Sunday, August 31, 2008

Resolved: Two Easy Luches

Once upon a time, when I was a young bride…well, scratch that because I got married at almost 30, so I guess I was technically never a “young” bride. Anyway, back when I first got married, before I lost my mind and had four children (and the jury is still out on which of those things happened first), weekday lunches used to be leftovers from things I’d made for dinner the night before. My coworkers used to heat up their Marie Callendar frozen dinners while I was zapping my Star Anise Simmered Chicken with baby bok choy.

On weekends lunch was a fairly elaborate event. If we didn’t go out, I made something at home. I remember one time making mushroom crepes from an old Cooking Light. The recipe for these started out along the lines of, “Make the crepes…” and I did. I made crepes from scratch, sautéed mushrooms, made a light Béchamel sauce for them, and then baked them. It was through this recipe that we discovered that portabella mushrooms don’t sit well with Alex (although the recipe calls for generic mushrooms plus shiitakes, I recall that I used Baby Bellas, which resulted in…well, anyway, we don’t eat portabella mushrooms anymore, let’s just leave it at that).

But then I began accumulating children, and now lunch is a far simpler affair, even those I take on weekdays. Recently I found two recipes in Cooking Light’s Dinner Tonight column that turned out to be godsends. I didn’t make them for dinner; I made them on Sunday afternoon and immediately transferred them to containers for weekday lunches. Because each recipe made only two servings, it was perfect: one for me, one for Alex, and two days’ worth of lunches were taken care of.

One of my problems with making something like soup or risotto or a casserole is that I find I get really tired of it long before the week ends, especially if it was a dinner one of the weekend nights. I used to have a friend who couldn’t eat the same type of food two days in a row: if she’d had Mexican the night before, we couldn’t have Mexican for lunch the next day, even if the “Mexican” she’d had the night before was the Rice and Beans Weight Watchers Smart Ones frozen dinner. I’m not quite to that point, but I have discovered I can’t eat the same thing for lunch more than two days in a week without getting bored.

But another thing that happens every year around the end of summer is that I start to make resolutions. When I was in school, I always resolved at the end of August that I would do my homework on Friday nights this year, not leave it until Sunday afternoon; that I would study harder; that I would be really organized and keep my paper and books tidy. September seems a good time for resolutions, with the new school year starting, so even though I don't think I've ever kept a "school year" resolution (or a New Year's resolution either, for that matter), I keep making them. This year one of my resolutions is to take lunch to work more often, and find ways to keep myself from getting bored. These two recipes got me off on the right foot.

The shrimp curry recipe comes together in literally minutes (I think it took longer for me to thaw the shrimp than to chop the onion), and the pasta takes only a little longer than that. They give a time of around 40 minutes, but if you cook the pasta while you’re making the sauce, it’s really only about 20 or so minutes. I upped the curry paste in the shrimp recipe, and it was a little fiery (tempered by the basmati rice I had with it). If you like things spicy (like Alex does), you’ll want more than a ¼ teaspoon of curry paste; if you’re a wimp like me keep it to a ¼ or a ½ teaspoon. Also my shrimp were about an ounce each, which means if you want to taste it before you dish it up, you should add a “tasting shrimp.” Normally I leave out the crushed red pepper when recipes call for it, but I was feeling daring when I made the ziti, so I left it in, and it does add a nice kick.

And so here, to encourage you to take your lunch to work, or to give you two fast dinner choices, are the recipes from the current Cooking Light (September 2008):

Thai Coconut Shrimp Curry
from Cooking Light, September 2008
makes two servings, perfect for lunch

1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen)
1 teaspoon sugar
12 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup light coconut milk
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and curry paste to pan, and sauté 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in sugar; sauté 15 seconds. Add shrimp; sauté 3 minutes or until shrimp are done, stirring frequently. Stir in coconut milk and fish sauce; cook 30 seconds or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in green onions and basil.

Nutritional Info
CALORIES 255(26% from fat); FAT 7.4g (sat 2.6g,mono 1.8g,poly 1.9g); IRON 4.6mg; CHOLESTEROL 259mg; CALCIUM 111mg; CARBOHYDRATE 10.2g; SODIUM 740mg; PROTEIN 36.1g; FIBER 1.1g

Ziti with Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes, and Gorgonzola
from Cooking Light, September 2008
makes lunch for two!

4 ounces uncooked ziti (you're right--that's penne in the picture; we didn't have ziti--penne works too)
1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
6 tablespoons half-and-half
3 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup fresh spinach
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.
2. Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add cherry tomatoes, salt, crushed red pepper, and minced garlic to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in half-and-half and Gorgonzola cheese; cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Stir in spinach and pasta; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts, tossing occasionally.

Nutritional Info
CALORIES 335(28% from fat); FAT 10.4g (sat 5.9g,mono 2.4g,poly 0.4g); IRON 2.6mg; CHOLESTEROL 26mg; CALCIUM 129mg; CARBOHYDRATE 49.9g; SODIUM 485mg; PROTEIN 12.3g; FIBER 3.6g

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