Greek-ish Barley Salad with Sundried Tomatoes

Fun fact about me: in college, when most of my female classmates were dressing as “under-dressed fill-in-the-blank (nouns)” for Halloween, I went as a teenaged boy.  A teenaged Newsie, to be precise.  Because there’s nothing like a light-hearted song and dance number about ending child labor, right?

On Friday, it took all of 30 minutes to conceive of and execute on this salad (inspired by Cooking Light).  Meaning I had plenty of time to drink some vino and get to Newsies the Musical (!!) on time, along with my former roommate, also a former Newsie for Halloween.  Word to all my Boston friends: it’s coming (as in the production, not this salad) to your city next.

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Greek-ish Barley Salad with Sundried Tomatoes

  • grated lemon rind from one small lemon
  • juice from one small lemon
  • olive oil
  • about 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • fresh basil, chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 cup quick-cooking barley
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • arugula
  • about 10 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and quartered
  • about 2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes in oil, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Bring two cups of salted water to a boil, add barley, reduce heat and cover.  Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed.
  2. Meanwhile, combine lemon rind through salt and pepper in a large bowl and whisk to create a nice dressing.
  3. Add red onion through cucumber to the dressing bowl and toss gently.  When the barley finishes, mix that in and add sundried tomatoes with oil, as well as Feta cheese (the heat from the barley combined with the oil and the Feta cheese will create a nice creamy texture).
  4. This is lovely served both immediately and chilled.

The Verdict:

Since the blueberry mint salad extravaganza, I’ve been decimating the Trader Joe’s shelves of quick-cooking farro and barley.  It’s just so good, and so easy, and so…tasty, while being healthy.  Perfect for seizing the day.

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Slow Cooked Chicken Pho

I’ve been knocked flat by a cold.  I do mean I have literally been knocked flat – getting out of bed requires a monumental amount of effort.

I need some chicken soup, but I need to be able to make it without having to stand up for too long, because that gives me the coughs.  Obviously, my slow cooker is going to save the day; recipe inspired by Eating Well.  Because what could be better for your breathing than lots (and lots) of Asian spice?

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Slow Cooked Chicken Pho

  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 2 bone-in chicken breasts, skim removed
  • 8 cups chicken broth (the best stuff you have)
  • about 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • about 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 8 whole star anise
  • dash ground cloves
  • dash crushed reds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 inches fresh peeled ginger, grated
  • 1/2 package udon noodles
  • 5-6 bunches baby bok choy, washed, bottoms removed, and roughly chopped
  • fresh herbs: basil, cilantro
  • toppings: scallions, thinly sliced yellow or white onions, sriracha, fresh lime, hoisin sauce, jalapeno
  1. In a large deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and sear in the pan, 3-4 minutes on each side, to maximize chicken flavor.
  2. In your slow cooker, combine ingredients starting with the broth and going through ginger.  Give it a quick mix and then add the chicken, meat side down.  Cook on low for about 7 hours.  Take out the chicken from the slow cooker, and remove it from the bone.  (Optional step: strain the broth for the star anise, so you don’t accidentally bite down on them later.)  When slightly cooled, shred, and add back to the cooker for another 20-30 minutes.
  3. With about 20 minutes to go, boil water for your udon noodles and cook according to directions.
  4. With about 5-10 minutes to go, add the bok choy to the slow cooker and give it a stir.
  5. Place noodles in a bowl and ladle the chicken soup over the top.  Serve with your desired toppings – big handful of herbs, sriracha, lime juice, anything that sets your mouth on fire.

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The Verdict:

The crunch and spice of the basil, cilantro and scallions at the end are a must.  This was the first thing I’ve actually tasted in a while, so you know it tasted good.  Anything with this much heat is bound to clear up the sinuses, at least for a little while!  That being said, the Husband really dug this, too…though he thought it might be better with a little less star anise.  Would love feedback from anyone who gives it a go!

Cape Cod Stew

This is where my parents live.

the harbor
the harbor

After spending about 20 years in the suburbs of Boston, raising my two siblings and me, they moved full time to the very outer reach of the Cape a couple of years ago.  They now spend time going to yoga and planting in their garden.  They oyster.  Yes, that’s actually a verb (or at least it is out here, where folks buy yearly permits – November to March – for the joy of hunting for oysters once a week in their sandy beds).

harvested by my parents.
harvested by my parents.

My dad still works and my mom chases after the dog after birdwatching gets too exciting and she (the dog, not my mom) decides she must.join.them.NOW.

My parents also cook.

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prep everything beforehand.
(Note: This is not a budget friendly meal.  It’s also not an exact recipe – substitute your favorite seafood, vegetables, etc.  Before you get started, make sure your carrots, onions, garlic, zest, basil, tomatoes, etc. are prepped.  Once the stew gets going, it’ll cook quickly.)

