Meatless Monday: Barley risotto

We’ve made quite a few resolutions for 2016 over here in regards to eating and food. A big one is to add Meatless Monday back into our week.

(If you haven’t heard of the Meatless Monday movement, which promotes skipping meat one whole day a week, you can read about it here.)

I like to think we don’t eat a ton of meat, but either turkey or chicken make an appearance at most of our dinners and lunches. So today, on the first Monday of the new year, Mike and I had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and, for dinner, I dug out my tried-and-true recipe for barley risotto.

It had to have been 1998 when I caught a variation of this recipe on a Canadian cooking show during my lunch hour. The barley was intriguing, but I’d unfortunately missed the part of the show where they listed all of the ingredients and the amounts for each. I’ve been guessing ever since.

In my limited experience, working with barley is more forgiving and less stressful than making traditional risotto with Arborio rice. Maybe because it’s barley, the least assuming and most down-to-earth of all grains? Who knows. But like any risotto, this dish does take some time — allow at least an hour from start to finish.

Barley Risotto


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped (I prefer white, but yellow would be fine)
1 red pepper, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (I use a garlic press, because I’m lazy)
4-5 large mushrooms, chopped (white mushrooms are fine, or a mixture)
3/4 cup barley, which ends up being about 2 cups cooked (I use quick barley)
2 cups stock (I’ve used beef, chicken and, today, vegetable)
white wine (one of those small bottles from a four pack is perfect)

1. Melt butter and heat oil together in a large pan over medium-high heat.

2. Add onion, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper, cook another 5 minutes. Add the garlic; when it’s fragrant, add the mushrooms.

3. When the mushrooms are soft, stir in the cooked barley.

4. Warm the stock (on the stovetop or in the microwave for about 30 seconds) and add 1/3 to a 1/2 cup to your pan. Stir until it’s been absorbed. Add more stock, then stir some more. Repeat until you’re out of stock.

5. Use the same method for the wine (except don’t heat it first). When all liquid has been absorbed, you’re good to go. Serve alone or with your favorite veggie — I did baby spinach sautéed in olive oil with basil tonight.


Summer pasta with fresh tomatoes and scallops


I haven’t been able to get this dish off my mind since summer tomatoes first appeared at the farmer’s market. Sure, you can make it any time of year, but even quality boxed tomatoes simply don’t compare to sweet, in season Midwest tomatoes.

Plus, it’s one of the few dishes I make at home with scallops. And, I love scallops.

I typically prefer bay scallops for pasta, since the smaller size mixes in well (and that’s how I first had a less evolved version of this dish years ago, at a friend’s house). But Trader Joe’s only had Jumbo sea scallops, which have their own benefits — mainly, you can easily see when they’ve turned opaque. All scallops cook quickly, regardless of size, and I’ve overcooked the little guys in the past by throwing them in with the tomatoes and not paying close enough attention.

Since this dish goes quickly, I get everything ready beforehand: chop about a pound and a half of tomatoes; wash, dry and roughly cut a loosely packed cup of fresh basil; pat dry a pound of scallops; mince four cloves of garlic; and put the pasta water on to boil.

After sautéing the garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, I add the basil and the tomatoes. I then move it to the back burner and stir it occasionally for about the next 10 minutes.

Five minutes later, I heat about the same amount of olive oil and add the scallops. As soon as they’re in, I throw about three-quarters of a package of angel hair pasta into the boiling water.

I time the scallops, flipping them after three minutes. Capellini cooks fast, and at this point is ready to head to the colander. After a couple of quick shakes, I move it to the serving bowl and top it with the tomato mixture.

OK, things are about to get a little weird.IMG_2515

I add a bunch of crumbled feta. That’s right, feta. Its saltiness goes perfectly with the fresh tomatoes and scallops. I don’t know why. Just trust me.

At that point, the scallops are ready. I mix the tomatoes and feta in with the pasta, and plate it with the scallops.

Mike’s verdict: Restaurant quality.


p.s. Yeah, it’s been a while. Let’s not talk about it.

Rainy market day

7/12 market

Chicago’s torrential storms yesterday nearly ruined market day. But when the rain finally stopped, I had just enough time to get to the closest farmer’s market, in a high school parking lot in our neighborhood.

For the first time, I missed our CSA and always having fresh vegetables at the ready. We were in northern Michigan for the Fourth (actually, the fifth), so our crisper has been sadly bare the past couple of weeks.

Only a handful of vendors had stuck it out, but I still managed to fill my bag with an onion, cucumber, kohlrabi, hothouse tomato, beets, cabbage and blueberries.

Market report: Garlic scapes — and kohlrabi, too!

June 28 market

I missed two Saturdays of the farmer’s market while in Montana and my, how things changed! The last of the strawberries are now out, but are being replaced with favorites I’ve been longing for. Namely, garlic scapes and kohlrabi.

You might recall that I got a little obsessed with garlic scapes last year, and ended up making carbonara with them three times before perfecting the dish. To the point that I had carbonara out the other night and thought, “mine’s better.” (This rarely happens.) This go-around, I may even get a little crazy and toss in the fresh English peas I found today.

