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.

meatless monday: broccoli fritters with spinach and fried egg

image2(6)Some of you know that one of my favorite bloggers is Deb Perelman of smitten kitchen. Alex and I got the chance to meet her a little over two years ago at a book signing at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta, and I was taken aback at how down to earth and cool she was. I was almost a little worried to meet her since I’d been reading her blog religiously; some people say to never meet your heroes so you won’t be disappointed. I can certainly say that I wasn’t disappointed and that I was so glad that I got to chat with her for just a few minutes as she signed my cookbook.

Deb recently re-posted a recipe for broccoli parmesan fritters on her Facebook page, and I felt like she must have read my mind (or refrigerator). I almost always order the broccoli from our CSA, and I almost always roast it up as a side dish. Why not make it the main event on Meatless Monday?

Deb’s description of her broccoli-dense fritters with a little dose of flour and parmesan was so appealing to me that I knew I had to make the little discs of goodness. I added a little more garlic and parmesan, but mostly because I always add more garlic to recipes because we like it so much. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly, and I was so happy to do so. I set three fritters on a bed of lightly dressed greens (olive oil & balsamic) for each plate, then topped both plates with a fried egg for protein and deliciousness.

Deb’s recipe is here for your viewing pleasure. Check out her other great stuff, too!

lunchbox life: triple green salad

image1(11)Spring has sprung! I have been so energized by the past several days of sunshine, and today was particularly spectacular. I decided that since the weather is warmer, I should try something cool and no-heat this week. We received our CSA box yesterday, and it was full of green goodness. I couldn’t decide which greens to use, so I started thinking about a flavor profile for a triple green salad: kale, green beans, and broccoli. All three of these veggies are raw in the salad, but since they’re so hearty, I dressed them this evening for the rest of the week. This is pretty necessary for the kale, but it will also slightly soften the broccoli and green beans, plus the acidity from the lemon and lime in the dressing will create a slight breakdown of of the veggies.

This salad is beautiful, and I could definitely see this becoming a go-to for spring and summer potlucks, minus the chicken. I love knowing that there are so many Georgia grown pieces to this salad puzzle, too.

I did a shortcut for the chicken in this recipe by buying a whole cooked rotisserie chicken at the Kroger deli counter, removing the skin, and shredding both the white and dark meat. I sometimes do this when I make chicken salad, too.

I don’t have the luxury of leisurely weekday lunches–mine are about 25 minutes long and eaten a student desk–but if I worked somewhere near a park or green space, I’d love to take this salad outside to soak up some Vitamin D.

Triple Green Salad

1 bunch kale, ribs removed and cut into ribbons

1 tsp. olive oil

three heads broccoli, stalks removed and sliced lengthwise

1 cup raw green beans, ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 rotisserie chicken, cooked

1 sweet potato

1 tsp. olive oil

4 radishes

4 oz. crumbled feta cheese

salt and pepper

for the dressing:

2 Tbsp. olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lime

1 Tbsp. tahini

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the sweet potato, then dice it. Toss the small pieces in 1 tsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for 20 minutes.

While the sweet potato pieces are roasting, prep the veggies according to the ingredient directions. Place the kale ribbons in a large mixing bowl with 1 tsp. olive oil and a pinch of salt. For about 30 seconds, massage the oil and salt into the kale, watching it shrink down. Next, add the sliced broccoli and chopped green beans and add to the mixing bowl. Prepare the chicken by removing the skin and shredding the white and dark meat with your hands, adding the chicken to your mixing bowl. When the sweet potato pieces have cooked, remove from the oven and remove the parchment paper and potatoes from the cookie sheet; this will allow for faster cooling. Thinly slice the radishes, discarding the ends, and add these slices to the mixing bowl. When the sweet potato pieces have cooled, add them to the mixing bowl as well as the feta cheese. Toss all ingredients. Next, add the dressing ingredients to a small jar, fasten the lid, then shake vigorously for about 10 seconds. Add dressing to the salad, toss to combine, then divide into five containers.

tasty tuesday: spicy shrimp soba noodle bowls


Tonight’s dish was inspired by one of my favorite hidden hideaways in Macon: Pho Saigon. I’m partial to the shrimp noodle soup, which is a pho-like soup that I slurp up with plenty of basil and sriracha, but Alex usually gets a noodle or rice bowl. Both dishes are surprisingly healthy and are packed full of flavor. I knew that we still had some Georgia shrimp in the freezer from our trip this summer to the coast, so I wanted to feature one of our state’s jewels in a way other than a fried variety or in shrimp and grits. This recipe is a great summer-to-fall transition go-to; it’s simultaneously fresh and indulgent-tasting without being too heavy. I used Japanese soba noodles in this bowl which are made from buckwheat and are full of fiber rather than the typical rice noodle in Vietnamese cuisine, but you could use any type of noodle you like.

