Monthly Archives: February 2012

Roasted Pepper & Parmesan Barley Tossed with Mixed Spring Greens

I’m finding this winter to be a bit of a bummer.  Going to Florida for a week only spoiled my ability to cope with the cold, gracefully, so I apologize for my whining in advance. I realize that things could be worse, so I’ll try to keep my rant brief for everyone’s sake.  You see, it is cold enough here to not want to go outside in the mornings and to have to bundle everyone up before leaving the house, which is a huge pain and not fun at all.  Yet, there’s no snow!   What’s that about?   I mean, usually we get a morning off here or a snow day there.  The kids love the sledding and the hot cocoa and snow angels, as do I, honestly.   But the problem is that it’s just cold enough for there to be freezing rain, but not warm enough yet to feel motivated to even think about starting spring cleaning (not even close!).   I miss my summer vegetables, too.   I love seasonal, local ingredients and the winter just isn’t very kind to us vegetarians when it comes to fresh, local quality produce.   I can only eat so many root vegetables in these cold months without loathing the thought of another sweet potato.

So, let’s head to the pantry, shall we?   What do we have?   Lentils and quinoa are staring at me, but I ate them both yesterday, and I’m just not feeling it. Maybe next time, I’ll use those. I did pick up some barley for the first time in awhile, and I have some really good parmesan in the fridge too.  I have a big jar of fire roasted red peppers here along with some chile peppers I picked up yesterday too. I want a big beautiful green salad, so I’ll just combine the two for lunch.   This is simple and easy, not to mention delicious and healthy.  It’s one thing to make me forget about how cold and miserable freezing rain really is.


Roasted Pepper & Parmesan Barley Tossed with Mixed Spring Greens

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • one medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 jalapeño or other chile peppers, deseeded and diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2/3 cup barley
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 whole fire roasted red peppers, diced
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Mixed spring greens, or other favorite salad greens of your choice (chilled)
  • Balsamic vinaigrette
  • shaved parmesan cheese
  • garlic and herb croutons


Place medium saucepan over medium-low heat and add olive oil and butter.  When butter is melted, add onions, garlic and chile pepper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir and cover.   Let that cook, covered, stirring every five minutes until onions are translucent (note: this takes awhile, so be patient with it).  Add barley and mix thoroughly.  Turn heat to medium for two minutes to gently toast barley and then add stock.   Cover and turn heat up to high to bring to a boil.   When liquid is almost completely absorbed (about 25-30 minutes), remove from heat and add roasted peppers and parmesan cheese.   Stir barley until liquid is absorbed and toss into a large salad bowl.  Top with plentiful cold salad greens.   Thoroughly and gently toss until both are warm and fully intertwined, but not wilted.   Top with balsamic vinaigrette, shaved parmesan and croutons.  Serve immediately.



Posted in Entertaining, Lunch, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Homespun Chocolate Cake

Mist sprayed upon the garden’s flowers, plants and trees while remnant droplets swung on the breeze, landing to cool our arms and necks as the sun kissed them until slightly pink, that day.

We were tired from our travels and the excitement of the magic kingdom the day before and not quite accustomed to so much stimulation and purely concentrated exhilaration in a day, never mind two or five.  It was pretty awesome, honestly.

It was about eighty degrees and the pavement under our soles was beginning to sizzle as the sun rose overhead.   It was a refreshingly warm change and enjoyment from the snow, rain and cold that waited for us at home only a few days later.

For now, we walked along the well kept garden that lined the sides of the street.

Trey, obviously exhausted from the plane ride and obligatory walking while also fighting the last remaining symptoms of his latest cold began to whine, “I’m tired of walking. This part is boring grown-up stuff.  Where are the rides?”

As I meandered through Canada, Japan and into Great Britain appreciating the steak houses, the sushi, the English garden photo spots and quaint pubs and tea shops, I realized that he was right!   This was totally “boring grown-up stuff” and I was loving it.

Strange what happens after thirty, I guess.   So, how to perk up his spirits?  What does he love?  Chocolate cake.  This thought occurred as I saw the “Eiffel tower” off in the distance and my mommy-brain stirred.

