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Monday-shmonday. Someone once told me, and this could just as easily be one of those Polish superstitions that stalk me all the way across the Big Pond, that… like Monday like the Rest of the Week. So far, I’ve cleaned the house, passed a few words of wisdom to my less than 2-years old niece in Poland via Skype, got cranky due to caffeine deficit, made lunch for Jason and sent him off to work, treated myself to Peet’s Americano with a side of Cappuccino Muffin, and struggled settling down at last in order to work.

The biggest challenge was finding a place for my office for the day. While Cosmo got himself comfortable in front of his Doggy TV and started flipping the channels…

… I finally landed back on the bed, laptop tucked right beneath my armpit and Jamie Oliver’s cook book in hand.

Last week, I left off writing about utilizing your organic chicken to the last bit. One of such “byproducts” was an organic chicken broth that we can now turn into a satisfying, delectable, rustic, and very cheap to make soup.

I love soups and cook them ALL THE TIME, which I have mentioned plenty a time before. From velvety BEET SOUP, to hearty MUSHROOM/BARLEY SOUP, to elegant CARROT/GINGER SOUP, to my Polish sentiment of SAUERKRAUT SOUP, to Italian RIBOLLITA, to refreshing HONEY-DEW MELON SOUP W/MASCARPONE (recipe from my business partner Alina that I made for the LA Food Bloggers’ meeting last week), to nutritious LENTIL SOUP, to Mexican classic–chilled GAZPACHO. The list seems never-ending, and that’s why SOUPS play such an important role on our LUNCH MENU.

Since the theme of the cooking today is ORGANIC FOR PENNIES, I chose Jamie Oliver’s ENGLISH ONION SOUP to share with you. All you need to enhance your already made stock are:

– about 2 lbs of onions variety (leeks, shallots, sweet onions, red onions, scallions, etc.)

– fresh sage

– a handful of garlic cloves

– a few slices of rustic bread, ideally 2-3 days old

– Cheddar cheese, freshly grated

– sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

– 1-2 tbsp of butter

– olive oil

See, nothing expensive. Add those extra few bucks to your skinny budget, and you come out with a giant pot of filing and yummy soup. People you’ll feed with it will fall to their knees and kiss your ankles in gratitude. That’s granted.

Making the soup itself is somewhat emotional, if not dramatic. Think about it–all those onions must be peeled and chopped. If you can go through the task without uttering a single tear, I say you’re not a human.

The rest is a piece of cake. Melt the butter in a hot heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan, add a bit of olive oil, chopped garlic and a few sage leaves. Let the guys saute for a minute (and no longer, so the garlic does not burn) and toss all your onions into the pot. Season with salt and pepper, stir, cover with a lid (90% closed), and let it all cook very slowly for about an hour. Next, remove the lid and now you have another 20 minutes or so to add color to your veg. Cooking the onions slowly is the key to achieving that irresistible sweetness that onions offer.

Time to add your organic chicken stock. Bring everything to a quick boil and reduce the heat, allowing the soup to simmer for another quarter of an hour. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

In the meantime, turn the oven on a full whack. Toast your bread on both sides and set aside. When the soup is ready, pour some into individual heatproof bowls and cover with your toasts, as tight as possible. Sprinkle your grated cheddar all over the bread, garnish with an extra sage leaf, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and set the bowls on a baking sheet. Such arranged, place the sheet in the hot oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and serve immediately.

Jamie also suggests planting a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce (pause… let me untangle my tongue) over the servings, but you follow your own instincts.

Eating Organic, delicious, homemade food on a budget? Totally doable! So… let’s eat better, everybody.

Bon Appetit!

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Not always does a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast help you get your shit together and get on with your day.

OK, ok! Easy. I’ll just speak for myself then.

In my defense, it doesn’t help that my TASK BOARD still says it’s Saturday, while at the same time, I’ve  been convinced since last night that today is Friday (the day I’m taking Jason on a date to a secret location). Meanwhile, a strange man with a nice, deep voice says to me on the radio that today is Wednesday, September 30, 2009. Hmmm.

My reality today is convoluted to such an extent that I bounce from one place to another with a heavy chip on my shoulder. I know I should be writing now, but the very thought of it makes me spin 180 degrees on my bare heels and go sweep the neighbor’s stoop. Next, I focus on my hands as they scream for attention, and suddenly I find myself performing a home manicure – a task I normally dread like the chicken pox. Once the bright red polish is splashed all over my nails, it’s the silence in the room that gets me at last.

