Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables & Cooking with Jess

How is that for a long title?

This past weekend, Jess and Greg came over for dinner and what seems like forever since Jess and I last got together for a “Cooking with Jess” segment. What can I say, we are busy folks. But, then again, who isn’t this time of year?

As always, Jess and I had a lovely time together and the food was equally wonderful. It’s not always easy to get together and sometimes it feels like there just isn’t enough time in the day, but I’m always glad when we make it happen.

The menu consisted of mostly fall-inspired foods (with the exception of Jess’s tasty strawberry daiquiri shortcakes for dessert). In addition to the scrumptious dessert, we had classic pot roast, pumpkin soup, and wheat berry salad with roasted root vegetables. I had been eyeying the wheat berry salad recipe as a possible Thanksgiving side dish for a few weeks; and, after gentle coaxing from my Aunt Khaki, decided to include it on our holiday menu.

I could think of no better occasion to give the recipe a test run than cooking with my like-minded culinary friend, Jess.

Wheat berries, also known as Farro (as Khaki so lovingly educated me), are pine nut-sized Italian whole grains that are- in my opinion-a delicious hybrid between rice and pasta. It was somewhat tricky for me to find Farro as my usual grocery store didn’t carry it. I ended up getting it at Giant Eagle in the international section after nearly giving up hope. It tastes great cold or warm and it is even better in this salad with roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, pine nuts, and goat cheese. Although it’s not exactly traditional, I am looking forward to adding this to the table next Thursday.

Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables

Yield 6-8 servings


  • 1 1/2 cups wheat berries (farro)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup  dried cranberries or cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2-3 ounces goat cheese, chopped


1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly grease with spray oil. Set aside.

2. Place 2 quarts water in a medium pot. Add in about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Add in the bay leaves and wheat berries. Cook until chewy and tender, about 40 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, place the chopped vegetables on the foil-lined baking sheet. Toss lightly with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

4. When the wheat berries are done cooking, drain well and place in a large bowl. Add in the olive oil,cranberries, pine nuts, goat cheese, and roasted vegetables. Stir gently to combine (the goat cheese will melt into delicious creaminess). Serve hot or cold.

Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

Homemade Ranch Dressing

What is it with Americans and ranch dressing? People eat it with everything- salad, raw vegetables, baked potatoes, pizza, chips.  I’m starting to think all of these foods are just vehicles for the creamy sauce that us Americans apparently can’t eat enough. I’m not usually a fan of ranch dressing. I prefer blue cheese and vinaigrettes, but I saw this recipe on Pinterest and thought I should give the homemade version a try. The result? No contest. The homemade version is ten times better than what you buy in the store. It’s so much more flavorful with the fresh herbs and garlic. And it barely takes 10 minutes to throw together. I even lightened it up by swapping some of the mayo and sour cream for plain Greek yogurt.

If you love ranch dressing, you must give this version a try.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Yield: 16 2-Tbsp dressing


  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 small bunch of chives
  • 1 small handful of parsley leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper (white pepper, preferred)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup buttermilk

1. Place all of the ingredients into a blender with only 1/4 cup of buttermilk.

2. Blend for 10 seconds. Gradually add in more buttermilk until you achieve the desired consistency.

3. Store in an airtight container for 1 week.

Source: Slightly adapted from Pennies on a Platter


Summer is winding down. I saw the school bus making its rounds around our neighborhood this week and the days are getting shorter. I am personally excited for fall, but the summers in Ohio are so short that I know it can be a hard transition for some. For those of you still clinging to the dwindling dog days, this dish is summer in a salad. Panzanella is traditionally an Italian dish that was a way people would use up their stale bread. For me, it was a way to use up some of the tomatoes, peppers, and basil from our garden. I’ve been making this salad for a few years and I absolutely love it. You can’t beat the combination of fresh produce, a made from scratch vinagrette, and crispy homemade croutons.

