So, I've not been around these parts for some time. A few things have changed for me, in the kitchen and otherwise. Combined with my inherent inertia, they provide such explaination as I can offer for my absence.
There's been a bit of ennui here, food-wise, since I was notified, via an impersonal, blunt email, that I've got type-2 diabetes. (It turns out that my doctor did not have my changed phone number, and was not, after all, exhibiting uncharacteristic chilliness. She is actually extremely nice, and, even better, is a tiny little bit plump-a truly lovely trait in a PCP, I feel.)
This turn of events is far from tragic, and, in fact, I am fairly pleased to report that I've been righteously compliant. In fact, in addition to getting my blood sugar on the right track, I've lost a nice chunk of weight. Because, not surprisingly, I do not wish to die an early, preventable death, and it does seem like I can probably do something about that. I've even been reading up on how this insulin-resistance stuff works- believe me when I tell you that is a big yawn and a half- but I need to know what I'm doing. So.
I've been eating a sort of generalized low carb, diabetic-exchange kind of diet, with attention to avoiding sugar, white flour, and refined carbs in general. It seems to be working for me, and is certainly not revolting, food-wise. But it cannot be denied that it is boring, both in the preparation and the eating. I think both the diet and my medication are dulling my appetite, which is convenient, but not conducive to much in the way of putting up preserves or babbling on about meals and such. Nor have I acheived such sveltishness that I am driven to write about fashion and glamour.
I need to keep up with all this virtuous behaviour, and lose more weight- in aid of which I have actually purchased a hideously ugly, awkward, space-guzzling recumbent exercise bike. And I am actually using it, more or less daily. In fact, I must grudgingly admit that I'm growing fond of the thing, much though I loathe this sort of pointless exercise on principle. It's just been such a good solution- except for the tripping over it when it's not in use and the ruining the looks of the place aspect. Oh, and the spending of a ton of perfectly good money intended for holiday travel.
Still, though, while it is very much more fun to go on a long interesting walk, when the windchill is -2F, and sidewalks icy, that is just not happening for me- at least not on a daily basis. Nor am I going to some gym after work to do aquarobics- the other highly recommended exercise for people with bum knees. The idea of peeling off a chilly, damp swimsuit and dashing out into the cold with wet hair is pretty much anathema, as far as I am concerned.
The recumbent bike is entirely comfortable... hurting neither my back nor my knees, and I've been able to increase the extent of my so-called "work out"-ha- over time. And I can do the whole thing in pajamas, if I like. Although sometimes I picture myself with the mobile, outdoor version of the recumbent bicycle, riding merrily around the neighborhood, a shameless weirdo. But really- who wants to read or write about proper diet and exercise? Not me.
I'm not actually especially bummed out about any of this, though I do miss writing about food. Indeed, I could hardly be less downhearted, as the redfox and Steve have recently presented me with a delightful granddaughter, in the charming tiny person of the lovely Jane, aged 9 months. She is so cute that it is nearly ridiculous, as you can see here in the photo with her mama and the utterly gorgeous and brilliant, nearly-four-year-old Grace. All my lovely girls, my excellent son-in-law, and many other important-to-me people were with me here on Christmas eve. We had a large happy party with lots of food, including the sort I no longer eat much of, and all was glowingly good, in my book. Also, I get to go westcoastward next month, to visit redfox and company, which very much helps to blunt the woe of their return home.
I know there are worthy and well done blogs about eating with dietary restrictions and so on, but I just kind of don't wanna. If you see what I mean. However, that being said, there is something I want to try. A semi-defunct food blog seems just the right place for it, too. Something I would actually be interested in food-wise- regardless of the diabetes thing.
It turns out that while all bread is best kept to a minimum, whole wheat and sourdough breads are quite a bit less implicated than white ordinary ones. Further, nuts are kind of a good thing. I am a serious fan of artisan-type walnut breads, especially the whole wheat sort , loaded with walnuts, which toast up brilliantly, and are a super treat with cheese. The more walnuts, the less bread-per-slice, I figure. So, I have a recipe for a nice-sounding whole wheat, highly walnutty bread (it's a yeast recipe-Bernard Clayton) and some sourdough starter purportedly especially grown on, and good with, whole-wheat flour. I've got the starter going, and I'm going to try to combine the two, and see what I can come up with. If you haven't wandered off by now, frozen by dullness, perhaps you will check back here in a few days, and see how I'm doing?
