Monday, November 7, 2011

Morrocan Spices for the Lunch Box

In the fall when temperature start to cool down spicy blends give flavor to an entire array of squashes I like to cook. My kids used to truly hate this squash. I have to believe they actually thought the "spaghetti" they were eating was a cruel & unusual trick on a young child's psyche! Both of my girls used to actually make fun of my "squash week" meals. In truth they both now actually eat squash in several varieties. In the world of changing young taste buds of I had a phrase I used to tell my girls: "be polite & take a bite". Over the years that must have had some affect on them as they now enjoy a variety of veggies & foods many of their friends never grew to like. In tribute to my old squash week crowd I thought I'd offer up a Spaghetti Squash recipe I've enjoyed a couple of times in my lunch box.

Spaghetti Squash & Mushrooms with Moroccan Spices
1 2-3 lb spaghetti squash
2 tbsps Olive Oil (1 tbsp for saute & 1 tbsp roasting squash)
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/2tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsps fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

Cut Spaghetti Squash in half, remove seeds & small stringy threads, leaving flesh intact. Drizzle inside of squash with olive oil. Bake at *375 for 45 minutes, cut side down. Cool squash for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil a small heavy saucepan over moderately high heat. Add mushrooms & garlic, cook, stirring, until golden, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in spices and salt and remove from heat. Let mushrooms cool down. Working over a bowl, scrape squash flesh with a fork, loosening and separating strands as you remove it from skin. Toss with spiced oil, mushrooms and cilantro or parsley. I pack this into lunch container for reheating, chill immediately or serve at once.

Roasting Spaghetti Squash in the oven is easiest & has better texture than the microwave method

Once cooled the pulp lifts out of the squash halves with a fork.

If you enjoy the flavor of Moroccan Spices try this mixture with chicken or lamb.
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix spices & store in a dry cool place.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Paleo Chicken Salad for the Lunch Box

I used Texas Pecan Halves & Spicy Cayenne Pepper, be Creative & Enjoy.
Of late it seems that everyone in my family is on some form of Paleo (aka: Caveman Diet), Zone or Gluten Free Diet.  In truth I've been really trying to stick to the First Two food lifestyles.  We are always trying to find another way to exclude those favorite starches & find a meal which appeals to all of us.Bytes from Texas first found dozens of Paleo diet websites which eschew many starches & anything with grains or dairy.  I can take most of this diet lifestyle very well but the total lack of grains does get a little tedious for me long term but it the benefits currently seem to outweigh the negatives.  One of the best sources of Paleo recipes which are more than just a meat & veggie meal can be found at PaleoPlan.  In fact I borrowed liberally for my spicy version of the Lascaux Chicken Waldorf Salad.  I also used Agave Nectar instead of the site's version using honey.  I discovered Agave Nectar while living in Mexico.  The health benefits of Agave Nectar have long been recognized.  For more info on this sweet sugar & honey substitution check Here.

This past week when the Mister had to travel away from home I ended up having to figure out ways of using up an entire roast chicken.  (Not too much of a stretch actually!) I decided a cold dinner of a Paleo Chicken Salad would be just perfect. We had so much Chicken Salad left over that a lunch choice was of course a natural progression.  Throwing this yummy salad into a Bento along side a few veggies was wonderful.  You can dress up or spice your own chicken salad up or down.   I recommend making this salad as I did the evening before & chilling it well for a good lunch box addition. 

Paleo Chicken Salad
4 cups of cooked diced chicken, or whole roasted chicken, meat pulled off the bone & skinned.
2 large tart apple, cored & diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded & diced
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup homemade* mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 teaspoons agave nectar
Cayenne pepper

Instructions for Salad

In a medium size bowl, combine chicken, apple, bell pepper & pecans.
In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, lime juice & agave nectar and mix until well blended.
Season to taste with cayenne pepper
Toss the dressing over chicken salad and toss to cover chicken & serve immediately or chill.
Mayonnaise is by nature friendly towards this diet lifestyle however if the chicken salad seems to need more moisture in the way of mayonnaise watch amount of extra mayo being added.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Red Chili Omelet, chopsticks, spoon or spork?

Really good meals must be enjoyed & eaten with the right tools even if happens to be your fingers.  I was wondering how best to eat this lunchtime omelet roll out of my bento box.  Kai Yad Sai is a traditional Thai recipe however with the liberal use of heat enjoyed in that cuisine I believe that my Tex-Mex changes will be more harmonious than offensive.  Eating the rolls with the sauce makes it a little more difficult because truth be told I could almost eat that sauce with a spoon!! Manners aside though it was easily eaten with either chopsticks or my new "spork".  I found a fold up "Beetle Spork" on my travels & thought it was the perfect stow-able eating utensil.  It even comes in a small storage case it folds into. Including a link here for the Foldable Beetle Spork. Enjoy the Chili Omelet rolls & Buen Provecho.

