Monthly Archives: September 2014

Day 22 of 196: Leftovers for lunch

20140926_013945186_iOSOur house, or rather, our front porch is the depot for our CSA. Each week a stack of bins of locally grown fruits and vegetables are dropped off and people come by on their way to pick up kids from school or the way home from work to pick up their bins. Once in a while, a bin goes unclaimed and the deal is that I can keep it, give it away or compost it at 6pm the following day. For a while, we had an extra bin every week and I was giving them away to my neighbours (you cannot imagine how quickly people respond to emails entitled “free organic fruits and vegetables”!) and then things were sorted out with the orders and all of the boxes were being collected. That was until this week, when once again there was an extra box. Late summer and early fall is when the boxes are biggest and full of my favourite produce – squash, beets, carrots, garlic, onions, apples, etc so I decided to keep this one for us and do a bunch of cooking and baking.

I thought a tray of beet chips would be a terrific addition to my kids’ lunches so I thinly sliced a few beets, tossed them into the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and let them roast. What I didn’t take into account was that the red beets had a much higher sugar content than the others so quickly burned and the others left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately the lot went into the compost and I will save the rest of the beets for another purpose.  The beets did look lovely on the tray before they went into the oven!

Fortunately things were more successful after the beets. Between the extra CSA bin and the one I get, I had 4 butternut squash on hand. We ate a couple in salads w mixed greens, mixed grains, dried fruit and a lemon vinaigrette. I also roasted and pureed one to fold into some polenta along with some smoked scamorza to make a comforting side dish. The recipe serves more than our family of 4 eats in a meal so I chilled the leftover polenta on a sheet pan and roasted little wedges of it for lunch.  The same evening, I made some chicken breasts using this method and one extra one for lunch. This made lunch quick and easy to assemble.20140930_221032451_iOS

Finally, we have a mountain of apples from our apple picking expedition. In the excitement of apple picking we picked too many apples (this happens every year – we never learn!) so I decided to make some fruit leather. My mother used to buy fruit leather for us from the health food store and refused to buy us the fruit (froot?) roll ups that all of our friends used to get in their lunches. Little did I know that I would eventually feed my kids in the same way! I cut up a dozen or so apples  – with skins intact-  and put them into a pot with a cinnamon stick and a splash of apple cider that we bought at the orchard while we were apple picking. I covered the pot and cooked it over medium heat for about 15 minutes. The apples were nice and soft at this point so I transferred them to my food mill and pureed them. The sauce was still a little thin for dehydrating so I cooked it down a bit more and then added some ground vanilla bean and some ground cardamom.  Finally, I spread all of this out on to 2 silpat non-stick baking sheet liners on cookie sheets, sprinkled on some chia seeds, and cooked them on the dehydrate setting on my oven. After about 3 hours the sauce had dehydrated and I could pull it up at the corner.  I pulled both sheets out of the oven and let them cook for a few minutes.  Once they had cooled off, I peeled off the entire sheet of fruit leather, placed it on a sheet of waxed paper and got some little hands to roll it up.  We cut the large sheet into smaller pieces and one went into each lunch. The resulting fruit leather is tart and flavourful with little crunchy chia seeds. Absolutely more delicious and healthier than anything I pled with my mother to buy for me when I was 8 years old!

20140930_213652753_iOSLunch for the 22nd day of school was three skewers of the leftover chicken, the polenta cut into stars and roasted until crispy, a little spinach salad with sweet mini peppers and amaranth sprouts, strawberries and grapes and the fruit leather. After disappointing my daughter with the gummy bears (she did manage to pull it together and eat them all remarkably) I also put in a few of the chocolate crispy pearls she requested for today originally. I am sure she will be pleased to find these tomorrow at lunch time!

Day 21 of 196: I am taking requests

IMG_4651It is so important for my kids to each their lunches every day at school so that they have the fuel to propel them through the afternoon.  They are only going to eat what is in their lunch boxes if they actually like what I have sent them and for this reason, I encourage them to record their requests. My little daughter didn’t feel like writing out what she wanted in words, but instead drew me this tiny little picture of her favourite lunch and after some explanation, I interpreted that she wanted a tuna sandwich cut in a heart (or other fun shape – flexibility is important in life!), vegetables cut in a fun shape (also open to which shape), some berries and some little chocolate pearls (I didn’t find this out until the car ride to school…next time!). My older daughter wasn’t so enthused by her heart shaped sandwich a few weeks ago so we devised to pack her something more appropriate for a 9 year old.

