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.

Love for the Buddha bowl

We’re big fans of one-bowl meals. So when Buddha bowls began popping up on menus around the neighborhood, I was immediately intrigued. And, of course, I couldn’t resist trying to recreate them at home.

Easy peasy — especially when you keep it super simple.

I start with brown rice:


Add spinach sautéed quickly in olive oil:


Then chicken cut into bite size pieces (this is boneless, skinless chicken thighs baked without seasoning to 165 degrees):


And then shredded carrots, steamed, and a few dashes of soy sauce:


Lastly, top with a fried egg. (Side note: I knew I’d succeeded when Mike walked in the kitchen, saw this and said, “Hey! It’s one of those Buddha bowls!”)


It doesn’t stay pretty for long, once you dice the egg to mix the yolk with the rice, chicken and vegetables:


It also won’t stay full for long. Seriously, it’s that good. (And did I mention easy?)