What’s not to love about spinach tortellini? It takes three minutes to cook and it’s an easy way to get kids to eat their spinach. Today’s main lunch item is a little spinach tortellini left over from last night’s dinner. If I cook two packages of Trader Joe’s tortellini, I always have just enough left over for two kid portions. For lunch, I tossed it with olive oil and some peas and parmesan. On the side, we have carrots, pretzels, grapes, and some of that weird fruit leather stuff. I got these Archer Farms fruit strips at Target when I was shopping with my daughter who likes to grab things like this off the shelf. They allegedly have some nutritional value, but like many of these “fruit” products, they are not nearly as good as nature’s perfectly packaged kid food: the apple. But, hey, it’s a Friday, and: we’re out of apples.
On Saturday, I got a whole load of really ripe avocados at the farmers market. We’ve been working our way through them since the weekend. Do you know that if you refrigerate an avocado it stops the ripening process and they will stay guacamole-ready for several days? So, if you have a squishy avocado that you don’t plan to use right away, just stick it in the fridge. What does this have to do with today’s lunch? Last night was Make Your Own Taco Night, because I needed a vehicle for all that delicious guacamole. I made one of my famous tofu taco filling concoctions, heated up some canned refried beans, and mashed some avocado with onion and cilantro: super easy weeknight meal. With the leftovers, I made a little burrito that I heated in the oven to crisp up the tortilla. Each kiddo got half a burrito with some peas and corn. For fruit today: lovely grapes from the farmers market.
I have always loved ham and pineapple pizza: sweet salty tropical perfection. I can’t believe it, but this may be the first ham and pineapple whole wheat english muffin pizza that I’ve made for the kids’ lunches. I had no shredded mozzarella, so instead I used sliced provolone, which melts beautifully. I threw in some sliced carrots, roasted pumpkin seeds, sliced persimmons and grapes. The persimmons are from a neighbor’s tree. Our neighborhood is truly rich in fruit trees: orange, lemon, satsuma, plum, fig, persimmon, etc. As a non-native Californian, I never take fruit trees or strawberries in winter for granted. The treat today is a lovely little pile of chocolate rocks.
It is hard to believe, but we are getting down to the last of the turkey. We cooked this year’s turkey on the grill and it turned out AMAZING. Since I have various fancy odds and ends still languishing in the fridge, I made cranberry goat cheese stuffed figs to go with the shredded turkey. The figs are from a neighbor’s tree at the end of our block that is currently bursting with fig goodness. Since this lunch is somewhat decadent, I also included ranch dressing with the crudite, also known as carrots, cucumbers and grape tomatoes. Bunny grahams are the treat today.
A now, because I know you’re curious about my AMAZING grilled turkey, I will share the whole elaborate process:
*Cooking Tip: Best Ever Smoky Grilled Turkey
- If your turkey is frozen and you plan to cook on Thanksgiving day, put it in the fridge to defrost on Saturday.
- 48–24 hours before cooking, dry brine (thank you, Mark Bittman, you’re a genius) the turkey. You will need approximately 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for ever 4 pounds. Remove the giblets and neck (use these later for stock and gravy). Pat the turkey dry and rub that raw bird all over—outside, under the skin, in the cavity—with the salt. Put the turkey in a roasting pan breast side up, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.
- Halfway through brining, if you think of it, flip the turkey over.
- On cooking day, take the turkey out of the fridge one hour before you plan to cook it. Mash up a softened stick of unsalted butter with some chopped fresh herbs (the usual suspects: thyme, rosemary, sage, etc), smoked paprika and black pepper. Pat the turkey dry again, because dry skin = crispy skin. Slather the butter all over the turkey, inside and out, and try to get all much as possible under the skin. It will be lumpy, but just flatten out the lumps as well as you can. I highly recommend using latex gloves for this; your fingernails will thank you. Cover the tips of the wings and ends of the legs with aluminum foil.
- Make 3–4 smoker packs. Soak several handfuls of wood chips (we used mesquite) in water for 20 minutes. Put the damp wood chips and some fresh herbs into an aluminum foil packet that is open enough to let some smoke escape.
