Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday, October 13

Today's Lunch

Persian Potato Salad
potatoes mashed with chicken, carrots, peas, pickles, lime juice and plenty of finely-ground pepper
Red Beet Salad
(Laboo Salad)
roasted beets with yogurt and fresh herbs
leavened, oven-baked flatbread
Sliced Peaches
with crushed graham crackers, cinnamon and nutmeg

Today’s post is dedicated to timeless friends. Friends and food go hand-in-hand. When you think about it, food is so much more than mere carbohydrates, proteins and trace minerals. A kettle of tea enjoyed with a confidant soothes the soul. Cookies baked for a loved one are undeniably sweeter. Mom’s chicken noodle soup magically cures just about every ailment. Food draws people together, because it is meant to be shared.

 Inspiration for today’s Persian Potato Salad is from my friend Golnar, owner of the fabulous M. Sharzad restaurant here in Gold River.  Having shamelessly begged Golnar to bring this addictively tasty dish to many potluck gatherings over the years, I was thrilled to stumble across ingredient guidelines for the Persian favorite. While I managed to recreate the general idea for our lunches, I daresay it pales in to comparison to Golnar’s version. Maybe she’ll share her trade secrets with me one of these days…

 Sadly, I lost a member of this same group of long-time friends yesterday to a slow-progressing, terminal illness. Janine was a remarkably beautiful person both inside and out, and an absolute pleasure to have known. Rest in peace, dear friend. You will be missed.

 P.S. If you venture out to M. Sharzad, you must try the Fessenjoon (a sweet-and-tart walnut puree and pomegranate sauce served over braised chicken), Gormeh Sabzee Stew (fresh green herbs with kidney beans, sun-dried lime and tender chunks of beef) and Persian Ice Cream with rosewater and saffron.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday, October 12

Today's Lunch

Greek Steak Pitas with Dill Sauce
mini pitas to be filled with romaine lettuce, cucumbers, lemon-marinated steak strips and dill-yogurt sauce
Greek Potatoes with Oregano
roasted potatoes with olive oil, lemon juice and oregano
Strawberries & Cream
made with both whipped cream and cream cheese and a pinch of cardamom

Friday, October 8

Today's Lunch

Riptide Wraps
inspired by Beach Hut Deli's Surfin' Bird deli sandwich
tortilla with turkey, cream cheese, lettuce, avocado and bacon
Spiced Pumpkin Dip with Apple Slices

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday, October 7

Today's Lunch

Asian Brown Rice
with tuna, seaweed, shitake mushrooms and edamame
Marinated Cabbage
with rice vinegar and sesame
Plum & Kiwi
Filipino Toasted Wheat Cakes

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday, October 6

Today's Lunch

Apple-Basil Chicken Salad
with crispy apples, fresh basil, celery and bleu cheese in a tangy, apple-cider-vinegar dressing
Orange Pumpkin Spice Muffins
hearty muffins with pumpkin, sour cream and walnuts
Orange Slices

Packing Gear

Lunch packing gear, that is!  I thought I would take a moment today to answer some questions about what I use to pack our lunches.  Keep in mind that these are items that work for our needs -- something else might be more effective for you!

In selecting my lunch-packing 'tools,' my main goal is to maximize the chance of the lunch still looking edible at noon.  Even a fresh, healthy meal is unappealing if everything is squished, bruised and soggy.  Warning:  This is a rather long blog entry, but hopefully worth your while to read.

The Box.
Most lunch containers make me cringe.  Even with the chic patterns and styles available these days, I can't help but picture the potential mess.  This style is my favorite:

Oh, I know.  OMG, it's huge.  That's so not cool.  Hmmmm, funny thing...when given a choice between smashed sandwiches in a cute bag or awesome lunches in this lunchbox, my kids have opted for the uncool box.  And, their classmates are jealous.  :)

I love this box because it accommodates a variety of plastic containers and -- best of all -- it has a removable hard plastic liner.  This means that when gooey stuff spills, we can take the liner out and thoroughly wash and dry it.  The soft insulation layer never gets smelly or has icky food residue stuck in the seams.

You may have to look for this type of lunch container in the sporting goods section, because it is often called a 6-pack cooler.  I bought this one at Target, but I have not seen them there recently.  Walmart currently has two similar options:

Ozark Trail 6 Can Cooler with Hardliner


Coleman 9-Can Soft Cooler

The Containers.
I pack everything I can in reusable, plastic containers -- even chips, crackers and fruit.  Why?  Because they keep things from getting crushed and bruised.  Keep in mind that lunchbox food isn't like a meal served on a plate.  Kids and their belongings get bumped and jostled along their way to the classroom.  Keep things separated and upright as much as possible.

I'm not picky about the brand of containers, but I do keep a variety of sizes and shapes on hand.  Little containers are wonderful for keeping crispy or juicy ingredients separate, such as croutons, salad dressings or dips.

When needed, I use paper towels and wax paper, cut to fit inside the containers.  Dry paper towels help keep fruits and veggies fresh by keeping excess moisture away.  Damp paper towels keep moist foods, such as fresh spring rolls, from drying out. Wax paper separates layers of sticky baked goods and ingredients that might get a bit soggy if put together. 

The Ice.
Another must is reusable 'blue ice.'  I keep several of these in our freezer, and pack more than one when there is room and/or a lunch item really needs to stay cold for safety purposes.  This is one of the major reasons I do not use a bento-box-style container.  There isn't room for ice to keep food cold.

When packing the lunchbox, I place the blue ice as close as possible to the food items that are most perishable.  In the case below, I put the ice next to the chicken salad.

When there is extra room left in the lunchbox and food needs to stay extra cold, I also add a bottle of ice water (mostly ice). 

The Heat.

Conversely, some items are better served warm so I use an insulated container (Thermos).  It helps to pre-heat your Thermos by filling it with boiling water for a few minutes just before you use it.  Also, when possible, fill the container up.  Pockets of air do not retain heat well.  Along those same lines, liquids stay hotter longer than solids like pasta or meat. 

Many insulated containers lose most of their heat from bottom.  Feel around for your container's 'hot spot.'  Keep the warmer areas as far as possible from items you want to keep cold.  You can also wrap a napkin or paper towel around the warmer area to help manage the temperature differences.

The Details.
Yes, I actually do pack cloth napkins and real flatware in my kids' lunchboxes.  Why not?  It is less expensive and makes for a much nicer dining experience than the paper and plastic equivalents.  Of course, I am conscious about not sending any sort of knife (even a butter knife) to school.

Lastly, a little hand-sanitizer can be a good thing.  While regular hand-washing is preferable, it's nice to have a quick alternative in a pinch.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday, October 5

Today's Lunch

Mongolian Beef
savory stir-fry beef over brown rice
Mandarin Oranges with Kiwi
Ube Roll
Filipino "purple yam bread"

Mongolian Beef recipe from Handle the Heat.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday, October 4

Today's Lunch

Cobb Salad
with bacon, chicken, egg, bleu cheese, avocado and tomato
Raspberry-Cream Cheese Muffins
Red Globe Grapes

Friday, October 1

Today's Lunch

Chili with Beans
topped with grated cheese (in Thermos)
Cornbread Muffins
with cut corn
Salad with Raspberries, Cucumber and Pine Nuts
with cherry-herb vinaigrette
Orange Slices

Chili with Beans