Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Laptop Lunches #84

Orange slices, a Babybel cheddar, some Hershey's caramel kisses in a heart-shaped silicone cup, barbecued chicken and veggies, and long grain white rice.

The chicken recipe is one I came up with, out of necessity, while living in a dorm many years ago. We couldn't cook in our rooms, and we had to stay in the overly crowded kitchen unless we were using a slow cooker or rice cooker or that sort of thing, so barbecued chicken and veggies with rice was born. Really, this is just an American curry of sorts. I've made it a lot and it's really foolproof:

Barbecued chicken and veggies

About 2 pounds bone-in chicken leg pieces (thighs and/or drumsticks, with or without skin)
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
About 1/2 a bag of baby cut carrots
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 bottle barbecue sauce (I prefer spicy kinds, but this time I used a brown sugar sauce)

Mix veggies in bottom of slow cooker. Place chicken on top of veggies. Pour barbecue sauce over chicken and veggies. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or high for 4-6 hours, until potatoes are cooked through. Serve over rice.

You can really do as much veggies and chicken as will fit comfortably in the slow cooker. You won't really need extra barbecue sauce. My favorite part is the barbecued potatoes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Laptop Lunches #83

I'm back! Without leftovers (yet).

Strawberries, baby carrots, pretzel thins, and a cup of Jarlsberg cheese spread for dipping (recipe below).

I have been fed some of the most delightful free food over the past few weeks--one of the great delights of academia--but I did miss my Laptop Lunchbox. I've also been kind of stressed out. I went on a search for comfort food, which would normally involve cheese (what can I say). A while ago, on the road, I discovered a cheese spread at Kroger (not at all the sort of grocery store for my region of the country) that I felt would be easy enough to recreate--and it was. The thing is, I have close to zero self control with it, so it's got to be a rare treat. I dipped both carrots and pretzels in it, but I prefer the pretzels, and I will confess that I also ate it for breakfast this morning. What did I tell you? No. Self. Control.

Jarlsberg cheese spread is something like a slightly more sophisticated pimento cheese. A pimento cheese-and-bologna sandwich on white bread was one of my favorite packed lunches when I was a child, although I never pack sandwiches now. I loved the way the bread stuck to the roof of my mouth and got stuck between my teeth (was I an odd child?) and the way the cheese oozed out in a creamy goodness. But pimento cheese is not northeastern fare. Jarlsberg cheese spread may pass for respectable around here. (I'm still not sure. I tried to describe this to a friend and she flared her nostrils and said it sounded hideous.)

Jarlsberg is a swiss cheese from Norway, incidentally. If you can't find it, a part-skim swiss of any sort would probably work, but I love Jarlsberg. It's not as pricey as most imported cheeses; on the low end of fancy at about $6/pound here.

Here we go:

Jarlsberg Cheese Spread (about 8 servings)

8-10 oz. Jarlsburg swiss
1/4 large red onion, chopped
About 1/2 cup light mayo, more or less as needed

Shred cheese and put into mixing bowl. Add chopped onion and enough mayo to bring things up to a spreadable or dippable consistency. If you want to be fancy you can add some freshly ground black pepper.

And viola! Easy, and so good. An indulgence, perhaps, but worth every creamy bite. You can make sandwiches with it, or use it to dip veggies into, or crackers, or whatever you like, but I still stand by the pretzel thins as my favorite.

Since the photo of the lunch itself didn't do justice to the cheese, here's a close up:

I don't know if it looks as good as it tastes, but in my opinion it's a pretty attractive dip.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Update coming soon!

I will be updating soon, just not this week--lots of things going on and people feeding me free food (yay!). I haven't lost interest, though, so I hope you haven't, either!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Laptop Lunches #82

Did you ever have one of those days? I did today. And it started yesterday. So today's lunch reflects that--this is somewhat modified leftover Easter brunch: scrambled eggs with scallions and ham, Southern-style fried potatoes with orange bell pepper and onion, a biscuit, cream gravy in a silicone cup, and homemade raspberry marshmallows.

I have no defense for this meal other than to remind you that somehow normal nutritional rules and advice don't seem to apply to breakfast. Really, at what other meal is it appropriate to call carbs, fat, and sugar enough? Pancakes and sausage, anyone? Or perhaps a cheesy omelette with hot cocoa and whipped cream?