- Preheat your grill to 400 degrees. You need a pretty big grill with three heating elements. You want the turkey to be cooked with indirect heat, so you will turn off the heat source directly below the turkey and keep the heat coming from the grates to the left and right of the turkey. Place one smoker pack on the grill while it preheats. If the heat source of your grill is exposed, place an aluminum drip pan underneath the grates to prevent flare ups.
- When the grill is up to temperature, place the turkey on a grill roast rack like this. Lower the temperature to 350 and try to maintain this temperature for the duration of cooking. Our 12.8 pound bird took 3 hours. Each hour, replace the smoke pack with a fresh one. If the skin starts to brown too quickly (this didn’t happen to us), cover the top with foil.
- Cook the turkey until the thickest part of the breast reaches an internal temperature of 165ish. If you are nervous about constantly checking the temperature, get one of those handy thermometers with a cord that can stay in the meat the entire time. It will provide you with a sense of calm and security on Thanksgiving Day. Trust me, it’s worth the 20 bucks.
- When the turkey is done, remove it from the grill (a little tricky: silicone gloves and a wide metal spatula will help). Tent it with foil and let it rest for an hour while you go about mashing potatoes, making gravy, pouring wine, etc.
- Behold the glory of your smoky grilled bird. The dark meat will practically fall off the bone. The breast meat will, *gasp*, actually be juicy. I think I shall never cook a bird in the oven again.
After a frenzy of Thanksgiving cooking and eating, it’s somewhat nice to be back into the regular school routine. For Thanksgiving dinner I made 24 little pumpkin rolls and Iain went crazy eating them. So crazy, in fact, that I made another batch on Sunday. My mother was famous for her holiday potato buns, which were darn fine. I never had too much luck making my own version of mom’s potato buns; the dough was rather wet and finicky in my less experienced hands. Several years ago, I discovered these pumpkin rolls in a Sunset magazine and fell in love with them. They get a lovely yellow color from the addition of canned pumpkin puree,and the dough is very forgiving. In today’s lunch, I made pumpkin roll sandwiches with sunflower seed butter and blackberry jam, per Iain’s request. I also included a few slices of extra sharp cheddar. Fruits and veggies today are: carrots, cucumbers, raspberries (still available at the farmer’s market!), watermelon, cantaloupe, and grapes.
Last night I got the brilliant idea to make lunch while I was making dinner (heating up leftover chili and waiting for rice to cook in the rice cooker—not too labor-intensive). I spread some chili on a couple of whole wheat tortillas, sprinkled on some shredded cheese, and heated them in my trusty cast iron pan. Voila: chilidillas! Pretty soon the kids starting sniffing around in the kitchen: “Mommy, what smells so good?” Before I knew it, all of the freshly made chilidillas had been consumed. Maybe it’s not a good idea to make the lunches before dinner when the kiddos are starving. Luckily the pan was still hot because, well, cast iron pans stay hot forever, so I quickly made another batch. With the chilidillas, I threw in some bunny grahams, pretzel fish, and sliced persimmon. This is the last school lunch of the week—whee!
On Sunday, I started my annual Thanksgiving cooking extravaganza. By the end of the day, I had a lovely batch of cranberry chutney and 34 veggie cakes for Lily’s Thanksgiving feast at preschool, but very little energy left for lunch making. I had a few pieces of ham in the fridge that needed to be used up, so I made ham, havarti and cucumber sandwiches. For fruits and veggies: more cucumbers, carrots, persimmons and grapes. The kids and I only have two days of school this week, which should enable me to prep pies, turkey stock, stuffing, and some of the vegetable sides on Wednesday. Let the Thanksgiving games begin!
