Monday, September 19, 2011

School Lunches

As summer comes to an end and the first day of school is here,  I once again ask that age old question — “What the heck to feed my kid?” I love to create fun, healthy lunches that she will devour, but in truth I can not tell you how many times I have dug through her back pack only to find crushed sandwiches and half eaten pieces of fruit that I can no longer recognize. I love the bento box idea with compartments for lots of little snacks, such as nuts, fruit, roll ups —  all things that you know your child will eat. You can find these boxes in many Asian stores or from a couple of moms in Santa Cruz who developed the Laptop Lunches. Their slogan is ‘bento-ware for everywhere’. Amazon has a few cute ones, as does the Ultimate Green Store .

Bento Box from
Once you find the packaging, the challenge is what to put in them. Dinner leftovers and grazing food are always a hit with my daughter, Emma. I have to stay one step ahead of her and really listen because what she loved and gobbled up one day comes back untouched the next.  I suspect that this will always be an ongoing area of creative cooking, therefore, I doubt that this will be my last column addressing such issues. I invite you to come on into the trenches with me and make it a good year and good lunches!
Tuna Roll-Ups
1 can (6 ounces) tuna fish, preferably packed in water, drained
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 cucumber, peeled and coarsely shredded
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Two 10-inch flour tortillas
Two medium lettuce or spinach leaves
1/2 of a ripe avocado: peeled, pitted, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
Flake the tuna and squeeze lemon over it. Combine the tuna, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, carrots and cucumbers in a small bowl and mix until blended. Lay the tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1/2-teaspoon mayonnaise on each tortilla and arrange the lettuce on top of both and avocado lengthwise in rows near one edge. Spoon the tuna in a line next to the vegetables (away from the edge). Roll each tortilla up snugly into a cylinder. Cut crosswise in half. ½ is more than enough for a small child. A teen or adult could eat two halves.
Turkey Sandwich Five Way
THE CAESAR WRAP: Large flour tortilla rolled with sliced turkey, shredded romaine, diced tomatoes, shredded Parmesan cheese and creamy Caesar dressing.
TURKEY PARMIGIANA: Sliced turkey topped with spaghetti sauce and shredded mozzarella, broiled on crusty Italian bread.
THE CALIFORNIA ROLL-UP: Large flour tortilla topped with sliced turkey, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and alfalfa sprouts and shredded monterey jack cheese.
TURKEY REUBEN: Sliced turkey topped with sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and swiss cheese on grilled rye bread. 
TURKEY BLT: Sliced turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on toast.
Roasted Vegetable Panini
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 medium eggplant, cut lengthwise into 8 slices (1/4 inch each)
1 medium zucchini, cut into 8 slices (1/4 inch each)
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and quartered
8 slices ciabatta bread
1-cup fresh mozzarella, sliced
8 large fresh basil leaves
Whisk vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray; place vegetables in 1 layer on sheet. Brush both sides of eggplant and zucchini with vinegar mixture. Spray all vegetables with cooking spray and place under broiler, 7 to 8 minutes, turning once and coating with cooking spray. Lightly brush bottom slices of ciabatta with remaining vinegar mixture. Pile veggies, cheese and basil on 4 slices of bread. Close sandwiches; spray both sides with cooking spray. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add sandwiches. Place a second skillet on top of sandwiches and press down. Cook 4 minutes, flipping once. Makes four sandwiches.
Cucumber Tea Sandwich
1 seedless cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced (about 32 slices)
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
1/2 cup chopped watercress
16 slices white bread
Salt to taste
In a small bowl combine cream cheese and watercress. Spread on one side of each side of bread. Lay cucumbers onto the cream cheese on eight slices of bread. Sprinkle with salt. Top the remaining slice of bread cream cheese side down. Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a sharp knife. Cut the sandwiches in half diagonally and then in half again.
Fettuccine Salad with Eggs and Heirloom Tomatoes
½ cup olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 sun- dried tomatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
10 large basil leaves
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Place in blender and puree until smooth and fluffy.
12 ounces Spinach Fettuccine, cooked and well drained
4 heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 Persian cucumbers, sliced and halved
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Gently toss in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss until evenly coated.
8 hard boiled eggs, peeled and wedged
Gently toss in eggs and serve.
Peanut Noodles
1 pound dry pasta- spaghetti or angel hair
1-cup peanut butter
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2-cup soy sauce
1 tsp. chile pepper flakes
3 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. minced garlic
3 tbsp. canola oil
Garnishes- slivered carrots, green onions, red pepper s, fresh cilantro, and sesame seeds, toasted peanuts
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling water. Drain the noodles, let stand and use the warm pot to make the sauce. (It helps with the thickness of the peanut butter) Wisk the rest of ingredients until blended. Mix in the pasta. Let stand in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Before serving toss with the garnishes of your choice.