I am in the throes of buying, working on, and moving into a coop apartment and the process is taking up all of my not otherwise pre-charted brain territory. For a while, I'm going to write about that instead of about food.
So-new spaces all around. I decided not to wait until I have the time to design something, and am using a standardized typepad format. But I hope to post a lot of photos- we'll see if I can live up to my own expectations. Perhaps you will join me, at Place Mark, my new weblog?
I have a long standing thing for apples. A giant old round fruit crate label with a big green three-apple group portrait, front and center, hangs on my kitchen wall. When I had a garden, I planted two special dwarf rootstock apple trees- a Cox's Orange Pippin, and a Westfield Seek-No-Further. Passing my old place, I always check to see how the trees are doing, before glancing at the house behind. Every year when the Honeycrisp apple season arrives, I go a little crazy acquiring and consuming them in unreasonable numbers. It is fair to say that I'm crazy about apples.
I am also a sucker for all kinds of apple cakes and pies. There are traditional apple cakes on both sides of my family. I didn't get those recipes from the family cooks who served them to me, and they are both long gone now. But I have managed to duplicate both cakes with a reasonable degree of authenticity. They have sentimental value for me, which adds to their simple charm. You can find them here, and here.
There is no better dessert than a classic tart tatin, and a slew of other apple tarts and pies have their way with me from time to time. They all have their individual virtues and lures. And I am always hoping to find a quintessential apple cake.
So, although it is entirely unseasonal, I have taken some time in the midst of strawberry jamming, to try yet another one. The platonic apple cake to which I aspire is not a bakery product, but a humbler, home cooked item. These are my standards: It should be be simple to make; it should taste distinctly and primarily of apples, rather than supplementary flavors; and it should be good to eat the next day. Because I don't want to waste it or to eat it when all flavor and texture has fled.
A lot of otherwise excellent baked goods are, IMO, greatly diminished by sitting overnight. They may look the same, but their soul has flown away, and only a sad carcass remains. I live alone, and am sadly aware that it is best if I do not consume, alone, in one day, entire pies and cakes. Thus, I favor cakes which either stay the same for a bit, or are good stale and toasted- brioche, pound cakes, kugelhopf, and so on.
This recipe is from Patricia Well's Paris Cookbook, and it is very nice indeed. I am not sure if I would call it a cake or a sort of pie, or, perhaps, a flan. She reports having begged it from her produce market apple vendor, hence the name. It is custardy, and tastes pretty good, though a bit different, the next day. I used Golden Delicious apples, because I had some left from a tart tatin. This is an apple which is, IMO, useless for out of hand eating, bland and entirely uncrisp, but which miraculously develops a mellow caramelized sweetness when cooked. I would definitely recommend using only one apple variety , a sort you especially like, as the apple taste is prominent.
It is not quite the apple cake of my dreams, but it is very good, and I will be making it again. This is what you need:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
4 baking apples (about 2 lbs. total), cored, peeled and cut into thin wedges (I use golden delicious)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
Equipment: 9-inch springform pan
This is what you do:
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Butter a 9-inch springform pan and set aside
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and sea salt and stir to blend. Add vanilla extract, eggs, oil and milk and stir until well blended. Add the apples and stir to thoroughly coat them with the batter.
Spoon the mixture into thhe prepared cake pan. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until fairly firm and golden, about 25 min.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar, egg and melted butter and stir to blend. Set it aside.
Remove the cake from the oven and pour the topping mixture over it. Return the cake to the oven and bake until the top is a deep golden brown and the cake feels quite firm when presses with a fingertip, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the cake pan to a rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the sides of the pan, and release and remove the springform side, leaving the cake on the pan base. Serve at room temperature, cut into wedges.
Note from Patricia Wells - "When you make this cake, you will be surprised by the small amount of batter, the quantity of apples. In effect, this is more of a crustless pie, in that the batter is just there to hold the apples together. What I love most about this recipes is that it allows the full flavor of the apple to shine through."
I never knew. It isn't even actually a recipe, but it turns out to be a specific process called "Fromage Fort", traditional and French. I've been making this multi-purpose cheesy thing for some time, and now I have a name for it-thanks to Jacques Pepin. His great big coffee table book,Traditions and Rituals of a Cook, is not only very pretty, but actually full of good information, recipes, and engaging stories.
