Barley Pilaf in the Slow Cooker

I don’t really care for rice. Or potatoes. Or pasta. So if you look through my posts, you will find very little of those things. My carbohydrate of choice is a nice crusty, whole wheat bread. Usually smothered in olive oil, cheese, or some delicious spread. Every once in a while we have potatoes at Hec’s request, or rice, ect. But I never post about them because I don’t usually feel passionately about them. I don’t even have a category for grains other than breads. Every once in awhile I’ll be enticed to make hashbrowns smothered in cheese and ketchup, or something as sinfully delicious. But not since I started this blog.

But this is for Héc. I feel bad that we don’t eat those things often enough, because he loves potatoes. and rice. So tonight I wanted to give him a treat. Just because bread is all I like doesn’t mean he should have to suffer. So I was going to make him some rice…until I noticed we didn’t even have rice. But scavenging around our dry-goods plastic bin that serves as part of our pantry, I came across barley. We bought it at the Korean food store a couple months back. I don’t know why I bought it. I’ve never cooked it in my life, and I don’t know that I’ve even had a barley soup. But we had it, and it seemed close enough to rice.

But just the thought of plain white rice…ugg boring. Same for barley, even though I’d never tasted it. So along with the 1.5 cups of barley and 3 cups of water I threw in a few bay leaves, some dried herbs, I found some sundried tomatoes left from the tapenade, we had 5 olives as well. Then I started throwing in anything I could find that seemed reasonable. A stalk of celery and a carrot stick finely minced, a whole head of garlic along with two peeled and smashed cloves. Some of the olive brine, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar*. What else…I can’t even remember. A few tablespoons of chickpeas that were left over from a salad. A few glugs of olive oil for good measure. Three dates finely chopped, to switch up the texture and sweetness. I think that was it.

Two and a half hours on high in my crockpot just until the liquid was absorbed. Delicious and easy. In all honesty– and this is coming from a girl that doesn’t like rice. All you really need to be careful with is the water to grain ratio, and I’m always careful with salt, too. For the veggies, just throw in what you have, what you like. Thats probably why I enjoyed this dish. Not to mention that, after a little investigation, I found that barely is a bit more nutritious than brown rice. That’s a nice bonus.

What I particularly like about this type of food is that it can easily become a soup. And soup is my favorite. Beans can be cooked right along with everything else, too, if you want. Or chicken or any other protein to make it a full meal. Boy…ya gotta love the crockpot.

*I got worried that I should have soaked the barley in water and vinegar for 6 hours before cooking it after reading someones post–but I don’t recommend the vinegar

Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic (In the Slow Cooker)

As I mentioned in a previous post, we had a lot of tomatoes around the house recently. We shop at Pricesmart (Guatemalan CostCo) for some things, like coffee, milk (it comes in a box here in Guate), beer, canned items, soap. Items we consume a lot of that has a long shelf life. Usually we also buy pears and apples, onions, and occasionally cheese if its a good deal. But sometimes we make stupid purchases. Like 10-or-so pounds of tomatoes. It didn’t really look like that much. But then we get home, make our first batch of tomato soup, and realize we have almost the same amount of tomatoes as we started with.

What do people do with so many tomatoes? Tomato soup, check. Pan tumaca, check. Tomato pie, check. Still, we had lots and lots of very ripe tomatoes. Now the question was more along the lines of how to preserve them because I’m getting a little tired of tomatoes. So this morning I sliced them in half, placed them on the toaster oven baking sheet, drizzled them with a little olive oil, salt, dried herbs, and some un-pealed cloves of garlic for good measure. In the oven at 225ºF and set the timer for 3 hours.

But…just two hours later our lovely little toaster oven let out it’s lovely alarm and then turned itself off. I forgot that it has a “safety” timer, and if you leave it on too long it shuts itself off. Thank you very much, Black and Decker…but I know what I’m doing here and no you haven’t finished your job. (No, we don’t have an oven. Don’t feel abd for me, I love our little kitchen).

