Day 49 of 196: tofu cubes always get two thumbs up

Day 49A lunch of quick bites. My little daughter has swim team practice at lunch three days a week and between her love of conversation and tendency to eat slowly she doesn’t always have much time left to eat so made both kids a lunch that they can eat in just a few bites: rice cubes, crispy tofu cubes, some wilted spinach and some quickly pickled carrots and turnips. Added some berries, longan and kiwi on the side and hopefully this should carry her through the pool.

The tofu cubes are always a hit in my house and are simple to make. Inevitably my kids eat the cubes as I make them, so I usually make a double batch.  To make the cubes, cut a 1lb block of extra firm tofu into cubes and dry them off with a dish towel. Next, toss the cubes in a mixture of corn starch and some seasoning (I use everything from just salt to a mix of spices like smoked paprika, garlic granules and anything that appeals in the moment). Heat a thin layer of grapeseed (or other neutral oil) in a pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, toss in some cubes (don’t crowd the pan – the cubes will steam if they are crammed in!) and cook each cube, turning from one side to the next when they are golden. Enjoy!

Day 35 of 196 – Tofu and carrot noodles

Day 35During our summer road trip to Chicago we had a delicious dinner at Little Goat.  Little Goat is a diner that appears to have been preserved from the 60s – I am not sure if this was a restored or recreated restaurant – but it reminded me in part of the old cafeteria at the airport in Toronto from the 1970s. Among the highlights of our meal was a bowl of tofu noodles in the most amazing dressing. I tried to replicate this dish for lunch (and for our dinner) here. A part of what made this so clever was that the noodles were made of tofu. I expected a bowl of noodles to arrive topped with tofu and it occurred to me after a few bites that the noodles were in fact made from tofu!

I picked up some sheets of tofu skin – thin sheets of tofu – in Chinatown and sliced them into long noodles. I boiled them in some salted water and then drained and set them aside. I tossed in some vegetables, including some carrots that I sliced using a vegetable peeler and made up a lime and umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum) dressing to drizzle over the top. The dressing comes from an Ottolenghi recipe for a slaw that was published in Plenty More and there was something in the dressing at Little Goat that reminded me of this one.  It was not quite the same as the bowl of noodles that I had in Chicago but a close second.

I added in some fruit, a few rice crackers and a gummy scull to kick off the Halloween fun in our house!

Day 79 of 196: Sweet Pea and Mint Fritters

lunch 79We had a couple of quiet days at home during the school break after we returned from vacation. We all needed a bit of downtime and after the rush of school, followed immediately by rushing off on holiday (we picked the kids up from school and headed directly to the airport) so it was nice to spend a day or two drawing, painting, building and reading. The kids, especially my big daughter, loves to flip through cookbooks and while I was menu planning for the week, she looked through Plenty More – the latest Ottolenghi book – and found a recipe for some sweet pea and mint fritters that looked lovely and that she thought she would like for school. When I was at the supermarket, I happened to be standing in front of the frozen peas so picked up a bag with plans to make them with her after school.

When we got home from school, we pulled out the book and I realized that I had not read through the entire recipe that included freezing the uncooked fritters for a couple of hours and then breading and frying them. With the bag of now mostly thawed peas sitting on the counter, it was time for improvisation. We made up the pea mixture (sautéed shallots, peas processed in the processor until they were chopped up but not mush, an egg – but I swapped the egg for some ground flax and warm water, mint, garlic, salt and pepper) and formed little patties. I dusted them w corn starch and cooked them in an oiled pan until they were crispy on the outside and cooked through. They were fantastic and the kids ate them up as quickly as I could make them. I managed to set aside half a dozen and packed them into their lunch boxes.

It is now apparent that the ying ying soy foods smoked tofu slices are a staple in our lunch boxes and here they are again! They really are delicious hot or cold and a great lunch option because they are packed with protein to keep the kids going through their active days. I threaded a few slices onto a skewer while the kids ate the balance of the package (and no dinner later on – no surprise!) and  I sliced up a few rainbow carrots, a pineapple and some grapes. Finally, I tossed in four citrus flavoured gum drops to round out this 79th lunch.

