Monday, July 30, 2012

Laptop Lunches #108

The angles are very odd in this photo--I don't know why. But anyway, strawberries and galia melon, carrot sticks with a cup of yogurt-ranch dressing, lemon-tomato-scallion couscous with lamb merguez sausage, and cucumber slices.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Laptop Lunches #107

Galia melon, marinated tofu (America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010), Moroheiya noodle salad, and carrot-beet salad.

The marinated tofu recipe is one of the add-ons in the Cooking for Two books for using stuff up. I'm gradually finding that those recipes are great go-to recipes for quick things to whip up that don't involve a gazillion dishes to wash later, in contrast to most of their other recipes. This one is great. You just stir everything up and let it sit there for a bit, then top it with scallions and sesame seeds. I bought the tofu just for the use it up recipe. Tofu is cheap and I should do more with it. What do you like to do with tofu?

I was disappointed that the Moroheiya noodles didn't retain their distintive bright green color when dressed for the salad (I blame the soy sauce), but they did taste pretty good, and I'm very impressed that they have six grams of fiber per serving. They were a new one for me (and maybe, given all that's happened for me this week, new food experiments are cheating death, but I lived), and I rather like them.

I am also somewhat impressed that I managed to make a vegan meal not only satisfactory, but appealing. I know others out there are blogging vegan lunches, and I'm always amazed at what they manage to come up with--it takes creativity, that's for sure!

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Laptop Lunches #106

Cucumber slices, a cup of ketchup and mustard, a cream puff, corn dog mini muffins (explains the ketchup and mustard) with grape tomatoes, and strawberries.

I'll admit I'm not actually working today. I made this at home to cheer myself up a little and convince myself to eat something. Depression and loss of appetite come with prednisone, and I'm also exhausted after everything yesterday, so today I am home half-heartedly reading secondary literature.

There are a lot of corn dog mini muffins recipes out there, but they're basically corn muffin batter with some kind of cut frank embedded inside. I will, perhaps, eventually develop my own, better recipe for this. For now, if you attempt it, I suggest putting the batter in and then putting in the frank (in this case, I used mini beef franks, cut in half), rather than pouring it over. If you pour it over, it doesn't end up encasing the frank like a corn dog, and the dog itself has a weird yellow haze. They weren't bad, but I really believe I can do better next time. We'll see!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Sounds Like a Good Lunch"

This is, after all, "a tale of lunch and graduate school," but you don't always get an illustrated tale.

Today, you have no photo, and that is because I ate a sandwich on a gurney behind a curtain and the end of a hallway of the student health clinic. If I'd had my camera with me, I would have shared a picture of it with you, perhaps, if I had my camera with me; heaven knows taking pictures of my sandwich, chips, and carton of milk would have helped my five hours there pass a little less slowly.

It seems I am allergic to something. Probably not food. I woke up this morning essentially going into full anaphylaxis. I drove to the clinic immediately (where I got pretty immediate attention--the doctor didn't even ask my name until after I'd taken a cocktail of antihistamines and got an ephinephrine shot), and received a scolding about driving myself under those conditions. Like I can afford the co-pay for an ambulance ride on the student health plan? Let alone an ER visit--I shudder to think. (But they had a point.)

Trying to determine the cause of my swollen lips and eyelid and closing airway, the doctor asked what I had for dinner--no, nothing there--and what about lunch yesterday?

So I told her what I ate for lunch yesterday. She and the nurse said maybe the restaurant used peanut oil. "No, I made it myself."

"You made that? Yourself?"

And she didn't even see the picture! Hmm. It's so normal to me I don't think about how it sounds to other people, out in the world, eating their packaged sandwiches--yes. I made it myself. It took me all of a few minutes, given that I made the ricotta dip ahead of time and preparation consisted of this:

Pull fresh produce from fridge
Wash fresh produce; set on towels to dry
Peel mango, cut off respectable hunk, slice up into sticks
Put silicone cup in dish
Pull dip and beets out of fridge
Drop a few spoonfuls of dip into cup
Arrange veggies in cups
Put mango sticks in cup
Have momentary blank about what main dish should be; remember I purchased flour tortillas recently
Wash lettuce (pepper was already washed because I used it the day before)
Slice lettuce and pepper strips
Spread hummus on flour tortilla
Place lettuce and pepper strips on hummus
Garnish with sun dried tomato
Cut roll
Photograph (obviously this step is skippable)
Close box

It takes me longer than that to figure out what to order if I eat out.

In any case, I can tell you two things:

A) Anaphylaxis is bad
B) The treatment for anaphylaxis is also very unpleasant--if you can imagine what it's like to be hopped up and sleepy at the same time--heart racing from the adrenaline/extremely groggy from a high dose of Benadryl

But I'm home now, away from the gurney. We've really more or less ruled out food, but I'll see an allergist soon to be sure. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If there is one thing I'd rather not have to have put on my plate now (pun slightly intended), it's a food allergy--because out of everything I ate, they're threatening to pin it on the mango. NO!!!

Meanwhile, on the graduate school side of things, the doctor and nurse had this exchange:

Nurse (to me): "You are very pale, but your hands are warm. Are you always this pale?"

Doctor: "She's a graduate student."

Nurse: "Oh." (In a tone that suggests that explains everything.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Laptop Lunches #105

Carrot sticks and grape tomatoes with ricotta dip, honey ginger beets, sun dried tomato hummus pinwheels, and mango sticks.

I was really struggling to figure out how to add protein to my lunch this morning. Yes, the ricotta has some, but not nearly enough. So I decided to give this a try, which was quite a success:

And pretty easy, too.

Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus Pinwheels

About 1 1/2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato hummus (I used Archer Farms)
1 taco-sized flour tortilla
1 leaf romaine lettuce, cut into thin strips
About 6 thin bell pepper strips
About 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato garnish (from packaged hummus)

Spread hummus on tortilla. Arrange lettuce and bell pepper strips in a line down the center of the tortilla. Top with dollops of sun-dried tomato garnish. Roll tightly. Cut and arrange as desired.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Laptop Lunches #104

Peach slices, honey roasted almonds in the flower cup, Chocorooms, grape tomatoes and bell pepper slices with ricotta dip, and spicy cucumber salad.

I have two new recipes to share with you today! First, though, I have to say that I'm glad I finally took the plunge and bought a box of Chocorooms at the local Five Below. They are so cute and they actually taste as good as they look! And the tiny chocolate "mushrooms" go perfectly with honey roasted almonds

All right, so, onto the recipes. Ricotta dip is a modified version of something in America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2009. (I like more garlic; also, I wasn't in the mood for grating lemon zest.) It was a really nice change of pace from salad dressing for dipping my veggies into. I am thinking about trying to stuff some large olives with it tomorrow.

Ricotta Dip
Servings: About 4

3/4 cup ricotta cheese (I used whole-milk)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 large fresh basil leaves, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced to a paste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.

And the cucumbers are entirely of my own invention, an effort to replicate something a friend of mine used to make. It isn't quite like hers, but it's good!

Spicy cucumber salad
Servings: 2-3

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

Put cucumber in a strainer over a bowl and salt lightly, stirring a bit to coat evenly. Let sit for about 1/2 hour to sweat out liquid.

Mix vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, chili garlic sauce, and garlic clove in a bowl. Toss cucumber with dressing, then stir in sesame seeds.

This recipe is pretty spicy. If you're not much for spicy foods, you will want to use less chili garlic sauce. I recommend adding about 1/8 of a teaspoon at a time and then working your way up to adjust the seasoning to your liking.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Laptop Lunches #103

Strawberry halves, avocado chunks, pretzel thins, and homemade pimento cheese (recipe below).

It's not the most elaborate lunch, but it tasted really good. I was just in the mood for some kind of childhood comfort food and as I've said before, what I loved in packed lunches as a child was always pimento cheese and bologna sandwiches on white bread. I wasn't going to do that, especially not buy one of those horrible tubs of packaged pimento cheese (if they're even available here--it's not exactly northeastern food).

I also needed to safeguard myself against total loss of control, a la Jarlsberg cheese spread. So what I did today was in a single serving. (It's easy enough to make more if you need more.)

Pimento Cheese for One

1/4 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon light mayo
1 teaspoon jarred pimento slices
Dash of black pepper

Mix all ingredients until combined. Serve with pretzels or cut vegetables for dipping, or spread on crackers or bread. (Or just eat it with a spoon.)

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Laptop Lunches #102

Broccoli stir fry with ginger and sesame, a black apricot, spicy honey chicken over brown rice, and strawberry chunks.

The black apricot was a new one for me; I liked it better than a regular fresh apricot but still think I prefer dried.

But I am super excited about the new chicken recipe I want to share:

I modified this recipe so it wasn't so salty and would only produce 1-2 servings. You can easily double, triple, or quadruple the recipe. Also, I cooked it in a toaster oven (given that my oven still needs cleaning from the zucchini bread fiasco), and it worked great, plus it's super quick. You could do the whole thing in less than 15 minutes start to finish.

Spicy Honey Chicken
Serves 1-2

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

Preheat broiler (or toaster oven broiler). Line baking sheet with aluminum foil (probably not necessary for nonstick pans). Set aside.

