lunchbox life

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: “here’s the the ladies who lunch” sampler


I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m a huge Broadway fan.  I wish I could say that I was the type of theatre fan who always knew about the next big thing, the off-, off-, off-Broadway underrated gem, or the best low-budget, high-quality show that everyone on the inside knows about, but alas, I’m a part of the majority.  Give me the blockbusters: Les Miserables, Into the Woods, Wicked, Cabaret, Chicago, and all the others, and I’ll turn up my car speakers to maximum volume (mostly so I cannot hear my own horrid voice) and turn into Eponine, the Baker’s Wife, Elphaba, Sally Bowles, or Velma Kelly–at least in my mind.  There is a fabulous song from Stephen Sondheim’s Company called “The Ladies Who Lunch,” and it outlines a disenchanted woman’s thoughts on wealthy women who don’t work, living a life of leisure, who have the privilege of dining out with friends midday.  It’s a fabulous song that’s fully of salty one-liners and a biting tone, and it’s especially fitting if you’ve had a crazy day at work and need to get some frustration out of your system.  On a personal note, I don’t begrudge “ladies who lunch” in the slightest; it sounds like a fabulous way to live to me!

This week’s lunch is inspired by ladies who lunch, particularly the Southern country club set.  I’ve included a small scoop of egg salad and a small scoop of chicken salad on a bed of local greens with a few nasturtiums (edible flowers) for a fancy look befitting the leisurely set, plus a side of fresh fruit with cantaloupe, honeydew, and pineapple.  The eggs, greens, chives, and nasturtiums came from this week’s box from our local CSA, The Dirt Farmer.  We have sung the praises of this weekly subscription ever since we signed up, but I’ll say it again: they’re amazing!  Unfortunately, they’re not taking any new customers at the moment–a good problem to have since they’re currently at customer capacity.  If you’re interested, I suggest going to their website and contacting them to get on the waiting list–totally worth the wait.

As usual, I’ve substituted 0% Greek yogurt for mayonnaise in both the egg salad and the chicken salad.  This week’s egg salad is similar to the egg salad I posted a few weeks ago, but I’ve added chives and dill relish here.  The chicken salad gets a special depth of flavor with the addition of some soy sauce.  It doesn’t taste Asian, and it almost makes the chicken taste more chicken-y (weird, but it’s a thing, kind of like how coffee makes chocolate taste more chocolate-y).

WW info: 5 PP per lunch (1/3 cup egg salad, 1/3 cup chicken salad, greens, and fruit)

Egg Salad

24 eggs, boiled and peeled

4 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped

4 Tbsp. dill relish

1 cup 0% Greek yogurt (I recommend Fage brand)

1/2 cup yellow mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper

Chop the eggs into small cubes and place in a mixing bowl, then add the chives and relish and mix to combine.  In a small bowl, add the Greek yogurt, mustard, salt, and pepper and stir until combined and smooth.  Pour the dressing over the egg mixture and fold in.

*I used about 1/3 cup in my lunch, which would give you approximately 24 servings in this recipe.

Chicken Salad

2 chicken breasts

1 Tbsp. dry minced onion

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. red pepper

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. white pepper

1 cup red grapes, sliced in half lengthwise

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup 0% Greek yogurt

1 1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper

You can cook the chicken in any way you like, but here is my low-and-slow favorite preparation:  Cut the chicken breasts into large chunks (about 1 inch by 1 inch) and place in a small pot.  Cover the chicken pieces with water, add the spices, then bring to a boil.  When the water begins boiling, place the lid on the pot and turn the heat down to low.  Now, go do laundry, do the dishes, take a nap, etc.  When the two hours are up, remove the chicken chunks from the water and place on a cool surface.  Let the chicken cool for about 10 minutes, then, with your hands, shred the chicken and place it in a medium mixing bowl.  Add the almonds and sliced grapes and mix to combine.  In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, soy sauce, salt, and pepper, then pour this dressing over the chicken mixture and mix to combine.

