Archive for November, 2011

November 30, 2011

The Simple BLT (&A)

I knew this day would come. I was just hoping that I’d have a couple more months. S is getting tired of the variety in her lunch.

“Can’t I eat the same thing more than once or twice?” she asked me yesterday.

I reminded her of my blog and my self-induced challenge to come up with 108 different lunches this year.

She groaned.

“It’s better than eating the same thing every single day, right?” I offered.

S did not respond.

To perk up her spirits, I decided to make her one of her favorite things today: bacon. Admittedly, it’s one of my favorite things, too. Pork fat. Yum. And I wonder why my jeans are so tight.

I opted for the classic BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) sandwich today, but decided to swap out the mayonnaise for some avocado. If you have access to it, I highly recommend Niman Ranch’s applewood-smoked uncured bacon. It is out of this world. Not only does it taste fantastic, it’s also free of nitrates and nitrites, hormones and antibiotics. Yes, bacon isn’t exactly low in fat, but I like to tell myself that S is also getting lettuce, tomato and avocado with her lunch—all good stuff. Plus, I loaded her up on fruit, lots of yummy grapes and clementines. It’s all about balance. But that delicate balance may get upset if I have to dedicate an entire category to bacon to get S and me through the school year.

Update:  When I unpacked S’s lunchbox that afternoon, I noticed she had only eaten two bites of her sandwich. What?! Her explanation: “The lettuce was disgusting!”

Um, okay. I actually kind of believed her, because typically S likes lettuce. But my adult brain wanted to scream, “Why didn’t you just take the lettuce off then? The rest of the sandwich was perfectly good.”

Instead, I simply made a mental note that BLTs would not be in her future.  Then, I gave the leftover bacon to my sweet German Shepherd.

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November 28, 2011

Tapas Monday

Monday always catches me off guard. I get out of the routine of packing lunch—especially following a holiday—and then it seems more arduous than usual. Today’s no-cook lunch was inspired by  a recent cross-country flight. Since none of the airlines offer free food anymore, they’ve upped the ante with choices for food for sale. Last month, we tried United’s tapas box and it was surprisingly decent. In fact, S loved it.

Tapas is basically a meal composed of little appetizers, or as I like to call it, “a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” What kid doesn’t like small portions of lots of different things? I’ve been waiting for a time-crunched day to pull this trick out of my hat. I lined my stainless steel Lunchbots container with five silicone muffin liners and filled them with olives, baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, prosciutto (which could just as easily be ham, turkey or roast beef), and rice crackers. For a little more protein, I included a mini Babybel cheese. I also packed hummus in a separate container for dipping. Lastly, I threw in a whole apple. Lunch was packed in a matter of minutes. And you know what? It was kind of fun.

November 23, 2011

Turkey Day Leftovers – Grilled Cheese with Cranberry Relish

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and already I’m think about leftovers! I was so excited to try this that I simply couldn’t wait. The idea came to me when I was shopping for Thanksgiving and saw a goat cheese log wrapped in cranberries. Mmmmmm. Then, I thought: why not a grilled goat cheese cheddar sandwich with cranberry relish? The goat cheddar was what I had in the fridge, but I think it’d be just as delicious, if not more tasty, with Gruyere.

Yes, I admit, I buttered both sides of my mutligrain bread (not a true grilled cheese without butter, right?) and then grated the goat cheddar over both sides. I put both pieces in the skillet on medium and let them get nice and toasty, and golden brown. Then, I spread a layer of orange-cranberry relish over the melted cheese. I topped it with the other side and, voila, I was done! C loved, loved this sandwich. But this is the same kid who eats spoonfuls of cranberry sauce. He had to fight me for the last bite. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2011

Gotta Try It: Persimmons

For many families, fall is about apples. At our house, it’s all about persimmons. Every year, my family eagerly awaits these sweet golden-orange gems. Native to China and Japan, but now grown all over the world, persimmons are harvested  between late October and February. Every Halloween, as we carve our pumpkins—the other round, orange fruit in season at the same time—the kids are reminded that their favorite small, crunchy orange fruit is finally here.

