Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Lunches, Again

Over here in LaLaLand, we're all gearing up for holiday hiatus and you know what that means, right? Minimal updates!

Instead of leaving you totally bereft over the holiday season, though, I thought I'd treat you to a second dose of festive food.

Here we have my accidentally festive lunch from December 18th. I justsohappened to use a green box and those wonderful farmers' market-found cherry tomatoes couldn't help but cheer up my lunch. The less exhilarating companion to the green box is a microwavable Lock-N-Lock container filled with the same leftover beef stew we've been suffering from (actually, it's delightful, but I'm glad to see it gone). Inside the green box are some of those tomatoes, some small bite-size chunks of homemade bread, and some unsweetened dried mango slices from the bulk bin -- pretty healthy and awesome, in my opinion. If you notice that I packed the green box pretty lightly, you're right: together, the Lock-N-Lock plus the green sidecar is entirely too much lunch for me, so a mostly filled beef stew and lightly packed side are the perfect amount for a filling, wintertime meal, especially in our arctic office environment. Frigid!

Though the last meal was accidentally holiday-themed, this next bento set was purposefully crafted as a tribute to our Christmas spirit. Taking some of the spicy shortbread cookies that I made and coupling them with leftover spaghetti with sausage, and happy green peppers was a great start. Throwing those delightful cherry tomatoes completed the package in the best way. For TheBoy's lunch, I simply cut slices off the top of a green bell pepper and set them aside. I sliced until the bottom of the pepper was shallow enough to sit in his lunchbox. You can see some of the extra slices plugging a hole next to the "wreath" pepper and, of course, over in my box, covering my leftover lasagna. He also got a layered snack area filled with banana chips, salted almonds, and a single spiced shortbread cookie -- I got the same, just with smaller portions.

TheBoy loved how much thought (he thinks) I put into this lunch and gobbled it up in record time. He loves anything to do with spaghetti and tomatoes and peppers, so this was a huge hit. I also loved my lunch and we both got compliments on our wonderful meals. So, I'll sign off now for the holidays with a clear blog-conscience. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Festive Food

Because L.A. is so different from my old, cold Christmas home, I've been having some difficulty getting ready for the holidays. So, to help me, I've started making festive food choices. Beginning with my holiday cookie spree and edging into our lunches, Christmas has started to seriously invade the kitchen here.
Let's start with a small example: Saturday night hit and cookie craving set in bigtime. I needed my fix, so I made another batch of Chocolate Rocky Road cookies. These ones didn't turn out quite so beautifully as the last ones, but were delightful, especially when photographed on holiday wrapping paper!

A little bit of red and green has snuck into our lunch boxes in the form of lasagna and green grapes. Let me tell you a bit about the lasagna. First, I started by making the sauce. You can find the recipe at the bottom of the post, but mostly it's a sham-recipe -- I just throw in whatever I have around. While the sauce is bubbling away, I work on the ricotta (following the directions on the lasagna noodles box... too easy!). While both the sauce and ricotta are getting delicious, I'm also, sometimes, heating up hot Italian sausage to mix into the sauce. Then, it's just a matter of throwing all those ingredients into the baking dish and making delicious, holiday lunches with the resulting leftovers. The other defining holiday aspect of these lunches are my Christmas cookies. A recent post dealt with the cookies, so I won't go into too much detail, but... they are pretty festive, aren't they?

How about the naturally red and green produce from our local farmers' market? Swiss red chard is big in my book, I've even blogged about it before. I love how it looks, smells... I even love how it feels. I took some of that fabulous vegetable and cooked it up into a sort of Mediterranean stir fry: Swiss red chard, zucchini, mushrooms, and, of course, garlic and olive oil combined to make MMM the best stir fry I could whip up. And plenty of leftovers for the next week. It's even in the red and green bento pictured in this post.

Chard was not the only festive farmers' find this week. I got tons of great red and green produce there. Take a look at our veggie basket, brimful of bright red heirloom tomatoes, pretty purple onions, and, best of all, a subtly colored and heavenly smelling bunch of thyme. I can't wait to use it in the Parmesan-Thyme Savory cookie recipe I have stored up in my recipe file. This image of our produce basket even has my "rolling pin" off to the side. You can read about my wine bottle rolling pin reuse project over at my eco blog, Light Up My Room.

Homemade Sauce Recipe

  • 1 huge can (smaller than a basketball, bigger than a softball) of stewed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste (for thickening. give or take for taste and preferred thickness)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh, or 1 tsp. dried, basil leaves (or to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh, or 1 tsp. dried, Italian herbs (I use a dried blend, but you can use parsley, sage, oregano.. whatever)
  • 1-6 cloves garlic, minced (have I mentioned we LOVE garlic?)
  • Olive oil for the pan
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a tall-sided pot and add garlic. Don't let the garlic brown, just get your kitchen smelling delicious.
2. Add the stewed tomatoes, crushing each one with your hands (OVER the pot! or else you'll make a huge mess!). Crush or cut to your preferred texture; I like chunky sauce. TheBoy calls it "stylish"
3. Add spices and stir well.
4. Let it cook until the tomatoes have started falling apart and the taste is to your standards. It's really up to you how this sauce turns out. If you decide to add meat, especially sausage, make sure you either buy loose ground meat or crumble it up before browning, because it's a hassle if you try to crumble after cooking.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recipes with Molasses: Cookies

Imagine Wednesday of Thanksgiving week: the dough is already whipped up and chilling in the fridge. (After much searching for the appropriate recipe, I went with the one on the molasses bottle... find it at the bottom of the post). TheBoy and I went out to find a rolling pin to tame the dough and... no place had one! Well, Target had one for $20, but I couldn't see myself buying a stick with handles for that much money. One extremely unpleasant (though productive) Wal-Mart visit, later, we were ready to head back to Target to pick up that over-priced pin.

