Southwestern Barley Salad

Can you believe it’s August already?  I know everyone always says that about every month (insert some profound statement about the passage of time and human existence here), but for I promise it’s really true this time! I really can’t believe August is here.  August is going to be a huge month of change for me.  A few posts ago I mentioned that I have worked my last day at a urology practice. Why?  Because in about two weeks I am making my first big move of my adult life and starting a new chapter in my life.This fall semester I will start a PhD counseling psychology program in Lubbock, Texas.  For the next five to seven years it will be my new home as I learn how to be a psychologist, as both a researcher and therapist.  I won’t lie: I’m a little nervous.  Pretty nervous.  Actually, really nervous.  A combination of nervous and excited (depending on when you ask me I lean one way or the other).  It’ll be my first time I actually really and truly live away from my parents and my only home, and I am starting my career.  All this sounds a lot more adult than I feel.

All this change has led to lots of reflection about my life and what I want it to be.  All these life musings have also led me to think about my identity as a cook/kitchen frequenter and my blog.  What kind of food blog am I, and what is my “POV” on food?  Even in the past two years and fumbling around the kitchen and past year(!) of posting on this blog, I have already changed and learned so much.  After some thought, here is my sum up of my food world: healthy, affordable, seasonal (most of the time), and fun.  I like making things completely from scratch and easy, no fuss dishes.  I love trying new foods and revisiting classics.

Starting this new PhD program will probably mean posting will become a little more intermittent, but cooking and blogging have become some a big part of my life that I can’t imagine not doing it.  I plan on making myself keep it all up, but I may not be able to experiment as much as I have been able to these past months.   After all, I am about to become a home cook and a grad student with little time, even less money, and will always be on the go.

Okay, enough rambling: on to this southwestern barley salad.  This is very indicative of my type of food.  With this dish I tried barley for the first time and fell in love.  Barley, a cheap but filling grain that adds a chewy and nutty flavor, is combined with fresh summer produce and tossed in a light vinaigrette.  As I eat mostly meatless now, this is a perfect dinner for me, but  it would also be fantasic as a side with something from your barbeque for you carnivores.  Also, I am not the world’s biggest fan of tomatoes or avocados (I know, for shame), but I love this.


From Cinnamon Freud
For the Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime zest
Pinch of salt
For the Salad:
2 1/2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup dried pearled barley
2 tablespoon butter, divided

1 red onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 ears of corn
2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 small avocados, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cilantro, chopped
For the Vinaigrette:
In a large serving bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, honey, and lime zest.  Whisk together.  Season with salt to taste if needed and set aside.
For the Salad:
In a large saucepan combine water, bouillion, and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and add pearled barley.  Cook according to package instructions (30-45 minutes typically).  Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter.  Add onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook until onion is tender, 7-9 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  Add corn and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.  Cook for 3-5 minutes.  Add cherry tomatoes, smoked paprika and cumin.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly broken down.  Season with salt and pepper.
Whisk vinaigrette.  Transfer salad into bowl with vinaigrette.  Add avocado and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with cilantro, if desired.
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side dish.



After only trying Greek food for the first time last year, I have been busy at work making up for lost time.  All those years when I turned up my nose at those “funky” foods with yogurt, sweet spices, spinach, and olives- what a waste.  I am now enamored with Mediterranean cuisine in all forms.
For those who have never had spanakopita before, it’s a pastry of phyllo dough filled with a spinach, nuts, and cheese. It’s warm, crunchy, and cheesy all at the same time- perfect as a side dish with some lamb or a main dish served with a Greek side salad.  Making homemade spanakopita seems like an intimidating and long process, but it really isn’t.  It takes a little more effort than a microwave dinner perhaps, but the results are so much better.  The only step that might pose some difficulty is buttering each phyllo dough and layering.  I’ll be honest- I often don’t bother with buttering each sheet when I am feeling lazy, and it still tastes good.
(On a side note, I am very proud of these pictures.  I have taken dozens upon dozens of pictures of Spanakopita, but these are the first to actually look appetizing- all thanks to a new camera from my uncle!)
Adapted from Ina Garten
12 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chicken stock
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 ounce Romano cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

12 sheets phyllo dough
3-4 tablespoons melted butter

Kosher salt
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add spinach and cook until wilted.  (You may need to do this in two batches if you don’t have a skillet large enough).  Cool in a colander.  Drain and squeeze out excess water.  Set aside.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Heat olive oil and  add onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown and tender.  Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 additional minutes until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and continue to cook until all liquid has evaporated.  Cool and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, Parmesan, nutmeg, spinach, onion, and garlic.  Season with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.  Fold in a pine nuts and goat cheese.

Working with 3 sheets of phyllo dough at a time, brush each layer with melted butter as you layer then on top of each other.  Cut the sheets in half lengthwise.  Place a dollop on each strip of phyllo dough.  Fold in a triangular shape as if you were folding a flag. Place on baking sheet fold-side down.  Repeat with remaining phyllo dough and filling.  Brush the tops of the spanakopita with melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Let cool for 3-5 minutes on baking sheet before eating.

Makes 8 spanakopita.  Serves 2-4.

Chickpea and Eggplant Salad

After my foodie adventure in Austin, I came home inspired but in desperate need of a detox.  After a few days of splurging, including many donut holes, a few pounds of smoked meat, and several cones of ice cream, I needed vegetables ASAP and wanted to eat something light and refresing.  I was also feeling inspired by Austin’s vegetarian culture.  Every restaurant we ate at had gluten free and/or vegetarian options.  I am not giving up meat any time soon (I love it too dearly), but I love a good vegetarian dish.  It can leave you full and satiated but not overly stuffed.

This dish is simplicity at its best.  There is no sauce or dressing, but the dish packs great flavor.  Each vegetable shines through and compliments the others.  It’s lemony, cheesey, vegetarian goodness in a bowl.  A perfect side dish or even a main dish.  Austin would be proud.

From Cinnamon Freud

1 eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 leek, rinsed and chopped
1 cup chickpeas
15-18 Brussels sprouts, chopped
Salt, to taste
Lemon pepper, to taste*
1/2 ounce Romano cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large colander, spread eggplant in a single layer.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and let stand at least 20 minutes to draw the bitterness out.  Wipe clean with paper towel.  Coarsely chop the eggplant and mix with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.  Spread eggplant on baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, until tender and golden brown.  Set aside and let cool.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter.  Add leeks and cook for 5-7 minutes, until slightly cooked.  Add eggplant, chickpeas and Brussels sprouts.  Cook for 5-6 additional minutes, until Brussels sprouts are cooked and brown on the outside.  Season with salt and lemon pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and stir in Romano cheese.  Top with additional olive oil and cheese, if desired.
Serves 2-3.

*I use Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper and love it.  You can also substitute lemon zest and freshly ground coarse black pepper to taste.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Barbeque Sauce

So, apparently I like sweet potatoes now.

Or maybe I have really liked them all along and just didn’t know it?  My mom has never been a fan of sweet potatoes, so when we ate the once a year at Thanksgiving, I always steered clear of them since she made it clear they were not her favorite.  Then last Thanksgiving, I made a sweet potato souffle that is a borderline dessert.  And I loved it.  Not sure if I really loved the sweet potatoes or the streusel topping, I still wasn’t convinced.  Then at Half Thanksgiving I tried a few sweet potato fries and enjoyed them.  I was still convinced I was content with eating sweet potatoes only once or twice a year.

But then I couldn’t get sweet potatoes off my mind.  I began to crave the slightly sweet an fluffy taste.  So, I made sweet potato fries baked in the oven to get the final verdict on sweet potatoes, and I paired it with my new favorite barbeque sauce.  Pure success, and I now am a sweet potato eater. Time to look up some different sweet potato recipes…

From Cinnamon Freud

For the Barbeque Sauce:
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Sweet Potato Fries:
2 sweet potatoes, peeled
1 1/2- 2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
For the Barbeque Sauce:
Combine tomato sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic power, cumin, paprika, vinegar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until it reaches desired thickness.  Add ground black pepper to taste.
For the Sweet Potato Fries:
Preheat the oven to 475°F.  Preheat a pizza stone in the oven

Slice sweet potato into 1/8-1/4 inch slices.  Put in large mixing bowl and cover with warm water.  Let stand for 45 minutes- 1 hour.  Drain sweet potatoes and pat dry.  In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, olive oil, brown sugar, and salt to taste.  Spread fries over a piece of parchment paper in a single layer.  Transfer parchment paper to preheated pizza stone.  Bake for 20-23 minutes.  Watch the fries carefully to ensure that they don’t burn, baking time will vary based on how thick the fries are cut.
Serve with barbeque sauce.  Serves 2-3.

Artichoke Salad with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

With a DVR full of Barefoot Contessa episodes, I always have both entertainment and culinary inspiration at hand in a moment’s notice.  When I was trying to menu plan for Half Thanksgiving I had hit a side dish block.  I needed something that would compliment the turkey and other dishes without stealing the limelight too much.  Luckily for me I watched the episode of Barefoot Contessa when Ina made this artichoke salad.  This dish is light and flavorful without being too bold.  It would be perfect served with chicken or pork for any weeknight dinner and is very easy to throw together.