I usually eat some health-food cereal, fruit, and/or oatmeal for breakfast. I especially love Kashi's various shredded wheat offerings. But it was a holiday, and I am in need of comfort food. Northeasterners don't produce all that much in the way of comfort food, especially for a person raised elsewhere. Fried potatoes remind me of my grandparents--all of them, oddly enough--a simple, horrifying staple of their lives, present nearly every day on the breakfast and sometimes lunch and dinner tables on the family farm. On my father's side, these fried potato-eaters experienced great longevity, at normal weight, and no clogged arteries. My mother's side of the family suggests my genetics probably include a lot that warns against too many fried potatoes, on the other hand, so I don't make them often--maybe once a year or less.

I did not make the marshmallows. A friend did, and she was kind enough to give me a recipe to share with you. Homemade marshmallows are remarkably different than the store-bought kind, and have been known to reduce many of our adult friends to giggling fits. As for whether I am one of them, I plead the fifth, but I did once request them instead of a cake for my birthday (and she delivered, a lovely pyramid of strawberry marshmallow squares, with a candle in the top square).

And so I am not accused of plagiarism, the rest of this post is exactly as she wrote it, and I only un-abbreviated a few things. She reads the blog, so if you comment with questions, she might be persuaded to answer them.

Raspberry Marshmallows

Grease two 8x8 pans.

Combine in the bowl of a stand mixer:
1 cup raspberry juice/puree
4 packages of unflavored gelatin (one ounce total)

Then bring to 240 degrees Farenheit in a saucepan:
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 dash salt

Quickly dump hot syrup into gelatin mixture in stand mixer; turn on mixer and beat at gradually increasing speeds until soft peaks form.  Divide mixture between pans and spread until marshmallow is mostly smooth.  Allow to set for at least an hour.  Cover the top of the marshmallow in powdered sugar or similar substance; turn marshmallow out of pans, cut into squares, and dust in powdered sugar.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Laptop Lunches #81

Clearly I felt fruit-deprived from yesterday. Banana slices and apple chunks, alternating slices of kiwi and prickly pear, turkey and veggie cream cheese pinwheels, spinach artichoke dip (for veggies), a tea egg, grape tomatoes, celery sticks, and baby carrots.

I wanted to fall in love with the pickly pear. After all, prickly pear jelly is wonderful. And just look at that color! From nature, a neon pink like that! And it's pretty darn cheap right now, cheaper than almost any other fruit at the store except bananas--bananas are too cheap to try to beat anyway. But...I didn't end up liking it much. I think you might like it if you like watermelon, but I'm not a big watermelon fan. They have the texture of watermelon, which is the thing I don't like about watermelon--also, that for some reason, to me, watermelon tastes like heartburn--not like stomach acid--it's hard to explain. I suppose heartburn doesn't really have a taste. Except--to me, watermelon tastes like heartburn. Does anybody understand what I am trying to say?

Oh, well. On to tea eggs. There are a lot of recipes for tea eggs and a lot of tutorials. Most will give you enough tea eggs to last for weeks if it's just you eating them. I only made a single tea egg, though the liquid I made could have done three (and I wish I had done three, because I love a good tea egg!). Here's what I did:

1-3 Tea Eggs

2 cups water
Eggs (1-3, depending on how much you want to make)
2 black tea tea bags (I used English breakfast tea)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon five spice powder

Bring eggs to boil in water in small saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until hard cooked, about 12 minutes. Turn off heat.

Remove eggs from water with a slotted spoon and rinse to cool slightly. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, plunge tea bags into water to brew, and add soy sauce, vinegar, and five spice powder.

Roll eggs while tapping gently with a spoon to crack. You want to crack the egg but not convince any of the shell to come off, if that makes sense. Return eggs to water with slotted spoon and simmer over very low heat for about 20 minutes. (If not enough water to cover, add water until eggs are covered.) Turn off heat and allow to cool.

If you want, you can store the eggs, without peeling them, in the tea mixture in the fridge, and they will darken and become more flavorful, or you can just peel them and store them apart from the liquid, or serve right away.

This would probably be a great thing to do with leftover Easter eggs, if you find yourself overrun with them, as well.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Laptop Lunches #80

Okay, I caved. I made a veggie run, and a fruit run may have to follow in a few days. I am close to fruitless, and so is this lunch. Carrot sticks and celery sticks with peanut butter to dip them in, grape tomatoes to fill in some holes, a Babybel cheddar wheel, a hard boiled egg with salt and pepper sprinkled over the top, plain yogurt with a granola cluster mix, and a yellow mini cupcake with chocolate frosting (America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2009).

