Dear readers, when I got the Secret Recipe Club assignment for this month I went into full-happy-dance mode!   It turns out that I’ve been paying attention to Chocolate and Chillies for a looong time, and hoping I would be paired with it, to stalk it real good. And that is exactly what I did.  Asiya, the hostess of Chocolate and Chillies, has a ton of recipes that entice me.   She was born and raised in Toronto, where she now lives with her husband and two kids, but her family is originally from India. Her blog features recipes with a heavy Indian influence, and to make it even better,  many are her own family recipes.  I love it!  I bookmarked many options, but five were the strongest contenders.  Here they are: Butter Chicken (lower in fat than regular versions),  Mummy’s Tomato Spiced Rice,  Whole Wheat Banana Muffins, and…  Afghani Kebob with Tomato Gravy.  The fifth? It’s the one I ended up making:  Barley Risotto with Peas and Asparagus.  Oh, my….  what an amazing dish this was! I made a slight adaptation because the asparagus looked very sad at the grocery store that day, so I went with carrots.

Barley Risotto with Peas

(slightly modified from Chocolate and Chillies)

4-6 cups of vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 leek, chopped
1 cup pearled barley
2 carrots, diced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp  freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup light cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Boil the vegetable stock.  Reduce heat to medium-low to keep it warm.Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the minced shallot and leek.  Saute 5-7 minutes until  tender.  Add barley and stir for a minute so that everything is well coated.  Add 1 cup broth and stir until most of it has been absorbed.  Continue to add 1/2 cup hot vegetable broth at a time, stirring until it has been absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup.
While the barley is being cooked, microwave the pieces of carrots with a little water until almost tender, and reserve. Or you can cook them on top of the stove in a little salted water, and drain them well.
After 15 minutes of cooking the barley, add carrots and peas.  Stir in salt and pepper.  Continue to add water until barley is cooked through.
Remove from heat.  Add lemon juice, cream cheese and Parmesan cheese.  Stir until cheese is melted.

                                                                  to print the recipe, click here


Comments:  This was such a creamy, comforting dish, I love the traditional risotto made with Arborio rice, but this version with barley won my heart!  I definitely want to make it with asparagus to celebrate the arrival of Spring and with it that infusion of life and joy and all things sunny and beautiful and gorgeous and warm into my personal equation.  Can you detect my excitement as February says goodbye?  I bet you can.

The barley risotto was served with grilled pork tenderloin, but for the next couple of days the risotto all by itself was my lunch.  It tends to dry out a little bit in the fridge, but a little squirt of lemon juice brings it back nicely.  I am not sure this could work for a risotto fritter like a regular rice risotto would, it seems to me that the grains of barley would be hard to keep together, but if anyone tries it and succeeds, let me know.

Asiya, I had a blast stalking your blog and picking a recipe to cook from!

For those interested in following the cooking adventures of the other Secret Recipe members in my group, poke the cute blue frog at the end of the post, and have fun!

ONE YEAR AGO: Oatmeal Fudge Bars

TWO YEARS AGO: Cauliflower Steaks

THREE YEARS AGO: Soft Spot for Chevre

FOUR YEARS AGO: Quick sun-dried Tomato Crostini


Because there’s no such thing as too many risotto recipes, I share with you this version, made more special because I used spinach freshly harvested by our  friends and neighbors (the ones with the green thumb).    I took one small shortcut by using a frozen bag of  peas and carrots. We always have those in the freezer  because they are handy additions to rice, pasta, and soups.  And I wanted a bit of orange color to add contrast to the dish.  SPRINGTIME SPINACH RISOTTO
(inspired by Martha Stewart‘s Everyday Food)
3  cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
salt and ground pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
10 ounces of spinach, finely chopped
8 ounces frozen carrots and peas, thawed
1 tablespoon butter
Combine chicken broth and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and keep at a low simmer (you may not need to use the full amount of liquid).  In a medium saucepan, preferably wide and with round edges, heat the olive oil and add the minced shallot. Season with salt and pepper, cook until soft and translucent.   Add the rice, and cook until it starts to get a little color, about 4 minutes, stirring constantly so the grains don’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.  Add wine; cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Add 2 big ladles of hot chicken broth, and cook until absorbed, stirring occasionally.  Continue adding broth mixture, 1 cup at a time, waiting for liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring occasionally, until rice is just tender and creamy with a little liquid remaining in the pan, about 25 minutes. Stir in the spinach, peas, carrots, and finish with the butter.  Adjust seasoning if needed.
to print the recipe, click here
This risotto could be a meal in itself, but we enjoyed it with grilled boneless chicken breasts. We do like some meat with our dinner, even if risotto-purists disagree.  I thought about making risotto cakes with the leftovers, but ran out of gas and simply re-warmed it in the microwave.  Not a real risotto anymore, but still a pretty tasty side dish!  😉
I used frozen peas and carrots for this recipe, but would not use frozen spinach – you need the texture of the fresh leaves that get barely cooked in the final moments of the preparation.  A squeeze of lemon juice, and a dusting with lemon zest would not hurt it either…

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My second “assignment” at the Secret Recipe Club was the blog “I am a Honey Bee”. I had a lot of fun browsing through its pages, starting on the “About Me” chapter with a list of 25 things about her. A few matched me so well I had to smile:  “I hate the cold, REALLY hate the cold…”   or “I went to Greece, fell in love with everything I saw, ate, smelled, touched…” …. and  “I get frustrated too easily, I’m sorta working on that one”   (good to know I’m not alone in this!  😉

Even though I spent quite a bit of time reading her blog,  it took me about 35 seconds to choose her  Wild Mushroom Risotto.  It is the perfect time of the year for it, plus I had two special ingredients already at home: porcini mushrooms, and home made chicken stock. All I needed was to stop at the store for two more types of mushrooms  (fresh shiitake and white), and I was ready to have some serious fun.   On a small departure from her recipe, I used the pressure cooker to make it, and with this statement I just irritated all serious risotto enthusiasts, but trust me: it is a nice trick to have up your sleeve.  Still, I’ll give you the two variations, as not everyone has a pressure cooker at home.

(Traditional Method)
(adapted from “I am a Honey Bee“)

1 cup very hot water
1/4 ounce dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini
9 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 cup Arborio or rice
8 sage leaves, finely julienned, divided
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 – 7 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmegiano cheese, plus more for serving
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of very hot water for 30 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, chop them finely.  Filter the water through a sieve to remove any grit, and add it to the chicken (or veggie) stock in a medium size pan, keep it at a simmer on very low heat.

Chop the fresh mushrooms.   Heat 2  tablespoons of oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and all moisture has been absorbed.   Add half the sage and the rice, cook stirring, until the grains are well coated, and start to get some color – 3 to 4 minutes.

Add wine. Cook, stirring, until wine is absorbed by rice. Using a ladle, add 3/4 cup hot stock to rice. Stir rice constantly, at a moderate speed. When rice has absorbed most but not all of liquid and mixture is just thick enough to leave a clear wake behind the spoon when stirring, add another 3/4 cup stock.

Continue adding stock and stirring constantly, until rice is mostly translucent but still opaque in center. Add the porcini mushrooms, and continue cooking until rice is al dente, but not crunchy. Remove from heat, stir butter, remaining sage leaves, and Parmigiano cheese. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve, with additional shaved cheese on top, if so desired.

to print the recipe (traditional method), click here

(Pressure Cooker)

1 cup very hot water
1/4 ounce dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini
4 tablespoons olive oil
2  tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup shallots, diced
9  ounces assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Arborio rice
8 fresh sage leaves, finely julienned, divided
3 + 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese

Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of very hot water for 30 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, chop them finely.  Filter the water through a sieve to remove any grit, and add it to the chicken (or veggie) stock in a medium size pan, keep it at a simmer on very low heat.

In a pressure cooker, heat 4 tbs Olive oil and 1 Tbs Butter. Add the shallots and saute until translucent and fragrant. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until they start to get soft.

Add half the sage and the  rice, cook stirring until all grains are well coated with the oil/mushroom mixture (about 3 minutes).  Pour all the hot stock and wine  in the pan, close it, and bring to full pressure. Reduce the heat or use the specific instructions from your pan to keep the pressure constant for 7 minutes.  Immediately take the pan to the sink, run some cold water over the lid to reduce the temperature, and when the pressure is down, open the pan.  If there’s still too much liquid, cook gently, stirring until it reaches the consistency you like.  Test the rice to make sure it’s cooked through, add the tablespoon of butter, the remaining sage leaves, and the Parmigiano  cheese, adjust seasoning, and serve.


to print the pressure cooker method recipe, click here

Comments:  One of the reasons I like the pressure cooker method is the ability to know exactly when the recipe will be ready, as it makes entertaining a lot easier.  I’ve made risotto using this basic method many times, and it never failed me.  In seven minutes, the rice is perfectly cooked, and usually the amount of liquid remaining in the pan is very close to perfect.   My main problem with risotto is taking the picture, I am a bit slow and the rice goes on absorbing the liquid. By the time I am satisfied with the photo, it’s a little passed its prime.. .  😉

This recipe is delicious, no matter the method you choose to make it.  Porcini will always turn any meal into a festive occasion, and I think the sage goes well with it too.

Make sure you stop by “I am a Honey Bee” to check all her other recipes, and if you want to see all other posts in today’s reveal day follow the links by clicking in the icon below (the little blue toad).

ONE YEAR AGO: Tartine Bread: Basic Country Loaf

TWO YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Pie, Light as a Feather

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Risotto is one of my favorite dishes,  but I refrain from making it for dinner parties because it does require some loving attention. No way to entertain your guests when risotto is on the menu, unless they don’t mind standing next to the stove with you, sipping wine and watching the rice gently bubbling away.

I’ve read a few articles describing how restaurants do it, though.  Obviously the customer cannot wait for 30 minutes as the kitchen staff prepares each plate to order, so they resort to a method said to work like a charm: the rice is cooked almost all the way through, then spread on a baking sheet to cool down.  Once the order comes in,  they spoon out a single serving, and finish it quickly on top of the stove.

I would be a bit insecure to try this approach for the first time on guests, but Phil and I were perfect guinea pigs for this experiment.  I  adapted a recipe for pea risotto from a recent issue of Food and Wine, and put the method to test.

(adapted from Food and Wine, May 2011)

3 slices of prosciutto, cut in small pieces (use scissors)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 – 5 cups chicken stock, warm (you won’t use it all)
1 Tbs butter
1/4 cup Parmiggiano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
a nice squeeze of lemon juice
1 cup pea shoots, very loosely packed

Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan, and keep on very low heat. Using a blender or the food processor, puree half the peas in 1/2 cup of chicken stock.  Reserve. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, cook the prosciutto until it starts to get crisp. Remove the pieces and place over kitchen paper, reserve.

In the same skillet, cook the shallots seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, until soft and fragrant.  If necessary, add a little more oil, then the rice and cook stirring often until all grains are well coated.  Add the wine and simmer until absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Add enough hot chicken stock to cover the rice, and cook over medium heat, stirring often.  Keep adding stock, one ladle at a time,  until the rice is about 75% cooked through (taste it, it should feel still hard at the center; it took me about 25 minutes).  Remove from the stove and immediately transfer it to a baking sheet in a layer.   Place it in the fridge until time to serve the dish (several hours won’t harm it).

When it’s time to finish the risotto, heat 1 cup of the remaining chicken stock in  the skillet, add the rice, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the reserved pea puree (warm it briefly in the microwave).  When the rice is done, nicely al dente, add the peas, the prosciutto, the  grated cheese, the butter, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper, add the pea shoots right before serving, and


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This is definitely the solution to the “risotto for guests”  puzzle.  It tastes exactly as if it was prepared all the way through, and it takes literally minutes to serve.  The other detail in this recipe that won me over: the pea puree.  I’ve made plenty of pea risottos before, they are always delicious, but turning part of the pea in a puree raises the dish to a new high.  I think many types of risotto will benefit from this approach, so that’s something to experiment with in the future.    My husband suggested  the addition of chevre cheese instead of Parmiggiano, and I bet it will be a  delicious variation.

Remember: if you love risotto and want to include it in your next dinner party menu, don’t be afraid of the two-stage method!

ONE YEAR AGO: Life is a matter of taste (a small tribute to David Rosengarten)

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This excellent recipe from Fine Cooking, published in 2003, is best at the height of the Summer, with grilled fresh corn.  But,  one frozen product (that I am absolutely smitten with) makes it possible  year-round:  the roasted corn kernels from Trader Joe’s.   Their subtle smokey flavor stays sharp during cooking, and the charred kernels add color and pizazz to so many dishes.   I used them in this risotto, and  they made it even better.


(adapted from Molly Stevens)

4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable stock)
1 cup roasted (or cooked) corn kernels
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbs. basil leaves, coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat the broth in a pot to a simmer and keep it covered, hot.

Heat the olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the grains are well coated with the oil. Pour in the wine, stir, and cook until the wine is absorbed, about 1 minute.

Ladle in about 1-1/2 cups of the hot broth, and cook, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, 3 to 5 minutes. Continue adding broth in 1/2-cup increments, stirring and simmering until the liquid is absorbed each time, at intervals of about 3 to 5 minutes.

While the rice is simmering, combine the tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, and 2 Tbs. of the basil in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

When the rice is starting to get tender (16-18 minutes cooking time) stir in the corn. Continue adding more stock and stirring until the rice is creamy but not mushy – 20 to 25 minutes total. Remove from the heat, fold in the Parmigiano and then the tomato-basil mixture. Top each serving with the remaining basil and serve.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you don’t have a local Trader Joe’s, then just roast or grill your own corn.  The 10 or 15 minutes on a hot grill boosts its flavor so much that it justifies the extra step.  Adding the tomatoes at the very end preserves their   bright flavor, and ensures a nice presentation too.    Molly Stevens didn’t  finish her recipe with butter, as is traditional in the dish, but even without butter the risotto was substantial and satisfying.   I like to add a bit of lemon zest before plating, and serve it with some additional grated parmeggiano cheese!   😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Light Rye Bread

