Sunday, May 23, 2010

'you won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth and you're gonna eat that?': the brown bag lunch

I'm in love with the idea of bringing lunch from home to work or school or whatever; this is because I hardly ever do it. I think about it lots - I fantasise about what would be wonderful to eat outside under old trees shedding orange/red/golden leaves in the warm Autumn afternoon sun on my lunch break. But I'm hardly ever organised enough to make this dream come true and am invariably left complaining about the fact that there is nothing you can buy worth eating. Every. Day.

This has to stop. So I got to think more seriously about bringing lunch from home, or brown bagging-it, as it's also known. Remember that great scene in John Hughes 1985 film The Breakfast Club where it's lunch time and everyone takes out a lunch that totally cements their character stereotypes? I love that scene. Claire, the princess, pulls out a proper sushi lunch set-up which she proceeds to eat with chopsticks (remember, this was the 1980s). The jock whips out giant bags of sandwiches, coke, chips, milk, fruit and chocolate chip cookies. Bad boy John has no lunch, and 'neo maxi zoom dweebie' Brian's 'standard, regular lunch' consists of soup, apple juice and PB&J with the crusts cut off. And Allison, the basket-case pictured above, in a lunch performance, slurps coke and concocts a sandwich to end all sandwiches. To the horror of her Saturday detention buddies, it begins with (literally) throwing away the baloney that sat between two slices of white bread and replacing this with carefully distributed sherbet from straws and a huge handful of what I guess (as an unenlightened Australian) is Cap'n Crunch cereal.

There is no quiz below to help you work out your neatly-defined lunch personality. Just as the characters in The Breakfast Club come to see their stereotypes as permeable, constructed things that they can all claim membership to, I can see bits of myself in all of these lunches. Sometimes I bring no lunch to work and this leaves me feeling really ace and tough - but unsatisfied. For a princessey treat sometimes I actually do pick up sushi on the way in. Once, in pre-coffee morning haste I packed cool ranch doritos and olives. But maybe nothing is quite as good as a properly packed, yummy but healthy lunch like Brian's. It's a shame he gets teased for it, but we'll let Bender off, because he has problems at home and he's a spunk.

The only thing with brown bag lunches, is that I seem to run out of ideas in double-quick time. So I've decided to start a mini-series of brown bag lunch posts here called 'you won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth and you're gonna eat that?'. And I've John Hughes to thank for such eternally useful one-liners. I kicked off my new resolution to brown bag it more often the other day with this salad. It's healthy, pretty filling, it travels well and you can make it the night before - and with fruit and PB & choc chip cookie treats, it made a super lunch. I've included the recipe below.

But, do you take your lunch to work? What are your favorites? And, what do you pack it in? I'd really like to know. I need ideas, desperately. Even more than that, I'd like to stereotype you (endearingly) by what you pack. Indulge me?

Potato, tuna and egg salad
Adapted from Woman's Weekly wonder diet book (yes, really. Good lunch recipes to be found here.) The photograph shows the salad before I mixed the dressing through - much prettier, but salad is tastier once this has happened
Serves 1

3 smallish new potatoes
50g green beans, topped and halved crossways
95g tinned tuna, drained (one mini-can)
1 spring/green onion, finely sliced
a spring or two of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 heaped tbls Greek yogurt
a little finely grated lemon rind
1 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 hard-boiled egg, quartered

1. Boil or steam potatoes and beans separately, until potatoes are tender and beans are cooked but still a little crunchy. Drain and cool.

2. While cooling, make dressing. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, rind and salt and mix well.

3. Quarter potatoes, add beans, onion, tuna and parsley. Add dressing and stir to combine, or drizzle atop. Serve topped with egg.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

three kinds of good, all kinds of wrong: chocolate chip peanut butter cookies

This week I've made two unremarkable things with rhubarb. And this has made me really sad. The first - a hazelnut and rhubarb crumb cake - I was sure would be the most awesome thing that has landed on this planet in a while, but the recipe did something strange with egg whites and instead of following my instincts, I followed the recipe. FAIL. My friend Amy and I still ate some on a Monday night with big cups of tea and listed its merits, but it was too dense, too wet and just not quite right.

To remedy this, I threw together an apple and rhubarb crumble for supper with my friend Sian. It came out of the oven all golden and bubbly, the rhubarb's magic juices creeping up through the crumbs around the side. But come dessert time, we tucked in and I realised I hadn't put quite enough sugar in to balance the fruit. FAIL. Like the crumb cake, it had its merits and Sian and I still ate a bit.

I realised the next day that really, I just have polite friends. Rhubarb: why are you doing this to me?

I made these as a remedy. There's at least three good (as in sensible, healthy etc) things about these cookies: they're gluten free, they're dairy free and they contain a good hit of that magic paste known in these here parts as PB. All sounds good right? But listen. These cookies are made from peanut butter, chocolate, sugar and not much more. And they're completely, utterly addictive. There going to have me in fine form for the truffle shuffle in no time. If you're worried about this, a good idea might be to stick all those dollars you save from baking your own homemade cookies into a little tin beside the telephone. Stick a piece of masking tape on the tin, and in a thick black marker, print 'PERSONAL TRAINER FUND'. And accept my apologies. These cookies are all kinds of wrong.