In keeping with the end-of-the-week-easy-lunch theme, today’s main lunch item is banana carob chia pudding. Have you tried carob powder? It’s fantastic stuff: like cocoa powder, but naturally sweeter. Until I started experimenting with vegan baked goods and desserts, I had always associated carob with wacky, hippy, fake “chocolate” snacks. That was until I went to the hippy co-op, bought some carob powder and used it in a date-sweetened banana peanut butter smoothie. Yummers. Now I use carob powder all the time: in smoothies, granola bars, and puddings. Since chia pudding is pretty light, I added a scoop of hemp protein powder (I know, a totally hippy ingredient) to the mix. On the side: Annie’s Organic Processed Junk Food (Bunny Grahams) and pretzel Goldfish. I love how processed snack foods have jumped on the “organic,” “all-natural” bandwagon. “No icky additives or pesky preservatives!” I’m not fooled. I just try to balance out the processed stuff with real food. Like grapes, dried apricots and prunes.
Un-cooking Tip: Banana Carob Chia Pudding
- 2 cups almond milk
- 2 bananas (the riper the better)
- 1/4 cup carob powder
- 1 tablespoon protein powder (optional)
- 4 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1 tablespoon honey, or sweetener of your choice
Combine all ingredients, except chia seeds, in a blender. Stir in the chia seeds, cover and refrigerate overnight. Don’t try to rush the soaking time. Initially, the pudding will look too thin and watery, but, have faith. The chia seeds will plump up overnight and the pudding will be nice and thick in the morning.
Greek yogurt for lunch is the best: the cat’s meow, the bees knees, the easiest lunch around. Open plain greek yogurt, put it in a small container, stir in some good jam—blackberry in this case—and lunch is almost done. I happened to have a few extra slightly deformed cheesy biscuits left over from dinner last night, so I threw one in each kiddo’s lunch. Fruit today is a combo of fresh and dried: fresh persimmons and plums, and dried apricots and prunes. Iain does not like dried apricots, but I keep attempting to give them to him (he’s loves fresh apricots). These particular apricots are amazingly good dried Blenheim’s from the farmers market and they are sweet tart concentrated apricot goodness. The French prunes aren’t too shabby either.
Lunch today is pretty straightforward: no fancy leftovers or melty cheese concoctions. The sandwich is ham, havarti, and dill pickles on whole wheat bread. I always buy the long sliced “slickle” style dill pickles, because they are super convenient for making sandwiches. For fruit and veggies today: carrots, grapes and persimmons. I also couldn’t handle having a little empty space next to the sandwich piece, so I threw in some roasted pumpkin seeds. I know, fear of negative space is silly, however, in a lunch box, I like everything to look pretty and full.
It always seems to throw the entire school week off when Monday is holiday. I’ll be thinking tomorrow is Tuesday and will inevitably forget that it’s library day for Iain. Ah well, we’ll get there. For lunch today, I decided to start the week off with classic comfort food: a whole wheat english muffin pizza (marinara sauce and mozzarella). I love pretty much any melted cheese thing on an english muffin. For a savory cereal trail mix, I combined Crispix, pretzel fish, roasted pumpkin seeds and freeze dried edamame. This would be really good actually spiced and cooked up like “The Holiday Chex Mix,” one of my guilty pleasures. I bought the freeze dried edamame at Target; they’re a little crunchy and bizarre, but strangely addictive. They’re also way overpriced, as all freeze dried items tend to be. For fruit today: farmers market grapes and pomegranate seeds.
Today’s lunch is not quite as plant powered as yesterday’s, because, in a moment of weakness, I made bacon and cheese biscuits to go with last night’s vegetable stew. So, what you see in the image above is two adorable little bacon cheese biscuits. For a little extra protein, I threw in some sliced fresh mozzarella and extra sharp cheddar (there’s also a date in the cheese compartment). We’re still working our way through last weekend’s persimmons and apples from the farmers market. It’s officially crunchy fruit season. And, yes, our tomato plants are still producing. The treat today is a couple of Junior Mints; we’re also still working our way through the Halloween candy. Monday is a school holiday for the kids and I, so I’ll have a lunch making day off. Thank you Mom for giving birth to me on Veteran’s Day, so I get my own birthday holiday. And much more importantly, a heartfelt thank you to all veterans and especially Dad and Dad-in-law, who served their country in Vietnam. We are so, so grateful for you.