Chat Leftovers: Barley, Date Night Menu and Party Drink Planning

There were too many good questions left hanging in the What's Cooking queue yesterday; below, a few for the road that bear consideration and your feedback, of course:

Silver Spring, Md.: What is the difference between pearl barley and whole barley. I bought whole rather than pearl. Will it need more cooking time or more liquid to substitute?

Whole barley (aka hulled barley, and on occasion, pot barley) is the more nutritious of the two, with only the outer husk removed, whereas pearl parley is "pearled" - which means steamed, polished and stripped of its bran coating.

Thing is, pearl barley cooks much faster; a one-cup portion takes about 35 minutes to cook, about half the time it takes to cook the same amount of hulled barley. In "A New Way to Cook," Sally Schneider recommends that hulled barley, like other chewy whole grains, benefit from being soaked for several hours before cooking, and when ready to cook, cover it in liquid, plus three inches, and replenish liquid as necessary.

Java: So am I crazy or what? I love iced lattes in the AM, but as a single mom with 2 preschool age kids making my own every morning just isn't happening. I've been thinking if Starbucks can make and bottle a latte, why can't I? So could I? Make a week's worth of lattes and store in the fridge?

You are are so not crazy, Mom. Earlier this summer, I wrote about cold-brewed coffee, which is exactly like it sounds -- coffee brewed in cold water and steeped overnight to yield the intensity and rich flavor that far surpasses the hot stuff. For the latte part of your beverage, just add cold milk to your coffee concentrate, a little water and you're good to go, darlin'. Since learning this trick, I've been making a pitcher of coffee concentrate every few weeks to help satisfy those midafternoon caffeine hankerings. Two minutes is all you need to mix your cold brew, and you'll quickly discover how much money you're saving from not making those daily iced lattes. One batch of concentrate makes 12 servings, which is about 3 bucks, plus cost of milk. Sounds like a plan, no?

Washington, D.C
.: Do you have a fairly fail-safe menu idea for a homemade weeknight dinner date? I'm out of practice, and I was a vegetarian during my formative cooking years, so I'm always worried about cooking meat correctly.

I love questions like this. I suppose it depends on where things stand in the relationship: Is this a new thing and you're still in the nervous, eager-to-impress phase -- or are you two at a point that kitchen collaboration is a possibility? Cooking with someone you have the hots for is quite intoxicating and is a great way to learn more about each other.

At first, I was going to say a roast chicken because it's aromatic and homey and you both can tear into crackly skin and share a drumstick, but a whole chicken takes at least 90 minutes, sometimes longer. Is that realistic for a school night date? You tell me. However, you could save a lot of time and cut out the backbone of the bird and butterfly it, so that it flattens, and remove most of the skin. Both of these tricks effectively reduce cooking time by about 30 minutes.

I'm also thinking of a pizza dough made the night before so that you lovebirds can roll it out together, make a simple tomato sauce and do the topping thing. Wouldn't that be fun?

With autumn officially underway (even if the air is more July-ish in nature), I've got grilled cheese and soup on my mind. The night before the date, make an ad hoc winter squash puree that can be quickly reheated while you whip up grilled cheese sandwiches to order. Cool-weather greens are beginning to resurface, which means a quickie salad of arugula, with a spritz of lemon, olive oil, salt and hey! What about thinly sliced pears? I don't know about you, but the soup-sandwich combo always tugs at my heart, deserving of at least one big smooch for the cook.

What say you? Share your date-night menu ideas in the comments area below.

I am planning a relatively large "open house" party for Saturday, probably about 40 people. How should I calculate how much beer/wine/soda I need on hand? I have never given a party this large before!!

Any advice on menu. Here's what I'm thinking so far. I'm a vegetarian, but would like to have one meat dish -- so, a beef tenderloin with olive/red pepper sauce, a jalapeno and cheese frittata, flageolet and wild rice salad, a green salad, some French bread, and cheese and crackers. What else could I have to round this out? Or is it enough already?

You need dessert -- fruit, cookies, brownies -- something sweet and nibbly that you can make in advance and just put out after the platters have been cleared. An open house is different from a sit-down party; the expectations are slightly different, but if you've told people you're serving dinner, they will come to chow. I might consider something else to go with the cheese and cracker display -- a bowl of hummus with veggies or pita chips and some other kind of dip to keep people happy as they wander in throughout the evening.

As for the bevs, estimate 2 glasses of wine (about ½ bottle) per person or 2 bottles of beer, but before doing that, look over the guest list, identifying the winos, brew guzzlers and nondrinkers. If you've determined most of your folks are wine drinkers, then you need to buy more wine than beer. Regardless, you always need about 16 ounces of nonalcoholic options per guest, because even the booze hounds need a little hydration -- and sobering up before heading home.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 26, 2007; 7:19 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Entertaining
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When I read the transcript of your discussion, I noticed you recommended Earth Balance to the person who will be hosting her brother who is allegic to soy. According to the Earth Balance website, their shortening has soy in it. Unfortunately, they don't say what's in their spreads, not even in their allergies section. So, the poster should be sure to read the ingredients and to go to a web site devoted to soy allergy for more info since it's in just about everything now and in ways one may not recognize, e.g. natural flavoring.

