Category Archives: quick meals

Curried raw kale, roasted red pepper, and spelt salad

It’s spring here, so I’ve been enjoying my life here in Sydney by refinishing furniture (as pictured here),

replanting seeds, and getting up to my usual shenanigans in the kitchen. This curried salad is from one of my CSA box experiments, and uses up some of the first signs of summer’s impending heat in the form of a roasted red pepper and some beautiful curly kale. I can’t wait until I have enough of my own produce to try a version of this from our balcony garden.

Curried raw kale, roasted red pepper, and spelt salad

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Filed under almonds, experiments, local, main, quick meals, raisins, salad, seasonal, side, spelt, vegan, vegetarian

I’m FINISHED!

With the thesis, anyway. And I am totally celebrating with chocolate chip cookies and a bottle of Malbec.  Its a welcome change from Milky Ways and coffee, which I really don’t recommend for a balanced diet.  But I do have something that might just save dinner on those nights when you really don’t want to cook.  It involves *packages* (shudder). Three of them.  And you know what? I’m not ashamed. This is one mighty fine boxed meal.

All you need is a box of Trader Joe’s white cheddar mac and cheese (or any mac and cheese, as long as it is not orange.  I have nothing against Kraft; If you subsist off dollar stores or live in the dorm, it has its place.  But in this dish? It’s just not right somehow — you’ll see why in a second).  Next, you need some frozen spinach — maybe a cup or two, depending on your veggie craving.  And finally? Smoked trout in a tin.  Or smoked fish of any sort, as long as it’s cheap and not super salty. Actually, even tuna will work, but it won’t taste quite as upscale.  (But will certainly not mesh with the orange.  See what I mean?)  If you have a bit of gruyere or cheddar, you can grate that and mix it in, but this is totally optional.

Cook the mac and cheese according to the packet directions, mix in spinach and fish, heat, and serve.  That’s dinner in less time than it takes to go through a McDonald’s drive-thru, and it is TASTY. Seriously.  And at $3 a (huge) portion, I really can’t do much better.

Anyway, I’ll be back to normal soon, and so will this site. I’m kind of in a bread baking mood, as a matter of fact …

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Quick weekday lunches

I thought I’d pull a Bittman and do a list of quick lunch ideas that are tastier than takeout and just as easy.  After all, I’m in constant need of new ideas for this myself. This is not an exhaustive list—just some of my favorites. They’re divided into sections based on available equipment, and should save you some money without too much sacrifice.

Don’t forget to share your favorite quick lunches in the comments!

No refrigerator required:

  • Peanut butter / nutella and honey / banana on whole wheat bread. You can keep jars of peanut butter, honey, or Nutella unrefrigerated in the office for crazy weeks when you know you won’t have time to think about bringing food in every day.
  • Tuna wrap. Canned tuna (pop-top lids on small cans make life easy and make refrigeration unnecessary), a lime (for the juice), a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a tortilla or two, perhaps with some sliced up veggies on the side.  Open the tuna, throw it in the tortilla, squeeze the lime juice over it, add the cherry tomatoes (maybe cut them in half, if you’re willing), and wrap.
  • Prosciutto, hard cheese of some sort (cheddar, shavings of parmesan—whatever you have), tomato, avocado (optional), and mustard. Bring the tomato and avocado whole and slice at work, so your sandwich doesn’t get soggy.  Prosciutto and hard cheese both keep well at room temperature.  If you have a refrigerator, arugula is a nice addition to this sandwich.
  • Baguette, a jar of good olives, a small hunk of hard cheese, and a tomato. This probably makes me happier than any other quick meal out there.

