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: 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.

lunchbox life: kale, roasted golden carrot, and chicken bowl with honey peanut sriracha drizzle

honey sriracha chicken

Happy New Year, readers! I hope you had a restful holiday full of friends, family, and relaxation. While some people returned to work this past Friday, many of us will make our triumphant returns tomorrow. Most of us have healthy eating on our minds, and while I hate to succumb to the early January health kick everyone seems to join, I offer a different view instead of eye-rolling or irritation: don’t we all want to correct our overindulgence from the holiday season? Isn’t that pretty normal? I think it’s pretty normal to consume a few extra snacks, desserts, and drinks in the month of December, just like it’s pretty normal to want to get back to healthy eating in January. So have no fear, healthy friends: I’m not judging you. I’m right there with you working to get back in my routine, and while I’m not jumping for joy to go back to work, I’m looking forward to getting back into my routines.

OK, sermon over. This week’s lunch shines with nutrition and is anything but boring. For the featured meal, I’ve relied on our awesome CSA box for inspiration. First, I was attracted to my favorite green, kale. I removed the stems, chopped up the kale leaves into bite size pieces and placed them in a bowl, drizzled it with about 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper, then massaged the kale for about 30 seconds to help break down some of the fibrous leaves.

We also  received some beautiful golden carrots, and when I peeled them, a bright, happy yellow flavor appeared. I quickly diced about five of the carrots, drizzled a touch of olive oil, and sprinkled some big flavors onto the pieces: 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and few grinds of black pepper. After roasting them at 400 F for about 20 minutes on parchment paper, I turned off the heat and left them in the oven to stay warm.

Next, I took two large chicken breasts and cut them lengthwise, about 1/2 inch thick, to create about 10 chicken breast “steaks.” I heat 2 tsp. canola oil in a large, flat-bottomed pan, then sprinkled one side of the chicken steaks with salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder (use as much/little as you like). In batches, I cooked the chicken for about 6 minutes on each side, seasoning side down. While the first side cooked, I sprinkled the other with salt and pepper. When all of the chicken was cooked and cooled, I diced them and set them aside.

Now, for the dressing. Combine the following ingredients in a small jar: 2 Tbsp. PB2 powder, 2 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce, 1 Tbsp. water, 1 tsp. honey, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper. Shake vigorously, then stir with a spoon to ensure that all of the peanut powder is integrated into the dressing. Shake again. You could certainly use 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter if you like, but PB2 is lower in fat and calories and is all natural, so I like to use it when I can.

To assemble: fill five bowls with massaged kale, then evenly divide the carrots and chicken between the bowls. Using a spoon, drizzle the dressing over the kale bowls, then devour. Yum!

lunchbox life: pesto chicken and mushrooms

image1(2)Another Sunday rolls around, and that means it’s time for another edition of lunchbox life. This photo isn’t amazing, but the smells coming out of our oven were! This recipe is full of flavor and protein, and it’s a particularly helpful lunch to keep your workweek nutrition in check amongst all of the holiday parties and overindulgence.

The recipe is so simple that it’s not even a recipe: for five lunches, cut three chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs.) into bite-size pieces. Combine chicken, 2 cups of sliced mushrooms, and 1/3 cup pesto (homemade or store-bought) in a baking dish and bake for about 40 minutes at 350 F.

After the chicken and mushrooms are done, divide the dish into fifths and pack each portion of chicken and mushrooms with about 1 cup of baby spinach.

lunchbox life: slowcooker smoky chicken, sweet potato, and kale soup


…with quinoa, red beans, tomatoes, and lots of spices. Once again, I ate too much over the weekend and was in want of something filling, yet nutritious for this week’s lunches. Let’s be honest, though–that’s always the goal. I don’t use our slowcooker as often as some people, but slowcookers are a great way to multitask if you have several chores around the house and don’t have time to do intricate cooking. This soup couldn’t be easier, plus it’s very adaptable–you could substitute a myriad of ingredients in or out. You don’t even cook the chicken or quinoa beforehand–they cook in the soup liquid! Here’s what it looks like going into the crock pot:

image(77)And here’s what it looks like after six hours of warmth and slowcooker love:

image(78)The protein from the chicken breast, quinoa, and red beans are a great pairing with the good carbs from the quinoa (again), beans (again), and sweet potato. The fiber from the quinoa, beans, and kale will keep you full all afternoon, too. I ate one serving of this, along with an apple, at lunch today, then ran 4 miles after school and wasn’t hungry until dinnertime.  Speaking of dinnertime, this would be a great weeknight dinner with a green salad!

