Friday, November 3, 2017

Mushroom and Barley Soup

Do you know what it's like when you have something that tastes so utterly fantastic at a restaurant that you become obsessed with trying to recreate the recipe at home? (Hmmm, maybe that's just me!). 

Last week, I had lunch with some dear friends at a downtown restaurant and had a delightful bowl of mushroom and barley soup that was so full of flavor, I had to figure out how to make it.  Sometimes, being in an atmosphere of camaraderie makes everything taste better so I was anxious to see if my research and effort paid off. If you love mushrooms and mushroom soups, this is one of the best I've tried and was equally good as the restaurant version!

After all, it is November, or NovemBrrrr I should say! We had a couple of light frosts the last week of October and finally had to turn on the heat. If you are craving warm, earthy and comforting food, this mushroom and barley soup delivers! The savory, almost meaty, flavor of the mushrooms in a rich broth has a wonderful mouth-feel and the barley makes it satisfying bowl of soup.  Just add some crusty bread, a salad, and perhaps a glass of wine.

Did you know mushrooms are good for you too?  Rich in B vitamins and in disease-fighting phytochemicals, eating them regularly has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer in studies of Chinese and Korean women. They have also prevented prostate cancer cells from multiplying in mice and might do the same in men. They are also a good source of selenium.

The leaves are falling, the winds are blowing and a chill is in the air. Let's have soup!

Mushroom and Barley Soup

Serves 6 to 8

1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms 
1 ounce dried Shiitake mushrooms
4 strips meaty bacon, diced
1-1/2 tablespoon tomato paste 
1 small onion, chopped into small dice 
2 carrots, chopped into small dice 
1 stalk celery, chopped into small dice 
1 shallot, chopped 
2 large cloves garlic, chopped 
1 pound baby Portabella mushrooms, quartered and sliced 
1-1/2 tablespoon soy sauce 
1/3 cup dry sherry 
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups chicken stock 
4 cups vegetable stock
1-1/2 teaspoons salt 
3/4 teaspoon pepper 
Fresh parsley, chopped

Note: You can make this soup vegetarian by eliminating the bacon. Sauté the vegetables in oil and replace chicken stock with all vegetable stock.  Please don't omit the dried mushrooms and reserved mushroom-soaking liquid.  They are essential to the complex flavor of this soup.  Amazon sells the Mycological Brand of dried mushrooms quite reasonably as an 'Add On' Item to your order. 

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with 3/4 cup hot water and soak to soften while proceeding with the rest of the recipe. Important - Reserve the soaking water! 

In a soup pot over medium low heat, add the diced bacon sauté slowly, until evenly browned. Stir in the tomato paste and allow to caramelized just a bit. 

Reduce the heat to low, and add the chopped onions, carrots, celery and shallot to the pot and sauté about 10-12 minutes, until softened. 

Turn the heat back up to medium and add the garlic and mushrooms and saute until mushrooms release their moisture. 

Remove the rehydrated mushrooms from the soaking water (reserving liquid), and chop. 

Add the chopped, rehydrated mushrooms and the barley to the pot and mix to combine. 

Add the dry sherry and soy sauce and simmer until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. 

Add the stocks and the reserved liquid from the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. 

Turn heat down to low and simmer soup, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, until the barley is softened. 

Add chopped parsley just before serving. 

Tip: Freeze the rest of the unused tomato paste in 1 Tablespoon portions in plastic wrap bundles. Place inside a zipper bag and keep in the freezer until you need a small portion of tomato paste again. 

Recipe inspired by Food 52

Friday, October 20, 2017

Fig, Walnut and Crystallized Ginger Sourdough Bread

I love fall and all of the beautiful changes that it brings...golden and red leaves, the smell of the leaves drying on the ground, watching the squirrels hiding nuts for winter, and the cooler days perfect for a long walk or working in yard.  I love the changes that fall brings in the kitchen too, warm soups, stews and chili, slowly braised meats, harvest vegetables, and....baking!  