M. Pepin's father's process for this appetizer/condiment/supper dish is more picturesque than my own. When J. Pepin was a child, his family did not have a fridge. Perishable food was stored in a "Garde Manger", which, chez Pepin, was essentially a wooden box, kept in the coolest possible spot. The dried out ends of cheeses accumulated there, along with everything else that had to be chilled.
When the urge struck him, Pepin Sr. would sort out the odd bits of leftover cheese of all sorts, and trim off any moldy spots. He cut it all up into a covered container, ladled some hot soup over it, and left it for days to soften. Once it was softened, he'd mash it all up with a little wine and some garlic, pack it into a crock, and it was ready to go- as a topping with crackers, baked in little mini-crocks for a first course, or spread on baguette slices and toasted. You can make a toasted panini thing, layering it with ham between two slices, and cooking it with a press, possibly dipping the sandwich in beaten egg before toasting, for extra fanciness.I especially like to munch my version, plain, with radishes.
I would be far too cowardly for this original method, which, though perhaps more flavorful than the modern version, fills my brain, however unjustly, with images of festering, possibly deadly itty bitty organisms. I note that Pepin Jr. and his wife currently use a food processor, which is also my weapon of choice. This eliminates the necessity for prolonged stewing.
Basically all you have to do is put your assorted leftover cheese bits*- hard and soft, in a food processor with some chopped garlic cloves- a little pepper and a bit of dijon mustard if you like, and process it with enough dry white wine to make a thick paste. The amount of wine you need will vary, depending on the ratio of hard to soft cheese. Pack it in a crock or two, and refrigerate for a day or so to let the flavors settle , and then you are set to go.
You can freeze this stuff, and it keeps quite well in the fridge, too. Toasted, baked, or just spread on a bit of crusty bread, it's a nice thing to have around. And, you know,it's making something out of nothing. Waste Not, Want Not.
Not really a recipe, as you can see. And it is very likely that you have already made something similar. This is the sort of thing that I like to be told about myself, just ordinary kitchen sense really. We can happen upon these ideas from just hanging around a kitchen, or read about them. A friend can tell us something nice that they do with their leftovers, and especially if is simple, it might be of lasting use. I like these sorts of ideas even better than the best of special recipes. Not that there is anything wrong with the latter.
*I would not include an actual parmesan rind, as these are too valuable to be lost in the mix-one dried out parm rind adds so much pizazzz to a pot of minestrone or potato soup.
When I read Victorian and pre-WW II fiction, or watch Upstairs, Downstairs, or Merchant/ Ivory sorts of movies, I am struck by the way the comfortably off characters move un-self-consciously through their lives, attended by servants, apparently entirely untroubled that other people are witnessing their most intense and personal moments.
I would be so embarrassed; I could not bear to have a bunch of disinterested semi-strangers hanging around in my house all the time, regardless of the convenience. Even with out the inevitable guilt which would come with being waited on, I could never feel truly relaxed. Clearly not to-the-manor-born, me. And yet now, living alone, with no one to trade at-home indulgences with me, I can imagine two pleasures which would almost be worth the attendant awfulness of having live-in help, with or without a frilly cap- tea in bed and a nice boiled egg.
From the moment my mother was able to clutch a mug in her baby fingers, until my father was hospitalized during his final illness, she had a cup of tea brought to her in bed virtually every morning of her life. When she was growing up, her brothers made morning tea for her, and for her sister and my grandmother. They fixed it before they went to work, woke their womenfolk gently, and set it on the tables by their beds.
My father took over from there, and I, too, was the lucky beneficiary of this tradition, growing up. When I went off to college, it was cold turkey on the tea...and Bill, a seriously heavy sleeper, never took to the practice. (Though he did wash the dishes every day of his too short life, something my father only took up on retirement.) But it is wonderful thing, waking up to a cup of tea in the morning, and I commend it to you, if you can arrange it for yourself.
Another treat which is so much better when someone else fixes it for you, is the boiled egg, mostly because timing is such a major factor. I should perhaps explain that I have a bit of a thing about eggs. I think they are gorgeous, and am particularly inamoured of the multi-hued eggs of auracana fowl, seen here in a photo swiped from google, taken by someone called "Thornius the bird man", who posts on a gardening forum. Also, I love duck eggs, quail eggs, and am willing to try any unendangered species bird egg on offer. Indeed, my fantasies of a perfect existence involve my own chickens (and possibly a dairy goat). These fantasies are destined to be unfulfilled, since I am a confirmed urban dweller, and live in an apartment. (Actually, I haven't entirely given up on the chickens...I've been reading about some urban chickens of late. But I'd definitely need to have a place with a yard, and very tolerant neighbors.)
If I could be sitting at at table, sipping some very hot coffee and reading my newspaper when my perfect 4 minute egg arrived, I would be so very grateful. It would be neatly topped, and accompanied by a stack of buttered toast "soldiers"* for dipping, and a small pile of mixed salt and pepper to stick to the runny yolk once my toast, or small egg spoon, has been dipped. Perfect moment, that. Sure, I can and do fix one for myself, from time to time, but it is far less luxurious, and something usually is not as hot as one would wish.
Soft boiled egg service generally only happens to a person who has a mother, or other doting relative on hand. When we were small, my little brother was encouraged to eat his egg all up, because when he did, the egg would be turned around in its cup, and the penciled "sad" face would be replaced by the "happy" egg she drew on the other side. Unlike me, he had an iffy appetite.
Prior to the appearance of this little interloper, I was taken, a toddler, to visit my mother's English family. They still had two chickens in a shed in the garden then, from the days of rationing and food coupons for chicken feed. I was allowed to go fetch my own breakfast egg every morning, and quickly became attached to this ritual. One day I came back with my egg, looking dismayed and weepy. Questioned, I was sure that the chickens must be sick; the eggs were cold! It turned out that when my Auntie Louie had gone out to check earlier, no egg had been laid. As she didn't want me to be disappointed, she'd planted a couple from the fridge.
Neither of these most excellent treats is in any way costly, but the personal element can be tricky to arrange. More precious than rubies, eh? I suppose having live-in servants makes affluent adults feel a bit like doted-upon children?
* It seems that toast "soldiers" is an English term, I've heard "toast fingers" here. Buttered strips of toast are the perfect accessory for "dippy eggs". Some guy in the UK has designed a stamp thing, specifically for the creation of perfect toast soldiers. A hoot, no? I think you stamp the bread prior to toasting, and then break or cut along the dotted line. Not surprisingly perhaps, these are unavailable in the US. I was sufficiently intrigued to try ordering one from Amazon.co.uk. Although they are quite happy to send me books I can't find here, somewhat mysteriously they find themselves "unable" to ship me a small plastic device.
I am at my least resolute when shopping at Costco. Not an original creation, this sandwich came to my attention as a result of an impulse purchase.
Anyway, there were several psychological factors at work- not the least of which was the relative rarity of opportunity. It is a tricky business to shop at Costco without a car, unless you live next door to The Mall, which I don't. There is a bus, but the return trip, including a walk down one steep, bumpy hill and up another, is on the grueling side. It is especially awkward with arms full of warehouse-sized food units.
So, when I am offered a ride, I always feel I should make the most of it. And I generally wind up staggering in my front door, festooned with flowers, pine nuts, bags of fabulous avocados, and one or two things that just sort of flung themselves into my cart while I wasn't paying attention. Or so it seems.
Most recently I found myself the baffled owner of a huge, heavy glass jar of marinated artichoke "hearts"- a laughable bargain. I'm not even really sure I like jarred, marinated artichokes; they are both oily and acidic, not necessarily in the nicest way. I was actually feeling a little frantic about my mistake, and looked in several cookbooks for ideas.
This one, from the yellow, Ruth Reichl Gourmet cookbook, is a jewel. It is currently my favorite untoasted sandwich, even more fabulous than roast pork and arugula with cranberry chutney on a crusty roll. Which is saying something. The weird artichokes work just fine here.
I have been taking this one to work, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap...it gets a tad soggier than perfection , waiting in the lunch room fridge, but it is still wonderful.
This is how you make four. (I usually make 2. Pictured is a double, made on a dubious mini tuscan loaf from the Giant Eagle. It is good enough to jazz up some pretty flabby bread.):
1/2 cup brine-cured black olives, rinsed, drained, and pitted
2 teaspoons drained capers
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 (6 1/2-ounce) jars marinated artichokes, drained, reserving marinade, and chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 (6-ounce) cans tuna in olive oil, drained and any large chunks broken into smaller pieces
4 (7-inch-long) ciabatta rolls or other crusty rolls with soft, chewy crumb- or two mini loaves of crusty bread
3/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Blend olives, capers, garlic, zest, and 3 tablespoons artichoke marinade in a blender or food processor, until as smooth as possible. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in mayonnaise. Stir together artichokes and tuna in another bowl.