Pastries in Paris might change his mind, if not even give him cause to smile.  We stopped at the pastry shop and picked up the “cake of the day”.

It was just an ordinary chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, or so it seemed.   Without pause, he devoured the cake as Max fought, amid Trey’s chocolate frenzy, snagging a bite or two with my help.  I watched with delighted curiosity as Trey went bite after bite with a sugar craze in his eye that reflected pure chocolate bliss. My eyes met Mike’s and we smiled, knowingly.   He is not one to eat anything (not even cake) if he’s not completely satisfied that it’s a purely enjoyable experience worth having. I asked him for a bite.  I tasted it.  Chocolate it was, indeed!

It was sweet and rich and dark.  It was simple yet complex in flavor and texture.  It was moist yet perfectly layered and still so pretty.  It was rustic yet clean.   It was in one word, delicious.  This cake was inspired by that cake.   We had a wonderful time on vacation: First roller coaster rides, the monorail, parades, free falls, Mickey Mouse, funnel cakes, tea cups, pirates, continental breakfasts, the spa, the fireworks.  It was perfected  by the look in their eyes and the memories we made.   Note to self: Please do that again soon.

  • Butter or cooking spray for greasing the pans
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans, flour the pans and tap out excess flour.   Place prepared pans on sizable baking sheet.

Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into large mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine.  In another, smaller bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla and whisk thoroughly with diligence.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients in three additions, whisking to combine completely after each addition.   Finally, add coffee and mix once more.  Please note: batter will be loose, no need to worry.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, evenly between the two,  and bake for 30-35 minutes in preheated oven, until center of cake is set and springs back to gently applied pressure. Once cooled to warm, turn out cakes from pans onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.


  • 8 ounces semisweet good quality chocolate
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup unsalted quality butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 box confectioner’s sugar (about 2-3 cups)


In a large mixing bowl, grate chocolate.   Melt in microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth. Add cream cheese, butter and vanilla and beat with electric mixer on high until smooth and combined.   Add sugar.   Beat until smooth and combined.




Adapted from Source

Posted in All, Dessert, Entertaining, For Kids, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Chocolate Orange Oatmeal

Six more weeks of winter!  According to that silly little groundhog, we’ll be bundled up and eating hearty delicious things for another six weeks.  This oatmeal is the perfect hearty breakfast that will give you a bit of a chocolate fix without breaking the nutritional and caloric bank before noon.  It’s flavored with cocoa, sweetened with maple syrup and studded with sweet and tangy oranges.  It will be just the ticket to fuel your day, whether you’re pushing paperwork, running errands or chasing kids around the playground or in the snow.

I ate this oatmeal this morning, and now I’m headed out for a run.  Let me tell you, it is way better than anything I’ve had for breakfast lately.  I adapted this from the “Irish porridge” recipe on the side of the can of steel-cut oatmeal I had sitting in my cupboard.  Normally Irish porridge is left plain with maybe a bit of butter or sugar or buttermilk.  Irish butter is delicious, but I prefer chocolate.  I save the butter for bread.

 You may sweeten to taste to suit your sugar needs.  I like to avoid too much sugar so early in the morning, but if you’re looking for a late night snack, you might want to up the sugar level a bit.  That’s completely up to you though.  If you really want to splurge, you can shave some dark chocolate over the top.   Now, that’s delicious!

Chocolate Orange Oatmeal


  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup steel cut Irish oatmeal
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 packed tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup (dry measure) pure maple syrup
  • orange segments, chopped

Additions if desired:

  1. brown sugar or maple syrup
  2. milk or cream
  3. shaved dark chocolate


In a saucepan over high heat, bring 4 cups of water to a rapid boil.  Add a pinch of salt and the oatmeal, reduce heat to low and briskly whisk in the cocoa powder and maple syrup. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until thickened to your liking.  Pour the cocoa porridge into bowls and drop in the orange segments as desired.  Add brown sugar or more maple syrup to taste and milk or cream and shaved dark chocolate, if desired.  Enjoy.


Adapted from John McCann’s “Irish Porridge” Recipe.

Posted in Breakfast, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments