Saturday, December 31, 2011

Laptop Lunches #49

I roasted a whole duck last night for the first time. I found a lot of helpful tips from this website. Duck is tricky, because of all the fat, but if you give it an opportunity to escape, it's a lovely, strong fowl--not at all greasy. I wish I could say all that was the reason, but the truth is I roasted a whole duck last night because I found one on sale for super cheap. I guess they expected more people to eat duck for the holidays than did.

So here I have a duck leg and some duck breast slices on a bed of garlic couscous, a cup of orange sauce (which came with said duck), some gingerbread graham crackers (I guess I'm really a sucker for post holiday food when stores want to be rid of it!), the rest of the cucumber salad, and some Empire apple slices.

And now I have the carcass of a five pound duck waiting for me to come up with all sorts of things. I am going to attempt some semblance of mock pate with the liver and stock with the rest of the giblets and bones. I have my sights set on some Vietnamese duck soup, though of course that's not packable, so you may or may not get to see what I do with it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Laptop Lunches #48

Cucumber salad with scallion dressing, the end of the carrot slaw, three egg halves stuffed with prosciutto mix on a bed of purple lettuce, a wheel of Babybel cheese, and three fudge-covered Ritz crackers. Yes, that's right--it was a limited edition holiday thing, the fudge covered Ritz crackers, and I got them at a much reduced price. I thought the combo of salty-sweet would be nice so I thought I would give it a try. Nice idea, but not the greatest execution on Nabisco's part; with higher quality chocolate,though, these things would be ambrosia. Still, a nice change of pace, and not quite so many calories as cookies.

I was going for more protein because cucumber salad and carrot slaw are so very low in calories I figured I'd be too hungry too quickly. But I felt super full before I even got to the third egg, the wheel of cheese, or the crackers. My metabolism is making no sense of late.

Meanwhile, I love how quiet the campus is with everyone away!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Laptop Lunches #47

Post-Christmas fare should be on the light side. This was my rationale for a salad-based lunch: mixed green salad with almonds and cranberries, yogurt dressing, black olives in silicone cup and a couple of pistacios on the side, carrot slaw, and potato salad. I hoped the chopped egg in the potato salad and the nuts would be enough protein, but I may have gone too light here; I was ravenous in only a few hours after this meal.

Still, the potato salad was magnificent. Here is my recipe for potato salad for two or three:

1 potato
1 egg
Dijon mustard
Dill (in whatever form you have handy)

Boil potato and egg (separately) in salted water until done. While this is happening, mix a dressing of mayo, mustard, salt, pepper, and dill to taste. (I tend to do about 3 parts mayo to 1 part mustard, but do whatever you like. I also use the dill that comes in a refrigerated tube in the produce section, but fresh or dried would work just as well.) Drain potato and plunge egg into chilled water, then peel. Chop potato and egg into bite sized pieces. If you want, you can chop some dill pickles and throw them in, too. (I didn't have any on hand.) Toss with dressing. Chill.

I boiled the potato a bit too long, which made it a little mushy, but am otherwise satisfied.

Edited: I must have been rather bleary-eyed when I wrote this. In any case, while the method described above would work fine, you could also do what I actually did, which was to peel and cut the potato before I boiled it (because then it boils much faster). Oh, well. It's not an exact science!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Laptop Lunches #46

I wanted to acknowledge Christmas somehow, but I am not really a bento blogger. I'm a lunch packing blogger. I want to do things that are simple (enough, at least) to do even when you don't feel like spending much time on it. Ironically, this meant giving way, way too much thought to what I could do for a red and green themed meal. And it didn't turn out quite as I hoped, but it's here anyway, because I feel sharing my failures is all part of the learning process:

Mozarella, pesto, and tomato rolls; red and green apple slices; roasted prosciutto wrapped asparagus spears; and three cookies from a small package of Kambly Coeur aux Noisettes I bought as a Christmas treat for myself. (Imported Swiss cookies are quite pricey, but these are amazing and I haven't had them in a year or so, so it was about time.)

A few issues: The mozarella roll turned out to be huge compared to what I had envisioned, and the pesto smeared all over the place so it doesn't really appear as part of the roll. The proscuitto didn't get quite as dark as I expected, so it's more deep pink than red. Also, asparagus spears are slightly too long for this box, so I had to trim them down and hide the scraps under the whole spears. All in all, there are too many different versions of red and green, and it really isn't as appetizing as using more of the color spectrum might be.

