goat cheese

Pesto Change-o

Like a lot of folks who are trying to eat a little healthier but rarely feel truly satisfied at the end of a meal that doesn’t contain a little meat, chicken has become a staple in our kitchen. It’s easy to work with, pretty affordable, and neutral enough in flavor that it goes with almost anything else you can put next to it. But, if you’ve found yourself leaning kinda hard on poultry to do the heavy lifting, you might be running out of ideas. That’s pretty much where I was when I started pondering ways to liven up the party.

I think I might have stumbled upon a good one, you guys. These chicken roll ups are packed with flavor, but portion controlled, and still hold the door wide open for very nearly any vegetable or starch you want to pair with them.  They’ve got just enough creamy and cheesy, thanks to goat cheese; a little bite of salty from black olives; some sweetness from the roasted red pepper; and the herbaciously savory goodness of pesto. It’s a perfect little package of yum.

Knife and cutting board
Medium mixing bowl
Spoon for mixing
Can opener
Measuring spoons
Large sheet pan
OPTIONAL: Tooth picks

1 package thinly sliced chicken breasts (mine had six pieces in it, which is what this recipe is based on)
Salt & Pepper
1 3.5 oz container of goat cheese crumbles
1 large roasted red pepper, small dice (You can either buy a whole jar of them and use the rest for a salad or something, or, if you want to just buy one fresh red pepper and roast it yourself, you can find directions here.)
2.5 tablespoons pre-made pesto
1.5 tablespoons chopped black olives
3 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh parsley
6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan (slightly more than 1/3 of a cup)
Pan spray

Preheat your oven to 325°.

In the mixing bowl, combine the goat cheese, diced red pepper, pesto, chopped olives, and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Spray your sheet pan with pan spray. Season both sides of each piece of chicken breast with salt and pepper, then lay them out flat, big end towards you, on the sheet pan. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the big end of each piece of chicken, then roll them up, tucking the chicken around the filling as you go.  If you want to use a toothpick to make sure they stay rolled up, go for it. Mine held together without them, though.


Pop the chicken roll-ups into the oven for 20 minutes, or until they’re just cooked through. Top each roll-up with one tablespoon of the shredded Parmesan, then put them back into the oven just until the cheese melts. Let them rest for 5-7 minutes before serving.

I had one for lunch with about 3 ounces of cooked farro, and I was pleasantly full. For a dinner sized portion, you could do two with a starch and a veg. As you probably figured out, this recipe makes six, but doubling the recipe is a cinch if you have more mouths to feed or want to make sure there are lots of leftovers. Also, if you wanted to add a little more color to the plate, take the remaining roasted red peppers and puree them up in the blender with a little water or stock and a pinch of salt for a nice bright sauce to drizzle over the chicken.




My culinary school is having a scholarship contest. First prize is $3,000 towards first quarter’s tuition. That’s a pretty large chunk of change. Plus, imagine being the winner, starting off your tenure as a culinary student with a win like that under your belt. Pretty major boost in confidence, I’d say.

I just found out about the contest at the end of November, so I had to work fast if I wanted to hit the January 3rd deadline. Today, I’m sharing one of my three original recipes required in the contest rules: Savory Thyme Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with Fig Confit & Goat Cheese Filling.


Basic shortbread is a simple recipe that comes together quickly, and this one requires only one additional ingredient— fresh thyme. These sandwich cookies are rich, and more savory than sweet, which make them a good one (or maybe two) bite appetizer with a glass of wine.

2 C All-Purpose flour                                                                      
¼ C confectioner’s sugar                                
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves                     
¾ tsp salt
1 C unsalted, room temperature butter                                
Water (if necessary)       

Large mixing bowl
Wooden mixing spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Electric hand mixer or food processor
Plastic wrap
Parchment paper or silicone baking mat
Baking sheet
Wide spatula 
Wire cooling rack
Knife & small cutting board for chopping

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and thyme in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with an electric hand beater (or in a food processor) just until the mixture forms a soft dough. The dough should hold together when squeezed in your hand. If the dough is not forming, mix in water 1 tsp at a time by hand until the dough holds together.

Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface, and move the dough onto it. Along the edge nearest to you, form the dough into a log approximately 2” in diameter. Roll the dough log forward, wrapping it in the plastic. Twist the ends in opposite directions until the dough is compact. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about an hour to firm it up.

Once the dough is firm, pre-heat the oven to 375°. Line the baking sheet with the parchment or baking mat. Slice the dough into 1/3” slices and place 1” apart on the baking sheet. Bake just until the edges of each cookie start to brown, about 12 minutes. Allow the shortbread to cool for about 5 minutes on the baking sheet, and then move them to the wire rack to finish cooling. This recipe makes 30 cookies.

Fig Confit
¾ C + 3 T red wine (I used 2011 14 Hands Merlot)               
3 C dried Turkish figs, cut into quarters                                
½ C granulated sugar
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/8 tsp salt

Medium saucepan with a lid
Spoon to stir
Knife and cutting board

Put all ingredients into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and allow to reduce for about 20 minutes. The confit should be bubbling and thick. Using the back of the spoon, mash any large chunks of fig until the confit is spreadable. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Additional Ingredients:
4-6 oz softened goat cheese (You could use regular cream cheese if you’re not a goat cheese fan. I would just recommend that you stick to cheeses that have a bit of a tang.)

Gently spread approximately 1 ½ tsp of confit onto half of the shortbread cookies. Spread the other half of the cookies with 1 tsp of the softened goat cheese. Bear in mind that shortbread can be a bit delicate, so it’s important to handle them lightly while spreading the filling.

Place one cookie spread with fig, filling side down, into one cookie spread with goat cheese to form a sandwich. Repeat with all the cookies.