I used leftover artisan bread I had made to make the croutons and it worked great. If you are pressed for time, I am sure you could use the store-bought version, but I don’t think it will be quite as tasty. There’s only a few weeks of summer left and I am confident this panzanella will help you get the closure you need until next year. 😉


Printable Version

Serves 12


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small loaf of bread (stale bread is best), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped

For the vinagrette

  • 2 cloves finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons rice, white, or wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


To make the croutons, heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the salt  and then  the bread chunks. Cook over medium heat, tossing frequently, for about 15 minutes minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, mix the chopped tomatoes, peppers red onion, and basil. Add the vinagrette and mix well (allowing the salad to sit for a few minutes will allow the flavors to meld better). Before serving, toss in the croutons and serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties!

Food Memory Friday: Wilted Lettuce

This recipe isn’t particularly exciting to most- it’s a salad with a homemade hot bacon vinaigrette. But for me, and I’m sure for my mom and dad, my siblings, and many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, it means so much more.  We called it Wilted Lettuce; and it was a salad that my maternal grandmother, Grammy, used to make all of the time when we vacationed at the cabin in Barrow Bay, Canada. Grammy’s father (my great grandfather) would go fishing in a tiny town in Ontario, Canada called Barrow Bay. He loved it so much he purchased land and  built a cabin up there. While my grandmother was growing up, she and her two sisters would vacation in Barrow Bay during the summer with their family. After Grammy married my grandfather, Dadsey, they eventually bought the land and cabin and it became their go-to summer trip for their family of 7, which, of course, included my mother- the middle child. As Grammy and Dadsey’s children grew older and got married, everyone still visited the cozy cabin as frequently as possible. Grammy and Dadsey spent a lot of the warm-weather months up there after they retired and they were always happy to welcome their children and grandchildren for a visit.

My parents were (and still are) avid fishermen and they would often be gone fishing long before anyone else had awoken. During the day, my siblings and cousins and I would play in the stream, fish off the dock, swim in the bay, and go as we please. Grammy and Dadsey worked around the cabin and in their garden, where they grew their own lettuce. As the evening crept in, Grammy usually made dinner for everyone and, almost always, she prepared Wilted Lettuce with the delicious greens from their garden. It was one of Dadsey’s favorite salads and rightfully so- it’s made with bacon! I have a vivid memory of the salad being passed around the table and, as Dadsey was passing it, he transported a massive heap of salad straight from the bowl and into his mouth.  If I remember correctly, he used to eat the Wilted Lettuce out of his favorite old, metal popcorn bowl.

Wilted Lettuce will forever be one of my most profound food memories. It’s one of those dishes that, whenever I taste it, I am instantly bombarded with intense feelings of nostalgia. If I close my eyes, I swear I am five years old again, swinging on the hammock with my cousins or playing in our playhouse- the Jenny Wren. Life wasn’t just good back then, it was grand. It was a time when my biggest concern for each day was figuring out how we could convince our grandparents to take us out for ice cream that evening (we typically succeeded). Grammy and Dadsey are no longer living, but the memories I have of them will never die. I am so blessed to have had such wonderful grandparents. What are your favorite food memories?

My sister and me cuddled up with Grammy and Dadsey out on the screened-in porch of the cabin

A picnic by the Little Lake with Grammy and Dadsey- my brother was less than a year old

My sister and me hamming it up in the kitchen of the cabin

Wilted Lettuce

Serves: 4


  • 3 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 pieces of bacon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of lettuce (Romaine, green leaf, or red leaf)


Cut up the lettuce and rinse it well.

Cook the bacon in a cast iron skillet or other pan until crispy. Place the bacon on a plate with a paper towel and dab off excess grease. In a microwave-safe bowl, measure out the oil and vinegar. Add in the sugar, salt, and pepper. Whisk together and heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Crumble the cooked bacon and. Add the onion, vinagrette and crumbled bacon to the lettuce. Toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Recipe from: An O”Neill family original