Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day 10 - More Fun Products

Grilled Pita with Feta, Fruit Skewers, Shrimp, and Trader Joe's dried Green Beans

This was a quick lunch, despite appearances.  I used up the leftover shrimp (which, apparently, looks horrible in photos but not in real life) by sprinkling it with salt and lemon juice.  Then I threw some wheat pita filled with thin slices of low fat feta cheese on my trust old George Foreman grill while I fixed breakfast.  Then I tossed in some dried green beans and threw some cherries and grapes on skewers.  I put them on skewers mostly so that they wouldn't roll around all over the pita, but they were also very good for raising in the air and gesticulating while I made some witty and profound point about shoes or something during lunch. 

Food as accessories, people.  Never forget it.

I wrapped the pitas in a little bit of parchment to keep the bread nice and crispy.  And here's a product I absolutely love for this:  PaperChef parchment bags.

Parchment Bags - why didn't I think of this?
These are great for baking, and I particularly like to use them for salmon and/or vegetables.  These are so much easier than making your own package out of flat parchment.  However, I don't cook en papillote nearly often enough to use up all of these.  My mom gave me a box of 10 for Christmas and should give me some more this year because I love them almost as much as I love her hint hint, but I'm just now beginning to feel like my supply is waning.  So I often find more creative uses for these.  In this case, I cut off the top half of a bag, making a sleeve with two ends to wrap the pitas in.  I just slipped the pitas in one end and folded the bottom over.  I'm hoping it will stay dry enough to reuse on another sandwich, but we'll see!

The other thing that I love to buy in this lunch was Trader Joe's Green Beans.  They're dried, and salted, and delicious.  There's also a little bit of natural sweetness to them, which complements the fruit and nicely contrasts with the salty bite of the grilled feta.  They also keep for a loooong time in the pantry. :)

Crunchy like chips, but good for you!  Or, at least, better for you?

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 9 - Greek Orzo with Shrimp and Asparagus

Greek Orzo with Shrimp and Asparagus, Broccoli, Black Seedless Grapes

Before I start talking about today's lunch, I should tell you about a few cooking challenges I'm having this week.

First, there just aren't many great sale prices in my area...at least not on things I want.  I picked up some asparagus, broccoli, grapes, cherries, lemons, pineapple, and shrimp for pretty decent prices this weekend, but other than that I may be relying pretty heavily on pantry staples.  I've also got some dairy left over from last week, and I splurged and got some pre-made hummus.

I'm also pretty busy this week, so I'm going to be leaning on the leftovers and super quick cold lunch assemblies.

And the most irritating problem is that my overhead kitchen light decided to die last night, and I just don't think I'll have time to buy and replace the tubey bulbs (that's a technical term) til the weekend.  So, whatever I cook at night needs to be quick enough that I can whip up before the sun sets, and still easy enough to not need great light anyway.

So, without further ado...lunch!

Grape and broccoli.  Self explanatory and good.  But I just couldn't decide what to do for a main.  Pre-cooked shrimp was a good price at the farmers' market, as was asparagus.  I ended up combining it with some orzo that I found in the back of a cabinet, feta, and a vinagrette.

So.  Good.  SO.  Good.

I had it hot for dinner and cold for lunch, and I can't decide how I like it better.  The picture above looks pretty bland, but I promise it was incredibly flavorful and light.  There's also a lot more shrimp and asparagus than appears in the photo...that happens when you eat it all up the night before. :)

Greek Orzo with Shrimp and Asparagus

1/2 cup dry orzo pasta
3 cups water
3 Tablespoons chicken bouillon
1/2 cup cooked shrimp
1/2 cup asparagus, trimmed and chopped to 1 inch pieces
1 Tablespoon low fat feta cheese
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
S&P, to taste

Bring water and bouillon to a boil.  In a heat proof bowl, add asparagus and about 1/2 cup of the boiling water.  Set aside.  Pour orzo into boiling water and cook according to package directions.  Meanwhile, whisk olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and marjoram together.  When orzo is al dente, drain orzo and asparagus.  Place back into warm pot but keep removed from heat.  Add remaining ingredients and stir well.  Serve hot or cold.

This made enough for about 3-4 servings of the size you see above.  Pin It Now!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day 8 - New Foods!

Black beans, quinoa, kiwi, and pepino melon. 
Lots of leftovers, obviously.  Quinoa and beans (they look plain but are heavily seasoned..although they needed cheese!) and some kiwi. Fruit was in baking cups today so that I could remove them while I microwave the entree.  I especially wanted to keep the fruit cold and fresh since I discovered a new one at the farmer's market...the pepino melon!

