Mushroom Barley Risotto with Manchego & Thyme

A spin on one of my favorite soul-warming sides: mushroom risotto. This time with barley instead of Arborio and a trio of mushrooms to celebrate the natural meatiness of fungi threefold. Fresh thyme reinforces the earthy flavors and manchego wraps it in that classic creaminess. 


3.5 oz fresh shittake mushrooms
8 oz white button mushrooms
6 oz sliced portabella caps
1/2 large onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tsp fresh thyme, chopped, plus more for garnish
4 fresh bay leaves
1 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup manchego, grated

1. Brush off your mushrooms. If the shittake caps are large, half or quarter them. Slice the white button mushrooms and the portabella caps (or buy pre-sliced caps).

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute mushrooms in olive oil, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Cook until the mushrooms are browned and soft. Remove from heat and cut the portabella slices into small pieces. Put all mushrooms in a bowl and set aside.

3. In a small saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Keep heat on low.

4. In a medium saucepan or dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add thyme and bay leaves and stir to combine. Add barley and stir until the grain is coated with oil, about 1 minute.

5. Add 1/2 cup white wine to the pot and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then begin adding the warm stock to the barley, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition. When the stock is nearly absorbed, add more. Check the barley's doneness after about 25 minutes; the barley should be slightly tender but retain its bite. It may take up to 30-35 minutes -- you may not have to use all of the stock.

6. When the barley is cooked (the risotto consistency should be loose, but not soupy), stir in the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and add the 1/2 cup manchego, stirring well to combine. Serve immediately.


Pumpkin and Parsnip Curry-Chili with Cashews

This time of year, I can't stop the craving for warm one-pot wonders -- namely, those slow simmering concoctions that naturally pack flavor (and several food groups) into a single bowl. Chili has always been my golden child in that department -- patient and forgiving as I add a pinch more of this, a drizzle of that til I get it just right. (It's the perfect sort of recipe for a creative-type like myself, who needs a little wiggle room for experimenting at the stove). 

 In lieu of a recent pumpkin curry that I can't get out of my head, I was inspired to try a riff on my typical chili routine. Combining essential elements of each dish I arrived a chili-curry mashup of roots, squash, beans, nuts and spice. Pumpkin and parsnip honor the season. Pinto beans and cashews give it heft and crunch. All ingredients stew in a chunky tomato base that is perfumed with curry powder and and a touch of cayenne. A kitchen experiment gone right: chili and curry -- a two-part one-pot wonderful.


Makes: 6 cups

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1/2" to 1" in size)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can pumpkin puree
2 cups diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup whole cashews, roasted and unsalted
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cayenne peper
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, for garnish

1. In a large pot, heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil on medium-high heat; add diced onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and parsnip and cook until parsnip is al dente -- about 5 minutes more.

2. Add tomatoes, beans, pumpkin puree, cashews and about 1/2 cup chicken stock to the pot; stir to combine. Bring to a boil; then reduce to simmer. Stir in curry powder, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.

3. Simmer for 20-30 minutes; parsnip should be soft and cashews should retain a slight crunch. Garnish with fresh parsley to serve.


Sesame Shrimp Toasts

With the holidays quickly approaching, now’s the time to equip yourself with an armory of crowd-wowing apps. This recipe for sesame shrimp toasts will have you forgetting that shrimp cocktail you always have on standby. Departing slightly from the traditional dim sum version, this shrimp toast is made up of thick shrimp paste baked (not fried) on top of crusty bread. Scallions, soy sauce and sesame oil provide the classic Chinese flavors (I added some garlic and ginger for good measure.) Sesame seeds, scattered over the top, toast in the hot oven until fragrant and crunchy. 

The moisture from the shrimp paste will inevitably leech into the bread as it cooks, so it is important that you pre-toast the bread initially to avoid an overly soggy middle. However, part of the magic of the dish is how some of the juices seep through, forming a delicious glue that fuses the shrimp and the toast into one perfect bite. 

