Thursday, September 27, 2012

Laptop Lunches #123

Cherry tomatoes, snow peas, and carrot sticks with yogurt-ranch dip; a small apple cut in half (to make it fit in the box), taco casserole (America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2012), and slices of nectarine.

The taco casserole was surprisingly low brow for America's Test Kitchen. I liked it and it was pretty easy, but I was a little taken aback at the list of ingredients. Their recipes usually involve re-inventing the wheel; this one involved mixing Ro-Tel tomatoes with canned refried beans and laying it in with cheese and seasoned ground beef, then topping it with crushed corn chips and more cheese before baking it for about ten minutes. The only nod to the sort of thing one usually gets with America's Test Kitchen is that they required you to use real seasoning for the beef (not just a taco seasoning packet, but chili powder, cumin, and ground coriander) and wanted you to put fresh chopped cilantro on top. Otherwise you might find such a recipe on the label of a can of refried beans. But it was really very good. I liked the way they spiked the refried beans with the Ro-Tel and bottled hot sauce. That was good enough on its own to make a great filling for vegan burritos.

This is turning out to be one heck of a week. I'm taking tomorrow off other than a dissertation defense I have to attend, because I am well and thoroughly burned out and already have a work-related meeting scheduled for Sunday. Lunch has been the bright spot in an otherwise dreary existence.

Sidenote, though: I really do love college freshmen. In the end, all the stress is worth it for getting to be a part of their transformation into confident adults. Here's to new students! (But stay out of my parking space, will you?!)

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Laptop Lunches #122

Salmon cakes with homemade tartar sauce (America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2012) wedged in with a wheel of Babybel cheese; carrot sticks, red bell pepper strips, and snow peas with a cup of yogurt-ranch dressing; and chunks of nectarine.

Making my own tartar sauce is something I've done before, although what I call "tartar sauce" is usually just dill pickle relish mixed into mayo. This was so much better. I had to buy capers for the first time to make it, but I think it was worth it. The salmon cakes were good, too, although I am still uncertain whether I think buying fresh salmon and then chopping it up into little pieces is truly the best use of fresh salmon.

I haven't fallen off the wagon here, incidentally; there are just a lot of opportunities for free lunch in the early weeks of the term, so fewer packed lunches. This was for a lunch meeting where we just get free cookies (and ultimately my lunch meeting got cancelled at the last minute, so I didn't get any cookies, sadly).

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Laptop Lunches #121

Terra chips (Stripes & Blues); grapes; pinwheels made from tortillas with whipped chive cream cheese, spinach, and roast beef; and carrots with yogurt ranch dressing for dipping.

'Tis the season for lots of free lunches on campus, so this is kind of a rare bird.

I love Terra chips in all forms. These were a new one. I kept passing them and saying to myself, "You should not pay $4 for a bag of chips!" But if something calls to me for months I do usually give in. The Stripes & Blues are candy striped beets, red sweet potatoes, and blue potatoes, and they're fabulous. I think it counts as a vegetable, don't you?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Laptop Lunches #120 (Plus New Utensils)

I have new utensils! But more on that after lunch.

Some macaroni and cheese snacks from Hot Pockets; carrot sticks; a mixture of banana slices, red grapes, and blackberries; colossal black olives; and a cup of tomato hummus.

I'm not impressed with the Hot Pockets snacks. They were very bland. I have some recipes for turning macaroni and cheese into finger food that I intend to try in a few weeks. I don't know whether it is a commentary on the food supply or my cooking that no matter what tempts me in the realm of prepared foods, it seems like I can make something better myself. Oh, well.

Onward! New utensils! My Laptop Lunches lunchbox utensils (from the 1.0 set; I never did acquire a 2.0 set no matter how much I drooled over them) had broken. I was using too-small cocktail forks and spoons. And then I saw this in a store downtown and had to have it.

I found this set online, too. It's relatively inexpensive, but so cool! I tried to demonstrate in the picture above the way the chopsticks unscrew so you can fold them up, but then I decided to take more pictures of that:

The whole set fits into its blue case:

And the whole case fits into the utensil slot in the Laptop Lunches box, but I just stuck the fork and spoon in there today. It's very pretty and very clever. Not bad for the $9.50 I spent.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Laptop Lunches #119

I'm tempted to call this What Not to Do.

A golden kiwi, a quarter of a chocolate chocolate chip muffin, cucumber lettuce soup (Good Food F-A-S-T), and some quartered Love Beets (sweetfire).

Golden kiwis should probably only appear in conjunction with regular old green kiwis for contrast, because they just look washed out here.

The soup was promised to "taste like the essence of all things green." Also, it could be made ahead the night before and served cold. The green cup in my Laptop Lunches lunchbox has a lid, so I figured that would be all right. It didn't spill, but it tasted like cucumber-flavored buttermilk. Also, unlike the picture, it turned out to look like slightly greenish buttermilk, instead of a nice, spring green. I like cucumber soup but I'll keep looking for an appropriate recipe.

It's a good thing I wasn't all that hungry at lunch today.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Laptop Lunches #118

Granny Smith apple chunks, sliced Love Beets (sweetfire), a fresh date, a slice of star fruit, a mini white spinach lasagna, mixed color mini tomatoes, a cup of yogurt-ranch dressing, and baby carrots.

Lesson #1: Fresh dates are very boring. They're a bit like plums in texture, but have very little flavor. If you want to use them for something, they're probably better for cooking. On the other hand, if you are looking for mild, boring things for sensitive palates, they are a good choice. But fresh dates will only be available for a month or two, so act quickly!

Lesson #2: Mini lasagna is a whole lot easier than it seems. I made a few mini-loaf sized lasagnas as directed by America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2011, and employed a similar technique with a few square silicone baking cups while I was at it. The square baking cups should be pretty easy to find; I bought them from the local Michael's but you can find them online, too. I wouldn't recommend trying it with other shapes, but I can't stop you!

Basically, you either break up no-boil lasagna noodles into smaller pieces (as I did here) or you cut regular lasagna noodles after you boil them (which is too much trouble but probably slightly neater). If you score the no-boil noodles with a knife first, though, you have better control over breaking them. Make the tiny lasagna just as you would the larger kind. Don't worry if your noodles have to overlap ever so slightly or if you leave tiny gaps--just get the basic idea--but don't have them overlap too much.

It's pretty simple and keeps together well in a lunch box.

Meanwhile, in the continuing saga of the mysterious anaphylaxis, I have been prodded and pricked and had a great many vials of blood drawn for testing. The verdict is that I am not actually allergic to anything, but have a strangely functioning immune system that sometimes goes into overdrive in response to a virus. I've been going to the doctor a lot and you've not seen so many lunches from me lately, but I'm hoping to be posting more now.

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