Slowcooker Smoky Chicken, Sweet Potato, and Kale Soup

1 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed

1 bunch kale, torn into bite-size pieces

15 oz. red beans, drained

1 cup quinoa, dry

28 oz. diced tomatoes

2 medium sweet potatoes, small dice

5 cups chicken broth

1 Tbsp. salt

1/2 Tbsp. pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

Combine all ingredients in a slowcooker and cook on high for six hours.

hot off the press: cantaloupe jalepeno chicken roulade with Vidalia onion risotto


Note: this was originally posted on on July 23:

Welcome back to our humble kitchen! This go round we wanted to share a way to utilize a few other seasonal ingredients in ways that are both slightly unconventional and also very easy.

Two of my favorite foods in the world are cantaloupe and Vidalia onions, but sadly they are often relegated to the realm of garnish or sides, not really the powerhouses of a dish. It really is a shame, because few things are better than the flavor these fresh ingredients.

Cantaloupe Jalepeno Chicken Roulade

Roulade Recipe:

4 chicken breasts, butterflied and pounded thin

Salt and pepper to cover

1 ½ brick Greek yogurt cream cheese

½ cantaloupe, cut into small pieces

1 whole Jalapeno, seeded and chopped

8 large sage leaves, chopped

Juice of ½ lemon

First, let’s start with the protein side of this equation- a nice chicken roulade with a light, flavorful cream filling. Roulades sound and look much fancier and complicated than they really are, making this method a great way to add flair and flavor to a dish without too much effort, especially if you use an outdoor grill as I did with this recipe.

To start the roulade, take the chicken breasts and trim any fat. Butterfly each breast by cutting it in half from the side, but not cutting it all the way through—essentially doubling the surface area. Season with salt and pepper and then pound with a meat tenderizer until each one is about ¼ inch thick. Go ahead and light your grill and heat to about 400.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip together the cream cheese, jalapeno, cantaloupe and sage for about three minutes until well combined and has a light consistency.

Cover each chicken breast with the mixture, spreading even with a spatula. Roll tightly on the vertical axis and tie with kitchen twine. Squeeze lemon over each one.

With the grill ready, place the roulades over direct heat about 4 minutes per side. Reduce heat to 325 and cook an additional twenty minutes or until a meat thermometer reaches about 165. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into pinwheels about an inch thick. Serve atop the risotto.

Vidalia Onion Risotto

2 cups Arborio

4 cups chicken broth

1 large Vidalia onion, frenched

Salt to taste

1 stick butter

½ cup white wine

5 cloves garlic

6 leaves basil

Juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup fontina cheese

In a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven, melt ½ stick of butter until almost browned. Add the onions and cook until they are brown and soft in texture, about 25-30 minutes on medium low heat. Remove from the pot into a bowl. Heat the chicken broth over low heat in a separate pot.


In the onion pot, melt the next ½ stick of butter and stir in the Arborio. Toast the rice for about four minutes and then add the white wine. Stir until it is absorbed, and then add 1 cup of the broth. Stir and allow the rice to mostly absorb the broth until adding the next cup. Continue until all broth is used or the rice is tender. As the last dose of broth is being absorbed, add the onions, garlic, basil, cheese and lemon juice and stir until well combined.

Kale Salad

1 bunch kale, finely chopped

1 small cucumber, diced

1/2 cup dates, chopped

½ cup walnuts, chopped

1/8 cup olive oil

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the kale, dates, walnuts and cucumber in a large bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Toss the dry ingredients in the dressing.

All together this is a nice, bright summer dish that really makes a statement on a plate. The combination of ingredients creates a nice balance and it is an excellent way to re-imagine these “sides” into something bold.

recipe remix: chicken chilaquiles verdes


Have you ever tried chilaquiles?  Chilaquiles (chee-lah-KEE-lays) is a Mexican dish that is very similar to nachos, and nachos were requested for Recipe Remix by Autumn Cole, so here we are!

The base for chilaquiles is tortilla chips, just like nachos.  Instead of being doused in queso dip (which we all know is delicious), chilaquiles features chips simmered in a rojo or verde sauce.  If you order chilaquiles from a restaurant, you have no idea of what’s in the sauce.  If you make the sauce yourself, you can control the sauce and make sure you have a delicious, plant-based sauce for your enjoyment.  Chilaquiles allows the chips to simmer for a short time in the sauce rather than being drenched with cheese which cuts down on the negative nutrition and pumps up the positive stuff.  It’s also very easy to make, and you too can create your own chilaquiles for a simple weeknight supper without any of the overindulgence.

Nutrition info: 11 Weight Watchers Points Plus, or about 550 calories.  Compare that to double or triple what you’d get with nachos!  Another tip: since you’re controlling how many chips you prepare, you won’t mindlessly eat past the serving size.  You’re welcome. 🙂

Chicken Chilaquiles Verdes

Serves 2

1/2 lb. chicken breast, cut into chunks

30 thick, yellow corn tortilla chips (don’t get the thin style, they’ll disintegrate)

8 tomatillos, husks removed

2 poblano peppers

1 jalapeno pepper

4 garlic cloves

1 cup fresh cilantro, plus some for garnish

2 limes, juice and zest

1 oz. cotija cheese or queso fresco, crumbled

salt and pepper to taste

Bring two medium pots of water to a boil.  In one, add a dash of salt and the chicken and cook for about 30 minutes.  In the other, add the tomatillos and cook for about 5 minutes.  While the tomatillos are cooking, either roast the poblanos in the oven or char them over a gas range.  Remove the charred skin with a paper towel, then cut off the stems and remove the inner seeds.

For the sauce, add the tomatillos, poblanos, jalapeno, lime juice and zest, garlic, and cilantro to a food processor or a blender and process until smooth.  When the chicken is ready, remove it from the water, shred it with your hands or two forks, and add it to the sauce.  Pour the sauce into a medium pan and stir to combine, then gently add the tortilla chips and stir.  Heat the pan over medium heat and allow the dish to bubble just a bit (about 5 minutes).  Turn off the heat and top with the cotija or queso fresco and any remaining cilantro.  Divvy the pan up between two people and serve with a simple green salad.  Enjoy!


lunchbox life: chicken spring roll wraps with kale + bok choy salad


For this week’s lunches, I’ve yet again invoked the help of our CSA, The Dirt Farmer.  This whole wheat wrap, much like a spring or summer roll, is full of chicken, cabbage, and carrots, and the kale, bok choy, and baby swiss chard salad mix was an easy pairing with some extra carrot slices and a yummy peanut sesame dressing.  The peanut dressing on the salad includes a personal favorite product, PB2.  PB2 is an all natural ground peanut powder and, mixed with water, it’s the same as peanut butter but with 85% less fat and calories.  I’m a big fan of peanut butter, and I love this product!  You can find it at Kroger in the all natural and organic section of the store, and you can also find it here.  Bell Plantation, PB2’s home base, is in Tifton, Georgia, so I like the idea that this nationally-distributed product is created just and hour and a half down the road from me.

Chicken Spring Roll Wraps

1 lb. chicken breast tenderloins

1 tsp. Chinese five spice

1/4 tsp. cayenne red pepper

1/2 tsp. white pepper

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. cracked black pepper

1 Tbsp. canola oil

1 Tbsp. white sesame seeds

2 tsp. honey

1 small head savoy cabbage, chopped into 1/2 inch ribbons

1 Tbsp. canola oil

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. grated ginger

1 large carrot, peeled into ribbons

5 whole wheat tortillas

In a small bowl, mix the Chinese five spice, cayenne, garlic powder, white pepper, salt, and pepper.  In a medium bowl, add the spices, the canola oil, and the chicken breast tenderloins and let it sit on the counter for about ten minutes.  While the chicken is quickly marinating, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add the canola oil and grated ginger.  After about two minutes, add the cabbage, soy sauce, and fish sauce.  Give the cabbage a quick stir-fry, tossing frequently, for about 3-4 minutes; set aside.  Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and add the chicken tenderloins.  Cook for about six minutes on each side, then chop the chicken into bite-size pieces.  Toss chicken pieces with sesame seeds and honey.

To assemble the wraps, lay out the tortillas and layer the cabbage, chicken, and carrot ribbons.  Roll up each tortilla and slice in half on the diagonal.

Kale + Bok Choy Salad

4 cups baby kale, bok choy, swiss chard, or a combination

1/2 carrot, peeled into ribbons

for the dressing:

2 Tbsp. PB2

1 Tbsp. water

juice of half of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp. canola oil

1 tsp. sriracha

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

Whisk or shake the dressing ingredients together and dress the greens and carrots.