IMG_4640I still have a mountain of apples, so I baked them some whole wheat and apple muffins to pack into lunches or one of the two snacks that I send them with daily.  The recipe yields 18 perfectly sized muffins  and we now have 3 fewer apples to eat than before. Both kids had muffins for a snack after school and my older daughter had an early start to her day with a cross-country practice so ate one as she ran out the door to school.

 

Lunch 21, in its big kid and not-as-big kid variations turned out like this:

Tuna salad (tuna, minced celery, minced lemon balm, greek yogurt and lemon juice) packed in a container with some whole wheat and flax pita crackers for the sophisticated lady in the house and a flower shaped sandwich for the little one.  The little one has an apple muffin and both have blanched green beans, yellow pepper flowers and some strawberries and raspberries. Both kids have a selection of tiny gummy bear cubs which will hopefully melt their hearts and cause them to forget that I didn’t pack the chocolate pearls that are so clearly illustrated above.

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Day 20 of 196: Apples, apples and more apples

20140927_155151522_iOSYesterday was a gloriously warm summer like day and a wonderful day to go apple picking. There are lots of apple pick-your-own farms within an hour of where we live and we usually end up at one of the smaller family-run organic farms. They are pretty low-key and they usually have apple varieties that we cannot find in the supermarket in the city. We picked about 35 pounds of apples and stored in the fridge, should keep us going for a while!

There are only so many apples you can eat out of hand so we made a couple of things with our harvest today: an apple and tomatillo salsa and some apple and apricot sauce (apples, dried apricots and cinnamon) that I reduced until it was quite thick and used it to fill some whole grain bars for the kids for school.  The bar recipe comes from the Weelicious Lunches book that has been an asset when I am stuck for ideas. The salsa is unexpectedly delicious (although much spicier than I anticipated!) and I will put it to use later this week.  The bars are tucked into lunches for tomorrow and the balance will go into the freezer for the weeks to come.

 

IMG_4611Lunch #20 includes some little smoked cheddar, sliced liberty apple, honey and pumpkin seed open faced sandwiches on sourdough baguette from an amazing bakery in Kensington Market called Blackbird.  My daughter ate a third of the baguette on our walk home and I had to quickly slice off enough for lunches before the rest disappeared!  My kids can be funny (not always so funny) about vegetable consumption – they will eat vegetables cut into unusual shapes, will eat them in dumplings or stuffed into pasta but will not eat them in their native form – so I sliced ribbons of yellow and orange carrots and cucumbers and rolled them up and put them into their lunch boxes. I had some amaranth microgreens from something I made last week so put them in for colour and because they are also delicious.  I also included some pomegranate, orange segments, a few bunny crackers – one looks like it is hopping off in that pic! –  and the bars we made earlier today.  This should get them off to a good start on Monday!

 

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Day 19 of 196: Apple pancakes and a smoothie

20140926_022204338_iOSYesterday was a wonderful but action packed day: we celebrated Rosh Hashana with our families over lunch and then again over dinner. By the time we got home we were all tired out (and full!) but I knew we had a busy day ahead of us.  My girls are very fortunate to go to a school with terrific teachers who volunteer their time to run a huge assortment of teams. Today both kids had cross-country running practice at 745 which meant we needed to get up and out the door early and that they would probably be hungrier than usual.  Our CSA box arrived while we were out and I spotted some apples and decided to whip up a batch of barley flour and buttermilk pancakes with some finely diced apple.  We also got a bunch of adorable and sweet mini peppers and a bag of enormous sweet red grapes. All of this went into their planet box lunch boxes, a few whole wheat and flax pita chips that I picked up the last time we were at Trader Joes.   Just before we walked out the door, I put a banana and some frozen mango and berries, a couple of scoops of hemp protein powder and some ice into the blender and whipped up a smoothie. I poured that into insulated bottles for them to have after running. Both kids are light breakfast eaters and have physically active days ahead of them – one has swimming and the other has phys ed – so wanted to be sure they could make it through the day happy, learning and having fun.

We are enjoying some amazing weather at the moment and think we are headed to the apple orchard tomorrow to pick some apples. Will have to start thinking about how to incorporate them into lunches in the weeks to come.

Day 18 of 196: No school, but we still eat!

photo 18We are celebrating Rosh Hashana today and the kids are off school while we go to synagogue and get together with our family for lunch.  My brother in law and sister in law have invited us all over but since they too will be at synagogue, I offered to bring a dish. This also gave me an excuse to make something else from Plenty More. The decision process was not easy but I settled on the amazing Butternut Squash Tataki and Udon Noodle Salad recipe.  It is not suitable for our school – there are sesame seeds and sesame oil in it – but a perfect early fall salad with some local butternut squash, radishes and greens.

