Saturday, August 30, 2008

Trusty Burritos

As much as I love to explore new recipes and try out new foods, I also enjoy choosing from a trusted repertoire of meals for dinner. At the end of the day, I'm usually looking for a meal that is fast and easy to prepare, filling, and tasty. One dinner that I find myself putting together again and again at day's end is burritos. Because they're so simple, and since my husband and I have fairly different tastes, I make two kinds.

For the Best Husband Ever I fill two big flour tortillas with refried beans, sliced olives, and mozzarella cheese. For myself, I fill three to four corn tortillas with black beans, mango peach salsa, and fat-free cheddar. After baking them at about 385 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese is melted, I then garnish just my burritos with fat-free quark and guacamole if it's on hand. For the dinner pictured here I also had a little fat-free pistachio pudding in addition to a salad and my calcium supplement. Quick, easy, filling, and delicious. I especially love the protein punch that these puppies pack.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Another Day, Another Rodeo

Another food rodeo, that is! That's right -- the Muffin Chick is bringing you yet another exciting food rodeo, complete with vicarious foodie chills, thrills, and spills. Not only that, but this is a special birthday edition! In honor of my last year as in the mid-twenties demographic, behold the contents of my birthday belly.

I started out the day with an out-of-the-ordinary breakfast. Normally I eat yogurt with Kashi Go Lean! cereal, mixed frozen berries, a sliced banana, and some tea. On Thursday morning, however, I decided to shake things up a little. I had two Kashi blueberry waffles with sugar-free maple syrup. Pureed pumpkin with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top -- on of my favorite foods -- garnished the waffles. I also tried a recipe for grilled peaches, adapting it a little to make up some delicious skillet peaches. I could leave the cream cheese out next time, but the cinnamon and honey carmelized over the warm fruit tasted amazing! (Find my adapted recipe at the bottom of this post.) I also finished up some non-fat pistachio pudding for no other reason than a) the meal needed a little something more nutrition-wise, and b) the pudding had already been languishing in the fridge for close to a week. This meal was a yummy and special start to the day!

On the way to work, I swung by The Loose Caboose coffee stand for a twelve ounce nonfat double shot latte. Another treat-y item that gave me a boost of both calcium and energy. Upon arriving at work, I headed down to the teacher's lounge for the birthday treats that waited there. One of my lovely coworkers had brought a huge Costco sheet cake as well as the most delicious, melt-in-your mouth cantaloupe. I'm not a fan of cantaloupe under usual circumstances, but this melon was amazing! Green and purple grapes both made an appearance, as well as pineapple, bagels with cream cheese, a sour cream dip for the fruit, and trail mix. Since I'd already eaten breakfast, I stuck with the fruit and dip, and kept heading back for more melon throughout the day.

I also tried out a new brand of granola bar for my mid-morning snack, as recommended by Jeanna of Eat, Live Run: Pure Protein in chocolate deluxe flavor. Slightly higher in calories and fats than my favored LunaBar, nearly doubled protein content (twenty grams!) makes the exchange seem worthwhile to me. In terms of taste, however, the LunaBar wins out. This choclately bar was very dense, making my hyper aware that I was eating a whopping twenty grams of protein. However, as Jenna mentioned, it did morph into a fudgey taste and texture after a bite or two. Not bad at all, but I still prefer LunaBar's caramel nut brownie or chocolate peppermint flavors.

Lunch with Mr. Bento was another quietly special affair as some more of my favorite foods made an appearance. Breakfast for lunch was the order of the hour what with the "main course" being fat-free vanilla yogurt with frozen berries (blue- and marionberries, to be exact, which had defrosted by lunchtime) and Kashi Go Lean! cereal to sprinkle on top. I also had a salad of romaine, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, roasted beets, and guacamole, which is one of my all-time favorite dips. What could beat nachos topped with avocado, or a burrito garnished by guacamole? It made a great topper for my salad. Finally, I had more balsamic roasted beets all by the themselves, another favorite item that warmed up delectably in the microwave (but are also fantastic cold or at room temperature!).

After work, I shacked up in Break Espresso, one of my favored coffee haunts, with a sugar-free caramel Italian soda and my computer for a little blogging. Aren't I dedicated Muffin Chick to be able to get a post to you on my birthday? To tell the truth, I find blogging very soothing, especially when the smell of espresso is involved, so it was a very relaxing time.

About that time, my stomach started rumbling and grumbling. You know what that means -- birthday dinner time! I was craving sweet potato fries from my beloved Hob Nob restaurant, but unfortunately that cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch. However, the Iron Horse also serves sweet potato fries, so the Best Husband Ever and I headed there for dinner. He ordered a regular burger and fries while I got a black bean burger topped by extra melty swiss and (I think) cheddar jack and some sort of sauce that was somewhat reminiscent of buffalo chicken. My fries came with a side of spicy chipotle ketchup. I even -- gasp! -- had light honey-flavored beer. I hardly ever drink, so it kind of zonked me a little, but I do enjoy a cold beer with a burger and fries on occasion. The meal as a whole was pretty good, although it did not quite hit the spot like the Hob Nob always does.

What birthday is complete without cake? Mine, apparently, because instead of heading to a bakery the Best Husband Ever and I partook of Big Dipper ice cream. I had a waffle cone with one scoop of vanilla and Reese's and one of white mint Oreo, and he ate a sugar cone with two scoops of vanilla and Reese's. Despite the chill in the air, it was the perfect way to round up the evening! After driving up to the South HIlls to watch the sun set over the city, we then headed home where I had my nightly snack of fat-free cottage cheese with pineapple and dried papaya before snuggling into bed. A satisfying end to a satisfying day, to be sure.

And now, I'll leave you with your own sweet and satisfying finish: a recipe for skillet peaches! Try this as part of breakfast or as a healthy dessert. The recipe can easily be multiplied to make more peaches. And trust me -- you'll want to have second helpings!

Warm Skillet Peaches

1 peach, halved and pitted
1 T honey
2 tsp cinnamon
2 T cream cheese (don't use fat-free, though, or the texture will be funky, which was my mistake)

Cover a skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. Once warmed, place the peach halves pit side down on the skillet. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until browned. Carefully flip the fruit over and spread the honey and cinnamon over the pit side of each half. Fill the nook where the pit used to be with the cream cheese. Return the fruit to the skillet and continue cooking for another 2 minutes, or until the honey begins to caramelize and blacken. Serve immediately as you like it -- as is, over vanilla yogurt, topped with cool-whip, or as a "bowl" for vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All Growed Up

Today is my birthday, blogosphere! And it's been a sweet one so far, which comes as something of a surprise. Usually I don't really understand birthdays, and mostly feel let down. This time around, however, I really feel like I've been able to savor the day without making too big of a fuss over it.

For example, I woke up this morning and prepared a somewhat special -- and definitely out of my routine -- breakfast of Kashi blueberry waffles and a couple of other tasty items (stand by for another food stalking round-up for details, probably to be posted tomorrow). The Best Husband Ever left a wonderful card waiting for me so I'd see it first thing. I dressed up a little more than usual, which is always fun. At school a co-worker brought yummy treats, including cake (from Costco, which I didn't try) and fresh cantaloupe, grapes, and pineapple with a sour cream dip (which I did try -- the dip was okay, and the cantaloupe was amazing). Throughout the day I received quiet birthday good wishes from other co-workers, students, friends, and family. Right now I'm (obviously) blogging at a favorite coffee shop, and soon the Best Husband Ever is taking me out for a birthday dinner. A lovely day all around, I think!

So what should I post on my birthday? Since I haven't actually eaten my birthday dinner yet, a photo of that will have to wait. No, I thought it would be more fitting to share a muffin recipe instead. Although I must confess, while this recipe did yield a single test muffin, it's more of a bread recipe. One that is easily convertible to muffins, though! Regardless of what form this grain-based concoction takes in your oven, it's remains delicious and healthy.