This is the first time I tried to get particularly fancy with the way I cut up an egg, and it turned out pretty well considering. The zig zag cut is actually a pretty simple one.

The cupcakes were a disappointment. Apparently they aimed for light and fluffy, and I do not like light and fluffy cake. I want cakey cake. Fudgy, maybe. Not fluffy. I entered a cake in the county fair when I was 15, a lovely, dense chocolate walnut cake that used ground up walnuts rather than flour and was drenched in a rich dark chocolate glaze. I lost. Losing is fine. Losing for the nonexistent judging criteria of "lightness" and "fluffiness" sent me away from the county fair forever. Seriously, the women judging the cakes said they picked the winners based on just how "light" and "fluffy" they were. Best in each category? "It was just so light and fluffy!" Best in show? "It was just so light and so fluffy!" The cake I made was neither light, nor fluffy, nor did it aim to be. If I wasn't prejudiced against light and fluffy before then, I assure you I am now. I will eat no angel food cake unless its lightness and fluffiness is removed by thoroughly drenching it in some kind of sauce and weighting it down with berries or something. Well, this recipe didn't tell me it was light and fluffy; it said it was an improvement on yellow cake mix. It wasn't. It was a lighter, fluffier, less interesting version, though I will say that I agree with America's Test Kitchen that it does not have a chemical flavor. And the frosting was nice, I will give them that. But if light and fluffy is your thing, I guess you have your winner. But this would have lost at the county fair because the frosting wasn't light and fluffy...

Who me, bitter?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Laptop Lunches #79

Granny Smith apple slices, a mixture of dried fruit (papaya, mango, and pineapple), something I am terming "impossible pizza rolls," black olives, and orange bell pepper strips with yogurt-ranch dressing.

I named them "impossible pizza rolls" because they were inspired as a sort of cross between Bisquick's Impossible Pie and pizza rolls of the sort nobody should really ever eat--you know the kind, that look like greasy little pillows.

So here you have a recipe that makes approximately 24 mini muffin-sized rolls:

Impossible Pizza Rolls

3/4 cup pepperoni slices, cut into quarters (I use scissors for this and it's done in a snap)
1 cup shredded pizza cheese (here I had a mixture of parmesan, provolone, asiago, and romano, but you can use any mixed cheese that sounds like it could go on a pizza)
1/2 cup Bisquick
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mist mini muffin tins with cooking spray and wipe off excess not in actual tins. Divide the pepperoni among the tins as shown below:

Sprinke the cheese on top:

Whisk the Bisquick, milk, eggs, and Italian seasoning together in a bowl with a spout (a large measuring cup is a good option), and then pour evenly over the pepperoni and cheese:

Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven to let cool a bit before loosening to remove from pans:

Viola! Like pizza rolls, you will end up with a crust that pretty much encloses a pepperoni-and-cheese surprise. You may want to serve them with pizza sauce; I didn't have any and I was contented with this as it was. You can also try out different meats and cheeses (or no meat) and adjust the seasonings--ham and cheddar, turkey and swiss, or chicken and provolone all sound good to me.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Laptop Lunches #78

This isn't from today; life intervenes sometimes with the posting of lunch. This is leftover bowties and cheese (I didn't have macaroni) sprinkled with a little parsley flakes to perk it up, sliced kiwi, a slice of meatloaf from the freezer, and leftover glazed carrots.

The carrots are an America's Test Kitchen recipe, but I think I prefer the Joy of Cooking for this. Also, being more of a veggie person than a meat person, in this case I felt like their idea of two servings was too small, rather than too large, as I usually think.

The pasta is from Betty Crocker's Just the Two of Us. I was skeptical because it really didn't look too appetizing but it tasted really good. Still, I think I can improve on the recipe. Honestly, I am sort of disappointed in the Betty Crocker cookbook--too many "recipes" for things like crusty bread with some kind of spread with an ingredient list that includes "two bakery rolls."

What I did for today (and will post shortly) is far more exciting--and I have still managed to avoid the store. But I don't think I can keep this up much longer. I am getting desperate for some fresh produce.