Recipe for Mushroom Barley Soup

I spent this Thanksgiving with Cindy and her family. We've known each other for ten years. Wow, time flies. I can't remember how many times we've spent Thanksgiving together, but if we are all in DC for the holidays, it's a given. Cindy and her family are my surrogate family--I'm the adopted older cousin ;)

When asked what I could contribute to the meal, I was told I could bring a potato masher and a non-alcoholic beverage. This, although practical, seemed a bit boring to me.

So I started to think of a hostess gift I could bring specifically for Cindy since she was doing all the cooking.

Since Cindy loves mushrooms, I thought I'd do something with them. That's when Anna suggested I make Mushroom Barley Soup. And I did.

The recipe I came up with is incredibly simple. Use whatever type of mushrooms you like. You can also use vegetable broth to make the soup entirely vegetarian OR add some leftover meat to make this a meal in a bowl.

Mushroom Barley Soup
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups water
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 celery stalks, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons dry thyme
16 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
8 ounces sliced white mushrooms
8 cups chicken broth
salt & pepper

1. Cook pearl barley: add pearl barley to salted water, bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and cook for about 35 minutes.
2. In a soup pot, heat the oil. Add carrots and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add onion, garlic, celery and thyme and cook for 4 minutes.

4. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook for 15 minutes.
5. Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
6. Add cooked pearl barley and heat it through.

I think the soup turned out great. I left half of it for myself, and brought the rest to Cindy. The soup gets even better as it sits in your refrigerator. Now that I'm writing about this, I think I should have topped it with some sour cream...but then I love sour cream.

What have you brought as a hostess gift that wasn't necessarily consumed during the meal?


Challah French Toast stuffed with Boozy Cranberries

On Saturday, my friend Stacey came over for breakfast with her 6 month old son, Myer, and brought home made challah! I made challah French toast and served it with boozy cranberries I made earlier that week. But with a little boy in my condo, there wasn't too much time for arranging and photographing the food.

So yesterday, I decided to make Challah French Toast Stuffed with Boozy Cranberries and share the recipe/photos with you.

First, what are boozy cranberries? Here's what I did: in a pan, combine 16 ounces of fresh cranberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1.5 ounces Whip Cream Naked Jay Vodka.

Cook the mixture till the cranberries have softened and burst, and most of the liquid has been soaked into the berries. This is not your typical cranberry sauce: it's tart, boozy and has a slight hint of vanilla. Try it! {not only is it great in this Challah French Toast, but it's also delicious spread on sandwiches}

Challah French Toast stuffed with Boozy Cranberries
Ingredients for 2
2 1" slices of challah
1 egg
2 tablespoons orange juice
splash of vanilla
boozy cranberries to taste
neutral oil or butter for cooking

1. Make a slit in the challah slice and fill it with boozy cranberries.
2. Whisk together the egg, orange juice and vanilla. Submerge the stuffed challah into the mixture.
3. Heat a pan with oil or butter and cook challah French toast for 2-3 minutes on each side.



I served the Challah French Toast with a dusting of powdered sugar for a bit of sweetness. Of course you can use any jam you like instead of boozy cranberries.What are you waiting for? Make this for dinner tonight!

How are you using up leftover cranberry sauce?


What's new at Bourbon Steak? I shoot for food.

Earlier this month, my friend Sangeetha, who does PR for Bourbon Steak, amongst a zillion other amazing restaurants in DC area, asked if I would like to come to Bourbon Steak, take a few photographs of the new items on the menu and be treated to a lunch for two in return.

Since Sangeetha and I have known each other for a few years, I felt no need to wait more than a few minutes before saying YES.

And so, a few Fridays ago, on the Veterans Day, I woke up after a night of salsa dancing, managed to shower, put on clothes and a bit of makeup and headed out to Bourbon Steak in Georgetown.

{Here are a few of my other visits to Bourbon Steak.}
Before I turn to the food, I just want to share a few shots of "flower" arrangements at Bourbon Steak: it's cabbage! But how seriously gorgeous is this?

As Sangeetha and I caught up, I sipped on coffee served with warm milk (it was such an unexpected, but wonderful touch), and then came this:

HOT "BUTTERED" RUM: chairman's reserve, vanilla bean, ginger and allspice served in a latte glass with dulce de leche foam.

