My New Best Friend Barley

I tried it. I liked it. And I made it again, and again. That’s the way it went with this Sausage and Barley Jambalaya recipe. It wasn’t the first time I’d had barley, as my blogging pal Eva at KitchenInspirations has been making barley risotto for a long time because of its health benefits.

Barley deserves all the credit for giving this dish a lovely nutty and creamy texture that is quite unique. It also makes the dish hearty, filling and good for you!

A cereal grain, barley is heralded for its ability to help reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, among other benefits. Go figure! It is also what I would call a “low profile” grain—it goes along its way quietly, while quinoa continues to make a splash in culinary circles, even landing a couple of book deals. I find it all a bit surprising, given that barley is a key ingredient in one of the world’s most popular drinks.

I decided that since I liked the Barley Jambalaya so much, that I needed to try it in something else, something other than a soup or a stew. So, I came up with a new barley salad that I think you may like…

It’s a Mediterranean Salad that combines all of my favourite summer flavours—olives, basil, feta, grape tomatoes, lemon and roasted red pepper. 

There you have it. There are lots of reasons to give barley at try—it’s inexpensive, versatile and a healthy alternative to orzo or rice.

If you decide that barley isn’t for you, then you might like Betsy’s Couscous Salad, over at Bits and Breadcrumbs, which also features kalamata olives, basil and feta with a lovely lemon dressing.

Sausage and Barley Jambalaya

Slightly adapted from Judith Finlayson’s, Delicious & Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes

  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well
  • 1 can  (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 8 oz medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined
  • 1 roasted red pepper, chopped (I use jarred)


  1. Cook sausage over medium-high heat, breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Drain excess fat from pan. At medium heat, sauté onions until softened. Add garlic, thyme, paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and cook for one minute. Add barley and stir well. Add tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boi.
  3. Pour mixture over sausage and stir. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Add shrimp and roasted pepper. Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes, until shrimp is heated through.

 Mediterranean Barley Salad

  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well under running water
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 6 to 7 fresh basil leaves finely chopped
  • ¾ cup feta, diced (I used low fat feta)
  • 2.5 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped (I use jarred)
  • ¼ cup kalamata olives (pits removed and ripped in half)
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 scallions, sliced finely


  1. Add rinsed barley, along with 3 cups of water to medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain excess water and allow barley to cool to room temperature in a large bowl.
  2. Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil in small bowl. Add mixture to barley and stir well. Add feta, pine nuts, red pepper, olives, tomatoes and scallions. Mix well. Serve at room temperature.

Tex-Mex Taco Bake

If it is Tuesday, chances are pretty good that I’m going to be making tacos. They’re easy, they’re fast and they’re a vessel for lots and lots of cheese. What’s not to love?

Even when you love something a lot, you can get a little tired of it. Sometimes you just need a change.

That’s how I was feeling when I set out to shake up Taco Tuesdays. I wanted something a little different that would still be a hit with the girls. I found a lot of taco casseroles online, but they all used taco seasoning packages. I came up with this Tex-Mex Taco Bake that uses spices you’re likely to have on hand. It takes a little longer to prepare than standard tacos, but it’s a nice change of pace. The tacos lose most of their crunch in the process, but you still get a little bit of crunch along the edges.

But you don’t have to wait until a Tuesday to make this—it is a great meal any day of the week.

As you can see by this photo, breaking up the shells is a great job to delegate—especially to princesses!

Tex-Mex Taco Bake

  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro (optional)
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp ground pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 lb extra lean ground beef
  • 1 cup Mexican small red beans (or black beans)
  • 1.5 cups mild salsa
  • 2 tbsp roasted red peppers, diced (jarred)
  • 12 taco shells, broken (156 g box)
  • ½ cup light sour cream
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese


  1. Spray a 9” square pan with cooking spray and preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line bottom of pan with half of the broken taco shells.
  3. Saute onions in a large skillet three minutes until soft; add ground beef and sauté for 10-12 minutes until browned.
  4. Combine spices in small bowl (chili powder, paprika, salt, cilantro, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, cumin and cayenne) and add to beef. Saute one more minute. Stir in Mexican small red beans, roasted red peppers and salsa until combined well.
  5. Layer half of the meat mixture on top of the broken taco shells.
  6. Spread the sour cream over the meat.
  7. Sprinkle one cup of cheese over the sour cream.
  8. Layer the remaining half of taco shells.
  9. Add remaining half of meat mixture over shells.
  10. Sprinkle last cup of cheese on top of casserole.
  11. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until dish is brown and bubbling hot.
  12. Serve with your favourite taco toppings such as sour cream, green onions, jalapenos and salsa.


  • To lighten this dish, you can use ground turkey in place of ground beef.
  • Given that fresh cilantro has such a distinctive flavour, you may want to avoid substituting fresh cilantro for the dried cilantro if preparing this for kids. The dried cilantro is widely available in supermarkets.
  • I have used mild salsa because this is for kids. Feel free to spice up the recipe to suit your tastes!

Beef Short Ribs with Orange Gremolata & Polenta

Beef short ribs have been on the menu of many of the meals that I would rank as highly memorable over the years. There was the dinner at Scalini Fedeli in Tribeca, New York City; an anniversary dinner at the Charles Inn Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake; and a recent dinner in the Quinn Family Kitchen after a fun afternoon of skating (thank you Laura and Kevin). Whatever the occasion—fine dining or a casual family get-together—there’s just something about beef short ribs.

I had high expectations of this short rib recipe and I can tell you that it didn’t disappoint. I made it a while back when my good friend Pam from Ottawa came to spend a night with us—so for that reason alone it was a memorable evening. But the combination of the orange gremolata, short ribs and polenta made me unable to control myself—I must have eaten three bowls of this dish. It is comforting, hearty and very flavourful.

If you’ve never tried polenta, why not shake things up a bit? I saw chef Michael Smith make polenta with a can of cream-style corn many years ago and I’ve made it this way ever since.

Beef Short Ribs with Orange Gremolata

Adapted slightly from Judith Finlayson, Slow Cooker Recipes

  • 4 lbs beef short ribs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup dry red wine


  1. Preheat oven on broil setting. Broil ribs on both sides until brown, about 10 minutes per side. Place in slow cooker.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat and add onions, carrots and celery and cook until soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper and thyme and cook for one minute. Sprinkle flour over mixture and cook, stirring for one minute. Add tomato paste, beef broth and wine and bring to a boil.
  3. Pour mixture over ribs and cook on high in slow cooker for 5 to 6 hours (or low for 10 hours) until ribs are tender and falling off the bone.

Orange Gremolata

  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Grated orange zest from one orange (using a microplane)

Combine ingredients in a small bowl just before serving and pass at the table. (We passed the gremolata at the table, so you won’t see it in my photo!)


  • 1 14-oz can cream-style corn
  • ½ can milk (use the empty corn can for measuring)
  • 1-1/2 can of water
  • ½ can of cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Add cream-style corn to medium sauce pan (with metal handle, so that it is oven safe) on medium heat.
  3. Add water, milk and butter and stir for a couple of minutes until butter is melted and well incorporated. Bring to a boil.
  4. Pour in cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on the stove top and then cover with lid and cook in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes.


  • If you want to make this on your stove top, follow step one. Then for step two, use a dutch oven and follow all steps noted. However, you’ll need to add extra liquid — increase the beef broth to 1-1/2 cups and increase the red wine to about 3 cups. Add short ribs to the dutch oven and cook covered on low heat for 1.5 to 2 hours until meet is fall off the bone.