Beetle Spoon Fork Utensil

A dark color napkin is a good idea with the stain-worthy chili sauce
Red Chili Omelet Rolls Kai Yad Sai~Tex Mex Style

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp red chili peppers diced & seeded
2 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
2 tbsp thinly sliced cucumber
3 tbsp cotija cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup red chili sauce *see recipe below

Heat half of the oil in a wok high heat and stir-fry onion, red bell pepper for 1- 2 minutes or until cooked. Add the small handful of whole spinach leaves & turn off skillet when wilted & then set aside.
Heat a small skillet or omelet pan 9 to 12 in. diameter and add a drop of the remaining oil. Pour in enough egg to thinly cover the bottom of the skillet. Brown the omelet lightly on both sides, being careful to turn the omelet over gently halfway through cooking.
To stuff the omelet, spread thin mixture of Red Chili Sauce over surface of Omelet. Place 1 to 2 spoonfuls of the spinach, pepper mixture in the center, add cilantro, cucumber, cotija cheese then either roll like a tortilla or fold two opposite sides toward the center and then fold in the remaining sides so that the omelet forms a square. Place on a serving plate & serve either warm or room temperature. Garnish with extra sauce & cilantro.**This is also good with ground chicken or pork also.  In the interest of keeping a meal I can eat either at room temperature or cool I did not add the meat since my days are often high speed & on the run. This recipe can also have much more variety using any vegetables, try carrots, potato, baby corn or tomatoes.

*Red Chili Sauce
3 dried Guajillo Chilis
1 large clove garlic
1 small tomato, diced
2 black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 teaspoon of salt, more to taste
1 tsp sugar
Olive oil

Place dried chilies to a small saucepan and add enough water so that they are just covered. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, until the chilies have softened and plumped up. (OR pour place the chilies in a small saucepan and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let sit for 15 minutes, until softened.)

4 Reserving the soaking water, remove the chilies from the pan and place in a blender. Add the tomato, garlic, salt, ground pepper and 1 1/2 cups of the soaking liquid (taste the soaking water first, if it seems bitter, use water instead). Purée for 2 minutes, until the sauce is completely smooth. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings. If you want more heat, add in a few of the seeds or veins and purée some more. Add more salt or sugar if needed. I freeze my sauce at this point for future use for enchiladas or stews but it will keep in the refrigerator several days.
Recipe can be doubled & then some.  Freeze leftovers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cool Soba Noodle Salad & 2nd Look at Buckwheat Soba

With so many people trying to avoid Gluten in foods these days I thought I'd better look at Buckwheat Soba noodles one more time. Buckwheat is Gluten free as far as I can tell from every source I've read. This is good news as at least one of my immediate family members is going gluten free much of the time & so many of my friends seem to be trending that way for health reasons.

It seems people avoid eating buckwheat, believing that it is a type of wheat. Despite the name and the fact that it is used like wheat as a grain, buckwheat is not a type of wheat and is not even related to wheat. Its original name was "beech wheat" in reference to buckwheat's small, black, triangular seeds that although much smaller, resemble beech nuts from the beech tree. From "beech wheat" it was translated into the Dutch word "boecweite" or "boekweite": 'boek' meaning beech and 'weite' meaning wheat. After Dutch settlers introduced "boecweite" to colonial America, it eventually became known as 'buckwheat'. It is related to rhubarb and sorrel.

Soba Noodle Salad with Tuna & Cucumber

1 package Soba Noodles, *Buckwheat
1 small can of Spanish Oil Packed Tuna
1 small Cucumber, sliced & cut into quarters
3 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 small bunch of green onions, sliced
1/4 C. spicy mayonnaise
4 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil noodles, cook till al dente & then cool down once finished cooking. Toss in Tuna, Cucumber, Pumpkin seeds & Green Onions.Chill & eat cold. **Avoid over cooking or soaking Buckwheat Soba in the cooking water.  The noodles are fragile & get a somewhat pasty flavor & consistency if they aren't drained right away.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Casual Friday, Blue Jeans & an Easy Lunchbox

