own version. I was so well sated at the end of the evening, I thought I’d share.
What makes this soup so filling isn’t just the beef, it’s the barley and the vegetables. But unlike some soups, this isn’t one you can just whip up in half an hour. This soup is one of those meals that gets better the longer it simmers on the stove. So, if you’re planning on making this for dinner on one of these chilly winter nights, make sure it’s on a day where you’re going to be home for at least a couple hours. The end result will be well worth the time spent, I promise.
Beef and Barley Stew (adapted from My Well Seasoned Life)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine, like a cabernet or merlot
- 3 cups beef broth
- 3/4 cup pearl barley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
- Add the onions to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, carrots and celery and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables begin to brown, about 6 or 7 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
- Stir in the broth and browned beef along with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.
- Stir in the barley and salt and pepper to taste; recover and continue to simmer for another 30-40 minutes. Ladel into bowls and serve.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed I love to cook. I cook all sorts of things from entreés to desserts to of course cocktails. But I can’t cook anything if I don’t have the right tools; and while I have plenty of tools, there’s no rule that says I can’t have more. As a matter of fact, whenever I get the chance to test out new tools I jump. So, when Melissa’s Produce invited me to meet the people from Chefs’ Toys and test out their tools, I ran to their test kitchen.
It was a very fun event with some delicious food and some awesome tools! The company is appropriately named because all the tools Chefs’ Toys brought, to people like me, really are toys. I mean they had a variety of peelers, cutting boards in different colors and whisks bigger than your head: all these cool tools that I just wanted to pick up and play with. For hours. But those few tools don’t compare to the Chefs’ Toys warehouse which is like the Home Depot of cookware.
I went to the one in Torrance and was blown away by the aisles and aisles of amazing cooking equipment. There were bowls bigger than my body, wooden spoons in every shape and size, cookie scoops, pie plates, cocktail shakers, ice cube molds… I could go on and on. They even had an aisle dedicated to commercial stoves and mixers. The guys at Chefs’ Tools say that you can come and buy everything you need to start your own restaurant; and after walking their aisles, they’re not kidding. The place is huge. I could’ve spent hours in there. But more than that I also could’ve spent hundreds of dollars. I’m serious. It’s entirely possible to go into Chefs’ Toys for one or two things and walk out with dozens of instruments. The place is that cool.
Afraid you won’t be able to experience this awesomeness for yourself? Don’t worry, you can. Turns out Chefs’ Toys isn’t just for professional chefs. It’s for anyone who cooks. You don’t need to be in the food industry and better yet, you don’t need to be a member. You just have to enjoy cooking. And if you’re anything like me, you not only love to cook, you love buying cooking gadgets.
As soon as I got home I put my new gadgets to use. I tested out Chefs’ Toys’ awesome peeler and whisk when I made this delicious Blackeyed Pea Stew from Melissa’s. They worked perfectly. This stew was so good when I first sampled it in Melissa’s kitchen, I just had to come home and share the wealth with my family. Although it may be a little too warm for stew right now, it’s supposed to cool off in the next few weeks and nothing is better in cold, rainy weather than a thick vegetable stew, and this stew… it’s the bomb.
Blackeyed Pea Stew
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup cooking sherry
- 1 cup baby dutch yellow potatoes, diced
- 1 – 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup zucchini, diced
- 1 package Melissa’s Steamed Blackeyed Peas
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 4 oz. unsalted butter
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the carrots and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and the sherry, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and chicken stock and continue to simmer until potatoes are tender.
- Add the blackeyed peas, zucchini, cumin, salt and pepper and cook until the flavors combine and the veggies are heated through, 5 – 10 minutes. Stir in the butter until melted. Ladle into bowls and serve with a nice crusty bread.
While we were visiting my family over the holidays my mother hosted a New Year’s Day party. As with all her parties, she brought out her entertaining china and glasses. You know the entertaining china, it’s the really pretty stuff that only comes out three or four times a year when you’re having the big events… like New Year’s. Anyway, one of the dishes she pulled out was a beautiful soup tureen that had belonged to my father’s mother. She wasn’t going to use it because, well, she never uses it, but she had to pull it down to get to the platters she was going to use. Before she returned it to the shelf, she turned to me and asked, “You want it?”