Refrigerator required:

  • Plain yogurt, almond slivers or granola, and jam or fresh fruit, for those of you who like something sweet for lunch.  Just throw in a container, mix, and eat.
  • Pasta or grain salad. This could mean a million different things, but that’s sort of the point.  In the time it takes you to cook the pasta (or whatever grain you choose—bulgur or quinoa are both good options, but even rice will work), you can cut up interesting veggies that can be eaten raw, open a can of beans, and mix together a simple dressing.  To make the dressing, stir together 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar (whatever your favorite kind is), and some salt and pepper.  Toss all the ingredients together and refrigerate, and you have lunch the next day.  Some good flavor combinations are olive and marinated artichoke hearts (perhaps with a bit of feta for protein), the classic tomato, basil, and mozzarella, or black bean, corn, tomato, and bell pepper.  Grilled veggies and kidney beans also work nicely.
  • Omelet.  These can be eaten cold, are quick and easy to make, and go well with a simple side salad.
  • Big salads.  Put anything you like in these. I will either make something a little sweet, with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette (which I mix up and take on the side, in a leftover jar), or something savory, maybe with hard-boiled egg, cheese, and a bunch of veggies. Anything goes.  Just make  you take the dressing on the side and toss the salad at the last minute.
  • Roasted veggie sandwich. The key to pulling this off is good crusty bread.  Cut generous slices of bread, cover with roasted veggies of any sort, and spread with some sort of aioli (or take tomato sauce, maybe a kalamata olive spread, or a mix of oil and vinegar to sprinkle over the veggies right before you eat).  For protein, add cheese, hummus, or another sort of bean dip.  This works best if you make enough roasted veggies for the week and make several sandwiches.
  • Feta, tomato, cucumber, and olive sandwich.  I got addicted to these in Athens.  The cucumber adds a fresh crunch, and the feta, tomato, and olive just go together, especially if you happen to get your hands on some good sheep’s milk feta.  Just slice everything up and throw them between two slices of good, crusty bread.

Microwave required:

  • Grits with spinach, corn, Spanish paprika, and cheddar cheese. Yes, you may have to cook this ahead of time if you don’t have a stove at work, but it takes a whole 5 minutes, and it’s good for those cold and rainy days when oatmeal sounds delicious but is maybe not exactly what you want for lunch.  You measure out the corn grits (I like Bob’s Red Mill) according to the instructions, throw your spinach, corn, paprika, and cheese in after a minute or so, and cook until the grits are soft and everything is hot.  Then all you need to do is reheat.  For the record, I had this for dinner last night, and it left me happy and stuffed.
  • Broccoli, potato, and cheese. You can either use leftover roasted potatoes for this, or cut them into cubes and cook them in the microwave. The first option tastes better, but if you’re in a hurry, either option beats a microwave TV dinner.  If you need to cook the potatoes, cut them into cubes and cook them first for 3-4 minutes, until the potatoes are fairly soft.  Then cook the broccoli for a few minutes, until it’s hot but still a bit firm.  Pour the broccoli over the potatoes, throw on a few slices of cheese, and cook for 1 minute more.  With a bit of salt and pepper, you have a tasty lunch.

Larger initial time commitment:

This section is for those of you who don’t mind putting in a bit of extra effort on the weekend and eating the equivalent of leftovers during the week.  I’ve chosen dishes that keep well and reheat well, though honestly, most leftovers make a pretty decent lunch the next day.

  • Quiche, which is quite simple to make (especially with store-bought pie crust), and will make everyone in your office jealous if they smell it.  Quiche can be eaten hot or cold with a bit of salad on the side.  To make, choose your fillings (I like spinach and mushroom, so I’ll use that as an example). Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Cook the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, perhaps with some onions and garlic, until they go golden.  Add about a cup of frozen spinach (or 5 oz. fresh spinach) and let cook until either wilted or warm.  Take off the heat and set aside. In a bowl, mix up 2-3 eggs, some salt, pepper, maybe some oregano or cayenne, depending on what you feel like that day, and 3-4 oz. grated cheese.  Slowly mix in the spinach filling, until the veggies are all coated in egg, and pour the result into the pie shell.  Bake for 20 minutes or so, until the egg is set.  This will keep for a week in the fridge if you cover it well.  If you get bored easily, make a few different versions and freeze whatever you won’t be able to eat right away.  Some other good combinations: tomato, corn, and green chile; bacon and caramelized onion; broccoli and curry; feta, red pepper, and olive.
  • Stews of any sort.  These always taste better the next day.  If you have a crock pot, you can generally make them quickly and easily by throwing all the ingredients in the crock pot and cooking them on the low setting while you’re at work.  Then you have dinner AND lunch.