Well, there must have been a serious run on rolling pins because there were no absurdly expensive cooking implements left. At all! Commence calling: I called TheBoy's mother (future Mother-in-Law of yours truly) and asked if I could use her rolling pin and oven at Thanksgiving (she said yes, but I was able to avoid that fate, anyway) and TheBoy called our wonderful friend J----- for his help. J----- suggested a floured wine bottle and, voila!, we had our answer. We rushed home to the already-opened bottle of FishEye and TheBoy chugged it down (my Tylenol-cured headache prevented me from joining him) so that I could fill it with cold water, which both added heft to the pin and kept the dough extra cold so I could work with it longer.
Overall verdict: I will likely NEVER buy a rolling pin, I'll just drink more and more Merlot to sustain my baking habit. The cookies turned out delicious (if I do say so myself) and everyone ate them right away.

Gingerbread Cookie Recipe
makes uncounted dozens of mini cookies (probably about a gallon, if you must know)
  • 3/4 cup molasses, light or dark (I used dark)
  • 3/4 cup margarine or butter (I used butter)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg

1. In a saucepan, heat the molasses, butter, and brown sugar until the mixture boils, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cool.
2. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.
3. Stir egg into molasses mixture and mix together the flour and molasses mixtures.
4. Put the dough into the fridge (I left it in the bowl, but you might want to wrap it in plastic wrap) for 1 hour or more.
5. Divide dough in half. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Use floured cookie cutters to make precious little shapes (I used everything from a mini gingerbread man to a lion).
6. Bake at 350 F for 6-14 minutes, shorter for softer cookies.
7. Remove from pan to cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Recipes with Molasses: Bread

Well, I made two over-long posts both featuring molasses-heavy recipes... so how about a single over-long molasses post! On better thought, how about a two-part series?

As for the Honey Molasses Whole Wheat Bread, this yeast bread was really really easy and bakes to be ENORMOUS. I was terrified of using yeast... so I stuck to beer bread. But now.. mauahahah! No yeast bread is safe from my kneading and mixing.

I had a wonderful time making this bread. Because I was making it for a special occasion, where more than just TheBoy would suffer if I created a lousy product, I was particularly careful to follow the directions. I measured things precisely and didn't stray from the recipe at all! Let me tell you -- it was a crazy experience. But, my diligence definitely paid off. We came home with only scraps and our host was more than delighted to keep the rest.
My little bread pan was overwhelmed with flavor and expansion. I've always stayed away from bread-baking in the past to avoid the hassles of yeast and the troublesome rising, kneading, and patience required, but this loaf was a pleasure to make: no kneading and only very minimal time to rise. I was really impressed with this easy bread and I will definitely be making (and blogging about) more loaves in the future. Do you have any favorite yeast bread recipes? Please share in comments!

Easy Honey Molasses Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
makes 1 loaf
Recipe shamelessly lifted from ZestyCook. Thanks!

  • 2 Tsp. honey
  • 2 2/3 Cup lukewarm water
  • 4 tsp. dry yeast
  • 3 Tbsp. Molasses
  • 5 Cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 Cup wheat germ (you can forego the wheat germ, but it's so useful that I splurged)
  • 1 Tbsp. Oatmeal (for optional decoration)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.
  2. Stir 2 teaspoons honey into 2/3 cup lukewarm water and sprinkle yeast over the mixture. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. Combine 3 tablespoons molasses with 2/3 cup warm water and combine with yeast mixture.
  4. Stir the mixture into the flour. Add salt, wheat germ and 1 1/3 cups warm water. Dough will be sticky. (I mixed all the dry ingredients first)
  5. Pour the dough into a loaf pan -- I grease just the bottom of mine and everything comes out great. Don't grease the sides!
  6. Smooth the top of the loaf with a wet spatula and sprinkle on the oatmeal, if you choose to.
  7. Let the dough rise to the top of the pan, then stick that baby in the oven for 30-40 minutes. The bread will rise like crazy. I had to take the top rack out of the oven to prevent the bread from baking into it.
  8. Cool the bread - in the pan - on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn your bread loose into the world. Let it cool down some more (if you can stand to wait!) before slicing into it and devouring every last wholesome morsel.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Kitchen Adventures