Alas, Merry Christmas! (It may not be the last of me you hear of before then, but nonetheless, this is the last red and green themed meal you'll see!)

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Traveler's Lunch #1

I'll be honest. I am sick to death of going places. But I will leave tomorrow morning for a conference, and figured I could give packing a meal for the train a try. (I don't know if I could bear to do it for a plane ride.)

Since the possibility of losing my lunch (literally!) is there when I'm out of my normal surroundings--I do tend to lose things when I go places, and I very much miss the black wool hat I lost at the airport last month--I did not want to pack anything I would miss. This is a recycled deli meat container and a recycled disposable takeout salad dressing cup. In the cup is the yogurt-ranch dressing I was on a quest for this week. I also have carrots, a wall of celery sticks, a Babybel cheddar wheel, some airline peanuts (appropriately enough, don't you think?), a hard boiled egg, a few slices of orange, and Granny Smith apple chunks.

I really don't know how this will be tomorrow, given that everything has the potential to touch everything else, but I am hoping it goes well. In any case, I haven't lost much by making the effort. This, a few granola bars, and an apple should get me where I'm going a lot cheaper than on-board meals or restaurants.

Now, let's see if I remember to take it...traveler's brain may prevent it.

Edited on-board Amtrak train:

Well, this sort of worked out, but perhaps not entirely. It was cold this morning. It's still quite cold. My ride to the station was slightly early and in any case, even if he hadn't been, I totally forgot to eat breakfast. So I ate this at about 10:30 AM. And it was cold. And so was I. So I ended up getting a hot cocoa and a biscuit from the station. The flavors did not meld, however, which was good. I realized I could have done all sorts of things better to make it more attractive, but I think this wasn't bad for a first effort. Next time I'll use paper or foil cupcake cups to divide things up for when I fear the silicone could get lost.

Sidenote: Amtrak has free WiFi. I don't think I can be convinced ever to fly again!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Laptop Lunches #45

I felt like I wanted something special today for some reason. So re-inventing a slightly limp salad yet again did not appeal to me. So instead, I have carrot sticks, snow peas, grape tomatoes, a cup of yogurt ranch for dipping (hooray! Even if I did have to go to the pricey store I never go to otherwise to find it), a stuffed egg, a handful of small black olives, orange slices on a bed of pomegranate seeds, and sauteed shrimp.

I strongly associate pomegranates with my father, but could not remember why until this morning. I have passed by the display of pomegranates in the grocery store for a few weeks, wondering why they so reminded me of him. Other than vaguely knowing he liked them, this made no sense. Finally, I bought one, because the winter really does bring a certain scarcity of appealing fresh fruit, and this morning, with a large knife, sliced into it on my cutting board, sending a stream of red juice all over the place.

And then, I knew. As I partially cleaned up the pomegranate massacre, which will leave stains on the wood of the surface for a while, I had a flash of memory that made me realize two things. One, I have never in my life cut into a fresh pomegranate. Two, I have watched my father do it many times, and based on this it seems I did it wrong.

During my very early childhood, when in the depth of winter pomegranates appeared in grocery stores, my father would buy one and bring it home and set it on the table, with an air of ceremony. My mother would protest that the things were too messy and she wanted nothing to do with them, and in any case she would not allow them to be eaten in the kitchen. (I do not have any pomegranate memories, other than this, that involve my mother; true to her word, she had nothing to do with them.) So in the evening, my older brother and I would sit on an old towel in the living room, and my father would sit down with us, with his supplies: a pocket knife, and two bowls.

He would cut through the outer shell of the fruit with the knife, careful not to disturb the red jewels within, then pry it open over one of the bowls and scrape out the seeds, occasionally grabbing handfuls to pop into his mouth. We would take the seeds from the bowl and bite into them, sending the rush of juice all over us, and spit the white pits into the other bowl. One pomegranate later, Dad would survey the damage--an old towel with fresh stains, and two very young children coated in sticky red juice. He would put us in the tub and more or less hose us down under the shower, then pull us out into fresh towels, find something resembling pajamas (more often than not, this meant wearing one of his old t-shirts) and put us to bed. The pomegranate ritual was only ours--who knows where my mother was during all of this.

