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!