Thursday, March 29, 2012

Laptop Lunches #77

Gala apple slices, tuna salad on a bed of romaine, snow peas and orange bell pepper strips with yogurt-ranch dressing, a wheel of Babybel cheddar, and water crackers. This was sort of a "use it up" meal, supplemented by the pantry (a can of tuna and some water crackers).

I'm going to see if I can avoid going to the grocery store at all for another week or so. (Normally I'd go tomorrow or over the weekend.) It could get interesting. Then again, it could be an opportunity to save money and diminish my pantry (which, I'll be honest, needs diminishing--such a tiny space fills up quickly). I have some ideas, and we'll see.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Laptop Lunches #76

Garlic-basil pasta salad, the last of the salmon and orange-ginger relish, a peach, and snow peas and orange bell pepper strips with yogurt-ranch dressing for dipping.

This was the last of the Archer Farms pasta salad I fell in love with. (Remember: Archer Farms will break your heart...) But I think I may be able to re-create some approximation of this again with a packet of instant pesto sauce and a few other things, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Laptop Lunches #75

Carrot sticks, snow peas, and grape tomatoes with yogurt-ranch dip; sour cream coffee cake, oven-seared salmon with orange-ginger relish; and rice pilaf.

The cake, salmon, relish, and pilaf were all from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two, spread out over 2009 and 2010, if I remember correctly. The technique they used for cooking the salmon was a little weird, but it turned out an amazing couple of pieces of fish. The pilaf claims to make two servings, but it's more like 4-5 in my opinion. The same should probably be said of the cake--except that I ate nearly half of it this morning. The recipe is a great one in that you can make the batter and stick it in the fridge overnight before baking it in the morning.

I've had my fill of America's Test Kitchen for a bit (other than a few cake recipes I want to try). It is great to be able to cook in small batches, but their recipes involve a lot of steps and a whole lot of dirty dishes. I still love the cookbooks, but I had pasta salad tonight, from a box mix with add ins, and it was a bit of a relief. I've ordered a cookbook that promises to have slightly more pedestrian fare that had high reviews on Amazon, so we'll see how that goes when it comes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Laptop Lunches #74

My apologies for the blurriness. I don't know why all the pictures I took of this turned out so badly. Herbed spaghetti squash, banana slices, leftover dry aged ribeye steak slices with homemade steak sauce, two Hershey's Hugs and one Kiss with caramel, and a banana-nut mini muffin.

The mini muffin was from a banana bread recipe in America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two (2009, maybe?). The great thing about it is that it makes precisely one dozen mini muffins, and it uses exactly one banana. I so rarely have more than one banana around here looking sad enough to turn into a baked good at once.

The squash was a little bland. I tossed some of the leftovers with parmesan cheese later, which helped a little. I think the main problem is that there is way too much butter in the recipe. But I do love spaghetti squash. Instant veggie-noodles!

I did not mean to buy dry aged ribeye. It was on clearance and mislabeled and I didn't realize this until I got it home. I guess most people would have said, "Jackpot!" to finding one of the pricest cuts of meat there is in their shopping bags, but I'm not really a steak person. I cooked it according to the best instructions I had, and yes, it did taste very strongly of meat. For people who like a very strong "meat" flavor, this is for them. I guess I'm just not a big slab of meat kind of person. Hence, the steak sauce.

The thing about steak sauce is that if you live alone with a non-standard sized fridge that is all of 5 feet high, you do not want extra bottles of stuff hanging around. You learn to improvise. You learn what is in all of those sauces and dressings, and if you don't use it on a constant basis, you just make your own in tiny batches. And this is what I did with steak sauce, adapting a recipe I found here. Here you are:

Ribeye Steak and Sauce for One

Preheat toaster oven set on "broil." Line the drip pan with aluminum foil. Broil 1 8 oz. ribeye steak until desired doneness (for medium rare, this is about 9 minutes on each side).

