Month: May 2015

lunchbox life: pan-roasted chicken and olive tapenade

image2(8)ONE MORE WEEK. That’s it! One more week of school with students, plus two days of post-planning next week. I will miss many students, but I know that we’re all ready for a break. This will be the last lunchbox life until the end of July, so savor this savory recipe between now and then.

This week’s lunchbox life is another example of a great weeknight supper. The chicken, broccoli, and olive tapenade create the perfect trinity of protein, vegetables, and healthy fat that will sustain you at lunch and throughout the afternoon. I love olives–those briny, salty, bite-sized morsels are so tasty, and I think they really elevate a dish. Alex doesn’t love them, so they’re a great pick for my lunches or when I order off of a menu.

By pan-roasting the chicken, I seared each side in butter, then finished them off in the oven. This gives the chicken a punch of flavor and texture, livening up the go-to baked chicken model of 30 minutes and 350 F. The process for cooking the broccoli is also important: do not, I repeat, DO NOT steam or boil broccoli. Just say no. Broccoli has so much fantastic flavor, and the fibrous stems have a robust flavor that comes through beautifully when you roast, grill, or saute this scrumptious veggie. For this week’s lunches, I heated some clarified butter in a wok at medium-high heat, added the broccoli pieces with salt and pepper, tossed it for a few minutes, then set it aside. Just a few of the pieces had seared edges and crispy ends, and that’s exactly what I like–broccoli with texture and crunch that I have to cut with a knife and fork, not a watery mushy mess.

Olive tapenade is one of my favorites, and it reminds me of Christmas time. My mom prepares it with beef tenderloin once per holiday season, and it’s a family favorite. It’s a great spread on crackers or with veggies, and it also pairs well with meat that is simply prepared. I like to pick out the olives, roasted garlic, and roasted peppers from the olive bar at the grocery store, placing them all in the same container, then get them home and zip them together in the food processor.

Pan-Roasted Chicken and Olive Tapenade

5 chicken breasts

3 broccoli crowns, cut into segments (about 2 inches is length, plus the smaller pieces that fall along)

1 cup pitted olives (I used a medley of nicoise and kalamata)

1/2 cup roasted garlic cloves

1/2 cup roasted red peppers or peppadew peppers

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 Tbsp. butter

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Dry the chicken breasts with paper towels, then liberally salt and pepper each side. In a large, oven-safe pan, Melt 1 Tbsp. butter over medium-high heat, then place two of the chicken breasts in the hot pan, cooking for about 4 minutes on each side. After you’ve cooked them on both sides, remove them from the pan and place them on a plate. Cook two more on each side, then the last one on each side, adding another Tbsp. of butter if you need to. When all five breasts are cooked on each side, add them all back to the pan and place them in the oven to finish cooking for 10 more minutes.

Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a wok or large, deep pan over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli pieces and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, tossing frequently. Cook for about 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and set aside.

Combine the olives, garlic, peppers, and parsley in a food processor. Pulse to combine. You want the pieces to be about the size of rice.

To plate, evenly distribute the broccoli on one side of each container, then place one chicken breast on the other side, then spoon your desired amount of tapenade in a line down the middle.

lunchbox life: grass-fed burger, avocado, and tomato basil salad

image1(17)Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there! Alex and I had a great time visiting with our moms this weekend. I’m lucky to know so many great moms, both who have been maternal toward me and who are maternal toward their own beautiful children. I hope you all had breakfast cooked for you and hugs from loved ones.

Two weeks into testing month, two weeks to go. Last week I shared that I was attempting a 7-day version of the Whole30 plan, and I’m happy to say that I successfully completed the challenge! 7 days of no sugar, legumes, grains, dairy, alcohol, and many chemical additives left me feeling lighter, sleeping better, and with clearer skin. I My last day was this past Friday, so since it was over, I had a few off-book things to eat this weekend, but that was planned. I’m excited to attempt the full version of the plan this summer at GHP, but I still want to incorporate some of the plan in the meantime.

This leads me to this week’s lunches: protein, veggies, and fat. It’s really a non-recipe: I made four burgers out of a 1 lb. block of grass-fed ground beef, combined some grapes tomatoes with fresh basil, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper, and plan to pack a half of an avocado each day along with some oil and vinegar to dress the salad greens. Here’s the key with the avocado: to keep it fresh, only cut each one lengthwise the night before you need it on the morning that you need the first half. Pack the first half without the pit, wrapping it in plastic wrap and placing it in a small plastic container. Wrap the pitted half in plastic wrap and place it in another small plastic container, then put it in the refrigerator. This will slow down the oxidation process and prevent the exterior of the sliced avocado flesh from turning brown.

Only four lunches this week because my sister Harriett is getting married this weekend! We’ll be traveling to Columbus on Friday.

Have a great week, everybody–TEN more school days for me!

bungalow to go: mac ‘n cheese ‘n collards

Mac and Cheese 6This week’s Bungalow To Go at Ocmulgee Traders is TOTALLY not Whole30 (see previous post for details), but lucky for me, I made it last week and enjoyed all the cheese and pasta I could.

While this dish is easily recognizable as one of the most popular comfort foods around, it also featured a local beauty: collard greens from Babe and Sage Farm. Collards are high in nutritional value, giving some much-needed vitamins and minerals to this decadent dish. Don’t worry, though: you’ve still got plenty of gruyere and white cheddar to satisfy your cheesy, ooey gooey needs.