Ravioli Pasta Salad
1/2 pound ricotta-stuffed ravioli
1 bunch thin asparagus, cut on an angel
10 ounce bag organic peas, thawed overnight in refrigerator
3 – 4 big handfuls baby spinach, washed
a couple splashes olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
pinch of sea salt
Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Into an extra-large pot of well-salted boiling water add the raviolis. After a few minutes, when a couple of the raviolis begin to float, add the asparagus and peas. Since the asparagus is thin and the peas aren’t frozen, you’ll need to cook them only for about a minute – really quick, just enough to brighten up the peas and give the asparagus a touch of tenderness. Drain everything into a large colander.
Immediately transfer to a large bowl, add the spinach and pine nuts, and gently toss with a couple big splashes of olive oil and a pinch or two of salt. Sprinkle with Parmesan!
Tortellini Salad
2 large bunches fresh basil (about 4 cups loosely packed leaves)
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 pound fresh cheese tortellini
2 cups diced cooked chicken
Additional grated Parmesan cheese
Puree first five ingredients in processor until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer to small bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pesto to seal. Cover; chill.)
Cook tortellini in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water.
Combine tortellini, chicken and 1-cup pesto in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Toss until mixture is heated through, adding reserved cooking water and additional pesto by tablespoonfuls until sauce coats pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Pass additional Parmesan.
Couscous Salad
Remember you can change this with any number of variations—toast pine nuts and add them in, maybe try a few chickpeas. Diced red peppers, small black olives, any spicy dark green olive carrots, edamame, chick peas, dried fruits and nuts—anything your picky eater will like!
3 tablespoons butter
1-cup couscous
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Pinch salt
In a medium-sized saucepan, bring water, butter and salt just to moment of boiling. Add couscous and put cover on. Take the pan off the heat. Let it stand for five minutes.
3 small red onions
1 package feta cheese (about 5 to 7 ounces)
1 small bunch arugula (or parsley or basil)
2 tomatoes
Juice of one large lemon
Olive Oil
Meanwhile, dice your onions and shred your arugula into small bite-size pieces. Cut tomatoes into small pieces and get rid of seeds. When couscous has cooled, put it into your serving bowl. Fluff it with fork, moisten with water or stock if there any lumps. Blend in your onions, arugula and tomatoes. Crumble feta into small pieces into salad.
In a small bowl or jar, whisk lemon juice and olive oil together. Grind a little fresh salt and pepper into vinaigrette. Stir into salad.
Edamame Salad
1 lb frozen shelled edamame
3 cups corn kernels
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 green onions, sliced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
6 parsley sprigs, chopped
6 basil sprigs, chopped
1/3-cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin
Pinch Salt and pepper
In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, cumin and salt and pepper. In a large bowl mix together edamame, corn, bell pepper, red onion, green onion, parsley and basil. Toss with dressing. Makes 6 lunch servings.
Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies
2-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon salt
2 large ripe bananas
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Adjust an oven rack to the middle shelf and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Mash the bananas with the vanilla, making about 1 cup. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer mix the sugars and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, then blend in the mashed bananas. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will look curdled. At low speed, blend in the flour mixture, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Fold in the chips and nuts. Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls 1-1/2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, about 12 minutes, then remove to racks to cool. Store in a cookie jar for up to 1 week. Makes about 6 dozen.
Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies. Check out her websites www.Backtothekitchen.netand She wrote a weekly food column for the Sun Community Newspapers.

September is such a funny food month. It is still hot and most of the magazines are talking about roasting, stewing and all the rest of Fall’s culinary delights. With the crazy heat, the start of school and a jumpstart to a heavy workload, I can barely think of poaching an egg!
Salads are a perfect food solution to all these issues. Both light and filling, you can mix and match these dressings and salads, add grilled chicken, salmon or tofu. Use whatever you have in your fridge — and use for the lunch lunch the next day (if the salad is not soggy).  Enjoy these recipes, add, delete, mix and match — be creative and you’ll have a good meal and  a little extra down time from all of the crazy activities!  These recipes all serve four to six people.
Caesar Salad
Acai and Orange Dressing
1/2-cup a├žai juice
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange rind
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk.
Honey Mustard Dressing
1-cup plain nonfat yogurt
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Combine yogurt, honey, mustard & cider vinegar in a jar. Tighten lid & shake until blended. Chill 30 minutes before serving.
Peanut Wasabi Vinaigrette
1/4-cup rice vinegar
1/4-cup canola oi
1/4-cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Wasabi Paste
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 cloves fresh-minced garlic
Combine all ingredients, stirring well to combine. Let stand for 45 minutes.
Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
6-tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-cup olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
Whisk all ingredients together and let stand for one hour.
Grilled Vegetable Salad with Buttermilk Balsamic
1 bunch asparagus
1 zucchini
2 yellow squash
1 eggplant
1 red pepper, seeded
2 ears corn
1 small jicama, chopped
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch arugula
1 head romaine
Salt and pepper
Lightly coat asparagus, zucchini, squash, eggplant, pepper and corn with olive oil. Heat cast iron grill pan over high heat. Grill vegetables until tender. Toss arugula and romaine leaves with jicama and Tomatoes. With buttermilk balsamic dressing e in a bowl. Arrange on platter and top with grilled vegetables. You can top with ground pepper, shaved Parmesan or crumbled goat cheese.