I made this bread for a dinner meeting/birthday celebration potluck I went to earlier this week. Later this year, I am heading out of my neck of the woods on a missions trip with the church I attend. Together with nine other women, we'll be working for a couple of weeks in southeast Asia. How exciting! Quite randomly, three of us share the same birthday, and another member had a birthday earlier this week. Hence the birthday dinner meeting. (That's me all the way on the left in the photo, with the vigorous and enthusiastic candle-snuffing.)

My contribution to the meal was a couple of loaves of this bread, banana zucchini bread. Based on this recipe, the bread is moist and flavorful without being overloaded with unhealthy fats or empty carbs. Feel free to tweak as desired -- you all know that I always do!

Birthday Banana Zucchini Bread

1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 very ripe banana, mashed
2 eggs (I used replacers)
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup raw sugar
1 T vanilla extract

2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats

1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 T ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. With cooking spray, grease either a 9x13 inch baking pan, two 9x5 inch loaf pans, or a muffin tin (I made two 9x5 inch loaves, with a single muffin for taste testing).

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin banana, and eggs. Then add the maple syrup, sugar, and vanilla, beating until frothy. Stir in the zucchini.

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Slowly stir the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients. Combine until just combined.

Pour the batter into the greased pan(s) of your choice. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (Be sure to adjust baking time for your size pan -- smaller pans require shorter baking times.) Set aside to cool completely before devouring!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Plagiarized Shrimp Burritos

This weekend, I got a new job. Yes, another one. Except this time, it's a job with staying power. A job I can depend on. A job that's going to stick around. Full-time. For the school year. Teaching.

Finally -- finally -- after two years of substitute teaching in the extremely competitive public school system, I've managed to snag a full-time position. I'll be working as a paraprofessional (teacher's aide) with students who have behavioral concerns. It will be a tough and, I'm sure, often thankless job, but ultimately rewarding in many ways. I'll need lots of patience and courage for this one!

Yesterday was my first day. Well, sort of. You see, I thought it was my first day, but it really just was a kick-off meeting of all the educators in the district that lasted about an hour. Walking out the door earlier than expected, I wondered what I could do with my found hours. I had a yearning for some sweet potato fries from the Hob Nob, my favorite place to eat in town, but no one was available for a last minute lunch. Not feeling like partaking of such a treat of a meal alone, I rather forlornly headed home for lunch.

I'm so glad that I did! While perusing one of the newest additions to my blog subscriptions, Eat, Live Run, I ran across a recipe for a shrimp burrito that called for yellow summer squash. Having purchased just such a squash at the farmer's market this weekend and wondering what I would do with my golden gem of delight, I knew that there was only one thing I could do. I made myself Jenna's shrimp burrito for lunch.

I made a few tweaks to the recipe, such as opting for hickory BBQ sauce, for example, rather than Texas Pete as a) I have no idea what Texas Pete is, and b) don't have any. I also used black beans rather than refried (personal preference), garlic (of course), and cheddar cheese as that's what I had on hand. To make the burrito even more snazzy, I defrosted a package of guacamole I had purchased and then saved back in February and added a couple of tablespoons to the top of this jumbled pile o' food heaven. Throw on a spoonful of fat-free quark and you've got yourself a tangy Cajun open-faced burrito. Be sure to use plenty of cayenne!

This recipe is simple, delicious, quick, and very healthy and filling. I ate this with a side salad dressed with fat-free roasted sweet pepper and garlic vinaigrette. It more than hit the spot, and I will definitely be making it again. Thanks, Jenna!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Camoflague Cookies

A short while ago, I stumbled across a little blog called Operation Baking GALS. Well, it's not all that little, really -- it's been featured in a number of prominent media spots -- but it is a very sweet center of operations for a confederation of bakers determined to make a difference. A difference for whom? you ask. For United States deployed soldiers!

Here's the deal: baking bloggers unite under the banner of Operation Baking GALS to send cookies to our troops working overseas. Serving as a military police officer in Iraq or driving a tank through Afghanistan must be a pretty draining job in all respects -- mentally, physically, and emotionally. Add that to the fact that the living conditions are less than optimal and these soldiers are separated from their loved ones for vast stretches of time. Wouldn't it be a wonderful and surprising treat to receive a box of homemade cookies in the mail?

That's what a few blogging friends thought, and thus the Operation was born. This is their second round of camoflague-bound cookie orchestration. For this cycle, nine soldiers will be receiving boxes of cookies from a host of baking bloggers (or blogging bakers, take your pick). And . . . I'm one of them!

As I'm not normally a cookie baker -- you all know how I love my muffins and scones -- I searched for a recipe that was not too complex. Also, I needed a cookie that would travel well and hopefully arrive mostly in one piece and unmelted. I wasn't sure how chocolate chips would do with shipping, and I didn't know how bar cookies would keep. In the end, I settled upon a very simple flourless peanut butter cookie recipe. I made two batches -- one plain, and one with 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa mixed in. I shipped these dense but tasty treats off this morning. I hope they make my soldier and his friends smile!

Patriotic Peanut Butter Cookies

1 egg (I used 1/4 cup egg replacer)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter (I used smooth)
splash of vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a few baking sheets with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Place tablespoon-sized balls of dough on the cookie sheet, then flatten with a fork in a criss-cross pattern. For an extra kick, cover the fork tines with brown sugar before pressing the dough balls.

Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing to a rack to cool further. The cookies will be extremely delicate fresh from the oven, so try to avoid moving them/gobbling them up right away!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Food Stalker

One aspect I really enjoy about blogs that I read such as Eat, Live, Run (a new favorite -- don't miss this nutritionist-come-culinary-student's site!) are how these folks detail their daily food intake. Not only does it inspire me with new ideas for lunches, but also helps me to get a better idea of what kind of nutrition choices support toward an active, healthy lifestyle. For example, Jenna has taught me that eating almond butter several times a day (spooned into breakfast oatmeal, or spread over a cracker as a snack) is not only not bad but in fact quite an energy booster.

So I decided to detail some more of the things I'm putting into my body over the course of a day. This particular run-down follows my eating for Thursday, August 22. Let the food rodeo begin!

I welcomed the day with a toasted blueberry bagel with fat-free cream cheese from Bagels on Broadway, a plum, and green tea. This is actually quite an abnormal breakfast for me -- usually I have a cup of fat-free vanilla yogurt mixed with frozen berries, a sliced banana, and a cup of Kashi's Go Lean! cereal. When I was buying bread for the Best Husband Ever at The Good Food Store on Wednesday evening, however, I felt a bagel craving come over me. Instead of buying a whole bag of bagels (it seems like so much to commit to in order not to waste them!), I selected one from the bulk bin. They also had cranberry bagels, which I'll have to try next time. These bagels are gluten- and dairy-free, and my blueberry bagel was quite tasty.

For a mid-morning snack, I had this peanut butter and oats granola bar. It's from Great Value BeneFIT, the Wal-Mart store brand, and not too shabby for a generic product. It hits the spot in terms of taste, but I wouldn't mind a little less sugar (it contains 10 grams) and a little more protein (it only has 3 grams). I prefer Kashi's GoLean Crunchy! bars and LUNABars both in terms of taste and nutritional content, but these generic bars are much gentler on the wallet.

For lunch, I packed up Mr. Bento with a pretty filling meal. My kitchen cupboard contains several cans of Busch's vegetarian barbeque baked beans that are set to expire this month, so I took half a can for lunch. In addition, I made a little salad of beet greens, halved grapes, jalapeno and orange bell peppers, tomatoes, and sprouts with a little pepper and balsamic vinegar. I took two fat-free honey vanilla rice cakes. Finally, I drizzled a little honey over some fat-free vanilla yogurt and topped that with cinnamon, nutmeg, and more halved grapes. I spread this concoction over the rice cakes. I felt pretty neutral about this -- it tasted fine, but was not anything special. In fact, I sadly felt this way about the entire lunch. Ah, well. You can't capture the wonderfulness of baked beets with every meal, I suppose.

My excellent evening munchings, however, more than compensated for my mediocre lunch. After work, I headed to a local coffeeshop, Break Espresso, for a little caffeine and blogging. I haven't been in to this particular cafe in the longest time, and it just felt good. Very relaxing. It's such a soothing place, especially since the university students hadn't yet returned, as they are certainly doing by the bushel even as I wrie this!

Hyped up on caffeine, I headed over to The Old Post Pub to meet my co-workers for a celebratory dinner. The alternative educational camp where I've been teaching this summer finished up on Friday, so the two other teachers and I decided to share some yummy food. I had never been to The Old Post before, which is a bar/restaurant, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I ordered the grilled portobello mushroom sandwich, which comes topped with roasted red peppers, smoked gouda, and green goddess dressing. For my side I chose garlic mashed potatoes, of course -- on a a chilly day like the one we were having, who could turn down such a hearty and garlicky delight? Not me, that's for certain. The verdict? 'Mmmmazing! It truly hit the spot, and was perfectly portioned, unlike so many restaurants where they load up your plate with three or four servings. Also, it wasn't overly greasy, which was a welcome change. I will definitely revisit both the bar and this sandwich!

Before I hit the sack, I had my regular nighttime snack -- a half cup of fat-free cottage cheese with a little pineapple and two slices of dried papaya. I have this little booster to make up for any too-small meals, and to help me gain my ten-ish pounds of healthy weight a little faster. Plus, it's tasty. I am a huge cottage cheese fan, and the papaya is delectable. And eating this snack out of my favorite little bowl only sweetens the deal.

Whew! That just about wraps my Thursday of food up, I suppose! All in all, I feel that it was an excellent day in terms of health (I made nutritious and filling choices) and my food feelings (I truly enjoyed everything I ate, including my rather lackluster lunch). What else can I say but -- huzzah!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Roasting Rocks My World

As I've written about quite frequently of late, I love roasted beets. Slightly charred, a little crispy, but bursting with flavor, not much can beat (no pun intended...mostly) the perks of roasting. So when I purchased a yellow summer squash in addition to my bunch of beets at last weekend's farmer's market, it seemed natural that I roast the squash as well.

I tried some of the squash raw as I sliced it up in preparation for roasting, and its flesh was smooth and almost creamy, and definitely delectable. It would make a great addition to any fresh salad. This time, however, I spread the squash on a baking sheet along with some mini red bell peppers, french beans, and diced red onion as well as garlic, vinegars, and spices, then popped the entire enchilada in the oven.

This recipe is easy, with the actual work of the process (i.e., the chopping and dicing, and then the mixing of the ingredients) requiring no more than five minutes. I left the veggie-laden tray in the oven for about thirty-five to forty minutes, then refrigerated the results. That's not to say that you shouldn't eat this healthy dish warm -- it tasted quite nice fresh from the heat. However, I intended to use this as part of a bento lunch for the next day, piled over some beet greens.

Speaking of farmer's markets and locally grown foods, don't forget about Muffin Love's local food challenge, Living La Vida Local! Be sure to enter your best recipe with local or homegrown foods. I can't wait to see the results! For now, however, content yourself with this flavorful vegetable concoction.

Tri-Color Summer Vegetable Roast

2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1 tsp parsley, dried
1 tsp oregano
pepper to taste

1 summer squash, sliced
3 mini red bell peppers, julienned
1/4 cup red onion, diced

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the garlic, vinegars, lemon, and spices in a large bowl. Stir in the sliced vegetables, being sure to cover all pieces in the marinade. (Alternatively, pour the marinade and vegetables into a well-sealing tupperware or Ziplock baggie and shake well.) Spread the vegetables evenly on a baking sheet covered in canola oil cooking spray. Make sure that none of the pieces overlap. Reserve any extra marinade in a separate bowl.

Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven on a centered rack for 15 minutes. Stir the vegetables, flipping each piece in order to evenly roast all sides. Roast for another 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables have reached your desired texture. Remove and cool. When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, remove them to the bowl with the reserved marinade. Stir and either serve immediately or refrigerate.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Peanut Butter Pluck

As one might imagine, I enjoy cooking. It makes sense, right? I mean, I keep a fairly active cooking blog, for Pete's sake (although who Pete might be is beyond me). What does not make as much sense is how weird I am about said cooking, and eating in general. Why? You may well ask. As an over-exerciser and calorie-restricter, I'm currently in treatment for disordered eating. Mostly on the anorexic side of things, but with roots in and (for me, anyway) a panic-inducing tendency toward bulimia when I'm not restricting my food intake.

Remember my pursuit of protein? I've mastered that, for the most part -- I love beans! -- and now am moving on to conquer steeper peaks. One process that I'm currently and painstakingly working through is adding calories and fat to my diet. The goal is to get every meal (not counting healthy snacks) up to a minimum of 500 calories, and to add a little bit of healthy fat as well. Scary, and extraordinarily challenging.

But, happily, this chapter is not without its glimpses of hard-won success. Take this week's Monday dinner, for example. As my work day came to a close, I found myself craving peanut stir-fry. Instead of squashing the feeling, I decided to indulge. After all, I had a bag of stir-fry veggies in the freezer, Smart Strips vegetarian chicken in the fridge, and low-carb shirataki noodles. I decided to go for it. This recipe makes one serving of tangy peanut sauce -- enough to cover half a package of noodles, one full package of Smart Strips, and about one cup of vegetables. Not only that, but it's delicious, easy, and -- despite what my internal eating disordered voice insists -- healthy. Enjoy, without guilt! I was able to, and that is a true victory for me.

Victory Peanut Sauce

1+ T smooth peanut butter
1 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1/2 T honey
1/8 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Whisk together all the ingredients, then stir-fry with vegetables, fish, chicken, or use as a marinade or dressing however you'd like. Yum!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I've Got a New Mister in My Life

That's right. I'm having a lusty affair with a new mister. He's tough, tasteful, and boasts a barrel chest. He keeps his cool or stays hot as the circumstances dictates. He likes to go out, and is very accommodating. What's his name? Mr. Bento!

Although my original bento lunchbox is adorable and fantastically pink, it's just not large enough to contain a fully nutritious meal without having to carry around other packaged foods like yogurt cups. It was becoming a pain, and seemed inefficient. But what to replace my plucky pink bento box with?

I had my eye on both the Mr. Bento from Zojirushi and the Laptop Lunch from Obentec, but I couldn't decide between the two. They both have good merit for different types of meals. Two of Mr. Bento's four jars are insulated, for example, retaining both heat and cold for up to six hours, and one of those jars is vacuumed sealed, making it perfect for soups and stews. This cylindrical jar, with its sealed, stacking containers, is also more space efficient, especially for transporting in my backpack as I bike to and from work.

The Laptop Lunch box, on the other hand, is flatter in shape, with four removeable containers of various sizes in addition to a fifth lidded sauce container. One of the four larger containers is also lidded, which is ideal for sloppier items like salad. The Laptop Lunch also seems well-suited for flat items like sandwiches, wraps, and quesadillas, and the removeable inner containers makes it more versatile as you can simply take out a couple (or even all) of the containers and fill in the main box with salad, sandwiches, and other items that don't fit well into a tray.

It was a difficult choice. Both boxes come with a bag (Mr. Bento with a canvas shoulder sling bag, and the Laptop Lunch with an insulated bag complete with a water bottle and strap) and utensils (a spork for Mr. Bento, and a fork and a spoon for the other). Which to choose? I agonized, and I lusted, poring over the boxes' respective websites, user reviews, and Flickr photo groups.

In the end, I got both. Frivolous, perhaps, but well worth it, in my opinion. I have already made several lunches in both boxes, and am so glad I have the flexibility of the two packing systems. Plus, I'll (presumably) get years of use out of both boxes, and if not then I already have a back-up in place. And since I seem to be developing something of a bento box fetish, it just seemed to make sense.