Pepino Melon
Also called the pepino dulce, this is a South American fruit that I stumbled upon while trying to find kiwis.  It's part of the nightshade family (eggplants, tomatoes, etc), and it's considered to have a very sweet flavor.  It's eye catching, too - creamy golden skins with eggplant purple stripes.  I decided to branch out and try it.  It was...ok.  The texture was similar to a honeydew, and tasted something between a pear and a banana.  The flavor was very mild to the point of being too mild.  To be fair, I may not have let it ripen enough before eating it, I actually have no idea.  But it was very cold and juicy, which I liked.  It might be better as part of a fruit salad....ooooo, or maybe grilled!  With honey!  Hmmmmmm....

As it was, not a home run for me, but it was a fun experiement!  I'd love to hear feed back from others who have eaten this fruit. Pin It Now!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Day 7 - Chicken for One

Mixed green salad with ranch dressing, shredded chicken, apricot.
Today's lunch is a mixed green salad with ranch dressing, croutons, tomatoes, and black beans; also included were cold chicken from yesterday's lunch and a ripe apricot. 

The food is all pretty self explanatory, but this is probably a great time to talk about how I make just enough shredded chicken for myself.  First, I keep a bag of frozen chicken thighs in my freezer almost constantly.  "Chicken thighs?!" you say.  "Aren't they sooo fatty?"  No, not really.  Yes, they have more fat than chicken breasts (which is why they get a bad rap), but they are way leaner than beef and even many kinds of pork.  They also do much better in the crock pot than chicken breasts.  Chicken breasts tend to get dry and stringy in the crock pot no matter what you do to them.  Chicken thighs, however, turn juicy and fragrant and delicious.  Trust me, it's just better.  And cheaper!  If you can't stand the idea of eating that much dark meat, try mixing equal parts thighs and breasts - I find that's a fairly effective compromise. 

Sometimes, a single girl just needs one serving of chicken.  Sometimes I want a sandwich or a taco, or something else.  So what I do is cook one - yes, only one - chicken thigh in the crock pot.  Yes, that crock pot again.  I'm obsessed, didn't I tell you?

You can season it any number of ways, but here's what I did for tacos yesterday and the side today...feel free to cut in half for just one serving:

Slow Cooker Chicken for One (or Two!)

2 chicken thighs, frozen
1/2 can diced tomatoes (Remaining can frozen for later use.  Not the actual can, obviously.  Just the contents)
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste

In a 2 quart crock pot, plop your frozen chicken into the pot and cover with remaining ingredients.  It's ok to thaw the chicken, too, I haven't found it makes much difference.  Cover with the lid and cook on low for 5 hours.  Remove chicken from the pot and shred with a fork.  There will be lots of leftover liquid in the pot - discard or save for a yummy fiesta style soup! Pin It Now!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 6 - Cooking Black Beans in the Crock Pot

Corn Tortilla with black beans, shredded chicken, tomato, and avocado.  Sides are pico de gallo and kiwi.

Lunch today was a delicious black bean and chicken taco, with some pico de gallo and sliced kiwi on the side.  Not pictured is a snack sized bag of whole grain corn chips. 

I cook dried beans at least once a week - black beans, blacked eyed peas, pinto beans, red beans, split peas, all kinds.  Beans are a great source of protein and vitamins, and they are dirt cheap.  That last part is the most important. :)  They also work very well with both southern and Mexican foods, which are two of my favorite cuisines.

When I cook dried beans, I do so in the crock pot.  I'm a little bit of a crock pot...enthusiast.  I have three - the classic 4 quart that I got from Target in college, a 5 quart with a timer, and a 2 quart.  Since I usually cook for myself or maybe one other person at a time, I use my 2 quart crock pot all the time.  I cook single serve pot roast, risotto, soup, chicken, pasta, and, of course, dried beans!  Dried beans will take anywhere from 6-8 hours cooked on low.  It requires a little pre-planning, but it's well worth your time and is much more fool proof than cooking on the stove.

There are lots of ways to cook beans, but here's the way I cooked up these black beans for tacos:

Slow Cooker Black Beans

1 cup dried black beans
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded
1/2 onion
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon onion salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 quart water, cold or room temperature

Layer ingredients in order in a 2 quart crock pot.  No, you do not have to soak the beans before you cook them - these are bone dry beans straight from the bag.  Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or until desired tenderness.  Drain liquid.  Remove onion and bell pepper; these can be discarded or chopped and stirred back into bean mixture.  This will produce around 3 cups of cooked beans.  Serve hot or cold, as desired.  Leftovers may be frozen.

This made enough for far more than one meal for me. I'll have some tonight in a quesadilla and later on this week for lunches. Pin It Now!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 5 - Simple Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala, Egg Noodles, Green Peas, Fresh Apricot

Aaaaaand, we're back!  From a very long (and super fun!) weekend.  Hope all of your weekends were just as lovely. :)

Second week of lunches started off with leftovers from one of my favorite dishes - Simple and Easy Chicken Marsala.  Lunch also included egg noodles, green peas, and a fresh apricot.  I put the apricot in a silicone baking cup so that when I take it out to microwave the rest of the meal, the apricot will have something to sit on.

