Lunch Recipe Formula

One of the fun parts about being gluten intolerant is that restaurants become a game of roulette. Even restaurants with “gluten free menu items” frequently screw that up, and I’ve gotten croutons on my gluten free salad before (after a specific request for no croutons). Salad dressings are a gamble – even vinaigrettes, if they’re from a bottle instead of made on site, since they often use thickeners.

The result: I don’t eat out much for lunch.

This means I need to bring my lunch every day. (I got a snazzy new grown-up looking lunchbox when I got my new job, specifically to be large enough to bring leftovers). The gluten free thing also means no sandwiches, and I’m very careful about bringing salads, because I am a giant clutz and always end up having to get oily salad dressing stains out of my shirts.

Alongside trying to eat small meals every few hours (which helps a lot with mood stability), this can be a little tedious, especially if it means cooking big meals every night so I have leftovers. While it’s pretty easy to have leftover chili, it’s harder with other things (like grilled vegetables, which SSH and I tend to just devour with abandon).

My solution recently has been to make a sort of casserole on Sunday with the express idea of eating it for lunch all week. While any casserole will do, one that doesn’t take much work is ideal. A baked (GF) pasta casserole does well and reheats well, as does my current favorite – roasted veggies and chicken.

Roasted Veggie Casserole

You need:

  • about 2lbs of meat, cut into 1” chunks (I usually use chicken breast or pork tenderloin, for a vegetarian version, try canned/cooked chickpeas)
  • Vegetables, cut up into roughly the same sized chunks – I’ve used red potatoes, sweet potato, carrot, beets, bell pepper, onion, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, garlic, asparagus, brussels sprouts; basically any veggie you can roast (tomatoes don’t do so well)
  • olive oil
  • white wine or chicken broth
  • spices and salt and pepper

This is basically a recipe shell. I don’t list any spices because you can really go nuts. I’ve made this Scarborough style (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme), southwest style (chili powder, cumin, oregano), Italian style (Italian spices, garlic powder, crushed red pepper), grilled style (grill seasonings of various blends).

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with no-stick spray. In a big bowl, dump all the meat and veggies, plus a few tablespoons of olive oil and a few sloshes of white wine. Add the spices and mix well. (Do not under-salt this.)

Dump the resulting mixture into the prepared pan, distribute evenly, and cover with foil. Bake at 400F, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 20 minutes, until you start to see some browned edges.

I usually leave this on the counter to cool until it’s lukewarm and then divvy it up into 5 small glass containers (like these little ones) and pop them in the fridge.  (Sometimes if I really fill the baking dish, there’s enough for a weeknight meal too) With a piece of fruit, you’ve got an excellent lunch that only takes a few minutes to get hot in the microwave and is remarkably good for you, with the added benefit that it is very neutral in smell (just the spices), so your coworkers won’t hate you for making the place smell like stale curried fish.

And it’s super tasty too!

This week’s version has chicken, new potatoes, zucchini, onion, bell pepper, and carrots, with Mrs. Dash “Garlic and Herb” plus a good bit of salt and pepper. Next week I’m thinking I’ll try an Italian version, maybe with pesto, garlic and tomatoes.

Whiskey Beef Stew

Quick, easy, delicious slow-cooker beef stew. It’s not a hugely exact recipe, but I’ll do my best!

You need:

  • 2 lbs of stew meat (or 2 lbs of cheap beef roast, cut in chunks)
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms – I usually use cremini or shitake – cut into chunks
  • 1/2 lb carrots – cut into slices. Or a bag of carrot slices or baby carrots
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (not low fat)
  • 1 envelope Beefy Onion Soup Mix
  • 1/4-1/2 cup whiskey or red wine (or water)
  • 1 tsp thyme

Dump the mushroom soup, the soup mix, the thyme, and the whiskey in the slow cooker. Stir it up until it’s all evenly blended, then add everything else. Stir to combine and cook for 4-6 hrs on high, 8+ hrs on low, or until the meat is tender. The resulting stew will be thin, so if you want to thicken it, make a slurry of a few teaspoons of cornstarch in a little water and add that right into the hot stew – it’ll thicken up quick!

I serve this either over rice or over slightly smashed red potatoes.

