Scrumptious Tomato and Cucumber Salad

10 minute side dish, Paleo, Salad, Tomatoes

Today I’m sharing a tomato and cucumber side dish. The key to this is the delIMG_0511icious olive oil and vinegar mixture. You can let this sit for hours before serving because the tomatoes and cucumber marinate in each other’s flavors. As embarrassing as it is, I’ve actually licked the bottom of the bowl after serving this side.

The tomato cucumber salad works nicely with grilled salmon or lamb. I’ve also served it with flatbread and homemade hummus for a vegetarian meal. Tomatoes are very versatile so try this dish or the Caprese salad I shared yesterday with your favorite protein.



3 beefsteak or vine ripe tomatoes, quartered

1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar      IMG_0488

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon oregano

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil


In a small bowl, combine vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. In a larger bowl, combine the tomatoes, sliced cucumber and chopped green onions. Pour vinegar/oil mixture over the top and let sit for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve when ready.

IMG_0509       IMG_0501      IMG_0514


Caprese Salad with Arugula Pesto

10 minute side dish, Arugula, Caprese Salad, Paleo, Salad, Tomatoes

Tomatoes aren’t typically associated with winter, but February brings plenty of this tasty fruit in the Southeast, where I live. One of the great things about tomatoes is that you really don’t have to do much to make them amazing. Let the tomato shine, that’s what I always say (okay, I don’t really say that but tomatoes can truly stand on their own).

DSC03983I’ve got two quick side dishes using tomatoes that I am sure you’ll enjoy. Both are served chilled or at room temperature. Another plus is that you can make them ahead of time, which reduces the stress of getting the entire meal prepared all at once.

Today I’m sharing an easy Caprese salad recipe. Arugula is also in season, so I use that to make my pesto. The homemade pesto really adds something without taking a lot of time to make, so give it a shot!

This serves four people, and I like to pair it with either chicken parmesan or a grilled steak. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for another 10-minute side dish utilizing seasonal tomatoes.



2 beefsteak or vine ripe tomatoes

5 oz. buffalo mozzarella ball

4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

4 cups packed arugula    IMG_0452

1 tablespoon fresh garlic

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

5 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon


Pesto Preparation

Combine pine nuts, garlic, black pepper, salt, arugula and lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Blend for 1 minute, slowly adding the olive oil, and increasing the speed to achieve your desired texture. The pesto will keep for a week in the refrigerator.




Cut tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices. Do the same with the mozzarella ball. Alternate tomato slices and mozzarella slices. Drizzle 1/4 cup of pesto sauce over it and serve.


Pork Chops with Black-Eyed Peas and Kale

black-eyed peas, food, grilling, kale, pork, spices, sunday supper, tips, vegetables

I have a confession: I don’t like kale. Gasp! I know it was all the rage, and I’ve really tried to enjoy it since it’s kale season. I’ve sautéed it with garlic and good olive oil. I’ve bought kale chips and went as far as making a batch of them myself at home. I’ve sliced it thin and added it to my salads, but I just can’t get on board with the tough, chewy texture of the leaves. That is until last weekend when I added it to my black-eyed peas and voila! Deliciousness!

This black-eyed peas recipe goes great with seasoned pork chops. Start the peas early because they take about an hour and 30 minutes, and I suggest using a 5-quart pot because the four to six cups of kale take up some space initially.

One secret to this recipe is a special spice mix made by Tasty Licks BBQ Company. I have four favorite combinations, and I’ve included a picture here. For this meal I use some of the “Flyin’ Swine Pork Rub” and “Mella Yella.” Not only do I use them for the pork chop rub and marinade, but I also add the “Flyin Swine” to the black-eyed peas.IMG_0006

It’s no problem if you don’t have any Tasty Licks seasonings. Just mix a 1/4 cup of brown sugar with a teaspoon each of chili powder, black pepper, onion powder, lemon pepper and garlic salt. This mix replaces the Flyin’ Swine and Mella Yella. If pork isn’t your thing, try this with chicken breasts.

