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Ask My Friend Maillard

Welcome to my new blog, Fred Parents! The focus of this blog will be responding to food challenges and answering common mealtime questions from you. When I am between challenges, I plan to write up seasonal/local cooking tips that are family-friendly and budget-conscious.

Please let me know if you try any of my suggestions, and if you want to send me a challenge or a question, I'll be waiting. Contact me at myfriendmaillard (at) or on Twitter - I'm @JoannaMaillard.

[Disclaimer: The following is a slight cheat since I asked myself for this inaugural post.]

THE QUESTION: How can I make PB&J sandwiches exciting?

Some lucky few never get tired of a classic like PB&J, but the rest of us have innumerable reasons to look for updates, upgrades or disguises.

Such as:

  • You want a gourmet lunch on a budget.
  • Your household is bored with the usual go-tos.
  • You love pb&j but hate that the bread gets soggy when made the night before.
  • You need to be sensitive to nut allergies.
  • Your household is very active and needs extra protein/calories.
  • OR comment with your own reason & I'll create a variation on one of the ideas below.

Perhaps you, or maybe your teenage child, want a more refined lunch box. You could get a jar of artisanal nut butter and extravagant jelly, slather them on fresh toasted bakery bread, and be happy with the upgrade. BUT after a few weeks that isn't exactly a budget option. Instead, get creative. Peanuts are used all over the world as a base for soups, sauces and condiments; whenever you need a bit of inspiration just do a quick search for how peanuts are used in cuisines you enjoy then adapt those flavors to go with your favorite peanut butter!

My top suggestions for exciting PB&J:

#1 Go Thai or African Fusion with a PB&J Chicken Salad Sandwich.

This solution is a flavor bomb, a protein boost and has the potential for fancy, so it solves most of the reasons for upgrade listed above.

PBJ chicken salad sandwich

For one sandwich:

½ cup shredded chicken- Use leftover poached/grilled/roasted chicken or a store bought rotisserie chicken. If you do not eat meat seared tofu or farro/barley are excellent substitutes for the chicken.
2 tbsp [any nut or seed] butter- A natural, crunchy PB is best for taste and texture. cashew butter or tahini are good for those who need to be careful of peanut or nut allergies respectively.
1 tbsp jam/marmalade- I recommend starting with a citrus marmalade or plum jam if the then moving on to other favorite fruit, I love to use
2 tsp vinegar- preferably unseasoned rice vinegar or lime/lemon juice
2 tsp soy sauce- Use Tamari, Worcestershire, or Fish sauce is you are gluten-free
1 tsp sesame/neutral oil- this is just for added moisture/tenderness it is optional or can be replaced by water, juice, or vinegar depending on taste.
Seasoning to taste- fresh pepper and a spoonful of gochujang or sriracha is my inclination, but a little lemon juice and cinnamon would also work well.

Stir those six ingredients together (letting them all come to room temperature first works best). Store mixture covered in fridge if making for the whole week/ sooner than the night before. Recommended to use before 1 week has passed.

Adjust any measurement above to your preferences/dietary needs or container size.

PBJ chicken salad

Container- Personally, I would go with a french roll, pinch out some of the inner crumb and stuff it full with the mixture PLUS herbs, sprouts and pickled carrots/jalapenos because I love textures. But whatever bread, wrap, or large leaf you have available to contain everything will work!

If that is too informal or has too many choices for you put this salad from Bobby Flay in between two slices of your favorite bread and enjoy.

#2 Make lunch packing a fun project by waffling/shaping sandwiches.

With younger or easily entertained audiences, making the shape or texture different or simply crafting the food themselves is all the excitement they need. A waffle iron or panini press can help for texture. The crunchy crust and creamy insides will call out for Elvis-esque additions: banana, cooked bacon, chocolate, and potato chips are all crowd pleasers (or just make a waffled sandwich with those four fillings if you are feeling decadent).

When waffling make sure to either use nonstick spray on your waffle iron or butter the outsides of your bread like a grilled cheese. Or, simply grill in a skillet as you would a grilled cheese if you have no waffle iron, the goal is the interplay between crunchy crust and creamy insides, not buying new equipment. If you have young children and cookie cutters you can make it even more interactive and have "grilled tea sandwich PB&Js".

Remember food can always be fun!

As soon as you start creating variations, you will begin to succumb to the limitless creative process. Try anything at least once, especially if a toddler suggests it (they have a beautiful lack of boundaries that should be utilized more in cooking). If you are looking for more discussion of the limitless possibility of peanut butter, listen to the first episode of Food52's new podcast Burnt Toast.

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About Joanna

blogger joanna2

I am a young entrepreneur who loves to solve problems; from the daily crossword to a client's cooking conundrum. Passion for soccer, architecture, travel, and experimenting with cooking techniques (mostly) define my life. My company, My Friend Maillard, is a personal chef service designed to help clients who don't have the time or inclination to cook at home. I approached Fredericksburg Parent to host this blog so I could also help local families find answers for their seemingly intractable food and cooking related problems.

Did your teenager just decide to go vegan? Do you want to know why your cakes always collapse in the center? Do you want to know how to get chicken skin really crispy? Just Ask My Friend Maillard. Make your queries as specific or as weird as you like and submit them anytime through Twitter, on Facebook, or via email to myfriendmaillard (at) Can't wait to hear from you!

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Great Train Race Director Jennifer Taylor was one of the first on board.