Jazz up your lunch box fare

Beyond the brown bag

Here are some ideas for what to pack for lunch (sorry, no bologna or PB&J):

• A crusty baguette, thinly sliced ham, some sweet butter and a little sea salt.

• Make simple spring rolls by rolling up in rice paper romaine lettuce, julienned carrot and daikon, grilled tofu (or cooked shrimp if you have the option to refrigerate your lunch) and some fresh mint and basil. Pack a container of peanut sauce for dipping.

• Even if you don't have a thermos you can still have soup for lunch: Make some gazpacho, which is great at room temperature. Pack slices of avocado, some cilantro and a small container of sour cream or yogurt.

• To go with a sliced bagel, include fillings packed separately so the bagel doesn't get soggy: a container of cream cheese (mix in some chopped chives, freshly ground black pepper, minced cilantro or capers), slices of red onion and cucumber and some lox or smoked salmon.

• Breakfast for lunch: Pack a thermos of plain Greek yogurt, a container of granola, a little jar of honey, a bag of fresh berries and maybe a shaker of cinnamon.

• Compose a cheese plate in your lunch box: Wrap a wedge of three of your favorite cheeses — Manchego, a chevre, maybe smoked Gouda, probably not a blue considering the closed environment — then add half a baguette, an apple or pear and a handful of almonds. Be sure to include a cheese knife.

• For a retro lunch, fill a thermos with tomato soup, wrap up a cheese panini or grilled cheese sandwich (thinly sliced country white bread; half Gruyere, half Fontina; a smear of whole grain mustard), add a Granny Smith apple and a spoon.

• Pasta salad: farfalle pasta, halved cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, fresh parsley, torn basil and toasted pine nuts.

• Grill or roast salmon for dinner. Use leftovers (or make extra) and flake the cooked salmon into a container with cooked small potatoes, quartered cooked eggs, cooked beets, minced fresh dill and a mustard vinaigrette.

• Roast and peel whole bell peppers the night before (maybe while grilling). Stuff the peppers with a mixture of tuna, capers, red onion and parsley. Wrap in parchment for easier eating.

• Make a big pot of white bean chili for dinner. The next morning, reheat some extra for the thermos; on the side, pack fresh cilantro, avocado and toasted croutons.

• Stuff a whole-wheat pita with falafel. Add containers of finely chopped romaine, tomato and cucumbers, and tahini dressing to assemble at lunchtime.

• Pack a few flatbreads with a container of white bean hummus, another of sauteed greens. Either assemble into a sandwich at lunch or just dip the bread into the hummus and eat the greens with a fork.

• After dinner, take leftover bread, tear it into pieces and toast it in olive oil with garlic and a few minced chilies. The next morning, put the croutons in a plastic bag with chopped tomatoes, red onion and minced fresh herbs (the flavors will blend and the croutons will soften). In another bag, put salad greens. At lunch, mix the contents for panzanella (Italian bread salad).

Los Angeles Times

Thinking outside the lunch box is probably the best way of getting anything good inside it.

In the comfort of your own kitchen, you can compose a lunch that's tasty, well-constructed, a bit off the beaten PB&J track and, most important, portable. Imagine that you're packing a picnic.

Lunch is more fun if you think pragmatically. Don't pack items that might pose a health risk. Avoid fragile things like delicate cookies and, yes, potato chips. Don't dress salads in advance — carry a container of dressing separately — and don't pre-cut fruits or vegetables that will brown or dry out — pack them whole and include a paring knife. Even if you use a thermos, don't include items that need to be served very hot or very cold. And think about how the components of the meal work together over time: Very few dishes taste better when they're soggy.

Evoke the lunches of your school-going youth and use a thermos for hot soup for lunch.

For dessert, pack a piece of ripe fruit or a handful of grapes; add a bar of 70 percent chocolate or some biscotti. To drink, instead of grabbing soda from a vending machine, decant some fizzy water into a reusable bottle and add a few slices of lime, blend a quick smoothie or even pack a small bottle of wine (when appropriate). A carton of milk, anyone?

A few tips to think about: Pack smart so that the contents of your lunch don't get squashed or leak. Use recyclable containers or, better, containers that you take home and reuse. Pick food that can withstand a few hours without refrigeration (or include an ice pack). And remember that aesthetics count: Both school kids and adults are more likely to eat and enjoy their lunch when it looks appealing, so packaging things well is worth a little extra time.

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Pasta With Broccoli and Italian Sausage

1 head broccoli (about 3/4 pound)

2 links fresh Italian sausage (1/4 to 1/2 pound)

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound dried short pasta, such as fusilli, penne, or ziti; or long dried pasta such as spaghetti

Salt, pepper

1 ounce pecorino Romano cheese

Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, clean the broccoli: Separate the florets from the stems and set them aside. Remove the tough peel of the stems with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, then cut the stems into half-inch cubes. Remove the casings from the sausage. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and crumble the sausage meat into the oil, flattening each piece slightly so it will brown better. Cook until the sausage browns and crisps. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic turns pale brown, about 5 minutes. Do not let the garlic scorch; if it begins to brown, remove the pan from the heat.

Add the pasta and the diced broccoli stems to the boiling water and cook 6 to 7 minutes. Add the broccoli florets and cook until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes total. Scoop out the pasta and broccoli and drain; keep the water at a boil.

Place the skillet over high heat and add the drained broccoli and pasta to the sausage and garlic. Add 1/2 cup boiling water from the pasta pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the water mostly boils away, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

Use a vegetable peeler to shave pecorino Romano over the top.

(Can be reheated in the office microwave for workday lunch.)

Serves 6.

Nutritional information per serving: 406 calories, 15gm protein, 62gm carbohydrates, 4gm fiber, 11gm fat (3gm saturated), 263mg sodium.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Jazz up your lunch box fare 01/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 3:30am]

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