I'm usually a light weight and only use rum to make home-made vanilla. Plus, it was a bit too early for me to start drinking, but that dulce de leche foam was beyond amazing. I actually think foam is the wrong word for this as it was whipped, smooth and thick. I had to stop myself from eating the entire topping of this Hot "Buttered" Rum with a spoon. Instead, I mixed it into my coffee.

Then it was time for a heritage turkey burger stuffed with stuffing, brushed with mustard butter and served on a whole wheat bun. The bun was spread with garlic mashed potatoes and topped with cranberry relish.

And yes, this is still being served at Bourbon Steak after Thanksgiving.

I only could manage to eat a few bites of this burger and took the rest of it home. I am happy to report that the bun did not get soggy, the turkey burger did not dry out and the mashed potatoes were still fluffy by the time I came home. I did not even bother to reheat the burger before eating it.

To finish the photo shoot on a sweet note, we received BOURBON STEAK HOT CHOCOLATE: valrhona chocolate, maple with {in house made} marshmallows served in a latte glass.

And who will be the lucky person to come to lunch with me at Bourbon Steak in December? My brother!!! Dear Misha, you are in for a great treat.

PS: I'm happy to report that my photo of the burger was recently featured in Express Night Out (Page 19).


Lamb Shepherd's Pie with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

Remember the Lamb Pizza with Arugula, Goat Cheese & Pepperoncini I wrote about? Well, after making the pizza, I still had a pound of raw ground lamb leftover, not to mention the goat cheese and pepperoncini.

Of course I could have simply made another pizza, or frozen the ground lamb, but I wanted to do something else.

I decided to make Lamb Shepherd's Pie with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes.

I did not grow up eating shepherd's pies. Instead, we had a similar dish: mashed potatoes on the bottom, then a layer of ground beef, and another layer of mashed potatoes. This was baked in a large rectangular metal dish and served with pickles. Oh the warm childhood memories!

Shepherd's pie is usually made with meat, onions and carrots and topped with mashed potatoes. What's different in this recipe I came up with is 1) I used lamb 2) I added pepperoncini to the filling 3) instead of adding Cheddar to mashed potatoes, I added goat cheese. It all worked out great!

Lamb Shepherd's Pie with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

for the filling
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cubed
5 thyme sprigs
1 pound ground lamb
salt & pepper
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pepperoncini

for the topping
3 large Russet potatoes, peeled, cubed, cooked in salted water till tender
5 ounces goat cheese
1/3 cup milk
salt & pepper

1. To make the filling, heat the oil in a large pot. Add onion, carrots and thyme and cook for about 8 minutes.
2. Add the lamb and saute till it's brown.
3. Remove the thyme sprigs, season with salt & pepper and add peas and pepproncini.
4. To make the topping, combine cooked and drained potatoes with goat cheese, milk, season with salt & pepper and mash.
5. Preheat the oven to 375.
6. Add the filling to the bottom of your baking pans. You can see I used quite the variety! {Thank you, mama for the little red casserole dish!!}

7. Top the filling with mashed potatoes. I piped mine using a large plastic bag and snipping off a little corner. I think it worked quite well.

8. Bake the shepherd's pies for 25 minutes, then put them under a broiler for 5-8 minutes till the potatoes turn a gorgeous golden brown color.

I was incredibly happy with how these turned out. The pepperoncini added something extra to an otherwise standard dish, and if you love goat cheese, you are going to love these mashed potatoes.

I'm sure these would freeze pretty well, but I ate the entire thing through the week :)

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!!!


The I ♥ Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook: Htipiti

Last month I came home to find yet another copy of a cookbook for my preview. I'm not one to complain: it's fun having surprise packages waiting by my door. Plus, there is no pressure: I look through the book, mark the recipes I want to try, and then grocery shopping.

Today I'm happy to share with you a recipe from the latest Trader Joe's cookbook from Ulysses Press: The I Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook. The recipe for Htipiti, a dip made with feta and roasted peppers caught my attention and I thought it'd be a great appetizer for the Lamb Supper Club I hosted last week.

