A "Frosty" Lunch

Okay okay, so he doesn't have a corncob pipe or a button nose, but I think he's pretty cute.

Dry roasted peas, Carrot sticks, Balsamic vinegar and olive oil, Caprese salad (tomatoes and basil are under the mozzarella) snowman, Yogurt covered pretzels, Strawberries with marshmallow skewer

Back from Thanksgiving Break!

Thanksgiving Break was certainly fun, but went way way too fast. Because of the holiday, everyone has been home from work and school and we've been eating out and at relatives all week. The only grocery shopping I've done has been for Thanksgiving so we have hardly any food in the house. I have to get to the store this week! Packing today's lunch felt like I was on an episode of Survivor:Lunchbox Edition or something.

I was also trying to make it in a hurry cause we were supposed to have some relatives visiting today and I wanted to get lunch packed early. I'm glad that I stowed away a few slices of spiral sliced ham from Thanksgiving. We discovered that the chic really liked it so I grabbed some thinking that she would like it in her lunchbox this week. The rest of the lunch is a modge podge of things in our pantry.

Heirloom cherry tomatoes, Celery stuffed with cream cheese, cranberries and dried peas, Red grapes, Spiral sliced ham, Whole wheat and Havarti cheese Christmas trees with carrots and peas.

And finally, thanks to Sheri, Astrid, and Arkonite_Babe for the Kreativ Blogger award!

According to the award, I have to list seven random things about me and pass it on to seven other bloggers. I will list my blog choices later this week, but for now, here are my seven things:

1. I'm claustrophobic.

2. I have a weird photographic memory for phone numbers.

3. I bake when I'm stressed.

4. I am a night owl.

5. I prefer winter vacations to the beach vacations.

6. I live next door to my parents.

7. I love board games.

A Healthier Cinnamon Babka

Happy Thanksgiving! I decided to take a break from my Thanksgiving cooking to post my cinnamon babka recipe from last week. When the chic asked me to make cinnamon bread, I immediately went to an awesome cinnamon babka recipe that I've used for years. It's in The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook by Tom Lacalamita. I've had this cookbook for almost 12 years and I think it is the best bread machine cookbook ever printed! I'm not big on baking bread in the machine...I like to use it for dough. And it has tons of awesome recipes for dough cycle, hand shaped breads.
Anyway, I decided to try to make it a bit healthier by adding ground flax and using half whole wheat flour. Make no mistake, I did not cut the sugar or butter. The butter, eggs, sugar, etc...are what make babka so so good. So it's still not the healthiest bread option. Consider it a somewhat improved version. I also wanted to use the Pullman pan. It turned out really well and honestly, I don't think my additions made a difference in the texture or taste. The hubs didn't even know that I did anything different until I told him. I use my bread machine to make the dough, cause it's easy and super easy to clean up. Here's the recipe:

Healthier Cinnamon Babka
(Enough dough for one Pullman pan and one regular loaf pan)

3 eggs

1 3/4 cup milk

3 T butter, softened

1 t vanilla

3 T sugar

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 c ground flax

2 c stone ground whole wheat flour

3 c all purpose flour

3/4 t salt

1 T vital wheat gluten

1 1/2 T yeast


4 T butter

1/2 c white sugar

2 T cinnamon


2 T butter

4 T sugar

large pinch cinnamon

4 T flour

Add all ingredients to bread machine in the order suggested by manufacturer. Set to dough cycle.
While dough is processing, mix filling and topping in separate bowls and set aside. Generously butter a Pullman pan.
When dough cycle is done, punch down and let rest for five minutes. Turn onto floured surface and cut off about 1/3 of the dough an set this 1/3 aside for another use (it's a perfect amount for a regular loaf pan).
Roll remaining dough out to 1/4" thick rectangle. Sprinkle filling on the rectangle and roll up tightly. Stretch dough to twice the length of the pan and place in pan in an "S" shape tucking ends under loaf. Cover and let rise till double.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Carefully make an indention down the middle of the loaf and brush with a beaten egg. Sprinkle with topping mixture. DO not use the lid for this loaf! Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
There are other variations of Babka. Cinnamon, cheese and chocolate are the most common varieties. Anyone remember the chocolate babka from Seinfeld?