I’m so proud of this dish, and I hope you’ll try it yourself by picking up the recipe card and ingredient box at Ocmulgee Traders this week.

Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Collards
Serves 4, generously

8 oz. collard greens (Babe and Sage Farm)
1 stem of green garlic (Babe and Sage Farm)
8 oz. sharp cheddar
4 oz. gruyere
2.5 cups whole milk
4 Tbsp. butter
3 pieces of bread (rolls or slices)
8 oz. elbow macaroni
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

What You Need at Home:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
box grater
1 medium pot
1 small pan
1 large, deep pan
8×8 baking dish
1 knife

STEP 1: Assemble Ingredients
Read over each step to familiarize yourself with the process of the meal. Heat oven to 375 F. Fill the medium pot with water halfway and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and the macaroni, cook for five minutes (to al dente), then drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

STEP 2: Shred the Cheese
Using a box grater, shred the blocks of cheese on the large shred side.

STEP 3: Prep and Cook the Garlic and Greens
Cut the stem and bottom off the garlic, peel it, then mince it. Slice each collard leaf into 1/2 inch ribbons, removing the stems as you slice. Heat olive oil, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper over medium-high heat in a small pan. After about 1 minute, add the collard ribbons in batches, about 1/4 at a time, tossing with tongs. Once the last batch is added, toss for about 1 more minute, then remove from the heat and set aside. Collards should be slightly wilted, but should still retain some structure.

STEP 4: Prep Breadcrumbs
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a small bowl in the microwave (about 40 seconds on high). Using your hands, tear the bread into small pieces, then mix with the butter, adding 1/4 tsp. salt, until all of the butter is absorbed in the bread.

STEP 5: Create the Sauce, Assemble the Dish, and Bake
In the medium pot you used for the macaroni, add the milk and heat over medium heat. Heat 3 Tbsp. butter in the large pan at medium heat. When it begins to bubble, slowly whisk in the flour; this creates the roux for the sauce. When the flour and butter are combined into a paste, slowly whisk in the warmed milk, taking care that the roux gets absorbed into the milk. Keep whisking until the thickened liquid begins to bubble slightly, then add in the nutmeg, cayenne, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Whisk, then add in the macaroni and sauteed greens. Whisk until fully combined, then pour contents into the 8×8 baking dish. Top evenly with the buttered breadcrumbs, then bake for 20 minutes.

STEP 6: Cool and Serve
When the dish has baked for 20 minutes, the edges should bubble and the breadcrumbs should turn golden brown. Take the dish out of the oven and let rest on the counter for about 5 minutes. This dish serves 4-6 comfortably as a main dish, so dip up as much as you like and keep the rest for lunch tomorrow.

lunchbox life: curry coconut cashew chicken

image1(16)First, I have to brag: three weeks left of school, everybody!

So close, yet so far. Week 1 of Testing Month is over, and I’m so proud that my students seem to have thought their test to be super easy, but I still feel for their overworked and overtested brains. Week 2 is coming up, so keep up all in your thoughts as we soldier on in the standardized test world.

As a distraction from testing and as a primer to a challenge later this summer, I decided to tackle a week-long version of the Whole30. Whole30 is an eating plan that eliminates all the fun stuff from your diet: no grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. What are you left to eat? Meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. I’d heard about this program from a few friends, but wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge until I bought the book and started doing some online research. I like that it’s temporary, and while I plan to complete a Whole30 in 30 days when I’m at GHP this summer, I thought I’d do a Whole7 as a trial run. While I’m on Day 2, I have to say that I’m loving it so far and am surprised as how much I like it.

With that explanation, I introduce to you this week’s Whole30-compliant lunchbox life: curry coconut cashew chicken. I’m thrilled about this one, and I know that I’ll feel good about eating it all week long. I used baby bok choy and brussels sprouts from our CSA box, chicken thighs, cashews, unsweetened coconut shreds, coconut oil, and some yummy spices. This recipe is a great way to enjoy Thai flavor without rice or noodles.

Curry Coconut Cashew Chicken

10 boneless skinless chicken thighs

3 cups brussels sprouts

2 bunches of baby box choy

1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 cup roasted and salted cashews

1 cup unsweetened coconut shreds

1 Tbsp. curry powder

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. cardamom

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. white pepper

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

Lay out 2 full paper towel sheets and arrange chicken thighs in a single layer. Take 2 more paper towel sheets and press down on top of the chicken to remove some of the excess moisture. Next, cut the chicken into chunks (about 1/2 to 1 inch) and place in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the spices, then pour the dry spices onto the chicken chunks and stir to combine; set aside. Chop the bok choy into 1/2 inch ribbons, taking care to discard the stalks. Slice the brussels sprouts thinly on all four sides, taking care to discard the stem and core. Set aside. Heat a wok over high heat and melt the coconut oil. Add the seasoned chicken and cook, stirring frequently for about 4 minutes. Next, add the mushrooms, stirring to coat the mushrooms in the seasoned oil. Next, add the sliced bok choy and brussels, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cashews, then the coconut shreds. Stir to full combine, then divide between five containers.