Day 78 of 196 – can you really cook anything in a waffle iron?

lunch 78A very exciting thing happened on our flight home from Florida. No, we were not upgraded to the front of the plane or bumped to another flight in exchange for wads of cash (that has happened before – it was also very exciting). This was an entirely different experience – not only did we get an entire can of whatever we wanted to drink and as many snacks as we wanted (go Jet Blue but pretty amazing to see people actually take the flight attendants up on this!!) but we also had free WiFi for the duration of the flight! I thought hours of live TV was pretty terrific – especially since we gave up cable months ago and it is fun to binge watch food shows once in a while – but being able to surf and read for 3+ hours is a treat. This gave me a chance to catch up on reading (the binge watching fun wore off pretty quickly – the food network was showing a Guy Fieri marathon) some of my favourite food sites and I came across a bunch of different articles about how to cook all kinds of stuff in a waffle iron. People cooked waffles, obviously, but also grilled cheese sandwiches and even cinnamon rolls (not sure about this one – wouldn’t really be much of a roll). One of the ideas that stuck with me was waffling cooked rice and so I gave it a shot yesterday.

My kids love rice  – especially the little one – but I am told that food that must be eaten with cutlery just slows them down at lunch so rather than even eating a few bites, they just won’t eating anything at all! Perplexing and frustrating because on the days when they have decided not to eat because of the challenges of using a fork, they come out of school starving and grouchy.  Rice that they could pick up with their hands seemed like it had potential.   I cooked a pot of sprouted brown rice and let it steam a bit in the pot (I just left the lid on the pot) so that it was a little bit sticky. I heated up my waffle iron and set the outside crispness to high (there is a dial on my waffle iron) and let it warm up. Once it was nice and hot, I brushed the iron with a bit of grapeseed oil and packed the cooked rice into the iron.  I put far more rice in than I would put waffle batter since it needed to compress to stay together and because it was not going to rise like batter does. I ran the rice waffles through a couple of cooking cycles so that the outside was nice and crispy, browned and the whole thing held together. We pulled the first one off the iron and tested it and it was fantastic! The outside was crispy, but the interior was still soft and the nuttiness of the brown rice was intensified so that it was pretty flavourful. We devoured the rest of the waffle and I made another one for the girls’ lunches.

There is a terrific tofu maker in the city who sells his products at St Lawrence Market and also at the farmer’s markets and small supermarkets (although I spotted them at Whole Foods this week). He makes delicious smoked tofu strips – a lunchbox staple – as well as some great marinated tofu. I picked up a couple of packages of the tomato tofu thinking they would be good for an after school snack or for lunch. The package that I opened up for this lunch served both purposes – I packed some for lunch and they finished the balance while I made dinner.  Along with the tofu and brown rice, I packed some roasted soy beans, some endives with segments of blood orange and a handful each of blueberries and pomegranates. For a treat, I packed a couple of chocolate non-pareils that we picked up on our way home at Trader Joes.

Day 56 of 196 – Miso soup for another cold day

lunch 56Winter is absolutely, undoubtedly here and here to stay for many months.  The drive home from school was slow as people got their first taste of winter driving. I love hot soups on a cold days so decided to make a big pot of miso soup and a bunch of add ins for dinner and figured I would pack the same thing for lunch.

I made up some soba noodles, steamed broccoli and bok choi, sautéed some mushrooms – these three were all from my amazing CSA share from the previous week – and sliced some carrots, peppers and tofu up.  Because of the slow driving conditions, the kids ate early while my husband hung around the office until traffic looked like it was picking up.  They set up a picnic in front of the fireplace and put together bowls of soup and ate away delighted for this rare meal on the floor!

For lunch, I put some soba, bok choi, mushrooms, carrots and tofu into the round container that came with their lunch boxes. In the morning I filled up their insulated bottles with some hot miso soup that they could pour over the contents of their containers to warm them up and have a warming meal. I also packed them some chompers – delicious seaweed snacks that we cannot get enough of – some edamame and rice crackers, an orange and a bunch of candied sunflower seeds.   Yum!