Meanwhile, mix the following in a small bowl:

5 teaspoons ketchup
1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon sirachi sauce (or more, if you want more spice)
Salt and pepper to taste

Serve steak with sauce. Pat self on back for not buying any steak sauce, and sparing the room in your fridge for that bottle of lime juice that is so much more useful.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Laptop Lunches #73

Plain yogurt with a granola cluster mix with chocolate chips, almonds, and dried fruit from Archer Farms; two srawberries, leftover lamb kafta with apricot-mint sauce and some cherry tomatoes to fill the holes, and leftover "Cars" macaroni-and-cheese.

A few thoughts. One, the yogurt would not have been possible without the stainless steel condiment/sauce cups with lids I found at Ross a few weeks ago, so I'm really pleased with them. I'm not a really big yogurt-eater, and I'm always tired of it after half a "single serve" carton, so this takes care of that problem. (I think you could get about three of these cups from your typical carton of yogurt.) I just dumped the cups into the larger Laptop Lunches container and stirred the granola into the yogurt for lunch. (For those of you keeping score of my frugality, Yo Crunch! yogurt costs about 80-95 cents per carton where I am, and this version of mine ran me about 20 cents. So yes, it is possible to eat better than most grad students on a student budget.)

The lamb kafta was fine, just not quite what I expected--not enough of a lamb taste-- and ended up seeming like a super extravagant meal. Of course I have ground lamb in the freezer now and most of a package of dried apricots and some whole wheat couscous in the cabinet, and some parsley in the fridge for which I have other plans as well, so it wasn't exactly as if I spent all the money on six meatballs. But I did have to use an entire little packet of fresh mint for the sauce. I don't usually spend $1.79 on herbs for two meals! I should have waited until I got my container herbs for the warm season. I like to think that the mini-muffins I made out of that very black banana made up for the expense. In any case, the recipe came from a library book, Eating Well Serves Two: 150 Healthy in a Hurry Suppers. It's a fine cookbook, with lots of pictures, but not as good as my America's Test Kitchen ones. Then again, Eating Well gives me calorie counts, and with America's Test Kitchen I might not want to know...

The macaroni was on sale. I don't think there's an improvement over the original Kraft macaroni and cheese in the blue box in that genre, no matter how hard they try, but the shapes were a change of pace, anyway.

It wasn't until I'd finished packing this that I saw how veggie-deprived my lunch was, so I guess I'll have to make that up at dinner tonight.

Finally, a thank you to Cybele Pascal at the Allergy Friendly Cook for featuring my chicken salad lettuce wraps for this week's Allergy Friendly Friday. It's really rare that anybody calls a graduate student in the depths of dissertating "fun," and I'm glad to see I've entertained someone other than myself!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Laptop Lunches #72

Cucumber salad from yesterday, some shamrock cookies (on sale, of course, after the holiday), sour cream-and-scallion smashed red potatoes (an America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two recipe; whatever year it is I've forgotten but I think is 2011), a mixture of strawberry and mango chunks, and some hardwood smoked chicken sausage with peppers and onions.

I was in a major hurry or I would have realized that this arrangment is one that would require plastic wrap to protect cucumber salad from sugar cookies. However, as it happens, the cucumber salad stayed in its place. It's pretty dense stuff (which I find vaguely disturbing, actually).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Laptop Lunches #71

Fruit salad of a sort (kiwi, strawberry, pineapple), an egg stuffed with dill mix, cream cheese and red pepper relish tortilla pinwheels, and sour cream-dill cucumber salad.

I am endlessly trying cucumber salads. I like this one, but the dressing is a bit thick. The shallot adds a surprisingly significant spiciness to the whole thing. (It is, incidentally, from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2009, meaning I made it out of 2010 at least.)

I could have done much better with the pinwheels had I a) chilled them a bit more before I attempted to cut them and/or b) not been so stingy with the cream cheese, but they were nice enough anyway.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Laptop Lunches #70

Chicken patties, a small green salad with slices of carrot and chopped yellow bell pepper, three rather large strawberries, a bit of yogurt-ranch dressing for the salad, and red pepper relish.

