box lunches: summer veggie pasta + lemon garlic chicken

There are only a few weeks left of summer and it is making me incredibly sad, mostly because that means there are only a limited number of Saturday mornings left where I can wander down the street to the farmer’s market with my coffee and meander between the fresh fruits and veggies daydreaming about all of the wonderful things I could make.  I usually go in with a plan and leave with a basket of whatever-looks-good and throw the plan out the window as soon as I get home.

Market Veggies

This pasta is a direct result of farmer’s market meandering and has become one of my favorite dishes to make in the summer.  Sure, you can make it any time of year, but fresh summertime veggies turn this somewhat simple pasta dish into something absolutely delicious.

Kitchen Setup

I got the Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment for Christmas last year and haven’t stopped making fresh pasta since then.  It’s addictive and will change everything you’ve ever known to be true about pasta.  A full post dedicated to pasta-making is coming up, but for now, here’s my favorite thing to do with it.

Pasta 4

summer veggie pasta
1 pound pasta (I like to use fettuccine noodles)
4 tablespoons olive oil2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a non-stick saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook until golden brown.  Add asparagus and mushrooms and cook until tender but crispy, about 5-8 minutes.

Asparagus and Mushrooms

Add tomatoes, sugar, and red pepper flakes.  Season with salt and allow vegetables to cook down while you boil your pasta.  Once the pasta is al dente, add it to the pan and toss to coat with the veggie mixture.  Top with parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Veggies in Pan

This pasta is delicious on it’s own, but it really becomes a meal when you add grilled chicken.  Here’s a simple chicken marinade that complements these fresh veggies well.  One pound of pasta with 4 chicken breast will make 6-8 hearty lunches.

Box 2

lemon + garlic marinated chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
4 garlic cloves, minced
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk together garlic, lemon, and olive oil.  Season marinade with salt and pepper.  Allow chicken to marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Grill chicken breasts (or cook in a cast iron skillet) for about 4-5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness.

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box lunches: chile rubbed chicken + tomatillo salsa + mexican rice

I know that Friday afternoons are not usually the best time to consider the following work week, but I do all my meal planing on Fridays.  I hate spending the whole weekend doing chores and shopping and cooking, so I plan out the following week’s meals on Friday nights, shop on Saturday, and usually spend Sunday in a whirlwind cooking up delicious things to feed me and Mike for the next week.  Spreading out the process makes it seem far less daunting (and it gives me ample opportunity to add forgotten items to my grocery list).

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This week I bring you one of the oldest box lunches in my arsenal.  It’s one that I’ve been making for a few years now and it’s a favorite in our rotation:  chile rubbed chicken with tomatillo salsa and Mexican rice.  I use this Food Network recipe for the chicken and salsa.  I use 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and usually double the marinade.  I also tend to double the salsa recipe because it’s delicious and I like to eat it with chips, on tacos, with quesadillas…you get the point.

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When I lived in my mom’s house, we would cook the chicken on the grill, which gave it a great smoky flavor.  Now that I’m trapped in a teeny tiny apartment, I cut the chicken into strips before marinating overnight and cook it on a foil-lined pan at 425° for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

This combination of recipes (and 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts) yields 8 box lunches, with some rice to spare.

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I’ve played my Mexican rice recipe over the last few years and have finally got it down to a science.  The trick for a great Mexican rice is to prepare the salsa the night before you plan on cooking the rice.  This lets the flavors deepen and creates a much more flavorful end result.

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Mexican Rice
6 medium tomatoes on the vine
2 large jalapenos
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, divided in half
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups medium grain rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 lime

Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet in your broiler for about 10-15 minutes per side, flipping halfway through.  You’ll know they’re done when the skin shrivels and blackens.  Let tomatoes cool.  Once cool, peel the skin off the roasted tomatoes and discard.

While the tomatoes are roasting in the broiler, place unpeeled garlic and jalapenos in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Roast vegetables until blackened on all sides.  (If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, this step can be done in the broiler while the tomatoes are cooling.) When cool enough to handle, peel the garlic and roughly chop the peppers.

Place the chopped onion in a colander or strainer and rinse under cool water for a minute or two, then shake out the excess water.  This will help to remove the sharp raw onion taste and will help the salsa flavors meld together more evenly.

Puree garlic, jalapenos and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a food processor to form a paste.  Add the tomatoes and their juices and puree until you reach your desired consistency (I like to puree until smooth, but if you like a chunkier salsa in your rice, go for it).  Next, add chopped onion and pulse until everything is incorporated.  Chop half of the cilantro and add to the salsa mixture.  Pulse a few more times to evenly incorporate the cilantro.  The salsa can be used immediately to make the rice, but i find that the flavor is much better if left in the fridge in an airtight container overnight.

Be sure to take the salsa out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before continuing onto the next step.

To make the rice, preheat your oven to 350° and heat a ceramic dutch oven on the stove-top over medium heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Add oil and allow it to heat up for a minute or two.  Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes to, stirring occasionally. Don’t worry if some kernels brown.

Add the salsa mixture to rice and let it sear for 1 minute.  Then, add the chicken stock and the remaining teaspoon of kosher salt.  Once the mixture has come to a boil, stir it once before covering with a tight-fitting lid.  Baked at 350° for 25 minutes. After removing the rice from the oven, keep the lid on and let it stand for 10-15 minutes to finish cooking.  Lastly, chop and add the remaining cilantro and the juice of 1/2 of a lime.  Fluff the rice with a fork and it’s ready to eat!