But it's been about 25 years, I think, since this last happened, and just as mysterious as my mother's absence in the memory is why this winter ritual stopped. But the pomegranate ritual is really one of my better childhood memories, so I am glad I recovered it this morning--and at lunch, when the spurt of pomegranate juice in my mouth made it all the more vivid.

If I were going home this Christmas, perhaps we'd all eat a pomegranate again. In lieu of this, I will finish mine alone, with a vague smile of a pleasant secret.

Merry Christmas, Daddy.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Laptop Lunches #44

I am attempting to eat this salad, but since I have enough to make another 20 of this size, I don't know how that will turn out!

In any case: papaya and blackberries, some leftover scallopped potatoes, a salad of mixed greens with sliced grape tomatoes and chopped hard boiled egg, some Greek salad dressing in the cup, and pinwheels of tortillas, veggie cream cheese, and ham.

It was fine. I didn't eat the whole thing, as I am sort of without much appetite right now. The jury is still out on the eventual fate of the papaya. I don't know whether I really like papaya or not, and that might be it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Laptop Lunches #43

We're still working on leftovers. The soba noodles are beginning to look quite sad. In any case, they are here with a salad made from leftover mixed greens and a bit of leftover artichoke pieces, with croutons and blue cheese-yogurt dressing on the side, and some Southwest Airlines peanuts and a wheel of Babybel cheddar for protein, and finally, the last of the fresh pineapple cut into chunks.

This lunch was a C at best. I keep looking for yogurt ranch dressing and they are always out. I need to try another store. But in any case, the yogurt blue cheese dressing doesn't translate well--blue cheese dressing just needs to be a really fattening thing, not something mixed with yogurt. So it's watery and unpleasant, in my opinion.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Laptop Lunches #42

Most of this came from an on-campus event I was responsible for setting up and tearing down/putting food away. (The secret lives of graduate students--I have mentioned this elsewhere on the blog. But in case you missed it, we all thrive on free food we get wherever we can, so as to supplement our stipends, which, while not exactly at the level one might qualify for government aid, do leave one with the need for creative ways of makng them stretch to cover our expenses. Jorge Cham at Piled Higher and Deeper has covered this multiple times. Here. And here. And too many other times to link.) This means, happily, I get to eat pineapple without investing in a week's worth of pineapple-eating.

So: Soba noodle salad with veggies, some sliced beef (a bit more rare for my taste than I'd like), a stuffed egg, a mixture of pineapple, cantaloupe, and grapes, and two cookie bar triangles (lemon and coconut chocolate chip).

I wished for more veggies, but otherwise this was good.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Laptop Lunches #41

Stuffed egg (paprika mix), baby kosher dill pickles, a slice of swiss cheese (cut up), deli turkey meat rolls, poppy seed peppercorn water crackers, peanut butter-banana mini kebabs, and carrots and a few tomatoes with blue cheese yogurt dip.

Having eaten all of my leftover chicken in last night's fried rice, today was a no-leftovers day. I wonder why no-leftover days look so much like kid lunches? I don't intentionally set out to make kid friendly things, but looking at all this in the morning I shook my head at myself and wondered why I couldn't be more of a grown up.

I said I would try peanut butter-banana mini kebabs another way, and I am pleased to report that it worked. First, assemble them, then paint the lemon juice on. Also, in the midst of this, I realized that the lemon juice adds something important to the flavor, in addition to preventing browning, which I honestly find very strange, but I guess it's no stranger than Granny Smith apple slices (also tart) dipped in peanut butter, which I and many other people happen to really like.

This was about a B+. As I tell my students, it takes more than above average effort to get an A. I'll keep working on it!

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Laptop Lunches #40

A package of chicken breasts is like a saga around here, something like the saga of the ground beef from earlier this year. But, like ground beef, chicken breasts can take many forms.

Snow peas and orange cherry tomatoes with Greek yogurt-veggie dip, cranberry pecan cobbler, spinach, cream cheese, and chicken wrap, and a stuffed egg (dill mix).

The cobbler consisted of:

Cooking spray
1 cup of fresh cranberries
About 1/4 cup of sugar
A handful of chopped pecans
Quadrupled recipe of cobbler crust referenced here

Spray small casserole dish with cooking spray. Add cranberries, sugar, and pecans; mix to distribute well. Top with cobbler crust and a little more sugar. Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes, or until done.