I fan my  froggy fingers out over the keyboard of my computer, open iTunes and break out the jams. It’s not until The Last Shadow Puppets begin to play that I decide it’s time to turn the volume UP,  prepare my stage,  move the chair out of the range of my high-kick, place Cosmo on the balcony of our bed and GET MY GROOVE ON. While the music blasts from the speakers, I jump and throw my hands in the air, stretch in all directions, bounce my shoulders, bend to the sides, thrash my hips back and forth, and give the “dance” MY ESSENCE. Gasping for air, I look at Cosmo, and a bright smile wraps it’s way around my glossy face like a red bow on a Christmas gift. He just yawns at me with mere disapproval: “Mother, REALLY??!”

Cosmo w/ Headphones

After being scolded by my very own dog, I curl my tail under my own bottom, shut down the music box, and shuffle my feet to the kitchen hoping to get some LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING from an oozing, chocolate mini-cupcake. One thing leads to another, and within minutes, I’m prepping lunch. On the menu today… an Avocado Turkey Sandwich with a side of a Quinoa Salad. I’m confident after this meal I’ll have a work out that would make Michael Phelps crawl out of his pool humiliated and in tears.

Turkey Sammy

Speaking of Sammies, they play an important role in our household, especially since Jason returned to work and I took on the temporary role of “little wifey”, which nota bene suits me shockingly well. The part I play entails my rising at dawn along with my beau and tending to his feeding needs. While Jason assures me he’s perfectly capable of getting a bowl of cereal in the morning, I won’t have such nonsense and proceed to fill his bowl with a cherry picked mix of breakfast grains topped with a rainbow of sliced fruit, all soaked in an ocean of almond milk.

While the boy crunches away, I move on to the next task at hand which consists of assembling his lunch and dexterously fitting the mountain of food into the 2 compartments of his teeny-weeny lunchbox.

If there are no leftovers from the previous night’s dinner (which is the case 3 out of 4 times), I grab from the refrigerator whatever I can hold in my arms and build a Mothership of all Sandwiches. I start with two slices of HEALTHY bread, which unfortunately in many cases tend to taste like old tennis shoes. Particularly the low sodium Ezekiel Bread which is as exciting as a chess match!

porkzo1

Let me pause here for a second. If it wasn’t for a pile of SPARKLING NEW jeans that are an entire two (2) sizes smaller than the last pants I bought, I would be slathering both sides of ciabatta bread with mayonnaise and topping it with 1-inch thick chunks of chicken, beefy slices of mozzarella, tomato and a basil leaf. I have wet dreams about  Italian breads, rustic French baguettes and country rolls. In fact, I’m drooling a little bit right now with nothing more than the mere image of them!

How do I turn that ugly ducking of Ezekiel Bread into Cinderella? I have a trick (or two) that (lucky for you) I’ve decided to no longer keep to myself.

Raspberries on side

My secret is to make the sandwich relatively MOIST, but not soggy. Second, you want to keep it versatile and exciting. The sky is the limit when it comes to building a sandwich! Think outside the box. Instead of always going for the good ‘ol mayo, use a low-fat version mixed into a coherent cream with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Or forget about mayo altogether and spread a little hummus on your bread topped with slices of heirloom tomato and pickles under an umbrella of a few spinach leaves. You can buy a flavored one, or just make your own Hummus. The EDAMAME DIP you just tried this week for the first time will go swimmingly with a few thin slices of low sodium turkey, maybe a little of Monterey Jack and a slice of Tomato, all sprinkled with finely chopped chives and packed between the slices of bread.

Cottage Cheese Sammies

Being Polish, I bring my Polish twist to the table, and when the sandwich is for here and not to go I like to keep it open. It’s an ideal surface for a tablespoon of cottage cheese, green onions and crunchy Persian cucumbers. That’s today. Tomorrow, get yourself a ripe avocado, slice the meat and spread it generously over your bread. Cover with turkey/chicken/ham, and top with thick slices of hard-boiled egg – don’t forget to sprinkle it with a dust of salt and pepper. The next day, make a Tuna Salad and use it as filling in your sammy. And if you grew up convinced radishes taste like dirt, here’s your chance to bring back the magic and believe in Santa  all over again slice one radish and hide it between the layers of your tuna sandwich. Not only will you have that extra crunch, but also vitamins and minerals you’ve deprived yourself all your life.