I suppose the question now becomes, which is my favorite of the two? In all honesty, I don't think I could choose. Not at this early stage of a stage in our relationships, at least. As I already stated, the two lunch packing systems are unique and seem particularly suited to a particular type of meal. So far I have used my snazzy Laptop Lunch box for spinach and mozzarella frittatas with garlic toast, and for various wraps, such as soy turkey with barbeque saurce as well as ricotta with roasted red peppers. Mr. Bento has so far carried different black bean salad creations as well as one of my new favorite dishes, farmer's market beets roasted in balsamic and garlic. So far, I love them both! I can't wait for the tasty lunchtime adventures we will share in the future.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tasty Departure

Today one of my sisters-in-law, having visited for the past couple of weeks from her new home down south, took off. It was fantastic getting to see her again, although it somehow didn't feel like half a year had passed since she moved. We gave her a good sending-off this morning, meeting up at the farmer's market for pastries from Bernice's Bakery (I had a Traditional English Scone, which was delicious) and some coffee at Break Espresso.

Speaking of pastry explorations, it's been a somewhat eventful week. Before hitting up last Saturday's farmer's market for some beets and sprouts, the Best Husband Ever and I visited Le Petit Outre, Missoula's French bakery. I had a lemon poppy ginger scone, which was pretty tasty, while he had a plain but incredible croissant. My scone, as good as it was, did not quite hit the spot, however. What I had really had a hankering for was brioche, but unfortunately they were fresh out that morning. After relating my experience to a co-worker later in the week, she bought in Le Petit brioches for everyone the next day. The verdict? Délicieux!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Flashback Friday

While responding to a new comment on an old photo posted on my Flickr stream, another photograph from even farther back in the day caught my eye. It was of the gingerbread men cookies that Ed and I made in October 2006. We both were feeling grumpy with life, relationships, and perhaps even ourselves, so we whipped up a batch of these puppies. The gingerbread man on the right we named Jackson Pollack, and the one on the left became Hot Pants after the addition of red sprinkles to his lower half. We also created The Asian and The Albino. And then . . . we ate 'em. It felt (and they tasted) good, and that gray-turned-cozy fall day remains one of my favorite memories with Ed. Sometimes, a girl friend is just what you need, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kitchen Lust

It's Thursday, so that means that a Thursday Thirteen is in order. Check out the thirteen cooking resources/tools that I would love to have in my kitchen.

Bento Superstars

It's Thursday, so that means that a Thursday Thirteen list is in order. Check out my thirteen favorite food creations to tuck into a bento lunchbox, in absolutely no significant order. These thirteen items made the list because they are a) tasty, b) easy to prepare and pack, or c) both a and b.

  1. Hummus (especially curried hummus).
  2. Yogurt (fat-free, of various fun flavors -- some favorites are banana cream pie, lemon meringue, and peach).
  3. Cottage cheese (fat-free).
  4. Sauteed veggies (especially broccoli, green beans, and bell peppers), mixed with some combination of soy sauce, balsamic, or rice vinegar.
  5. Crackers (especially wheat Melba Toast, Pretzel Thins, Wasa or Ryvita crispbread, and rice cakes).
  6. Turkey or ham and cream cheese roll-ups with romaine or spinach.
  7. Fruit and veggies (including dried fruit).
  8. Instant pudding (fat-free, and especially of the butterscotch persuasion).
  9. Black bean salad varieties, topped with mango-peach salsa and fat-free quark.
  10. Roasted beets.
  11. Salad of all shapes and sizes (especially marinated tomatoes, cucumbers and quark, spinach or romaine with other veggies, cabbage and apple, and so forth).
  12. Applesauce with cinnamon and raisins or dates.
  13. Turkey wraps with sprouts and romaine, and either balsamic, farmhouse chutney (think apples and grapes and other autumn-y tastes), or BBQ sauce.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fresh from the Fridge

It's summer, complete with hot and (often) humid weather, extra sunshine, and an overabundance of sweat. That means that many of us are loathe to turn to our ovens and stove tops for warm meals. I'm not one of these, actually -- I just made miniature pizzas in our oven last night. But I do enjoy a light and simple lunch that requires little to no actual "cooking" in the sense of heat being required.

