Savoury Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Mahon

Bowl of barley risotto with rosemary and Mahon cheese

This barley risotto is deeply savoury, but also woodsy tasting and earthy in its complexity of flavours. The rosemary adds just the right amount of piney substance and the mushrooms lend the perfect amount of umami (which is to say, great amounts of umami). You could certainly use a cheese like aged Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano if you can’t find Mahon for this recipe. If you can find Mahon then try and get your hands on an aged version (it’s often sold as Mahon Authentique in North America). Mahon is a firm cow’s milk cheese from Spain that is a buttery marigold colour; it smells like a cellar and a fresh cut lawn all at the same time. Its flavour is one of intense grassiness and dark earth – I could wax poetic on the subject forever, what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s an absolutely lovely table cheese to have on hand and a nice alternative to Manchego when you’re having company over for Spanish tapas. If I was making this meal for a dinner party I would serve it with a really bright salad full of shaved fennel and oranges, a plate of marinated olives, some pears that your guests can just help themselves to, and a bottle of something big, red, and spicy.

savoury barley risotto with mushrooms and mahon:

Scant cup of bread crumbs, homemade or panko crumbs work best

1 cup of pearl barley

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 large leek, cut into half moons

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 celery stalk, thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

About 1 good sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari

2 tsp. lemon juice or balsamic vinegar

About 5 cups of vegetable stock

Thick shavings or gratings of Mahon Authentique cheese

  1. Begin with a large skillet. Over medium heat, toast the breadcrumbs first (this will happen within seconds, so stir constantly and transfer to a plate as soon as they’ve turned a dark golden brown colour).
  2. Next, toast the barley and almonds together while stirring frequently (but not constantly). As soon as they begin to turn golden transfer them to a large bowl.
  3. Heat the oil over medium heat, adding the mushrooms, leek, garlic, and celery. Cook for several minutes until the ingredients begin to soften. Add the rosemary, salt, and pepper and continue cooking for five more minutes.
  4. Add the barley and almonds back to the pan and stir to coat with the oil and vegetables. Pour in the vegetable stock, soy or tamarin sauce, and lemon juice or vinegar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring every few minutes, until the stock has been absorbed by the barley. When it looks like it has the consistency of risotto try the barley to make sure it’s cooked, you want it to be soft but chewy.
  5. To serve the barley risotto ladle it into a shallow bowl and top with a handful of the toasted bread crumbs and a generous amount of shaved Mahon cheese.

Barley Risotto Mis En PlaceI recently added a whole bunch of music to my computer that I a)thought I had lost and b)forgot I even had (out of sight out of mind if stronger than I realize, especially considering I’ve seen The xx twice live and thought both shows were incredible). It was a combination “Oh yeahhhh!” and “Oh yayyy!” moment when I started listening to this album again, like a forgotten treasure I found in the backyard. So here you are, minimalism at its best and sexiest.

The xx  – Heart Skipped a Beat

Chicken Noodle Risotto

Chicken and Celery Orzo Risotto

I have been craving chicken noodle soup lately. The warmer and brighter weather makes a giant bowl of soup seem less appealing than if we were still stuck in the thick greyness of winter.  I used chicken I had cooked in the crock pot before shredding and then freezing in 2 cup portions. I am rarely this organized, but I’ve been putting in more of an effort lately and I’m surprised how helpful little things like this can be when you think you’ve run out of groceries and feel too lazy to walk to the grocery store. If you don’t happen to have leftover shredded chicken either buy a rotisserie chicken or poach 2 chicken breasts in stock and white wine or vermouth if you have some lying around. Orzo is my favourite type of pasta, its chewy bite is a perfect substitute for arborio rice in this recipe. I like to throw in a Parmesan rind or 2 I have some in my freezer, just fish them out of the risotto before serving.

chicken noodle risotto:

1 cup of orzo

1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

3 stalks of celery, sliced into thin half moons

2 cloves of garlic, minced (with some salt on the cutting board to avoid sticking)

2 1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (I prefer vegetable stock as it gives the taste of the celery more resonance)

About 2 cups of leftover chicken, shredded

Juice and zest of half a lemon

Kosher salt, to taste

Several vigorous gratings of Parmesan

Fresh oregano, thyme, or parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Dried chili flakes, to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan  over medium heat. Cook the onion, garlic, and celery and a generous pinch of salt until softened before stirring in the orzo. Stir the orzo until coated in the onion mixture.

2. Add the vegetable stock all at once and allow it to come to a simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook the orzo in the stock, continuing with the stirring, for about 15 minutes or until all the stock has been absorbed.

3. Stir in the chicken, lemon juice and zest, Parmesan, and salt to taste. Serve in shallow bowls with more Parmesan, fresh herbs of your choice, and a generous sprinkling of dried red chilies.

This song is just like floating.

Casino Versus Japan – Marilyn Set Me Free



Roasted Portobello Mushroom Risotto

Roasted Mushroom Risotto

The past 2 and a half months have been rife with cross country wedding preparations; although our wedding was in Vancouver we received an overwhelming amount of love and help from my family in Ontario, Ian’s family in Seattle and my friends and co-workers in Vancouver. It was so incredible to have so much hard work culminate in what can only be described as a night out of a dream. Our venue was at the Vancouver Maritime Museum which overlooks the ocean and the city skyline and the combination of a picture perfect sunset, dancing with glowsticks, and the people I love most together all at once made me feel euphoric and very absolutely loved and in love. Best of all, and most pertinent to this blog, is that we made all of our own food for the wedding. For the main meal we made watermelon and feta salad, Greek salad with fennel, an Asian inspired slaw with Daikon radish and Napa cabbage, gingered orzo salad with Shiitake mushrooms and spinach, and roasted chimichurri baby potatoes served at room temperature. For protein we did salmon marinated in soy, chicken breasts with lemongrass, and sausages. I served cheese, charcuterie, and crudites for an appetizer and my FANTASTIC pastry chef friend  made our desserts; homemade oreos, Earl Grey shortbread, fruit tarts, white chocolate cranberry biscotti, and cherry squares as Ian and I’s wedding gift (which leaves me shaking my head in a “how do I have such amazing people in my life?” kind of way.) None of these amazing food feats could have been achieved if it hadn’t been for the super efficient and talented chef/caterer/bar tender team that I hired for the night, their help was invaluable and I couldn’t have done it without them.

So what I’m trying to say is I’ve been very busy and very sad to neglect my blog, but that I am no longer tied up in matrimonial plan making (which makes me a just a little bit nostalgic, but the memory of chopping up 10 large red onions in a row into a fine dice helps to alleviate that feeling.)

I know that mid-August might not seem the most appropriate time to be roasting vegetables in the oven, I admit to using the stovetop or my brand new wedding present toaster oven, but you could even grill them on the barbeque for a smokier take on this favourite dinnertime staple. The cooking method isn’t crucial, what’s important is that you reserve the deliciously gamey liquid left over after cooking the portobello mushrooms so that you can stir it into the creamy velvety rice at the end just before you eat it. You also don’t have to use portobello mushrooms or mushrooms at all, I’ve experimented with zucchini, asparagus, and onions and I’ve found that as long as they’re roasted they all taste as though they belong in this recipe. After the wedding it’s been so special to have solitary time before I go back to work, making risotto (or any other food requiring copious amounts of slow stirring and quiet attention) and drinking leftover Cointreau with lemonade has been a time to recharge via introversion and I greatly enjoy the therapeutic nature of this recipe.

roasted portobello mushroom risotto:

(this makes enough for 2-3 people)

2 large portobello mushrooms, cleaned with the black gills removed (the edge of a spoon is a particularly useful tool for this)

About 1 Tbsp.’s worth of dried herbs, I like to use basil and dill

Enough salt to generously season the mushroom caps

2 Tbsp. olive oil for roasting

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup of dry white wine or white vermouth

1 1/3 cups of Arborio rice

4-5 cups of vegetable stock, kept warm on the stove beside your cooking space

1-2 Parmesan rinds (if you have some lying around, I keep mine in a bag in the freezer)

1 cup of grated Reggiano, Grana Padano, or Pecorino Romano/Pepato plus more for topping

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Fresh flat leafed parsley or basil (or both), coarsely torn

Coarsely cracked pepper, to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the mushroom de-gilled side down on a rimmed baking tray and brush 1 Tbsp. of the oil on top of the caps. Scatter half of the herbs and salt over the oiled surface. Roast the mushrooms for 20 minutes at which point they should be taken out of the oven, flipped over, and given the aforementioned treatment with the remaining ingredients. Roast for 15 more minutes before removing from the oven and allowing to rest in their mushroomy juices. Once they are at room temperature they should be sliced into thin diagonal pieces.

2. In a large pan begin melting 1 Tbsp. of butter together with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the onions, sauteing for 8-10 minutes until soft.

3. Stir the Arborio rice into the pan and combine until the rice becomes coated in the buttery oil mixture. Carefully stir in the white wine or vermouth and begin stirring slowly until the wine has been absorbed into the rice. Continue this method with the vegetable stock, adding a scant cup of the warm stock at a time. At this point I like to add a Parmesan rind if I have it, this infuses the whole risotto with that nutty piquant loveliness without having to add more cheese. Fish the rind out towards the end of cooking.

4. As the risotto cooks and the stock diminishes begin tasting to make sure the rice is cooked just perfectly, it needs to be luxuriously creamy with just the slightest bite at the core of each grain.  Once it’s reached the desired consistency take the risotto off of the heat and stir in the butter and grated cheese.

5. Add the mushrooms and their meaty juices to the risotto and give one or two stirs to combine. Serve mounded in bowls with the fresh herbs, extra cheese, and coarsely cracked pepper to taste.

I’ve been listening to this song so much lately, it feels like almost all of the time. This isn’t unusual for Nick Drake, I think I listen to him every day, but when I hear this song I feel so emotionally elated and close to tears. Ian and I used this song for our first dance and in that moment I felt entirely free and deeply bonded to my very best friend. I’m so happy to have this beautiful reminder to listen to when I’m doing something as comfortable domestic as making risotto.

Nick Drake – Northern Sky

Best Ever Lemon Risotto

I’m making this risotto today out of necessity, I am battling some fairly strong negative feelings this afternoon and luckily for me risotto is a very successful soother of the soul when both preparing and eating it. Emotional pain is a solid wall to slam into when momentum is high and the stages you will pass through are well-defined; there is shock to be felt, catharsis, and the odd period after that when your brain fumbles blindly for coherent thoughts and your old emotional self. Bear with me, for my point is that during the final stage of pain it is entirely acceptable, in fact encouraged, that you make some of this lemon risotto. I can speak from experience when I say the soft buttery smells and repetitious movement over a steady source of heat is a perfect antidote to the deepest of disappointments. After you’re done cooking it you can eat it on the couch while watching some Arrested Development, a formula that is almost fail proof for fighting the blues.

best ever lemon risotto:

1 1/2 cups of Arborio rice

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced finely

3 shallots, diced finely

1 cup of any dry white wine

1 litre of vegetable stock, kept simmering on the stove

1 lemon, zested and juiced

4 Tbsp. whipping cream

1/2 cup of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 egg yolk

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

1. Whisk together the salt and pepper, lemon juice and zest, cream, egg yolk, and the cheese. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter and oil together in a large pot over medium heat; sauté the shallots and garlic until soft and transparent.

3. Add the rice and wine, stirring constantly until all of the wine has been absorbed. Working ladleful by ladleful gradually add the entire pot of warmed stock to the rice, stirring the entire time to prevent sticking.

4. Once all of the stock has been absorbed take the pot off of the heat and stir in the cream mixture. Serve immediately with extra cheese and pepper sprinkled on top.

If you want a really good song to listen to while you’re sad and stirring then look no further than Beck’s album Sea Change. Most of this album is perfectly suited to a morose mood, but this song in particular brings on the real theatrics of a terrible day.

Beck – Lonesome Tears