What exactly did I make over Thanksgiving? Well, to the first Thanksgiving celebration, I brought my now-famous cornbread casserole (extremely simple recipe at bottom), gingerbread cookies, and guacamole + tortilla chips. The future MIL was very pleased with my offerings (^_^) and all the guests loved them, too.
For the second Thanksgiving (on Saturday), I brought the same cornbread casserole (not leftovers, 'cause there weren't any), gingerbread cookies (leftover because I made so freakin' many), guacamole + tortilla chips, cranberry sauce (with ginger and orange; recipe at bottom) and two loaves of bread: beer bread and super easy Honey Molasses Whole Wheat bread (recipes in future post... ahah! now you have to continue reading into the future!). We came home with almost none of the food we brought, but super full and delighted to have spent such a lovely time with friends. I posted a recipe for and wrote about the guac in my World AIDS Day post. Find the molasses bread in a future post about molasses-based recipes.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show off my new bread-making skillz. The beer bread is toooo easy and I love that you can add all manner of extras, even though I kept this loaf simple. I'm sure I'll get a little more adventurous with it soon. Despite how easy this bread is, I really messed up my first try at it. Originally, I had thought to make a beer loaf because I had a whole fridge full of almost unpalatable Miller Lite (failed Halloween party, anyone?). Using cheap-o beer, though, didn't really work out as well as using a better beer, so I ended up finding a pretty reasonable lager at Trader Joe's.
Of course, the first, Miller Lite loaf may have failed because I stirred the batter for too long. What happened was I used a small bowl, not the enormous one that I really should have used for mixing up bread. Because the bowl was so small, I had to overstir the batter to get to all the hidden flour deposits. Also, I think months-old Miller Lite maybe loses a little carbonation. Or, maybe that's why it's "less filling" ... because it's less able to rise my bread!

In any case, the loaf I made for SaturGiving turned out great! I was more than pleased with the feel of the loaf and, more importantly, everyone else at the party really enjoyed the flavor and texture. This is a really moist bread and tastes great slathered in holiday leftovers. I'm really super-excited about bread-baking, now. Look for more bread in the future!

Now bread wasn't the only new item on my cooking agenda. Cranberry sauce was a really interesting avenue for me to explore. The future MIL actually requested that I not bring my own cranberry sauce to her Thanksgiving because she wanted to try her hand at it, first. Her sauce was great -- very tart and tasted fantastic on the turkey! So, what did I do? Totally stole her recipe inspiration.
My future MIL is a great lady, but I wouldn't call her exactly adventurous. She tends to find a recipe, maybe tweak it a bit, and turn out a fantastic meal. I am a big-time food explorer, though. Now, I won't buy that $15 package of Thyme when I have nameless-random-spice-of-the-day at home. So, I took the basic cranberry sauce recipe, and combined it with several other sauce recipes to make, what I think, is a superb, fascinating rendition of traditional cranberry sauce.
Well, all cranberry sauce begins with 1 cup each of water and sugar along with a package of cranberries, easy enough. So, I stuck those into the saucepan to get started and then went to town! I peeled a good-size ginger root and just grated the heck out of it, right over the boiling, frothing cranberry deathpit brewing in my saucepan. Then, I got out a great-big orange and zested it to death. All the zest from an orange the size of both of my fists went into my sauce. Admittedly, I have tiny hands, so both fists is still reasonably sized for a citrus fruit. Of course, I couldn't stop with just the zest: I chunked up the orange into little pieces (maybe 3/4 inch, all around) and threw those in toward the end (if I had put in the orange pieces too early, they would have disintegrated, leaving me with a smoother, less stylish sauce).
Ultimately, I think I ended up crafting cranberry relish, rather than sauce, but I was very happy with the results and came home with only a few tablespoons out of several cups that I brought over.

Cornbread Casserole Recipe

1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn

1. Mix up the corn muffin mix batter in a bowl. Follow the directions on the box!
2. Add the creamed corn and whole kernel corn to the mixture (don't drain, just dump in the whole can, liquid and all)
3. Pour the resulting, super-liquidy batter into a 9"x13" casserole dish (or whatever other size you have available; this recipe doesn't rise very much at all)
4. Bake at 400 F until casserole has set (doesn't wiggle when you shake the dish), about 15-20 minutes.

Ginger-Orange Cranberry Sauce Recipe
recipe courtesy of Ocean Spray bag and Martha Stewart's suggestions

1 12 oz. bag cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 orange, cut into small sections, pith and seeds (duh!) removed
zest from 1 orange
some fresh ginger, grated (make it TINY!)

1. In a large (the taller the sides, the better, because you're exploding cranberries) saucepan, heat water, sugar, and cranberries until boiling.
2. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and add grated ginger, orange zest, and orange pieces. (Do this at your own pace... you really can't go wrong).
3. Cook until all the cranberries explode and sauce has reached desired consistency, 10-30 minutes, with the sauce thickening as it cooks longer.

Beer Bread Recipe
makes 1 loaf (recipe credit to Farmgirl Fare blog of delight)

3 cups flour (I used 1 cup white all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat all-purpose)
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder (unexpired, or else your bread will FAIL)
1 12oz. bottle/can of beer (I used Miller Lite at first, then switched to Trader Joe's Bohemian)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease just the bottom of a bread pan. (I used an 8"x4" Chicago Metallic one)
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl (you'll need a great big bowl, because otherwise you'll end up overmixing). Slowly mix in beer just until moist. Don't overmix!
3. Pour the thick batter into the bread pan and smooth the top with a wet spatula.
4. Bake until golden-brown and a toothpick (or chopstick!) inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 45-60 minutes, depending on your stove.
5. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then cool out of the pan on a rack another 10-20 minutes. Don't put it in an airtight package until it's all-the-way cooled.

World AIDS Day Post

Originally posted December 1st, World AIDS Day.

So, I'm a lousy updater.. no surprise. But, today I'm feeling motivated, so I thought I'd make amends. And let you know how important I think World AIDS Day is (even though I try not to let my politics take over the food, AIDS affects everyone).

