Compulsion to Mix It Up = Lunch

This morning I mixed leftover quinoa, leftover cheese sauce from Instant Mac n’ Cheese Without the Box and some frozen peas for my son’s lunch.  He said, “Yay!”

I love it when he says that.

Where would I be without leftovers?  I can answer that.  I’d be standing in line at the hospital cafeteria waiting to pay too much for food that is not very good or very healthy.  So I bring leftovers to work.  Now I know some of you are thinking, “What leftovers?  My family eats almost all of whatever I cook!  There are no leftovers!”  Clearly you are not plagued by an inadequacy complex that compels you to prepare enough food for the hordes that might drop in without warning.  And I’m glad if you are not saddled with that particular compulsion.  This leaves you able to use your own free will and choose to make more food.  More food = more leftovers.

Now, I am not relegating you to eating dry meatloaf every night for 3 days because you made extra.  Honest!  Make extra of the components of a meal and you can mix and match to create new and exciting (for lunch) meals jiffy quick.

I always make too much of the following:
brown rice
quinoa
sauteed vegetables
cous cous
sauteed greens
noodles or pasta
sauces or dressings
roasted vegetables
meat (when we have it – getting rare lately!)
and even nut butter sandwiches

Like having wonderful things in your fridge with which to make Grand-wiches and Expand-wiches, having all of these leftovers around provides you with the building blocks you need to make meals that do not ‘feel’ like eating boring old leftovers.  (They also provide you with the luxury of some dinners that have half the work done already.)

Whenever you saute vegetables; whenever you BUY vegetables, especially when they are on sale, don’t think about one meal.  Think about several meals.

Take the following sautes all prepared in the oil of your choice:

Zucchini, eggplant and spinach with garlic, onion and Italian spices en masse.
Allocate some for making pasta sauce by adding diced or crushed tomatoes,
Allocate some to the freezer for another night’s pasta sauce and,
Allocate some to the refrigerator all by it’s lonesome to add to rice, quinoa, pita bread or over salad for lunch.

Peppers (any color or all colors), green beans and onions with salt and pepper.
Allocate some to serve with tempeh or meat that night,
Allocate some to the frig for making an omelette and,
Allocate some to the refrigerator for the same punitive treatment received by the poor zucchini… leftovers for lunchtime (when mixed with grain, wrap, pita or salad).

Leeks, cabbage, salt, pepper and marjoram (go light on the marjoram – a little goes a long way).
Allocate some to serve as a side dish for dinner,
Put some in the freezer to use in a casserole or bean dish, and
Of course, relegate some to the lunchtime penal colony on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

Peppers, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and onions with cumin and chili pepper.
Allocate some as the basis for your chili – be it with veggies, meat or a soy product
Freeze some for chili or enchiladas another night and,
Place some in the lunchtime section awaiting mixage with frozen corn or rice or tortilla chips.

Spring onions, broccoli, snap peas, sliced carrots, and peanuts with garlic, soy sauce (or Bragg’s) and white pepper.
Some for the stir-fry,
some for leftover stir-fry – make a bunch and as you clean up, plop some straight into lunch sized containers, and if there’s any more left,
Squeeze it onto that luscious layer of lunch fixin’ containers on the bottom shelf.

The list goes on and on for mixes and of course you can change, substitute, and mangle these ideas to your heart’s content!  One of my son’s favorite lunches is leftover peas, leftover noodles and leftover chicken cut into pieces.  It really does not take any longer to prepare than a sandwich and there’s something green in it : )

So whether I am making Grand-wiches and Expand-wiches, or a Bountiful Bowl  from the Bottom Shelf(I know – this is getting out of hand…) I have a variety of items in my fridge that can be cross bred into brand new dishes which will nourish me and my family for a reasonable price.

There were some gorgeous beets at the store today so I sauteed up the beets with garlic and lemon juice, along with some carrots.  Towards the end I added some chopped apple and the beet greens.  My son loved it.  Served it with rice and hemp seed and some raw red pepper.   The leftovers will be delicious mixed in with some salad and or whatever grain is hanging out in the luscious layer!

The Asparagus Is Here!!!

A little break from Sugar Busting this morning because THE ASPARAGUS IS HERE!!

I realize many of you have probably been able to buy asparagus in the store for a few weeks now, and may well have moved from your initial joy, through some sort of asparagus binge, and are now less willing to pay for the delectability, but before you get too complacent, just remember, it won’t be here for long.  My asparagus high is particularly profound because this year, the third year since planting, I get to eat some asparagus from my own patch.  Wow. The spatial limitations of my asparagus patch have, however, forced me to reconsider my favorite ways to eat asparagus; when you only have three stalks at a time to work with, the traditional side dish approaches don’t make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, when you have three stalks of fresh from your garden asparagus, you darned well better find a way to use them because they will never taste quite as awesome as they do right at that moment.