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Filed under quick meals, sack lunches, vegetarian-friendly

Reflections on 2008

Well, it was a bizarre, fantastic, and somewhat surreal year, and it’s going out in proper New Haven style.  (What, you don’t know what that is? Well … Think biting, icy snow and freshly made pizza, with the slight char on the crust. Happy New Year, right?).  There were a lot of firsts: buckwheat baguettes, cheese making, voyages to Australia and beyond, campfire cooking, and milestones of a more personal sort.  Next year promises to be even crazier, believe it or not, with the end of graduate school, a wedding (with our own homemade / homegrown food!) to pull off, jobs to find (somewhere, somehow) and still more travel to far off, exotic places. Well, maybe, anyway.  Hopefully we’ll finally make it out to Arizona for the Grand Canyon hike we keep talking about, with a possible side trip to Pizzeria Bianco, because that’s just how we roll.  The pizza will come first, of course.

Tomorrow, though, the silly resolutions kick in.  Here are a few food-related ones from my list for the year, just for good measure.  (Do you have any this year? Leave a comment!)

  1. Don’t die from James’s camembert experiments (oh yes, there will be a guest post. If we survive.)  I should add — I have faith. They actually look pretty good. I guess we’ll find out soon enough…
  2. Knife skills, baby.
  3. Make more green things.  Preferably things that James will eat.  (You know what the secret is?  Bacon.  If you add it, even in minuscule quantities, he will eat.)
  4. Learn to make simple, amazing dishes for parties that don’t require me to hide out in the kitchen. This will come in handy for our wedding, as we’re cooking everything ourselves.
  5. In honor of the financial crisis: more cheap eats.

And with that, I leave you with something to kick of the most typical of resolutions: Broccoli soup, a la Gordon Ramsay.

Easy Broccoli Soup

Cost: Cheap

Difficulty: Easy (as if the title didn’t tell you already)

Serves: 2-4 depending on what you serve it with. It’s really a starter, but is freaking amazing for lunch with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Splurge a little and buy good broccoli for this. As this recipe requires all of three ingredients, you must do it. Spend the extra dollar for the pretty fresh organic stuff (or farmers market stuff, you lucky warm climate bastards).  You will need a blender, unless you are more ambitious than I am.

  • 2 heads of broccoli. Cut the florets off and save the stems for some other project (broccoli slaw, anyone?).  Just a tip: look for closely packed, fresh florets. This means the broccoli is fresh. You want fresh broccoli.
  • 2 pinches salt, plus more to taste.
  • water
  • olive oil, plain yogurt (optional)

Fill a medium pot with water (until it’s ~2/3rds full).  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it’s boiling, add a pinch of salt, add the broccoli florets, and add another pinch of salt. Stir quickly and cover. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the broccoli is lush and green and can be pierced with a knife but has not turned to mush.  In other words, if you drag a sharp knife through the broccoli, against the side of the pan, it should take a little pressure to get it through. When this happens, take the broccoli off the heat, and drain, BUT KEEP THE WATER. You will need it.

Place the cooked broccoli florets in the blender.  Add some of the reserved broccoli water until the water comes up to about half the broccoli height in the blender. Cover, throw a towel over the top of the blender, and hold.  Pulse gently a couple of times, to keep the water from shooting out and scalding your hand, then blend until it’s a nice puree.  Taste and adjust the salt, and maybe add some pepper or cayenne if you’re into that sort of thing.  Pour into a bowl and decorate with either the olive oil and yogurt, a bit of cheddar cheese melted on toast (my favorite), or nothing at all.  Serve immediately.