A casual work day calls for an easy, portable lunch.
My average travel day makes lunch planning a must.
The last few months the one thing I can count on for any given Friday is unpredictability.  My job takes me an average of 75 mile radius around my home town.  With this in mind if I pack an easy go to lunch any day of the week I'd better do it on a Friday.  Austin Texas is like many cities across the country with the less casual dress in the workplace environment. On Friday though it is a given that it is more casual than Monday through Thursday with blue jeans & flip-flops being de rigueur. The same can go for my lunches the last day of the work week. Lunchtime doesn't have to be a hassle. I generally throw things together on Thursday evening easing myself into the weekend a little early.  This Friday I will be having 2 small crimped sandwiches & a few garden veggies,.  I have had a few cucumbers & volunteer tomatoes which have been producing a little better than the seeded variety of veggies which seem to be burning up in the mid-summer heat wave.  As a mid morning snack I've packed a small amount of dried fruit & nuts.  My lunch also includes Coconut water which I found frozen at a local Asian grocery store.  The frozen coconut water also helps keep my lunch cool & fresh till I stop for lunch later in the day.  The coco water drinks have been very popular since last summer.  The beverage as a sports drink is popular too since it is super hydrating,  full of potassium & minerals.  Water of course is the beverage of choice in the heat but if you haven't tried coco water I can suggest this thirst quenching drink this Summer. Enjoy your own casual Friday & be inspired by simply packing a lunch today. **Lunch box find: You may notice the small salt & pepper (orange top) container in my bento photo. It was a .79 cent purchase at a local Asian store.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ensalada Nopalitos, a Healthy Summer salad from South of the Border.

Cactus: part of the Mexican & Central American diet centuries.

During the intense hot summer months in Texas I strive to make a lunch which will stay cold or lack in texture or flavor ( & not spoil in our current 100* temps ).  While my lunch is chilled, I do try to keep out unnecessary ingredients which could easily host food born illness in the heat.  It can be a challenge.  I have been making many marinated type salads which keep the flavors & hold up to the warm days. (with the help of frozen gel packs) 
I recently remembered one of my favorite salads from living in Mexico.  The grocers in Mexico sell nopals or cactus slices already cut up & prepared in bags. Nopal or nopalitos can be found in many stores here in Texas & across the U.S. as well. Nopales are sliced & eaten raw or fried, roasted, added to tacos, soups or pickled. Low in calories, nopales provide modest amounts vitamins & minerals. There are people who don't enjoy the texture however & that is okay.  (ahh, more for those of us who do enjoy eating nopal.) Enjoy the simple Cactus Salad recipe & stay cool.

Garden fresh tomato is perfect in or on this salad.

Ensalada de Nopalitos 
3 cups diced Nopales, with green spines removed & sliced into pieces as to resemble green beans.
boiled in salted water until tender and rinsed under cold water. *cooking time about 4 minutes.
1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
2 small tomatoes, sliced or diced.
Tomato Vinaigrette recipe.
Prepare Nopal, rinse under cold water, chill for 1 hr, add onion, vinaigrette & then top with tomato or mix diced tomato into the nopal. Salad serves 4-5

Tomato Vinaigrette 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper, black or red
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, coarsely chopped
Toss all ingredients in the blender & pulse 2-3 minutes. Chill or use immediately.Yields 3/4 cup dressing. *1 tbsp Cilantro is also nice with this vinaigrette when serving this salad.

For more information on Nopal check here

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Cleaning time & Curried Egg Salad

Organizing, cleaning & taking stock

Spring & cleaning seem to go together right now.  While I am lacking sleep today with the moving the clocks ahead last night, I'm trying to get a little more organized all the way around. While cleaning my refrigerator I have been taking stock of what is on hand. Hopefully I can make better use of all of my condiments, beverages, etc.  I found that I had far too many condiments (What's with all the olives, I am wondering...more on that at in a later post.) I did however realize I had more fresh brown eggs than I previously thought.  It gave me a great opportunity to make a quick egg salad & even throw in some cashews which I found while straightening the pantry.  *Cashew nuts are packed with soluble dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals and packed with numerous health promoting phyto-chemicals; that help to protect against diseases and cancers.

What is in your refrigerator & pantry? Taking stock might give you some new culinary directions.

Curried Egg Salad with Cashews
6 hard boiled eggs
1 tablespoon whole chopped green onions
1 tablespoon, minced red onion
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped roasted cashews

Serve this egg salad on bed of lettuce with crackers or on bread. When transporting egg salad

Curried Egg Salad with Crunchy Cash
make certain to include an ice pack to keep the salad cool & fresh.

