A new Asian market opened up in my neighborhood a few months ago and I finally ran in to check it out. An hour (and an overflowing cart) later, I came home with frozen mini Chinese buns to add to my lunch arsenal. I ended up dragging them out on a day I needed a quick fix, and threw together a low-rent version of chicken “banh mi.” The kiddo loved it and I used up some leftovers and death-row veggies from the crisper in the process. This might be my version of #winning.
Chicken Banh Mi
2 mini Chinese buns
1 small cucumber
4 baby carrots, shredded or sliced
1/2 shredded chicken
1/2 Tsp. hoisin sauce
Defrost mini buns, slice veggies and chicken, assemble sandwiches, squirt with a little hoisin, and go!
1 onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1 box of chicken stock
4 cups of water
3/4 cup carrots, shredded
1 large bunch of bok choy, kale, or any other green leafy vegetable, chopped into small pieces (I used bok choy)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup firm tofu, cut into small pieces
1 cup cooked chicken breast, diced
4 packets prepared udon noodles (or one pound dried)
Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot and sauté garlic, onion, and ginger until translucent. Add the box of chicken stock, carrots, your leafy vegetable, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. When the vegetables have cooked down a bit, add 4 cups of water, the tofu, chicken, and soy sauce — allow the soup of to cook for about 15 minutes more. Taste the soup and add a bit more soy if it needs more flavor or tastes too watery. Add the udon noodles and cook until they break apart and expand in the soup. Remove from heat and add 1 Tablespoon each chopped mint and cilantro; let them to wilt into the soup. I served the soup tonight with additional fresh chopped herbs, but I’ll omit those in the thermos tomorrow.
I love this soup because I can make it with anything I have in the fridge — miso paste instead of stock, kale, spinach, or salad greens instead of bok choy, fresh or frozen veggies, vegan, vegetarian, or meat-based — you name it. You can also control the time — taking it from this 30-minute soup to a 10-minute quickie with just a few items. The kiddo loves the thick, supremely slurpable udon noodles, along with the tender veggies, chicken, and tofu.
The only thing missing was a perfectly boiled egg on top. Next time…
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Chocolate-covered apples for lunch? I get it — they’re not exactly brown-bag material. But after an amazing day at the pumpkin and apple farm, it seemed like the right thing to do. I melted dark chocolate baking chips in a make-shift double boiler and started dipping. I let them rest on parchment paper in the fridge until the chocolate was set. The next day, I cut the apples and packed a couple of slices in her lunch bag. They were a hit!
The kid has finally mastered staying upright under the weight of the backpack so I dragged out the PlanetBox this past week. It was depressingly dreary in the mornings so these photos are a bit drab. The lunches, however, have been a hit!
In this lunch box:
Turkey and cheese sandwich (cut with kitty cat cookie cutter)
4 lbs fresh pumpkin (two small) peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
4 large Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cut into quarters
1 cup onion, chopped
6 cups fat free chicken broth (I used Pacific brands, which is lower in sodium)
1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (sage is better, but I had thyme)
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (ginger would also be good)
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
Toss together pumpkin, apples, onions, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper and spread evenly onto a baking sheet. Roast, mixing once, for 30 minutes.
Add in herbs, mix again, and continue roasting until very tender and starting to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes more.
Transfer to a Dutch oven and add one or two cups of broth. Use a hand blender to smooth, adding more broth as you blend.
Add in yogurt, cardamom, nutmeg and remaining salt and heat through over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for about 5-7 minutes.
LUNCH TIP: I found the soup was even better the second day — the apple really came through and the overall flavor was more balanced. It ended up being more dense than I wanted so I added more stock to thin it out (you could even use water without sacrificing flavor).
I can’t believe I’m even typing this. Just last week, I was the person complaining that dreaded “pumpkin spice season” is starting way too early. That said, the kid is going to to her first pumpkin farm field trip next week and I have a can of pumpkin burning a year-old hole in the pantry. Plus, I need snacks for school and activities to keep the kid busy so here I am. While these little snacks are technically a dessert, they’re pretty low in sugar and super-simple to make for school lunches and snacks … so why not now? (Plus, who am I kidding? I love Halloween…)
Pumpkin “Pop Tarts”
For the crust
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons very cold butter
Mix flour with salt in a bowl. Add cold butter and cut in a in food processor. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, until dough forms into a ball. Gather up and pat into a round disc. While you make the filling (see below), cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes before rolling out.
For the filling
1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
2 Tbsp of agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey
1/2 Tsp of cinnamon
1/4 Tsp of nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. You’ll also need your Halloween cookie cutters — go grab them or a sharp knife to create pumpkin and ghost shapes. In a small bowl, mix together the can of pumpkin, natural sweetener, and spices until incorporated (go ahead and taste it — you might need to adjust the spice and sweetness, depending on your tastes or your child’s). Using cookie cutters, cut multiple shapes (top and bottom) into rolled-out dough. Take one of the “shapes” and spread a thin layer of pumpkin mixture on each and top with the corresponding piece of dough. Crimp each piece together with your hands or a fork until sealed. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
You’ll probably have some of the pumpkin mixture left over at the end. Don’t throw it away! Stir it into oatmeal or hot cereal in the morning — it’s delicious!
When your CSA gives you a monstrous-looking bulb of celeriac, you make celery root soup. Or, at least that’s what I did. If you’re reading this and thinking, “C’mon, what kind of kid eats celery root soup?!?” Well, mine. She’ll eat most anything in soup form — so soup’s on the menu a lot around around here. You can make this vegan by using olive oil instead of butter — I used butter, well, because I’m naughty.
Celery Root Soup
2 small onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bulb of celery root or celeriac, cubed
2 Tbsp of butter or olive oil
2 32 ounce boxes of vegetable stock (I use the low sodium variety, but you could also use water)
2 sprigs of tarragon
1 Tsp salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Heat the butter or olive in a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot and add the onion, garlic, and celery root. Allow vegetables to soften until lightly brown (reduce heat before the garlic burns). Rough chop two sprigs of tarragon and add to the vegetable mixture. Then, pour two boxes of vegetable stock or water to the pot, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a brisk simmer until celery root cubes are soft and can be pierced with a knife or fork. When the soup has cooled slightly, use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. If you don’t have a hand blender, wait until the soup is cooled a bit more and use your blender.
I can’t tell you how good this soup is — it tastes so decadent and rich, but there’s very little dairy at all (just the butter used to sauté the vegetables). It reminds me of the amazing pureed vegetable soups you find all over Ireland. Now, if I only had some brown bread and butter to go with this…
My work schedule hasn’t allowed for many lunch box or recipe posts this week, but I’ve been bustin’ a lunch move anyway. Last weekend, I made a batch of whole grain waffles to freeze for breakfasts and cheese sandwiches, along with a vat of chicken and broccoli risotto which has been a big help because I’ve had to work late or get to work early most days this week. On days where I don’t have backup in the freezer or fridge, I rely on my standby — and, frankly, the kid’s favorite — turkey and cheddar cheese kabobs, along with fruit, yogurt, nuts, veggies, and whatever else I can wrestle up.
On those “easy” days, my lunch bags, boxes, and fixins take center stage. It’s like my version of Bedazzling, minus the sequins, grommets, and studs. Here are my three favorite ways to make her school lunch filling and just a little bit fancy:
Personalized lunch box: I’m a huge fan of sarah + abraham and have ordered everything from water bottles to art prints from them over the last few years. This summer, they started offering customized lunch boxes — they’re super lightweight and come with a built-in chalk board for daily lunch box love notes.
Meri Meri cupcake kits: I use all sorts of cupcake liners and picks to pack lunches, but Meri Meri is my favorite. They stock evergreen items like these ballet-themed sets, but also have the best Halloween, Christmas, and Easter party supplies as well. I use the cupcake picks to create the much-adored turkey and cheese kabobs (or just poked into sandwiches for a bit of fun) and the baking cups to keep dry items like nuts, carrots, and other sides in place in the lunch box. (Knock on wood, my kid hasn’t stabbed anyone at school with the toothpick — yet).
Reusable napkins: Truth be told, I could be a better citizen of the planet. Yes, I recycle, use reusable cups (um, except for the cupcake variety, see above) and shut off lights when I’m not in the room (okay, I’m not very good at that), but I could do more. When I found Funkins, it was so easy to ditch the paper napkins — the adorable patterns and fun colors punch
up any lunch, even when this mom phones it in (hello, PB&J!).
That’s all I’ve got for tonight. What do you do to Bedazzle your boxes?