It was great last night but today seemed to need considerably less crust. I'd probably halve the crust recipe if I made it again. (That is to say, I'd double, rather than quadruple, the cobbler-for-two recipe's crust.) It's also quite tart, and so much better warm with vanilla ice cream than at room temperature plain, but you cannot (and should not) have everything all the time.

All in all, I give this lunch a B. It tasted fine, but I think this was too much in the realm of white flour. I could have used a slice of orange or something. But we press on!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Laptop Lunches #39

Leftover mashed potato pancakes, soy and sherry marinated chicken breast (from the Joy of Cooking), bits of an egg sheet, roasted garlic hummus with celery and carrot sticks for dipping, a wheel of Babybel cheese, and blackberries.

I had about 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup of mashed potatoes left over and really didn't want to have them as mashed potatoes, so I did this:

1/2 very small onion, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 beaten egg (see more on that, below)

Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Cook onions in melted butter until nicely carmelized. Add to mashed potatoes and mix with remaining ingredients. In same skillet, drop spoonfuls of mashed potato batter and brown well on both sides. (Makes about 6 potato pancakes.)

After I'd done this, I had half an egg left, and instead of sticking it in the fridge, I decided to make a tiny egg sheet. (Basically I just poured it into the hot pan,  let it set, flipped it, and turned off the fire; after it was done I sliced it into strips and stuck it in with the chicken.)

This may not be the most brilliant idea I ever had, but it took care of the half an egg.

The lesson I learned last night, about cooking the marinated chicken according to the Joy of Cooking directions, is that either I am doing something wrong, or when you do this your chicken will end up blackened. I don't so much mind a slight char on the outside of the meat unless it's overcooked on the inside, but I'd prefer it to be more attractive. Thoughts? Joy has you cook the breasts in a saute pan over very high heat for four minutes on each side. Mine weren't done by then (and were already quite dark on the outside), so I had to cook them a few minutes longer. The marinade is good, mind you, but I didn't execute this the way I would have liked. (I am no good, really, at cooking white meat--give me a chicken thigh and I can make you swoon, but with the breasts I'm kind of at a loss.)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Laptop Lunches #38

Bananas and blackberries, snow peas and orange tomatoes with Greek yogurt-veggie dip, chicken apple curry (from the Dinner Doctor cookbook), and rice.

I liked the chicken-apple curry all right--it's just a variation on chicken korma, really--but I wanted something with more oomph. Still, I love cooking savory dishes with fruit.

Tip, and lesson, what have you: This recipe called for a cinnamon stick. Now, you can go to the spice aisle, and buy a very overpriced, tiny jar of cinnamon sticks, or you can go over to the international food section, find the Indian food, and buy a bag of four times as many for half the cost of the little jar. This sort of thing is true for a lot of things. Sesame and peanut oils, found with the other oils, will cost you an arm and a leg, but off with the Asian food is quite reasonable. Red and white cooking wine, next to the vinegars, is on the pricey side, but the Goya brand, with the Mexican foods, is on the cheaper end of the spectrum.

I wish all this was true for European things like lemon curd and balsamic vinegar, but alas, it is not. Still, it's generally a good tip.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Laptop Lunches #37

Confetti rice with cheddar smoked sausage, brussels sprouts with lemon pepper sauce in cup, stuffed egg, and apple slices.

The confetti rice was a new one--improvisation was necessary since what I'd planned to make involved ingredients that, it turned out, had been sitting in the fridge too long and had to be thrown out. It worked out fine, but was a little bland on its own--the sausage perked it right up. Since it's really easy, I'll give you the recipe even though it isn't the most impressive dish in the world.

1 cup rice
2 cups water (or whatever your rice cooker says)
Handful of baby carrots, sliced
1 rib of celery, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
1-2 teaspoons concentrated chicken stock paste
1 cheddar smoked sausage link

Mix all but the sausage in a rice cooker; turn on. Cook sausage according to package directions (I did mine on the stove). When rice is done, slice sausage and mix. Viola! Serves 2-3 as a side. (If I'd had more than one sausage link, I would have used two or three, and it could have elevated to main dish status.)