While my kids have been eating persimmons since they were tiny toddlers, I’m now meeting a lot of folks who have never tried one. If you’re one of those people, your time has come. You have been missing out.

There are a number of varieties of persimmons, but the two main ones that are easy to find in the United States are the Fuyu and the Hachiya. Our family usually eats the tomato-shaped, flat-bottomed Fuyus, because they’re easier to find and the less expensive of the two. I also think the kids prefer the Fuyu, because it has a crisp texture, whereas the Hachiya is soft and pudding-like. The Fuyu is ripe when firm, and personally I like it when it has a little give to it, like a ripe peach, but it can be eaten either way and is equally delicious. Although the skin is edible, I recommend that you peel it if you’re a persimmon virgin. Even after eating persimmons for decades I find the skin to detract from the rest of the fruit, which is why I always peel them first. C likes to eat the fruit whole like an apple, and S likes hers in slices.

The Hachiya, on the other hand, is an astringent when it’s not ripe, so it’s imperative to let them ripen fully and get really soft. Shaped like a large acorn and characterized by a more reddish-orange hue than the fuyu, Hachiyas are best cut in half and then eaten with a spoon.

It’s a shame you can only get these beautiful orange lanterns in late fall and early winter. So, we’re not wasting any time here at the Y household. I’m buying them by the truckloads. The kids are finding them in salads with spinach, goat cheese and walnuts, in their cereal, and in their lunch boxes. If they’re really lucky, I just might try to make a persimmon jam this year.

November 17, 2011

White Bean Chili

I have a soft spot for this recipe. My friend, S, first made this for my family shortly after I had given birth to C. At the time, I was sleep deprived, failing at the transition to having two kids, and so mentally and physically exhausted that I couldn’t bear the thought of cooking. Thanks to the awesome moms in my neighborhood, I had dinners brought to me three times a week for a month.

I distinctly remember the evening S brought over this white bean chili. Everyone was starving, cranky and desperate for comfort and sustenance. In walked S with a big steaming pot of chili. I swear she had a halo over her. And she had an assortment of toppings for the chili: crushed tortilla chips, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, etc. It was satisfying in all the right ways, and super fun for my daughter who got to piece together her own meal. That same week, I asked S for the recipe and I have been making it ever since. Sometimes, I add cumin-rubbed, grilled chicken; other times, I opt for cumin-spiced, grilled shrimp. In either case, it’s always a hit with the family. If you’re in a pinch, you could easily chop up some store-bought rotisserie chicken.

This recipe is very, very simple, and takes hardly any time to cook. The kids have a blast scooping chili with their chips and tailoring the toppings to their liking. When I packed it for S’s lunch this morning, I put all the condiments in a separate container, so she could create the perfect combination at school.

White Bean Chili

1 TB vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 – 4 cups chicken broth
2 TB chopped fresh cilantro or 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 TB lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp red pepper sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1 bag frozen whole kernel corn
3 cans (15-16 ounces each) white beans, drained (any variety will do — cannellini, Great Northern, white navy, etc.)

2 cups chopped cooked chicken (I just toss some olive oil, cumin, and salt on some breasts and throw them on the grill.)

Heat oil in 4-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook onions and garlic in oil, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients except chicken. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 20 minutes. Stir in chicken; simmer until hot.

Garnish with shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, chopped green onions, diced tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro, sliced avocado, or sour cream.

November 16, 2011

Gotta Try It: Brussels Sprouts (with bacon and maple syrup)

I’m kicking off a new category called “Gotta Try It.” The idea came to me last week when I was at Trader Joe’s with C. I was looking for some just-ripe bananas when C came up to me and shoved a huge stalk of Brussels sprouts into my face. “Can we get this, Mommy?” he asked.

I was taken aback, because he had never eaten Brussels sprouts before. I’ve never made them because admittedly I assumed the kids wouldn’t like them. After all, I have a hard time getting my husband to eat more than a few. So I figured, why bother?

“I’ll buy them, if you’ll cook them with me and eat them,” I told C. I’ve always found that  if the kids cook a dish with you, they’re more apt to eat it.

