I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Granola bars

In the great British tradition, I often have elevenses to tide me over until lunch and tea in the afternoon to keep up my strength. To prevent a direct transfer of pounds from my wallet to my thighs, I try to resist running across the street for cakes, cookies, or chocolate. My answer is to keep an assortment of somewhat healthy snacks.

I love my granola and I love granola bars, but it was a question of how to get my cereal granola into bar form. I noodled around, so to speak, with this recipe for months until I hit on the right combination. As usual, it was much more simple than I had thought: take my basic granola recipe, and increase the honey and other binding agents. The addition of brown sugar and a little butter gives it a toffee like taste without too much guilt. A word of warning: wait until the baked bars cool in the pan before attempting to cut them apart. Otherwise, you'll see just how the granola bar crumbles.

2 C. whole rolled oats
1 1/2 C. nuts and seeds (I use 1/3 C. sunflower seeds, 1/3 C. pumpkin seeds 1/3 C. chopped walnuts, 1/4 C. slivered almonds, 1/4 C. linseeds)
1 C. dried fruit (I use chopped figs, chopped apricots, and cranberry halves. I have also used dried coconut to good effect)
1/4 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. honey
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix oats, nuts and seeds in a 9x9 pan and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, mixing every 5 minutes so it cooks evenly.

Meanwhile, melt brown sugar, honey and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. When melted and combined, turn off heat and add vanilla and salt. Then stir oat mixture in thoroughly, then add dried fruit.

Rinse pan and butter it. Press oat mixture into pan, packing it tightly. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely in pan before cutting into 16 squares.

You can also make an extra few cups of the oat mixture from the granola recipe next time you make it, and stir it into the honey & sugar after baking. This is easy and good, but has a lower proportion of nuts and seeds.

Variations: for a lighter take, replace 1 cup of oats or nuts and seeds with puffed brown rice cereal.
Use dried apples and cranberries and add 1 tsp. of cinnamon to the oats.
Use dried pears and cherries and add 1 tsp. of ground ginger to the oats.
Dried mango and papaya, coconut, cashews and macadamia nuts?

Vegetable Frittata

One of the best things to do with leftovers is to make them into a frittata.  Whether you have some extra pasta, a cooked potato or two, a few mushrooms or cherry tomatoes that aren't quite enough for a salad, the frittata makes them into a complete meal.  The following recipe makes two servings, but with a small omelette pan and only two eggs you could easily make it a single.

3 eggs
1/4 C milk
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1/2 C. sliced mushrooms
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 avocado, diced
1/2 C. cooked pasta
Goat's cheese
salt and pepper

Saute the mushrooms in a small, oven-proof omelette pan in a bit of olive oil until brown, remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix eggs together, then stir in milk, and then add all ingredients except for cheese.  Pour enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan, heat over medium heat, and then add egg mixture.  Give it a turn or two to let the ingredients settle, then turn the heat down and cook it over low until mostly set.  Dot the top with the cheese and finish it under the broiler until the top is golden.

Serves 2.

Provencal sweet potato and chickpea stew

I love Autumn with its crisp weather, falling leaves, and vague frisson of back-to-school excitement even for those of us truly past school days (but once a dork, always a dork).  But what I love most about it is the seasonal foods.  It is true that nothing can beat a sun-fragranced tomato or a mid-summer corn cob, but in consolation for taking away daylight and warmth in the fall, nature kindly gives us butternut squash, kale, brussels sprouts (yes!  If you hate them, you just haven't had them cooked properly), apples, cauliflower, and -- my favorite -- sweet potatoes.  And this week, my vegetable box delivered them.

I had chickpeas in the cupboard so immediately thought of a Moroccan tagine with sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and the warm, heady spices of the region.  But then I found a poor fennel bulb hiding in the fridge and my tastebuds leaped north across the Mediterranean to the south of France.  I wouldn't dare call my dish a Bouillabaisse, but the base is similar.  Full disclosure: the lovely container is one I use frequently to carry my lunch.  Made by Rubbermaid, it doesn't pick up food stains and is fairly leakproof when sealed properly.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, finely sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 C. chicken or vegetable stock
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 1 C.)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 can chickpeas
good pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste.

Saute the onion, carrot, and fennel until soft.  Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened.

Add stock, tomatoes, potatoes, chickpeas, and saffron, bring to the boil, and then simmer until potatoes are soft.  Season well.

Serves 2-3


Though this is Working Lunch, I also have a working breakfast almost every day. The sad fact is that if I ate breakfast at home, I would not only be hungry again by 10:00, necessitating two working lunches, but I leave early enough that I would also have to eat at an hour when I can barely walk straight, let alone chew. Therefore I usually have my breakfast when I get in to work, and it almost always centers around granola. I either have it as cereal or over yogurt, but it's packed full of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and no added fat (just a little honey). I can't stand muesli, the raw version of granola, so I make mine very crunchy. If you like the same, you'll want to live on the edge and bake yours until it's deeply golden but not quite burned. If you want more or larger clumps of oats, add some more honey or try using set honey instead of runny honey.

4 C. whole rolled oats
2 C. nuts and seeds (My proportions are usually 1/3 C. each sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds; 1/3 C. each slivered almonds, chopped cashews, chopped walnuts. I have also used brazil nuts, whole almonds, and pecans to great effect.)
1/3 C. honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 C. dried fruit (I like 1/2 C. each chopped cranberries, chopped apricots, and golden raisins)

Mix oats, nuts and seeds, honey and cinnamon in a large baking tray. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, then turn the mixture over so the bottom layers cook evenly. Bake for another 15 minutes or so, checking and stirring every 5 minutes to make sure it is not burning. When the mixture is as browned as you like, remove from oven and stir in the dried fruit. Leave it to cool in the pan. The mixture will crisp up as it cools.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Mediterranean rice salad

I almost always have some sort of grain lurking in the fridge.  Whether it's leftover rice from dinner, extra couscous, buckwheat, or some pasta spirals that couldn't quite fit onto our plates, these can form the basis of a filling salad.  I love using the nuttier grains like brown rice, which absorbs the flavors around it as it sits in the fridge.  Brown rice also holds its texture well, and fills you up without causing an energy spike.  The post-lunch snooze is all too inevitable without inviting it on.