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My favorite way to eat this meal is to reheat the chicken and rice, then mix in the cold fresh salsa.  The salsa offsets the heat of the chicken and rice, so it’s a a refreshing way to have lunch at your desk.

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box lunches: chicken shawarma + hummus roasted mashed potatoes

Mike left this week’s worth of lunches in a bag on the CTA early Tuesday morning. Not a great start to the week.  He was lunchless and disappointed, mostly because these chicken shawarma lunches happen to be his favorite.  Our only solace comes from the hope that some hungry stranger found them and was able to enjoy them, but who am I kidding? RIP delicious shawarma, you’re just another casualty of public transportation.

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The inspiration for these lunches came from a very dark place. Some of you may be familiar with my unhealthy obsession with hummus. I know, I have a problem.  I’m yet to discover a dippable snack that isn’t heavenly smothered in it.  Pitas! Pretzels! Baby Carrots! Roasted broccoli! French fries!

And here is where things got out of control.  The french fries.  I never should have dunked a french fry in hummus.  It opened a Pandora’s box of possibilities because if there is any food obsession that rivals my obsession with hummus it would be potatoes.  Hummus and potatoes?  I need to lie down now…

The great thing about these hummus mashed potatoes is their texture.  I do not tolerate soupy mashed potatoes.  That’s why red potatoes are my favorite to mash.  This recipe takes them even further and you’re going to think I’m crazy but I need you to trust me on this one.  Roast your potatoes first.  Mash them second.  I kid you not, it will change your life.  Roasting them in the oven first gives them that really crunchy exterior and keeps the insides pillowy and soft, so they mash up perfectly chunky and creamy at the same time.  I imagine they’d pair well with any flavor combination, but the hummus adds just the right amount of tang that goes perfectly with the chicken shawarma.  Roasting the potatoes first does add a bit of time to this recipe, but I promise you it’s worth every second.

RoastedPotatoes

hummus roasted mashed potatoes
3 lbs red potatoes, cut into quarters
olive oil
salt + pepper
1 cup hummus
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425°.  Place potatoes on a sheet pan and coat with a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste. Roast potatoes in oven for approximately 1 hour, flipping halfway through.  (I always put the hummus in a glass bowl on the stove-top while the potatoes are roasting- this takes the chill off and makes it easier to incorporate later on.)  When the potatoes are finished roasting, immediately place them in a saucepan with the butter and cover with a tight fitting lid.   Let them steam for 5 minutes, allowing the butter to melt.  Mash the potatoes a bit before adding the milk.  I always start with 1/4 cup of milk to avoid soupy potatoes.  You may need to add a bit more to get the right consistency.  Once the potatoes have reached the perfect mash, mix in the hummus.

And there you have it- hummus roasted mashed potatoes.  It’s a mouthful, a wonderfully delicious mouthful.

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I used this recipe for chicken shawarma.  I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and marinated them in 1.5 times the spice mixture overnight.   I also opted out of pan frying the chicken after taking it out of the oven.  If you’re going to eat it right away, I think pan frying would give it a nice little crunch, but since I microwave these lunches again at work, I find that it dries out the chicken a little too much.

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The above mashed potato recipe and 3 chicken breasts cooked using the recipe linked above made enough for 8 lunches.  Roasted broccoli will probably pop up in many box lunch posts because I can’t get enough.  I like to stuff everything (potatoes included) into a pita.  It’s a great way to break up a mundane work day.

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box lunches: asian style chicken + soy glazed carrots + roasted broccoli + brown rice

When i first started working in an office, I didn’t understand how much of my money would be wasted on buying lunch.  Not only was I spending $10+ per day on food, but the food was never any good.  The never ending marathon of fast food took a toll on both my wallet and my waistline and I knew that buying lunch everyday was not a sustainable way to live.

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Bring on the box lunches! Spending Sunday afternoons cooking lunches was the first change I made when Mike and I decided to start eating healthier.  A few hours in the kitchen ended up saving us so much money, and we end up with a well balanced and delicious meal to break up the monotony of the work day.  It might seem silly, but having a home-cooked meal at my desk somehow makes the day seem so much brighter (but then again, most of my days are spent counting down the minutes until my next meal, so I may be crazy).

This is my most recent version of our lunch assembly line: Asian style chicken, soy glazed carrots, roasted broccoli, and brown rice.

veggies

I only use chicken breasts, as they’re always available in my freezer, and make sure to marinate them overnight for optimal flavor.  Baking the chicken is a good way to multi-task!  You can get the carrots and brown rice done on the stove-top while the chicken and broccoli cook in the oven.

chicken

Coat the broccoli with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Roasting broccoli at 475° should only take about 15 minutes.  Once it’s all brown and crispy, I like to finish it with a squeeze of lemon (or lime) juice.

broccoli

For the carrots, it’s important to use carrots that have dried out for a few days in the fridge.  It really makes a huge difference in the caramelization.

And that’s it!  I usually try to make 8-10 lunches to feed both me and Mike for one workweek, so I double the recipes above.  This combo only takes about an hour to put together, but it definitely beats anything I could buy on my lunch break at work.

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