Butternut Squash Soup

Well, this is the last lunch for a week. We have a Thanksgiving Feast on Friday and then the chic is out of school for Thanksgiving break! I've got a lot of cooking to do between now and then so I'll probably post some non-lunch related stuff over the next week. BUT, we have one more, so here goes...Butternut squash soup.

Butternut Squash soup - Croutons,creme fraiche and pumpkin seeds to add the the soup - Fruit leather - Cheese curds - Homemade whole wheat flax cinnamon babka
The babka was a variation on my favorite cinnamon babka recipe. I really wanted to try making it in the Pullman pan AND I was trying to make it healthier but still yummy. It was. I literally had to wrap it in Press N Seal and walk away from the kitchen so I would stop eating it. The chic asked me to make her some cinnamon bread this morning so she should be thrilled to see this in her lunch! I will post the recipe later this weekend!

Gobble Gobble

A "Turkey" Sandwich is the chic's lunch tomorrow...

Oatmeal Raisin cookie, Fruit Bites, Carrot Chips, Flaxseed Cranberry and Pecan Crackers, Wallaby Organic Berry Yogurt, "Turkey" Sandwich

I say "Turkey" sandwich cause it's actually peanut butter and raspberry jam. The eye is a dry roasted pea, the beak is a carrot and the gobbler is red pepper. The feathers are strips of red pepper, carrot, celery, cucumber, and cheese.
I discovered that the Hello Kitty bento fits perfectly in the Laptop Lunchbox with a yogurt and the Laptop Lunchbox water. I've been really impressed with the Laptop Lunchbox insulated bag. I put a slim ice pack in the mesh pocket and her lunch stays cold WAY past lunchtime. The water bottle was surprising also. It doesn't look very impressive. Kinda flimsy actually. The first time I pulled it out of the box, I rolled my eyes. Here I spent all this money on a lunchbox, and THAT was the bottle included? But the thing is awesome! It hasn't leaked one time all year! Not once!

Fruit Leather!

I'm going to try to make Thanksgiving/Fall themed lunches this week unless the chic REALLY complains about the lack of flowers and frou frou. I'm really looking forward to moving past Thanksgiving, though, so I can make some Christmas lunches. THOSE will be fun!

Cheese curds, Cucumbers, Flaxseed Cranberry and Pecan Crackers, Homemade Fruit Leather over pecans and dried Cranberries, Turkey leaf sandwich.

I've been wanting to try making fruit leather for a long time. But, it seemed like such a time consuming process that I've kinda put it off and put it off. Well, I'm tired of trying to find all fruit fruit leather and I'm tired of paying so much for it. And really, I just love to make anything I can so that I know EXACTLY what is in it. So, after doing some Internet searching, I came up with a plan of attack and went to it. Here's how it went...

I used frozen strawberries this time. Two bags. Unsweetened. They aren't in season right now, or I would have bought fresh. So, I went with four cups of fruit and a half cup of water. I simmered these, covered, for 15 minutes.

(Everything gettin ready to simmer)

I mashed them with a potato masher and continued to cook, uncovered, until they got a bit thicker. This was only supposed to take 15 minutes or so, but I let it cook for a total of about 30 minutes. Next time I will only do 15 minutes, though. I think I let a bit too much water evaporate. You'll understand why in a minute.

(I don't know why my dad's camera keeps doing this, but this is the best one I have of it after I mashed it)

Then I stuck it in the blender and pureed the whole thing. It thickens up quite a bit when pureed. And as a warning...boiling hot strawberry puree WILL fly out of the top of the blender spout, burn your hand, and make a mess out of your kitchen when you hit the "on" button. Just sayin...I ended up putting a pot holder over the spout (after I treated my scalded hand, that is!)

(You shoulda seen the floor around the blender!)

