I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cumin Lamb Steaks

This marinade is addictive, and worked great this evening with some simple soba noodles tossed with green onions, gomasio, soy and sesame oil and a riff on this zucchini, using a few tablespoons of the strained marinade along with the onions, ginger and garlic and a thinly sliced half of red pepper that needed using.

For ~1 lb. lamb steaks (cut from the leg of lamb), combine in a nonreactive pan:
1.5 T Shaoxing wine or sherry
3 T light soy
2 T dark soy
1.5 T hoisin sauce
1.5 T cumin seed, toasted*
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t minced ginger
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t chile oil (may substitute canola oil and 1 pinch chile flakes)

* Toast the cumin seed in a dry pan over medium heat till fragrant. Add directly to the other ingredients after toasting, the warm cumin will infuse the marinade.

Lay the lamb steaks down in the marinade, swirl around, turn over, swirl the other side and allow to sit 15-30 minutes before grilling the steaks. If using a stovetop grill pan, blot the steaks of any marinade so they sear properly instead of steaming.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pasta with Chard, Pancetta and Tomatoes

This dish was delicious! It's riffed on this recipe, I had pancetta and a bunch of chard and R wanted tomato sauce. I cut the chard the night before and it was a snap to put together after work, it took just 20 minutes with interruptions to greet the family. The recipe called for penne, but neither R nor MZ prefer that shape. We were out of rotini so I went for spaghettini -- not a traditional match but a house favorite.

1 bunch chard
1 T olive oil
1 package diced pancetta, or the equivalent amount of diced high-quality pancetta
1/2 red onion, diced to 1/4" pieces
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated, plus more for the table
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the chard leaves from the stems and rinse in a bowl of water. Cut the stems crosswise into 1/4" slices. Drain the leaves, cut them in half and cut crosswise into 1/2" strips.

Bring the pasta water to a boil. Heat 1 T olive oil on medium-high heat, add pancetta and saute 5 minutes. Drain all but 1 T oil off the pan and set pancetta aside. Add red onion to the pan and sprinkle with 1/2 t salt. Saute 2 minutes. Add chard stems and saute five minutes till onions have softened. Salt pasta water, add pasta and set timer.

Add red pepper flakes and garlic to onion mixture, saute 30 seconds and add chard leaves. Stir, saute five minutes. Meanwhile drain the canned tomatoes, reserving juice. Turn heat to high, add tomatoes, stir and saute until the tomatoes release some juice (about 3 minutes). Meanwhile, toast pine nuts.

Add tomato juice, 1/4 cup pasta water, 2 T parmigiano and pancetta to chard mixture, stir and saute 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Serve sauce over pasta, top with toasted pine nuts, grated parmigiano and a grinding of black pepper.

Drain pasta when ready,

Inside the Lunchbox

And what do I feed MZ for lunch? My previous post outlined how I pack (protein, carb, veg and fruit, bento-style). I used to love leftovers but she does not, so most of these are "purpose-built" lunch items. Pesto, marinara, black bean soup and applesauce are made in batches and frozen in portion sizes, which means my freezer looks a bit similar to those days when I was making baby food in batches -- the ice cube trays are getting a second life (large ice cube trays from Daiso, 1 x marinara, or 2-3 x soup = lunch.

"Main dish" items include:
  • Sandwiches: tuna salad (with capers, celery and red pepper when I have time), egg salad, salmon salad (with sweet pickle relish and celery), tofu salad (Greens Cookbook recipe with capers). I'm trying to get her to eat a cheese sandwich, cream cheese/sunbutter and jam, or sunbutter/grated carrot sandwich, but no luck so far.
  • Hard boiled egg with seasoned salt
  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheels on lavash bread
  • TJs Baked tofu cut into "sticks" with hoisin sauce for dipping
  • Tofu dog or garbanzo burger with catsup
  • Salmon rice balls (onigiri with leftover rice and canned salmon)
  • Cheese quesadilla or veg refried beab and cheese mini-burritos (requires heating)
  • Mashed potato cakes with cottage cheese and parmesan (when we have leftover mashed potatoes)
  • TJs Edamame potstickers (heat and place in a heated thermos jar, they will be warm at lunch)
  • TJs vegan split pea soup, M. Bittman's quick homemade black bean soup (in the thermos, I avoid brothy soups because of the mess factor but the thicker bean soups work well)
  • Homemade marinara with w/w pasta or couscous and TJ's meatless meatballs
  • Cheese tortellini with pesto and peas
  • Sesame soba noodles with baked tofu cubes and green onions
  • Mac'n'cheese (make it in a rice cooker, freeze individual portions)
  • Hummus or edamame dip and carrots and/or pita/crackers
  • Cheese cubes, shelled edamame and crackers (she likes gruyere, gouda or parmigiano chunks)
  • Soy butter and carrot, celery or apple slices
  • Yogurt cup with granola to add
  • And here's a recipe for ham-n'cheese pinwheels that I've never tried
Veg sides include lightly steamed vegetables (especially broccoli, snap peas, string beans and asparagus) or raw cherry tomatoes, red pepper slices, cucumber circles, carrot, celery or jicama sticks, or frozen peas (which thaw by lunchtime and keep the lunch cooler) or nori seaweed strips (I use individually portioned seaweed packets as the big sheets get soft by lunchtime). She will eat cucumber slices dressed with rice vinegar, salt and ginger, but other than that she won't eat the veg if I "salad it up."