I'll likely be eating a lot of leftovers on Mondays because I am a big believer in the "Sunday Night Dinner."  I don't particularly care if Sunday Night Dinner actually happens on a Sunday, to be fair.  What matters to me is that I take one night in a weekend to cook a good, slightly more indulgent, hot meal.  No sandwiches, leftovers, or take out.  Something intentional and good for your soul.  I often have people over to share the meal with me, too!

This Chicken Marsala is a great dinner recipe if I'm shorter on time.  I have most of the ingredients on hand in my kitchen, it's not as unhealthy as some, and I've never met anyone who didn't like it.  My recipe isn't complicated or gourmet, it's just the basics.  Last night I served it with egg noodles and canned green peas, although the more classic choice would be angel hair pasta.  Rice, quinoa, and mashed potatoes would all be delightful with this dish, as well as any number of green vegetables.  

Simple Chicken Marsala

1.5 lbs thin sliced boneless chicken breasts (about 6 cutlets - if your store doesn't carry "thin sliced," then buy regular sized breasts and slice or pound them thin)
2 Tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup flour
1 red onion, chopped
8 oz sliced baby portobello mushrooms
1 cup marsala wine
1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 T oil in a large skillet.  Dredge chicken in flour and cook over medium low heat, about 2-3 minutes per side.  When cooked, set aside wrapped in foil.  Melt remaining butter in the pan and add onion, stirring for about 5 minutes or until desired tenderness.  Add mushrooms and saute another 5 minutes or so. Pour in marsala and remaining ingredients.

Mushrooms and onions, before wine

Mushrooms and onions, after wine and seasonings

Switch burner to medium high and reduce sauce, stirring frequently, about 10-15 minutes.  Your sauce can be any viscosity you like, but I like mine around the consistency of syrup.  When sauce has reached the desired state, gently place cooked chicken back in the pan and cook until heated through.  Serve immediately, preferably with a nice loaf of Italian bread to soak up all the delicious sauce!


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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 4 - Reinventing Leftovers

Wheat Pita filled with White Bean Mediterranean Salad, Cucumber Slices, Blueberries, and Pistachios
It's late in the week, which means I need to clean out my fridge before I go shopping this weekend.  I had just a little bit of that White Bean Mediterranean Salad that I made earlier this week, but there wasn't much of it.  After a  lunch, a dinner,  and a serious afternoon snack, there wasn't much left but the marinade and a few tomatoes.  I also may or may not have also eaten all of the avocados out of it with some toasted pita earlier.  Maybe.  Anyway, not enough to make a lunch.

So, I just added another half cup of chopped tomatoes and feta cheese, finishing off those supplies for the week.  That's the beautiful thing about a good marinated salad - you can just keep adding ingredients for about a week as they pop up, and the marinade just gets more and more delicious.

I stuffed the salad into two halves of a whole wheat pita, added some cucumber slices and the last of the blueberries, and treated myself to some crunchy-salty-yummy pistachios!  I know I can buy them out of the shells, but I like having to shell them myself.  It makes me eat slower, and on a rough day it can be therapeutic to have something to break open repeatedly. Maybe. :)

Had just enough leftover for dinner last night, so I spooned it onto a whole pita and toasted it in the oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese got all melty and fabulous.  Added a bagged caesar salad and it was divine!

Not the prettiest picture ever, but seriously - so good.

I realize I've relied heavily on the tomatoes, feta, and avocado this week.  Some of you might be thinking "that lunch lady is crazy, I could never eat so repetitively!"  To be honest, neither can I, usually.  These are just some of my favorite things so I don't mind eating them over and over.  Other weeks, there will be more variety, promise.  Also, more non-vegetarian meals. :)

Happy Weekend, everybody! Pin It Now!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 3 - Tools of the Trade

Watermelon, Cucumbers, Wheat Pita with Hummus, Avocado

I love watermelon.  Ohhhhhh how I love watermelon!  I like it even in the middle of the winter when it's "bad"...it's still good to me.  In the summer, I can't not buy it every time I go through the store.  I had lots extra from the weekend that was about to go bad, so I decided to just eat all of it for lunch.

Best.  Lunch.  Ever.

I also included some wheat pita filled with hummus as well as an avocado half.  I took a picture of it all pretty and nice, but then I cling wrapped the heck out of the avocado to keep it from browning.  Topped it off with some cucumber, and it was a pretty good lunch.  Very cooling on a day where the high was "down" at 93.  Yeah.

You may be wondering why on earth I keep putting my lunch in the same container.  That's because I primarily use the EasyLunchBox system.