Mix garlic salt, chili powder, cumin, paprika, and red pepper in a medium bowl. Add chicken thighs and roll around to coat evenly.

Put prepared chicken in pans and put under broiler. Allow to broil for 5 minutes, then turn. Allow to cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine honey and vinegar in a small bowl.

Check to be sure chicken is fully cooked. If not fully cooked, continue to broil until it is. (Don't worry too much about overcooking the chicken. Chicken thighs are very forgiving.)

Brush half of honey mixture on top of chicken. Broil for one minute. Turn chicken, then brush other side with remaining honey mixture. Broil for an additional one minute.

Remove and serve.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Laptop Lunches #101

Honey and ginger-infused Love Beets, avocado chunks, carrot sticks and a cherry tomato with yogurt ranch dip, zucchini bread (America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010), Rainier cherries, and a Saturn peach.

Several new things today! I do love the "Love Beets" and will have to try some of their other flavors. I had reached the conclusion that expecting myself to do the work of (and get stained by) cooking and peeling beets myself just wasn't worth it.

Rainier cherries made me realize what all the fuss about cherries is. I was standing there in the grocery store saying to myself, "I already tried cherries," but I figured, they do look a lot different, so...amazing.

Much the same could be said about the Saturn peach, which was slightly pricier than a regular peach. I rationalized that the pit must be much smaller (it is), and thus...took the plunge. They're great--sweeter than regular peaches, and less fuzzy. Plus, they fit in the box, which is always a plus--sort of a flat disk (like Saturn's rings, maybe?).

The zucchini bread is very sweet, more like cake than anything, but a nice way to use up that bit of zucchini I had left from the tarts I made. One problem: it made a little too much batter for the pan size indicated. I made the mistake of shrugging when I poured it in and saying, "Surely they must know what they're doing/saying." Well, no. It ran over the sides and now I will need to clean my oven. So if you make this recipe, have a few mini muffin cups on hand for the extra. (Incidentally, though they say it serves two, I beg to differ. It serves four. But I don't quibble with that in baked goods--you do want more than two servings, just not 8-12.)

Here's to eating in season!

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Lunchopolis #1

I've had this set a long time, but I hardly ever use it. It's called "Lunchopolis" and it comes with four containers with lids, a bottle for your drink, and an insulated carrying case to put it all in. The issue I had with it was that my portions were always way too big, considering the not-pictured fourth container's size (like the large one shown here, only a little over twice as deep). It would work well for a green leafy salad, but I'm so rarely in the mood for green leafy salads. But today I wanted to take one of the tarts I made last night, and it's the only set I have that would accommodate that. I just left the big container empty. So I have baby carrots, red grapes, a hard boiled egg, a cherry tomato, and a tomato, zucchini, and ricotta tart. The tart is the one on the cover of America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2011:

And I've been drooling over that cover for months now. I am pleased to report that not only are they not all that technically difficult (just time consuming--there's a lot of resting and cooling and such and lots of steps), they taste as good as they look, both warm from the oven and at room temperature on day two. This is what it looked like fresh from the oven:

The only things I'd say are that I'd like to try them with yellow squash, because I think that would be a prettier contrast with the fresh basil sprinkled on them before serving, and that the crust recipe actually makes three tart shells, not two as they say (and I don't know what I'm going to do with tart shell number three now). If ever I have anyone I really want to impress, though, this is a definite thing to serve.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Laptop Lunches #100

Tortellini with proscuito and spring vegetables (America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two), a fresh fig, sugar snap peas and baby carrots with a cup of yogurt ranch dressing for dipping, and something of my own invention (although I'm sure someone else must have thought of it at sometime too), Shortcut S'mores.

America's Test Kitchen claims this recipe makes two servings, but in my opinion (as with most of their meals), it's four. But that's fine with me.

I am on the fence about buying fresh figs. I've had good ones but this was not a good one--and I don't know how to select them, so as to get good ones. Am I just too early in the season? All very confusing.

And now, a recipe:

Shortcut S'mores

Graham crackers
Marshmallow fluff/creme

Spread one graham cracker with marshmallow fluff. Spread the other with Nutella. Sandwich. Repeat as often as needed, but not so often that you have to take up sumo wrestling.