Plenty More is not a book of 30 minute meals and this recipe requires you to devote a good amount of time to carefully slicing vegetables and grilling the little sticks of squash (on all sides!) but I am pleased to do this on the first day of 5775 while we have some quiet time at home. My daughters were keen to help and assemble the dish for their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and of course, to taste it!

Shana Tova to those who are celebrating!

Day 17 of 196: Rice by request

20140924_010806059_iOSTuesday was a frantic day and my plans for dinner fell apart as soon as both kids went to friends’ houses to play after school and I realized that I had to be back at their school early in the evening for curriculum night.  I had some odds and ends in the fridge – some corn, half a bag of carrots, a handful of mini peppers among other things so planned to cook some rice – my kids love rice and recently have embraced wild rice and other more nutritious varieties –  and let everyone assemble their own rice bowl for dinner.  This kind of meal works well here – everyone can choose what they like to eat and lunch packing is a breeze the following day because I chop some extra veggies, and cook some extra protein and rice to make lunch. In the end, the first pot of lovely black rice burned and we all ended up eating separately.

When I got back from the school, I made a new pot of rice and while it cooled I assembled lunch: mixed chopped veggies, some smoked tofu strips folded up on long toothpicks, edamame rice crackers and an amazing umeboshi and lime dressing from my favourite new cookbook, Plenty More (a similar recipe appears here), some pluot cubes and orange segments and a honey cookie dipped in chocolate for a treat. Once the rice cooled, I wet my hands and rolled it into two balls and tucked them in next to the tofu.  Makes this a quick and easy finger food kind of meal.

20140923_181108348_iOSRosh Hashana begins at sundown tonight and we will get together with our families tonight and tomorrow to celebrate. It is traditional to eat apples dipped in honey to get the new year off to a sweet start and to eat honey cake.  My mother makes the obligatory honey cake every year and I am not sure that much of it is eaten. A few years ago she found a recipe for honey and spice cookies dipped in chocolate and they are actually delicious. She is an amazing cook and elevated the original recipe that was a little sweet by dipping the cookies in dark chocolate and sprinkling them with sea salt – perfection!  She is busy cooking for all of us so I baked up a few batches to bring with us tonight and to give to friends and family.

No school lunch tomorrow – the kids will take the day off  – but there will be lunch! More on that later…..

 

Day 16 of 196: Carrot, pesto and mozzarella tartines

20140922_145811717_iOSI keep a notebook on my kitchen counter so that I can jot down meal ideas when they occur to me. I have encouraged the kids to start adding their ideas to the book too. We have a little section of kids cookbooks and food magazines that they can flip through – and often cook from – to inspire them because they will only eat what is delicious to them and a healthy unappealing lunch will just be thrown out at the end of the day. My older daughter is frequently the source of meal ideas and came tearing into the kitchen with today’s lunch idea: a grilled carrot, green pesto and fresh mozzarella sandwich.  I am not sure where she came up with this idea – I think we had some crostini with ricotta and figs a few weeks ago and this maybe have given her this new idea – but it sounded like a good one and especially because we have lots of carrots on hand from our CSA box.

I am a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks and pre-ordered his latest book, Plenty More last winter from Amazon in the UK. It wasn’t even listed on the Canadian site at that point in time and I wanted to be sure that I got a copy as soon as I could.  The entire book is spectacular and I have made half a dozen recipes in the 5 days that I have had it.  I chose a wild mushroom and preserved lemon ragout recipe for dinner last night – a perfect meal for the first night of autumn.  The mushroom ragout was served a top of a bed of puy lentils with diced carrots and celeriac which I figured would also be a great lunch box addition.

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20140922_231455641_iOSMy little daughter got to work peeling the carrots while I prepped the rest of the ingredients. The final dish – the ragout of leeks, mushrooms and preserved lemons atop the lentils – was so delicious. The recipe calls for cilantro to be mixed with the lentils but cilantro tastes like a mouthful of soap to my husband so I swapped in some basil in its place. The final dish was served with a few dollops of greek yogurt and a few more sprigs of basil. It was definitely a labour intensive meal for a weeknight, but well worth the effort.

 

20140922_223919956_iOSWhile things were cooking away for dinner, I finished up lunches – I toasted a few slices of baguette, topped each with a slice of fresh mozzarella, a glob of nut-free pesto and some of the carrot we roasted while roasting the carrots for dinner. I packed a few of the king emperor mushrooms I cooked for the mushroom ragout and added a scoop of the lentil salad too. Finally, I sliced up a juicy and sweet local peach – not sure how much longer I will be able to find these at the market – and sprinkled over some pomegranate airls. The kids chose some candied sunflower seeds for a treat for lunch 16. The two of them woke up this morning, excited for the day and excited for lunch!

