Chickpea Avocado Sandwich

Towards the end of my fall/winter capsule, I started dabbling in preparing a larger dish specifically for lunches during the week. Previously, having to prepare another food just seemed overwhelming on top of my dinner responsibilities. However, with a capsule meal plan I am spending much less time thinking and planning for cooking, so I have more time to actually cook. Funny how that works out sometimes.

Anyways, having a lunch dish adds some variety to the usual leftovers from the previous night, allows us to have cook-free (leftover) nights, and people (John) are less likely to forget lunch because it is already packed. Today I am spotlighting a great recipe that is one of our old favorites: chickpea avocado spread.


I find this spread is a great way to liven up sandwiches, or eat on it’s own as a dip. It is fresh, chunky, and flavorful. John has an aversion to mayo-based food, so this spread is a definite winner for him, plus we don’t miss out on all of the protein from traditional meat-based salads. It is also a great vegan or vegetarian lunch choice. The flavors are perfect for spring and summer, especially served with cucumbers and tomatoes. I love that it does not require a food processor; you can quickly smash the ingredients with a potato masher, and be on your way to a picnic. The avocado does oxidize quickly, but I have found that it keeps for about three days in the fridge, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Greek Tortellini Salad

This Greek Tortellini salad is everything I love about summer vegetables, mixed with heartier tortellini to keep us full. Summer is the perfect time for juicy tomatoes, hydrating cucumbers, and crisp red onions…. do onions ever go out of season?

In addition to the awesome textures, the colors of this salad are beautiful. This is look like summer is a bowl to me. I kept envisioning weekend lunches outside on the patio when I took the photos, but it’s still a bit cool (and so very windy) for that right now.



If we were the type of people to bring utensils to a picnic, this pasta salad would totally be on our picnic list. But as it is, we are not yet fancy enough for a forked picnic, so we bring this for lunch – perfect straight from the fridge. I whip this recipe up in the evening after making dinner (but before cleaning up), to save on cleaning a few dishes. I think the ingredients meld overnight and really taste better the next day.


The original recipe calls for feta, but John tries to stay away from most soft cheeses so I made it without the cheese. In some dishes, feta can carry most of the flavor, but I thought that the cheesiness from the pasta compensated for the feta and we didn’t feel like it was missing anything. The first time I made this with basil pesto angnolotti from the refrigerated section of Aldi. I did not care for the pasta: it was a little too big to be bite-sized and had a weird, processed aftertaste. I later tried their dried cheese tortellini, which was what I was looking for originally, and it was much better. It is perfect with some freshly ground pepper just before serving.

Adventures in Baking: Pizza Dough

In Charlotte, I envied my cool hipster colleague who instituted homemade “Pizza Thursday” with his girlfriend every week. I tried to appear knowledgeable and nod pensively as he discussed slow rise dough, and shared the merits of the pizza stone material clay vs steel debate. Dough was both foreign and alluring to me, but I rarely made cookies from scratch so pizza seemed in another realm of possibility. After moving, cooking more, and subsequently having some success making bagels, I decided to find another outlet for the 10 kilo bag of bread flour sitting in the cabinet. Several attempts later, I have finally gained confidence with pizza dough.

Pizza making in our house is extremely low tech; no stand mixer or pizza stone required. We live in a small apartment and are very intentional when purchasing things, so a one-trick pony like a pizza stone or pizza peel do not make the list. I knead the dough by hand, and call it a workout for the day. As  a pizza stone substitute, I preheat the oven with a cookie sheet in the bottom.    If I get increasingly serious about pizza, a pizza stone might be in the cards but we will have to see how the trajectory goes. Usually I repeat tasks over and over until I feel competent, and then I move on to something else. No need to invest space in a passing fancy.


My current favorite dough recipe comes from Lark and Lola. It is a Mellow Mushroom copycat, and while it’s been so long since I have eaten Mellow Mushroom that I can’t speak to the authenticity, I do love the chew and crunch of this dough. Apparently the secret to Mellow Mushrooms’ dough is using molasses instead of sugar to feed the yeast. I love molasses on biscuits and think it gives to the pizza a subtle flavor as well. I also substitute a cup of whole wheat flour to give the crust more tooth. The toppings vary, as I try to use pizza as a fun way to get rid of the little bits of leftovers from the week: half a chicken breast, a couple handfuls of spinach, one lone tomato, a couple florets of broccoli. I prefer a sauce-less pizza, but have used olive tapenade as a flavorful substitute.