(The Puree)

Everything I read says that you should line a baking sheet with "oven safe" plastic wrap. My plastic wrap is just store brand plastic wrap and it didn't say anywhere on the box that it was "oven safe". I stuck a piece in the microwave to test it and it didn't melt. That was good enough for me, so I used it. Four cups of fruit will make one baking sheet worth of fruit leather. I must warn you, however, that after being in the oven for a while, the edged do shrink up a bit, but the plastic under the fruit was just fine. After lining your baking sheet with plastic wrap, you pour the puree and level it out. This is important because otherwise it won't cook evenly (I know because MINE didn't cook evenly.)

(Ready for the oven)

Turn the oven to "warm" and wait...

and wait...(you can start seeing where it was thicker and not drying as fast)

and wait...

(This is right out of the oven. I tore off the bottom left corner. You know I'm an impatient cook! The bright spot is the sticky spot where it was too thick.)

I left mine in the oven for about 7 hours before pulling it out. It is supposed to be done when there are no sticky spots left, but since I didn't level mine well, I still had a thick spot that was sticky. I decided to pull it out, though, cause I didn't want the rest to get too dry.

Once out of the oven, the plastic wrap just peels off the back.

I tore it into strips and put it in a plastic baggie. At first I thought that it wasn't such a success. I cooked it too long in the initial thickening stage and when I took it out of the oven, parts of it were more crunchy than dried. And I had the sticky spot in the middle because I did a bad leveling job...okay NO leveling job, whatever. BUT I cut out the sticky spot and after being in the plastic baggie, the crunchy bit softened a bunch.

The last thing to do was test it out on the chics. And as luck would have it, we had one of our friend's kids over that day. So, I gave them all a piece and stood back to watch. It's hard to act like you don't care what they think of it. I was standing there trying to act aloof about it, all the while trying to read their facial expressions without outright staring at them. Anyway, a few minutes later, they came back for another piece, and then another. Pretty soon, they had eaten almost the entire baggie! It was a success!

Next time I make it, I will change a few things...I won't cook it for 30 minutes and stick to the 15 minutes in the thickening stage, I will put a pot holder on the blender BEFORE turning the switch on, I will level the puree, and I will make two pans! Oh, and I think I'm gonna try raspberry!

Hot Dog Ring

I wanted to take a little break from all the flowers. That seems to be the chic's favorite, but I started to feel like they were all the same. It will be short lived though. She's already requesting flowers for next week! She's a pre-planner like her mom!

Hot dog ring, Zucchini slices, Pirate's Booty, Cottage cheese with blueberries

We broke open a new package of Coleman Hot Dogs tonight and made a hot dog ring. I cut through the hot dog most of the way and cut off the ends to make a flat edge. Then I wrapped it around and pinned it together with a toothpick. I placed it on a whole wheat bread round, filled it with shredded cheese, and drizzled it with mustard. When she heats it up tomorrow, the cheese should be all melty and gooey.

This weekend I'm attempting to make my first batch of fruit leather so stay tuned for that adventure!

Not Quite Goat Cheese Salad

Tomorrow's lunch is a bit of leftovers...

Cranberry pecan salad with honey "goat cheese" dressing, Panko crusted chicken drumstick, Cherry yogurt pretzels, Powerball

I started off with all intentions of making a salad tonight with a honey goat cheese dressing. I even went today and bought more spring mix. But when I came home and started scooping ingredients in the Magic Bullet (which is a blender, btw), I found that my goat cheese smelled a bit off. I'm a little freaky about the whole spoiled food thing. If there's a date on it, by golly it's goin in the trash that day. So, although the goat cheese said it didn't expire until December, I chunked it. I had to come up with a solution quick since almost all the other dressing ingredients were in the Magic Bullet and I wasn't wasting 2 tablespoons of very expensive wild honey that I had already measured out. So, I decided to substitute sour cream since it is similarly tangy. I measured it out, turned the blender on, and crossed my fingers. Although it wasn't as thick and creamy as goat cheese would have made it, the sour cream was a great "in a pinch" substitute.