Let's start with how, once upon a time, I traded food for transportation. Here's the story: I needed a bike for some serious, Los Angeles movement, but I had zero money. So, I posted to Craigslist's barter page "My Baked Goods for Your 20" Bike Frame." And, lo, the responses! The best response was from a lovely man in Eagle Rock who promised a sweet 1980's Japanese bike (along with compliments to this blog!) in return for some grub.
Some negotiation later, I had a slightly-too-large bike without gears in exchange for dinner for the gentleman and his wife. He received: one big bag o' hand-ripped garden salad, one big bag o' sundried tomato-cream sauce penne, one big bag o' cantaloupe/grape/Mandarin orange salad, and one little tray of cheapy peach cobbler.

The bike is a masterpiece and I gained some useful leftover sundried tomatoes to feed to TheBoy when I'm feeling generous. Excellent trade and I look forward to taking advantage of someone else's hunger soon.

What other crazy things have I done with food, you ask. Well, I completely failed to make guacamole. My first time making smushy avocado goodness turned into a complete disaster when I tried to use one ripe and one not-so-ripe fruit. I tried everything from a fork to a shot glass to smash that ornery plant, but nothing worked... so I gave up. That attempt was a waste.
My next attempt, though, pleased TheBoy, a major guacamole fanatic, and one guac-hater. Her opinions have changed! Now, she is a guac-hater with the sole exception of my guacamole-of-intense-pleasure-and-love. Though I posted a recipe for guacamole only a few months ago, I'm going to go ahead and post the actual recipe that I sort of follow to make the guac that disappears at parties. One great idea stemmed from that avocado adventure: serve your guac in the peel to the avocado. Yum and fun!

The resulting sort-of-smushed avocado also made a good omelette filling. Omelettes are great way to use up less-than-perfect leftovers. In fact, we've used not only lousy avocado, but also leftover beef stew (complete with potatoes!), ginger-garlic-mushroom stir fry, and even salad.

Another absurd food adventure? How about the time I made gingerbread cookies from scratch, but couldn't find a rolling pin anywhere... so I made do with a wine bottle? See a future post for details, pictures, and adventure story.

Creamy-Spicy Sundried Tomato Pasta Recipe
Recipe adapted/shamelessly stolen from epicurious.com
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (don't skimp!)
  • 1 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 7.25-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained, chopped
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (I cut them with a kitchen scissor instead of a knife)
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (you know I used the pre-grated refrigerator stuff)
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. When you drain it, make sure to keep 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. You'll use it later.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute 1-2 minutes, but don't let it burn (totally gross).
2. Add tomatoes, cream, red peppers and crushed red pepper; simmer over medium heat 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup basil and simmer 1 minute longer.
3. Combine the pasta, the delicious cream sauce, the remaining basil, Parmesan cheese, and enough cooking liquid to moisten in a large bowl.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve and seriously enjoy (or stick it in an bag and trade it for something awesome).

Cheapy Peach Cobbler Recipe
Recipe adapted/shamelessly stolen from recipezaar.com
  • 1 large can sliced peaches, or 6 sliced peaches
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I used at least 1 tsp., but I'm a cinnamon fanatic)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp. butter (margarine is a fine substitute)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used vanilla flavored soymilk)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. In a large saucepan, combine peache, 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Toss to coat peaches evenly. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to boiling, cooking until the mixture thickens, about 1 minute.
3. Transfer mixture to 8" square baking dish.
4. Make the topping: mix all the rest of the dry ingredients together! Smash in the butter with a fork until the topping is crumbly. Stir in milk just until the topping is moistened.
5. Drop the topping by tablespoonfuls onto the peach mixture and pop that baby in the oven until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.

Disappearing Guacamole Recipe
serves 4-6 moderate afficianados or 1-2 really hungry gaucsters (as an appetizer)
  • 2 avocados, smushed by hand (not in a food processor.. break out those muscles!)
  • 1/3-1/2 lime
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped (use any kind of tomato you like... but I use Roma)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2-1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I have no idea how much I actually use... I grate until I'm tired)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the avocados and smash with a fork. Dont' worry about getting the consistency too smooth -- bumps make it extra delightful.
2. Squeeze the lime juice onto the smushed avocados. This step keeps the green guts from turning brown through oxidization. Mix well to coat the avocados.
3. Add all the other ingredients! Stir 'em up and taste frequently (TheBoy bravely suffers through this stage every time). I like to stir using a rubber scraper so I can scrape off every last bit of goodness. Add the salt and pepper last and in small increments -- a little goes a long way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dinner Out to Lunch In

Asian food is a particular weakness of mine. Eating out is also a favorite. TheBoy similarly enjoys Asian food, so long as it is cooked thoughtfully. Consequently, we try new Asian restaurants pretty frequently. Thus, this post. Here we have some delightful Thai barbecue from the fantastic Original Thai BBQ on Hollywood Blvd. at Western Ave. Being nearby, this was a restaurant we were destined to try -- and, now that we've visited, one we'll likely revisit time and again. TheBoy had their yelp-favorite BBQ pork ribs and I enjoyed the Crispy Duck (pictured). We shared a delightful order of (I think) Combination Soup -- served in a soup tureen over a flame. Awesome! We loved the soup and the leftovers made a great breakfast for the me the next day. Back to the restaurant review, though... I love duck, but I'm pretty picky. This duck was moist without being greasy and had the best accompanying sauce. Verdict: A+ TheBoy loved his ribs and we both really enjoyed the accompanying shrimp-fried rice.
About the restaurant, itself: friendly, helpful service in a pretty nice environment. I didn't take especially careful note of our surroundings, but the place wasn't packed, had great prices, and gave us our food quickly. Another bonus: they didn't use styrofoam (boo, hiss!) to package our leftovers. Instead, they used the semi-compostable Chinese take-out boxes that A) take up less room in the fridge and B) make me feel like less of a chump for not finishing my meal.