1/2 C. cooked brown rice
1 tomato, chopped
1 T. small capers, rinsed
1/4 C. Kalmata olives, halved 
1/2 C. cannellini beans
1/2 - 1 C. chopped fresh spinach
1 T. olive oil
1 Tsp. sherry vinegar, or to taste
salt and pepper

Mix oil and vinegar, then stir through remaining ingredients.

Serves 1.

Southeast Asian cole slaw

This slaw is great for using up cabbage or other crunchy vegetables.  The dressing is incredibly flavorful and the whole thing improves by refrigerating overnight.  This also slightly "cooks" the cabbage, making it less bitter.  The dressing makes enough for two servings, but is easy to scale up or down.  The amount of vegetables can vary by how much you would like to make.  I like to add the beans for some protein, and the purple adzuki beans look so pretty with the rest of the ingredients.

1 C. Shredded red cabbage
1 C. Shredded white or green cabbage
1/2 C. Julienneed carrots
1 C. Adzuki beans

1 garlic clove, minced
½ inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 T. smooth peanut butter
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 T. neutral tasting oil
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. rice wine vinegar (or more to taste)
1 Tsp. fish sauce (optional)

Combine dressing ingredients.  If too thick, add more soy sauce or vinegar (or even a splash of water) according to taste.  Mix with vegetables.  Let stand at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Serves 2

Grilled mushroom, broccoli and spelt salad

I can't take all the credit for this yummy salad. The original recipe, on which this is based, is from the side of a box of spelt from Trader Joe's, and was so good that my mother had to send the box to me in London. And yes, the original is mighty tasty, but I can't leave a recipe alone so this is my slightly simplified, but still amazing, version of the dish.

Note: the original calls for portobello mushrooms. One of the great marketing coups of our time, portobello mushrooms are nothing but giant -- and far more expensive -- versions of brown button or (crimini) mushroom. The portobello is the little mushroom's fully grown older brother who lives at home and siphons money off his parents. Ahem. If there is a culinary reason to use a portobello, like stuffing or grilling, or using it in a portobello "burger", then by all means buy them instead. If, however, the recipe calls for them to be cut up at all, then there is no reason not to use the smaller and less expensive button.

1 C. spelt
3 C. chicken or vegetable stock
5 T. olive oil
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 fat spring onions (or 4 skinny), thinly sliced
1/4 C. dried cherries, chopped
1/2 C. toasted cashews, chopped
2 C. sliced brown mushrooms
2 C. broccoli, chopped into small florets
1/2 C. fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Place the spelt and stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then lower temperature and let simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until spelt is soft but still chewy and liquid is absorbed. Stir towards the end to prevent the spelt from sticking or burning.

Meanwhile, mix oil, balsamic, garlic, spring onions, cherries, and cashews. Saute the mushrooms until they begin to turn golden and then add to the dressing. Cook the broccoli in the same pan just to soften a bit, if desired.

Add spelt to dressing and vegetables, add parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4

Monday, 13 October 2008

Buckwheat Greek Salad

I have become obsessed with buckwheat.  Is is a perfect grain -- nutty, toothsome, and cooking in under 10 minutes.  It is unrelated to wheat and therefore tolerated by those with wheat sensitivities.  With a low GI index, it is a great way to bulk out salads.  Plus, you can use it for stuffing pillows (uncooked, that is).  AND, an individual buckwheat is called a groat.  It doesn't get better!

Buckwheat Greek Salad
1/2 C. cooked buckwheat
1 large tomato, chopped
Equal amount of cucumber, chopped
1/3 C. cannellini beans
crumbled Feta, to taste
Fresh parsley
salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil
Squeeze of lemon, to taste

Whisk together olive oil and lemon, adjusting quantities to taste.  Combine all remaining ingredients, and stir dressing through.

Serves 1

Butternut squash and black eyed pea chili

Soup can be a tricky dish to take to work.  Primarily, the fear of a spill is generally enough to make anyone avoid carrying it.  Plus, liquids are heavy.  However, a delicious, warming, homemade bowl of soup in the middle of an otherwise dreary working day puts those fears to rest.  (That and a really good, leak-proof piece of tupperware.)  I like to cook soup for dinner and take the leftover portion to work the next day.  Sometimes it's the only good thing about going to work.

Autumn has come and with it butternut squash and seasonal greens.  I roasted some squash on the weekend, and the remaining half languished in the fridge for a few days.  In the mood for something warming and subtly spicy, I imagined a lighter take on chili, something that celebrated the individual tastes of the ingredients.  Some leeks, kale, and a can of black eyed peas completed my vision.  (And mighty tasty too.)

1 leek, sliced into thin rounds
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. red chili powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 can chopped tomatoes, including juice
3 cups vegetable stock
1 can black eyed peas (or 1 cup frozen)
1/2 large butternut squash, roasted and cut into 1 inch cubes
several handfuls of kale, chopped

In a soup pot, saute leeks until soft, then add garlic and cook for another minute.   Add spices and cook until warmed through and fragrant.

Add tomatoes and vegetable stock.  Add peas, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add squash and kale, cook until squash is heated through and the kale is soft.

Serves 2 for dinner, plus 1 for lunch.
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