It has been so long since I’ve posted. I am so very happy to be back with you to share a recipe that’s right in line with the spirit of how the past few months have progressed for me, or rather flown by! I hope everyone is doing well and feeling a bit brighter as we approach the end of this very strange and challenging year. 

I’ve been spending most of my time building Tawny’s Kitchen and as you might imagine, it’s taken way more time, effort and investment than originally anticipated. It’s been more difficult – physically, emotionally and even spiritually challenging me at every turn. But, I believe in it and I am passionate about it, so while I sometimes find those things consuming me, I am also staying aware of all the good, the positive, the benefit of challenge and the reward in sharing food with others…whether it’s customers who frequent Jacksonville Fresh, my customers at the markets or helping those with food insecurities by delivering overage from a slow day at the market to people who really need healthy, fresh food. 

One place that has been neglected is my own home cooking. I’ve been relying a lot on having breakfast for dinner, sandwiches, leftovers, ramen, etc…sometimes it feels like I’m back in college! So – with that, I’ve been struggling a bit. Then, in the midst of this struggle, my favorite time of the year came upon me quickly – tree lot season! A friend of ours runs a Christmas Tree Lot from Thanksgiving to sell-out (that came early this year!)…we use this time to spend as much quality time with him, his family and all of our friends that we otherwise see very infrequently throughout the rest of the year. And we really do it up – our friend is a grill master and some of us alternate bringing sides to accompany whatever he’s got going on the grill. Unfortunately this year, I only made it out to the lot a handful of times, but each time, I brought with me at least something for munching. 

And that brings me to this recipe. We knew it was coming…the last night of tree lot season, but I had to work all day, run a couple errands, prep some things for Tawny’s Kitchen and I really wanted to bring a dish…especially because the food truck I was hoping to purchase sides from (Abstrakt Filipino Essence – YUM!) was closed that day! Then it struck me – I have great, fresh ingredients still available from my Fresh Box – I can just throw something together! So the below is what I ended up bringing to the lot on that last night of the season…btw – the grill special on this evening was Prime Rib! 

Mock Risotto w Zucchini Squash

Prep Time:  10 Minutes

Cook Time:  30-45 Minutes

Yields: 10-12 Servings (½ cup each)

Ingredients & Prep Instructions: (bold ingredients found in your Fresh Box or at Jacksonville Fresh Market/Shop this week): 

  • 2 Large Zucchini Squash (diced into quarter circles)
  • 1 Package of Quick Cooking Barley
  • 1 Qt of Mushroom Medley (any variety – chopped into similar size pieces as the zucchini)
  • 1 TBSP Garlic Powder (you can use about 2 TBSP of minced fresh garlic here as well)
  • ¼ C Chives (small chop)
  • 1 C of Reserved Water (from cooking the Barley)
  • 2 C of Shredded Cheddar Cheese (store-bought or it’s always best to shred your own)
  • 2-3 C of Pork Rinds (I used BBQ flavor – use your favorite – these also come in plant-based form now too! – crush them up to spread over the top)
  • 2-4 TBSP Olive Oil
  • ½ TSP Salt & Black Pepper

The order of things: 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Chop and Prep all Veggies
  • Boil Barley
  • Saute Veggies
  • Combine in a Casserole Dish
  • Pork Rind Topping
  • Bake 
  • Broil
  • Serve!

What you’ll need: 

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons
  • 1 Medium-Large Boiling Pot
  • 1 Medium-Large Saute Pan
  • 1 Medium-Large Casserole Dish


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bring water to a boil for your barley – add to the water once boiling (follow instructions on bag – I always cook mine a bit longer because I like it softer to help get that risotto mouth feel)
  3. Bring saute pan to medium-high heat. Add 2 TBSP olive oil, then add zucchini, mushrooms and garlic, salt & pepper. Allow the veggies to sweat and start to brown – only stir occasionally. Add your chives and stir.
  4. Once the barley is done, drain the barley (reserve 1 C of the water and do not rinse the barley)
  5. Mix directly into the saute pan with the veggies, add half of the reserved water – you may need to add more…keep the heat on Medium while the water becomes a creamy base. Add 1-2 TBSP of olive oil so it’s primed for your cheese.
  6. Add your shredded cheddar to the barley veggie mix and turn your pan down to low heat for a simmer – about 5 minutes.
  7. Transfer the contents of the saute pan to the casserole dish (no greasing necessary).
  8. Spread your crushed pork rinds to cover your risotto. Top the casserole dish (with it’s top or foil).
  9. Bake the dish for about 15-20 minutes. 
  10. Switch your oven to Broil and remove the top of the casserole dish. Broil only briefly (depending on your oven the time could vary 1-5 minutes)
  11. Remove from the oven, allow to rest for 10-15 minutes and serve!

Recipe Notes: 

This was a last minute dish that I just threw together, but I’ve definitely always got a barley risotto in my head. You can use goat cheese (I just didn’t have any) which gives it an even creamier texture and it’s delicious. 

You can pretty much use any veggies you have around. I chose zucchini and mushrooms because they cook quickly and I had a loaded day, like I presume many of you do! I’ve done this recipe with brussel sprouts, red onions and garlic with goat cheese. Yum! 

Always add fresh herbs where you can. I didn’t have any on deck for this, so I grabbed some chives and added them. You can do this with thyme, sage, basil, tarragon and of course, scallions (slice thin if raw)

This is a nice grain alternative to the traditional risotto because it doesn’t take as long or as much supervision. However, remember (for dietary awareness) that rice is gluten-free and barley is not. 

A Note from Tawny’s Kitchen:

I hope that everyone has a lovely holiday season. Even if things are rough and the negativity is getting to you, I suggest taking a few moments of silence…to breathe. Re-center yourself when and if possible. It will help you with the next hurdle. Also, a positive outlook in times of despair often helps not only your energy, but you project that energy onto others around you. Remember that…especially for those of you who have children, grandchildren, parents who need your care and your friends, and even strangers you encounter who may be dealing with terrible situations right now. Find the light wherever possible. Find it in the foods you eat, the foods you share. Feed someone who may not have the means to eat. It is an incredible experience and it is something I believe we should all strive to do as humans: share, give, be kind. With the new year, it will bring new challenges, but there is much hope still when we open ourselves to all of the possibilities and opportunities. Peace & Kindness to All ~ Tawny