Cabin Fever Spaghetti and Meatballs

spaghetti-and-meatballs
Mid-blizzard spaghetti & meatballs (oh, and salad)

Grouchy much? I am — and I’m not alone. I had (rare) brunch plans with friends yesterday and the chief topic of discussion was how crotchety we’ve been lately — it turns out a lot of us are snapping at spouses and kids with abandon this winter. Saturday was one of those days. We went out to run errands under a clear, blue sky and then — bam — within an hour a mini blizzard had us heading for home. That left me with the task of coming up with dinner and a way to entertain a restless child until bedtime. Diet be damned — this strain of cabin fever was calling out for a little comfort. The solution? Pasta (the answer’s always pasta, usually with cheese). I left some of the serious calorie- and fat-slashing efforts for another day and blog post. The kiddo helped me add the ingredients to the food processor, roll the meatballs, and then count them (over and over — because counting’s huge when you’re four). We ended up with juicy meatballs that were bursting with flavor and a sauce that was like buttah, because, well, there was butter in it.

Melt-In-Your Mouth Meatballs

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion (or 1/2 large), diced
1 pound lean ground chuck
3 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of milk (whatever you have — skim, 2%, whole)
1/4 Tsp salt
A few turns of fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and drag out the food processor (insert clanging noise here as everything explodes from the cabinet). Chop the onion in half and peel the garlic, throw it in the processor and pulse until they’re broken down. Add the breadcrumbs, milk, and basil leaves and pulse for about a minute until incorporated. Then, add the meat, pulsing again until everything is evenly distributed. Shape the mixture in small golf ball-size meatballs and place them on a baking sheet.

Bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes or until no longer pink in center. While the meatballs bake, whip up this quick sauce:

Like-Butter Tomato Sauce

I love Marcella Hazan‘s tomato sauce — it’s incredibly simple, yet incredibly delicious. I adapted it slightly based on what I had in the house (a little less butter and a few grape tomatoes thrown into the mix). It’s SO good.

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion (or 1/2 large), diced
1 28-oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup grape tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened and lightly brown. Throw some grape tomatoes in, piercing them with a knife (so that the juice and seeds mix with the onion and keep it from burning) until they’re soft. Add can of San Marzano tomatoes, plus salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer. When the meatballs are done cooking the oven, add them to the sauce and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Will these spaghetti and meatballs blow up your Instagram feed? Maybe not. But they might just save your sanity.

Love,
The Lunch Lady

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Creamy Celery Root Soup Recipe

Another day, another bulb of celery root.

The Lunch Lady

Celery Root Soup Celery Root Soup

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…

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Stave Off Sandwich Boredom With This Quick Fix

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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!

Chicken "banh mi" sandwiches with sesame sticks, apples, and veggies
Chicken “banh mi” sandwiches with sesame sticks, apples, and veggies

Quick and Delicious Udon Noodle Soup for Kids

What I’m packing tomorrow…


 Chicken Udon Noodle Soup

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)
Mint
Cilantro

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…

Love,

The Lunch Lady

Healthy Treat: Dark Chocolate-Covered Apples

Dark Chocolate-Covered Apples

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!

On This Week’s Menu: Roasted Pumpkin & Apple Soup

Roasted Pumpkin & Apple Soup

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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).

What’s your favorite fall soup?

Love,

The Lunch Lady

Snack Attack: Healthy Pumpkin “Pop Tarts”

Healthy Pumpkin "Pop Tarts"
Healthy Pumpkin “Pop Tarts”

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!

Only 41 more days to Halloween…

Love,

The Lunch Lady