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.

 

PB&J Smoothie

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A few days ago my daughter and I visited a smoothie shop that recently opened in our neighborhood. While their fare was delightful (and I wish them the best of luck with their business), I walked away calculating how I could make similar drinks that could cost less in dollars and calories.

My childhood love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches has not diminished in adulthood. This smoothie uses frozen fruit and peanut powder to infuse this drink with PB&J flavor with less fat and added sugar.

This time I used frozen grapes, but almost any fruit that freezes well would work in this recipe. I froze these grapes myself almost four months ago, and they are still holding up well in my freezer. After rinsing and drying them, I plucked them from their stems and packed them in freezer bags. Once frozen, they are great in smoothies and homemade sorbet. I suppose they could also be used in place of ice cubes in cold drinks.

PB&J Smoothie

Makes one serving

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 frozen sliced banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen grapes (plus a few more for garnish)
  • 3 T peanut powder

Place all ingredients in blender and pulse until smooth. Serve topped with a few frozen grapes.

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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.

Cheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie

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Here’s a comfort food recipe that is ideal for summer. The entire recipe may be cooked on the stove top, but I usually finish it in a glass casserole dish in the microwave. It has the bright flavor of this season’s savory fare, but the potato topping mellows the recipe just enough to give it staying power over the appetite.

Sometimes I make this recipe in the cold of winter to remind me that everything will thaw and rebound again.

Cheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 4-6

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • dash seasoned salt
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 yellow mustard
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 T ketchup
  • Dash hot sauce (or to taste)
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t dried thyme
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 15.25 oz can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2 cups warm mashed potatoes, can be leftovers or the store-ready kind
  • 1/4 cup diced green onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles, for topping

Brown and crumble ground beef with chopped onion and seasoned salt over medium heat in a 10″ or 12″ skillet. Drain fat. Pour in beef broth and bring to a simmer. Mix in mustard, tomato paste, ketchup, hot sauce, garlic powder, thyme, and black pepper. When all is well combined and bubbling, stir in the corn. Next add 1/2 cup cheese and stir until melted.

To finish on stove top:

Turn down heat to medium low. Spread mashed potatoes over the top of the ground beef mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and the green onions. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until all is heated through and cheese is melted.

To finish in microwave:

Empty ground beef mixture into 2 quart microwave-safe casserole dish. Spread mashed potatoes over mixture and sprinkle with the remaining half cup cheese and the green onions. Heat in microwave for 5-7 minutes or until heated through.

Both versions are good served with pickles. I’ve made this dish with a bit of crumbled, cooked bacon on top, too. Just about any cheeseburger topping is a festive addition to this recipe at the dinner table.
 

This recipe is adapted from Better Homes and GardensCheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie. I tried that recipe three years ago, and I’ve simplified it a bit more every time I make it. In this house, it has evolved into the version I offer here.

We made a peanut butter cake.

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Yesterday my daughter and I made a peanut butter cake for Father’s Day. My dad’s love of peanut butter is a bit legendary. When he was a child, he sliced his tongue in two by licking peanut butter off a knife. This incident did not slow down his preference for peanut butter. At all times, there is a jar of Jif in my parent’s refrigerator that is just for him. It is the only luxury he keeps for himself. He eats it by the tablespoonful.

Last year I made this cake, but its contour looked less like a cake and more like an Appalachian foothill. I’ve been baking cakes and making homemade icing for a long time, but I was somewhat hopeless in leveling and decorating these cakes. The beginner’s cake decorating class that my daughter and I are taking has helped a lot.

Before I close this post in time to bring this cake to my dad, I will share my recipe for peanut butter buttercream.

Peanut Butter Buttercream Icing

Makes enough to ice a 2 layer 8-inch cake, or 18 cupcakes

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup liquid vanilla coffee creamer
  • dash salt

Cream butter and peanut butter with a mixer. Sprinkle in salt. Add powdered sugar by the cup, blending well after each addition. Pour in coffee creamer slowly and blend on medium speed until the icing reaches spreading consistency. I’ve found that the amount of liquid or powdered sugar I use in an icing varies by the heat and humidity of the season. During the winter, I usually add a bit more liquid, and summer leads toward the opposite, more powdered sugar.

No Bake Berry Pie

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We’re in the midst of a minor heat wave here in Ohio. Today I was craving some berry pie but didn’t want to heat up my kitchen baking a traditional one. I whipped up some quick no-sugar added pie filling in my microwave and spread it in a graham cracker crust. This pie can also be made with sugar. I used stevia that measures cup for cup like sugar. If stevia is used, this pie has just 5 grams of added sugar per slice from the graham cracker crust.

I used frozen mixed berries because I had some on hand. This pie can also be made with all blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries.

This recipe has instructions for the microwave. The pie filling step can also be prepared on the stove top by stirring the mixture over medium until the sauce is transparent and bubbling.

No Bake Berry Pie

8 servings

  • 6 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries
  • 1 cup stevia for baking (the type that measures like sugar; sugar can be used instead in the same amount)
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • dash salt
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 9 in graham cracker pie crust

Toss berries, sweetener, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl that is microwave safe. Microwave on high for 10 minutes or until transparent and bubbling, stopping every two minutes to stir the mixture. Stir in lemon juice and pour into graham cracker crust. Chill for an hour or until firm enough to slice.