Check out this wrap, for instance. Using part-skim or fat-free cheeses makes this healthy for the heart/cholesterol/waistline, and it's both tasty and low on the effort. What more could a girl ask for in these lazy days of the season? Serve it cold or broiled in your toaster oven, with a fresh salad and some seasonal fruit on the side.

Roasted Reds 'n' Ricotta Wrap

1 tortilla (I used whole wheat)
1/4 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
1/4 cup fat-free shredded mozzarella cheese
sliced roasted red bell pepper (use as much as you feel like)
1 T balsamic vinegar, or more as needed
1/8 cup fresh sprouts (I recommend a sweet variety, like alfalfa)

Spread the ricotta cheese evenly over the open tortilla. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the cheese, pressing it into the cheese with the back of a spoon. Layer the roasted bell pepper slices, then top with mozzarella. Broil in a toaster oven until the shredded cheese is melted and the edges of the tortilla just begin to brown. Remove, and add some sprouts down the center of the tortilla over the cheeses and peppers. Drizzle some more balsamic over the sprouts, then carefully wrap the sides of the tortilla around the fillings. Secure with a toothpick if desired, and enjoy!

Makes 1 serving.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Living La Vida Local Lameness

So. Remember, way back in the day, when I issued a local foods cooking challenge? That's right, it's still alive -- Living La Vida Local! The deadline was July 15, but between lack of entries (I've only received one) and my own busy schedule/lack of energy/general laziness, I haven't gotten around to posting the results.

What that means is that I'm extending the deadline! If you still would like to enter a dish or meal that includes at least one locally grown (or organic, if you can't get your mitts on some local food) ingredient, send it to me at escagnel04 (at) yahoo (dot) com (the "0" in my email address is a zero, not a letter) along with your name, the name and address of your blog, a link to your blog post about the dish (or a description of the entry if you don't have a blog) with a recipe, and a link to an optional photo. Whew! Be sure to snag one of the Living La Vida Local banners for your blog or website as well.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bread Baker

About a month or so ago, I read the Leftover Queen's bread rant. Her valid points about the amounts of very processed ingredients that can be found in store-bought bread inspired to get off my lazy behind and try out some bread baking. She recommended the ease and versatility of the bread recipes the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I found the cookbook at the local library and decided to try out one of the recipes that the Leftover Queen also tested, light whole wheat.

I must admit, my hopes were low. I've never attempted to break yeast bread before and didn't think that my first efforts would amount to much. Thankfully, I was very much surprised. Not only is the claim of the book mostly true -- the bread really does only take about five to ten minutes of work per day to make, not counting rising and baking time -- but the directions were simple, clear, and easy for me to follow. Not only that, but the results were darn tasty. The Best Husband Ever and I ate the bread plain, as a side to stir-fry if I remember correctly, as well as with some apricot jam. My favorite way to eat this bread was in a sandwich filled with a spread of fat-free quark and Smart BBQ, a vegetarian alternative to barbecued shredded beef.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day offers a wide variety of bread recipes, from whole grain to white to sandwich to flat bread varieties. The recipe that most excites me, however, is for pumpernickel. Pumpernickel, a type of rye, is my favorite kind of bread. Curiously, I could not track it down in any grocery stores once I moved to Montana. After doing a little research, I discovered the reason -- pumpernickel is touted as a New York-style rye. That explains why I could eat it growing up in northern New Jersey and then fail to locate it out west. In fact, when I visited my old stomping grounds in July, I ate pumpernickel sandwiches at least once a day, and then brought the remainder of the loaf back to Montana to finish. I haven't tried the Artisan Bread pumpernickel recipe yet, but it's on my list of food endeavors I'd like to conquer. A worthy quest, don't you think? Pumpernickel in Montana. Mmm.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Feast Your Eyeballs...

...on the perfect summer treat from Big Dipper. One scoop of vanilla & Reese's and one of pumpkin, in a waffle-icious cone. Say it with me, now: Mmmm.