My niece Leah and I have been waiting patiently for kohlrabi to come into season, although she wasn’t as excited as I thought she would be when I called her this morning from the farmer’s market and woke her after I found it. Some people eat kohlrabi raw, but I prefer it peeled, tossed in olive oil, and roasted.

I also filled my farmer’s market bag with beets (more on this experiment later), three types of summer squash and sweet Michigan cherries.

For the first time, I ran out of room in my bag before I ran out of cash. Now that’s a good day at the market.

Greetings from Montana


I fully planned to continue my blogging streak on vacation. But until now, we had spotty to no Internet access, so were forced to only admire this view for four days. The other good news is that you were saved from a bunch of “look what I had for dinner” posts. The epitome of a win-win, no?

I have eaten as regionally as possible, in the spirit of research — bison filet, loose meat elk burger, huckleberry ice cream, Montana trout and flathead cherries. And my goal is to find a Montana cookbook before I leave.

Mike’s on his way home, but I’m now off to a writer’s retreat. The fare for the next four days will be strictly vegan, aside from what I hide in my room. I’m honestly more daunted than I was at the prospect of loose elk meat. If I have a chance, I’ll report in.

The forgotten asparagus

I have one issue with asparagus — it’s too tall.

If I stand up the stalks in a glass with a little water, like you’re supposed to, it really only fits in the door of the refrigerator. And the door is definitely my blind

I glimpsed the bunch of asparagus I bought during my farmer’s market trip last Saturday as I was shutting the fridge yesterday afternoon.


We didn’t eat at home last night or tonight, so it’s still there. Just hanging out with the soy and worcestershire sauces and a bottle of Mike’s Hard Smashed Apple Cider from last summer. Going bad. (I’m sure the Mike’s is a poor influence …)

I guess I should take a peak in the crisper, too. Although given that the asparagus was technically in plain site, I’m a little afraid to look.

Pimm’s off!

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Jen’s go-to Pimm’s cup

What happens when two people in one book club love the same British liquor only prepared differently?

Why they have a Pimm’s off, of course.

I’ve written about Pimm’s before, the quintessential summer English drink I fell in love with during a summer in London. I’ve long prepared it the way pubs there serve a Pimm’s cup (or a jug of Pimm’s, with friends): with lemonade, strawberries, cucumbers and mint.

But book club Jen takes a much simpler — perhaps, Americanized — approach: with ginger ale and lemonade.

We tried my version first. “You win,” Jen quickly declared.

But Jen’s, Sandhya noted, was “more Pimm’s-y.”

(And mixed much stronger, I might add.)

Really, is there a wrong way to drink Pimm’s on a summer’s night? Personally, I think not, especially when it’s paired with good friends and a good book.

Summer muffins

photo 1

If these muffins look delicious, it’s because they’re chock-full of fresh Michigan strawberries and rhubarb.

I used this recipe for Jumbo Strawberry-and-Rhubarb Muffins from Food & Wine. The only thing I changed is the size — I’m not a huge fan of muffins as big as your head. So I used a standard-size muffin tin and ended up with 18 muffins instead of six. (Seriously, how jumbo were these muffins?)

Of course, I adjusted the baking time, too. I still cooked them at 375 degrees, but began checking them in five-minute increments after 25 minutes. At 35 minutes, they passed the toothpick test.

These muffins are super moist, likely thanks to the juicy strawberries. A perfect summer muffin — and breakfast.

‘Warm, burnt carrots’

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Not every meal can be a home run.

We grilled chicken tonight. At the last minute, I thought, Why not toss the carrots on there, too? What’s the worst that could happen?

The answer, in Mike’s words: “Warm, burnt carrots.”

“With a squeeze of lemon,” my niece Leah added.

They were edible, at least.

Perhaps I didn’t grill them long enough. When I noticed they weren’t cooking as quickly as the chicken, I covered them with a lid and prayed for steam.

Perhaps they didn’t need a squeeze of lemon. But I’d zested a lemon for strawberry-rhubarb muffins, and it was just lying there naked on the counter. Seemed meant to be.

Perhaps, just perhaps, carrots aren’t meant to be grilled.

Happiness is a jar of jam


My cousin Ellen texted me this photo earlier, with the simple message: “Thinking of you today. Raspberry jam. :)”

I couldn’t help but smile. I love homemade jam, and hers especially is a sweet combination of berries, sugar and happiness.

I grew up with jam as a breakfast table staple. My mother made freezer jam every summer as soon as Michigan strawberries debuted. She always used the tried-and-true Sure-Jell recipe, which usually gave us enough jars to keep us through to the next June. (Occasionally, the fail-proof recipe did indeed fail, leaving us with a stockpile of thin strawberry ice cream topping. Still a win, in my book.)

Of course, now I’d like to get my hands on some of Ellen’s raspberry jam. Considering she lives five hours away, that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Perhaps it’s time to dust off my own canning jars …