It is in the fifties outside, with rain pouring down quite hard at times. Welcome to winter in Southern California. It's actually cold enough to justify a log in the fireplace, and even though the central heating isn't yet on, we are definitely throwing an extra blanket on the beds.
I wanted something warm and hearty to serve for dinner, so did some pantry diving and put this together while getting some work done from home this afternoon. It was exactly what the weather called for, and even the Monkey took big spoonfuls of it.
Bacon Barley Soup with Mushrooms (makes about 6 servings)
4 strips of bacon, or the rough equivalent of 4 strips in bacon ends (which I actually prefer)
1 cup of pearled barley
1/2 pound of carrots
1/2 large onion
6 stalks of celery
2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1 quart of chicken stock
2 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste
Roughly chop the bacon or bacon ends, and throw into a 6-quart pot (nothing screams hearty soups like my Le Creuset, so I used that) over medium heat. Let it sizzle for a bit so the fat starts to render out.
In the meantime (it's all about efficiency here people!), chop the onions, carrots and celery. Add to the pot and let it all cook down until it smells wonderful and looks beautiful. You should see a bit of browning going on if you're doing it right. Don't rush this step -- it adds so much to the flavor to let everything caramelize.
Add the chicken stock, water, and barley (rinse it first!) to the pot. It should then take about 45 minutes of simmering for the barley to swell and cook through. About 10 minutes before it's done, add the mushrooms to the pot.
Barley is not easily overcooked, so cook it until it's good and soft and chewy, and then add salt and pepper to taste. If you let it stand, it'll thicken up a bit further. A sprinkling of chopped flatleaf parley would be lovely on top, then serve!