Split each roll horizontally and remove inner crumb from top half. Spread olive mayonnaise on cut sides of rolls and make sandwiches with tuna and artichokes, seasoning filling with pepper and topping with parsley.
I can see myself eating a lot of these, but not so many as to use up all those artichoke hearts. Any ideas on that?
I am more than a little ambivalent about the current media passion for frugality. The newspaper and broadcast news are eager to tell us how to save our pennies, and suggest that we deal with financial insecurity and loss by cooking real food at home, patronizing local growers, and entertaining ourselves, families and friends with nice meals, instead of stopping for fast food on the way home. And these are good, enriching, responsible and fun things to do, regardless of Wall Street antics, and whether we are flush, or suddenly terrified to find ourselves unemployed.
But in the articles full of "saving tips", and all those recession-chic fashion stories, is there, maybe, an underlying aroma of cheesy, opportunistic, cheery cluelessness in the face of some very real misery and confusion? It makes me queasy, and fills me with prissy disapproval. Said prissy disapproval probably has its origins in personal unease about my own attitude and behavior in these matters.
For I cannot deny a huge, and long-standing weaknesses both for the "Hints From Heloise" style of time and money-saving household tips, and contrariwise- for ridiculously high-end cookware and the like... I am intensely interested in getting the most out of my generally ample access to fresh, mostly local food, but am also inclined to spend extravagantly for treats-even when I can't really afford to do so. And I do all of these things, in my own mind at least, in part on (often contradictory) principle(s).*
This pompous meandering is by way of an apology for yet another set of posts on getting the most out of one frozen Long Island duck. The thing is, it really is economical and delicious, but I do see that it is also a lot of bother, and pretty silly, in a way. It is only a good plan if you think it might be fun, and an entertainment in itself. Otherwise, it is an appalling pain in the ass, and you'd be much better served, with much less fuss, by a giant, re-heatable pot of stew. Certainly this is not a project that I would always feel up to.
But when I'm in the mood,I get a huge kick out of the process, as well as the food, and I'm hoping you might, too. So here you go.
Prep: Once defrosted, the duck is not hard to cut up. First, the two thigh/drumstick sections are removed and set aside for this first dinner for two. Two breast sections , with their skin are sliced off, and frozen togetherin a plastic bag. all the fat and remaining skin is removed, chopped up and rendered to some lovely creamy fat and a small pile of cracklings. The fat keeps nicely on the fridge or freezer for months. The liver is sauteed or broiled, salted and peppered, and eaten on some nice toasted breas- for lunch.
Then, the neck and remaining carcass are cooked up into a nice broth (more on this in a later post), which is strained, degreased and frozen. The remaining cooked meat on the bones is shredded and frozen, too...because there is going to be a duck soup...with duck wontons, and the shredded bits will be topping the soup. Also, there is going to be a really nice duck breast salad thing.
In any event, this is a delicious way to prepare duck legs, and actually is adaptable for other poultry parts..I've used it with a big, boneless stuffed turkey thigh, for example, changing, of course, amounts and times. It's lovely because the duck is tender and moist, the carrots super-flavorful, the sauce full-bodied, and the skin gorgeously crisp. It is from Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating", a book full of odd, and astonishingly delicious recipes. As is so often the case with me, the camera, and poultry or meat, the picture does not do it justice.
Here is the original recipe. I make it for 2, and cut it down accordingly.
Duck fat or butter
6 duck's legs (available without the rest of the duck from most butchers)
I white onion, peeled and sliced
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and kept whole
14 medium sized carrots, peeled and chopped into
Bundle of parsley and 4 sprigs of rosemary (you have to be very careful with rosemary, since delicious as it is, it can take over)
2 bay leaves
I chilli, kept whole
About 1.5 litres chicken stock
Sea salt and pepper
Get a frying pan hot, add a spoonful of duck fat or butter, wait until it is sizzling, and then brown the duck's legs on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan cook the onion, leeks, and garlic. Mix in the carrots and cook for 3 more minutes, then decant all the vegetables into a deep oven dish.
