Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cool, Effortless Lunch: More Yogurt

Fellow lunch eaters! I haven't posted in a while, mostly because all I can bear to whip up in the morning in the summer heat is what you see pictured: good old yogurt and fruit, which I've blogged before. I've been switching it up of course, adding different fruits, nuts, pepitas, etc.

My newest favorite trick is great for "beating the heat," as they say. I know fresh summer fruit is all the rage, but I'm a huge fan of frozen fruit. Besides being cheaper and easier to prep, the biggest bonus is it's cooling power. I threw both of these together in the morning, and despite a commute involving a 20 minute sun-soaked walk from the train, they were still frosty when I ate 'em three hours later (sans refrigeration. I don't know office has a fridge, I guess I'm just too lazy to walk by it in the morning!)

I used Trader Joe's (pesticide-free!) frozen blueberries in the first batch, but blueberries are great frozen even if you've bought them fresh. There's no additional prep! The second cup with frozen mangoes and fresh strawberries required a little more prep, but only about three minutes worth.

Grocery list
  • Tub of plain yogurt (my fave is TJ's European Style)
  • Frozen fruit
 Pantry (all optional)
  • Almonds or other nuts
  • Sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • Honey or agave nectar

You know the drill. I like to partially fill the jar with yogurt before adding a little fruit so I don't lose any valuable yogurt space to the air trapped in between the fruit. But do it however you like :-)

Total time: 1-3 minutes
Yield: 1 servings
To bring: canning jar or other leak-proof container

P.S. Since I am apparently having difficulty posting here consistently, I've taken my thoughts on lunch and other nutrition matters to the micro-blogging sphere. Find me on Twitter at @DianaKRice! But I'll still be back at Things to Bring often enough...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Crazy Cheap Rice and Beans

It's going to sound crazy, but this week I'm living on food that costs less than $2 a day. My pastor challenged our whole church to do it in order to experience some semblance of what it's like for the 2.5 billion people in the world who live on less than that for all their living expenses, not just food. I've been doing pretty well and haven't been hungry at all, but then again I have a lot invested in knowing how to cook at home! At the very least, I'll be able to donate what I would have spent on food to someone who needs it more than me.

So obviously, rice and beans are staples of anyone looking to eat on the cheap. And even if you aren't attempting a $2 a day challenge, this meal is an awesome way to save serious cash on your daily lunches. It breaks down to $0.62 per portion and has about 400 calories. If you normally spend $10 on lunch out, that's about $47 saved in a week. 47 American dollars, people!!!

Grocery list
  • Dried black beans - 16 oz. (or you could cheat and use 3-4 cans)
  • Frozen corn - 8 oz. (half a 16 oz. bag)
  • Brown rice - 2 cups
  • Onion - 1/2 medium sized
  • Canola oil - 1 tbsp.
  • Salt - 1 tsp.
  • Cumin - 1 tbsp.

Cook the dried beans (or pop open some cans). The easiest method is to soak them overnight, drain, add water to cover by at least an inch, and simmer until they're the right tenderness (about 2 hours). I've heard you should add the salt when they're just starting to feel soft, but I don't think it really matters.

The beans should look a little soupy...either add water to get a consistency you like, or if you're using canned beans, include some of the canning liquid. Dice the onions and sautee them in oil, then just mix in the onions along with the corn and cumin and cook the rice to serve with it!

This is enough for seven meals, but feel free to adjust the quantities if you think you'd get bored with it seven days in a row!

Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 20 minutes (excluding soaking time)
Yield: 7 servings 
To Bring: leak-proof container

Questions about the cooking method? Please let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Peanut Butter and Date Sandwich

Here's another sandwich that's quick to throw together and a little more "adult" than your standard PB&J. These dates are just as sweet as jelly (if not sweeter!) and pack three grams of fiber per serving. This meal is also super easy to store and assemble at work - neither the peanut butter nor the dates need to be refrigerated and a baguette would last you several days.

If your dates don't come chopped, it's much easier to take 30 seconds to chop the whole container before bringing it in to work. Bonus: chopped dates also make a great, fiber-filled afternoon snack...just try not to eat so many that you get a sugar buzz!

Grocery list
  • Bread
  • Peanut butter - about 2 tbsp. (I used Brad's Organic)
  • Dates - about 4, chopped (I found a container in the dried fruit section of Whole Foods for $3.99)

Slice the bread and spread peanut butter on the bottom layer. Top with chopped dates!

Hands-on time: Less than 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
To bring: plastic bags or store at work

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup with Yogurt

More soup? Yeah, it's seriously that cold out! This recipe even includes curry powder for double warming power. It's a really simple recipe based on Ellie Krieger's Curried Butternut Squash Soup; I've left out the honey, but add two tablespoons as the original recipe suggests if you like.

Butternut squash in its natural state can be difficult to work with, but Trader Joe's sells cubed butternut squash pieces in the fresh vegetable section and they work really well in this recipe. It's a little more expensive (mainly because whole squashes are so cheap!) but you'll probably save yourself 20 minutes of chopping and seeding.