I understand that I may be speaking to a very small minority who have sourdough starters or who may be interesting in starting one.  It was always something I had wanted to try and it has been very rewarding for me.  Don't think you must use a sourdough starter to make a dried fruit and nut bread either.  You could make this bread with any of the 'No Knead' bread recipes out there, such as Jim Lahey's, or use a Cheater's Sourdough recipe that uses Greek Yogurt instead of sourdough.  You can do a web search and find lots of ideas using the key words "No Knead Bread" or "Cheaters Sourdough". 

I am happy to report that the sourdough starter that I began last year (I shared my first sourdough loaf, on the blog here), is still alive and well in my refrigerator.  Sometimes I neglect to 'feed' it for almost two weeks and it always bubbles back to life without a problem.  

I had dried figs, walnuts and some crystallized ginger on hand and thought the three would make a delicious, fall combination for bread.  And, it was!

The thing to remember about baking bread with a sourdough starter is that you need to start the process the day before you want to bake the bread - that's the hardest part.  But the taste is unbeatable and the satisfaction of pulling a beautiful loaf of bread out of the oven is very satisfying.

The dough is allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator in a container about the size you would like for your loaf or loaves, lined with a well-floured tea towel.  I used two rectangular loaf pans. This recipe made two, nice-sized loaves. Don't worry if they don't look too puffy after you take them out of the refrigerator, they rise beautifully in the oven.

After the loaves have had their overnight rise, I like to place them on the back side of a cookie sheet on top of a large piece of parchment paper.  This way,  I can slide the loaves, parchment and all, onto my baking stone.  No worries if you don't have a baking stone, you can always use the preheated dutch oven method used in many other recipes, such as this one.

Slathered in good, fresh butter or jam, or toasted the next day it's delicious!

Walnut, Fig and Crystallized Ginger Sourdough Bread

Supplies you will need:

You need to have an active sourdough starter. If you look on Etsy there are lots of sellers - I used World Sourdough. Amazon sells one by Breadtopia that is live and not dried here. King Arthur also sells an already "active" sourdough starter here.

A bread stone for your oven is also preferred but you can also use a cast iron Dutch oven with lid.

Spray bottle filled with water


1-1/4 cups recently fed and active sourdough starter
1 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (not necessary but helps obtain a good rise)
3/4 cup diced dried figs, dried cherries or cranberries
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped into small pieces.


In the bowl of a mixer with dough hook, combine the starter, water, and flour. Stir together until smooth. Cover the bowl and let the mixture sit for 1 hour. Then, mix in the salt and yeast and knead the dough with your mixer's dough hook on medium speed for about 6 minutes. Just before the kneading is done, mix in the dried fruit. If you don't have a dough hook you can knead by hand on a lightly floured surface. Add the walnuts and fold them gently into the dough. Cover the bowl and allow the dough rise at room temperature for 40 to 60 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. If you wish to make two smaller loaves instead of one large one, divide the dough in half. With a scraper, scoop up one side of the dough bring it into the center, pressing down. Turn the dough a quarter turn, and repeat four more times. Repeat with other loaf, if necessary.

Flour a tea towel or banetton (a bread proofing basket). If using a tea towel, place it inside of a bowl or pan with a shape you find pleasing, bottom side up. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 450°F for 30 minutes with a baking stone placed in the lower third of the oven (or a Dutch oven with Lid). When the oven is preheated, put 1" of water into a small skillet that can go into the oven and bring it to a simmer. Take your breads out of the refrigerator. Don't worry if they have not risen a lot, it's okay.

Place the simmering water skillet into the bottom of the oven. Place a piece of parchment on a baker's peel or the back (flat) side of a baking sheet. Turn the refrigerated loaves out onto the parchment. Slash the top of the loaves, and slide the bread, paper and all, onto the stone in the oven. Spray the inside of the oven generously with water from a spray bottle. In 5 minutes, spray once more and bake for another 35 minutes, or until the center of the loaf reads 200°F with a digital thermometer.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Note: If using a cast iron Dutch oven, when the oven has preheated for 30 minutes, remove the lid. Slide the slashed loaf into the Dutch oven and bake, with cover on for 20-25 minutes. Remove lid, and bake until bread reaches 200F, about another 15 minutes, watching carefully. Times vary depending on the size of the loaf, and how hot your oven gets.

This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour