Random Bag Night – Mushroom, Bean & Barley Pilaf


After a whirlwind weekend of too much food, booze and air mattress “sleeping” we got home yesterday looking for something easy, relatively healthy and most of all, didn’t involve getting back into the car. Turns out we had some homemade sausage in the freezer from my father-in-law and in the pantry, I had a container of pearl barley which had probably been in there a while since neither of us could recall when it was purchased. Additionally I had bought some mushrooms last week and we always keep a stock of canned beans, chicken broth and dried mushrooms in the house (to the best of our abilities – whenever we get low on these and other critical pantry items we write it on the chalk board in the kitchen so it doesn’t get forgotten come grocery list time).  So combining these items, the barley pilaf was born. This version is VERY mushroom-y, so for folks who are not really into mushrooms, this is not your dish. I think the barley needs a strong flavor pairing, as it’s kind of bland itself. 

The nice part about the pilaf version is that it is not as hands on as risotto so you can do other things or, like me, hang out on your front porch and soak up as much amazing weather as you can while you periodically pop back inside to check on the progress of dinner.

1 cup pearl barley

1 cup dried mushrooms (I have a mix of wild + shitakes)

1 package white button mushrooms, chopped

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 can white beans (any kind is fine), drained and rinsed

3 cups chicken (or veg or beef or…) stock

1 cup white wine

2 tablespoons butter

3-4 tablespo0ns olive oil

1 handful fresh chopped parsley (+ other herbs – basil or chives would be great)

salt + pepper to taste

parmesan cheese – to top the finished dish

Take dried mushrooms and soak them in about 1.5 cups of warm water – preferably for an hour or so, but at least until they are soft. Once they are done soaking, remove the mushrooms, chop them into small pieces, and set aside the mushroom “broth” as you will be adding that to the dish:


In the meantime, dice the onion and garlic and add it to a medium sized sauce pan (with a lid) along with the butter and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Stir frequently and saute until the onions are nice and soft – 5 to 7 minutes. Once the onions are soft, add the barley and stir to coat it for about 1 minute. Add the beans and both the dried and fresh mushrooms and stir to coat, add a generous pinch of salt as well. 

Allow the ingredients to cook, while you stir, for another minute and then add the mushroom broth, the chicken broth and the white wine and turn the heat to medium high. Allow the liquids to come to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer and cover with your lid. I checked every 10 minutes or so on the progress and to stir the pilaf. It took about 40 or so minutes for the barley to get soft. Once the barley is soft, add the chopped fresh herbs and stir for another minute or two with the lid off. If you have excess liquid at this point, you may want to turn the heat up a little and stir until some of it evaporates.

When you are ready, serve with some parmesan cheese.


Pan Seared Pork Chops with Mango Tomatillo Salsa


I was craving pork chops today. Not sure why, this kind of thing just sneaks up on me sometimes. So I picked up some pork chops on the way home tonight and now I am happily satiated while I write this post. Over the weekend I had gone to WholeFoods and picked up 2 mangoes and a few tomatillos. I’ve never used tomatillos before so I thought I would give it a shot. I had also picked up some watercress and some baby potatoes which we grilled over the weekend. The end result is the pretty plate you see above. The star of the show was the fresh salsa I made from the tomatillos and mango, though the potatoes with ramps didn’t suck either. Here is the recipe for the mango salsa, etc:

Mango & Tomatillo Salsa

1 ripe fresh mango, cut into small chunks

4 tomatillos, roasted (will explain below)

4-5 thin slices red onion

handful chopped fresh cilantro

Juice from 1/2 lime (i used a whole lime and it was too much)

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon olive oil (for tomatillos)

your favorite hot pepper – I omitted chiles this time because we didn’t have any in the house but you could use jalapenos, serranos, etc. 

Peel the outer leaves from the tomatillos and wash the sticky goo off them. Slice into relatively thick pieces, douse with olive oil and salt and place under your broiler on high for about 5-6 minutes or until it starts to nicely brown. Remove from the heat and allow the tomatilloes to cool. In the meantime, assemble the other ingredients above in a bowl and allow the flavors to mingle for a while. When the tomatillos are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and add the pulp to your salsa. The skin of the tomatillos should come right off – it’s similar to cooked tomato skin.

This salsa would be good with pork, chicken or fish, or just on it’s own with some chips.


For the pork chops:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter

flour – enough to coat the chops in

4-5 chops, bone in (though without the bone is fine, they cook faster)

garlic salt 

Coat the pork chop in flour and sprinkle with garlic salt to taste. In the meantime melt the butter along with the olive oil in a non-stick pan on medium high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling (but not brown), add the pork chops. You may have to work in batches depending on the size of your pan. Allow the chops to brown on one side before flipping over. They should cook about 5-6 minutes per side, depending on how thick they are. 

Along with the chops, I reheated the grilled potatoes with ramps in a tiny bit of olive oil on the stove top to warm the potatoes and crisp them up a bit. And as for the watercress, I dressed it very lightly in olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Random Bag Night – Ravioli with Super Light Tomato Broth


Sometimes I think I should rename this blog “thedrunkentomato” instead of “theripetomato” because if you just do a search for wine you will see that I use it, A LOT, in my cooking. This recipe is no exception. I am fairly proud of myself for the ingredients in this dish. For one, the tomato used is puree of fresh tomatoes from last summer, grown and purchased locally and then skinned & seeded and frozen by me for use throughout the year. Second, the basil is from my garden out front – it is just getting big enough for me to start using it sparingly so I am very very excited. And third, the ravioli are homemade from this recipe, the leftovers of which I froze and they held up perfectly. Lastly, the wine is homemade by my dad and it is super tasty. On the downside, I used store bought (free range) chicken broth, so I am definitely not completely homegrown/local/fresh, but I’m definitely making progress!

So I cooked the ravioli, frozen, in some salted water for about 5 minutes. The following broth takes about 20-25 minutes to simmer down (more if you have time) because using fresh tomatoes it takes a while to get that rawness out of the flavor and develop a more tomato-y taste. You could substitute canned tomato puree here and it works just as well.

1 shallot, sliced thinly (1/2 an onion is fine)

4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed

1.5 cups of tomato puree

2 cups broth (I used chicken)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

6-7 fresh basil leaves minced, or a generous pinch of dried basil

1/2 cup dry red wine

salt & pepper to taste

Saute the shallots & garlic in the olive oil on  medium high heat until the shallots are soft- maybe 4-5 minutes, stir often. Add the red wine and allow it to simmeron the medium high heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato, the broth, the basil and a generous pinch of salt. If you are using canned tomato, you will need less salt because the canned ones are already high in sodium. Allow the whole thing to simmer on medium heat for a good 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle it over the ravioli and top with some grated cheese.

You could use this as a light soup by itself, maybe even blending the whole thing with a stick blender so it’s smooth. You could also use orzo or some other kind of small pasta instead of ravioli.

Fresh Homemade Baguettes


From the stats that I receive from WordPress I can safely say that many of my readers are bread fans, namely the No Knead recipe I posted here a while back. I agree, that bread is fantastic and very easy to execute. My hubby, the chief dough maker in the house, decided to graduate to something a little bit more complicated: the baguette. Today he made several mini baguettes, including a “stuffed” one filled with provolone cheese, using this recipe from King Arthur Flour. It was significantly more work than the no-knead bread but the results are fantastic and you can make enough bread to freeze for later. It requires advanced planning – the dough needs to rise and re-rise and re-rise … etc… 

The stuffed loaf, pictured above, was delicious, though next time we may try additional stuffing items like prosciutto or something similar. Also, the bread was baked on parchment paper and we allowed it to cool in the oven until it was nice and crispy. 

If you have time to kill over a weekend, this is definitely a great recipe to try.


Grilled Whole Fish + Potatoes + Mixed Greens


We had another fantastic Saturday today, taking advantage of the great weather (before the strange ocean fog rolled in and cooled things off) by attending the SoWa Antiques Market which kicked off this weekend in the South End of Boston. It goes every weekend for the rest of the summer and it’s definitely worth checking out. This weekend was the opening weekend and it was also the South End’s Art Walk which was fantastic – I am always amazed by the never ending stream of talented artists that roll out in this city. 

On the way home I hit WholeFoods to grab some oysters and some other random items and came home with this looker (above) – a Strawberry Grouper. I’ve never seen this before but it looked good so I thought I would give it a shot. Since the whole red snapper I did a while back was such a success, I am feeling more confident about cooking whole fish. Additionally, we’ve been using the grill a lot more often now that the weather is good, so this meal was almost exclusively made on the grill. 

The oysters were excellent (Blue Point – wild) and we enjoyed them with some lemon juice and fresh made cocktail sauce (I like mine with lots of horseradish).

DSC_0516But on to the main attraction – a nearly 2lb whole grouper with the gorgeous strawberry color. We stuffed it with the following:

1 shallot, minced,

4-5 very thin slices of lemon

3-4 chives, chopped 

pinch of salt

And then coated the outside of the fish with olive oil before placing it on a hot grill. 


The fish takes about 25 minutes to cook all the way through on the grill, and you will want to be careful that it doesn’t stick to the grill (and then you leave fishy bits on there). Turn it about 15 minutes into it so that both sides get good and crispy. Be careful for all the little bones.  The grouper is nice and flaky and takes on good flavor from the stuffing.