We came across a sale on organic free range chicken drumsticks last weekend. I usually don't buy drumsticks, but I couldn't tell you why. The chics really loved them. I rolled them in a bit of a mustard concoction and breaded them with panko bread crumbs. Then I baked them on a rack so the whole coating would get crispy. They turned out really well. The little chic even ate two of them.

And to continue yesterday's camera tirade...my cracker submission got rejected on Foodgawker (as usual) due to shadowing. I thought it was a great picture, but what do I know? But it DID get published on Tastespotting! My dad is letting me keep the camera till the weekend so there will be plenty more gratuitous photos I'm sure! Just look at the pecans...oooooh...close up...

The Day of Gratuitous Photos

I have needed a "real" camera for so so long. It's probably been 15 years since I had a camera that wasn't a point and shooter. This blog has really made me realize how limiting the all automatic cameras are and made my hunger for a new camera even greater. The hubs doesn't want to spend the money. He NEVER wants to spend the money. I keep threatening that one day I'm just going to go buy one. Well, guess what?? Today wasn't that day! But I did borrow my dad's camera! I think that I took 100 pictures of food today in all sorts of configurations. What do these crackers look like in this light? What about in this light? What about with a sprinkle of crumbs? Seriously, I've been lurking on Foodgawker too long. Have you been on Foodgawker? It's unbelievable. I can suck up hours and hours looking at all those photos. They are gorgeous, mouthwatering, and definitely NOT taken with a point and shoot camera. I've submitted items to Foodgawker before but they always get rejected due to photo quality. For about a year, I have dutifully submitted items and waited by the Blackberry just certain that this photo would be the one. None have been the one. The same reason I love Foodgawker, is the same reason I hate it. They are sooooo freakin picky about their photos. So, I'm gonna start borrowing my dad's camera here and there and maybe one of my submissions will meet their standards. Doubtful, but just maybe.

There really is a lunch involved in all this camera hoopla. Her lunch for tomorrow is some leftover Pad Thai from one of our favorite Thai restaurants in the area. I went for lunch today and felt guilty the entire time. The chic loves Pad Thai, and I could just see her sitting in the cafeteria eating her crappy hot lunch because I was too busy last night to pack her a lunch. I felt the only right thing to do was to bring her some leftovers!

Chicken and Tofu Pad Thai, Chocolate chip cookie and Fruit Bites, Dry roasted peas, Flaxseed, Cranberry, and Pecan Crackers and cheese.

Here's a close-up of the Pad Thai just cause I COULD take a close-up that was in focus.

These crackers are addictive. They are a variation on the Flaxseed, Fig, and Walnut Crackers from Epicurious. I love their version with figs but I don't usually have dried figs in the house. I've found that you can make them with any dried fruit and nut combination (dates and walnuts are also yummy). My youngest calls them cookies and she's kinda right. They are a bit of a cookie/cracker hybrid. They've become kind of a joke with one of my friends. She finds the idea of making homemade crackers so incredibly outrageous (she doesn't cook) yet she will spend hours handcrafting invitations to her kid's birthday parties. The first time I made the crackers, she just happened to come over and when I told her I made them, she said, "Well, of course you did. Who doesn't make their own crackers?" So now when she does some crazy crafty thing that I could never think of doing, I say, "Well, of course you did. Who doesn't dye their own Easter grass?" We go back and forth. The funny thing is that she LOVES these crackers and will eat the entire batch before they're even cool. She could make them if she wanted to...the recipe is really simple. But then we wouldn't be able to harass each other and where's the fun in that?

Flaxseed, Cranberry, and Pecan Crackers
(adapted from Epicurious recipe)

1/3 cup whole flaxseed
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp butter, room temp
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup milk

Mix first seven ingredients together until combined. Stir in pecans, cranberries, and milk. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Remove from refrigerator and on a floured surface, roll out to 1/8" thick. Cut into desired shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Kitchen Closed

The kitchen is closed today so I can spend some extra time with my family! Plus I just want the day off!