FIT TIP OF THE DAY – 1 minute wall squat (lean against the wall like you’re sitting in a chair, knees in line w heels. Breathe). Questions about the FIT TIP? Give Barb a shout –

Day 35 of 196: Soup for a rainy fall day

IMG_4901I am not sure if the sun ever managed to peek through the clouds today and tomorrow isn’t looking much more promising. It isn’t cold, but it has rained on and off all day long and soup for lunch fit the bill when I was thinking about what to make for dinner and lunch.  I had a few bunches of baby bok choi from my CSA box, some sweet carrots, some broccolini and a package of tofu on hand. I always have rice noodles – they are so quick to prepare and great for a quick meal – so between what I had on hand and the shiitake mushrooms I picked up at the supermarket, I was ready to make a couple of meals.

First up, I made a vegetable broth – I sautéed some leeks, onions, garlic, ginger, carrots and the mushrooms until they were cooked but not too soft and then poured in some water. I let that cook and checked the seasoning after it had simmered away for about 20 minutes. I cooked the rice noodles in some hot water, drained them and set them aside. Separately I cooked the broccolini and bok choi. For lunch, I tossed some of the noodles in a pan with some oil, garlic, ginger and some sliced mushrooms and tossed in a mix of the greens. I put them in a container in the kids’ lunch boxes. In the morning I will heat up some of the leftover broth and pour it into their insulated bottles so that they can either just eat noodles and drink the broth or pour the broth over the noodles to have warm bowl of soupy noodles.

For both meals, I tossed cubes of tofu in some seasoned corn starch and cooked it in a lightly oiled pan until it was crispy. The kids love to eat tofu like this and I had to refill the cup of tofu pictured on the left twice after taking this picture!  For lunch, I put some of the tofu and some dehydrated corn into little cups, added in some dried pineapple and an orange. Finally I tossed in a few candied sunflower seeds.

For dinner, I put some of the brown rice noodles in the bottom of a bowl, topped it with the greens, a handful of carrots, and then topped it with some of the broth. I tossed a handful of the tofu cubes on top of everything. We had this soup served with sliced lime, extra green onions and a selection of other sauces to make the soup spicier, sweeter, nuttier, etc.  Everyone seemed to enjoy and I was delighted to have two meals made at once.

Day 34 of 196: Feeling cubist

20141012_210239716_iOSI love to cook and love to buy and read cookbooks – often to the exclusion of other reading – but I am reluctant to buy a lot of kitchen tools. There is no shortage of gadgets but I find that most of the time I can accomplish the same task with a good sharp knife, my fingers or by improvising.  I do make the odd exception and the rice cube (pic at the left)  caused me to bend my minimalist kitchen-tool rule. The rice cube forms perfect little cubes of rice, grains or almost anything that can be pressed into shape and is a cinch to use. My 6 year old watched the video on their website and got to work making cubes of jasmine rice mixed with either grated beet, grated carrot or sandwiched with a thin omelette of kale and caramelized onions and then called it dinner.  I tried using the rice cube last week to make cubes of brown rice but the rice didn’t stick well and I improvised and re-titled lunch “deconstructed sushi”.

I was shopping in an amazing Korean supermarket a few weeks ago and picked up some unfamiliar ingredients (I am only minimalist with tools, I pick up new foods all the time) including some short grain wild rice that looked intriguing. Undeterred by last week’s failure (and by the package entirely in Korean – thank goodness for my lovely Korean neighbour who translated for me) I cooked up a pot of rice and set to work making a cubist lunch.

IMG_4890I formed little cubes of black rice and wrapped them in thin strips of heirloom carrot that I had sliced with my mandoline and quickly blanched so that they would bend around the rice. I also wrapped the rice in thin strips of smoked tofu and filled another three with cucumber. Carrying on with the theme, I pressed a couple of banana and squash (sounds strange, actually delicious) muffins and tucked them into this lunch.  Lunch was rounded out with some steamed edamame, sliced kiwi and raspberries and a roll of the fruit leather I made a few weeks ago.