This is not one of my better attempts--way too much empty space. Cutting the strawberries up would have helped. I think the chicken patties would have looked nicer tucked into a bed of lettuce. But I was in a bit of a hurry.

The chicken patties worked out well, though, at least with the pepper relish. I think without it I would have needed to have seasoned them more. But this is what I did:

1/3 leftover cooked chicken breast
1/3 small onion
1 slice stale bagguette
1 egg
1 sprig of curly-leaf parsley, chopped

Chop chicken and onion together in a blender or small food processor/chopper. Dump into medium bowl. Process the bread slice until crumbs. Add to chicken mixture with egg and parsley. Mix well. Form into small patties and cook in a nonstick skillet until browned on both sides (about two minutes each side).

Because sometimes, you just don't want to have a plain leftover chicken cutlet.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Laptop Lunches #69

Sorry the picture is a bit crooked today. I had a hard time getting a clear shot this morning. But here we are: cucumber slices, grape tomatoes, carrot sticks, a mixture of pineapple tidbits and chunks of kiwi, wheat crackers, red pepper relish over an ounce of cream cheese (well hidden, but trust me, it is there!) and a whole stuffed egg with dill mix. I garnished the slices with extra dill, because I have actual, fresh dill on hand.

The red pepper relish, from (what else?) America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010, is quite unusual, but I really like it--sort of sweet and spicy in a way that is very different than the sweet and spicy pickled onions. It's almost like a jam or jelly with a slight kick. (I could have added more red pepper flakes for a serious kick.) You could leave out the spiciness altogether and it would still be a really nice flavor--a very strong, bell pepper flavor--hard to describe, but worth it and fairly easy to do.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Laptop Lunches #68

Gala apple and swiss slices, grape tomatoes (to fill in the space because I didn't have enough apple), carrot sticks, a cup of yogurt-ranch (lid on, because today I thought it looked prettier that way), a chickpea cake with cucumber-yogurt sauce in a silicone cup, and yellow and green bell pepper strips.

The chickpea cakes came from (what else?) the America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010. I have other years but this week I guess I am stuck in 2010. I was flipping through 2011 last night, though, and getting all sorts of inspiration.

One thing I would say about making the chickpea cakes for lunch is that instead of making two large ones, which are about burger size (and, incidentally, would have been fantastic tucked into pita bread with the sauce and some tomato slices and lettuce--if I'd had pita...), I would suggest making them into much smaller little cakes. They tend to crumble if you move them around too much, and having little cakes might make them finger food. In any case, this is an experiment worth attempting at some point in the future, because I liked these more than I thought I would.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Laptop Lunches #67

A sliced nectarine, a few chocolates, sweet-and-spicy pickled onions, shrimp stir fry with bok choy and red pepper, and calrose rice.

The stir fry recipe, which was quite simple to make, came from that America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010. Honestly, I use those cookbooks more than any others I've ever owned, except maybe the Joy of Cooking or the Dinner Doctor (might be a tie with those two). But lately, using them has been such a relief to me--cooking small amounts is easier and ends up being better for the budget and for making the food more appetizing. Their portions are sometimes on the bigger size than I'd make for two meals, but there is a world of difference between eating something three or four times and eating it for nine straight days. (On about day 5, you make an excuse, eat other things, and eventually throw out the stuff when you can't bear to look at it anymore). And they give tips on how to use stuff up, too--so, you have half a red bell pepper? Here's what you can do with that...

I've been investing in more and more dishes and cookware to support my cooking-in-miniature, too, which has been fun. It's not the same life I had when I was having dinner parties by any means, but who has time to give dinner parties while writing a dissertation? It's about brain food. I write well on fresh fruit, stir-fried veggies and lean meat, rice, and a little chocolate--much better than on leftover pizza, hoagies, and ramen noodles. And I've discovered, when I pay off my credit card each month, that I'm spending a lot less (which seems counter-intuitive--everybody seems to push buying in bulk and cooking to match).

Well, I've pontificated enough for one day! See you tomorrow.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Laptop Lunches #66

Chicken salad lettuce wraps; yogurt-ranch dressing with grape tomatoes, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, and carrot sticks; and a sliced peach.