Our bento boxes also enjoyed this restaurant. While I neglected to picture TheBoy's leftovers, mine ended up accompanying me in high style. I used leftover shrimp-fried rice and leftover brocolli to form my main carb base and popped in some pre-made stir-fry to give me some protein. I made a big stir-fry Sunday night specifically for our weekday bentos. Definitely something to continue into the future, as our jobs are picking up and we're getting busier and busier. Taking the time out Sunday evening to make a quick stir-fry saved me mucho time throughout the week. Though the stir-fry was my main protein portion in this lunch, I didn't think it was enough protein (being vegan, only the mushrooms actually had any solid protein), so I added some rolled up lunchmeat and a container of peanuts to complement. Frozen grapes and a tiny Hershey bar rounded out this fantastic meal. I was so full midway through this lunch that I couldn't finish and I ended up saving a good portion of the rice to compost later. Despite not finishing the meal, I had enough energy to last me through my entire, grueling 5-hour shift of outdoor canvassing in the Hollywood Hills (I worked as a door-to-door canvasser for a political party... guess which one!).

Another Hollywood restaurant we've been enjoying lately is YenYen at the corner of Sunset and Bronson Ave. This tiny little restaurant hasn't been around very long, so it hasn't gained much popularity yet, but I predict that it will quickly skyrocket in the eating polls due to a whole variety of reasons. Number one is its adorable decor (super chic deep orange-colored walls, sleek tables, long padded bench with throw pillows for some of the seating -- ultra hip). Number two is the delicious food (um.. duh) which is a great combination of Thai and Japanese foods ranging from Pad See Ewe (my first dish eaten there) to Spicy tuna with crispy rice. Number three is the price. Totally reasonable prices for this great place -- great food + affordability = WIN.

The meal pictured here is actually from our second visit when I had some Thai fried rice with chicken. Obviously, we like the place -- otherwise, it wouldn't have gotten a return visit. TheBoy had eaten at work before coming home, so he hadn't been terribly hungry during either of our two visits, so he's stuck to sushi while I had a real meal each time. Despite his small appetite, he's a huge fan of YenYen and we'll be going back sometime when we both need a full, afforable meal.

TheBoy's lunch the next day reflected how much we loved my meal -- leftovers! I even kept one of the cute cucumber slices specifically to adorn this lunch box. I didn't have a lot of time when I made this lunch, so I left the leftovers looking pretty plain and only added color on the right side of the box. Some strawberries and celery made me feel like I was feeding TheBoy healthy food while the (hidden) hummus, cheese, and peanuts added an extra punch of protein. A quick and dirty lunch that was as easy to eat as it was to assemble. Easy, but a win in terms of healthiness and tastiness.

In general, I love using leftovers from eating out to make our lunches. They're easy, but they can pack quite a visual and edible punch. These specific lunches don't exemplify how fun leftovers can be in terms of visual appeal, but they definitely shined as far as the eating was concerned. I look forward to using up more out-overs in the future and sharing them with my lovely audience! Do you have any favorite places to take leftovers from? If so, share them in the comments.

Monday, November 3, 2008

French Onion Soup, and Friends

Once upon a time, a few weeks ago, I made French Onion Soup and forgot to take pictures of the finished product, though I did manage to snap some images of the onion transition from point A, on the left, to point B, on the right.

I'm not really a big fan of French Onion Soup, really, but TheBoy and TheUpstairsNeighbor are, so I thought I'd "sacrifice" for their sake and have a lovely evening with the two of them. Instead, I found a new love for cooked onions and instilled in my loved ones a new respect for my cooking skillz. See the bottom of the post for the remarkably easy recipe.

Alongside newfound respect, this recipe also produced leftovers to feed to TheBoy. Instead of trying to slop soup into a regular bento box, I used a thermal jar (OK, a Campbell's soup thermos that I stole from my mother's pantry) to hold the soup and packed a normally too-small bento accompaniment. I didn't really need to use the thermos for the soup -- I could've used an uninsulated container -- but it was exactly the right size and it's cute, compact, and, best of all, leak-proof. Why didn't I need the thermal capacities? Several reasons:
  • I pack lunches at night and refrigerate all the food for safety. Refrigerating thermoses is both counter-intuitive and not food safe (because the thermos doesn't keep the food hot enough to be safe, but it does insulate it enough from the fridge to keep it from getting cold enough for safety).
  • We don't have a microwave! So, heating up the soup in the morning would've been a challenge of stove-heating soup in a pot while it's still to early to see clearly.
  • TheBoy has microwave access at work and a glass bowl that lives in the cupboard at work for just such occasions that he should have to heat up some lunch.
To accompany this thermos, I sent TheBoy a smallish bento filled with soup-appropriate needs. This bento features some toast to float on the soup, peanuts for added protein, and a tortilla filled with hummus and a lovely assortment of whatever veggies we had on hand (probably sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce). Acting as gap-fillers are a steamed jalapeno (leftover from a taco truck dinner!), a dried mango slice, one mini vegan brownie, and grapes and strawberries. Surprisingly, this lunch ended up as a vegan meal for TheBoy, though it ideally would have contained some cheese to sprinkle on the soup. TheBoy is not at all interested in vegetarianism or veganism, but I sometimes spring lunches like this on him... without any complaints. Overall, a big win and he requested an immediate repeat, though I think he may have to wait until I have the motivation to chop up half-a-dozen onions again.