Variation: Do a mix of broccoli and cauliflower for an even creamier texture. It won’t be quite so vibrant, but I think the mix of flavors would be nice.

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Fast food

Spinach, Feta, and Roasted Tomato Omelette

Spinach, Feta, and Roasted Tomato Omelet

Sometimes, life gets a little absurd. Recently, I’ve been letting my dissertation take over every waking hour, because, well, someday, I want to get out of here, move on, and do something (anything) with my life that people might actually be interested in. I mean more than the 30 or so people in my field, who are working on similarly esoteric stuff.  That’s grad school for you, I suppose. But I digress … I’m really here to tell you that there ARE ways to make home-cooked meals, even when life gets crazy. If you have five minutes, and don’t mind leaving the dishes in the sink, you can eat amazingly well even in the midst of work-related chaos.  I think I’ll make these meals a monthly feature here on threeForks.

This first one is actually one of my favorite quick meals, especially because you can double the recipe and provide yourself with lunch or dinner the next day, as well.  It’s incredibly versatile — you can throw in anything (including leftover pasta!) you need to use up and end up with a gorgeous, filling meal. And it takes a whole 5 minutes, depending on your fillings.  I’ll give you a specific variation below, but first, I have some business to attend to.

Baking Blondie tagged me, so I will in turn tag Rachael, Arielle, and Marty, just because. Here’s some insight about my food obsessions…

You can take five items and are allowed one sentence in which to justify your decision. Tag whoever you like and link back! You are on a desert island so assume a plentiful supply of exotic fish, coconuts and sea salt. Ignore any issues regarding storage. There happens to be a very large solar powered refrigerator washed up on the shore as well. Now, on to the list…

1. Olive oil. With all that fish and salt, I’m going to need some to get gorgeous, crackling fish skin.

2. Coffee, because I am an addict.

3. A cast iron pot, because you can cook anything in one of these.

4. Flour, so I can make some awesome sourdough pizza.

5. A tomato seed packet. Then I can grow something delicious.

Ok, now back to the regularly scheduled program…

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It’s madness, I tell you

Night shift vision. Photobooth is so much fun, especially at 2 am.

Night shift vision. Photobooth is so much fun, especially at 2 am.

You know when you’ve been up for so long and yet somehow asleep that everything sort of blurs into this funny, multicolored haze? That’s when I think Apple decided on its Photobooth filters, because they just seem so appropriate in the middle of a nightshift. Especially the distorted ones.

This week has been nuts so far, and it isn’t over yet. I have spent more time in the control room pictured above than any human being should, and you know what? I’m not the only one. In fact, I feel like a total slacker, despite working harder that I have in a very long time. But regardless, some bizarre combination of the Liz Phair coming from the speakers and the background electronics hum (and the fact that I’m running things here — no accelerator operator for me) is making me feel a little rebellious. Just a bit.

So what, pray tell, am I going to do about it? Well …

Having your own little jar of vegemite is practically an entry requirement.

Having your own little jar of vegemite is practically a requirement.

Heh… This and a Cadbury chocolate bar might help pass the night a bit more quickly. (You try staying up all night for two nights in a row and see what you crave. Of course, I have a notorious sweet tooth, but that’s another story entirely.)

At this stage, you either agree with me wholeheartedly or think I’m completely insane, as I’ve just suggested consuming a black, tar-like, salty substance known as Vegemite to pass the time a bit more quickly. But I tell you, people, B vitamins are beautiful, and this particular condiment is pretty much swimming with them. And it reminds me of grilled cheese sandwiches with beer, which can’t be a bad thing. I tend to pair it with cheese on toast, or, if I’m craving that sweet savory experience, Milk Arrowroots, butter, and vegemite are pretty much perfect. Milk Arrowroots, which are packaged, entirely unspecial biscuits from Arnott’s, taste kind of like animal crackers, and are big enough to actually spread butter on, for the record. They are pretty damn good — even if you’re trapped caring for a sick boyfriend Sydney with nothing else for dinner.

It’s funny, because I would never buy packaged cookies (ahem — biscuits) at home. And you know what? It’s not all that surprising, if only because you don’t find high fructose corn syrup in everything you touch. The ingredient list actually makes sense more often than not. It’s kind of refreshing.

Anyway. I am rambling, as I’m sure you’ve discovered by now. I will say that if you’re looking for something more substantial to get you through the night, curry noodle soup is pretty good at four AM, as well. It’s dead simple to make, too.

Authentic curry for all your fake exotic food needs.

"Authentic" curry for all your fake exotic food needs.

Start with homemade chicken stock (Or in this case, “Real Stock”, by Campbell’s, which I find hilarious — especially since it makes your food taste exactly like canned Campbell’s soup), a packet of fresh udon noodles, a bit of coconut milk, some curry powder, sliced up onions, garlic, and bok choy, mushrooms, a bell pepper, some thai basil, sliced bacon (very optional), and, if you can find it, a kaffir lime leaf or two. No recipe — just cook the bacon, veggies (start with onion and garlic first, then bacon and mushies, then bok choy) in a stew pot with a bit of oil until soft, throw in the stock, lime leaves, and coconut milk, season with curry powder and salt to taste, bring to a simmer, and then add in the noodles. Once the noodles are ready, garnish with some thai basil, and you’re good to go.  (For the record, I also threw some cilantro on top, which is what you see in the picture above).

This is so not something I would make at home, but hey, I have a spice basket there. Here, I have to improvise.

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Filed under Australia, main, night shifts, pasta, quick meals, stories

Getting lost in Canberra

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

If I had a sense of direction, I wouldn’t stumble upon Asian lions guarding the rear end of the Australian Parliament house, ready to pounce upon diplomats intent on a secret smoke break. But then again, I wouldn’t feel like I was going to be hauled in by the Federal Police, for wandering into somewhere I really shouldn’t be. I forget sometimes that I’m in Australia, where they seem to be a little less uptight about that sort of thing. I mean, you can walk on the roof of the Parliament House here, provided the grass isn’t frosty. There aren’t even guards with funny black earpieces and formidable eyeglasses to avoid.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, I had my first tourist experience in Canberra. I had a little tour (there are more pictures on flickr, of the inside of the building), and I also walked to the National Museum and had a look. This is where I ran into this guy:

This guy knows how to live.

This guy knows how to live.

He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. It was a gorgeous day, so I don’t blame him. The Museum was actually pretty awesome, and free. The building was impressive, in a very modern, “I intend to be an important piece of architecture” sort of way:

Imposing. But free!

Imposing. But free!

That’s Canberra for you, though. The whole city is relatively new, and is full of man-made monuments symbolizing all sorts of things. It also happens to be huge, despite its relatively small population. I walked to the National Museum and Parliament house, and it took me about 5 hours to get through both of them by foot. It’s definitely a collection of suburbs, spread out and designed for automobile transport. So it’ll take me a while to see everything. After all that walking, I really wanted food. Lots of it, fast. So I did a warm salad, with bits and pieces from the fridge.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

I threw free range bacon, mushrooms, pecans, apples, bok choy, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a pan (add the bok choy last), cooked it until everything was nice and soft, and threw it over some mesclun greens. It was just the thing after a long walk — sweet and savory and warm (it’s winter here, remember). And with the blue brie, fresh bread, and fig jam with fennel, it was a nice way to end a rather long day.

Oh yah — I almost forgot:

I could only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

I can only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

That was pretty good, too.

Tomorrow? Well, there’s work, and dinner at a collaborator’s house, for which I’m making truffles. And the experiment. Of course. But I bought a book on Canberra. Hopefully I’ll find something a bit more interesting food-wise to share. I know it’ll involve a bus or two, or perhaps a bike rental. The supermarkets around here have been rather mundane, so I’ll have to try a bit harder to find some of the more interesting ingredients I was hoping to try. Not that I’m complaining.

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