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.


Stovetopless Shortcut Oatmeal

Repetition is my best friend for breakfast. Once I find something that works, I make it over and over and over again, until I get terribly bored and find another dish. Cecilia and I are currently in the midst of a long oatmeal cycle. She seems to really enjoy it, and I appreciate how quickly we can go from popping out of bed to eating breakfast. I love the texture of stovetop rolled oats, but cleaning the pot is such a pain and it takes a good bit of monitoring so that they don’t boil over. After some trial and error, I developed the following method that I think produces almost an identical texture without the extra cleaning or monitoring.


Shortcut Oatmeal:

1. Pour 1/2 cup of rolled oats into a large (16 oz) bowl.

2. Cover with 1 cup of boiling water, and let sit for 5-7 minutes (or the time it takes for a diaper and clothes change). If you do not have a nifty water heater, do not despair! Use hot tap water and let the oats with for closer to 15 minutes (or the time it takes to shower and put on clothes).

3. Stick the bowl in the microwave for 2 minutes. If you followed the instruction about a large bowl, this should not boil over.

4. Add in fruit, nuts, milk, or sweeteners for flavor.


Our standard combinations are banana walnut and cinnamon raisin. Recently, I have been experimenting with ways to increase our vegetable consumption throughout the day, and there is no better time to start than the morning! So far, my favorite veg-packed oatmeal is this carrot cake oatmeal from Oh She Glows. I add the carrots and raisins in with the oats in Step 1, and everything cooks up nicely.

Black Beans and Rice

When I crave a simple, satisfying dinner, I grab beans and rice from the pantry. These two homely ingredients shine in new ways depending on my spices, accent vegetables, and even a bit of coconut milk. The best part is that I can easily reincorporate the cooked beans and rice into meals at a later date.


I gained an appreciation for beans and rice while studying abroad in Tanzania. I was a poor and very cheap college student, saving money with hopes of a safari before leaving Africa. A big part of saving money included frequenting the university cafeteria instead of eating at the mall or restaurants like the most foreign students. From what I remember, the cafeteria served four dishes each day: beans and rice, peas and rice, spaghetti, and chicken curry. The beans and rice was the cheapest dish, costing the equivalent of 30 US cents for a heaping plate. Needless to say, I consumed a good amount of beans and rice during my stay. However, the jaw-jolting experience of crunching on the not so occasional pebble influenced me into suffering the $1.70 up charge for the tooth-safe spaghetti option.

At home, I alternate between two main recipes: Cuban Black Beans and Rice, and Jamaican Rice and Peas. In general, I tend to cook the beans with the spices and keep the rice separate so it does not lose it’s texture. Mushy rice is one of the few things I cannot stomach. I have made the Jamaican recipe with the coconut rice and it is delicious, I just don’t eat the leftovers. I have not been able to find either a Scotch bonnet or a habanero, but I never felt the recipe lacked as a result. While homely and a bit plain, beans and rice can be the excellent start to the week. After making a batch on Monday, I can mix in ground beef and fresh vegetables for burrito bowls, or cook a pot of Mexican-inspired chicken and rice soup. If we get sick of it before then, I just bag and freeze it to take out again in a month or so.

Cincinnati Chili

Instead of a generic story about how John and I visited Cincinnati on a trip to see his family, ate chili, and our lives were changed forever, I am going to tell you about the first time I made Cincinnati chili. It was about a month ago, and we returned home from a chilly whale watching adventure in the open waters off South Head. Even though whale watching is not an intense activity, we were both exhausted from our trip. Usually in this situation, we would pick up takeaway from a nearby restaurant, but I was grimly determined to stick with the Paleo Cincinnati chili from the weeks meal plan. Afterwards, I intended relax for the evening, enjoying the satisfaction of homemade dinner and lunch for tomorrow. John laid down on the living room rug and played with Cecilia, while I began prepping for dinner.  I set out boiling the water, cooking the meat, and measuring out all of the spices. I briefly considered sampling the new brand of chili powder, before bypassing my tongue straight for the pot with a 1/4 cup Hoyts’ finest blend. I felt that chili powder is chili powder, and I continued adding ingredients to the pot.


After simmering for an hour or so, I took the first taste. The chili was quite spicy. I realized that it would be best to make Cecilia something else to eat and not risk a spicy-hand eye rub disaster. About two seconds after my first bite, the heat really kicked me; it was a deep, smokey, burning heat. I thought, “this may be the spiciest thing I have ever eaten”. John and I enjoy a bit of heat to our meals, and he has been known to order an 8/10 in Thai and Indian restaurants even after the waiter gives him the “are you sure, white boy?” look. However, we do not eat spicy foods for sport, until this fateful evening, of course.

The thing about Cincinnati chili is that, traditionally, it is served over spaghetti. The thing about spaghetti is that it leads to a nice, even coat of sauce on the lips. I think this is what took the spiciness of my accidental chili powder for cayenne pepper swap (this is what we assume happened, even though the spice package gave no indication that it was not the spice mixture commonly known as chili powder) into new realms of spicy torture. We sat through dinner with grave determination as the spaghetti noodles playfully splashed the flaming lava sauce on our numb, tingling lips. The spiciness was not the sweat-inducing type, instead our mouths felt like the entry into the burning depths of hell. No water or milk could quench these flames. Pride forced us to continue with dinner as though the pauses between each tortuous bite was to examine the contents of our fork pensively.


Needless to say, we did not eat the chili for lunch the next day as I had intended. Despite my best efforts to alleviate the guilt of such wastage, that chili headed for the trash (I barely managed a few bites).  It took weeks for us to consider spicy food, and the passing of a month paired with a cold snap before we were willing to revisit the recipe.

The second attempt was thankfully much less dramatic. Although I did omit the 1 tsp of cayenne called for in the recipe because we just were not emotionally ready for it yet. I know this might be blasphemy, but I served this Paleo recipe over spaghetti twice, and have no regrets, well about the pasta anyway.


Simple Sausage and Cabbage Supper

Sydney (and the rest of Australia) is suffering through some of the coldest winter weather in a decade. While it pales in comparison to some of the subzero North Carolina nights we experienced, during these cool winter evenings, I look for simple comfort foods to satisfy our desire for a warm and filling dinner. Sausage and cabbage are not generally my go-to ingredients, but I occasionally play to John’s German and Eastern European roots. I don’t think he has ever eaten a meal that was too heavy. In contrast, I tend to prefer lighter dishes that feature meat as a flavor enhancer instead of a main component. This sausage and cabbage dish favors some of his preferences, while I am content that the sausage serves to add flavor and augment the vegetables instead of being the substance of the dish.

I use this Cabbage Sausage Supper recipe from Taste of Home. Like the author notes, it is amazing that few ingredients can yield such a flavorful dish. The cabbage is definitely that star in that aspect, it lends a subtlety sweet flavor that contrasts nicely with the smoky sausages. This is also one of the few recipes I cook without any additional herbs or seasonings.


I love that this dish is one pot and does not require much prep, a combination that can be elusive in good recipes. The recipe serves 12, so I halve it and we have enough leftovers for lunch the next day, but don’t have to eat it all week. The cabbage is easily thinly sliced with a good chef’s knife and I roughly chop the potatoes and carrots. The sausages are sliced into rounds and quartered for perfect bite-sized pieces before going into the pot.  We generally eat it as a one-pot meal, but John would be happy with an additional carby side of a crusty bread loaf. All in all, it is a great warming dinner for our cooler days this week.