12/17/14

How to make perfect barley in the oven / Rainbow barley salad


I love barley. Unfortunately, it's kind of a pain to cook, and I have a hard time finding good recipes for it.

I solved both those problems this week!

It occurred to me that I could make barley in the oven the same way I make brown rice. It only took me two tries to get it right.

Then I had to find things to do with my barley. First I added it to soup, which was nice. Next I tried it in a favorite salad, and I loved the way it turned out.

I've included my new recipe for Rainbow Barley Salad below. If you use red and orange peppers and red onion, it has all the rainbow colors except blue. Tiger Lily actually ate it without complaining, which was a small miracle. If you want to economize and use green pepper and white onion, though, it will still taste about the same.

————

Oven-cooked barley

Equipment

You'll need one of the following, in order of preference: (a) A lidded Dutch oven, (b) a heavy, lidded casserole dish, or (c) a lidless oven-proof cast iron, glass, or ceramic dish covered tightly with two layers of foil. If the lid to your Dutch oven or casserole dish doesn't fit tightly, consider using a layer of foil between the dish and the lid.

My first preference is for the Dutch oven. You might need to experiment a little to find what works best with your equipment. I find that if there's too little in a dish, it needs slightly more water and a shorter baking time to keep it from getting crunchy.


Proportions

For each cup of barley, add 3 cups water, 1 teaspoon oil, and 1/2–1 teaspoon salt.


Method

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bring your water to a boil on the stove (amounts above). If you're using a stove-proof dish such as the Dutch oven, use it. If not, you'll need to use a different pot and transfer it to your baking dish in the next step.

2. If you're using a Dutch oven, add oil, salt, and barley to your water (the amounts on oil and salt are highly flexible, and I never measure). If you're using a casserole dish, add the barley, salt, and oil to the dish and then pour water over. Stir briefly if needed, cover tightly, and transfer to the oven.

3. Bake for one hour (check after 50 minutes if you are making one cup or less; likewise, if you're making a very large quantity or if you've added a lot of veggies, etc., it might take longer). You can turn the oven off after 30 minutes, and if you do, you can leave the barley in the oven for an hour or two afterward if you need to.

4. Remove from oven. Stir, taking care to incorporate the dryer barley from the edges into the middle. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes or more; the dryer barley will soften during this time.

———

Rainbow barley salad

I economized and used green peppers in this version.


Salad ingredients
  • 1 cup barley, cooked
  • 2 cans black beans
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 orange pepper, chopped
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 can corn
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Dressing ingredients
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Instructions
  1. Combine dressing ingredients and mix well.
  2. Mix dressing with salad ingredients

Serves 6. 

12/12/14

A healthier menu


I take pride in cooking healthy meals for myself and my family, and in making as much as possible from scratch. That has slid drastically during my pregnancy and since Baby was born.

After Thanksgiving, I decided it was time to re-focus on healthy eating again. I planned a menu with veggie-based meals. Usually if a main dish is packed with veggies, I don't bother serving more veggies on the side, but this time, I planned veggie side dishes as well.

This has been a big time commitment for someone who has been used to pulling meals out of the freezer for the last month, but it has been worth it. I did my best to plan meals that I can prepare earlier in the day or cook in the slow cooker, but there has been more veggie chopping, more last-minute prep, and certainly many more dishes to wash.

I have always said to myself that I would never be vegan, because I could never give up eggs and dairy. But lately I have read about the concept of 'plant-based' eating. Somehow thinking of basing a diet on plant foods seems so much nicer than cutting out other foods. I will never be a strict vegan (or even vegetarian), but for now I'm enjoying eating plant-based meals. I love the concept of packing each meal as full of nutrition as possible. And if I don't do it perfectly, it's okay. Having even just one healthy, from-scratch, vegetable-packed meal per day is better than none, and I can work up from there.

12/10/14

Closet clean-out


I've been meaning to clean out my closet for months, and last week I finally did it. There is no use in keeping clothes that haven't fit me since before I had Red Chief, or clothes that have holes and stains, or clothes that never quite fit right, or clothes that I just don't wear. They made a three-foot-high stack.

Then I took out all clothes that don't currently fit to store (I have high hopes that they'll fit me again eventually, as I just gave birth less than two months ago). I also put the last of my maternity clothes back in storage, except for the ones I'm still wearing.

My last stack was for the sewing room: clothes that need work (I'm doing this to several tops, because I'm tired of layering, and I'm adding pockets to a pair of pants).

And now I have a whole box of hangers to give away.

12/8/14

Prunes

 

Prunes aren't a very glamorous food, but lately we can't get enough of them. We like them plain as snacks (they're perfect for the sugar craving that I get after almost every meal), and lately I've been experimenting with them in recipes. The kids call them 'giant raisins.'