French Onion Soup Recipe
adapted from Simply Recipes

  • 6 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar (or just some, like I did)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups of broth (I made vegetable broth using better than bouillon paste)
  • 1/2 cup of white wine (I used white wine that we would drink... so should you!)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Spices (I used Basil and "Italian Seasonings, though the original recipe calls for Thyme and a Bay Leaf... I'm poor and can't afford to by spices just for ocassional use)
  • 8 slices of toasted bread (French bread is canon, but we had wheat on-hand)
  • 1 1/2 cups of grated Mozzarella cheese with a little Parmesan (Gruyere is the standard, but, again, poor! and Mozzarella is fine, anyway)
1. In a large pan, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium high heat until well browned, but not burned, about 30 minutes. Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help with the carmelization.

2. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock, wine, and spices. Cover partially and simmer until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Ladle the soup into serving bowls (if you have oven-proof bowls, like Corelle, as I have. If not, use an oven-safe casserole dish). Cover with the toast and sprinkle with cheese. Put into the broiler for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Itty Bitty Bentos

Sometimes, we don't need full meals, but aren't comfortable leaving the house empty-handed. In the past month, I've taken pictures of two instances of itty bitty bentos: 1. my first far away job interview (1.5 hour bus ride, each way even though the location was only 15 miles away) and 2. a trip down to Orange County to visit TheBoy's parents (1.5 hour drive on a small breakfast). The main reason we take snacks with us is because I get very cranky (to put it mildly) when I get hungry. Because I eat every two or three hours, I get hungry pretty quickly, but a small snack will set me to rights again in no time. So, small snacks/meals are really useful for us.
Situation 1, the interview, called for a fairly large snack, since I left too late to have time for a decent breakfast. I started with what we had on hand: tortillas. I spread some homemade hummus on the tortilla and filled it with sliced cucumbers, lettuce, and cheddar cheese. I had to cut the tortilla in half to make it fit in the little box, but that just made the meal easier to eat and made plenty of space for some yummy, colorful gap fillers out of cheery cherry tomatoes. This box is actually a child's bento box -- holding about 450 mL, translated to about 450 calories, with correct packing technique.
The second layer of this bento holds an assortment of snacks: babybel cheese (we bought a bag of 28 for $10 at CostCo... WIN), chili-lime almonds, salted peanuts, red grapes, and a small container of raisins and crasisin. This was a wonderful snack and made me calm and sweet for my interview. The other passengers on the bus looked at me a little funny when I pulled out a tiny burrito while headed toward Compton from Hollywood, but I'm pretty sure I don't mind the looks.

Situation 2, the long drive, had me and TheBoy ready for snacks. So, I made a very simple, very SoCal cheese and grape box. We used a little pink snack box to hold portions of chopped dry jack (best cheese, ever... dry and cheesy and ...just try it). TheBoy was driving and the bite size pieces made the delicious (and fairly pricey) cheese go further and made them very easy for him to eat while still concentrating on the road. The tiny chunks also went perfectly with the grapes -- we just ate a piece of cheese with a single grape... and it was so great! Combined with a great big Nalgene full of water, we had a fairly filling, healthy snack to entertain us all the way to the OC.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Yes, I know, Pirate Day was over a month ago, but forgive me.. I'm a busy person! So, allow me to catch you up.
I made us a very special dinner for Pirate Day and, though I didn't enforce pirate speech, I did make us some particularly yummy themed treats. The internets suggested that I make palm trees out of veggies. Well, I did that! We peeled two large carrots, chopped the tops off of two green peppers and balanced them together. I dug a small hole into the center of the pepper top so that the carrot "trunk" would nestle into the pepper "leaves." Fun and easy way to increase our veggie intake. (Incidentally, that's me holding my "trees").
I used the rest of the peppers to make pirate lifeboats -- filled with golden treasure! Well, I guess it was white gold, because the mac and cheese was made with white cheddar. I usually just use the boxed macaroni because it's so convenient.. this was one of those times. Serving the macaroni in the uncooked peppers isn't really "canon" food prep, but it worked out fine and kept the peppers crunchy, just the way we like them.
Now, the real treat in this meal was the funny little shapes in front of the "lifeboat." Thanks again to Biggie, I know exactly how to make really adorable terrifying octodogs. As per her suggestion, I sliced regular (turkey) hot dogs in half, leaving two single legged proto-octo-creatures. Then, I just used a really sharp knife to cut legs into the dogs. I boiled the resulting critter to acheive slightly flaired legs -- worked beautifully! TheBoy was really impressed with them and we devoured them in no time. A huge win for a simple, fun dinner food. If you have kids, or a finicky man/partner/friend/person who likes hot dogs, I definitely recommend this meal. Or, if you just like fun food... go for it!
Overall, this meal really excited TheBoy and was really easy to make, with a total preparation time of, excluding macaroni cooking time, about 10 minutes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

So Busy!

So, I haven't posted in over a month, but... I have been busy cooking!
How about a quick picture post -- a week of lunches for TheBoy and theMe?