Some alternative side starches:
  • Newman's Own spelt pretzels
  • TJs lentil curls "crackers"
  • Kashi multigrain crackers
  • TJs soy-flax rice crackers
  • Nori seaweed-wrapped brown rice crackers (Nijiya Market in Japantown)
  • Pea Crisps
  • Potato salad (with leftover boiled or roasted potatoes)

"Treats" are usually store-bought because I'm not much of a baker, but if someone makes cookies, she'll see a few in her lunch:
  • TJs tapioca
  • Kozy Shack chocolate pudding
  • Fruit juice jello (homemade from knox gelatin package instructions)
  • Honey for dipping the fruit (usually apple)
  • Frozen applesauce cup or frozen "yogurt squeezer" (which thaw by lunchtime and keep the lunch cooler)
  • Yogurt-covered pretzels
  • Pop chips, TJs Baked "chee-tos" or Multigrain tortilla chips

Also, so far there is no ewww factor and the kids seem to introduce each other to new things (fortunately not Lunchables), although a number if not all the girls in MZ's class swore off grapes for a while this year. A sign of group think to come, I'm afraid...

Please share what your kid loves, I get bored of what I make.

Packing School Lunches

Last week on vacation I realized that for the next six weeks, I not only need to pack MZ's lunch, but also 1-2 snacks per day, depending on who she's with that afternoon. Ugh, she'll need a backpack just for her food! On the upside, none of the camps are dairy kosher, so she can finally have her beloved turkey sandwiches.

When I got home, there was an email from a member of my mom's group asking about packing lunches for K. Many of our local preschools serve lunch, so this thing I've been doing for three years is new for some of my friends. I realized I have quite a system down, and thought it might help others who are facing this challenge for the first time.

I hate packing lunch, because it's monotonous. Our situation is complicated by MZ's school's dietary requirements (no meat, nut free); since we don't eat vegetarian more than 1-2 times per week, I have to make special items for her lunch (none of that arrabiata sauce with pancetta for her, must make marinara). But I do have a livable routine down, starting with planning out the lunch menu on Sunday. It's a loose plan, but it helps me maintain a grocery list and gives me something to refer to on brain dead nights. Each evening, more or less, I talk with MZ at dinner about a firm menu for the next day, and prepare whatever I can (sandwich filling but wait till morning to put it together) while R cleans the dishes. When I wait till morning to decide on and make lunch, I always regret it. I've got lunch-making down to about 10 minutes, but there's no extra minutes in our morning routine.

Lunch consists of a protein, a starch, a veg, a fruit and either a relish (various pickles, olives) or a treat (tapioca pudding, packaged applesauce), and a half-thermos of milk or kefir. I try to shoot for zero waste but I don't have the same schedule flex that I used to, so there are some packaged items like cheese sticks, yogurt squeezers and fruit mashables. I pack bento-style, using the sections in Lock&Lock containers and/or silicone cupcake liners to separate portions, tucking in a few olives or a Babybel cheese to fill gaps. Inspiration here: http://lunchinabox.net/

As far as equipment, I've settled on some pieces that work really well for us:
  • Various sizes of the Lock&Lock plastic containers, which are made of "good" plastic, come in "section-able" configurations, do not leak and are easy to open;
  • Small sturdy plastic containers available at Kamei on Clement;
  • The Thermos brand squat 10 oz container for hot lunches and the tall, slim 12 oz for cold drinks (Foogoo or Funtainer depending on branding, available at Target);
  • The "wrapnmat" for sandwiches;
  • Wax paper bags for items that need to be heated in a microwave, such as quesadillas -- our preschool did this for the kids but I don't know if that will be an option in K.
  • Daiso in Daly City and Ichiban Kan in Japantown for cute sauce and relish containers and fruit vegetable/picks, as well as decorated foil for wrapping up items that don't need microwave heating (maybe quesadillas this year?)
  • Mini reusable "blue ice" cooler packs (available at Target or Daiso) to keep it all cool.

There are a few items I've looked into but haven't purchased:
  • Stainless steel containers at Daiso -- the sizes are somewhat limited but several preschool friends use them
  • I covet this stainless steel set, the Kids Konserve metal lunch kit.
  • Two newer products that are interesting: the Go-Green Lunchbox and the Easy Lunchboxes set
  • Reusable Bags is also a great source for lunch equipment including the Lock&Lock line.
  • Daiso in Daly City and Ichiban Kan in Japantown carry many cool bento boxes. I've avoided them because of the type of plastic, but YMMV.
  • Bernal Parents Group and preschool parents report that the Laptop Lunch kit leaks, so I've avoided it.
For lunch boxes, none are as well made as the Hannah Andersson ones, which go on sale near the start of school, but our entire family uses the built Gourmet Getaway large neoprene tote, because it is light, washable, colorful, insulated and the size is super flexible (the standard lunchbox size does not easily accommodate a thermos of milk and a thermos of hot lunch).

This year I would like to do something that a Bernal parent suggested, she made flash cards of all the lunch options in a given category, and the night before, she would have her kids choose from each category, and she would put the lunch together after they went to bed. As they got older, they would assemble more of the lunch based on what they picked out. I love this idea, but I've never had time to make the flashcards so who knows if I will ever do this. But what a great idea!