Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Laptop Lunches #60

A somewhat inspired example of how I can use the exact same stuff (more or less) two days in a row and  have it look totally different! Or at least very different. Cheese quesadilla, refried beans with cheddar, pink orange slices, a silicone star cup of salsa, and yellow rice with cilantro.

I am glad I ordered the star cups. The fun shape was helpful in cheering me up today. A hint: wrap the cup in plastic wrap if your lunch is going to get jostled much, or else you will end up with salsa-and-orange-wedges, which doesn't sound super appetizing. Had I thought this through, I might have arranged the food differently. Oh, well. It tasted good and was cheap. And as I said yesterday--not completely vegetarian, because of how I cooked it, but since it could easily be done that way, I have tagged this a vegetarian lunch.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Laptop Lunches #59

What a week I've had! And a computer virus to boot. (Scareware of the worst kind--it's called "Security Scan" and every time you try to do anything it jumps out and tells you you can't because you have  a virus--unless you pay them some money to make this go away. Luckily, I have our on-campus computer techs to make it go away.) On a side note, why is it that when you go in for anything on your computer, the techs "helpfully," without asking, do obnoxious things like emptying your recycling bin? It's a recycling bin for a reason. I still don't know if I have all the files I wanted, and I do know my computer has about 3 gigabites less stuff on it than it did before all this. And today is only Tuesday...

I've tagged this as a vegetarian lunch, although technically it isn't, because one could easily do a vegetarian version of it (I'll explain below). Mini bean-and-cheese burritos, yellow rice with cilantro, homemade tortilla chips, and homemade salsa.

I had a roommate once who always made her own tortilla chips; never bought them. I used to mock her for this but I now think she was brilliant--one, because homemade tortilla chips are far superior to the bagged kind, and two, because by making them yourself you limit how many are available on hand for you to eat. They are the sort of thing you can eat 400 calories of without noticing if you are not careful. They're pretty easy to do, especially in small batches--cut, fry in vegetable oil, remove to paper towels, salt.

The beans in the bean-and-cheese burritos are homemade refried beans. I have a recipe I swear by, but it does take a few days--yes, days--to prepare. Still, the hands-on time is minimal, and the rewards...anyhow, my recipe involves bacon fat, so if you wanted to do this vegetarian, obviously you'd go with shortening or vegetable oil. And it also involves beef stock, but you could use vegetable bouillon, too.

Start with 1/2 pound of pinto beans. Pick over, rinse, then soak overnight in enough water to cover generously. In the morning, drain put into a slow cooker. Add enough clean water to cover by about an inch. Turn on low. Check in about 5-8 hours or so; they should be very soft. Stir in a teaspoon of sugar and about a teaspoon of beef base (see here) and turn off the slow cooker. When cool enough to do so, transfer to a covered container and stick in the fridge. (If you're a bean person, you can make more, and have bean soup. I'm not into that but my mother loves it with cornbread and fresh pico de gallo.)

When you're ready to fry the beans, melt a tablespoon of bacon fat in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Do not use a non-stick stillet or you will ruin it with a potato masher later (and also, the pan should be super easy to clean if you do it right). Add 1/4 of an onion, chopped, and cook until very deeply browned but not burned, stirring very frequently. Add 1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped, and cook about a minute. Add a few spoonfuls of the beans at a time with a slotted spoon, and mash before adding more, about two cups of beans. Add 1/4 cup of bean juice and stir. Simmer until the beans are just a little runnier than you want. Turn off the flame. Add salt to taste.

As for the burritos, using fajita size tortillas is a perfectly managable way of making burritos for lunch. They are tiny, but two fit very nicely into one compartment in my Laptop Lunches lunchbox. Figure about 2-3 tablespoons of filling per burrito, max. I did about 2 tablespoons of beans and 1 tablespoon of cheese (Colby-Jack). If you don't serve them with salsa, though, you'll need to spice them up a bit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Laptop Lunches #58

More confetti cabbage salad (of course), glazed parsnips with celery, flank steak and cheese roulade, and bacon-braised green beans.

The flank steak was an on-clearance purchase. I fear I am stuck with flank steak for a while, and it doesn't really go with the cabbage salad. Also, I miss fruit. I think I'm still a way off from more attractive packed lunches.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Laptop Lunches #57

Confetti cabbage salad (from Best American Side Dishes, by America's Test Kitchen), homemade carrot cake (from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010), leftover turkey breast, and some cheddar squares with butter crackers.

A few thoughts: one, America's Test Kitchen is brilliant with slaw-type things. I love their advice to sweat out the cabbage for several hours (salted, in a colander, then rinsed) before making the salad. I never was a fan of coleslaw, mostly because of the watery texture of the cabbage. But this is something else--a spicy peanut dressing coats the shredded cabbage, carrots, and scallions. Plus, cabbage, unlike other leafy greens, will stay crisp for days, even after dressed. My only beef is that one has to buy a whole head of cabbage (which will take me two or three weeks to eat!) and that this recipe made enough for me to have to eat it every day for a week, even using only 1/2 a head of cabbage. But if you have other people around helping you to eat it, go for it.

On the flip side of things, the tiny carrot cake was an inspiration. The recipe says it serves two; in reality you could get three very generous slices, or six of the size shown here, from the little pan of carrot cake. But I love carrot cake. This isn't a carrot cake adulterated with dried fruits and nuts, either. It's pure, a nice spice cake with shredded carrots and a thick coating of cream cheese frosting. So tiny carrot cake is a definite winner. (And I gave in and bought that cookbook, rather than constantly checking it out of the public library.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Laptop Lunches #56

I'm back! And not quite in the groove yet. Sort of semi-groovy.

Lemony carrot salad (a recipe from this book, which I checked out of the public library), dried figs, leftover spiral macaroni and cheese, and a Hebrew National low-fat frank, cut up. (You see how I avoided saying I ate a hot dog cut into chunks, in toddler fashion? Very easy to do if you use fancy words.)

The dried figs are evidence of the lingering presence of my out of town food. I went a little nuts in the dried fruit section, and now have just about every dried fruit known to humankind, it seems.I have learned things out there, in mini fridge land. It is not easy, but I did avoid fast food altogether, more or less, so that was a success. I think I overdid the trail mix, but I did find out that there are some fantastic instant noodle bowls out there, for the "just add boiling water" crowd. (No microwave, but I did take my hot pot.) If you get noodle bowls involving rice noodles, this is best, because one generally cooks rice noodles by soaking them in hot water anyway, so it's not cutting corners so much. I like Thai Kitchen and Annie Chun's All Natural, but you may find other things. Avoid your Easy Macs, even if you have a microwave.

Also, if you are driving somewhere, you can stop at a grocery store and go by the salad bar and deli and spend a lot less than if you went to a restaurant, or marginally less (or the same) as if you went to a fast food place. Grocery stores don't put huge billboards on the highway, but they are easy to find with a GPS, or just when you arrive at what appears to be a semi-densely populated place. I had a nice lunch of veggies, ham salad, and crackers one day that way, with a small bottle of milk. But you can also bring food along with you--dried fruit, granola bars, small cups of applesauce, pretzels, etc. You just have to think outside the box.

I'm slowly getting back into buying groceries and cooking like normal people, so next week's meals should look a little less "from the bunker." Or at least that's what I'm hoping to achieve.