“Okay,” he said.

Still not convinced, I asked, “Why do you want them?”

“Because they’re so pretty,” he answered.

Fair enough. They are indeed beautiful on the stalk.

I took the Brussels sprouts home, determined to find a recipe that would make even the most finicky eaters a fan of these mini cabbages. Combing through recipes on the Web, I knew immediately when I found the winning recipe: roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup. What self-respecting human doesn’t like bacon and maple syrup? And nothing says fall like Brussels sprouts, bacon and maple syrup.

Together, C and I cut the Brussels sprouts off the stalk, rinsed them and  halved each one of them, putting them all in a large bowl. Then, we  added three slices of chopped bacon (raw), 2 tablespoons of maple  syrup and olive oil, and a pinch of salt. We tossed it all together and  then spread it out in a single layer on a baking sheet. I let it roast in a  preheated 400-degree oven  for 20 to 25 minutes, turning it a couple  times, until the Brussel sprouts were tender and caramelized and the  bacon was crisp and golden.

The results? Deelish. No doubt it was a “make-again,” as my family likes to say. C loved them and happily popped them in his mouth like popcorn. S was a little hesitant and said they were on the bitter side, but she loved the outer leaves that fell off the sprouts and turned crispy like a chip. Next time, I’m going to add a chopped Granny Smith apple to the mix and maybe a hint of balsamic vinegar.

Just think: my son had to ask for Brussels sprouts before I even considered letting him try them. Now, it’s your turn to try this recipe. Go on, already—and report back. By the way, this would make the perfect Thanksgiving side dish.

November 14, 2011

Trader Joe’s Chicken Egg Rolls

It was one of those whirlwind weekends, where Monday showed up way too soon. I simply was not prepared. The refrigerator was already empty again, so I scrounged in the freezer to see if I had any frozen entrees I could send for lunch. Way in the back of the second shelf, I found some Trader Joe’s Chicken Egg Rolls I bought a few weeks ago. It was the first time I bought them, so I’ll report back tomorrow about whether or not S likes them.

I put two in the toaster oven for S and one for me—I wanted to try them, too. The egg rolls are filled with white chicken meat, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, bamboo shoots and carrots. I was afraid they might be a little bland and a little dry, so I served a little sweet chili dipping sauce on the side. Honestly, they’re not anything special. As I suspected, they were on the bland side. But since I’m not the one eating them for lunch, I’ll wait for S for the final verdict. However, if I’m going to eat little spring rolls, I’ll stick with Trader Joe’s Lemongrass Chicken Stix or its Coconut Chicken Stix. Both are more flavorful.

November 10, 2011

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Sandwich

Let me apologize upfront: this was yesterday’s lunch, and it was a crazy morning. I had to take S to school, and haul C with me, and look presentable because I was going to watch a performance that S and her classmates were putting on. I was wondering if I even had time to pack S a lunch, but I really wanted to, because of all the food I have in my fridge. Plus, I wanted to make her a sandwich that was inspired by our trip to Portugal. Not to mention, school lunch can be so very bleak.

With all that said, I’m apologizing because lunch looks like a train wreck today. If you ever wondered what it would look like if smoked salmon got in a fist fight with cream cheese, you’re about to find out. I’m almost embarrassed to post it, but it is what it is. And it represents the truth for many of us, which is a harried mom frantically packing lunch and trying to get everyone to school on time.

I grabbed a whole wheat English muffin (I would’ve preferred a little a baguette, but didn’t have one), lightly toasted it and then spread some cream cheese on both sides. I piled some smoked salmon on one side and really, really wished I could put some thinly sliced cucumbers on top, but alas, I didn’t have any. I knew we had some baby spinach leaves, so I grabbed a small handful and put it on top of the salmon. This was risky, because S doesn’t like spinach. But I couldn’t let the sandwich go to school without some greens on it. I was betting that S would eat the spinach because she wouldn’t want to go to the trouble of picking it off. So was I right? Did S eat the spinach?

When I picked her up after school, she told me she was starving. Uh-oh. I asked her, “Did you eat your lunch?”

