Updated Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015:
And the newest one, made today! Happy Easter to all of you who celebrate!
I’ve posted a couple other versions of this vegetable barley soup in the past few years, and now I’m posting what I consider the perfected version. I love this soup so much. Since the temperatures dropped this fall I’ve been making it weekly. So easy and delicious. If you’re a soup fan, give it a try! I hope you like it as much as I do.
Vegetable Barley Soup
In a large soup pot, drizzle olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Chop one onion, many stalks of celery, lots of carrots, and a few cloves of garlic.
Put that all in the pan over medium-low heat. Stir often.
When these veggies are starting to get tender, season with salt, pepper, dried basil, and garlic powder.
Note: I use lots of black pepper. Also, you can omit the garlic powder if you’re not a huge garlic fan.
Turn the heat to low.
Add 4 cups of chicken broth and 4 cups of water.
Add 1 cup barley, half a bag of frozen chopped spinach, and 6-8 ounces of tomato paste.
Cover and cook over low heat for a long time. I usually let it cook for well over an hour.
When the barley is tender, it’s ready to serve.
This reheats well, and freezes well too.
Note: If you substitute white or brown rice for the barley, this will be a gluten-free soup.
Was this one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had because it was so delicious? Maybe. It was very good. Though one huge factor that made this one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had is that I was eating breakfast alone, in a hotel restaurant. I didn’t have to cook it. Or clean up after it. Or share it with anyone. Or talk to anyone while eating it. I also wasn’t in a hurry. I drank cup after cup of coffee while sitting all by myself at a very nice table for two in a very nicely decorated hotel restaurant. The staff was friendly and just attentive enough. I enjoyed every minute of it.
The balls of butter made me smile. I don’t know why. They’re just butter rolled into balls. But seeing a cute little cup of butter balls — all for me! — pleased me. Maybe it was the jet lag or the fact that our six hour trip turned into twelve hours and we still weren’t at our destination (hence the hotel in Denver that the airline provided for us while waiting for our next flight). While eating breakfast (alone! … did I mention I was alone?) I knew we still had hours left before we would reach our destination. I wasn’t happy about the travel situation, but I made the most of it by enjoying this lovely breakfast.
Where were my traveling companions? Oh, they were back up in the hotel room. They had been up earlier and had already enjoyed their breakfast. While they did that I was on the phone trying to get someone to wave a magic wand to create a flight to our destination (it worked!). Once those new flight plans were in place, and my husband and son had returned to the room, I was free to enjoy breakfast alone.
And that I did. And it was delicious.
It seems as if only days have gone by since I posted about preparing foods for my son as he arrived home from college for the summer. Now I’m preparing food for him to take back to his off-campus apartment. Since this is his senior year, he’s going to be very busy, and sending him with food will ease his schedule a little bit, for a little while.
The other day I made a pasta bake with Italian sausage, and put two servings into a freezer-safe container. Today I’m cooking two other favorites. In the crock pot I have Latin Chicken cooking and in the oven I made Mexican Chicken Casserole. This is a casserole I made for him last year, by adding a few ingredients to our family favorite Mexican Chicken. It turned out very well, and since then he specifically requests this casserole instead of the regular chicken-only entree.
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Okay, this is pretty simple. So simple that the pictures can do most of the talking!
Because I was only making enough for him to take to his apartment, I didn’t use as much chicken or other ingredients. I used a small-ish casserole dish. It measures about 7×10-inches. I started by putting a small amount of olive oil on the bottom of the casserole dish.
Then, a layer of crushed tortilla chips:
About 2/3 of a can of black beans (drained and rinsed): *I could have used the whole can, but decided this looked like enough.*
About 2 cups of frozen corn:
In a large plastic zipper bag, I combined 1/4 cup flour with the following taco seasoning spices:
*If you want this to be gluten-free, omit the flour.*
Since this is being made into a casserole, I cut 2 large chicken breasts into pieces. These pieces were tossed in the flour and spice mixture, then placed in the casserole dish:
On top of the chicken went about 1 cup of salsa:
Then more crushed tortilla chips on top:
I put a few bits of butter on top (about 2 tablespoons total) or I could have drizzled 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I covered with foil then baked at 350F for 30 minutes. After that time was up, I removed the foil then continue to bake for 10 minutes. Then I removed it from the oven and topped with an additional cup of salsa and a few handfuls of Mexican cheese. This was returned to the oven for about 5-10 minutes, until the cheese melted.
I then removed it from the oven and admired the glorious melted cheese!
I waited for this to cool a little while, then divided it into 4 equal sections. Each one was put into a freezer-safe container.
Now he has 4 more dinners ready to go!
And here’s the Latin Chicken. This container is larger, and holds about four servings.
So with these eight meals, and the two servings of pasta bake already in the freezer, he’ll start off the semester with ten meals ready to go. This will reduce the need for him to shop, prep, and cook right away. Once classes start he’ll eat some meals on campus (mostly lunches), and once he adds in pizza and burritos from the local places he frequents, as well as cooking eggs and tacos (his two “go to” meals), he may be set until Family weekend next month, which is when I’ll arrive with more frozen meals. This boy has it good, doesn’t he? ;)
This post is unlike most of my other posts in that there is only one photo. About a month ago while making this I took lots of photos of each step in the process, but the photos were of such bad quality that I could not post them here. I do make this often (almost weekly lately) so I will try to remember to take more pictures next time. (I made it tonight for dinner, but completely forgot to grab my camera. Bad food blogger…. Bad.)