Now that I am confident with my current method, I would like to try a slow rise dough. The only problem is that it requires messy counter work on two consecutive days, which is not conducive to my clean a little/clean a lot alternating kitchen cleaning schedule. However, once I start working full time, I think it will be the only way we can have weekday pizza so the sacrifice will have to be made!

Savory Cauliflower Cake

Recently, I have started making lunch-specific dishes to break up the monotony of dinner leftovers. It can be challenging to summon up the extra effort to cook more than just dinner on a weeknight, but if I make a larger dish it allows us to have a cook-free leftover night later in the week. I am not in the habit of adding a lunch dish yet; however, it is something I will try to incorporate with more regularity in the spring/summer capsule. When I saw this savory cauliflower cake on The Kitchn, it was honestly just too beautiful not to make. I was interested in sampling a savory vegetable cake, but my true interest was in the photographs. The whole recipe process is a bit more fussy than something I would usually gravitate towards (boiling, sautéing AND baking), but with 6 lunch portions it seemed worth the time.




While time consuming to make and clean up, the cake is as beautiful as it is delicious. The thickness of the batter made me a bit nervous as I stuck it in the oven, but it came out with texture between a quiche and a cake. I appreciate the protein the eggs bring to the dish, and the flour seems to give it more staying power. I don’t think this recipe will be on my standard capsule, but it is a nice treat and is lovely for a potluck or party.


Perfect Chicken Breasts in a Cast Iron Skillet

Cooking chicken breasts in a cast iron skillet has become the staple meal in this fall/winter capsule. I feel like a well prepared chicken breast is one of those skills that distinguishes a person as “adult”. I struggled with cooking tasty boneless skinless chicken breasts for years; most cooking methods I tried caused them to be dry and stringy, or mealy and tasteless. It doesn’t help that I hate handling the meat, even just cutting it into strips while raw is gag worthy. I don’t know if it is related to having pet chickens at my parents house for several years, or just too much Walking Dead, but I avoid any prep work. In the past few months, I have perfected a mostly hands free, super juicy and crispy cast iron skillet method and love the versatility it has added to our meals.


Perfect Chicken Breasts in a Cast Iron Skillet


  • 2 Tbsp Oil
  • 4 Chicken Breasts (boneless, skinless)
  • Seasonings (salt and fresh ground pepper is our standard)

1. Place the skillet on the burner with the oil and turn on the heat to medium high for 5 minutes (or until smoking). Preheat the oven to 350.

2. I grind the salt and pepper on the top of the chicken breast while it’s in the pan to minimize the touching of raw meat, but you can season it beforehand as well. Use tongs to transfer the chicken breasts to the pan – it will splatter and spit so watch out!

3. Cook the chicken breasts for 5-7 minutes on each side. I like mine to be nice and golden before flipping.

4. Make sure the breast side is facing up and place the skillet in the oven. Depending on the thickness of the chicken, it can take 15-20 minutes to cook through.



Adventures in Baking: Easy Cinnamon Rolls

Occasionally I stumble across an amazing idea online and say to myself, “This is brilliant! I will totally cook/craft/bake/clean that soon.” Then I make a mental note, and carry on with my normal life without incorporating the awesome idea. This is exactly what I feared would happen when I saw the Minimalist Baker recipe for easy cinnamon rolls. I am solidly novice baker with grand aspirations; unfortunately the time and desire for baking does not often coincide. However, this easy cinnamon roll recipe promised that once I had the desire to bake, I would only need 2 1/2 hours from start to finish (I added an additional 30 minutes to the recipe because I know myself, and also- baby care).

This would not be the first time I attempted cinnamon rolls. John and I spent the better part of a Saturday last year (aka pre-baby), slaving over the Pioneer Woman’s recipe. We were super novice bakers back then; as in I think this was the first time I remember using yeast, and our first try was a failure. Even with her amazingly detailed, step-by-step instructions, and John’s compulsive perfectionism, the rolls baked into sad, flat, cinnamony cracker-cookies. So while cinnamon rolls had proved beyond our proficiency once, I was a lot more confident with my burgeoning baking skills and this condensed recipe.