Below I’ve included recipes for the black-eyed peas and pork chops, and this meal serves four adults. Don’t be startled by the list of ingredients! Everything but the pork chops cook together so I consider this a one-pot recipe that’s jammed full of vegetables.


Black-Eyed Peas IngredientsIMG_0021

1/4 pound chopped pancetta

1 cup chopped celery

1-1/2 cups chopped carrots

1 large onion, chopped

4 to 6 cups chopped kale

1-pound bag of frozen black-eyed peas

3 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

3 teaspoons cumin

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons Flyin’ Swine Pork Rub


Sauté pancetta over medium heat in a 5-quart pot until brown and crispy. Remove pancetta but keep the renderings. Place pancetta on a paper towel to drain excess fat, and set aside.

Cook the onions, celery and carrots in the oil from the pancetta for 5 minutes. Add the chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt and the Flyin’ Swine Pork Rub and mix well. Then add the bag of frozen black-eyed peas, kale, the cooked pancetta and 1 cup of the chicken broth. Mix well, cover and simmer on low for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding the last cup of chicken broth as the liquid is absorbed.


Seasoned Pork Chops Ingredients 

(4) 1” thick boneless pork chops

2 tablespoons Flyin’ Swine Pork RubIMG_0039

2 tablespoons Mella Yella Lemon Pepper Spice Rub

2 tablespoons olive oil



IMG_0043Mix the 4 tablespoons of spices with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Use the mixture to coat both sides of the pork chops and let sit for 30 minutes. Cook on a 450-500 degree grill for 4 minutes per side. Loosely cover with foil and let rest 5 minutes before serving. Pour remaining juices over chops and serve with black-eyed peas.




Sensational Salads

food, meal plans, salads, tips

When we are trying to eat healthy we tend to eat a lot of salads. However, most people get tired of their same old salad by day four. Mixing up a new recipe is easier than you think, and I’ve included five tricks below to turn a side salad into a main course.

  1. Add some crunch. Shelled sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, croutons, wontons, and tortilla chips are all great ways to add texture. If you’ve got some stale bread, chop it up and toss with olive oil and herbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes and you have homemade croutons!


2. Mix up the greens. Instead of a head of iceberg or a bag of romaine try using butter lettuces or a spring mix. Toss in some spinach to up the iron content or add arugula to give it more flavor.


3. Vary your protein. I like to use all types of protein in my salads so that they are unique and can keep my interest. Grilled marinated chicken, skirt steak or fish all work great on greens. So do bacon, pancetta, salami and hard boiled eggs. Edamame and avocados are also good choices for my vegetarian friends.


4. Try new dressings. It’s easy to grab “the usual” at the store but there are so many choices out there. Some of my favorite pre-made salad dressings include Makoto’s Ginger Dressing, Marzetti’s Simply Dressed Light Balsamic, and Naturally Fresh Lite Ranch. Of course homemade dressings are usually healthier so try different types of vinegars or a teaspoon of Dijon mustard mixed with some herbs and a good olive oil to create something new.


5. Cheese, please. I’m not advocating putting a cup of cheese on a few pieces of lettuce, but a little cheese can go a long way in transforming a boring salad. Try some reduced fat feta or toss in some fresh mozzarella. Pick a cheese that goes with the flavors of the salad, and it will be another satisfying element.



Combining any number of the tips above will upgrade your usual salad recipe. To make the most of all the chopping and washing, I assemble extra salads in mason jars. Believe it or not but those “salads in a jar” last up to five days in the refrigerator! Check out this link to get the assembly instructions, and you’ll find yourself eating more salads than expected because they are ready to go and waiting for you.

Roasted Chicken with Potatoes and Carrots

gravy, roasting, sunday supper, tips, vegetables

This classic recipe is perfect for a Sunday supper. It takes some prep work but the finished product tastes outstanding, smells amazing and is the ultimate comfort food. The carrots and potatoes are added during the last 45 minutes of roasting, which helps make this a one-pot meal. Well, if you don’t count the prep work…  IMG_8842

It’s also a great meal because everyone in the family enjoys it. My daughter likes the chicken and carrots, and my husband craves the potatoes and gravy. Men LOVE gravy. A lot of people fear making it. But don’t be afraid! It’s simpler than most people think, and I’ve included how to make it below.

