Wednesday, May 24, 2006

You Gotta’ Dress It Up to Take It Out

It was a normal evening. Some homework, soccer, reruns on TV, a walk, the dog tracked mud all over the house (rain! In May!! I swear, dog-kabobs are not out of the question!). The usual.

But no one ate dinner. Not much, anyways.

I didn’t really notice at the time. No dinner for a teenage boy is like 2 dinners for normal people. So it’s not like nothing was eaten, just more leftovers than usual.

Then, the next morning, whew. Everyone was sick. The bathroom was one flush after the other. Some had it coming out one end, others out the other. All bad.

Sort of a 24 hour flu. Or, as it seemed at the time, the apocalypse. Who would have guessed we would all down go in a wave of yuck.

That eventually abated. More or less. Stomachs calmed.

And everyone began getting hungry again. After a day with only water, the growls for food were audible from a distance.

I never really know what to make at times like this. Because I really hate bland food. I’m predisposed to avoid most comfort type foods, so my repertoire is low for such occasions.

We went with soup. Chicken broth based – because everyone thinks chicken soup is good when you’re sick. With a few vegetables.

And something I haven’t made for years and years. I can’t remember the last time I made some. Seems no one is passionate about it. But now I have an excuse – it has got to be the ultimate comfort food – barley. Cooked in broth until it turns thick and slimy.

This stuff is the definition of mild. And filling. It turns a watery broth into a substantial meal in a few minutes.

For flavor, I made a mirepoix and added some diced potatoes to roast for a bit. Fresh bay leaves (calming as well). Thyme. Some purple scallions, but no garlic. And some broccoli flowerets for a little color and vitamin C. And the barley. With lots of chicken broth.

The taste was excellent. Mild, but rich and flavorful. And sturdy. Something to fill the void after a few days of enforced fasting. But the visual appeal was limited.

So, as everyone began to feel better, TeenGirl and TeenBoy took over the visual effects department, and tried their best to dress up a tasty but bland looking soup. Best done, apparently, by basically hiding the soup all together.

The figurines are from the Buda side of Budapest, Hungary. Probably terrible tourist kitsch, but unusual for me and sort of a reminder of a few fascinating visits. The flowers are from the broccoli flowerets. And the bowl – kindergarten pottery. Now there’s a soup that knows how to dress for success!

Barley Soup with Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli Flowerets
Recipe by surfindaave

(Note – this was improvisation, under duress, so measurements are approximate)

1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
8 small potatoes, cut into large cubes
olive oil
2 fresh bay leaves
several sprigs of thyme, tied with a string
1 ½ cups barley
6 purple scallions, chopped
8 cups chicken broth
large bunch of broccoli flowerets, tough stems removed, chopped roughly
2-3 cups cooked chicken (from leftovers), chopped roughly
Reserve some of the flowers from the flowerets for garnish, if desired
Parsley, chopped, for garnish, if desired
Thick slices of fresh dark bread

Sautee onions, carrots and celery in olive oil until softened. Add potatoes, and roast until lightly browned. Add bay leaves, thyme, scallions, salt pepper, barley and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer until barley is almost done – 15 to 20 minutes – and add broccoli flowerets, stirring. Add additional water if soup gets too thick. Simmer until broccoli is almost tender, and stir in chicken. Adjust seasonings. Garnish with flowerets and parsley, if desired. Serve with the dark bread. Enjoy!

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