Buttermilk Balsamic Dressing
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-cup well-shaken low-fat buttermilk
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1-cup olive oil
Whisk together all ingredients until well mixed. Let stand for one hour.
Gwen’s Caesar
In small bowl whisk together:
1 egg
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-tablespoon anchovy paste
Then add:
Juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Up to 3 cloves of garlic to taste
2 teaspoon dried thyme
In a steady stream add:
1/2-cup olive oil
2 cups canola oil
If you would like, add a few shakes of pepper or a dash of Tabasco sauce. If you like a stronger flavor or are not keen on the anchovy paste, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce works wonders.
 Fill a large salad bowl with lettuce. The traditional Caesar lettuce is romaine. I like to add spinach and radicchio for flavor and color. Mix in croutons (see below), shaved or grated Parmesan and then toss in the dressing. Go lightly. The worst Caesars are the ones that are over-dressed. Taste as you go. For variation you can add cherry tomatoes or toasted pine nuts, both are tasty and add a little pizzazz.
Truly, you can use any kind of bread, seasoning and oil. I will give you the basic, but again – go for it and make it your own.
1 baguette (long loaf of French or sour dough bread)
Olive oil to coat
Pinch of Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Slice baguettes into quarter inch slices.
Place in large bowl. Toss with oil until well coated. Add salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet in single layer rows and bake at 350 until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Aileen’s Awesome Quinoa Salad
2 cups quinoa
4 cups vegetable stock
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 large bunch chives, chopped
1/2-cup young mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup raw pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil or walnut oil
1 lime or Meyer lemon juiced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch sea salt
Bring quinoa and vegetable broth to a boil. Cover; reduce heat to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. While quinoa is cooking, chop tomatoes and chives. Mix dressing. Remove quinoa from heat. Allow to cool. Fluff quinoa and add vegetables and pine nuts. Gently mix dressing into quinoa mixture. Serve cold or warm. Serves 6.
The Cobb Salad
Another one of the culinary legends is The Cobb Salad. It is hard to believe that something so wonderful could have been so carelessly concocted, but I guess that is the gift of creating. Back in the 1920s, The Brown Derby was a super trendy hangout. The menu consisted of mainly heavy grilled meats, but legend has it that manager Bill Cobb wanted a “light” meal,” so he tossed some things into a bowl. I can’t even imagine a “light salad” consisting of bacon, cheese, egg and avocado (unless you’re an Atkins follower). While there have been many variations, mine stays pretty close to the original. And , of course, you can add or delete any thing you like.
1 large or 2 small heads of romaine, finely chopped
2 heads of Boston lettuce, finely chopped
1 bunch of watercress, finely chopped
1 pound bacon cooked and crumbled
3 ripe avocados, chopped
3 pounds chicken breasts, poached, and chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1-bunch scallions, sliced
2 shallots, minced
1-cup red-wine vinegar
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cups olive oil
1 cup bleu cheese, finely chopped
In a large salad bowl toss together the romaine, Boston lettuce and watercress. In a small food processor mix shallots, vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, add the oil in a slow stream, mixing until the dressing until it is emulsified. Pour into a bowl and stir in blue cheese. Pour it over the lettuce, and toss the salad well.
Harmonious Lentil Salad
1 cup lentils cooked and chilled
1 cup brown rice cooked
1 pint golden raspberries
2 blood oranges, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ cup parsley
½ cup green onions
Blood Orange Vinaigrette (see below)
In a large salad bowl toss together. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Great with the lentil salad, but also awesome with a big salad of mixed greens and any vegetables that you have on hand.
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼ cup blood orange juice
Zest from one blood orange
2/3-cup olive oil
1clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together vigorously. Keeps in the refrigerator for 1 month.
Crunchy Green Salad with Creamy Guacamole Dressing
2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
1 bunch watercress, leaves picked
1-cup pepitos
1 large ripe avocado
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1-4 dashes of Tabasco sauce
1/4-cup canola oil
Halve the avocado and remove pit. Scoop out flesh into a food processor. Add mustard, lemon juice, zest Tabasco. Salt and pepper to taste and blend until smooth. With the motor running pour in the oil in a steady stream. Allow it to become rich and creamy about one minute. In a large bowl add the lettuce, watercress and pepitos. Toss with the dressing and serve.
Shrimp and Romaine Salad
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups torn romaine
2 cups orange segments
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion, sliced
6 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1-tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 pound cooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveine
In a large bowl, combine the rice, romaine, oranges, tomatoes and onion. For dressing, in a small bowl, whisk the orange juice, vinegar, oil, tarragon, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Set aside 4 teaspoons. Pour remaining dressing over rice mixture and toss to coat. Divide among four plates; top with shrimp. Drizzle with reserved dressing.
Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies. Check out her websites www.Backtothekitchen.netand She wrote a weekly food column for the Sun Community Newspapers.