This classic recipe deserves a crisp sauvignon blanc or a chardonnay to complement the meal. I chose Mohua, a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. For a wine with more body, I recommend unoaked chardonnays from either Kim Crawford or Villa Maria. Any of these whites will provide a nice balance to the richness of the gravy.

You may end up with some leftovers depending on how many people you’re serving. This meal typically yields dinner for four and a good amount of leftover shredded chicken. That’s some tasty rewards for my earlier labor! Check back tomorrow to get my “easy chicken salad” recipe that’s perfect for quick lunches.

This recipe looks long, but if you’ve got the time, then it’s totally worth it. I’m salivating a little bit just smelling the sage and thyme so thank goodness I’ve already poured myself a glass of wine.

Supplies You Will Need
Roasting pan (I use a 16” x 13” roasting pan)

(1) 5-7 pound roaster chicken
Fresh sage
Fresh thyme
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature, divided
2 medium onions, sliced into 1/4″ wide slices
4 garlic cloves (3 whole, 1 pressed)
1 lemon
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups baby carrots
3 cups small Yukon gold potatoes
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Gravy Ingredients
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
Renderings from the roasted chicken
1 cup of chicken broth (if needed)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425° and put rack on second lowest position in the oven. Spray roasting pan with cooking spray. Place 6 to 8 onion slices touching side by side in the center of the roasting pan. The chicken will eventually sit on top of the onions.

Chop 4 sage leaves and the leaves of 5 thyme sprigs, and combine in a small bowl with one pressed garlic clove and 3 tablespoons of room-temperature butter. Set aside.

Create a small bundle with thyme and sage and secure with twine. Remove the outer layer of the remaining 3 garlic cloves. Gently roll the lemon to release its juices and then poke it a few times with a fork.

IMG_8840Wash the chicken thoroughly with cold water and pat dry. Make sure the neck and giblets have been removed. Generously sprinkle chicken inside and out with salt and pepper.

Place the 3 garlic cloves, the whole lemon, one tablespoon of butter and herb bundle into the cavity of the bird. Bring the legs together and tie with twine. Lather the outside of the chicken with the herb butter mixture from step 2, and place the chicken breast side up on the onion slices in the roasting pan. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper.

Cook at 425° for 20 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350°. Gently pour 2 cups of chicken broth into the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1 hour, basting and adding 1/2 cup of chicken broth every 30 minutes. Rotate the roaster in the oven at some point.

Then add the carrots to one side of the roasting pan and the potatoes to the other. Cook for 25 minutes, then gently stir the vegetables without disturbing the bird. Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth to the pan. Cook for another 20 minutes.

Remove roasting pan from the oven and carefully take out the chicken and put it on a cutting board or platter. Remove the items inside the bird and let it rest 10 minutes before carving. Remove the carrots and potatoes and cover to keep them warm. Put the onion slices in a strainer and gently press with a spoon over a bowl to remove any extra liquid. Retain the liquid, but throw away the onions.

IMG_8843To make gravy, strain the liquid from the roasting pan and combine it with the liquid from the onions. Scrape off the black spots on the roasting pan and put it on the stove top. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-low heat and add 2 tablespoons of flour, mixing well until combined. Slowly add the strained liquid back into the pan. Increase heat to medium and stir continually until the gravy is slightly thickened. You can add more chicken broth if it gets too thick.

Carve chicken and serve with vegetables and gravy. Enjoy!


Sunday Leftovers: Easy Chicken Salad

food, meal plans, salads, sunday supper, tips

You can do anything with leftover chicken. Depending on the amount, I typically either make chicken salad or chicken soup for the next night. Yesterday I made my Roasted Chicken with Potatoes and Carrots, and ended up with a cup and a half of leftover chicken. That’s the perfect amount for my easy chicken salad, which helps make lunch a breeze. Serve this over mixed greens with a light balsamic dressing or try it in a croissant or on your favorite bread.

