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.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Spring super salad

Following on from my rhapsody about salad dressing, I now have a beautiful beaker full of golden olive oil, velvety balsamic vinegar, nubbly whole-grain mustard, and a sprig of rosemary floating jauntily therein (ok, looking slightly bedraggled and drowned, but keeping up its spirits nonetheless).  I need to find a salad to test it out.

Some people speak of salads with a denigrating tone, talking about rabbit food, or using it to describe someone who is constantly dieting and doesn't enjoy food.  Au contraire, I say.  A salad can be light -- a few peppery leaves of arugula, some sliced roasted beets, and a shaving or two of aged pecorino -- or a full-on meal.  I'm sure you know where I'm going with this.

For me, a salad is the perfect excuse to throw everything I have into the bowl.  It's the contrast in textures and flavors that make for an interesting, not to mention filling, lunch or dinner.  If I have a salad for lunch, it needs to take me through the 4:00pm cake-hunger, gym after work, and home with enough fuel so I don't chew my arm off on the train.  This means lots of vegetables, chicken, beans or tuna (or more than one!), some nuts or seeds perhaps, and maybe some home-made bread crumbs or a new potato if the vegetable box brings them.  As usual, the French did it right.  I take my inspiration from the perfect salade nicoise.  Bon appetit!

Spring super salad:

2 tomatoes, sliced
1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
A few small potatoes, boiled and cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 can canellini beans
1 small can oil-packed tuna
Handful (1/4 cup?) pumpkin seeds (toasted if you're feeling ambitious)
A small head of tender lettuce, or some large leaves of a bigger, more robust head
Balsamic vinegar dressing, or other of your choice

If you need to make salad dressing, mix enough for two portions in the bottom of a large bowl (say, 2 tsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp. vinegar, 1/2 tsp. mustard).  

Into the bowl, add tomato, carrot, bell pepper, potatoes and beans and mix in the salad dressing (adding pre-made if using that).  Stir through the chunks of tuna, then mix in the lettuce leaves.  Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the top.

Serves 2.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Favorite salad dressing

With spring come the first tender greens and weather warm enough that we want to eat something cool for lunch or dinner.  Yes, these are our salad days.  Bowls of color, crisp and vital, bursting with life and the promise of new things to come.  As much as I want to dive in, first -- in the words of Julie Andrews as Maria -- we must start at the very beginning: salad dressing.

I know that many people might think of dressing as something that goes on last, as an afterthought, or something to gild the lily.  How very, very wrong they are.  Dressing, as everyone knows, is the fundamental tie that binds the salad together.  One can wear a nice suit, but it's the shoes and jewelry that make the outfit.

A few years ago I had to participate in one of those silly introduction games like we used to play at summer camp, only this was about 15 years too late to be fun.  There was a slightly unusual twist that probably would not have gone down well with the pre-teen set: this game was "If I were a piece of furniture, I would be a ___".  We went around the room, most people saying mundane things like "I would be a bed because I like to sleep" (I can't remember mine -- I must have even bored myself).  However, one person said, "If I were a piece of furniture, I would be a wardrobe."  I knew exactly what he meant.

On these lines, the true salad connoisseur knows that however important the separate ingredients, they are nothing without the dressing.  

Favorite salad dressing:

1 C. olive oil
1/4 C. balsamic vinegar
1 T. whole grain mustard
1 clove garlic, bruised
Fresh herbs if desired (either a sprig of rosemary to marinate in the dressing, or chopped parsley, basil or tarragon to throw in at the last minute)

Exact quantity of vinegar should be adjusted depending on how strong it is.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Black bean soup

Living in London, there are many things I miss about home. These include (but are not limited to) driving on the right, having a single tap for hot and cold water, not getting into awkward conversations about different definitions of the word "pants"... There are many gripes I could list (and, occasionally, do), but I generally manage to resist the urge, remembering that I live in a city that's an hour on the plane from most of Europe, has free entry to museums that hold much of the greatest art ever created, and is the birth-place of many culinary delights such as fish & chips and spotted dick. However, the one thing I have never gotten over is the severe lack of Mexican food. We have fantastic Indian food, a great selection of all the varieties of Chinese, wonderful Argentinian, Bolivian, and Colombian restaurants, but no, and I mean NO, burritos. I have seriously considered buying some super carnitas burritos when visiting home in CA, deep-freezing them, and bringing them wrapped in ice on the plane. Unfortunately, I have a suspicion that this may go contrary to most customs regulations.

We did have one stroke of luck when Wahaca opened in the last year or so. It is a great restaurant serving very tasty and mostly authentic Mexican food. I have to say that the burritos are just not the same -- they don't come wrapped in foil, which automatically disqualifies them in my book -- but they do some mean quesadillas and an amazing pork pibil. My favorite dish, however, is the humble bowl of black beans topped with queso fresco.
I was inspired to recreate this one weekend. Despite my predilection for canned beans, I have been experimenting with cooking my own from dried. I therefore ended up with a large container of black beans last week. Wanting a quick meal, I gussied them up with some onions, garlic, cumin and chipotle. I added some tomatoes for flavor and some early spring greens for color. It wasn't Mexico, but it took me a little farther south than the English Channel.

Black bean soup
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 Tsp. cumin
A pinch of dried chipotle flakes
2 C. black beans
1 can tomatoes
1-2 C. vegetable broth
Sweat the onion and garlic until soft. Add cumin and chipotle flakes and stir around to release their aromas. Add the can of tomatoes, black beans and vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
Remove half of the soup and blend the remainder until smooth, either in a blender (having cooled off) or with an immersion blender. Return the chunky half to the pot, reheat if necessary.
Garnish with queso fresco (or, in my case, Wensleydale) and cilantro. Que rico!

Serves 2.
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