This first lunch has a few old things and a few new surprise successes. The biggest surprise success is the fantastic, smushy looking rice/dill/cream cheese/tomato mixture. Originally posted at Coffee and Vanilla, I had to make a few accommodations. First, I couldn't find any orzo, anywhere.. Los Angeles.. you totally let me down. (Later, I did find some at an out-of-the-way grocery). Check out the full recipe at the bottom of this post. The remainder of this lunch is completed with a simple PB+J (using apricot jam) sandwich cut into autumn leaves and a large strawberry. The shapes are really indistinct because this stale bread didn't cut very well. Since, we've decided to stop buying bread at the supermarket -- we go through it too slowly to keep it fresh. Grapes, a blueberry muffin, cherry tomatoes, and two mystery containers finish the rest of this lunch. The white-lidded container holds dried cranberries and chocolate covered prune pieces (a gift from the future mother-in-law) and the other container holds some delightful lime and chili coated almonds. YUM! A huge win with TheBoy and his officemates loved this to look at this lunch.

I picked up a large loaf of French bread at the supermarket the other day and I used one half to make a delicious French bread pizza (with tomato sauce, mozzarella, etc) and I used the other half to make an equally delicious French bread TACO pizza (with taco seasoned turkey meat, cheddar cheese, and salsa). The leftovers made several bento appearances, first in this bento. Find the simple recipe at the bottom of the post.
The rest of this lunch is a combination of a micro-plum, grapes, and cherry tomato gap fillers, a taco meat and veggie filled soft taco and the same mystery containers as the previous lunch -- dried fruit in the white lid, nuts in the clear lid. Another success and TheBoy can't wait for another round of French bread.
Another dinner utilizing the French bread didn't opt for pizza-izing the loaf, but just kept it as a delicious, garlicky testament to carbohydrates. I piled some mozzarella cheese on top before broiling the bread to make it extra scrumptious. This meal contains all leftovers: the aforementioned mozzarella-smothered garlic bread, red wine sauteed muchrooms, cherry tomatoes, angelhair pasta, and some chopped fresh nectarines. Not a very cute lunch, but definitely a repeatable one due to the ease of eating (TheBoy is a runner for a TV show.. he doesn't have a lot of time to himself during the work day) and the ease of assembly. Using all leftovers and fruit/veggie fillers, this lunch took about 5 minutes to make. A success on all fronts.
This lucnh is another leftover bit, using the same noodles as the previous box. Nestled in the center of the noodles is a small container of Italian salad dressing -- I avoid putting red sauce into TheBoy's bento due to his penchant for spilling and the wonderful way that tomato sauce stains clothes and plastic. The chicken legs are also leftovers -- I surprise TheBoy one night by marinading these legs in Italian dressing all day and then just cooking them in our oven. He loves to revert back to his caveman instincts in grabbing chunks of meat with his hands, so the legs were a particular treat. Taking a cue from Biggie over at Lunch in a Box, I popped some lettuce leaves into the box to cushion the chicken legs. TheBoy failed to eat them, but they made the lunch look more appealing than a greasy piece of meat on blue plastic. Rounding out this meal are the ever-present (he doesn't get bored easily) grapes and cherry tomatoes, and mystery container this time full of green olives and similar treats. TheBoy didn't end up using the dressing for the noodles, so complained about how dry they were. Next time, I might include a little note about the container contents or just give him a quick lunch preview the evening before. Overall, a thumbs up from my favorite judge.

As I'm sure you can tell, I love to use leftovers in our lunches. Not only are they convenient, but they're a good way to make sure that we don't waste any food... something that could become a problem in our two-person, food-adventure household. This lunch is a perfect example: I made guacamole, but even using just two avocados, I quickly overwhelmed our ability to devour the delicious green smush. So, into TheBoy's box it goes! He loves guac, so he didn't need any chips to stick in it, but I snuck a chip-filled pretty pink "sidecar" into his workbag. He ended up appreciating it. The rest of this lunch is just what it looks like: two colors of grapes, cherry tomatoes, and two slices of leftover pizza. We lucked out by being able to pick up a couple of Red Baron pizzas on sale. At $4 a piece, these bake-at-home pizzas are a steal and we can customize them (with olives, for instance), without breaking the bank at the pizza place. Also, California has LOUSY pizza. How I long for a Philadelphia suburb! If you want the guac recipe, just refer to the bottom of the post.

The last lunch for this post (haven't you had enough already?) was a fun one. We didn't really have any leftovers, but we did still have a loaf of bread and some candy. So, I made two sandwiches (one turkey, cheese, lettuce, and mustard; the other PB+J) and used my itty-bitty cookie cutters to cut them down to size. I tried for an autumn them to the sandwiches and I may or may not have failed miserably. TheBoy's coworkers could not decipher the shapes, but they did think this was an adorable and fun looking lunch. The fun, obviously, comes from the grapes, chopped carrots, and silicone baking cup full of tropical skittles (TheBoy brought home a half-eaten bag... I had to get rid of them so I didn't eat them all!) and peach rings. Mystery container holds honey-roasted peanuts and cinnamon sugar almonds. mmmm! Very quick lunch to assemble, even though the bread gave me some trouble by being a trifle stale. So ends our affair with bread! (We haven't had any in the house in almost three weeks... we don't miss it).