One recent Friday afternoon, I was seriously craving something sweet and carby. I decided that afternoon nap (90 minutes, if I’m lucky) would be the perfect time to change my life with some awesome cinnamon rolls. Right off the bat, I made a change to the recipe, after reading several comments, and used coconut milk instead of almond. I also left out the butter in the dough because of the high fat content in coconut milk. As I added the flour, I started to get nervous because my dough was super sticky. When I kneaded it and had to scrape off about a 1/2 cup of dough clinging to my fingers, I added about a 1/4 cup more flour. I finally managed to form it into a ball-like mass, and plopped into a bowl to rise. I really wanted to add more flour, but also acknowledged my tendency to over-flour baked goods, so I suppressed the urge. Since it was a fairly cold winter day, and our apartment is all marble and windows, I preheated the oven to 200 degrees for about 10 minutes and then turned it off to form a warm, dark, rising habitat for my dough.




When the dough had risen, I heavily dusted my countertop with flour; I still harbored insecurities about the dough’s stickiness. It actually rolled much better than I expected, and I mentally congratulated myself on my flour discretion. For the first time in my short baking career, I actually understood what recipes meant when they say the dough should feel “soft”. The dough was smooth, pliable, and almost silky as I rolled it.

At this point, a nagging voice in my head questioned if these would be too healthy. The instructions said to use 1/4 cup of sugar for TEN cinnamon rolls, and that just seemed scant. If I am going to eat a cinnamon roll, then I want it to be decadent, sugary, and sinful. Not that I ever eat only one serving when I bake. I gave into the voice in my head and went back to the beginning, the Pioneer Woman’s recipe. She suggested using a cup of sugar for a totally different serving size, so I decided not to mess with math and just generously sprinkled sugar all over the dough. Rolling and cutting the dough was actually much easier than anticipated – I credit my heavy use of flour on the countertop for that. When things did get a bit sticky, I used a spatula to pry up the dough and kept rolling.


The rolls required almost no impatient waiting time for me, which was a big win. They only baked in oven for 15 minutes, because my oven runs super hot and also I am still unsure of what setting to use. The rolls smelled heavenly, like grandma’s house on Christmas or something else cozy, delicious, and sweet. I loved the Pioneer Woman’s idea of a maple glaze so I combined: 1 Tbsp of maple syrup and 1 Tbsp of milk with a pinch of instant coffee and enough sugar to get the perfect consistency. John and I enjoyed setting up a evening photo shoot, because that’s a fun Friday night when you have a baby, and of course, devouring just the right amount of rolls until we barely felt sick. We had cinnamon rolls for breakfast the next morning, and also for afternoon snack. The rolls and my sweet tooth were gone by 3pm. And this is why I cannot be trusted with a whole dish of dessert.


Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Before I was married, overripe bananas were a regular part of life. I would peel, cut, and add one or two a week to the plastic bag in my freezer. Whenever I wanted to make a smoothie or banana bread, I always had some overripe bananas on hand.

However, in the last few years bananas have become a scarce commodity in the kitchen. We go through at least eight bananas a week between the three of us, and I’m sure we would eat more if given the opportunity. Now that I plan ahead for my meals (and sometimes snacks), I vocally set aside the number of bananas that need to last until the weekend when I bake.


Banana bread can be quite unhealthy, with lots of added sugars and fat, which is why I prefer this recipe. I also love that it is one bowl (if you mix the liquids in the measuring cup – which is my standard practice for decreasing dishes) and no mixer required. The bread packs in lots and lots of banana without too much added sweetener, I usually decrease the sweetener to 1/4 cup if my bananas are overripe. Two packed cups of banana is about 5 1/2 large bananas for me, and I have to fight for every last one, even though the whole family devours the baked bread.

Tahini Dressed Kale Salad

First of all, yes, I am salad hypocrite.

Or a salad flip flopper.

Or any other term to describe how I went from “Why I Don’t Make Salads” to “Hey guys, I’m totally loving this salad”.

I still stand by what I wrote because in general salads do not work for my life. However in writing that post, I started thinking about all the different types of salad and how to solve the problem of having salads in my life without all the issues that I mentioned. I forget exactly how it came to me, but I realized that kale salads are actually a great answer to my salad woes.

