Thinking . . . Spring? Honey-Mustard Chicken, Barley Pilaf and Fruity Baby Spinach Salad With Oranges

crocus in snow

We are in that strange nether-place called March here in the Boston area.  It's still quite chilly, but not thatcold.  It snows, but it doesn't really stick.  And yet if you head into a store, it's all about SPRING!  Bright colors, light fabrics, flowers, strappy shoes . . . really, it just serves to irritate me.  I want nothing more to be there, but, sigh.  I have to wait.  Just like every other year.

When it comes to food, I also feel in-between this time of year.  I'm all set with heavy comfort food.  I've got my sights set on fresh, light, leafy veggies and grilled meats.  Huge salads and big cold drinks.  Hell, I'd even settle for asparagus.  But even that's a little premature.  So right now I'm doing in-between food.  Lightened up, but not all the way. 

This chicken, pilaf and salad combo will help tide you over 'til the really good stuff comes.  Like NO snow whatsoever.  Like birds chirping in the morning and dewy grass and patio parties.  Hang on with me, we'll get there!

Honey Mustard Chicken

4 small (around 4 oz. each) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 c. grainy mustard
4 T. honey
4 T. bottled minced garlic
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the chicken breasts on a large plate and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl, and spread on both sides of the chicken (some will come off on the plate, that's OK).  Let sit for 15 minute to marinate.  Transfer the breasts to a large oven-safe baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Smear any leftover honey-mustard sauce over the top of the breasts.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until the breasts are no longer pink.

Serves 4.

Barley Pilaf (adapted from the Food Network)

2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 c. pearled barley
1 t. extra-virgin olive oil
1 t. Kosher salt
1 c. chopped dried apricots
1/2 c. sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 scallion (white and green parts), finely chopped
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t. honey
1/4 t. Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 more T. extra-virgin olive oil

Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the barley, 1 t. oil, and salt. Bring back to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a small bowl, then gradually whisk in the oil.

Drain any excess liquid from the barley and transfer to a large bowl.  Toss with the remaining salad ingredients and the dressing.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Fruity Spinach Salad

5-6 oz. tub or bag of baby spinach
2 small or 1 large can Mandarin oranges in juice
4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. fig vinegar*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Divide the spinach amongst 4 salad plates or bowls.  Divide the oranges among the plates. In a small bowl, whisk the oil and vinegar and add salt and pepper to taste.  Dress the salads immediately before serving.

Serves 4.

*Fig vinegar is my new love.  I found mine at Whole Foods, and it is fruity, tangy, and delicious on salads.  Tomorrow I'll share with you the salad I've been eating over and over again since I found this stuff!