But thankfully Héc is inventive, and suggested the crockpot. I know that many of you are thinking to remind me that the crockpot generally uses “wet heat” to cook, rather than the dry heat of the oven. However, if you place a dish cloth under the lid and leave the lid ajar a bit, the cloth will absorb much of the moisture, and trapping much of the heat inside, creating a similar environment as the oven.

I transplanted the tomatoes to the crockpot, drizzled a bit more oil on top, and set it on high for two more hours. They look gorgeous, and I don’t have to eat them for a few days if I don’t feel like it. Although, suddenly, I feel like spreading a juicy slice of roasted tomato over a piece of toasted homemade bread.

Ice Box Rolls

Icebox Rolls - Dinner Rolls

This is a dough recipe from my childhood. Although my mom never used it to make dinner rolls, as pictured above, it was the base for her famously delicious sticky buns. She bakes the rolls, filled with cinnamon and sugar, on top of a bed of oozing caramel and pecans, and serve them warm on Christmas morning. She would only prepare the rolls once a year, and then when we were older we learned to beg in such a way that she was convinced to make them a little more often, for example at Easter or Thanksgiving. Then came the day I learned to make them! It was deceivingly simple. I enjoyed the process of rolling out the dough, filling them, letting it rise, and turn golden on top, before smearing them with a cream-cheese frosting. I began making them semi-frequently that I started inventing occasions to drop a dozen over t a friends house — because who can indulge in that sort of thing so often?

Icebox Rolls - Honey SwirlIcebox Rolls - Pistachio Rolls

It had been a few years since I made them. When we moved to Guate and we didn’t have an oven in our “kitchen”, I figured there would be no need for baking recipes. That was very sad to me. Until I read on the Crockpot Lady’s site that you can indeed bake in a crock pot! Actually Héc was the one who discovered that…he wanted to make cornbread. And I believe that was the very first baked good prepared in the crock pot. So I asked my mom to send me the recipe again.

What I didn’t realize at first was what a versatile recipe it is. You can use it as a base for cinnamon buns, but you can also bake it as a regular loaf of sandwich bread, or mini dinner rolls too. Dinner rolls are the method I use most frequently, however occasionally I will roll up a batch of specialty dessert rolls filled with honey and pistachios, or even make rolls on the savory side filled with caramelized onions, garlic, and butter, for a variation of garlic bread. You can even toss some herbs right into the batter.

Icebox Rolls - OnionsIcebox Rolls - Rolling

Another thing I love about this recipe is that there is no kneading, you let it rise overnight in the fridge with no worries, and you can keep it in there for up to five days. Thats where it gets it’s name : icebox as in refrigerator of the old days. Its a hassle-free yeast break recipe, as simple to make as cookies. Its wonderful to mix up a batch on Monday and make freshly baked rolls for dinner each night. Its really perfect.

This that I feature below is a full recipe as my mom makes, however I generally cut it in half because in our house we are only two. A full batch can turn out somewhere between 3-4 dozen fist-sized rolls.

Icebox Rolls

2 pkgs yeast
1/2 c. lukewarm water
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoons salt
2 cups hot water
2 eggs
8 cups flour

Soak yeast in lukewarm water. In separate bowl, place butter, sugar, and salt and pour hot water over this. Let cool. When lukewarm, add the soaked yeast, eggs and half of the flour. Stir well. Then stir in remaining flour. Do not knead. This mixture will seem too soft, but it is not. Place in refrigerator and use as wanted. Will keep for 4 or 5 days. When using, form into rolls and let rise about 30 minutes at room temperature before baking.

To make cinnamon-style buns, roll the dough out into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface, spread with about 3 tablespoons butter, sprinkle with a mixture or 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Or, get creative and put whatever you want inside. Roll them up tightly and gently pinch the end closed. Make cuts in the roll about two inches wide, and place spirals up in a greased baking dish. Let rise about 30 minutes at room temperature.

Oven: bake at 400º F for 20 minutes.

Slow cooker: Place dough in a glass or ceramic pan that fits in your slow-cooker, and put some scrunched up foil underneath to support the pan(I use the lid of a canning jar). This is to prevent the bread pan from directly touching the inside of the slow cooker – otherwise the outside may burn before the inside has finished cooking. Bake for 2 hours on high, covered.

Thanks Mom!