Not an asparagus fan?  This might be one you should reconsider.  From a nutritional standpoint, asparagus has a lot to offer including potassium, fiber, folacin, thiamine, B6, and a compound called rutin.  These nutrients make asparagus a great food for helping to prevent birth defects and maintain healthy blood and liver function.  So I say don’t like asparagus?  Try it another way.

We’ve been using our mini harvests a variety of ways, all of which involve chopping the asparagus stalks into smaller pieces so that they become part of another dish rather than the superstar that they can be in quantity.  This is also a great way to five asparagus a second chance and to make the little bundle you bought go farther.  We’ve used these little nubs in their delightfully tender and raw state a variety of ways including the most obvious choice, sprinkling them on a salad.  We’ve also added them to our favorite tofu and rice dish.  If you are an egg eater, I think a sprinkle of these babies over gently poached or perfect over-easy egg would be stunning.  Our favorite use for our asparagus was adding it to one of our old standby dishes, orzo with spinach and lemon.  The asparagus added a little crunch  to the texture and springiness to the flavor.  It interacted beautifully with the lemon and olive oil.  Just fantastic.  So I thought I’d share it with you.

LEMON ORZO WITH SPINACH AND ASPARAGUS

  • 1 lb. whole wheat orzo
  • About 5 very large and packed handfuls of raw spinach (adjust to taste)
  • Juice from 1.5 small lemons
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2T oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped raw asparagus bits (we used three stalks, but more would have been nicer)
  • Grated parmesan, if desired

Cook orzo according to package directions – with the caveat that I usually shave a minute or so off of their recommended time.  Taste it early, see what you think.  You do NOT want a big bowl of mush.  While orzo is cooking, chop the spinach into bite sized pieces.  Place spinach, lemon juice, and olive oil in large bowl.  When orzo is done, drain in sieve or other colander with SMALL holes (sorry if that’s obvious, but I’ve done such things).  Add hot orzo to bowl with spinach, etc. and stir, distributing the spinach and seasonings throughout the orzo.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle asparagus over individual servings.  Garnish with parmesan if desired.  I went without and didn’t miss it.  This recipe made plenty for our family of four (with only one reluctant participator – our picky girl, who wasn’t even swayed by the promise of stinky pee later) and also served as a leftover dinner for a very hungry adult a couple of nights later.

A Note on Preparing Asparagus:  Store-bought asparagus can be tough at the base of the stalk.  Test your asparagus by bending one stalk to see how low you can break it easily.  Use this stalk as a guide for chopping the bottoms off the rest.  If the stalks are particularly thick or seem slightly tough generally, you can also use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin, revealing the yummy tender inside.

So there’s my spring asparagus fling.  I’m headed out to check the patch this morning and pick up a few strays, and looking forward to Easter dinner, when I know there will be a big honkin’ pile of it (Thanks, Mom).  What spring vegetable makes your mouth happy?

Sneaking in the Greens

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Most people don’t consider me very sneaky, but when it comes to getting vegetables into my kid… I’ll do just about anything.  I have found that the good ol’ American grilled cheese sandwich is rife with opportunity for treachery (mwoo hoo hahaha)!  Read on, if you dare….

One can spread a layer of a number of both pureed or simply sauteed vegetables into a grilled cheese sandwich.  My first foray into the covert vegetable operation was to spread a layer of pureed broccoli on the bread before placing the layer of cheese.  I began pureeing broccoli (along with lots of other things) to make baby food.
1) Puree in the blender or VitaMix with enough water to let the blades turn
2) Scoop out and place in ice cube trays
3) Cover trays with wax paper to aid stacking and avoid frost
4) Pop out and store in container in freezer when solid
Then you can defrost as much as you need per the size of your bread and the breadth of your child’s tolerance or gullibility.  So broccoli, cauliflower or spinach seemed to work best in our house for the kids.  As my now 11 year old aged and realized that it was indeed possible to have a grilled cheese sandwich WITHOUT anything green in it, we had to negotiate a bit…. “Do you want your broccoli in the sandwich or on the side?” worked very well for a while.  And of course my husband and I ate and enjoyed the broccoli/cheese sandwiches as well.

However, there is something better than broccoli for the grown-ups and thus the lovely picture above… mustard greens sauteed in a little oil and garlic make a stupendous extra layer in a grilled cheese sandwich.  Stir some up for dinner and make a little extra.  Doesn’t take long – just a clove of garlic and a little olive oil in a pan, tear the leaves smaller and cook until they are quite wilted.  Stick the leftovers in the frig.  You don’t have to heat the greens up – they’ll heat as the cheese melts around and into the nooks and crannies.  Delicious!  You can also use swiss chard or collards or kale.  And of course, for the grown-ups you can vary the cheese as well.

You do get some funny looks when your child asks their friend who is staying for lunch, “Do you want your grilled cheese with or without broccoli?” but no funny look equals the pleasure of sneaking vegetables onto the plate and into the mouth!
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In this case the words are ‘sandwiched’ between the greens.  Yuk yuk yuk…. just what a lot of kids say when it comes to vegetables.