I've only tried two recipes so far: these prune muffins, and another of my own invention (below). I'd love more recommendations of recipes that include prunes if you have any. I'm also looking forward to using them as sweeteners in recipes, much as people are using dates lately.

———

Walnut-prune bites

1/2 cup prunes
1/3 cup walnuts
2 teaspoons rolled oats
2 tablespoons flaked coconut

Combine prunes, walnuts, and oats in food processor until they come together and form a paste. You can vary the time processed depending on how chunky you like the walnuts: just make sure they will form balls when pressed together.

Form into 10–12 balls and roll in flaked coconut. Store in refrigerator.

12/3/14

Babies

I thought it would be fun to see my three babies together.

Red Chief at three weeks

Tiger Lily at four weeks

Baby at six weeks

11/30/14

Blessing


Baby is six weeks old already! He has been smiling for three weeks, although we haven't been able to capture a real one on camera yet. He is also starting to bat at things with his hands. He is sleeping up to 4.5 hours at night, which is lovely for me, and he goes to sleep pretty easily. He often prefers laying down on his own to being held when he is awake, and he is starting to be awake more during the day.

We blessed him this weekend. I had originally planned on using Red Chief's blessing outfit, but there was no way it would have fit. I spent forever looking at little white outfits online, then settled on a sweater-style suit, because he hates being cold.

He is pictured on a white blanket crocheted by his great grandmother. She made it for Red Chief when he was blessed, but we forgot to use it and I have felt guilty about it ever since. We finally remembered it, and I'm glad that Baby will have this small connection to her although she isn't with us any longer.

We traveled for Thanksgiving and for the blessing and Baby slept beautifully during the six-hour car ride. We stopped twice each way to feed and change him. He is such a good baby: he rarely fusses unless he has a good reason.

11/20/14

Recently tried recipes


Crockpot dal
. This was amazingly good, the best dal I've tried. I used yellow split peas (not sure if they are the same as pigeon peas) and I used canola oil instead of ghee. It seemed watery but thickened up a lot as it cooled. I'm definitely making this again!

Crockpot minestrone. Not as good as my mom's stovetop minestrone, but a serviceable slow cooker recipe. This makes a ton! Next time I would make half.

Slow cooker red lentil soup. I was so excited about this one and it was okay, but kind of boring.

Kale salad with warm cranberry vinaigrette. This is the last garden meal I made this year before it snowed. I love the idea of "massaging" the kale (squishing it up with your hands): it definitely makes it easier to eat raw. I made a few substitutions which prove that this is a  flexible, forgiving recipe. I will definitely make it again. The kids weren't excited about it, but I loved it!

Slow cooker chicken noodle soup. I'm a soup snob. I didn't like this, but the rest of my family did. I have a hard time finding slow cooker soup recipes I like, probably because I don't constantly taste and adjust as it cooks.

Chicken and rice bake. I used brown minute rice, ranch dressing seasoning, and added a pound of frozen broccoli. Didn't love it.

11/17/14

How I'm surviving


The transition to three children has been tough! It is hard to take care of a newborn baby plus two high-energy children with schedules and school and homework and piano lessons and church and everything else.

But you know what? We're surviving, and things are looking better all the time. Here's what's working for me right now.
  • Give myself time to heal. I have been trying to get plenty of rest, and I'm starting to feel much better physically than I have in months. It's so great not to be pregnant anymore!
  • Take care of myself. Naps and showers are a priority.
  • Say yes to help. This is hard for me, but I am getting better with practice.
  • Use the slow cooker. I actually don't love the way the slow cooker cooks my food, but it displaces dinner prep time to the morning, which is much, much easier for me. Even putting a casserole in the oven at 5pm sometimes doesn't happen. Dinner is guaranteed when I use the slow cooker.
  • Freezer meals. I'm so glad I made some when I was pregnant, and I'm going to try to replenish my supply soon.
  • Let some things slide. I can't keep up with everything, so if I don't scrub the bathtub in the next few months, or if the kids spend too much time on the computer while I nap, we will probably live. I have to remind myself that this is temporary.
  • Load-a-day laundry. This is still working wonderfully for me, even though I'm not doing it perfectly. Of course now that Baby is here, it's closer to two loads a day.
  • Hold Baby as much as possible. Because I like him, and he won't be a baby forever.
  • Make extra effort to connect with the older children each day. I feel guilty that I'm not paying as much attention to the older kids lately, but I try to have a talk with them around bedtime and they love the five minutes we spend one on one.
  • Ease back into things. Right now I don't feel ready to drive the kids to school each day, but I've made a goal to get them there on their late-start day. Baby steps.
If you have any new baby survival tips, please share!