Day 15 of 196: Pink and Yellow Waffles

20140921_232022068_iOSWe were out for dinner tonight but tomorrow’s lunches still beckoned. We got some delicious beets and corn in our PlanB CSA box this week so as I was preparing some waffle batter, I charred a cob of corn and grated up one of the beets and passed each bowl along to my little daughter to mix up.  She was delighted when the barley flour batter turned bright pink and despite her misgivings about beets, she enthusiastically gobbled up one of the waffles from our test run.  The waffles as well as a shredded carrot, candy cane beet and sprout salad are served up with a lemon yogurt dip (greek yogurt, some lemon juice, lemon zest and some salt and pepper), some goldenberries and blackberries and a few mini gummy bear cubs.

My older daughter has an instagram account and is usually among the first to like my posts with images of her lunch. Today she thanked me for lunch and declared she that was so excited about the gummy bears. Hopefully she eats the rest too!

Day 14 of 196: Vegetable soup and polenta crisps

photo14 dinnerWe had a very mild summer but there is no doubt that autumn is well on its way.  Mornings are crisp and the evenings are quite cool.  We have switched the heating back on in the house and we are all starting to crave warmer, heartier meals.  I had a handful of odds and ends in my fridge from my CSA delivery last week so decided to put them to use for lunch and dinner – a mixed vegetable and polenta hash for dinner and some vegetable soup with some crispy roasted slices of polenta on the side for lunch.  Perfect meals to refuel on cool days.

I have been using the polenta hash recipe here for many years for brunches and dinner.  It is consistently delicious and easy to adapt to whatever you have on hand.  Tonight, I roasted little wedges of pre-made polenta w some olive oil in a hot oven until they were crispy.  This takes about 30 minutes. While they were roasting away, I sautéed a diced white onion in a skillet with some olive oil over medium high heat.  Once it was translucent I added in the kernels from two ears of corn that arrived in today’s CSA box and cooked it for about 5 minutes. I added in two tablespoons of chili powder, a can of black beans and about a cup of diced sweet peppers. I let this cook for 2 or 3 minutes and then added a diced tomato and some cherry tomatoes.  I checked for seasoning, added some salt and the juice of a couple limes.   At this point, the polenta was ready so I pulled it out of the oven and put it on a platter. I top it with the corn and bean mixture from the skillet and topped it with some avocado, fresh Mexican cheese and some micro basil (that I just happened to have on hand from something else I made during the week – regular basil would have been just as delicious).  I served it up with some limes on the side.

 

photo14 lunchVegetable soups are a staple here. My little daughter loves soup and it is nice to have on hand on cool days. I was very fortunate to be the recipient of a can of smoked paprika from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law who were in Barcelona over the summer so I used it along w some urfa pepper to make a smoky tomato broth and added a mix of the vegetables that I chopped up for the hash to the broth after I sautéed them. Instead of beans, I used chick peas and also added in a couple of mushrooms that were hanging around from when we made dumplings the other night.   I reserved some of the polenta from dinner, sliced it into thin rounds and roasted it in the oven until it was crispy. The kids will take the soup to school in an insulated bottle so that it is nice and warm and will pour it out into the round container in their lunch box. I tossed in a couple of skewers of baked tofu, some local cantaloupe and raspberries and a mix of Callebaut chocolate pearls for an absolutely fantastic treat! Three weeks of school and 14 lunches down!

Day 13 of 196: Salmon salad sandwich hearts

photo 13The cedar planked salmon I made last night was not the hit I anticipated with my kids. One declared that it smelled too much like a sauna and the other one had been eating dumplings as quickly as she was folding them so did not eat much at all.  They also got pet fish over the summer – betta fish, not salmons – and suddenly found themselves identifying with dinner differently than before. That being said, they like tuna salad and I had a piece of salmon sitting in the fridge that I figured I could whip up into sandwiches for lunch.

I mixed the salmon w a dollop of Greek yogurt, lemon juice, diced celery and finely diced green onion. Still uncertain about how the fish would appeal, I asked my daughter pick out a cookie cutter so that we could cut their sandwiches into fun shapes. With any luck this lunch was a success! The sandwiches were served up with a crunchy salad of radishes, celery, carrots and sprouts, a couple of crackers and a dip made w avocado, umeboshi paste, lime juice, rice wine vinegar and a bit of grapeseed oil. It is tangy and creamy and delicious.  A mandarin, a handful of local Ontario grapes from Plan B Organic Farms and a few granola crackers round out lunch number 13!