Chicken with Butternut Squash and Pearl Barley Salad

I make no secret of the fact that I suffer from a huge amount of anxiety. It has been this way for the last three years since losing our daughter Elena. I am so in fear of getting things wrong that the anxiety just prevents me from moving forward and the best example of this is my fear of driving. I learnt how to drive in order to be able to drive Elena around and be a ‘yummy mummy’ with the windows rolled down on a hot summers day and driving along listening to music and getting from place A to place B with little to no effort. However it didn’t work out this way and instead, driving makes my knees knock and my hands shake and I just see all the endless possibilities on how to kill myself and my child in a road accident.

This morning, I decided to take a step forward. I headed out early (VERY early) to get petrol and give the car a good run. After getting petrol I decided to be brave and go a little further on a route that I knew but hadn’t yet taken by myself. A few minutes later, I see that the turn I should take is in fact closed due to road works so I say to myself “ok just a little further Vanessa”, another few minutes later, I realise I am on a way one street heading for the motorway. “nooooooooo how the hell did this happen?” My heart starts racing, my knees start to knock and I am almost sweating. I AM ON THE M50, SHIT!!!!!!!! I take the first junction turn off and find myself sitting in the car park of the big shopping park and calling my sister, half crying, half hysterically laughing. How on earth do I get home? I take my sister’s advice and punch in my home address into the gps and off I go. Half way around the first roundabout, my phone says “gps signal lost”, oh wholly crapola, I take what I thought was the right exit which of course was the wrong exit and I end up horribly lost. At this point my heart feels like it is going to jump out of my chest and my head feels dizzy. I have no choice but to keep driving, I have no idea where I am, but I look at the road names, some sound familiar (some no so familiar too) so I turn left and right and eventually what feels like hours later, find myself on the windy roads of Killiney hill, just going to say that these roads are just simply awful for a novice driver! Somehow I manage to get home. I sit on the floor of the kitchen and laugh and laugh and laugh like a crazy person. But you know what? I did it. I managed it somehow and I’m still alive to tell the tale.

I am not going near that car for a looong loooong time (well until next weeks big shop anyhow).

So as people say, the show must go on. I still need to clean and prep for the week ahead, and after this mornings debacle, I have decided to make a simple dish of chicken with roasted butternut squash, leeks, feta, dill and pearl barley. I know my son won’t eat this, but at least I will have something nice and nutritious for dinner throughout the week.

I will be so glad when I can sit down and relax this afternoon and have a giant glass of vino!



So after a long time of just eating simple, inexpensive and easy pasta dishes and microwave meals for one, I want to eat real food again. My son is going through a phase ( a very long phase) of eating his vegetables with a side helping of pasta and only pasta. As long as he eats fruit and vegetables, I don’t mind the pasta phase. I used to be extremely worried about it but look, I can’t be stressed by everything anymore so I’m just giving in and going with it.

I am trying out some sheet pan dinners to ease myself gently back into the land of the cooking. The majority of this salad bowl is done in one sheet pan, bar the pearl barley of course, but it is relatively simple and tastes fantastic.

  • 380 g butternut squash, diced into 1cm cubes
  • 1 lg leek, sliced (roughly 200 g)
  • 2 equal sized chicken breasts (roughly 300 g)
  • a handful of green beans, trimmed
  • 150 g pearl barley, cooked as per the instructions of the packet
  • 100 g feta cheese, diced into small cubes
  • 3-4 stalks fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt flakes and fresh pepper


Heat the oven to 200 C (fan oven)

Line a baking tray with tin foil.

To cook the barley, I soak it for about an hour first, which reduces the cooking time. I add 150 g of barley to a pan with 600 ml boiling water and cook for 30 minutes. Drain and cool.

Prep the veg : dicing the butternut squash, slicing the leeks, trimming the beans. Oh please admire my new ceramic knife. It has been years since I bought a knife as I am prone to slicing my fingers open with sharp objects but I saw this one and fell in love đŸ™‚

Put the butternut and the leeks in a mixing bowl and add 1 tbsp of sunflower oil and 1 tbsp of balsamic and mix. Pour onto the baking tray.

Place the chicken into the same bowl. Add a large pinch of sea salt flakes and a few grinds of pepper and mix. Place alongside the butternut and leeks on the tray and pop into the oven for 10 minutes.

Turn the chicken, but don’t stir the vegetables (this allows for a yummy caramelisation to happen) and pop back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

Turn the chicken back over and add the green beans to the pan. Cook for a further 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Dice the feta cheese, and chop the dill and put into a mixing bowl. Add the pearl barley, butternut squash and the leeks and drizzle with 1 tbsp of good olive oil and mix.

Slice the chicken. Divide the salad into 4 bowls, top with the sliced chicken and the green beans and eat!



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