WW info: 1 wrap + salad = 7 PP


wild card wednesday: grilled chicken and rice stew

chicken and rice


So, new month, new wild card topic. It is February, its a time when we are ready for a season change for being tired of the leaves being brown and that patch of snow on the ground. By golly, when the sun has gone down and the chill hits, you want nothing more than “comfort food”. The problem with that is that most comfort foods seem to derive their name from being carb and/or fat rich and that comfort you feel is that natural sedative of heavy, complex carbohydrates. So, why not come up with some ways to get those comforts of food that feel like a warm blanket while still being a little conscious of the fact that you have still been eating leftover sweets from the holidays. Thus, the challenge: healthy, nutrient rich comfort foods. (If you think of a snappy way to say it, let us know)

I must admit that this meal has its origins in the fact that the finale of Top Chef New Orleans is tonight and there always seems to be recipes starting with celery, carrots, and onions. At the store, I started there and just kept adding flavors to come up with a nice stew with some big flavors. MMMM

Grilled Chicken for the Stew:

Chicken legs and thighs, one each per bowl.
Zest of two lemons
Juice of 1 lemon,
3 cloves garlic, minced.
Salt and pepper

Mix zest, garlic, salt, pepper and 1/2 the lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread over chicken pieces and marinate about 30 minutes. Grill on a grill pan (or sear, depending on preference) until skin develops a good color, about 4 minutes. Place in 350 oven until it reaches 165 or so, 10 mins give or take). Squeeze other 1/2 lemon juice over chicken.


They call it mirepoix.

They call it mirepoix.

1 medium onion chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp sage, separated
2 tsp thyme, separated
2 tsp red pepper flake
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped discarding stems
4 cups chicken stock
1/8 cup flour

Heat oil and butter in dutch oven. Add the onions, carrot, celery and saute with 1 tsp of each sage, thyme, and red pepper with salt and pepper until softened slightly. Heat stock in separate pan.

Add flour to the vegetables and stir until coated. Heat for about 2 minutes to cool the flavor our of the flour. Stir in half the stock until the consistence of thick gravy. Add the remaining stock. Add in the sweet potato, remaining herbs and spices, and kale. Bring to a boil, stir, and simmer at least 15 minutes.

Serve the chicken and stew over a couple spoonfuls of a quinoa rice blend (2 cups water, 1 cup rice, bowl water, add rice, cook 15 mins until water absorbed) or brown rice.

This stew will have a light flavor will be packed with vitamins and fiber. The chicken will add a nice bright flavor that will mesh well with the flavors of the stew.

My belly was certainly happy. Hope yours will be to!

tasty tuesday: fried chicken thigh sandwich, roasted potatoes and brussels

Chicken Sammich

This post is a little late and out of sequence, but the meal was still tasty! This was a quick supper due to a late night and late meetings, but it was a good way to get something tasty that wasn’t enormously taxing… my meals lately have been more endeavors than breezy tasks. Continuing my penchant for fried foods and a desire to somewhat recreate a wonderful lunch at HUSK Charleston led me to this delicious sammy.

Fried Chicken Thigh Sammich

2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/2 pack of hot country pork sausage
Sourdough Bread
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp sriracha
2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 lime
1 tsp olive oil
Flour and spices for dredging, in two pans
1 egg
Oil for frying

Ok, so you want to start by getting the sausage browning in a skillet. Nothing fancy here.

Once that is started, pound the thighs with a tenderizing mallet until slightly thinner and are about the size of your bread slices. Dredge each in spiced flour (I used salt, pepper, red pepper, paprika), then an egg bath, then flour again. Fry in oil in a hot pan about 4 mins per side, until golden brown and crispy.

While frying, microwave the butter and honey together in a small bowl. Brush onto bread and grill, butter side down, on a stovetop grill pan. About 2-3 mins should be enough for decent browning.

Build the sandwich with sausage on the bottom, then chicken. Add lettuce. Mix the sriracha, lime, vinegar, and oil together with a whisk and spoon over lettuce. Add tomato and any condiment of your choosing and gobble up! Super easy, bold, spicy sammich.

For a side I took red new potatoes and cut them into bite size bits and brussels with the ends chopped and halved and tossed them in olive oil, salt, and hot pepper. Roasted for about 25 minutes at 425. This mix worked really well together!

Hope you enjoy!