One of my favorite things about this dish was the contrast between the warm shrimp, broccoli, mushrooms, and noodles with the cool and crisp bean sprouts, carrots, lettuce, and peanuts. You could use any sauce you like, but I threw together some of the Asian sauces we had in the refrigerator and made my own variation. Tip: include a dash of fish sauce in your concoction. It smells less than ideal on its own, but it will make any sauce you like taste authentic!

Spicy Shrimp Soba Noodle Bowls

Serves 2

1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp. canola oil

2 Tbsp. sesame oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

4 oz. soba noodles

1 broccoli crown, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 cup mung bean sprouts

1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup peanuts

4 leaves of greenleaf lettuce

for the sauce:

1 Tbsp. fish sauce

1 Tbsp. sriracha

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 Tbsp. teriyaki sauce

1 Tbsp. PB2

1/4 cup peanuts, chopped

Cook the pasta according the package directions, rinse with cold water, then toss with 1 Tbsp. sesame oil; divide evenly between two large, wide bowls.

Heat 1 Tbsp. canola oil and 1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add two minced garlic cloves, then add the broccoli and mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes, remove from pan and set aside. Add another 1 Tbsp. canola oil and 1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil to the pan, then add the other two minced garlic cloves and the red pepper flakes to the oil. Next, add the shrimp and cook for about 1 minute on each side.

Arrange each of these items on around the bowl on top of the noodles: lettuce leaves, carrots, peanuts, bean sprouts, scallions, shrimp, broccoli, and mushrooms.

In a small jar, shake the sauce ingredients together, then pour the sauce into the middle of your bowl. Present the bowl this way to your diners, then dig in!

lunchbox life: roasted broccoli salad


Happy last 2013-14 lunchbox life!  This section of the blog will be on hiatus until July (yes, we start school in late July), but this week’s lunch is so exciting that you could make it anytime, with or without a lunchbox.

Many of us have had broccoli salad before.  It’s usually mayonnaise-based with raw broccoli, golden raisins, chopped apples, and maybe some almonds.  It’s a great summer side dish for barbecue gatherings and cookouts.  A few weeks ago, I was at Fette Sau in Philadelphia, a much-cooler-than-me BBQ place in a hipster area of town, and I ordered broccoli salad as one of my sides, mostly out of curiosity.  I was so surprised with what they handed me as I went down the cafeteria-style line: this bowl of large pieces of cooled, roasted broccoli with a vinaigrette sauce.  What a great way to switch up the old stand by!  If you’ve ever roasted broccoli, you know that it completely changes the texture and taste of the cruciferous vegetable–the crunch remains, but it muted, and the taste is mellowed, yet deep.  Ever since my inspiration at Fette Sau, I’ve wanted to try my hand at an inspired dish.  Since I’m using the idea as a main dish, I’ve added a few ingredients to kick it up a notch: equal parts broccoli and cauliflower for color contrast, crispy bacon, soft goat cheese, tart dried cherries, crunchy cashews, and bright lemon zest.  I dressed the salad with my usual honey dijon vinaigrette and placed it on a bed of greens for volume.

