April 2009 Archives

Barley Casserole
By Lydia on April 29, 2009 12:35 PM| | Comments (3)
Tomorrow is my sister Esther's birthday. Next month is my sister Fiona's birthday. Then in June is my birthday! We always each have a family party with favorite foods and cake and good prezzies and lots of aunts and cousins. (Well, Essie is at college in New York this year, so she'll be getting her prezzies in the post, but whatevs.) We have our special dinners, but we all have one thing in common every year: my grandma's barley casserole.

Its not what it sounds like, I promise. Its one of the most delicious of possible foods because instead of being dry and flavorless grain, the barley is transformed by staggering quantities of butter!

The barley is cooked a little like a risotto, but without all the tedious stirring. The ingredient list is crazy short and stands up well to substitutions. It is a great side dish with many dinners, reheats with ease, and is generally a great thing to bring to a (non-vegan) potluck.

Get pearled barley at Harvest Health; it costs a dollar fifty a pound.

1 1/2 cups barley
3 tb butter or olive oil
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup mushroom
3 cups liquid (the liquid thing: I use stock if I have it, mixed with water and some white wine. Don't use too much wine, or it'll get sour)
1 onion, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 350. Saute the mushroom in oil or butter until tenderish in a heavy skillet or dutch oven on med-high heat. Remove and set aside. Add the butter stick to the pan and when the foam dies add the onion and let it soften. Add the barley and stir to coat with butter. You want the barley to cook some, til it gets golden and fragrant. If you are using a skillet, you need to transfer everything to a casserole with a cover. Then throw the mushrooms in, along with half the liquid and salt/pepper and stick it in the oven. After half an hour pull it out, stir and add the remaining liquid. Put back in oven for another half hour. Take it out and try a barley piece. If it needs more cooking add more liquid and put it back in the oven for a bit. Otherwise you're done!

So happy birthday Esther! When you come home for the summer I'll make you barley and give you lots of hugs!

Weekend from Hell
By Lydia on April 22, 2009 11:02 AM| | Comments (6)
Goodness, its been a rough few days. Record Store Day went over very well, thanks to all of you who came and helped. I got some lovely albums myself: Serge Gainsbourg reissue, Pavement reissue, new Mirah record, a lovely one by Marissa Nadler. I did not, however, get to avail myself of all the sweet used stuff, as I was too busy working, sigh. The food from Brick Road was very nice, may I say what a surprise those vegan wings were! Herm said they looked gross, but I had some, and they had a crunch and a texture, and were spiced nicely. Fennel seed?

In other news, blue cheese fritters continue to sell, and sangria has gone up 55 cents a pitcher. The Lydia Clowney Whine Index remains at normal levels following upswings last weekend, and all burns and injuries are healing.

Ive been making these lovely little chickpea flour pancakes filled with leftovers. They are especially good if, like me, you don't care for sweet breakfast, but are equally good for late-night post-bar snacks. You can use all the crazy-stupid ingredient combinations you would never dare to use for a whole dish, and they are So Easy.

1 cup flour (usually half and half chickpea/white)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup water
salt and pepper

and- some stuff to mix in it! I have tried leftover salmon with corn and cilantro, chopped anchovies with parsely and kalamata olives, leftover potatoes from breakfast with garlic, its always good!

to cook, pour some batter onto an oiled nonstick skillet and cook for a couple of minutes, turn and cook a couple more. The cakes should be fairly thick, so you need 5-6 minutes total, and you need to oil the pan to get the outside nicely crisp. I like to eat them with hot sauce and plain yogurt.

These are also nice because the addition of chickpea flour makes them keep you full for longer than your typical carbohydrate lunch, which is great if you have to go sling somebody's marketing plan to hungry diners. 
By Lydia on April 2, 2009 6:45 PM| | Comments (11)
Yes Grand Rapids, in a spectacular proof of our behind-the-times-itude, we have our very first "wine bar." Recently opened on Cherry St., Corez is a small, modern space with low, uncovered tables and a sort of wooden-dowel wall covering behind the bar that calls to mind a bamboo sushi mat. Long, cylindrical water glasses sit on tables, and when customers sit they are filled with filtered water, no ice: just like the Europeans!

OK, you got me. I am being snarky, and the fault doesn't lie with Corez, whose only mistake is that it should have opened five years ago, not two months. I think that we have been too long without this sort of place. Not a "wine bar" necessarily (a term which makes me cringe just a tad at its faux sophistication) but a casual place where you can get really good food and a nice drink without the pretensions so typical of fine dining.  I think it may be a hallmark of my generation to want our great food without such trappings: the tablecloths, the suited waiters, the "madam" and "sirs," the stilted rules and almost unavoidable awkwardness that accompanies them. Corez acchieves a lovely balance between respectful and casual, and the food is above par for its market.

The menu is broken down into small and large plates and "nibbles" of charcuterie, cheeses, olives and bread. The artisinal cheeses and meats are available singly or in combination (about $5 each.) On a recent visit the Zingerman's Bridgewater was a standout, it's spiked with pepper which cuts the double-cream richness beautifully. Also good was a "Humbolt Fog" goat cheese from Cypress Grove, which slowly melted at room temperature as we ate. Less successful was a rillette of pork; when dipping into what is basically a dish of fat, creaminess is key. Gritty was the word for this version, though its porky flavor was rich.

Small and large plates at Corez are mostly thoughtful and well executed, from a tender whitefish, to a rich mushroom gnocci. Sides seem to be chosen well to enhance the center protein (after all, we are still in Michigan. Beside the gnocci the only vegetarian large plate is a "dry rubbed tofu") and they do a great supporting job. A prettily pink duck was served with grits which were saved from being a bland accompanying starch by crunchy pieces of duck skin crackling. Unfortunately, a rhubarb sauce streaked across the plate fared worse. Despite my best efforts to dislodge some it had fused to the plate, perhaps a tad too long under the heat lamp?

The best of the food at Corez is honest, tasty, and (dare I say it?) sophisticated, with just a little twist. The remoulade accompanying the whitefish was the best kind of tangy and herby; just what a mild fish needs. A dessert of stacked crepes came with a rosemary ice cream that was surprisingly good.

Be prepared, though, that though you can wander in wearing jeans, you will be paying for the privilege. With large plates in the upper teens and specialty cocktails hovering at $10, it is easy here to run up a bill. Better to stick with carafes of house wine, in red or white. These are always simple, straightforward and good, and at only $15 one of the best deals on wine in town. For the connoisseur there is a long wine list, but I am calling you Mr. Millionaire Astronaut if you can afford that kind of thing at this point.