Jalapeno Stuffed Chicken Breast

Kadomi, on twitter, was asking about good recipes to use with fresh jalapenos (no surprise, since the heat and drought in the southwest this year will definitely produce a bumper crop of hot peppers). I’m going to be making my favorite Apricot Jalapeno jam (that I use as Christmas gifts), but this recipe for stuffed chicken breasts is another favorite. It’s also one that we can thank the power of the internet for, as I got this recipe from an old World of Warcraft guildmate (Hi Merly!).

Jalapeno Stuffed Chicken Breasts

You need:

  • 4 large (or 8 small) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Jalapenos – I usually use 2 whole, but adjust to hotness – stems and seeds removed
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 8oz package cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flour
  • Cornmeal

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mince the jalapenos, green onions, and garlic finely. Mix veggies and about 1 tsp each salt and pepper into the package of softened cream cheese. Set aside

Butterfly and then stuff each chicken breast with 1/4 of the cream cheese mixture. This isn’t too hard, but if you’ve not done it before, check this video out first! (I usually don’t pound/flatten the chicken breasts, but that’s because I’m lazy. If you are lazy like me, you can just cut a pocket in the chicken breast – essentially the same first step as butterflying – and then fold it back over the stuffing. Works just as well, but sometimes your stuffing escapes while baking.)

Secure each breast with a toothpick.

Mix about 1/4 cup of flour and 3/4 cup cornmeal in a small dish with another teaspoon of salt (ish).* Take your rolled, stuffed, and toothpicked chicken breasts and roll them in the cornmeal mixture.

Place about 1 tbsp olive oil in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Arrange the chicken breasts in the dish so that they are not touching.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

This is especially yummy with … well, anything. Since I’m using the oven to bake my main dish, I usually just steam up veggies to serve with it, or make a salad. If I’m feeling fancy (or also cooking out of the garden) I’ll roast some fresh okra with onions and garlic. You can adjust the spiciness by adding more jalapeno or by leaving in some of the seeds. I usually make it with small chicken breasts (about the size of my fist) because they end up being more “one serving” sized.

*If you wish to make this dish gluten free, omit the flour. Or just omit the breading step altogether, and bake your chicken breasts with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Crunchy Pecan Baked Fish

*crossposted (from awhile ago) from Seven Deadly Divas*

This is a good “weeknight” recipe – you can put the frozen fish in the fridge the night before (please put it in a bowl, so you don’t have thawing fish goo all over your fridge) and it’ll be thawed when you go to make it. Or, if you’re like me and never remember to thaw stuff out the night before, put the fish fillets in a sealed zip-top bag and put them in a sink full of cold water for 20-30 minutes.

Since it’s basically “dump stuff in pan and bake”, you don’t need to worry about a lot of prep time, and it cooks quickly. While it’s cooking, microwave some frozen veggies or toss together a salad and you’ve got a complete dinner in about 20 minutes.

Software:

  • 4 Fillets of White Fish – I usually use frozen cod loins*, but tilapia or flounder work fine
  • Cajun Seasoning and Salt – like Emeril’s Essence – or my personal favorite, Mo’s Mix**
  • Mayonnaise – olive or canola oil mayo, if you are worried about calories, but please, no fat free
  • Bread Crumbs – unseasoned
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Finely Chopped Pecans – you can buy the pecan “cookie pieces” if you don’t want to chop them yourself

Hardware:

Aluminum foil, non-stick cooking spray, a baking pan, spatula, mixing bowl, oven.

The Plan:

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the baking pan with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

Place the fish fillets on the foil so that they are not touching. Season with Cajun Seasoning – but be careful if you don’t like things to be too spicy. I usually start with one good pinch per fillet and go from there. Using the spatula, spread each seasoned fillet with 1-2 TBSP mayo (you don’t have to measure, 1-2 TBSP mostly means “a good spoonful”).

In a small bowl, mix about 1/2 cup each of parmesan, pecans, and breadcrumbs. Smush the breadcrumb/pecan mixture into the fish fillets. Some of it will not stick, and that’s OK.

Bake at 500F for 8-12 minutes or until the fish is done – it will be white (and not transparent) and flake easily with a fork if you try to poke at the middles. When serving, make sure that everyone gets their share of the pan-goodies. Alternately, serve the fish up in the kitchen, eat the pan-goodies with a spoon, and don’t tell anyone.