[Adapted from Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express]

Heat the oven to 475 degrees F. Slice a baguette in half lengthwise, put the halves face up on a baking sheet, and set them in the oven while it heats. Put shrimp (I used about 20 black tiger) in a food processor with some butter, scallions, soy sauce (about 2 tsp), a few drops of sesame oil (about 1/2 tsp), and a pinch each of sugar and salt. Pulse until the mixture forms a chunky paste. Smear the shrimp past all over the bread and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake until the shrimp paste is pink and cooked through and the bread is crisp, about 10-15 minutes. Cool a bit, then cut up and serve with a salad.

See this recipe and more at markbittman.com


Lime Poppy Seed Breakfast Bulgar

A fresh stash of poppy seeds propelled me to put a spin on the classic lemon-poppy seed combination.  Deviating from the standard citrus, I gave the underrated seed a new partner in crime: the lime. Heavily freckled with tiny poppy seeds, this uniquely textured bulgar radiates an especially tangy flavor from the lime. Honey balances the acid with subtle sweetness and currants punctuate the scene with bursts of fruity flavor. 

I probably would fail a drug test today with all the poppy seeds in my system right now...


1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup bulgar wheat
2 Tbsp ground flax meal
1/3 cup currants
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp poppy seeds

1. In a small saucepan bring milk and 1 cup water to a boil. Add bulgar and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes -- add 1/4 cup at a time of additional water if it absorbs before bulgar is cooked through. The bulgar should be creamy, yet retain its texture.
2. Stir in flax meal, honey, lime zest and juice, poppyseeds and curran ts to serve. Top with additional milk if you like.


Dominican Spiced Cider

This boozy-cider is inspired by a drink I had the Dominican Republic called Mama Juana. Traditionally a combination of rum, red wine, honey and tree bark, it is said to be a cure-all (not to mention an aphrodisiac). The process of making it involves soaking an assortment of bark, twigs and herbs in a red wine-honey bath for several days. The bark becomes sterilized and infused with the flavor of the honey-wine (which is then discarded). The saturated bark is transferred to a bottle that is filled with rum and topped off with fresh red wine and honey. They marinate together for at least several hours (and up to several weeks) which allows the woody flavors to marry with the sweet honey and strong alcohol. The longer it sits, the smoother it gets. The more you have, the better you feel.

Opting out of the chore of gathering sticks and leaves for this batch, I turned to a pantry of dried roots and herbs. Whole star anise, chamomile herbs and flowers, valerian root, cinnamon and cloves were the agents I selected to marinate in my ruddy liquid. Since the traditional mama juana is heavy on the alcohol content, I used apple cider to dilute the inebriating wine-rum duo. No matter served cold or hot, one sip fills you with warmth and brings an earthy spice to the palate.


1 1/2 cups red wine (I used a grenache blend)
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup amber rum
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/3 cup (or more) whole star anise
2 Tbsp (or more) dried fine cut chamomile herb & flower
2 Tbsp (or more) dried valerian root

Note: Makes about 3 cups. Double or triple the recipe depending on how much you want to serve.

1. Combine ingredients in a pitcher, stirring well to combine. Adjust ratios as preferred -- if you like it less boozy, up the apple cider measurement; if you want the rum to be stronger, add it in a 1:1 ratio with the wine. If you want a stronger woody, herbal quality, have at it with any combination of bark, roots, herbs -- there's flexibility with these measurements so experiment and see what works.
2. Allow the concoction to sit for at least 3 hours for the flavors to marinate -- the longer it sits, the more flavorful it gets.
3. Before serving, strain the liquid to remove the floating herbs, roots and spices (some sediments will remain if the pieces are small). Garnish with fresh star anise if you like. Serve cold, at room temperature or warm -- it tastes delicious all three ways.


Pumpkin Walnut Bread

It's time to admit that I'm on a serious pumpkin kick right now. Pumpkin curry, pumpkin creme brulee, and now, one of my all-time favorite appropriations of the ingredient: pumpkin quick bread. My grandma makes a knockout version that has held its spot as our family go-to, but this year I decided to venture into new territory, compelled by the inviting title of Food52 user Giulia Melucci's "The Pumpkin Bread I Can't Stop Eating." Excitement mixed with fear (would I really be able to stop?!) propelled me to the kitchen, where the recipe constant, canned pumpkin, mingled with a few new friends: olive oil, apple and walnuts. A mixture of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour gives the bread a density that is balanced well by the natural moisture of the olive oil and apples. With less sugar than other recipes, the warm spices in the bread -- cinnamon, cloves and allspice -- are given a stronger voice and the pumpkin flavor shines. Walnuts are an optional add-in, but give it the perfect amount of crunch. [Disclaimer: Yes, it is very addictive.]