Croque Monsieur

Weekend lunches are particularly difficult meals for us. We are usually running around here and there and and we seem to end up at a restaurant for lunch. This drives me crazy. As much as I love to eat out, I find it frustrating that we have all of this perfectly good food at home but my family is too spoiled to eat "just a sandwich" for lunch. The only way I can convince my family to eat lunch at home on the weekends is to make something they love. This weekend, it was Croque Monsieur sandwiches. You never know whether the big chic will eat a whole sandwich or a half, so I always make extra. She ended up eating a half, so the remaining sandwich is her lunch for tomorrow.

Croque Monsieur sandwich, Wallaby Organic Yogurt, Roasted beets, Tomato slices, Radish, Vanilla Almond Granola, Cucumber slices

The beets are experimental. A year or so ago, I made beets and the chic hated them. It's the only food I've ever heard her declare to "hate". I love beets, though, and last night as I was getting ready to stick some in the oven, the chic walks in. She asks what they were. Knowing that if I told her they were beets she would never have tried them again, I lied and said that they were red potatoes. She tried one and she loved it! She kept grabbing them off of the baking sheet and ended up eating a handful before I could get them in the oven. I'm hoping that maybe she's changed her mind. So, the leftover beets are going in her lunch just to see what happens. She may bring them home untouched, but she might not!

Croque Monsieurs are soooo good! Basically they're just a ham and cheese with the addition of a cheese sauce. When La Madeline restaurants became popular years ago, it was the hubs favorite thing on the menu. I decided then that I'd better learn to make them. It's hard to vary on them much. We've made turkey versions also but the rest of it always remains the same. Here's how I make them:

Croque Monsieur Sandwiches
Makes 4

8 slices of whole wheat bread, lightly toasted

8 slices of Swiss or Gruyere cheese

8 slices of ham

Dijon mustard to taste

2 Tbsp butter

2Tbsp flour
1 1/2 c Milk

1/4 cup Shredded Parmesan

1/2 cup Shredded Swiss or Gruyere, divided

pinch freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in saucepan and stir in flour until smooth. Slowly add milk and continue stirring until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and 1/4 cup Swiss. Stir until cheese is melted.

Spread Dijon mustard on four slices of toast. Place mustard side up on a baking sheet and top with two slices of ham and a slice of cheese per sandwich. Spread thin layer of cheese sauce on the remaining toast slices. Place them cheese sauce side down on the sandwiches. Ladle remaining cheese sauce on the top of the sandwiches. It will be a pretty thick layer of sauce. I usually let it cool a bit to make it thicker so it doesn't run off the sandwiches. Sprinkle the remaining Swiss cheese on the top. Bake 400 degrees until brown and bubbly on top.

Fast Flowers for Friday

Tomorrow is Friday? Wow! This week has gone by so fast! Probably cause we've been super busy this week and today is no exception. I went up to eat lunch with the chic so I brought her Laptop Lunchbox home with me. That way I'd be able to pack tomorrow's lunch a bit early. I only have a few minutes to throw tomorrow's lunch together and get this posted so here goes...

Cheez-Its, Anise and pistachio biscotti, Swiss rose, Apple and peanut butter cut-out sandwich, Raspberries, Carrot ribbons with mini pepper hearts, Wasa crackers, Turkey rose

Quinoa and Cupcakes

The hubs has been dieing for some seared ahi tuna. I finally made it last night and paired it with stir fried quinoa. As I've mentioned before, anything that I used to make with rice, we now substitute with quinoa. Stir fried quinoa is identical to regular fried rice so it makes it a really simple substitute. The chic wanted the leftover quinoa in her lunch so I made her lunch around that.

Stir fried quinoa, Rainbow cupcake, Spinach and veggie spring rolls with teriyaki dip, Cottage cheese with pineapple spears.

I cleaned out the pantry and refrigerators today and it really put me in a baking mood. The little chic is going to have a rainbow cake for her birthday but I needed to do a test run, so these cupcakes were it! Normally I try to steer clear of the crazy excessive food dyes but birthdays are special and the chics get whatever birthday cake they want. I have tons of icing color from past birthday cakes but the only green I had was a "Spring Green". I think that it's the only color I would change - maybe more of a kelly green. A cake would definitely be easier than the cupcakes. It was pretty hard to get equal amounts of each color in each cupcake liner. With the cake you could just dump the entire color into the pan. I think the kids will love all the colors!