Creamy Dill and Tomato Rice
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 5 Tbsp. cream cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. (or so) finely chopped fresh dill
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook the chopped tomatoes until squishy in oven heated to about 375 (best guess).
2. Mix all the ingredients together.
3. Serve! This recipe tastes best warm, but is also works out just fine as a cool salad with lunch.

French Bread Pizza
  • wide loaf of French bread
  • protein to cover (seasoned taco meat, sauteed mushrooms, shredded pork/chicken.. you choose)
  • appropriate cheese (mozzarella for Italian-style, cheddar/monterey jack for Mexican-style)
  • appropriate sauce (tomato or pesto for Italian, salsa for Mexican)
1. If the loaf is round, cut it in half so you have two, long flat sides. Save one side for another dish.
2. Smear flat side with garlic and butter (optional).
3. Mix cooked protein and sauce/salsa
4. Cover with cheese
5. Broil until cheese melts (use your discretion and eyes!).
6. Serve to hungry people. mmmm

  • 3 avocados
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 cup of sharp cheddar, grated
  • 1/2 c salsa
  • 1 c chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Choose very ripe fruit -- it should be completely black and yield to a squeeze. Unripe avocados are a travesty! Peel and pit the avocados. Easy way: cut them in half around the pit, then gently twist the halves apart. Use a spoon to pop out the pit and scrape the fruit into a bowl for smushing. Here's a video if my instructions are lame, but I don't recommend removing the pit his way -- too dangerous for uncareful cooks (like me!).
2. Gently fold the lemon juice into the smushed avocado.
3. Mix everything together!
You can play with the amounts if you have a preference for more or less of an ingredient. It will always taste great because there are endless ways to make it.
Thanks future mother-in-law... great recipe!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mushroom Extravaganza!

We've finally received a fridge, but we're still eating fungus. Lots of fungus, actually. Mushrooms around here are really inexpensive and, because they're a great source of protein, they have recently been replacing meat in many of our dishes. For instance, I've been on a Mediterranean food binge lately and found a great recipe for lemon-chicken couscous on the back of the couscous package (how clever of them!), but I left out the chicken in favor of some hearty little mushrooms. These generic, white fungi made the perfect palette for the delicately spiced couscous and had a pleasing texture without any of the nasty raw chicken preparation steps.
I bought a 1lb. package of mushrooms, but the recipe only called for 1 1/2 cups of protein, so I took the remaining mushrooms and sauteed them in olive oil with a pinch of salt and a bunch of cheap red wine. The $5 wine imparted a lot of flavor (especially when we drank it!) for only a little money while choosing olive oil over butter for sauteing kept the mushrooms a little lighter and, incidentally, vegan. In fact, the whole meal was totally vegan: lemon-dill couscous, merlot mushrooms, store-bought pita slices, and homemade hummus. The only unfortunate thing about this meal is home monochromatic is was: everything was in shades of brown! If (well.. when) I recreate this meal, I'll add some color to the hummus -- maybe some red pepper flakes and lime zest for a little visual appeal. I'll also probably skip the extra, sauted mushrooms in favor of a small salad or some other greens (maybe asparagus or sweet peas). See the bottom of the post for recipes.

Another recipe that called heavily on mushrooms came in the form of a scrumptious, meatless stroganoff. Served over brown rice (from our new rice cooker!), I combined the leftover dill from the couscous (and another recipe) with some other ingredients to make a smushy, delicious meal. Mine turned out a little dry, mostly because I thought the mixture looked too thin in the pan, so I cooked off more liquid. Bad idea. The mushroom mix definitely continues to thicken after you take it off the heat. It was still great tasting, but I ended up adding a little more sour cream to my served meal to make the texture a little more pleasing. Not a failing, but something to look out for. Despite the small amount of dryness, TheBoy really dug this stroganoff and it went along perfectly with the remainder of the white wine and some steamed, sweetened carrots. The carrots were a sort of last minute motivation: I realized that the meal had no veggie complement, so I used the rice cooker's steaming basket to quickly steam some peeled, sliced carrots. Making the rice cooker multitask served two great purposes -- it helped me to save time and effort (no extra pot to wash, no stove-steaming operation to keep an eye on, etc) and helped to conserve energy by using the energy from the already cooking rice. Yay for no waste!

Lemon-Dill Couscous:
Prepare couscous according to package directions.
With only 3 minutes remaining to cook, add ~2 tablespoons lemon juice and ~1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Hummus (adjust ingredients to your palate):
1 can chickpeas with some of the juice
~1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
1-2 crushed cloves of garlic
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Stick it all in the blender/food processor and spin 'til it's smushy and delicious

Mushroom-Dill Stroganoff:
1 lb. mushrooms
enough oil to saute mushrooms
1/3 cup white wine (we used a very sweet moscato because actually enjoy sweet white wine, not the dry stuff that would've been leftover had I followed the directions exactly)
1/2 teaspoon dill, chopped (I definitely used a little more than that! Make sure it's well chopped)
1 cup sour cream
some carb to serve it over (egg noodles are classic, but brown rice, orzo, penne, etc all work as well. Just be sure to choose a short carb, as opposed to spaghetti or linguine, so that the mushroom mixture stays with the pasta)
salt and pepper to taste (duh!)

Saute the mushrooms, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes.
Add the wine and dill, stirring until the liquid cooks down to about 1 tablespoon (it happens fast! look out).
Turn heat to low and add sour cream. DO NOT LET IT BOIL, just stir gently until heated through being careful not to overcook. The mixture will thicken after you serve it.