Posted by: Fran | September 26, 2007 12:11 PM

A couple other ideas for the weeknight dinners (I make these on a regular basis and they are great for family but fancy enough for guests):

steamed clams with a baguette and salad-- you can cook the clams in a large covered frying pan with some white wine, water, & shallot so the steaming liquid is good for sopping up with the bread

herb-crusted chicken: I highly recommend the Herb Farm cookbook (not the weeknight one but the first one), which has a great recipe for herb-crusted chicken cordon bleu. But you can cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a covered frying pan with some olive oil on a medium-low heat, turning once. It actually gets a little crust on it, and if you coat it in herbs prior to cooking, or toss in some cherry tomatoes and pesto at the end, it makes it a little more exotic. For sides I'd do either boiled new potatoes or couscous, both tossed with butter & sea salt. Then you could do sauteed greens or a roasted vegi (cut it small & use high heat so it doesn't take so long).

A roast or stew you cook the night before and re-heat: I use my slow cooker for a lot of things, but found that most meat just can't stand up to 10 hours of cooking. When I got a Dutch oven for Christmas I didn't only want to use it on the weekends, so I started cooking things the night before and just reheat it. It's a great way to go for all those braised fall dishes--I'm actually going to be doing this tonight because I'm having a friend come over for dinner tomorrow.

Hope that helps! I'd love to get some other ideas--I do cook every night, and by that I don't mean heat things up from a box. I want my children to grow up eating real, good food but I can only do things that take about 45 minutes and don't involve 30 exotic ingredients.

Posted by: seattle | September 26, 2007 4:54 PM

For this week's chatter looking for a leek recipe: One of my favorites is leeks and apples. It takes a while, but it's sooo tasty. In a large pan, saute several leeks, sliced, and apples, also sliced or chunked (not too small). In a saucepot, start a batch of wild rice, or you can do mixed wild and white, or brown. When the leeks/apples are golden brown and somewhat soft, remove from pan.
Dip boneless chicken in a "breading" mixture of flour, s&p, and grated parm. Add a bit of butter or olive oil to the large pan and cook the chicken. Remove chicken from pan.
Add some chicken stock and apple cider to the pan, and cook until reduced by 1/3-1/2, scraping up the brown bits. More S&P is good here, sometimes a pinch of sugar, and I like rosemary for flavor -thyme would also be good. After the sauce is reduced, you can stir in some heavy cream, or omit if you want to keep things lighter. Return the leeks and apples to the pan and stir until heated through.
Plate with rice, chicken on top, and a hearty spoonful of leeks/sauce over all. Vegetarians can omit the chicken, if you like - the leeks are still pretty hearty, particularly with a whole grain rice. I've also successfully replace the cider with slightly thinned applesauce when I didn't have cider in the house.

Posted by: long island | September 27, 2007 2:27 PM

Hi Kim--
I sent you an e-mail but thought I'd also post the same for others looking for an apple picking excursion. I'm the guy who kept asking in last week's chats about whether to buy a metal bundt pan to make apple cake because the two recipes I've tried in my silicone bundt pan came out too moist to do anything with. Well, I went apple picking on Sunday at Larriland Farms (http://www.pickyourown.com/aboutus.html) in Woodbine, MD near Columbia, and what a great day it was! I now have over twenty pounds of Empire and Jonagold apples, and I'm forced to concede that apple cake will not be part of my repertoire. There's always tart tatin, Dutch apple pie, apple butter, plus anything else I can find in my Apple Harvest cookbook by Frank Browning.

On Sunday, my sister, my 8 year old niece, my partner, and I set out rather late in the afternoon (2:30) for our annual day of apple picking, which we have done with my niece since she was two years old. We used to go to the dearly departed Cherry Hill Farm, which must have been the closest place to the District to pick apples, but alas, they sold to the developers. Well, Larriland is my new favorite place to pick apples and for anything else pick-your-own! They have got their operation down! First, the apple "trees" are planted in rows like you'd see at a vineyard. Nothing was over 6 feet tall so the apple picking took all of 20 minutes and not even my niece had to get up on tiptoe. Second, there's a pumpkin patch where you can pick your own (which we didn't have time for, opting instead for...) third, they have a farm space where you can pick your own veggies, namely broccoli, spinach, and beets. No one is a bigger proponent of farmers markets than myself, but obviously, harvesting your own is even fresher still! Plus, I'd never before seen how broccoli and beets grow. You'd never believe how quickly we all got into cutting and pulling vegetables and stuffing the bags with more produce than we would need! I was so glad that my niece got to experience and enjoy "foraging" for her own food.

Back at their vegetable market we had apple fritters and barbecued chicken with a delicious vinegar-based sauce and picked up some tomatoes and pumpkins and we were on our way home. On the way home we played the fruit and vegetable version of twenty questions. My niece had the best stumper with pumpkin: vegetable (though scientifically a fruit) that grows on a vine but is also made into pie. And now I see in my future broccoli soup, borscht, beet and orange salad, plus the aforementioned apple desserts! And what to do with all that spinach! All in all it was a wonderful way to end my weekend, and I'm looking forward to my week of cooking projects!

Posted by: Sean | October 1, 2007 4:21 PM

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