The More Girly Lunch

By now, I've gotten used to the routine of making lunches. Maybe a little too used to it! Yesterday I started making the chic's lunch and got about halfway finished before it dawned on me that today was an early release day and she would not be taking a lunch. Oh well...that's what three year olds are for. The little chic ate what I didn't want to keep and I saved the rest.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that my big chic hasn't been too crazy about all the freaky scary Halloween stuff so tomorrow's lunch will be more girly.

Celery and carrots, Stroopwaffel cookie, Swiss and cheddar flowers, Pretzel sticks with honey mustard dip, Raspberry "beehives" with nori bees, Swiss and cheddar cheese flowers, Yellow cherry tomatoes with carrot hearts

The butterfly sandwich was turkey (she loves turkey), swiss, and sprouts. It was probably a good thing that I made the sandwich early because I used Susan Yuen's stencil idea with food color spray on the butterfly bread. She always has really creative ways to handle lunches. Her bentos are always beautiful and fun at the same time. Anyway, I had some purple color spray leftover from a birthday cake, so that's what I went with. The extra time let the color dry completely on the bread. I will have to play around with the color spray a little more. I think the purple was a bit dark for bread but it seems that there are lots of possibilities with other colors.

While I was taking pics of the lunch, the chic walked in and saw it. She clutched her heart and said, "Oh my gosh! It's so cute I could marry somebody." I think that means she liked it??

How We Handle Halloween Candy and a Star Lunch...

Halloween - there's candy everywhere! Grocery stores, restaurants, even at the doctor's office! And although I'd like to think that I could keep my kids (and myself) away from all the candy, it's just not realistic. We live in a great neighborhood for trick-or-treating. It reminds me of Halloween when I was little and kids were everywhere, people sat out on their porches, and it was relatively safe. But, there are pros and cons to living in a Halloween friendly neighborhood. The pros - everyone passes out candy and the girls LOVE trick-or-treating. The cons - everyone passes out candy and the girls LOVE trick-or-treating. We do something, a little bit different, though, that allows the kids to trick-or-treat and makes me feel better about the candy - The Pumpkin Fairy.

Here's how our Pumpkin Fairy works...when we get home from trick-or-treating, we dump out all of the candy on the table. The chics are able to keep any toys, stickers, and Play-doh, but the candy they must sort through. They are allowed to choose a certain amount of candy depending on their age. This year we said twenty pieces but after all the negotiation and grandparent persuasion, it was more like thirty. Then, they put the remaining candy in a bag and leave it out on the table (I weighed it this year - it was over 5 lbs!). While they are sleeping, the Pumpkin Fairy comes and takes the candy and replaces it with a toy. We usually don't spend a ton on the toy. This year it was Tinkerbell and High School Musical make-up sets.

The girls love it and don't have a problem giving up their candy at all. We've done it from the very first Halloween so now they just expect it. We told them that the Halloween Fairy must be invited to visit your house and that not everyone asks her to come. This was really just a way to explain that their friends would probably have no idea what a Pumpkin Fairy was. Honestly, I have no idea where this idea came from. Maybe I read about it in a magazine or on a website somewhere...I really don't remember. But, it's worked really well for us and thought I'd share. If your family does something like this, I would LOVE to hear about it. I've never met anyone else that does a fairy for Halloween, but I know we can't be the only ones.

So after all the Halloween festivities, I decided to clean out the Halloween bento supplies and the chic walks in and asks if I would make her a "star" lunch for Monday. She wasn't crazy about all the Halloween stuff, so I think she's ready to go back to the "pretty" lunches. What can I say? She's a girly girl!

Almond butter and raspberry jam star sandwiches, Carrot star cutouts, Havarti and cheddar star, Banana with red pepper stars