I had some chicken leftover from the enchiladas you saw yesterday (I always do), just enough to make these lettuce wraps with the baby romaine I had in the fridge. They're super easy. I got the idea from 501 Bento Boxes, but this is my own take on that technique, and the recipe:

About 1/3 cup cooked, shredded chicken
About 1/2 small spear of celery, chopped fine
Enough light mayo to bind together
Salt and pepper to taste (if chicken is not seasoned enough on its own; mine was)
5 baby romaine lettuce leaves, washed and dried

Mix chicken, celery, mayo, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Carefully cut about 1/2 of the stem of out each lettuce leaf, leaving a cup and two flaps. spoon a small amount of chicken salad into the cup, then wrap flaps around the chicken. Arrange in cup.

This is one of the better lunches I've had in a while--much though I appreciate the use of leftovers (and I guess technically the chicken was leftover), a fresh meal is a good perk-up on certain days! Work-wise, it was a good one.

I've noticed that a whole lot of what I eat is gluten-free, I'm going to start tagging the gluten-free lunches as such, in case that is helpful to anyone.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Laptop Lunches #65

This is from over the weekend. Grad school is not exactly a Monday-Friday gig (though you've probably figured that out by now). But no matter what day it is one is involved in it, school lunch is school lunch.

Sweet-and-spicy pickled onions, a packet of airline peanuts, the last peanut butter chubby, Spanish rice, my absolute favorite sour cream chicken enchiladas garnished with grape tomatoes and cilantro leaves, and a mixture of apple, orange, and pineapple chunks.

I love the Homesick Texan's sour cream enchiladas for a few reasons.

1. It reminds me of home, where people eat things they do not eat here. Mexican food in the northeast may well be Mexican--but it is missing something that, for me, this supplies.

2. It's a fantastic way to hide veggies, if you are so inclined. Seriously, nobody will ever really notice the tomatillos and peppers in the sauce. (Incidentally, feel free to substitute any hot green chile pepper for the serrano--I can only find jalapenos a lot of the time and that's just fine for me. If you don't want so much spice, just discard the seeds.)

3. It makes way more than the recipe says. I halved it, and I still ended up with a very generous square casserole pan full, which I was eating all weekend. (Edited to explain: When I make this, I don't go by her instructions regarding tortillas and cheese--I just keep rolling them until I run out of room in the pan. So halving the recipe yeilded me about 8 enchiladas, but I still had enough sauce, had I wanted to, that I could have made even more! I once used her recipe, not halved, to make a full 9x12 and 8x8 casserole pan of enchiladas for a party.)

The pickled onions (which are from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010) were a new one for me, but they turned out quite well. I wanted something that would go as well with the Tex-Mex (or Okie-Mex, perhaps?) meal you see here as with Asian dishes you may see later in the week. It's a keeper. Very easy and a pretty unusual color. You don't really "pickle" anything. It's more like red onion salad, made all the more vibrant by the use of red wine vinegar. And the jalapenos add a really nice kick, but not too much.

The Spanish rice, from the Joy of Cooking, is tried and true and much beloved, at least by me. And with all the tomatoes and peppers and onions in it, it's another good way of sneaking in more veggies.

I found the metal condiment cup at a discount store (Ross, I think). They had a set, with lids, and I snapped them right up. They fit perfectly in the Laptop Lunches box, and I believe this will expand the possibilities quite a lot!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Laptop Lunches #64

Today is a bevy of leftovers: leftover homemade quiches (with Hershey's Hugs to fill the holes), pink orange slices, leftover sesame garlic broccoli, and leftover peanut ambrosia salad.

Really, what you need to fill the holes for the quiches is cherry or grape tomatoes. But as I still do not have any, the chocolates just had to do. They tasted good, but I didn't realize how weird that looked until I uploaded the photo!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Laptop Lunches #63

Ginger-sesame broccoli, calrose rice, kung pao chicken, and a crustless quiche propped up on some apple slices.