[Adapted from Food52 user Guilia Melucci's "The Pumpkin Bread I Can't Stop Eating"]
Makes: 1 loaf

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 15-oz can pumpkin
2 apples. peeled and pureed in a food processor
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup walnuts chopped, plus more to top

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan.
 2. Beat sugar, honey, brown sugar and oil until blended, then add the eggs, pumpkin, and chopped apples.
3. In medium bowl combine the flours, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined (I used a whisk and some elbow grease). Mix in walnuts, and pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Top with more crushed walnuts if you like.
4. Bake for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (Check after about an hour -- time will vary depending on oven temperatures).
5. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes in the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.


Pumpkin Creme Brulee

All it takes is a quick whisk to transform pumpkin puree into a divine crème brûlee. Married with mascarpone, the pumpkin attains a luxuriously creamy consistency in this seasonal spin on the French classic. Brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and allspice are folded into the smooth mixture, giving it a flavor that falls somewhere between grandma’s brown sugar sweet potatoes and crustless pumpkin pie.

Dividing the mixture into small ramekins is recommended (this stuff is rich!); then sprinkle each with a thick layer of brown sugar. After a few minutes under the broiler the tops emerge bubbling, with that delicious scent of burnt sugar. If you wait a few minutes, the surface will harden slightly, allowing for the best part of crème brûlee: cracking the crust. 

Amid the array of amber-colored treats visiting our tables this season, this simple, fast dessert is definitely one to keep on the burner. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
See the recipe and post here.

[Recipe from Mark Bittman]

Turn on the broiler and put the rack about four inches from the heat. With an electrix mixer or whisk, beat together a small can of pumpkin, eight ounces mascarpone, and a quarter cup of brown sugar; add a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and ginger and a pinch each of allspice and salt. Spread evenly into an ovenproof baking dish or ramekins and sprinkle the top with a thick layer of brown sugar. Broil for a few minutes, until the sugar melts, forming a crust. Serve immediately.


Ode to Pumpkin

Yesterday there were pumpkins perched on an overwhelming number of neighborhood doorsteps. Some smiling, some elaborately tattooed; many lit, others simply naked orbs glowing in their moment of glory. So begins the celebration of the pumpkin, with two autumn holidays built around its face and flavor. But it's a shame that the icon of the season has fallen into a routine; much too comfortable with its role as a Halloween jack-o-lantern and Thanksgiving pie. Pumpkin inevitably shines in these roles, but it is a much more versatile ingredient than we tend to give it credit for.

Looking for a way to push pumpkin out of its comfort zone, I felt compelled to try a recipe for Pumpkin Shrimp Curry from Bon Appetit. An odd couple -- pumpkin and shrimp -- marry under a blanket of curry, with a kick of cayenne emerging from the depths and a kiss of fresh cilantro crowning the top. It is an unusual, seasonal twist on an Indian classic, and, served over couscous or rice, a comfort dish that continues to satisfy bowl after bowl...

[Adapted from Bon Appetit]

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup vidalia onion, sliced
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 plum tomato, chopped
1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup butternut squash, roasted and diced
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
1 cup couscous
1 1/4 cups water or chicken stock
cilantro, for garnish

 1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 450. Spread 1 cup of butternut squash (approximately 1/2 inch cubes) onto a baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes until browned and soft.
 2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ginger; sauté until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute, stirring often.
 3. Add tomato and pumpkin purée; cook until pumpkin is golden brown, about 10 minutes (stir frequently).
 4. Add vegetable broth, coconut milk, curry powder, and cayenne pepper; simmer for 20 minutes.
 5. Add roasted butternut squash, shrimp, and lime juice. Simmer until shrimp are cooked and squash is warm.
 6. Serve on top of couscous (or rice) and garnish with fresh cilantro.