Cape Cod Stew

  • olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 2 28oz cans plum tomatoes, juices drained and crushed with your hands
  • 3 cups chicken or seafood broth
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into strips
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • a dash crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound firm white fish, cut into 1-2 inch cubes
  • 2 pounds mussels, cleaned
  • 1 pound littleneck clams, cleaned
  • 3/4 pound (uncooked) shrimp – in their shells will be tastiest, though the shells are a bit tricky to peel off in your stew
  • 1-2 tablespoons Pernod or ouzo
  1. First, make sure your clams and mussels are clean.  If not, soak them in a large pot of cold water and add a few tablespoons of flour; let sit for 1/2 hour.  Discard any mussels or clams that are not tightly sealed closed.  Remove the beards from the mussels.
  2. In large Dutch oven over medium heat, add a few turns of olive oil (about 1/4 cup).  Heat through and add onions and carrots.  Saute a few minutes, until softened.  Add garlic, tomatoes, broth, wine, basil, orange zest, red pepper flakes and some salt.  Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add fish and mussels; simmer three minutes.  Add clams and shrimp – cook another 2-3 minutes, or until the shrimp turns pink.  (NOTE: depending on the size of the mussels/clams, you may need to adjust the cooking times.)  Add tablespoon or two of Pernod or ouzo; taste the broth and adjust the seasonings to taste (salt, basil, zest, pepper, crushed reds).  Serve immediately, garnished with an orange slice – a squeeze or two throughout the meal is delicious.  Goes well with some warm, crusty bread.

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The Verdict:

This stew showcases the best of the Cape.  Each bite = serious, serious love.  Share judiciously.

catch your OWN dinner.
catch your OWN dinner.

Welcome Home Cassoulet

The Husband and I came home to my parents’ last night, where the food feast has already begun.  My parents now live about 2 1/2 hours from the airport, so by the time we got in, we were very, very hungry.  My mom had this cassoulet – really just a rich, white bean-based stew – waiting for us in the fridge.  Add a salad, some crusty bread, a wedge of blue cheese, and a (few) glasses of wine, and this was more than a meal – it was a celebration.

Welcome Home Cassoulet

  • about 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Vidalia onion, diced
  • 4 celery sticks, grated
  • 4 carrots, grated
  • optional: about a pound of chicken or pork sausage, crumbled (my dad pretty much insists it’s not a meal without meat)
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 15 oz cans of cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
  • about a cup of dry white wine
  • vegetable bouillon and 4 cups water OR 4 cups veggie broth
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • a large handful parsley, chopped
  • large handful basil, chopped
  • a good dash black pepper
  • a good dash red pepper flakes (even though my mom says this is “so not French”)
  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil and saute onions, carrots and celery, until softened.
  2. If using meat, this is a good time to add it, making sure it crumbles all the way through.
  3. Add garlic, saute a minute or two, and then add beans, wine, spices and the veggie broth/bouillon + water.
  4. Bring the stew to a boil and then turn down the heat; cover and simmer for an hour minimum.  NOTE: This is even better reheated, when the different elements have had a chance to come together.
welcome home, love mom.
welcome home, love mom.

The Verdict:

Whether it was the flavors melding together in the fridge, our hunger, or just the fact that it was so nice to taste my mom’s cooking again, the cassoulet was amazing.  Credit for the original recipe goes to one of my dad’s business partners.  YUM.

Everything But The…Pesto

So, I won’t be making candy cane kiss cookies for my co-workers.  I sort of had a hunch that would happen.

I have now consumed two entire bags of these delicious, addictive, terrible-for-you candy cane kisses.  My only hope is that this will now hold off my insatiable craving until next year’s holiday season.  My co-workers will be getting pumpkin bread instead, the recipe for which I will not be posting here, as I rely heavily on a Trader Joe’s mix (sssh).

While that bakes, I’m hungry for dinner.  And there are a lot of leftovers – not all of them pulled chicken – in the fridge.  I’m talking broccoli, not just tired but exhausted looking herbs, and zested lemons.  This will all go bad in a few days…which means it’s food processor time.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink Pesto

  • whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2-3 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup basil
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, stems included
  • 1 cup arugula (both for the peppery taste and to offset the very tired basil’s color!)
  • about 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as you see fit
  • 3 garlic cloves (let’s be honest, I used more than that, but I guess not everyone is into that sort of thing)
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 big handful Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • crushed red pepper
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook your pasta according to directions.  Drain, reserving at least one cup of the starchy water.
  2. Microwave your broccoli florets for 2-3 minutes.  Combine broccoli and the rest of the ingredients (through crushed red pepper) in a food processor and pulse until it starts to resemble a sauce.
  3. Slowly add the reserved pasta water and keep pulsing until sauce gets to your desired consistency.
  4. Don’t be fooled: this is not an exact science, or an exact recipe.  Keep playing with the ingredients until the pesto tastes right – more salt? more olive oil? more cheese? – to you.  Serve, well mixed, with pasta.
fighting off all the vampires tonight.
fighting off all the vampires tonight.

The Verdict:

This is a go-to for using up leftover vegetables and herbs.  You can make with almost any combination of things you have already in your fridge, and if you don’t use too much olive oil (or cheese), it actually feels like you’re doing ok health-wise.  You can also freeze pesto – pop it into a ziploc bag, snip off one corner, squeeze into ice cube trays, and cover with saran wrap.  That way, you can use one (or two, or three) cubes without having to chip it off a frozen solid block.  Presto pesto.