January 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
Remember weekday lunches when you were a kid? When I was in middle school, the administration would send home a monthly calendar of the cafeteria’s hot meals, which my mother posted on the refrigerator. It was up to me to check the calendar on school nights and tell her whether to leave lunch money or a brown bag lunch for me to grab before my morning dash out the door to catch the bus. Pizza Day was a “yes,” as was Mac & Cheese Day. Meatloaf Day was a definite “ew, no!” I can’t say my school lunches were the healthiest of choices, but at least I was getting some kind of mid-day meal and refueling for the rest of the day. Either way, my lunch options were basically decided for me. No, I’m not waxing nostalgic for school lunches, but every once in awhile (like today), I wouldn’t mind someone else taking the lead on “what’s for lunch.”
I’m not saying that I miss cardboard cafeteria pizza or mum’s mystery lunch bags, but there are days when I’m just out of ideas or too engrossed in a project when lunchtime rolls around. During the past couple of years, I’ve made a deal with myself to not only eat lunch, but to eat a “good” lunch: something healthful, fresh, and filling. But there are some days when I just want to grab a handful of cereal and get on with the project at hand. Like many people, I’ve skimped on lunch during the course of my working life — to get more work done, attend a meeting, or run errands. Invevitably I’m hangry and foggy-brained by late afternoon. Not good.
Turns out that caffeine and vending machine snacks do not a lunch make. I speak from years of experience. Nor does day-long ganache and chocolate tasting (again, years of experience). As it turns out, taking a break and eating something that actually resembles a meal and not cocktail-party grazing improves focus and productivity. (Need more info? This Fast Company article discusses the best foods to eat for brain power, and the value of taking a 15-20 minute break for increased productivity.)
That’s all well and good, but with multiple projects on the desk today, I still had to remind myself to take a break and make something, at which point I had a whiny middle-schooler moment. I don’t wanna ran through my head. Where’s the magic lunch fairy when you need her? So off I tromped to the kitchen, hoping that lunch (or some lunch-making inspiration) would automagically appear. Hmph. The upside of CSA deliveries is a week’s worth of fresh food. The downside? You actually have to make something with those ingredients (unless you’re all about a completely raw diet). Hmph.
After a few minutes of rummaging through the refrigerator, I managed to assemble a tasty salad of winter vegetables that hit all the right notes: fresh, flavorful, earthy, sweet, and crunchy. And the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble. The key is having an assortment of fruits (yes fruits!) and vegetables on hand, plus a little protein. Here’s where your leftovers can definitely come in handy! If you’ve got some greens, leftover roasted vegetables, and nuts (oooh, maybe a little cheese), you’ve got a hearty lunch salad. And, oh hey, you can feel good about eating a vitamin-packed meal.
Recipe: Satisfying Winter Salad
Yield: 1 Serving
For this salad I used mixed lettuces, gala apples, and an assortment of flavorful roasted vegetables (carrots, onions, and beets) with a simple dressing of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Feel free to substitute ingredients based on your tastes, diet, and what’s in your fridge.
2 cups salad greens
1 small roasted red beet, sliced thinly (¼” slices)
1/2 apple, sliced thinly (¼” slices)
¼ – ½ cup roasted or steamed root vegetables, cut into 1″ pieces (I used roasted carrots and onions, but butternut squash or sweet potatoes would be good substitutes)
¼ cup pecan pieces
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Toast the pecan pieces: Preheat a toaster oven to 325°F. Place nuts in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking pan. Heat for about 5 minutes, until nuts become fragrant. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
- While nuts are toasting, wash salad greens, pat dry, then cut or tear into bite-sized pieces.
- Assemble salad greens, beet slices, apple slices, and root vegetables in a bowl.
- Drizzle the salad with olive oil and fresh lemon juice to taste.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Top with toasted pecans.
- Optional: Finish with a dollop or chèvre or grating of goat milk cheddar cheese.
November 20, 2014 § 4 Comments
FINALLY we’ve been getting some much-needed rain here in the 650. (Damn, wish I’d remembered to cover the patio furniture before that started!) Unfortunately, for those of us prone to sinus-related misery — colds, infections, allergies, and the like — the season’s first round of feeling-under-the-weather ick has blown in with the rain. Ugh.
