I’ll Make My Lunch To Go

I’m blowing up on Instagram. Seriously. Cooking With Bells On officially has, wait for it… nineteen followers. That’s right, of the service’s 200 million odd users, nearly twenty of them (twenty of you) have boldly clicked “Follow” and become pioneers in the Insta’ With Bells On movement.

Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic here, but I am genuinely surprised by how much I find myself liking this particular social media platform, one which I resisted using for so long. It’s been a few days now that I’ve been posting as Cooking With Bells On’s intrepid iPhone photographer, and in that time I’ve made a special effort to preserve moments I might otherwise allow to pass. I’ve captured evidence of my mid-day cappuccino quests*, sniped images of loitering kitchen appliances, and shot outtakes of my adorable schnauzer in the morning. And I’ve diligently collected photographs of the food coming out of my kitchen, too, because I know that’s what you really want to see.

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Of the food-centric Instagrams I’ve shared, those involving pictures of my daily lunches have accumulated extra attention, with consistent “likes” and responses from my small but dedicated army of followers. Given this attention, I thought I’d go ahead and share with you just what I’ve been making in my kitchen lately for this meal.

Lunch, as I make it for myself, is generally a humble meal, cobbled together of leftover vegetable scraps and pantry staples. I make an effort to make the meal as nourishing as possible, though to tell you the truth this isn’t a difficult task, as the ingredients I like to keep on hand tend to be of the delicious and good-for-you variety anyways. And, while I do savor the time I take to prepare something good in the morning, I never really use more than a few minutes to put it all together. It’s a simple task, though one worth finding delight in.

*I’m on a mission to visit all of the coffee shops listed on the New York Times’ The Scoop app. So far, I’ve checked off 27 (or 35, if you include places I visited but were later retired from the list) out of 112.

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Salmon Avocado Salad (In a Jar) with Endive

Photo Mar 27, 12 20 58 PM

The only real condition I have for making lunch is that I be able to carry the finished product with me in a small jar. Back in the day, this restraint made good sense for a girl carrying her lunch to the office. Now office life is history to me, and the logic for lunch in a jar is kind of gone, too, but for some reason I still prefer to make my meal this way.

This recipe is just a framework for how I make lunch, and you should feel free to get creative with it. Here I used salmon as a protein, though I use canned sardines just as often, and sometimes hard-boiled eggs or leftover chicken instead. I almost always include avocado, which I like for its flavor, texture, and color; but the other vegetables included change depending on the season and what I have in my fridge. Two things you shouldn’t leave out are fresh herbs and citrus. Both play a huge role in brightening the whole thing up, which becomes especially important if you plan on eating several hours after you’ve made the lunch.

A note on home-made mayonnaise: it is totally optional in this dish, but I’ll go ahead and say that I am pro-mayonnaise, especially when it is home-made. I could really geek out over how good this mayonnaise is for you, what with its bounty of egg yolks and healthful oil. But I’m not here to be on a “don’t-fear-fat” soapbox. I do recommend that if you make it, try to use a more non-inflammatory fat, such as MCT oil or macadamia oil, but you could also go the conventional route and use a neutral-tasting oil such as grapeseed or canola oil. You could also use store-bought mayonnaise, but where’s the fun in that? If you decide to omit the mayonnaise (which I often do, anyways), I suggest bulking up the lunch with some salad greens and just using some oil and vinegar as dressing.

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Ingredients:

Mayonnaise, preferably home-made (see recipe below)
Mustard
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup (or more) diced vegetables: golden beet (used here), or: radish, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, carrot, etc.
Salmon, fresh and cooked (leftovers) or canned (I used about 1/4 of a 14.5 oz can here, saving the leftovers for another day’s lunch)
1 tsp fresh herbs, chopped: dill (used here), or: tarragon, basil, mint, cilantro, parsley, etc.
1/2 a lemon, zest reserved (optional)
1 endive, washed and outer leaves removed

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To make lunch in a jar: Stir together a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise with one spoonful of mustard and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper in a small jar. Add the diced vegetables, salmon, herbs, and lemon juice and zest (if using). Mix to combine. Trim bottom inch of the endive to separate leaves. Twist lid onto jar, pack up endives, and head to a park or sunny corner of your office to enjoy.