Nestle in the herb bundle, bay leaves, and chilli (this just emits a slight warmth to the dish, unlike a more pungent chopped chilli). Press the duck's legs into the carrot bed, skin side upwards, season the dish, and pour chicken stock over until the duck's legs are showing like alligators in a swamp.
Place into a medium to hot oven for 11/2 hours, keeping an eye on it so it does not burn - if it threatens to, cover the dish with foil. Check the legs with a knife; you want them thoroughly giving.
When cooked the carrots will have drawn up the duck fat, the stock reduced to a rich juice, and the duck skin should be brown and crispy. Serve with bread to mop up the juices and follow with a green salad.
Before I risk driving you mad with the rest of the duck story, I want to tell you about a really good sandwich. Soon.
As you may have noticed, I have been making various kinds of mushroom barley soup for ages. I thought I was pretty well set in my methods for both beef barley and vegetarian versions. But I'm here to tell you I was missing the boat big time, because it had not occurred to me to toast the barley. I owe this insight to Daniel Boulud (and co-author Dorie Greenspan-the-great). So very, very good.
It makes total sense. If we toast nuts before we bake, we take our cakes and cookies to the proverbial next level, "up a notch", or whatever you want to call it when food is so good that we are surprised. Toasting leftover bread and smearing it with something damp and tasty turns a chewy crust into an elegant first course. Pre-roasting vegetables for a composed salad, ratatouille, or casserole intensifies their flavors so nicely.
And, of course, toasting a grain before cooking it in liquid is not exactly a new idea. The redfox introduced me to the idea of pre-toasting steel cut oatmeal (in butter, mmmn) some time ago. Cooked slowly thereafter in milk or water, it is seriously delicious. And sure, toasting rice before the liquid is added makes a pilaf or risotto more than just rice. (Not that there is anything at all wrong with "just rice"; it's just a different thing entirely.) I think I even tried a barley pilaf once. Close, but no cigar.
Probably this is such an obvious step that you have already taken it. But if you haven't, I wanted to let you know. Because, despite the seeming simplicity of the idea, I feel a bit like a primitive soul who accidentally spilled some gathered grain into the fire, scooped it up, and finally got it into my pot of water boiling there. Or put out a grain fire with water, and noticed it smelled nice... or something equally feeble and unlikely. You know... "Eureka"?.
In my gratitude for this insight, I have not altered the Boulud recipe a bit, and have yet to try it with any of my usual mushroom-barley shenanigans...not even a drop of Asian (toasted!) sesame oil for the vegetarian version. Because this is a delicious and perfectly balanced recipe as is, though I'm sure it would be nice with a chicken or beef broth in place of the vegetable broth, if you prefer. I served it, as suggested, with a garlic crouton, a/k/a "toast", heh.
Here you are:
2 ounces dried mushrooms (such as morels, porcini, shitakes, and chanterelles)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pearl barley
1 stalk celery, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 medium leek (white part only), split lengthwise, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 medium onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 medium carrot, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 medium turnip, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 sage leaves, finely chopped (reserve stems for the herb sachet)
¾ pound assorted fresh mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned, and cut in half
3½ quarts unsalted vegetable stock *
Herb sachet (6 reserved sage stems, 4 sprigs Italian parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf, ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds, and ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns)
Freshly ground white pepper
Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour a pint of warm water over them. Let the mushrooms soak for at least 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the water and squeeze out excess moisture; discard the soaking liquid. Warm one tablespoon of the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the barley.
Cook the barley, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, or until the grains are lightly toasted. Remove pan from the heat and set the barley aside. Warm the remaining two tablespoons butter in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the celery, leek, onion, carrot, turnip, garlic, and salt, and cook until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.
Add the sage and add fresh and reconstituted mushrooms. Season with salt to taste and continue to cook until the mushrooms release their moisture. Stir in three quarts of the stock and toss in the herb sachet and barley. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat until simmering gently, and cook until the barley is tender and the broth is thoroughly infused, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. (The soup can be cooled and refrigerated at this point. )
Add remaining two cups broth and bring soup to a boil. Season to taste and discard the herb sachet.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls.
From the Cafe Boulud Cookbook by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan
*Plus more if you wish. As you can see, this is a thick, full meal soup...thick enough to float your spoon. So if you'd like it brothier, you will want to add more. Also, if you are making it ahead, the barley will soak up more of the broth while it waits, and you will want to add more when you serve it.