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I’ve never met a risotto I didn’t like!  It’s one of the most versatile dishes around. You can get fancy  (lobster and saffron come to mind), or keep it simple, but it’s always satisfying.   This tomato risotto falls into the latter category, in that I didn’t roast the tomatoes myself.  Instead I used a Muir’s product that I’m quite fond of.  Their roasted tomatoes have just the right amount of heat and smoke, and these days I shamelessly admit gastronomic shortcuts without guilt, as long as they involve quality ingredients.   This risotto will also succeed with  homemade oven-dried tomatoes, or a lovingly prepared tomato confit.  But, for the time being try this version, which will warm up your senses, every single one of them! 😉

(inspired by Donna Hay)

1 shallot, finely minced
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice (or other short grain rice appropriate for risotto)
3-4 cups of vegetable stock
1 can (14.5 oz) of Muir fire-roasted tomatoes, some of the liquid included
(I used  diced tomatoes with green chilies)
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbs butter to finish the dish

Heat the vegetable stock in a sauce pan, add all the tomatoes and some of the water, season lightly with salt and pepper, and reserve, keeping it warm.

Saute the minced shallots in olive oil until soft. Add the rice and saute for at least 2 minutes, stirring often, making sure each grain is well coated with oil.

Start adding the hot vegetable stock/tomato mixture, slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing it to be almost fully incorporated before adding more liquid. Keep stirring gently. Add some fresh thyme towards the end of the cooking time. Keep the heat low, and pay attention to the changes in the rice grains:  they’ll become more plump and translucent as they cook. When the rice is ready (not mushy), add a little more stock.  Finish it by swirling some butter and stirring to form a nice emulsion with the sauce. Serve immediately.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Donna Hay used tomato puree, white wine, and served her risotto with mussels.  We didn’t have any white wine on hand, so I just used stock and tomatoes. Whenever you make risotto, be sure to warm enough liquid for the cooking – better to have some leftover than to run out of it midway through the preparation. The amount in the recipe is more than enough, even considering variations in the type (and age) of the rice.

We enjoyed it with seared sea scallops, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a dust of ground coriander, then seared quickly on a hot non-stick skillet with a smear of olive oil. It was a good match for the fiery rice, leading my husband  to close the dinner with one of my favorite phrases: “you are going to make this again, right”? No worries there.  In fact, I think I’ll have an “encore”  next week! 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: A special dinner for two

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receita em portugues na proxima pagina


For a long time certain of my favorite dishes (for example souffles and risottos) were restricted to restaurants, because I felt intimidated to make them myself. I lost my souffle-phobia thanks to my friend Vanda, who kept sending me e-mails about the broccoli or spinach & cheese or other tasty spur-of-the-moment souffle that she was serving for dinner. Indeed, she can whip up a souffle in her sleep…   but because she was 6,000 miles away in Brazil, I resorted to Julia Child in order to Master the Art of Souffle Cooking.

Risotto took a little more time. I had some failures that slowed down my learning curve. Then it hit me: my main problem was lack of patience. You can’t rush it, and you can’t be completely sure how long it will take. Risotto takes however long it needs to reach the stage of perfection, and that is its Zen beauty.

This recipe reinforces the Zen of risotto with green tea as the cooking liquid. I found it in a nice food blog years ago, and made it several times. It’s lighter than traditional versions, and a perfect dish for Spring!

(adapted from Cooking Books blog)

1 quart water
4 bags green tea
oil for the pan
3/4 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup Arborio rice
1 small shallot, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmeggiano-reggiano cheese

Bring 1 quart of water to a near boil, then pour it over 4 bags of green tea in a pot, allowing to steep for 2 minutes. Remove the bags and place the pot over low heat to keep it warm.

Blanch the peas in boiling water for one minute, then drain and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

Warm the olive oil in a large pan or heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the shallots until they soften. Add the rice, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes, then begin adding the tea, one ladle at a time. Stir constantly until all of the tea has been absorbed by the rice and add another ladle. Continue this process, adding tea and stirring to incorporate. The rice will take at least 20 minutes to be ready, check it from time to time.

Stir in the grated cheese and peas until the cheese is melted and incorporated and the peas are warmed through. Remove the risotto from the heat, and begin adding the lemon juice, tasting, until it has a bright flavor. Then stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with a few shavings of parmiggiano over the top.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Most recipes for risotto start with some white wine and end with quite a bit of butter. You can modify this basic recipe to take it in that direction, or try this lighter version, that is still very satisfying. It is important to avoid over-brewing your tea, because green tea can quickly become bitter. I used this tea from Peet’s, a favorite of mine. The original recipe called for mint, but our mint was not growing yet, so I used parsley instead. I think fresh tarragon will be excellent too.

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