Archive for February, 2014

February 24, 2014

Mushroom Barley Soup


I’ve always made beef barley soup, but this week I wanted to make a no meat version with lots of mushrooms. I love the combination of barley and mushrooms. When making beef barley soup, the first step is always browning the meat. Step two is, of course, deglazing all that brown good stuff off the bottom of the pot. I was concerned that absent the whole meat searing process, this soup wouldn’t hit the mark… so glad I was wrong. I’m sure it’s because I used dried porcini mushrooms. The dark, woodsy liquid that’s left behind when you reconstitute the mushrooms is heavenly. In fact, I read that the flavor imparted by porcini mushrooms is considered umami. Who knew? I’m certain it was the key to the richness of this delicious soup.

I used my beef barley recipe as the basis for making this, but did a little poking around online to see what others had to say. They all pretty much use the same basic ingredients, though some add a little vinegar or wine, and others soy sauce. I opted for soy sauce and it was the perfect addition to round out the flavor. theKitchn has a great tutorial on how to prepare dried porcinis. I’ve included details below, but you should have a look at their site too. They did a nice job with the step by step, including pictures.

I just realized that I made it all the way to this point and managed not to mention the weather. A few days at 50 degrees has made it much more tolerable. However, according to Alan the Polar Vortex is back! I guess the down jackets aren’t getting put away anytime soon. Spring where are you? Sigh. Nothing else to do but eat soup.



  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots, thick sliced
  • 16oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 16oz white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1oz dried porcini mushrooms, liquid reserved (see below)
  • 15oz can diced tomato
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 quarts (64oz) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste

* I used chicken stock to make this because it’s what I had on hand. Vegetable stock would be perfect too and would make this completely vegetarian.

1. Heat a large heavy bottom stock pot (I used a 9qt Le Creuset Dutch oven) over medium heat and add the olive oil. Saute the onions, garlic and carrots until softened.

2. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they release their juices and it begins to evaporate, stirring often.

3. Add the sherry, stir and allow to evaporate slightly.

4. Add the tomatoes, soy sauce, thyme, reserved liquid from the porcinis, stock and barley. Season with salt and pepper and combine. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Allow to cook covered for about an hour (or even more is great), stirring occasionally.

5. Taste and reseason as necessary. Once the barley is tender, the soup is done.




Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl. Pour 1 cup of warm tap water over the mushrooms, press them into the water so they are submerged and allow to sit for 20 minutes or until the mushrooms feel soft. Set a small strainer lined in cheese cloth over a second bowl, and pour the mushrooms through the strainer. Using your hands, gently squeeze any additional liquid in the mushrooms over the strainer. Set the liquid to the side. I rinse the mushrooms at this point to make sure any leftover grit is gone. Shake out any excess water and chop the mushrooms.

Set the chopped mushrooms and the reserved liquid aside until your ready to use them. Be careful to pour the reserved liquid into the soup pot slowly, making sure anything that has settled in the bottom of the bowl stays there.


February 13, 2014

Rigatoni with Chicken, Mushrooms & Spinach


I have to admit that more nights than not, I put quite a bit of planning into what I make for dinner. Sometimes it’s because I bought a new cookbook or I came across a new recipe online, or it could just be that I’m food obsessed and feel the need to over-think every meal I make. I’m going with the latter.

Usually my family is very supportive of my cooking. They clearly benefit with every bite, however we do eat late each night and it never ends up being simple.

A couple of Sundays ago around 5pm my daughter asked if I was making dinner and how long will it take? My response was yes, I am cooking and that I thought it would be about 2 hours. She stated, “I really appreciate your cooking mom, but sometimes I wish you could be like a regular mom and just throw something in the microwave.” Message received loud and clear! Unfortunately, I can’t promise my kitchen antics will be any less complicated, but this recipe definitely is.

I made this pasta dish for dinner last week. I was standing in the produce department and realized I needed to get something to make for dinner later in the week. A big snowstorm was coming and I didn’t want to have to go back out to the store. People get crazy when snow is coming. Note to self… avoid grocery store the day before a storm! Oy vey!

The cremini mushrooms looked particularly fresh, so I filled a bag and grabbed some other ingredients that I thought would work to make a pasta dish. I already had spinach in my cart and decided to grab some chicken breasts. I know there are many pasta recipes out there with chicken and spinach, but I threw this together on a whim (no recipe) and have to admit it was pretty awesome! It’s a fast one, good for a weeknight dinner. The whole family loved it.



  • 1lb Rigatoni pasta
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 16oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 8oz white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¾ cup white wine
  • 7oz baby spinach
  • Lots of pecorino romano

1. Bring your water to a boil for your pasta.

2. Pour the olive oil into a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the cubed chicken. I use a 6qt sauté pan. Let the chicken brown and cook through. Don’t stir it too much so the chicken can brown nicely. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

3. Add another small drizzle of olive oil to the pan (if needed) and add your onions. Sauté the onions until they become translucent. Add the mushrooms and the garlic to the pan and continue to stir for about 8-10 minutes or until the mushrooms begin to release their juices. Add the chopped fresh herbs, Kosher salt and pepper to taste, red pepper flakes if using, the diced tomatoes and the wine. Stir to combine and turn the heat to low and let the sauce simmer while you cook your pasta.

4. Cook the pasta until it is just slightly undercooked, about a minute less than the time on the box. You will add it to the sauce and this will help it to not become overcooked. Drain your pasta and reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water.

5. Add the chicken back to the pot with the sauce and stir to combine.

6. Put the drained pasta right into the pan with the sauce and give it a big stir. Add the spinach to the pot next. You may need to add it in two batches, but it will wilt allowing more room. Use your reserved pasta water if needed to help the spinach wilt and combined with the sauce.

7. Sprinkle a generous amount of pecorino romano over the dish and stir. Serve with additional grated pecorino on the side.


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