Roasted Broccoli Salad

1 crown of broccoli

1 crown of cauliflower

1 Tbsp. olive oil

salt and pepper

5 slices of bacon

4 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup cashews, chopped

zest of two lemons

5 cups of salad greens

For the dressing:

1.5 Tbsp. olive oil

juice of two lemons

1 Tbsp. dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 400 F.  Give the broccoli and cauliflower a rough chop–you want the pieces to be between about 2 to 3 inches in length.  Place the broccoli and cauliflower in a mixing bowl and add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and salt and pepper to taste (1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper is what I used), then mix to coat.  Spread the broccoli and cauliflower and an even layer on a cookie sheet, then roast for 15 minutes.  At the 15 minute mark, take the vegetables out and flip them over, then roast for another 15 minutes.  When the 30 minutes are up, place the roasted vegetables in a mixing bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature.  While the veggies are roasting, fry the pieces of bacon in a large frying pan to a crisp, then remove the bacon and place on a paper towel and let cool to room temperature.  When these items are cool enough, crumble the bacon over the broccoli and cauliflower, then add the goat cheese, dried cherries, and cashews.  Toss to combine.   In a small jar, combine the dressing ingredients, place the cap on tightly, shake to combine, then pour over the salad and toss to combine.  Serve the broccoli salad as a stand alone dish or on a bed of greens.

WW info: 9 PP per serving (5 servings in this recipe)



wildcard wednesday: new orleans style barbecue shrimp


What is it really?

What is it really?

Welcome to the month of April where it is oddly appropriate to deceive friends, so I thought I would kick off our series of Wild Card Wednesdays on food from the Mississippi Delta with a deceptive dish. How many of you, like me, fondly remember Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue from Forrest Gump listing all the ways to prepare shrimp. The intriguing list went on and on, but on the first thing he says is “you can barbecue it” and well you guys, this is it.

It is deceptive because it is not grilled, not cooked over a flame or even on a flat top. The shrimp is slowly sauteed in a bath of butter, worchestershire and spices. It is almost as though it is mimicking the flavors of barbecue without coming close to a smoker. It is a favorite of New Orleans shrimp joints and fine dining establishments alike, all with different spins, different flavors or techniques, but the basics are always butter, garlic, and worchestershire. More specifically:

Without Lea and Perrins, you are doing it wrong

Without Lea and Perrins, you are doing it wrong

This is actually a very simple dish in execution. It doesn’t take long, has relatively few steps, and it is best served with a big hunk of bread and a bib. With a dish like this, you’ll get messy, get full, and get happy (just like a trip to the place of my birth- New Orleans).

I chose to serve this with grilled broccoli and Fresh Market’s wonderful rosemary and sea salt bread. It was a wonderful compliment to the layers of spices and seafood flavors.

There are few better things than sopping with this bread.

There are few better things than sopping with this bread.


New Orleans Style Barbecue Shrimp

1 1/2 pounds wild caught, shell on shrimp
2 sticks of butter
2 lemons, juiced and peeled
1/2 cup Lea and Perrins Original
1 tbsp kosher salt
1tbsp paprika (the spice of bbq)
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp white pepper
5 whole bay leaves
1/2 tsp minced onion
4 cloves fresh garlic
1Tbsp heavy cream
Green onion to garnish

In a heavy pot, melt the butter over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and add the lemon juice and peel, worchestershire, and all the spices. Bring to a simmer and let it rest for five minutes.

Add the shrimp and bring the heat to medium. Stir until the shrimp start to turn pink. Add the cream. Cover the dish and remove the pan from heat and let it sit for 15 minutes to allow all the flavors to marry.

Transfer to a bowl and top with the green onion.

Dig in with your hands and get to sopping!

Grilled Broccoli
In Emile Henry from Robinson Home

In Emile Henry from Robinson Home



tasty tuesday: jerk pork cutlets, fresh corn polenta, roasted broccoli and carrots

Spanning the world on a single plate.

Spanning the world on a single plate.

And we are right back at you with a Tasty Tuesday that takes you all around the world with a little Jamaican, Mexican, and Indian/Mid East flavors. You gotta love it, right? The meal was a bit involved, taking over an hour to prep and cook, but it was certainly worth it. The fact that the meal involves working with multiple ears of fresh corn is where the time component comes in, as it had to be husked, cleaned, and hand grated to make the corn base for the polenta. But, fresh corn that is cooked in butter and its own “milk”? Very few things are better.

Let’s get down to business.

Jerk Pork Cutlets

Let’s start in Jamaica with a homemade jerk seasoning paste. There are any number of ways to skin this cat, as it were, but the necessary elements are Jamaican allspice and hot peppers. You can make it a rub or a paste, but I think the paste provides a more even flavor and better overall experience.