Friday, July 6, 2012

ToGoWare Two-Tier Tiffin #1

Today I am going to the beach with a friend. (I'm posting this before we've eaten it--I'm too excited by the effort to wait!). I wanted to pack a picnic, and I have a ToGoWare two-tier tiffin I found at TJ Maxx for a song, plus it was time to branch out a bit from the Laptop Lunches. So I made a lunch for each of us in each tier, and they are pretty well identical except for the color of the silicone tulips:

Each one has a rice triangle, some turkey kielbasa cooked with green pepper and onion (in the silicone tulips), a hard boiled egg, a tiny apple, roasted red pepper hummus with an assortment of veggies for dipping (this is like playing Where's Waldo, but there are cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, carrot sticks, broccoli, celery sticks, and chunks of cucumber), and a couple of grapes to fill in the last holes (they're hidden between the hummus and the rice).

This is my first real bento, as I see it--unless you count the disaster that was Travelers' Lunch #1. So although it probably could be somewhat better, I'm proud. I think it was pretty good for such an early effort.

Here's a close up of a single tier:

And here's what the whole tiffin looks like assembled:

Final verdict awaits but for now I love this thing. I was looking at the three-tier version at a store downtown yesterday--the three-tier is more the style I think I'd like for an individual lunch, since each tier is so much smaller. But I've got to pace myself!

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Laptop Lunches #99

Red and green bell pepper strips and a couple of cherry tomatoes with yogurt ranch for dipping, a silicone heart full of black olives, wedges of orange and kiwi, sour cream and onion noodles, and an improvisational chicken thing.

There comes a time, if you cook all your meals (more or less), and mostly only for yourself, that you will have a refrigerator full of tiny bits and pieces. Tiny bits and pieces are great, but sometimes you need to clear the decks. This lunch reflects a bit of deck clearing. The sour cream and onion noodles sounded like a good idea, and they were okay, but I think a bit of cheddar would improve them. I had a tiny bit of chicken and a tiny bit of leftover stuffing so I just tossed them together in the last cup.

See, cooking for one is, as Judith Jones says in The Pleasures of Cooking for One, a process in which one meal leads into the next, and so on, and so forth. So you freeze what you can and what you can't, you use in lots of things in a row--like a red bell pepper that keeps turning up in various dishes, or sour cream, get the idea. You may well wish for smaller packages, but a bell pepper is a bell pepper, and those nice mini sweet peppers seem to only be sold in bags of two pounds each. But even at that, sometimes, the fridge seems to hold odds and ends from a dozen different meals (and probably does), so you try to begin again. I'm not letting myself buy those salmon filets until my refrigerator looks like a barren wasteland again.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Laptop Lunches #98

Cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas with yogurt ranch for dipping, the last bit of the chocolate cake (this time with no powdered sugar), an egg star, leftover salisbury steak, and leftover mashed potatoes.

Dr. J. H. Salisbury believed fruit, veggies, and grains would kill us, but beef would cure all ailments. He came up with Salisbury steak and said we should all eat it three times a day, with lots of water. I wouldn't recommend that diet myself, but it is a tasty meal on occasion. This recipe (Asian Salisbury Steak, from Eating Well Serves Two) really needed an egg to hold the meat together. Otherwise, it tasted perfectly respectable and wasn't too much trouble. I'm a fan of anything I can manage to do in a toaster oven, and this was mostly cooked in a toaster oven. I just made the sauce on the stove.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Laptop Lunches #97

White rice with "Tea Trade Chicken" (Eating Well Serves Two), double chocolate snack cake (Just the Two of Us (Betty Crocker)), braised carrots (Joy of Cooking), some kind of egg star thing, and cherries.

Tea Trade Chicken is good, but I think I'd thicken the sauce with cornstarch if I ever made it again. As it was, it was perfect for using up that last bit of red pepper and scallions I had in the fridge.

The cake has got to be one of the most-reward-for-effort things I have ever done. You don't even need a bowl. You mix it up in a 9 x 5 dish (they say a loaf pan but I used one of my little casserole dishes), pop it in the oven, and thirty minutes later you pull out one of the moistest, fudgiest cakes you'll ever eat. Bonus: it contains no egg and no dairy, for those allergic. (Well, no dairy in the batter. You're supposed to sprinkle chocolate chips over the top before you bake it. You wouldn't have to do this. I did. They're a nice touch, but you could live without them.) The only thing is that I don't think it would stand up to being frosted, if you wanted to frost it--though I'm thinking about ways one could get around this.

I made the egg star out of extra quiche batter. I guess that's my nod to patriotism this week.

Cherries make me think of my father. Whenever I got a sundae, I gave him the cherry, because I don't like marischino cherries. I wasn't sure I would like the fresh ones but I told myself buying five cherries wasn't exactly a huge risk, and I'm trying to expand the things I am willing to eat. Cherries remind me vaguely of plums. I finished them off and was proud of myself for trying. I do like cherries all right, but they're not my absolute favorite thing, and I probably won't be eating cherry pie any time soon. And keep that stuff they put on cheesecakes away from me!