Home-made Mayonnaise

The miso here is a new addition for me. Miso pretty much makes everything better – saltier and more complex – and I highly suggest using it if you have some around.

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Ingredients:

2 egg yolks
1/4 cup neutral oil: MCT oil (used here) is usually found in the supplements section of the store (or Amazon.com) and has the dual merits of extremely neutral flavor as well as superfood status, or: macadamia oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil.
1 tbsp white miso (optional)
1/2 lemon, or less
Salt

To prepare mayonnaise: Using a blender (or an immersion blender with the jar in which you intend to store the mayonnaise), combine the egg yolks, oil, and white miso. Add lemon and salt to taste. The finished mayonnaise will taste rich, but balanced.

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Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

My favorite way to cook dinner, one which you’ll probably see me employ over and over again on this site until you beg me to learn to cook another way, involves roasting. It’s a pretty magical process, that of turning bits of raw meat and vegetables into tender, sweet, crisp, delectable dishes simply by closing a hot oven door. Really, though, as wonderful as food cooked this way tastes, I don’t prefer roasting simply with flavor in mind.

The true reason I love to roast is due to the method’s flexibility and forgiving nature. A roasted dish is pretty impossible to screw up. With your oven hot, and it doesn’t really matter how hot, add a bit of oil and seasoning and toss your barely handled ingredients into the oven, then cook until done. Or cook past done, if you’ve got vegetables in there – they’ll only get sweeter and more delicious.

Roasting is incredibly practical, too, especially when cooking dinner just seems like another chore. With all the cooking done in one pan, cleanup is practically non-existent, especially if you’re clever enough to line your baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper – then entire cleanup process just takes crumbling up that lining and tossing it in the wastebin. As for the rest of the time you’re “busy” cooking, hop up on the countertop with a good book and tell people to please leave you alone while you’re getting dinner ready.
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Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

Photo Mar 17, 7 47 12 PM

Serves 4… or, at my house, 2 with lots of leftovers

This is a really lovely winter salad that would do well as an appetizer or side dish. To add a bit more protein and make it more appropriate for dinner, I incorporated some shrimp as well. We don’t often think about roasting shrimp (normally we have them boiled or grilled, or perhaps sauteed) but it’s such an easy way to cook them, especially if you’ve already got your oven hot. It’s harder to overcook them in the oven than it is in a pan and, most importantly, there’s no cleanup involved.

Because of its color and scale, this dish takes well to a rustic presentation. I like to plate it all on one big platter and let people serve themselves from that, though you could plate individually, as well. Note that because the cheese and prosciutto are already quite salty, you may want to hold back on the salt when you season your finished dish.

Ingredients:
1 butternut squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
1 small red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
1/2 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto
Mesclun salad
Balsamic vinegar
Small wedge of Parmesan

Preheat your oven to 375

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Butternut squash: Cut the neck off the squash, and then halve each of the two sections lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds, and cut each of your sections into quarters. Place these segments onto a roasting pan and scatter some olive oil over them. With a pestle and mortar (or with the end of a wooden spoon in a small bowl), bash up your chile with the coriander and a very big pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Rub this seasoning into your squash, and roast for 45 minutes. Squash will be tender and golden when ready. Allow to cool slightly before plating.

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Shrimp (if using): Toss shrimp with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Distribute on a parchment lined baking sheet. When the squash has only 10 minutes left on the timer, place the shrimp in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then carefully flip the shrimp, and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes until golden and pinky-white throughout.

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Plating: First lay your prosciutto on the plate. It will look nicest if you sort of let it fall onto the plate, twisting into little organic piles. With your hands, pull the squash apart into roughly 1-inch pieces, and tuck these amongst the prosciutto. Scatter a few handfuls of salad greens over the dish, tucking it in in places so that everything is visible. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, then olive oil, over the entire dish, and season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave off shards of Parmesan over the finished dish.