This is excellent with baked artichoke hearts or lemon and garlic brussels sprouts if you’re feeling fancy, or just some re-heated frozen broccoli or green beans. If you prefer your meals with a grain, brown rice would be a good complement, as would some (previously frozen) whole-grain rolls… but bread-making is a whole different set of posts!

*Cod loins. Heh. Heh heh.
** The Amazing Becky has found Mo’s Mix online, at a store in Missouri. I think I have to call them to order more. But still – Yay!

Anna’s Great-Nana’s Banana Nut Bread

One of my wedding gifts from my Nana (my dad’s mother) was a collection of her favorite recipes to add to my recipe box. They’re not the recipes I make all the time – most of them are desserts and special occasion foods – but some of them are real treasures.

I occasionally, like many people, purchase too many bananas. I eat them frequently, but some weeks I end up forgetting about them until they start to be past their raw-eating-prime. (AKA they turn black and smushy)

Usually when this happens, I make smoothies.

At one point, however, I decided to see if I had a good banana bread recipe around. While digging through my recipe box, I came across one in my Nana’s handwriting, but the recipe isn’t hers. The recipe belonged to her mother in law, my Great-Nana Erma Martoccio, who lived in New York in the early 1900’s. She is largely responsible for my Nana being an amazing cook, since my Nana is a farm girl from rural Tennessee and only comes by her Italian cooking by marriage.

It’s a very simple recipe, with no particularly special ingredients, but the bread is spectacular. (It is neither low fat nor low calorie, but this is special-occasion bread.)

Anna’s Great-Nana’s Banana Nut Bread
Recipe courtesy of Erma Martoccio

Hardware:

  • Two regular loaf pans or three “small” loaf pans
  • A mixer
  • A large bowl, a small bowl, the usual assortment of measuring cups, a spatula

Software:

  • 3/4 c. butter
  • 1 1/2c. sugar
  • 1 1/2c. mashed ripe bananas (3-4 medium)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk, divided
  • 2 c. flour, divided
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Optional: 3/4 c. chopped nuts (I use pecans)
  • Optional: 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

I also usually make this in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but you can easily do it with a hand mixer and a spatula.

The Program:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease the bottoms only of your loaf pans with non-stick spray or butter. I use three 1.2 quart Pyrex glass loaf pans (they have red lids, and are, I think, storage dishes, but they bake just fine).
  2. Cream together the butter and the sugar. While the mixer is going, crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork.
  3. Blend in the mashed bananas, beaten eggs, and vanilla
  4. Add, in order and mixing on low speed in between, 1/4c. buttermilk, 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/4c. butter milk and the final cup of flour.
  5. With the spatula, gently mix in the nuts and chocolate chips, if using.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the loaf pans.
  7. If using two 9×5 loaf pans, bake for 70-75 minutes. If using three smaller loaf pans, bake for 50-55 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean, and the loaves should be golden brown and delicious. The tops of the loaves may crack – that’s OK (even desirable).

This recipe freezes well and will keep in the refrigerator (cooled completely and wrapped well) for at least a week or two… but it never lasts that long in my house. The chocolate chips are my own idea and not in the original recipe, but they are quite a delicious addition, if I do say so myself.

Enjoy!

St Pat’s Day Soda Bread

Recipe courtesy of the Crim School Cookbook (my elementary school), author unknown.

This is a pretty basic recipe and doesn’t actually have any instructions with it. I’ll clarify where I can and can add more help in comments if needed!

Mix together:

  • 2C Flour
  • 2T sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Cut in:

  • 2 T butter (real butter, please)

Mix in

  • 3/4C plus 3T buttermilk

Knead for 3 minutes with

  • 1/2 cup dried currants, raisins, or dried cranberries (optional)

Shape into a round or oblong loaf. Dust the top lightly with flour. Using a long serrated knife, cut a 1/2 inch deep X or cross shape in the top of the loaf.

Bake at 375ºF for 35 minutes or until the top is deep golden brown. I bake mine on a heated pizza stone, but a greased baking sheet works too.

Now for the hard part: Let it cool on a cooling rack before you slice it, serve with lots of butter.