1 jalapeno chile
1 (12 ounce) jar fire-roasted red peppers, drained
2 (8 ounce) packages feta cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
pinch of red chile pepper flakes

{Note: I know the photo below shows a lime instead of a lemon. I realized my mistake after I already took the photo: I ended up using a lemon in the recipe as was called for in the book.}

1. In a food processor, chop the jalapeno. Add the roasted pepper and chop more.
2. Crumble in the feta, add the ricotta, and pulse to combine.
3. Add the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and chile pepper flakes and pulse to combine.

I made a few minor changes to the recipe: 1) I only used 1/2 of the jalapeno 2) I reserved some of the red roasted peppers and chopped them to add into the dip at the end 3) I reserved some of the feta and crumbled it into the dip at the end 4) I added chopped parsley, salt and pepper.

From the book: you can use this as a dip for vegetables or toasted pitas, and it's great as a sandwich spread as well. It's yummy, but also it's just fun to say--hhhhti-pi-ti!

The dip was a success. Although I took photos of it with crackers, I served it with home-made toasted pita chips.

I'm looking forward to making a few other recipes from Trader Joe's book!


What to do with ground lamb? Recipe for Lamb Pizza with Peppers and Arugula

This is the second installment in the Lamb Supper Club series {one more to come}. To refreshen your memory, here's the first part: Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb.

I'm participating in this supper club hosted by the Tri-Lamb Group, a collaborative initiative of lamb producer organizations from the U.S., New Zealand and Australia which focuses on educating Americans about lamb. {Note: although I receive ingredients to make each recipe, there is no $$ compensation involved. And as always, all opinions are my own.}

Unlike my first supper club, which had a total attendance of 1, me, due to Hurricane Irene, this time around, my friends Cecilia and Laetitia joined me! Not only did they come over for dinner, but Cecilia brought carrot cake from Whole Foods, and Laetitia brought a bottle of sparkling wine: ♥ thoughtful guests.

This time I got to work with ground lamb in a recipe for Lamb Pizza with Peppers and Arugula. {Both the recipe and the ingredients were provided for me by the Tri-Lamb Group. You can find more information on lamb and other recipes here.}

1 package premade whole grain pizza dough (about 1 pound), thawed if frozen
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb
1 medium shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste {I added more to make the base more saucy}
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup sliced pepperoncini peppers
3/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
2 cups arugula


1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush rimmed baking sheet with 1 teaspoon of oil. Using your hands spread dough over the entire length of the baking sheet and push the dough to the edges. Bake the pizza dough for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. {I actually used a stainless steal skillet and it worked out fine!} Add lamb, shallots, garlic, tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook until the lamb has browned.

3. Brush the pre baked pizza crust with a teaspoon of oil. Evenly distribute the cooked lam mixture, top with pepperoncini and goat cheese and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with arugula.

The two photos below were taken by Cecilia with her iphone. Please enjoy my super organized kitchen! {huh!}

Thoughts: this was an incredibly easy meal to put together. I loved the combination of lamb with vinegary pepperoncini, mild goat cheese and the freshness of arugula.

I still had a pound of lamb left over after the pizza supper club and the following day made Lamb Shepherd's Pie with it: I'll share the recipe next week.

For now, a few facts about lamb:

On average, 3-ounce portion of lamb contains
30% of your daily zinc, which contributes to growth and development and is necessary to heal wounds
25% of the daily value of niacin, necessary for processing nutrients and proper enzyme function
40% the daily value of vitamin B, which functions as a co-enzyme for many important metabolic reactions
47% of your daily value of protein, essential for adequate growth, immune function, muscle mainteance and healing wounds

But most importantly, it's versatile and tastes great!!

I hope you all have a good weekend. Please let me know if you've ever cooked with ground lamb and what you've made.

And before I sign off, I want to share with you one of my little dreams that has finally come true: TheKitchn included my Roasted Pear & Buttermilk Sorbet in their delicious links today!

I'm in great company with:
Apple Cranberry Oatmeal Bake - Karma Cucina.
Kabocha Shiruko - Humble Bean.
Fresh Cauliflower Salad with Crispy Capers, Olives, Shaved Red Onion and Herbs with a Grainy Mustard - Lemon Vinaigrette - SnailsView.