Tuna Sammy Tuna Closed Sammy

Have you ever tried Mascarpone cheese? It’s good not only in a Tomato Sauce for your pasta, or in cakes, but can also serve as a foundation for your – exactly! – next day sandwich. You can cover it with slices of meat, cheese, roasted peppers, onion, cucumber, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and fresh herbs (basil, dill, mint, tarragon, etc.) Same thing goes for Pesto. You can have an exciting, delicious sandwich every day at work, and it will never taste the same. Bring a smile back to your SAMMY.

One last thing to keep in mind – do NOT overcrowd the guy. Don’t pile up everything under the sun onto your slice of bread.   After all, you want to be able to wrap your mouth around that bad boy, don’t you?

Three Open Sammies

I could go on, and I’m positive there will be more opportunities to talk sandwiches. Hell, I’ll make sure of it. Today’s article will at least get you started. It’s like opening Pandora’s Box of Sandwiches. From now on the ideas will never stop coming. They will flood your mind, your lunchbox, and your kitchen. You’ll feel overwhelmed with the creative powers that will suddenly take over and you’ll start feeding your coworkers, your neighbors, and even your dog. Each Sammy will be a Gourmet Concert of Wild and Exotic Flavors clasped within the crunchy arms of two slices of toasted bread waiting to be domesticated in your mouth.

Now go and unleash your inner Sandwich Snob. Then tame the beast with your creations. Have fun with it!

I am a cow. Or at least I have four stomachs like one. There must lie a hidden explanation somewhere in between those two possibilities that is responsible for the phenomena I actively participated in at the dawn of this evening.

I am genuinely embarrassed to admit in public how much food I deposited into my system a few quarters of an hour ago. But I will… in the effort to apply self-punishment. A plate the size of our dining table, and we have a dinning table of astronomical dimensions mind you, was placed before me (by yours truly, to be quite frank) filled with a scrumptious meal I humbly put together. The goods were shaped into a monumental cone, oozing a fragrant ruby red sauce and topped with a mist of fresh minced herbs. I wasted no time and sank a hungry fork into the mountain of food in front of my eyes.

The minute I tasted the first bite, a blissful quiet came over my entire being. The second gnaw only confirmed that state of mind. “I am so happy right now!” – I exhaled amid a series of hurried nibbles.

Once I finished committing the crime of stuffing my guts with this delicious meal, I sat at the table for circa half an hour and moaned. I moaned quietly for the lack of room for oxygen in my lungs. Those spongy bags, filled with life-affirming air, got progressively smashed against my ever-expanding stomach, like the face of a person walking into an impeccably clean glass door they didn’t notice, their steps observed in slow motion. Droplets of sweat scattered my forehead while I sniffled and grasped for air.

In the middle of the 37th moan (approximately!) I heard my blackberry vibrate ecstatically on a nearby coffee table, and its red eye winked at me flirtatiously. “You’ve got mail” – in my mind I heard it announce in the ancient voice of AOL, now as dead as Latin. My natural curiosity, so characteristic to that part of the human population born with a pair of X chromosomes, overruled the brain, and propelled my body forward. However powerful, the curiosity must stand down in the presence of the laws of physics. My body, unable to lift itself under the weight of its overflowing stomach, plunged right under the table with uncanny force. BAM! The pain from the fall pinched my butt, but who could possibly care when the phone was still blinking! From my vantage point beneath the table it now seemed silly close, yet still out of reach of my outstretched fingers. Damn it! I gauged the distance, calculated the effort, then curled into a fetal position and rolled myself over to the edge of the couch. From there it was EASY. One impetuous swing of my arm and the phone was mine again. PHEW!

A few minutes later the euphoria descended and adrenaline levels dropped, and I realized the inhuman amount of pressure I had applied upon my precious insides. Instantly I panicked, and a terrorizing thought crossed my mind – INTERNAL BLEEDING!!! I froze. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. One minute passed. Tick-tock. Tick-tock…3, then 9 minutes crawled by. I was still breathing. Another 15 minutes of that intensely silent lingering and the outcome was confirmed – I WAS ALIVE!

I then issued a long and echoing baritone of a burp that further released some space among the four chambers of my cow stomach, and I was able to breathe at last. Now, by no means do I intend to gross you out with this detailed report. All I hope for, truly, is that you understand the enormous relief I was granted by that simple, and oh so natural, digestive explosion. Only now was I able to extricate myself from the floor underneath the coffee table and beside the green couch, and somewhat steadily relocate to the writing desk in our bedroom. The events of the evening must be logged and archived for future generations to draw examples of behaviors less desired!

A vivid blush floods my face when I realize all that drama was stirred around my … balls. More precisely, meatballs sans the meat. Voluptuous boulders of ambrosial veggie balls rested randomly on the sides of the mountain of spaghetti, all bathed in a creamy and rich marinara sauce. Ah, the memory… !

Beet Soup It all started with the soup season in our house. My poor Jason has recently suffered from a minor and yet annoying physical condition (details of which I shall keep to myself) that forced him to rethink his diet. After thorough research and analysis of various dietary options he committed to soups exclusively. Luckily, I had learned a few tricks in that department, and so I was able to entertain him with a different lunch and dinner menu over a period of a couple of weeks.

soup Such monotony, however, forced me to exercise my creative muscle in order to keep it fresh and interesting each day. One morning, while peeling carrots for another vegetable soup, I reckoned that I might mix things up a little. I pulled out a food processor, purèed some of the veggies, and cooked the rest in big chunks in the ocean of soup. On that sunny morning my Cauliflower Soup, which nota bene is absolutely phenomenal, was brought to life.

It’s not the soup, however, that the tale is about. The purè of cooked vegetables, which are a staple in all my soups, turned out to be so flavorful and comforting on its own that I decided to translate it into an entirely new dish. As of today, I tested, tasted, and – dare I say it – perfected the recipe of Agi’s Veggie Balls.

Agi's Balls

I will now reveal the secret, and share it… with you… because I am such a giver… and I care about your well-being. And hell I am proud of myself, too!

Start with the following ingredients:

– 4 medium carrots

– 2 medium parsnips

– 4 celery stalks

– large leek

– large onion

– 4-5 cloves of garlic (peeled + smashed)

– 2 dry bay leaves

– 4-5 peppercorns

– 3-4 strings of fresh thyme

– 1 cup of water

– 1 tbsp of coconut oil (unrefined)

– kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan, and add peeled and diced onion. Sautè for 5-10 minutes, and toss in the garlic. Now add into the pan the rest of the vegetables, previously cleaned, peeled, and roughly chopped. Throw in bay leaves and peppercorns with thyme, add water, and season with salt and pepper. Cook all until aldente. You do not want your veggies soggy and mushy. Turn the heat off. Discard the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Drain all liquid.

Now prepare the following ingredients:

– 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans

– 2 eggs

– 2 tbsp of grated ginger

– 1/2 cup of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

– 1/2 cup of chopped fresh dill

– 1 cup of organic bread crumbs

– 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

– 1/3 cup of grated Fontina cheese

– 1 tbsp of olive oil

– 2 tsp of red paprika powder

– 2 tsp of cumin

– 1 tsp of turmeric

– 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg

– 1 tbsp of dry marjoram.

Place your cooked vegetables in a food processor along with drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and pulse into a coarse mass. Scoop it all out and into a large bowl, then add all the remaining ingredients except for the eggs and cheese. Mix well using a spatula. Now break in the eggs and stir everything well. Throw in grated Parmesan and Fontina and combine with the rest of the party in the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat your sheet pan with a layer of non-stick spray, add a sheet of wax paper, and treat it with the spray again. Using a teaspoon, scoop a small amount of the veggie mixture and place it into your clean hands. Now roll it into a small ball and set on the sheet pan. Continue until all mixture is formed into an army of veggie nuggets. Brush each ball with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from burning. Place into the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of your, ahem… balls).

Baked Veggie Balls

Serve immediately with whole wheat, organic Spaghetti Marinara, sprinkled with a handful of fresh parsley and dill. I BEG YOU, however, to pace yourself! Definitely use caution when plating your meal. The aroma that will fill your house may intoxicate your reasoning, and all sense of proportions might get lost. Be wary! And learn from my mistakes.

Agi's Balls

Bon Appetit Everyone!

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