For the Vinaigrette:
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil

For the Artichoke Salad:
36 ounces artichoke hearts, quartered
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
6 tablespoons capers
4 tablespoons champagne vinegar


For the Vinaigrette:

In a food processor, combine shallot, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Process for 10 seconds.  Add basil and process until green paste forms, about 30 seconds.  While the processor runs, slowly add olive oil.  Set aside.

For the Artichoke Salad:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

On a large baking sheet lightly coat artichoke hearts with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Spread out in single layer.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine artichokes, red onion, roasted red pepper, capers, and vinegar.  Toss and let stan for 30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 5-7 as a side dish.

Mom’s Cheesy Potatoes

Food is a powerful memory trigger.  Every time I get a waft of these potatoes roasting in the oven and take that first bite of cheesy goodness, I am transported back to a time when my mom made dinner for me every night.  Whenever I saw mom making these potatoes, I knew it’d be a good dinner (and lunch the following day).  Luckily, my mom has passed on to me her culinary secrets, and now I am passing them on to you!  This dish is pure potato magic.

Also, happy birthday week to my mom & dad!  Thank you for all those nights of making me dinner (and all that other stuff you did on the side raising me and all).  Soon, I’ll show what dessert I made for our at home celebration.

Adapted from Saltgrass Steakhouse via The Houston Chronicle

2 pounds red potatoes
8 tablespoons butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterrey jack cheese
1/4 cup shredded Romano, divided
1/2 cup milk
3 green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper


The Day Before: Put potatoes in a large pot.  Barely cover with water and bring to a boil.  Cook until fork tender.  Drain, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut the potatoes into quarters and transfer to 9×13 inch casserole dish.  In a small saucepan, combine butter and garlic over medium heat.  Cook until butter is melted, then pour over potatoes.  Add cheddar cheese, Monterrey jack, 3 tablespoons Romano, milk, green onions, salt, paprika, black pepper, and white pepper.  Mix the ingredients together with your hands.  Do not overmix (there should still be large chunks of potatoes throughout).  Sprinkle remaining Romano cheese on top.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Serve immediately

Chlopski Posilek

This is a Polish dish that translates to “peasant’s meal”, the poor man’s meal in Poland back in the day. All you need for this authentic Polish cuisine is a few ingredients: sausage (or some form of cured meat), cabbage, and onion.  Done.  You have a delicious, filling meal at a low cost.  Perfect for the working farmer a hundred years ago and perfect for a office worker in 2012.

The perfect accompaniment to this dish is some piergoi like I did for our New Year’s Day dinner (recipe forthcoming, so look out for it!)
From Cinnamon Freud
5-6 links kielbasa
1 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 onion, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
In a large skillet place kielbasa in a single layer.  Fill skillet with water until the sausages are halfway covered.  Cook over medium-high heat for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.  Remove sausage and let cool.  Chop coarsely.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add sausage and cook for 5-10 minutes, until sausage is cooked through.  Add onion, cabbage, salt, and pepper.  Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is cooked through.
Serves 5-6.

Broiled Vinegar Potatoes

What is your favorite potato chip?  Mine is most definitely salt and vinegar kettle chips- they are addictive.  The saltiness and the sourness of the vinegar come together in perfect harmony.  Well, it may not be socially acceptable to eat a bag of potato chips for dinner, so instead you can make these broiled vinegar potatoes.  These potatoes are a great way to change up to a steak and potatoes dinner.
I made these one night when I had a cold because I wanted to make sure I could taste my dinner, and I was pleased to find that the vinegar and salt taste burst past my stuffed nose.  (Boiling the vinegar and accidentally taking a few direct steams to the face also helped cleared up my nose passages too- an added health benefits with this dish).  They tasted exactly like my favorite potato chips and were easy to make- a definite repeat to jazz up a weeknight dinner.


From Elly Say Opa, Originally Martha Stewart

1/2 pound potatoes
White wine vinegar
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices.  Put potato slices in a saucepan and cover with vinegar.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 5-10 minutes, until fork tender.  Remove from heat and let potatoes cool in vinegar for 30 minutes.  Drain.

Preheat the broiler.

Toss potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Arrange in one layer on a baking sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes, until browned.  Rotate tray if needed.  Watch potatoes carefully to prevent them from burning.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.