I had other things in mind for the apple slices and should have gone the either/or route with the quiche-versus-apple cup. Oh, well, live and learn.

I think the kung pao chicken would be much better if you minced the dried peppers, rather than cutting them into chunks, but it is otherwise quite a good recipe. And I love that recipe for broccoli--I've made it dozens of times and it always comes out delicious.

As for the quiches, for which I gave you instructions yesterday, they were so much better in the version with crust in yesterday's lunch. So I stand by the original idea. Quiche, without crust, is not quiche; it's a baked omlette. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you just need a crust!

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Laptop Lunches #62

I'm proud of this one. Not as proud as I might be had I had cherry tomatoes on hand (because they're easier and more attractive, I think, than tomato wedges, and I could have put them in amongst the quiches to fill the blank spaces and then had a container full of carrot sticks, too), but still, pleased. It is a theme I will perfect in time. Anyway, homemade mini quiches Lorraine, a mini shaker with salt and pepper mix, a peanut butter chubby in a silicone cup, tomato wedges with yogurt-ranch dressing, and pineapple tidbits with chunks of pink orange.

I am proud of the mini quiches. I've been wanting to try this for some time (making my own), but even with the idea of using pre-made pie crusts, I balked at cutting out circles and fussing over individual muffin cups and baking the crust blind in a muffin tin. And while I could do a crustless quiche, I don't think they have as much appeal. Turns out, one can make a very servicable pat-in-the-pan quiche crust with Bisquick, as my research revealed. As an added bonus, you don't have to cook the crust first--everything cooks up together. So we start there. And then I adapted a recipe for Quiche Lorraine from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010 based on what I had on hand (Swiss instead of Gruyere). Here is the recipe:

1 recipe Bisquick Quiche Crust
Vegetable shortening
2 slices bacon
1/4 cup minced onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
2/3 cup half-and-half
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 chives leaves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/8 teaspoon each in my case)
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Grease pans with vegetable shortening. Prepare crust according to directions, then form into small balls (about 1 inch) and pat into pans. (I had enough to make one mini muffin tin (for a dozen) and one tartlet pan. It will look like this:

I used a demitasse spoon and a small spreader to get into the crevices.

Cut the bacon into 1/4 inch squares (scissors are the easiest tool to use here) and cook in an 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat until crisp. Remove bacon to a paper-towel lined plate. Pour off the fat, except 1 tablespoon. (I save the extra fat in a small jar in the fridge for later recipes, but you can do what you want.) Add the onion to the skillet and cook over medium heat until soft and lightly browned. In a large (I suggest 4-cup) measuring pitcher, whisk half-and-half, eggs, chives, and salt and pepper. Stir in cheese, bacon, and onion until well mixed. Pour mixture into prepared tins/tart pan. You may have a little extra; if so, pour into silicone baking cups for a crustless quiche to bake alongside the rest. (I did this, with good success. You'll see that later.) Be careful not to overfill--leave a tiny rim for each quiche. Bake at 375 degrees until no longer jiggly (the muffin tins will come out first, ahead of the tart). Allow to cool for 15-30 minutes before trying to remove from the pan.

A gentle nudge with a spreader or butter knife should allow you to pop the quiches right out of the pans.

This costs a fraction of what it would cost to buy the ones from the freezer section, and I honestly like mine a lot better!

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Laptop Lunches #61

Celery and carrot sticks with spinach artichoke hummus, water crackers, peanut ambrosia salad, a Babybel cheese wheel, and a peanut butter cup shortbread cookie ("Peanut Butter Chubbies," from the Joy of Cooking).

I've got a lot of peanuts on hand and I'm trying to use them up. While I could make Kung Pao Chicken like I usually do under the "too many peanuts in my apartment going stale" umbrella (and I will soon!), I wanted to try something a little different. The peanut ambrosia salad had the added benefit of using up that cup of shredded coconut going stale.

I liked it more than I thought I might, though I think that the cherries the recipe says are optional should have been included for color--this is a little blah. Still, it's a great recipe for winter, when most fresh fruit is out of season.