Yes, I’ve been a frequent flier with this sort of thing, so I have refills of the appropriate pharmaceuticals on speed dial, but I usually go there as a last resort. I’d rather fight the bugs with extra sleep, homemade nourishing food, and lots of filtered water. The problem is that when you’re feeling all draggy-ass and foggy-brained, you don’t really want to be in the kitchen cooking anything. And yet, this is the time when you want — maybe even crave — comfort food: something warming, flavorful, and easy to eat. (Somehow crunchy and raw food just don’t cut it when you’re feeling under-the-weather.)
But what to do when you feel rung out, sniffly, and just want to curl up in a blanket fort? Unless you have a staff of minions anticipating your every need, figuring out what to eat — let alone cook — seems like too much trouble. Here’s where a little advance planning can go a long way. No, I don’t mean stocking up on canned soup and frozen meals. While those might be quick and easy choices, the added salt, fat, and sugar aren’t doing your body any favors. And well, there’s something about homemade that just hits the spot when you’re feeling all yucky. Keeping vegetable stock and some prepared (washed and chopped) vegetables on hand can go a long way toward easy-to-make, comforting dishes that can help you feel better.
I know I’ve been hit with a bug when I start craving soup — a bowl of steamy, flavorful broth brimming with a colorful assortment of bite-sized pieces of perfectly cooked carrots, potatoes, and leeks.
Here’s where having a batch of Spring Vegetable Broth (I should have called it “Any Season Broth” because it really is) on hand in your refrigerator or freezer is a lifesaver. So, on those days when you need soup — oh snap! — you’re all prepared. Heat up the broth and add whatever you’ve got handy — prepared or leftover vegetables, pasta, rice, tofu, last night’s grilled chicken — simmer on the stove top for about 20 minutes, et voilà: comfort food.
Tip: Need a pointer to a foolproof vegetable soup recipe? Try Chow’s Basic Vegetable Soup. The recipe is really versatile, so you can use whatever you’ve got in the refrigerator or pantry.
Roasted vegetables are always on in my house. Carrots and sweet potatoes are at the top of my list, and I usually make enough for leftovers (and oh, how those leftovers come in handy when I don’t feel like cooking!). Their bright orange color and roasted, sweet flavor complement so many dishes. Plus they’ve got that whole Vitamin A, good-for-you thing going on.
As far as comfort food goes, you can’t beat roasted vegetables for a satisfying flavor-texture combination. Best right from the oven, they’re earthy, slightly caramelized, a little crispy around the edges, with a texture that falls between soft and al dente when you bite into them.
Prep is minimal: cut the vegetables into evenly sized pieces (after washing/peeling as you like), toss them in olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven for 20-40 minutes. Sweet potatoes are on the low end of that range, carrots on the higher end. Other root vegetables will fall somewhere in between.
Tip: You can make small batches of roasted sweet potatoes in your toaster oven. Preheat the oven to 400℉. Line the baking tray with two layers of foil, then spread the prepared sweet potato pieces onto the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes, flipping the sweet potato pieces halfway through cooking so that the bottoms don’t get too crispy or dark.
Kale, spinach, beet greens, chard greens, and even radish greens can all be sautéed for a healthy, flavorful dish. Need a place to start? Try this Savory Kale Saute recipe, substituting other greens if you like. Aside from being a good source of vitamins and protein, sautéed greens are quick-cooking, filling, and can be paired with pasta, scrambled eggs, soup, or roasted vegetables (see what I did there?).
Tip: Give yourself a break and split up the prep and cooking times. Wash, dry, then chop or chiffonade your greens and store them in an closed bag or container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to sauté.
Added Bonus: Garlic, Ginger, and Crushed Red Pepper
The power trio of garlic, fresh ginger, and crushed red pepper (yes, together!) are tasty and healthful additions to soups, roasted vegetables, and sautéed greens. All three have therapeutic properties that can help you fight off bugs:
- garlic has mild antibiotic properties
- fresh ginger can act as an antihistamine and decongestant
- crushed red pepper has anti-inflammatory properties
Sure, that’s all good, but flavor is the big draw here. The combo of spicy, earthy, and slightly sweet really amp up the flavor of a dish, making it more interesting and complex. (Helpful if your senses of taste and smell have taken a hit from the winter nasties.)
That’s how I’m trying to handle the latest round of the sniffles. What’s your feeling-under-the-weather comfort food?