Chicken Salad

1-2 cups leftover chicken, chopped or shreddedIMG_8846

1/2 cup mayo (reduced fat or regular)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons of finely chopped onion

1/4 cup of chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped cashews or almonds, if desired

Paprika to taste

Olive oil to taste

Mix mayo, lemon juice, pepper, onion salt and garlic powder. Add shredded chicken and mix well. Incorporate the onion, celery and nuts. Add a dash of paprika. If you want it creamier, then add a little more mayo or some olive oil. To add a sweet twist, omit the paprika and incorporate a 1/4 cup of dried cranberries.

Healthy Broccoli Cheese Soup

food, meal plans, soup, tips, vegetables

It’s cold outside today and after a trip to the grocery store I’ve decided on broccoli cheese soup for dinner. It meets all my criteria – it works for our family’s “Meatless Mondays,” and it’s peak broccoli season, which satisfies the Paleo challenge.IMG_9809

Many broccoli cheese soups feel so heavy that you’re left wondering if it was truly healthy. That’s a common theme in America: the idea that because it’s a vegetable it must be good for us. Ummm … not when you fry it or dump cheese all over it!

I promise this recipe is healthy and tasty. I use mostly chicken broth with only a half cup of 1% milk, and a good sharp cheddar cheese so that a little can go a long way. A few other tips include steaming all the vegetables and including some cauliflower to help thicken the soup. Cauliflower can often act as a starch, but without the carbs that come from potatoes. I’m not a big cornstarch fan so this soup’s heartiness truly comes from the vegetables.

I also have to consider my 3-year-old daughter’s dinner, and she won’t eat soup. I’ve decided to reserve some of the steamed broccoli for her, and throw together a quick cheese sandwich and some fruit. Dinner is done!

I’ve included ranges for this recipe’s ingredients because you may need to increase or decrease the amount based on your preference. I don’t believe in exact measurements (except for baking – that must be precise!). Many nights we open the refrigerator door and need to make the most of the ingredients on-hand. This broccoli soup consists of staples and can be thrown together within 30 minutes and serves four people.

1/2 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1-2 cups chicken broth
1/4 onion
2 garlic cloves
2 celery stalks
1-2 cups cauliflower
2-3 cups broccoli
1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube
1 tsp of white pepper

Steam the onion, celery, cauliflower, garlic and broccoli together until tender, about 20 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of broccoli.
Place remaining steamed vegetables, chicken broth, and the bouillon cube in a pot and simmer for a few minutes.
Turn off heat and gradually stir in cheese, milk and white pepper.
Use a blender or hand immersion blender to puree until desired consistency. Then add the reserved broccoli and pulse until just combined.
Serve with garlic bread or side salad.

Welcome to My Tasteful Life


Welcome to my blog on cooking, family and life. I’m a former marketing executive who still does consulting on the side, a physician’s wife, and the mother of a happy and energetic little girl. Some women are crafty, some women run marathons, but I cook. Finding ways to cook healthier meals without losing flavor is my continual goal. I don’t mind spending a little time thinking about a tentative weekly menu or spending an hour prepping if it yields multiple meals.

If you don’t like being in the kitchen, then this isn’t the blog for you. My Tasteful Life is about enjoying food and reducing the stress that comes from cooking for a family. I aim to provide recipes, meal plans, and tips on how to make one meal into two, and give readers unique and satisfying meals that make their effort worth it.

This year I’ve challenged myself to follow the Paleo Diet, which focuses on eating seasonally and locally. I’m already pretty good at shopping at the farmer’s market and locally owned stores. But I want to embrace eating what’s in season and not just what’s being craved.

Last year my family faced my idea of “Meatless Mondays” with a positive attitude (of course they had to endure it since I’m the one who cooks), and we all found it to be a great way to eat more veggies and lighten up a weeknight meal. Together with my new morning veggie, fruit and protein smoothies, I was able to drop a few pounds and keep them off all year. I think following Paleo will push us all a little further, and that is the point of life – to challenge ourselves, grow and do our best to enjoy the ride.