P.S. This recipe is super similar to the garlic lemon baked chicken I posted a few months ago. That one has much more lemon and oregano, and the chicken is baked rather than grilled like this pork. (Have you realized yet that I love the flavors of lemon, garlic, and oregano? Yes … yes I do!)
Lemon Garlic Pork
A few hours before dinner, combine these ingredients in a shallow baking dish or pan:
about 1/4 cup olive oil
the juice of one lemon
lots of minced garlic
a generous amount of black pepper
lots of oregano
Place 2 pork tenderloins in this mixture and roll them around to coat well.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least one hour.
When ready to cook, remove from fridge, then grill the pork.
Slice and serve on a pocketless pita with tomato, lettuce, red onion, and feta. Or, skip the pita and serve over a large salad of romaine, tomato, red onion, cucumbers, and feta (this makes it gluten-free).
My daughter graduated from high school in June. (YAHOO! YIPPEE! WAHOO!) On that Sunday we had a dessert party to celebrate her graduation. She and I love to bake, so instead of typical luncheon foods and/or party snacks, it made sense to serve only desserts. A graduation open house dessert party!
In order to not have too much to do the day of the party, we started a few days prior. Here is the rundown of what we did:
Two days prior to the party my daughter baked the cupcakes, both cinnamon chocolate and vanilla bean. We kept them in the basement fridge until Sunday morning, when she made the corresponding frostings, and she then frosted all the cupcakes about one hour prior to the party.
With some of the cream cheese frosting, my daughter piped it onto the edge of oreos, then rolled them into color sugar. She did this right after frosting the cupcakes. It took longer than expected, and required a steady hand, but they were worth it! Cute and delicious!
Three days prior to the party I made the cookie dough for the chocolate kiss cookies, rolled each teaspoon of dough into blue sugar (her school color), then put the balls into silicone ice cube trays so that they wouldn’t form one large ball by sticking together, then those trays were put into a large plastic zipper baggie. This was stored in the freezer until the morning of the party. On party day it sat out for about an hour, then the cookies were placed on parchment lined cookie sheets into the preheated oven. Cooking time was about 1-2 minutes longer than usual. These were baked about two hours before the start of the party.
The other cookies made ahead of time were the m&m cookies. I used the dough from our favorite chocolate chip cookies, but used a large bag of m&m’s instead of chocolate chips. Each teaspoon of dough was rolled into a ball, then placed into a mini-muffin paper liner, and then stored in the freezer in a covered 9×13 pan. The cookies also had an additional minute or two added to the baking time, but one batch came out a little too brown, so in the future, if baking from frozen dough, I would only add 1 minute to the baking time, not 2 minutes.
The night before the party I melted semi-sweet chocolate and in a separate container I melted milk chocolate. I dipped some pretzel rods into each of these (not both chocolates on the same rod), then placed them on wax paper. Once on the wax paper, I quickly sprinkled a bit of sea salt on them. These were stored in airtight containers until just before the party was to start.
When I had the melted milk chocolate, I pierced marshmallows with decorative toothpicks (either one regular size marshmallow or 3 minis on each stick), dipped them in the melted chocolate, then rolled them in crushed graham crackers to create Smores-on-a-Stick. (These were very cute … but in my opinion almost too sweet!)
Shortly before the party started I washed strawberries, then cut a store-made pound cake into one-inch cubes. These were put onto wooden skewers, placed on a serving tray, then drizzled with chocolate sauce.
For my party guests who are gluten-free we purchased gluten-free pretzels and dipped half of the pretzels into melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, and the other half were dipped into melted milk chocolate. We also dipped marshmallows into the melted chocolate, such as for the Smores-on-a-Stick, but without the graham crackers. Also, strawberries and grapes were put on wooden skewers and served on another tray. And we made hot air popcorn, added butter and salt, and put that into individual paper cups.
In addition to the desserts, we had individual milk boxes (chocolate milk and white milk), juice boxes, water, iced tea, and lemonade. I meant to make a pot of coffee, but completely forgot! I also had some wine, sangria, and beer, for those that wished to drink that kind of beverage.
Can’t forget the decorations! I wanted the kitchen to look festive, colorful, and whimsical, but didn’t want to spend a lot of cash making it so. I purchased two rolls of crepe paper, and two packages of inexpensive paper lanterns.
For the paper products, I have been keeping a keen eye on the clearance section of Target for the past year and as I found bargains I purchased a few packages of plates and colorful napkins. I was also lucky to acquire some plates, paper straws, and bowls from a friend who had extras after purchasing too many for a large school party she planned. The dollar store was my final stop for the plates that said “Congrats 2014 Grad”. Total cost for all the paper products was less than $10.
The party was fun. And sweet! The vanilla bean cupcakes were the first to go, and the m&m cookies and the cups of popcorn were also scooped up quickly.
Prior to the party I had plans to make whoopie pies, and made the cake part two days ahead, but I made the mistake of using a new recipe and they didn’t turn out as expected. They were very tasty, but LARGE. More like cupcakes rather than easy to hold and eat whoopie pies. After the party I sliced each one in half, then put in the filling, and my kids enjoyed them very much. Here is a pic of those.
My college boy is coming home this week, which means my meal plan will include all his favorites. The poor boy has been surviving on take-out and beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in moderation, but it’s time to plan his welcome home with foods he loves, to show him I missed him.
Food is love!
Some of his favorites that I’m adding to the meal plan these next two weeks:
*Edited to add his #1 most favorite, most requested item: