Homemade Food

Podcast Pick: Weeknight Kitchen

 
 

I cook, but I don’t consider myself a Cook. I need practical, simple, with-ingredients-I-understand recipes, and that’s what I expect from Melissa Clark’s new podcast. Here’s why I think Box Lunch Lifers may want to check it out:

  • For most of us, new recipes don’t get made unless they’re totally practical. In this episode, MC didn’t once mention an ingredient that I didn’t recognize, know where to buy, or that I’d use only once then throw most of it in the trash someday.

  • Podcasts mean learning without more screen time. You can listen while doing something in the actual world, like playing with your dog or walking to…anywhere.

  • This show’s short. You could just about fit it into a lunch break. Better yet, spend 15 minutes making a grocery list and deciding when you’ll cook. Like Chris Guillebeau says, “Inspiration is good, but inspiration with action is so much better.”

MC calls her Episode 1 recipe “the crispy-lover’s version of a one pot meal.” I LOVE CRISPY. I’m definitely making it, and hope you’ll let me know if it ends up in your lunch box sometime soon.


HARISSA CHICKEN WITH LEEKS, POTATOES AND YOGURT
by Melissa Clark

Serves 3
Time = 1 hour + 30 minutes marinating total

One of my all-time favorites, this sheet-pan supper has it all—spicy harissa-laced roasted chicken; sweet, browned leeks; crunchy potatoes; plus a cool garnish of salted yogurt and plenty of fresh bright herbs. It’s a little lighter than your average roasted chicken and potatoes dinner, and a lot more profoundly flavored.

The key here (and with all sheet-pan suppers) is to make sure the ingredients can all cook together on the same pan. This means cutting sturdy, denser things into smaller chunks that will cook at the same rate (chicken, potatoes), and adding the more delicate ingredients (here, the leeks) toward the end so they don’t burn. Another important note: don’t overpopulate the pan. You need to leave space between things so ingredients can brown and crisp rather than steam. If you want to double the recipe to feed six, you can, as long as you spread everything out in two pans rather than crowding them in one.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks

  • 1 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 × 1/2-inch chunks

  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons harissa

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts, halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced into half-moons

  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk (if using Greek, thin it down with a little milk to make it drizzle-able)

  • 1 small garlic clove

  • 1 cup mixed soft fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, mint, and/or cilantro leaves

  • Fresh lemon juice, as needed

Directions

1. Combine the chicken and potatoes in a large bowl. Season them with 2 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the harissa, cumin, and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pour this mixture over the chicken and potatoes, and toss to combine. Let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the leeks, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.

3. Heat the oven to 425°F.

4. Arrange the chicken and potatoes in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 20 minutes. Then toss the potatoes lightly, and scatter the leeks over the baking sheet. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and everything is golden and slightly crisped, 20 to 25 minutes longer.

5. While the chicken cooks, place the yogurt in a small bowl. Grate the garlic clove over the yogurt, and season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

6. Spoon the yogurt over the chicken and vegetables in the baking sheet (or you can transfer everything to a platter if you want to be fancy about it). Scatter the herbs over the yogurt, drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice over the top, and serve.

Lunch Art: The "Basic Necessities" Exhibit

I teach classes at a boxing gym and I’m always searching for something new—and hard—to add to a 90-minute workout. That’s how I first heard Coss Marte’s amazing and inspirational story. You owe it to yourself to hear him tell it himself in this TEDxTalk, or better still, read his book. In the meantime, I can give you this 30-second version: 

CM was a really, really successful drug dealer. When he went to prison, his doctors said that his health was so poor that if he didn’t change his lifestyle he’d probably die of a heart attack. He was only twenty-four.

So he changed. He changed himself, and he’s been changing people inside and outside of the prison system since then with ConBody: a prison-based full-body workout. Whether the space you have is a gym, a hotel room, a tiny apartment, or a prison cell, CM shows you that a better body is possible if you choose to “do the time.”*

Photo credit: ConBody Kickstarter | I did this workout live in a ConBody studio. It will kick your @$$.

Photo credit: ConBody Kickstarter | I did this workout live in a ConBody studio. It will kick your @$$.

CM chose how he spent his time at Rikers, and he made the choices he could about food, too. And that’s part of the story Michelle Repiso tells in her exhibit “Basic Necessities” opening next week at The Clemente (NYC Lower East Side). In prison, “better food” choices may be pretty limited, but sometimes you can still choose making a burrito with your cellmate instead of silently eating whatever’s served in the mess hall that day.

Opening reception: September 8th 7pm-10pm | Speaking engagement with the artists Sept. 21 8pm & Sept. 22 11am | http://www.theclementecenter.org/ | The Clemente presents “basic necessities,” an audio/visual exhibition by Michelle Repiso that documents three individuals and their mechanisms for sustaining their humanity while incarcerated. “basic necessities” demonstrates man's need for communication and connection within our environment no matter how harsh. The show features works by Shane Ennover, Juan Howard and Coss Marte.

Once you cook your own food, you put that hard work and love into it, so that it’s different, you know? It’s totally different than going out to eat at a fast food restaurant or having your mom cook something amazing at home, you know. And that’s how we felt.
— Coss Marte, from Michelle Repiso's "Prison Burrito"

MR shows through this collection “the mechanisms [three men] employ to sustain their humanity while incarcerated.” Whenever and however we can choose to be ourselves, this is a powerful reminder of how much it matters that we do choose.



*CM also changes lives by employing formerly incarcerated people. Much, much more to say on this topic in future posts.

A Problem You Could Fix

 
Americans are sick—much sicker than many realize. More than 100 million adults—almost half the entire adult population—have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Cardiovascular disease afflicts about 122 million people and causes roughly 840,000 deaths each year, or about 2,300 deaths each day. Three in four adults are overweight or obese. More Americans are sick, in other words, than are healthy.
— From "Our Food is Killing Too Many of Us" by Dariush Mozaffarian and Dan Glickman
 

Don’t miss this op-ed in today’s New York Times. It reminds us just how many people we care about are sick—and likely getting sicker. We know it, and nobody’s happy about it. But if trying to fix the healthcare industry or the political machine feels hopeless, there’s an alternative to a path of personal sickness that’s closer than we may want to admit:

 
The answer is staring us in the face, on average three times a day: our food.
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One tiny but powerful step in the right direction is what you choose for lunch today. Any food made by the wanting-to-be-healthier human that is You is better. Just one better meal today is better. And a better, healthier You today means there’s hope.

The authors say the cost of obesity in the U.S. is estimated at $1,720,000,000,000 per year. That’s $1.72 trillion.

I bet you can make a lunch for today that costs $1.72. And that lunch won’t cost us, or our families, or the world, everything in the long run.

Go-To Ingredient: Eggs

Eggs are NOT boring. They are the kind of secret weapon ingredient that prevents the I-have-nothing-to-make-for-lunch excuse.

Eggs aren’t fussy. If I’m working from home, I can cook them. If I’m working away from home, I can eat them boiled—or baked into a “muffin.” And I consider them a homemade food, and one that’s super-quick (unless you’re making hollandaise). Eggs also keep well. You can store enough in the refrigerator to save you that the mid-week run to the supermarket.

egg salad 1.jpg

There’s nothing hard about hard-boiling eggs, and they’re happy to be turned into enough different dishes that you won’t get bored with them over night. Or just eat them with salt and cayenne pepper.

Do you have a go-to ingredient? Let me know, and I’ll share it with the gang.

 

Meal Planning Resource: Workweek Lunch

 

Workweek Lunch, like other meal planning services, sells monthly subscriptions. But for the low price of your email address, you can get ideas for getting organized and choosing food options that fit your budget. And it’s all about lunch. Excellent!

Are you more of an assembler than a cook? There are lists of  Minimal Cooking  and  Beginner  recipes, too.

Are you more of an assembler than a cook? There are lists of Minimal Cooking and Beginner recipes, too.

If you’re new-ish to Box Lunch Lifestyle you might be wondering, “But isn’t this kinda the same thing?”

No.

The food part of lunch is important, but it’s not everything. Box Lunch Lifestyle asks if you’re living the life you’ve always promised yourself. If you aren’t, and you’ve put your own dreams on hold for too long, lunch is an opportunity to finally make good on those promises to yourself—to eat a little better, but also to spend a piece of (almost) every day investing in yourself.

It’s making these two most-basic choices “better” together and regularly, in a no-pressure kind of way, that makes Box Lunch Lifestyle work. Your body gets stronger, because you’re feeding your spirit. Your spirit gets stronger, because you’re feeding your body. Not a fad. Not complicated. And not just food.

Box Lunch Lifestyle is the foundation of a holistic lifestyle practice that will motivate and sustain you in a way that “just food” simply can’t. That makes it a different kind of animal. Just like you.


 

A new, easy dish: Egg Muffin Cups

 

I’ve been making this recipe from Nutritional Weight and Wellness for a long time—but as muffins instead of a casserole. With vegetables on the side, two of these fill me up!

This is a recipe you can totally make your own. Here’s how I make this “better” food for me:

  • replace the cream/coconut milk with a spoonful of sour cream

  • replace with hash browns with 24 of these potato puffs (thawed)

  • replace the spinach with fried onions and mushrooms

  • wait on any shredded cheese (I’m usually making them ahead, so I add cheese, sometimes, when reheating)

Lots of vegetables can be added, or other meats like good bacon or ham. Or no meat at all. It’s hard to get this wrong. If I can make it work, you can.

BUT here’s one VERY IMPORTANT tip to give this dish a chance at becoming part of your make-your-own routine: I’ve found that only 5x5” parchment paper squares keep these muffins from sticking like the dickens. Less time scrubbing, more time doing anything else.

 

Meal Planning Resource: Real Plans

 

Need a little Meal Planning 101? Check out Real Plans. They sell meal plan subscriptions that you can try for a couple of weeks for free. What’s awesome, though, is that they’re generous with how-to information to get you started. (Isn’t it nice when people share?)

And look at this! They like lunch as much as we do.

I have no business affiliation with Real Plans. I just think they have a Box Lunch Lifestyle kind of common sense. See what you think.

I have no business affiliation with Real Plans. I just think they have a Box Lunch Lifestyle kind of common sense. See what you think.

 

Better Food: "What am I going to eat?"

Do you worry a lot about this question? Here’s one super-easy path to answer it—confidently—in less than 60 seconds:

  1. Write down two vegetables you enjoy eating. Just two.

    Examples: cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, iceberg lettuce (I like iceberg, too, and I won’t tell anyone that you didn’t choose kale.)

  2. Write down one other food item you enjoy eating. Think “food” (e.g., cheese) instead of “dish” (e.g., fettuccine Alfredo).
    Examples: ham, yogurt, almonds, PB & J, leftover chicken, mushrooms, or another vegetable

Lunch food can be as simple as three items (e.g., tomatoes and bell pepper slices with slices of ham). They don’t have to “match” or become an elaborate, Instagram-worthy lunch masterpiece. You can eat as much of these three things as you need to feel satisfied.

Your Box Lunch Lifestyle food is better simply because you like it and it’s so basic that you can do it yourself. No calorie counting or worrying, just doing. What you choose is better than any “unknown” food—meaning “don’t know what I’ll eat” AND “don’t know who made it.”

You DO have time to cook.

I know you’re busy. I’m busy, too.

But what is the cost of NOT preparing your food at least for one meal on most days? Michael Pollan—a big-time advocate of home cooking—suggests that if we have time to be online for pleasure for as much as a couple hours per day, couldn’t replace some of that time with “better” food?

I’d love to hear what you think. What I think is that a little simple cooking for yourself isn’t as bad as you think.