My heart leapt. Do I want it? Of course I want it. It’s a Haviland. It’s part of a stunning set and (most importantly) it’s vintage. I mean, not only does Havilland not make this pattern any more, the fact that it was my grandmother’s means it’s a family heirloom, making it even more desirable. I smiled eagerly and said “Of course!” But before I could put my hands on it, I had to get my father’s permission. After all, it was his mother’s and it means a lot to him. As you can see from the photos, he gave me his blessing and the soup tureen was passed down once more. The timing was perfect.
While it hasn’t been that cold in California, the rest of the country seems to be suffering from quite a cold snap. There are two things I love to eat when it’s freezing: comforting casseroles and soups. So when I saw this Mushroom and Beef Ravioli soup in Better Homes and Gardens, I knew I had to make it. And now, thanks to my father, I had the perfect tureen to serve it in. It’s actually because of the tureen that I decided to make the soup.
The tureen may make the soup look amazing, but I wouldn’t be posting it if it weren’t delicious too. The broth is a basic beef broth which compliments the sausage tortellini. Although I used tortellini since I couldn’t find beef ravioli, that didn’t hurt the dish. As a matter of fact, the broth complimented the sausage tortellini quite well. So while I substituted the tortellini, you could use whichever pasta you prefer. What makes this soup ideal for the chilly weather, is that it’s warm but not heavy. The broth is light and flavorful while the tortellini fills you up without bringing on a serious case of food coma. But the best thing about it is how easy this soup is to make. It only took me about 20 minutes from start to ladeling it into my beautiful new tureen. I can’t wait to use this piece again, but just like my mother, it’s probably going to have to wait until my next dinner party.
Mushroom and Sausage Tortellini Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 6 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed and chopped
- 1 (32 oz.) container beef broth
- 1 (20 oz.) package frozen sausage tortellini
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a 4 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, mushrooms and pepper and cook until tender and mushrooms start to brown, about five minutes.
- Raise the heat to high, pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and return to boiling. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes or until tortellini are fork-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
As a baker and cook I sometimes find myself looking for the most complicated thing to make for dinner because I feel like if I’m not making the product from 100% scratch then I’m not really cooking. I know it’s stupid but I’ve just never been one of those bakers who makes cakes or cookies from a box or buys pre-made anything. I admit, I was (and still am in a lot of ways) a bit of an ingredients snob.
Then I became a mom.
I no longer had three or four hours on the weekend to make meatballs from ground beef, herbs and spices or let a pot of chicken soup simmer on the stove for hours just so I could have stock for the next month. I started to discover that if I bought a bag of meatballs or a box of chicken stock that didn’t mean I was no longer a cook or feeding my sons horrible, calorie-filled, processed crap. I was still creating delicious meals for the family, I was just using a couple short cuts. But more importantly, I was saving time.
This recipe is one such entrée that can be created quickly with a few store-bought shortcuts and still be healthy and delicious. But if you’re like I used to be and want to make everything from scratch you can do that too. I mean, the only things I bought were the chicken stock and the meatballs.
So, I bet you’re wondering how I made this soup “from scratch” if I purchased two out of the six ingredients. That’s easy. I just added some vegetables, herbs and spices to turn the soup into an entrée and give it a lot more flavor. Just goes to show, you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen in order to turn out a delicious, healthy meal the whole family will love.
Italian Wedding Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, chopped
- 6 cups chicken stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- 10 meatballs
- 1 cup small shell pasta
- 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about five minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the pasta and let simmer for 7-10 minutes or until pasta is tender.
- Stir in the meatballs and cook for a couple minutes.
- Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and serve.
If there’s one thing I love it’s pasta. Spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, ravioli, tortellini, baked ziti… if pasta is a main ingredient, odds are I’m on board. And while I’ve tried numerous kinds of baked pastas or noodles with a variety of sauces, the one thing I’d never had was a pasta soup.
I’d heard of Pasta Fazool before, but I’d never tasted it. I’m not sure why I’ve never tried the hearty soup, maybe it’s because the idea of pasta and soup never really appealed to me… well except for chicken noodle soup, but that doesn’t really count because let’s be honest, chicken soup just isn’t chicken soup unless it has noodles or matzoh balls in it.
Anyway… I saw a recipe for the Pasta Fagioli or Pasta Fazool to us non-Italians and the picture looked so appealing, I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. The soup was delicious! It was thick and hearty and the perfect answer to a chilly, rainy day. And since the soup overflowed with macaroni and white beans, A couldn’t get enough. And if A loves an entreé I make, you know it has to be good. Dying to try it? You can find the recipe here as part of my Tonight’s Dinner column on She Knows.