As you might imagine, without flour they're very, very short, but they have a surprising crispness and a perfect resistance when you bite in. After you take a bite, the really fine crumb melts on your tongue and lets the deep brown sugar and roasted nut flavour explode in your mouth, until you hit a chocolate chip and then it's all over. Totally evil. Also, they're the easiest things in the world and they don't have rhubarb. Rhubarb, hear this: I'll get you my pretty. You and your little dog!

Chocolate chip peanut butter cookies

Note: I've included the original recipe with regular peanut butter here, but wanted to note that actually I used a natural, organic and salt free peanut butter because it is what I had on hand. To compensate, I added a good pinch of kosher salt to the mixture. But whoa Nelly - that organic peanut butter and it's supremely golden roasted goodness really took these over the edge in terms of flavour. Just an idea...

1 cup (or 260g) crunchy peanut butter
1 cup (or 200g) brown sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (or 185g) dark choc bits

1. Pop oven on and set to 200°C. Line two trays with baking paper.

2. Combine peanut butter, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and egg in a bowl, then stir in choc bits. Really tough, huh?

3. Dampen your hands and then roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls, lining them up on the trays. Press the top of each cookie lightly with a fork to flatten slightly. Into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until they're a gorgeous light golden colour. Leave to cool on the trays (don't try and move them hot - they're fragile!). To store, get them into an airtight container as soon as they're cool. They'll stay nice and crisp.

Friday, May 14, 2010

peas, ham and unpopular fish: geeking out over food-talk on a Friday morning

Fridays are the best day of the week for a number of reasons. I work from home, take a morning break and head to the market, get washing done (life is exciting, non?) and sometimes put my hair in pin curls to head out in the evening. Possibly the best thing about Fridays though is that I've made it a habit to listen to the SPILLED MILK podcast in the morning while I eat toast and drink coffee. This makes me very, very happy - so I thought I should share it.

This is a series of podcasts with weekly installments by two foodies that some of you will know: Molly Wizenberg of the wonderful blog Orangette and author of A Homemade Life and her partner in crime Matthew Amster-Burton who's behind blog Roots and Grubs and book Hungry Monkey. The podcasts feature a weekly theme (peas, crispy potatoes, junk food or ham etc) that each show works around as the hosts offer lots of information on foodstuffs and recipes that showcase the weekly special ingredient. Mostly though, it is seriously hilarious; Molly and Matthew are passionate, but they're also witty, nutty and a bit cheeky. Really, you've never thought sitting around listening to people talk about food could be so fun. Set this to download and go make some toast and coffee, really.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

slow cooker chili con carne

I wasn't sure about this, but I found myself becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea of owning a slow cooker. Suddenly they're everywhere; catalogs, shop windows, magazines and on the television. I read that you could slow cook soups and have them waiting - hot! - for when you get home from work on cold evenings. I read that you can make homemade yogurt in them. And desserts. And vegetarian dishes. But really, it was Deb's southwestern pulled brisket over at Smitten Kitchen that took me over the edge.

After pulling it out of the box and setting it on the bench, I still wasn't sure. It's big and heavy-looking and doesn't fit in my kitchen of vintage bits and bobs. Another appliance to take up space on the kitchen bench? But people, this evening I came home from a long (cold!) day at work to a steaming hot pot of 10 hour chili con carne. I'm totally converted.

And it only took me 10 minutes in the morning to throw together. Being my first go using the magic machine, I didn't expect magic food. But this was delicious. It is in no way my definitive chili recipe; there's no pork or black beans or chocolate here. But it is hearty and flavorsome, with a wholesome roundness of flavour that comes from the addition of corn tortillas to thicken and bolster the chili. I threw in what I had on hand: an onion, some Mexican garlic, a sad-looking green capsicum, a jalapeno pepper from my mother's garden, some spices, a couple of dry-looking corn tortillas and a couple of tins of tomatoes along with some beef mince and a cupful of soaked great northern beans. But if you're even less prepared, you could use a can of beans. So although I've included quantities here, you could throw in whatever you like and as long as it's seasoned and there's adequate liquid, I reckon you'll be ok. That's why this machine is magic.

Slow cooker chili con carne
This made enough for about six serves with sides. Freeze leftovers for an even lazier dinner.

2 corn tortillas
750ml beef stock
500g beef mince, not too lean
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green capsicum, deseeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (seeds are hot, remove according to taste)
1 (largish) clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp ground chilli
2 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
200g great northern beans, soaked overnight
800g tinned Italian tomatoes (2 tins)

Avocado, sour cream, coriander, hot sauce to serve

1. Tear corn tortillas into pieces and pour hot beef stock over. Set aside to soak.

2. Fry mince in a pan over medium heat until browned. Add browned mince to slow cooker.

3. Add olive oil to pan. When hot, add onions, capsicum, jalapeno and a pinch of salt. Fry over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until softened and golden. Add garlic and spices and cook for a minute or so longer, stirring. Add mixture to slow cooker.

4. Add tomatoes and beans and stock with tortillas. Season to taste.

5. Set to cook on low setting for 8 - 10 hours.

6. Serve with assorted garnishes and rice or cornbread.
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