Unlike regular lettuce, kale has some unique attributes:

  • It does not become sad and wilty overnight – I am happy eating a day old kale salad.
  • It does not require other vegetables as salad company – the ribs provide a crunchy counterpart to the leafy leaves
  • It is hearty and can suffice as a light meal with some accompaniment



I stumbled across a perfect kale salad recipe from Minamalist Baker and had to add it to the weekend plans. I appreciate that this dressing can be made without a food processor because I don’t want to go through all that cleaning for salad dressing. Dessert – yes, salads – not worth it. I decided not to go with roasted chickpeas specified in the recipe, as we have a tenuous relationship history. I am not the best with chickpea roasting times so they either end up mushy in the middle or super crisp. And by crispy, I mean disintegrates in your mouth like sand. Either way, I have ended up with way too many hard to swallow chickpeas and I was not interested in revisiting that emotional scar. Instead, I chopped and roasted some potatoes and onions for our side dish.

I find that I prefer a creamy dressing on kale. I think it keeps better than more acidic dressings, and also it reminds me of the best kale salad of my life at Carpe Diem in Charlotte. Their kale caesar is out of this world, just thinking about the awesomeness makes me salivate a little. I loved the super thin slices of kale and the creamy, tangy dressing that perfectly coated each leaf without unduly weighing it down. Their’s is my kale salad inspiration. Thinly slicing the kale makes a huge difference in the texture, it can be hard to choke down a mouthful of big kale leaves. Another thing that makes raw kale more enjoyable is giving the dressing and leaves a good 30 second massage. The massage not only provides an even coat of dressing but also helps break down the extremely fibrous leaves.


Vegan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

A couple stuffed sweet potatoes have been floating around the internet recently, but most seemed a bit too heavy and cheesy for our tastes. I found this bean and spinach stuffed sweet potato recipe, and thought it would be perfect for filling lunch or light dinner. The light and bright flavors of the stuffing provide a lovely accent to the natural flavors of sweet potatoes, instead of smothering the potatoes in cheese. John and I both enjoyed the tangy sweet flavors of the lemon, capers, and raisins while the beans and spinach add more substance to the dish.



I try to roast several potatoes early in the week so we can have them as a quick dinner side. This recipe comes together in a flash with pre baked potatoes. If I haven’t prepared them ahead of time, I pierce and microwave the potatoes for 15 minutes and then bake them for 30 minutes. I find that the combination of cooking methods shaves off 15 minutes without sacrificing the awesome caramelization that takes place in the oven. I should also note that we only eat ginormous sweet potatoes, so the cook time might be less if your potatoes are more on the petite side. I actually bought small potatoes specifically for this photo shoot so that our “normal” sized ones would not fill up the whole frame.


Spanish Inspired Beef Stew

Most days, I am content doing as little work in the kitchen as possible, but every once in a while, I find myself in the mood to dig in and really put in the effort to cook something amazing. When the feeling strikes, I turn to my favorite (and only) cookbook, Cooking Know How. The book is packed with step-by-step instructions on how to cook dishes, in addition to hundreds of recipes. I love the fact that the authors detail the reasoning behind each ingredient, and I usually come away feeling like I have learned something. While not every recipe in the book requires several hours, attention to detail, and patience, most demand a separate trip to the grocery store or speciality market to source the ingredients. However, the payoff is completely worth it. I am always astounded by the incredible results when I follow the recipe to the letter, or at least mostly to the letter.


This Spanish inspired beef stew (page 23) is a perfect example of how the right ingredients, prepared diligently, without regard for timeliness, can yield a most delicious dinner. The stew starts with a base of chopped proscuitto and adds layer upon layer of flavor with browned bottom round, carrots and potatoes, and spices. Just before serving, I added chopped green olives for a final spark. While the stew took me over 3 1/2 hours from start to finish, I enjoyed the process and the result.

One of the biggest benefits of a capsule meal plan for me is that I now have the desire to cook. In large part, 90% of the time I am in auto pilot regarding our meals, so every once in a while I have the enthusiasm and energy to go all out on a recipe. This stew is mostly likely never going to be included in a capsule, but on cold, rainy Saturdays when I am feeling the urge to prepare a delicious, complex meal it fits the bill.