EasyLunchBox System
One unit consists of four containers with lids as well as a cooler that you can buy separately.  I got mine on Amazon, and it really wasn't all too expensive.  I use other containers at other times, but this one is by far my favorite.  I like it because it has enough room for more than enough for food and the carrying cooler can hold either three containers at once or one container plus all of my diet-coke-napkin-fork-thermos-yogurt-whatever accessories that I throw in.  Each container has three compartments, which allows me to mentally tell myself "ok, at least two of these need to be only fruit and veggies - no extra junk food!"  Honestly, it's just easy and well made.  Does well in the dishwasher, too.

There are lots of blogs and sites you can follow to get ideas for how to pack these containers.  LOTS of cute ideas for kids that involve fun shapes and colors, fewer for adult meals.  And if you run out of ideas, there's always Pinterest. :)

It should be noted that I'm in no way associated with the company that makes these, nor am I financially profiting from writing about them.  I just like their product, a lot. Pin It Now!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 2 - Reusing Ingredients

Sandwich with Avocado, Tomato, and Goat Cheese, Hard Boiled Eggs, Rainier Cherries

Today's lunch consists of an sandwich with toasted multigrain bread, goat chevre, avocados, and tomatoes.

"But wait a minute!" you say.  "You had avocados and grape tomatoes yesterday!!"  Yes, yes I did.  Because I shop one day on the weekend, sometimes quickly during the week, and that's about it.  I shop with one list, which means some crossover.  And usually, I'm cooking either for just myself or me and a friend.  In other words, there is no way I can go through an entire container of tomatoes in one meal.  So, a lot of these meals will have repeat ingredients throughout the week - I like to think of it as a creative challenge!

I had some avocado and tomato left over.  I chopped up a little less than a half of an avocado, tossed it in lemon juice, and layered it over some goat cheese with chopped tomato.  If you want to do this yourself, be sure to spread the cheese on either cool bread or cooled toast...if you were to spread it on warm toast, the cheese would get all melty, which is super delicious but not super convenient for carrying to work.  You could serve it open faced (shown here) or with another slice of bread on top.  And, if you just can't stand to eat vegetarian, or you're not watching your weight, add bacon.  Mmmmmm, bacon.  Either way, if you're going open faced I'd recommend a knife and fork at work.  Or you could eat it standing in your bathrobe over the sink if it's a Saturday and you're running late...not that I have ever, EVER done that.

Added a boiled egg for protein and some pitted Rainier cherries because they are the most delicious thing on earth. Pin It Now!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Day 1 - White Bean Mediterranean Salad

Blueberries, Watermelon, Cold Seasoned Quinoa, White Bean Mediterranean Salad

I like to think of the summer as produce season.  Everything is so ripe and delicious...and on sale!  As such, lunch for today included watermelon, tiny early blueberries from a friend's yard, cold seasoned white quinoa, and a Mediterranean white bean salad.  It was, all things considered, pretty good.  The quinoa and beans gave it a nice punch of protein, and the fruit sweetened out an otherwise fairly salty and savory meal.  I'm more than happy eating a vegetarian meal, but if you feel incomplete without meat then a little grilled chicken over the quinoa would be lovely!

White Bean Mediterranean Salad

1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 small avocado, chopped (sub with cucumber for an even healthier salad)
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup crumbled low fat feta cheese
2 Tablespoons dried dill
Olive oil and red wine vinegar, to taste

Mix together all ingredients, saving oil and vinegar.  You may add salt and pepper at this point if you like, but I find that the canned beans and feta add more than enough salt for my taste.  Add in the oil and vinegar slowly, stirring gently.  If you're insecure about the amounts to add, I'd start with 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting between each tablespoon until it's how you love it.  Remember that the vinegar flavor will intensify somewhat if you leave it in the fridge for a few days.  I'd say I ended up with about 1 T oil and 3 T vinegar, but  my love for vinegar is weird and beyond most people's desirability...you may not want to follow my example. :)  Enjoy! Pin It Now!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Here's My Slightly Crazy Idea:

Objective: To produce and document at least four lunches a week for one year, almost entirely for work. Recipes, tips, and pontificating included as necessary.

Complications: I'm a girl on a budget and a girl on a diet. Also, I do not have time for garnishes or cute knife tricks. These lunches need to be healthyish, affordable, and easy.  Leftovers welcome.

Resources:  EasyLunchBox System (http://www.easylunchboxes.com/) and carrying cooler. Other various plastic containers.  Silicone baking cups.  Skewers. Sharp knives. Microwave at work.  Good cooking skills. Excellent couponing skills. Access to Publix, Kroger, various produce stands, and one knock-your-socks-off farmers' market

So, starting in the next few weeks I'm going to document my lunches.  I may have some repeats, but I'll try to offer up something a little different every day.  Hopefully, this will lead met to be healthier and more creative!  Let's see how this goes...
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