Spicy Zesty Hummus: what to do with Classic Sabra hummus?

As part of Foodbuzz's Tastemakers program, I occasionally have a chance to try new products.

This time, I received a coupon for a free Sabra product: I could choose from multiple varieties of hummus, fresh salsa, natural guacamole or Greek yogurt dips.

Of course I'm capable of making any of the mentioned snacks by myself. In fact, I love making hummus in my mini food processor and flavoring it with different things such as sun dried tomato. Salsa can take on many flavors too: simple tomato salsa or mango salsa with avocado, etc.

But sometimes, it's just so much easier to buy an already prepared dish at the store.

I decided to get a container of Sabra's Classic Hummus and add a few of my own twists to it.

Spicy Zesty Hummus
1 container Sabra's Classic Hummus
1 chipotle in adobo, seeds removed, finely chopped
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1/2 lime

1. Combine all ingredients together.
2. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let all the flavors mingle together.
3. Serve with crackers or pita chips. {I made my own pita chips by cutting whole wheat pitas into 8 pieces, putting them onto a cookie sheet and spraying them with oil. I then sprinkled the pita with some spices and baked them for about 30 minutes at 325F degree oven.}

The end result was spicy and zesty: just like the title of the post indicates!

What ingredients (if any) do you like to add to your hummus?


Naked Jay Vodka: recipe for Slippery Tomato for Pickle Day

When I was growing up in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho), my dad took my sister and me swimming on Sundays. Occasionally we'd also go to the gym prior to swimming. I was never a fan of either activity (to this date I don't like gyms). Going swimming on Sundays meant Anna and I would miss out on American cartoons shown on TV: another childhood sadness.

As a reward for swimming, however, my dad let Anna and me choose either a milk shake or tomato juice on our way back home. I bet 99.9% percent of you would have chosen a milk shake, right? Well, not me. I often went for the tomato juice.

I guess I was an unconventional kid.

Whenever people find out I grew up in Russia, some of them ask about my family's consumption of vodka, possible ties to Russian mafia/KGB, etc. They are often disappointed when I tell them that my family really doesn't drink much and no, we did not add vodka to our cereal in the morning. Shocking, right?

When I received a few miniature bottles of Naked Jay Vodka to try, I thought they were cute, but they sat on my kitchen counter for months. It wasn't until I received a recipe from Naked Jay Vodka for Slippery Tomato, that I decided to open one of the bottles and try it out.

Supposedly today, November 14th, is National Pickle Day! I love pickles (and anything pickled), and was intrigued by the Slippery Tomato recipe because  it used Big Dill vodka, something I've never tried before.

Slippery Tomato

1.57 ounces of Naked Jay Dill Pickle Vodka
3 ounces tomato juice
1/2 ounce olive juice {from a jar of olives}
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes celery salt
2 dashes black pepper

Notes: I did not have celery salt, but I happened to have celery seeds, so I mashed them and added a bit of salt to make my own celery salt. I also added a bit more of the olive juice and some lemon juice to brighten up the drink.

1. Combine all ingredients, pour into a glass, and garnish with a pickle slice {I used a pickle spear, an olive and a celery stick}.

I'm typically not a fan of Bloody Mary drinks, but this one had a smoky taste to it and wasn't overly salty or peppery. I ended up pouring it over ice cubes and drinking it while cleaning my condo and getting ready for a lamb pizza dinner party {more on that later}. I was one happy girl!

If you are not a fan of tomato juice, here's a recipe for Dirty Pickle  from Naked Jay Vodka:
2 ounces Naked Jay Dill Pickle Vodka
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce olive juice
Build on the rocks, stir and garnish with a speared gherkin.

About Naked Jay Vodka: Naked Jay Vodka is manufactured by the Sazerac Company, based in New Orleans, LA. In September, Naked Jay Vodka introduced two new flavors: Naked Jay Big Dill and Naked Jay Whip Cream. These vodkas are distilled four times and are exclusively available to the state of Virginia. The company's slogan is "Meet the vodak that's not afraid to bare it all."

Note:  I received this product free of charge but was not in any other way compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.