“Yep, everything but the Cuties,” she said. “I think I’ll eat those now.”

“Did you eat the spinach on the sandwich?” I asked.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she responded matter of factly. “I liked the sandwich. Can you make it for me again?”

That just goes to show you: we should never assume we know what our kids will or won’t eat. It’s always worth a try. After all, they just might surprise us.

November 8, 2011

Breakfast: Egg cupcakes!

Okay, okay, they’re more like little egg frittatas. But they were baked in silicone cupcake liners. Doesn’t that count for something?

The idea for these came about when, K, a friend up the street mentioned that she hadn’t made quiche in a while because her family had gone gluten-free. That inspired me to make a crustless quiche, but I was also wondering how I could turn it into a little handheld breakfast that the kids could eat in the car on the way to school. Sure beats an Eggo waffle, right?

Enter: silicone muffin/cupcake liners. They’re the perfect size for individual servings, and they make clean-up a cinch. Since we limit dairy at my house, I decided to drop the heavy cream you usually find in quiches. That turned my quiche into more of a frittata.

First, I beat 6 eggs with 1 cup of egg whites. (I knew I wanted about one egg to one muffin.) Then, I chopped up five slices of bacon and crisped them in a skillet. I drained the bacon over some paper towels, and then drained all the drippings from the pan, except for 1 tablespoon. Then, I sautéed 3 large handfuls of baby spinach in the bacon fat. After all, bacon makes everything taste better.

I put the liners on a baking sheet and dropped a little mound of spinach in each liner, followed by a sprinkling of crunchy bacon and monterey jack cheese. Then I ladled the beaten eggs over the top. I baked the frittatas at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Next time, I might consider making a well in the spinach and filling it with the eggs.

The results? C happily ate his “cupcake” and S, well, not so much. I froze the rest in a large Ziploc, so I can pop one in the microwave on a hectic morning.

November 7, 2011

Tuscan Chickpea Soup

It’s looking like it’s going to be a week of leftovers for lunch. And it’s starting with the Tuscan chickpea soup I made last night.

After we got home from Portugal, I went a little crazy at the grocery store because our refrigerator and pantry were so barren. Now, everything is stuffed to the limit—a good problem to have—but I’m also a bit stressed about cooking all the meats and vegetables before they go bad. My plan is to cook large batches of dinner and send the leftovers for lunch the next day. It really is the easiest solution. That way, I don’t have to think about lunch.

Years and years ago, I found the recipe for a Tuscan chickpea soup in the October 2001 issue of Cooking Light. It is a simple recipe that yields great results. Plus, it freezes really well. I will admit, it’s nothing exciting, but that seems to work well for the kids. The recipe calls for water, but over the years I’ve switched to chicken broth to give the soup a bit more richness. I’ve also doubled the amount of tomatoes to give it more flavor. And because I’m always trying to get more kale into our diets, I like to chop up some kale and throw it into the soup as it simmers. If I’m out of kale, I use baby spinach leaves. Since they wilt pretty quickly in the soup, I add them at the last minute. Lastly, I like to serve the soup with grilled chicken or Trader Joe’s chicken-apple sausage. The sausage comes fully cooked in the refrigerated section. I usually warm it on the grill or in a skillet.

Don’t forget to sprinkle the grated parmesan or pecorino over the soup. It makes a big difference!

Tuscan Chickpea Soup (adapted from Cooking Light)

Ingredients

2 TB olive oil

2 cups finely chopped onion

8 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tsp. fresh rosemary or 1/4 tsp. dried rosemary

1/4 – 1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

3 (15 1/2 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 (14 1/2 oz.) cans diced tomatoes undrained

Chopped kale (optional)

1 -2 TB balsamic vinegar

6 TB grated fresh Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

Method

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the broth and the next 6 ingredients (broth through kale, if using), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Place 2 cups in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Pour the pureed soup into a bowl. Repeat procedure with 2 cups soup. Return all pureed soup to pan. Stir in the vinegar, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Spoon soup into bowls and sprinkle with grated cheese. Yield: 6 servings.

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