1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
2 Habanero Peppers, seeded
1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeded
1 1/2 Tbls Jamaican Allspice, ground
1 Tsp cinnamon
1 Tsp cayenne pepper, ground
Dashes of cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme

Place all ingredients in blender and add canola oil to emulsify. Blend until well mixed and spices are fully integrated. Pour over boneless pork chops to marinate, about 30 minutes.

After marination, heat a frying pan and melt 3 tbls butter. Scrape the paste from the chops and add the jerk paste to the pan. Cut the porkchops into cutlets, on a diagonal, and add to the pan. Cook about 4 minutes per side and reduce heat.

Polenta (Slightly altered Martha Stewart recipe, yeah).

12 ears corn, husked, cleaned
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp Olive oil
1 tomato, chopped
5-6 basil leaves
1 1/2 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Start by pulsing the onion and garlic together in a food processor until fine. Heat the oil and  butter until melted and add the onions and garlic. At this point, begin grating the corn with the fine side of a box grater into a large bowl. After the onions and garlic are sweating, add the tomato. Finish grating the corn, making sure to get all the kernals and milk. Add to the pot with the basil and milk. Stir occasionally while for about 30 minutes on medium low. Simmer until ready to serve.

Roasted Broccoli and Carrots with Curry

This one is simple.

Olive oil to cover
Curry Powder to lightly coat

Coat the veggies with the oil and spices, cook at 450 for about 25-30 minutes until browned and soft.

Put it all together and you have a wonderful, bright meal that hits a lot of flavor points. A great end of Summer/Early fall meal.


sunday special: big green egg steak, bourbon sautéed mushrooms, roasted broccoli, and fried onion rings-JAM

...Happy Mother's Day

…Happy Mother’s Day

Good Sunday night, everyone! After traveling the roads of west Georgia for the last several days and eating out several times, I was ready to dive in to a good home-cooked meal and I wanted steak. Because we had a late lunch for Mother’s day, we had some time for leisure, so I was able to get a good rub and have time for it to set and get the grill up to 600 before firing it up. Also, Eleta said she wanted onion rings and who am I to deprive.

Ain't to proud to beg, sweet onion.

Ain’t too proud to beg, sweet onion.

The recipe I learned for Onion Rings comes from the great Emeril. Soak the thin rings in buttermilk and hot sauce (I used Sriracha, of course) for a least an hour. Dredge the rings in flour spiced with pepper, salt, paprika, and garlic powder and drop straight into a hot vat of canola oil (Medium high, until a water droplet instantly pops). Fry for about 6 minutes, or until they look like this:

What can I say, it's a talent. You can do it, too.

What can I say, it’s a talent. You can do it, too.

Serve with Sriracha ketchup, which is just Sriracha and ketchup, spiced to your contentment.

I also wanted to make some nice ‘Shrooms, because they are often the best compliment to a grilled steak. With some butter and garlic and pepper already in the pan, I dumped the mushrooms in let them sweat a little before adding a healthy dose of Worcestershire sauce, and once glazed, I tossed in some Maker’s Mark:

Drink up, Little Shroomies, Drink up!

Drink up, Little Shroomies, Drink up!

After this, I covered and simmered for about 10 mins, until most of the sauce was absorbed and then spiced once more with a little garlic and olive oil. A few more tosses in the pan and to the plate with them.

As a green compliment, a little roasted broccoli goes a long way. This time I just used a little toss of olive oil, salt and pepper. Perfect at 450 for about 20 mins.

Also, drink some craft beer when you sunday cook. Your mother would be proud.


Preheat grill at 550 for at least 20 mins

Season steak, covering each side with garlic powder (or fresh, if available), paprika, and kosher salt.

Onion Rings

Slice two Vidalia onions into thin ring

Cover with buttermilk and season with about 1 tbls Sriracha or hot sauce

Dredge in flour and to taste: salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder

About 4 cups canola oil, enough for about 3 inches in a deep sauce pan


8oz white button mushrooms

2 tbls butter

Garlic, pepper, salt, too taste

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup Makers Mark

1 tsp olive oil


2 broccoli crowns

1 tsp olive oil

kosher salt and pepper.

Add a good knife, a good friend, a good beer, and good appetite and a good time will be had.