This also freezes really well! I got about six meals from one batch, and immediately froze most of it in individual servings. You can even freeze it directly in a canning jar or other leak-proof container and just grab one in the morning and let it defrost at your desk.

I rounded out the meal with a container of plain 2% yogurt stirred right into the soup (use way more than Krieger's recommended 4 teaspoons if you want to make a real meal out of it) and a handful of Trader Joe's sesame melba toasts. And if this looks good but you don't have time to make the recipe, well, Trader Joe's sells organic butternut squash soup in a box that's pretty good, too ;-)

Grocery list
  • Cubed butternut squash 1 lb. (or about 1 whole squash)
  • Onion - 1 medium
  • Plain yogurt - 1 container
  • Melba toast, bread or crackers (great to keep at work)
  • Curry powder - 1 tbsp. (or more, depending how spicy yours is. I used Rajah hot curry powder.)
  • Vegetable stock or water - 6 cups
  • Garlic - 2 cloves
  • Oil - 1 tbsp.
  • Salt - about 1/2 tsp. (depending how salty your stock is) 
  • Canola oil - 1 tbsp.

Roughly chop the onion and smash the garlic cloves with the side of a knife (no need to chop). In the bottom of a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat the canola oil and cook the onion and garlic until they soften, about 7 minutes. Add the stock, squash and curry powder (you may want to add the salt at the end once you see how it tastes. Cover and simmer on medium for 1 hour. The squash should squish easily when it's ready. Let cool about 20 minutes before and then blend it together - an immersion blender works best, but you can also do it in a blender or food processor in batches.

Separate it into individual containers and you're set for a week!

Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
To bring: canning jar or other leak-proof container

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Simple Pea Soup

Are you freezing your tail off yet? I think mine chipped off and shattered in pieces across a busy intersection somewhere around early December. Of course when it's freezing out, all you probably want for lunch is a hot bowl of comforting soup, but the last thing you want to do is make a mad dash through the cold to Hale & Hearty to get it. Problem solved, my friends. Hands on time for this soup is actually around 10-15 minutes, and it's mostly chopping. It needs to simmer for about an hour, but you don't have to be around for that!

One of my favorite shortcuts is to use a tablespoon of Better than Bouillon instead of stock or MSG-containing regular bouillon. It's basically a concentrated paste version of the same things you'd find in stock-in-a-box anyway, and no heavy boxes to lug home and store. I'm already assuming you're not going to make your own stock - even I find that a pain!

(Just as a caution, some of Better than Bouillon's products contain autolyzed yeast extract, which is related to MSG, so I tend to go for their organic and kosher lines. I also ignore their suggestion for 1.5 tablespoons of base per quart of water - way too salty!)

Grocery list
  • Dried peas - 16 oz. bag
  • Carrots - 1 large (or a handful of baby sized)
  • Onion - 1 small
  • Sausage - I used one link of Trader Joe's all-natural chicken andouille sausage, diced. (Veggie sausage or traditional diced ham would also be good.)
  • Stock - 1 tbsp. of Better than Bouillon Organic Beef Base plus 6 cups of water, or 6 cups of the stock of your choice
  • Garlic - 3 cloves
  • Oil - 2 tbsp.
  • Salt (optional)
  • Pepper

Dice the onions and sausage and mince the garlic. Sautee everything together in a large pot or dutch oven for 10-15 minutes until the onions are translucent and some of the fat has rendered out of the sausage (dice the carrots while you're waiting.) Add 6 cups of water and a tablespoon of Better than Bouillon (or 6 cups of stock), the entire bag of peas and your diced carrots. Stir to combine, crack as much pepper as you want into it, and cover. Turn the heat to low and simmer for an hour. Check it when the time is up - the peas should be mostly mushed together and not taste mealy. Add more salt and pepper if desired.

Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: about 5 servings
To bring: canning jar or other leak-proof container

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter Salad Inspiration

Some winters I'll go weeks without eating an actual salad. Without ripe tomatoes around, it's easy to become uninspired! But I do believe that a fresh-looking and tasting salad is still possible, even without much planning. The best part about this salad is that everything (including the lettuce) had been hanging around in my kitchen for over a week! The only fresh ingredients are the lettuce, carrots and green onions. Items like chickpeas and almonds are great pantry staples that store forever and easily punch up a salad, plus they both add protein! I store the rest of the chickpeas in their canning liquid in a container in the fridge.

Grocery list
  • Lettuce (bagged, of course)
  • Carrots
  • Green onions
  • Cheese (not used here)
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Dressing

This is less of a recipe than it is just general salad inspiration. I'd love to hear other ideas of pantry items to easily mix into fabulous winter salads...Craisins, anyone?

Yield: 1 salad
To bring: plastic container

Questions about the cooking method? Please let me know in the comments!