Peel and chop the hard boiled eggs and put in a bowl with celery, red & green onions. Toss to mix briefly.
Add mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, parsley, and curry powder to the bowl & mix well.
Season with salt and pepper to taste

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Avocado on the Go & a Savory Salad

Wholly Guacamole = easy
I am like a dog with one trick to my repertoire when it comes to a favorite flavor.  These past couple of weeks I've been hooked on a few dried fruits, nuts & a quick quesadilla with a side of guacamole.  The quesadilla I seriously believe is that South of the Border connection which makes so many of us in the greater southwest yearn for all things seemingly Mexico. I grill it my quesadilla or toast it up in the morning, cut  it into quarters once it cools & then pack it away for later in the day. Smoked turkey has been my favorite lately, the turkey seems to complement the avocado well & I don't overcook the outside of the quesadilla so later on the texture of the tortilla is still soft enough to use for dipping that avo.  Thank heavens for the Wholly Guacamole which is so convenient for packing into lunches. Sure, it's easy enough to mash a few avocados however this guacamole is ready to go & that pouch of green goodness is ready to tote along for lunch.  I can forgo the mashing of the avocados in the early hours when I'm making a quick meal for lunch on the run. 
My favorite new container for lunches right now is a cheapo item I stumbled across which makes salad transport quite easy.  The "Salad Break" while not fancy is smart with the tiny container for dressing sitting on top.  I believe I paid under $2 for this cute container.  I've been hooked on a kale salad lately which travels well & fits perfectly into this cute new container.  I became obsessed with a similar salad at Whole Foods. I love the way this salad stays crunchy even after the dressing is applied. It makes for a perfect lunch box tote.  Give it a try & start packing that lunch!
I love the way this salad stays crisp long after the dressing tops it!

Savory Kale Salad
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon or orange pepper
Salt to taste
2 bunches kale, stems and tough ribs removed, leaves chopped
1 blood orange, sectioned & chopped (skin & any seeds)
4 tablespoons dried cranberries
3 - 4 tablespoons pistachios

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon pepper and salt. Add kale, toss to combine then garnish with blood orange, cranberries, pistachios & serve.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon pepper and salt. Add kale, toss to combine then garnish with blood orange, cranberries, pistachios & serve. 
The "Salad Break", container is great lunchtime addition.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Soba Noodles for the Lunch Box & A Favorite Shop

To say I am an adventurous shopper when it comes to food is an understatement.  I enjoy finding new ingredients with subtle or even over the top flavors which will take a meal to the next level.  I have always enjoyed shopping in Asian markets & oddly enough Austin Texas has a fair share of them.  We have so many to choose from in fact that I could go to a different one each day for almost 2 weeks straight.  There is one which is my favorite, it has a small mom & pop feel to it.  The New Oriental Market on Airport Blvd is small enough to still offer personalized service & yet has more contemporary ideas like the frequent shopper card which the owner pressed into my palm one day when I stopped for a few things.  They have wonderful Chinese items, Grocery, Housewares, Japanese, Korean food items & even some offbeat items & strange items like Chinese ear cleaning spoons. (I did not make this up & they had happy wooden Asian doll heads on the ends) I do digress though!

I recently went to the New Oriental Market for Shiitake mushrooms & Buckwheat Soba Noodles. Both of these were part of a wonderful salad I took to work for lunch. I ran across the salad recipe in a cookbook called "From Our House to Yours" a cookbook about making comfort foods to give & share.  I shared this with no one but myself & hope you will enjoy the fruits of my labors as I "Share" it for a LUNCH BOX meal which has take away ease & fabulous flavors. Enjoy & if you aren't taking a lunch to work, why not?

Soba Noodle Salad with Tamari Dressing

Tamari Dressing
1/4 cup tamari sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp Asian sesame oil
1 tbsp chili sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Juice 1 lime
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
3 tbsp sake (optional)

1 lb dried soba noodles
3 tbsp peanut or canola oil
8 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed & thinly sliced
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp sake
3 mandarin oranges, peeled, segmented
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded & cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1 bunch green onions, cut into diagonal pieces

Make dressing, let sit for 30 min.  In large pot of boiling water cook the noodles until tender, about 4 min. Drain. Rinse in cold water & drain well.  Toss with 2 tbsp dressing. 

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, saute the mushrooms until browned.  Salt & pepper lightly & stir in the sake if using.  Remove from heat & let cool. 

Add the noodles to the bowl with the dressing.  Toss to coat evenly.  Add the oranges, cucumber, cilantro & half the sesame seeds.  Toss again.  Transfer to a large shallow bowl or container with lid.  Scatter the mushrooms & green onions over the top & then sprinkle with the remaining sesame seeds. 
Chill & serve.  Good room temperature or cold.  Enjoy!