IMG_4894I was about to pack up a second lunch when my little daughter wandered in, tasted the black rice and declared that she did not like it at all! I don’t get into struggles with my kids about food. I insist that they try everything but don’t insist they eat things they don’t like.  I keep everyone in mind when I make lunches and dinner and there are always enough options so that if you don’t like one thing, there is always something else on the table to eat.   Her lunch was just a rice-free variation on the planned meal – julienned carrots, tofu slices on a tooth pick, a muffin, some oranges (one of her best buddies at school is allergic to kiwi so they cannot sit together if she has kiwi in her lunch) and raspberries, edamame and fruit leather. At the end of the day, they both had healthy and delicious meals to help fuel them through the day and healthy and delicious meals that they would eat and not bring home untouched.

Day 26 of 196: Dumplings again and noodles everywhere

IMG_4775Today is the city-wide cross-country running meet so lunch had to power my big daughter through her run and also had to be easy to eat since they will be sitting on the grass or sand for lunch.  Dumplings, as I have written before, are a great vehicle for all kinds of veggies.  I ran down to Chinatown before school pick-up to get some dumpling wrappers, a selection of mushrooms and some fun fruit for lunches for the week.  When we got back home and started to prep dinner (corn tortillas w mixed roasted veggies, tofu and the apple and tomatillo salsa I made last week) I realized I had half a box of spinach that could be mixed in with the dumpling filling and we all got to work.

I started by prepping the veggies for lunch and dinner. The dinner vegetables – mushrooms, cauliflower, carrots, celery and squash – all went into the oven with some olive oil and salt and pepper to roast.   The lunch vegetables – carrots, celery, mushrooms – were diced up finely and sautéed in a pan with some grapeseed oil until there was some colour on the mushrooms. I folded in some diced tofu, the baby spinach that I had minced up, a few teaspoons of soy sauce and some minced garlic and ginger. The kids had been foraging in the pantry and found a package of brown rice noodles so we rehydrated them, chopped them up a bit and folded them into the filling mix.

The kids love making dumplings and the only requirement I have is that they make themselves half a dozen moon-shaped dumplings each to pack in their lunches.  Once they have done that, they can create any shape or size dumpling they can conceive of and they don’t hold back! We end up with letter-shaped dumplings, tiny dumplings for their stuffed animals and all kinds of other creations. We cook all of these up for a snack to tide them over until dinner.  To assemble the dumplings, each kid sets up a station with a stack of wrappers, a bowl of water and spoon. I transfer the filling to a bowl and put it in between them and they set out to work. This is usually pretty messy but I had no idea how much messier adding noodles to the dumpling filling would be! We had tiny noodle bits all of the floor and stuck to the side of cabinet where they were working and hours later I was sweeping them up in adjacent rooms! I vowed to myself that we would not use noodles again until they both declared that these were the best dumplings that we had ever made.

I cooked up their lunch dumplings in the same skillet that I had cooked the filling in (I wiped it out first) filled with a bit of water and teaspoon of oil. I brought the water to a boil added the dumplings and covered the pan for 3 or 4 minutes until the dumplings were ready. In the meantime, I cut up some fruit (mango and dragon fruit), washed some sugar snap peas and pepper rings and mixed up a little dipping sauce with some soy sauce, rice vinegar and a tiny bit of maple syrup. I had a package of tofu jerky that I divided and added at the last minute along with some little panda cookies.  I wish I had made myself a lunch like this!  Happy 26th day of school!

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 6 of 196: Rice noodles and tofu w tamarind and lime dressing

photo 4I like to get lunch making out of the way when I am making dinner. My kids do not like leftovers but I can still use the same ingredients in dinner as I do in their lunches.  I had a big bag of limes on hand so made up a big batch of a tamarind and lime dressing that is inspired by a recipe that Yotam Ottolenghi published in the Guardian years ago. It is slightly sweet, tangy and generally delicious!  For dinner, I used it to dress an enormous batch of wilted greens – kale, pak choi and spinach – and for lunch the kids had it tossed over some of the same greens, but julienned, brown rice noodles, mushrooms and tofu.   Along with this, they had some cut up veggies, strawberries and a lemon raspberry ricotta muffin that my older daughter made up after school.