*I used about 1/3 cup in my lunch, which would give you about 8 servings for this recipe.


lunchbox life: pork tenderloin with curry roasted sweet potatoes, onions, and cauliflower


This is definitely a fall dish, but alas, it’s mid-August.

I try to eat seasonally, but as much as I love summer tomatoes, avocados, berries, and basil, I feel like I’ve exhausted those options for the moment.  (Yes, I’ll be kicking myself in January for even thinking such a thing.)  So, inspired by a tiny hankering for sweet potatoes and my ongoing love for curry, this little number was created.

If you think you don’t like cauliflower, it’s because you’ve never roasted it.  This drab veggie transforms from that icky, untouched tree-like thing on the half-eaten veggie party platter to an earthy, flavorful morsel that you can’t stop eating.  It’s a terribly underrated vegetable, but with some high heat and spices, you’ll be singing its praises, too!

This is a pretty lazy and low-key dish, but the bigger ingredient here is time.  The veggies take time to roast and, depending on how you prepare the pork tenderloin, the pork will need to slow-roast in the crock pot.  This worked perfectly today for me, though–we’ve been running around doing a trial run for our Taste of the Arts entry on behalf of Historic Macon and getting ready to have a few friends over for the series premiere of Breaking Bad (Did you see it?  What EXACTLY did Walt mean when he said “tread lightly”?).

For the pork tenderloin, I was slightly limited.  The Kroger near our house only had pre-seasoned tenderloins.  To be fair, I really wanted a turkey breast tenderloin (made by Jennie-O and Honeysuckle White), but Kroger was out of those, too.  I bought a garlic and lemon pre-seasoned tenderloin and threw it in the crock pot on high heat (4 hours) with some chicken stock, dijon mustard, blueberry jam, ginger, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  I’d give you measurements, but I really don’t have them!  You can cook this any way you want, but for what it’s worth, I was just focused on having a flavorful lean protein.  You could certainly use chicken breast, but I get so tired of the same old boneless skinless chicken breast that I like to change it up every now and then.

Curry Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Onions, and Cauliflower

3 small sweet potatoes

2 small sweet Vidalia onions

1 large head of cauliflower

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. curry powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Chop sweet potatoes into bite-size pieces and place in a large roasting pan.  Chop the cauliflower into similar sized pieces and add to the pan.  Next, chop the onions into thin, half-moon shapes and add them to the pan.  In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and spices.  Pour over the vegetables and toss thoroughly to combine.  Roast for about an hour, stirring the veggies to prevent burning about twice during the hour.

lunchbox life: curry chicken salad on naan


Ahhh, fragrant massaman yellow curry.  On one hand, curry powder takes me on a journey to my favorite Indian restaurants into a warm, full belly stupor of tikka masala, pakora with chutneys, and palak paneer.  On the other hand, it takes me to kitchens in the South where curried rice and curry chicken salad are in every cook’s repertoire.  While perusing Virginia Willis’ cookbook Bon Appetit, Y’allI learned that curry powder made its way into southern kitchens by way of port cities like Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans where exotic spices were available.  Pretty nifty, huh?  I loved curry powder long before I had my first tandoori chicken, but I didn’t know why until now!  Here’s what I’m having for lunch this week.

Curry Chicken Salad on Naan

2 large pieces of whole grain naan bread, each piece cut in half

1 lb. shredded chicken breast

1 cup 0% fat free Greek yogurt (I love Fage brand)

2 stalks of celery, minced

about 1/2 cup of red seedless grapes, halved

2 Tbsp. curry powder

1 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. cracked black pepper

4 Boston lettuce leaves (optional)

To assemble to chicken salad: in a large bowl, mix the chicken, grapes, and celery.  In a smaller bowl, mix the yogurt, curry powder, salt, and pepper.  Add the yogurt mixture to the chicken mixture and stir to combine.

To assemble: Lay out each piece of naan.  If using, layer a lettuce leaf on each piece, then scoop out about 1/2 cup of the chicken salad onto each piece of naan.

I’m having my chicken salad naan with sliced English hothouse (seedless) cucumber and red grapes.  Enjoy!

WWinfo: chicken salad–3pp; naan–4pp