At the same time you are getting the fish together, you can grill the potatoes, at they take about the same amount of time to cook. On a large piece of tin foil (large enough to make a pouch for the potatoes) place the following:

10-12 baby red potatoes, whole

2 teaspoons of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

chopped chives

5-6 ramp bulbs (the white part only), sliced

pinch of salt

If you haven’t had ramps, they are like spring onions and they are only available for a short period of time. They are delicious and you can eat both the bulb and the greens. I trim the reddish part of the stem off since that is a little more bitter. 


Make a pouch with the tin foil so the potatoes steam as well as get nice and caramelized on the grill. Place the pouch right onto the grill for a good 25 minutes.  The leftover potatoes make excellent hash browns the following morning – cut them in chunks and saute in a pan with some onions, your favorite spices and a touch of olive oil.

For the mixed greens – I took the greens from the ramps, some watercress, and some pea shoots and sauteed them with  a little olive oil, garlic and salt for about 3 minutes until they wilted (I browned the garlic very lightly before I tossed the greens in). 

Excellent fast and easy summer-ish dinner!


Garden Update #5 – Some Winners and Some Losers


Chives, ready to bloom, came up from last year

Chives, ready to bloom, came up from last year

We had a relatively decent week in our garden, all kinds of things starting to sprout: swiss chard, parsley, beets, thyme and tarragon, which makes me both very happy and even more excited for spring. On the downside, because of the crazy wind we had today, and the fact that we transplanted all of our tomatoes yesterday into bigger pots, outside, not knowing that today would be windy – a deadly, tomato killing wind. We lost our 2 largest tomato plants because the wind just bent them in half. Here is one unsuspecting plant, on Saturday, before we planted it outside:


Our biggest tomato plant, lost to the wind forever

Our biggest tomato plant, lost to the wind forever

So as much as it pisses me off to have to do so, after nursing these guys for the last few months, I am going to have to go to the store and buy some hardier seedlings to round out the tomato garden. Thankfully we didn’t lose all the plants, so we’ll still get a from-seed crop. At this point, it’s just about pride!


Jalapeno peppers doing well

Jalapeno peppers doing well

The pepper plants are thriving well and they too made their way outside into their summer pots. 

The garden box is doing great so far, we’re very happy with it. Here are the residents of the box:





Beets in foreground and swiss chard in back

Beets in foreground and swiss chard in back

and the parsley, which took about a week longer than the beets and chard (and which I was starting to get skeptical about):


parsley just starting to peek out

parsley just starting to peek out

And after a long and productive day in the yard and around the house (and I finally learned how to drive a stick shift car) we settled in for some nice manhattans on the rocks:


mmm, tasty

mmm, tasty

Random Bag Night – Cloudy Broccoli Soup + Tomato Crostini


Ok, so calling it “cloudy” broccoli soup probably wasn’t the most appetizing choice but I wasn’t really sure how else to describe it. It’s much lighter than your usual cream of broccoli soup, and it lacked the green vibrancy of the vegetable itself. This is a relatively fast soup, took about 20 minutes to cook. I served it with a roasted tomato and soft cheese crostini, using the no knead bread my husband made the other day and the cottage cheese I made on Sunday. Here are the recipes:

1 onion, chopped

1 small clove of garlic, minced

3 cups chopped fresh broccoli 

2 tablespoons chopped pancetta (optional, but it adds great flavor, bacon would be good too)

1 teaspoon of butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

8 cups of chicken broth (vegetable broth is fine)

3 tablespoons of plain greek yogurt

salt & pepper to taste

Toppings: squeeze of fresh lemon, drops of flavored olive oil

In a large sauce pan, place oil, butter, onion, garlic and pancetta, and saute on medium high heat for about 5 or 6 minutes until the onions start to get soft. Stir frequently. A little caramelization on the onions is fine, it adds extra flavor. Once the onions are soft, add the broccoli and stir. Add the wine and allow it to simmer for about 2-3 minutes. Add the broth, and allow the soup to cook until the broccoli gets fork tender (about 10-15 minutes depending on how large or small you cut it).

Once the broccoli is cooked through, turn off the heat and add the yogurt. Using a stick blender (or regular blender) blend the soup until the onions and broccoli are pureed. I strained the soup through a sieve into the bowls to make it smooth (sans chunks) but that isn’t necessary if you are the kind that likes pulp. Squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon juice and a few drops of flavored olive oil (I used oil that the roasted tomatoes were sitting in) and serve. You could also top with creme fraiche or some pesto for extra zing. 

as for the crostini:


This is really really simple. Just take your favorite crusty bread and toast it, top with the soft cheese of your choice – in this case it is fresh cottage cheese – and top with roasted tomatoes (or soft sun-dried tomatoes – the kind soaked in olive oil).  Crostini are an excellent side dish for soups or a very versatile appetizer. Other toppings could be sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, olive tapenade…. etc etc. Lots of possibilities !