Down-Home Leftovers for Lunch

Leftover spare ribs, corn on the cob wrapped in foil, frozen collard greens

My husband made some crockpot spare ribs the other day. I begged him for just one leftover rib so that I could bring it to lunch this past Tuesday.

Fortunately, I had a couple of additional items in the freezer: Frozen collard greens and frozen corn on the cob. I put a dab of butter on the corn and wrapped it in foil. Then, I added a 1/4 teaspoon onion powder and a 1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke to the collards. * I lidded the containers, closed the bag, plugged it in, and let it work its magic for two hours. I had a half hour drive to my senior’s lunch group/German class at Cal State Fullerton. The hot plate in the Hot Logic continued to keep my food warm during the trip. Everything was perfectly cooked and delicious! **

If you are interested in finding out more about the Hot Logic Mini thermal bag, check out “Equipment and Gadgets” under the “Menu” section of this blog. Otherwise, check out https://www.myhotlogic.com.

* I would recommend adding a couple of tablespoons water to the collards if you need to leave the bag plugged in longer than two hours. The additional moisture will keep the vegetables from drying out from the heat.

**Cooking spare ribs in a crock pot is quite simple, and it can easily be done during the weekend. Go the packaged foods section of the store where they stock gravies and sauces. Look for either Shillings or McCormick BBQ Slow Cookers Pulled Pork Sauce, and just follow the directions using spare ribs. My husband recommends the following: It will take about eight hours to cook the meat. After six hours, use a basting syringe to suck out the fat that has accumulated in the crock pot. Then cover and continue to cook.

I would like to add that the corn and collards would be excellent with warmed up fried or baked chicken.

When There's No Time to Cook….

We’re all been in that situation. Stuff stacks up on us, we can’t get to the market for our groceries during the weekend, and now Monday morning is here. So, are we stuck with McDonalds for lunch?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Get into the habit of maintaining staples for those times that you can’t go grocery shopping. Here are a couple of items I always have in my pantry:

Canned soups. I tend towards hearty, main-course items. My favorite products are Progresso Lentil Soup, Amy’s Curried Lentil Soup, and Trader Joe’s Organic Chili. I like legume soups because they are full of protein and fiber and make a complete meal.

Energy bars. I keep Atkins bars on hand when it’s not convenient to cook or pack breakfast or lunch. I like Atkins especially because the meal bars contain a lot of protein and fiber. Of course, I would not recommend a steady diet of processed foods like Atkins. But they’re helpful in a pinch.

Hard-boiled eggs. I like to keep them on hand when I don’t have time to prepare a complete breakfast.

Cheese. I always have cheese on hand. My favorite is Trader Joe’s Lite Cheddar. One slice is only 80 calories, with 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein. After I’ve opened a package, I wrap it using my vacuum bagger. When stored in this way, cheese is good for two to three weeks after purchase.

Food saver vacuum bagger

Frozen foods. I much prefer to fix my own meals, but I also store frozen dinners in case I haven’t gotten to the market. My favorite brands are Amy’s frozen meals, Saffron Road, and Cederlane. Because I own a Hot Logic thermal bag, I can pack frozen vegetables, legumes, and meats for cooking during the workday. If you do not have access to an office microwave and are curious about how the Hot Logic works, please check out the “Equipment and Gadgets” section of this blog’s “Menu.” You can also access http://www.myhotlogic.com regarding information about the device.

Flavorings. When I prepare foods with my Hot Logic thermal bag, I like to have sauces and other items for adding flavor to pre-cooked dishes. For example, I use powdered onion and powdered garlic (found in the spice/baking section of the supermarket) to enhance the taste of frozen vegetables. When I cook fish in the thermal bag, my favorite flavoring is Lawry’s Lemon Pepper sauce (found in the sauce aisle of the supermarket). I love collard greens, and I usually spice up this vegetable with Liquid Smoke (found in the sauce aisle of the supermarket.)

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This week, I was somewhat at a loss for what to bring to my regular Tuesday lunchgroup. (We usually meet right before German class for seniors at Cal State Fullerton.) I looked in my cupboards and noted some chili I had purchased at Trader Joe’s.

I packed this item in my Hot Logic thermal bag, along with some corn tortillas I had purchased at Sprout’s. I made sure to wrap the tortillas loosely in foil so that they did not come in direct contact with the hot plate in the thermal bag. Otherwise, they would have hardened.

I also added some Trader Joe’s Lite Cheddar to the chili. I heated everything for a couple of hours. Here are the results…a nice, hot meal!

Chicken Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Chicken Soup

As mentioned in a previous article, January is National Soup Day. Therefore, I’m posting one last soup recipe: Chicken Pumpkin Soup. This is a reprint from 2018, but the dish is so tasty I think it’s worth another look.

CHICKEN PUMPKIN SOUP (2-3 servings)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1 pound cubed uncooked skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut into 1″ cubes. *
  • 1 cup (3 stalks) chopped celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1   15 ounce can of solid packed pumpkin
  • 1   15 ounce can chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, warmed to room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Juice of one lemon

1. In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil.

2.Add the next five ingredients and saute for five minutes.

3.Add everything else, except for the lemon juice, and mix well.

4.Heat until the mixture is bubbling. Lower to simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.

This dish is good with cornbread. It reheats well using the heating devices I have previously mentioned. (See “Equipment and Gadgets” under “Menu” section.)

*You can also use cubed pre-cooked chicken or turkey. Do not saute as in Step 2. Instead, add the meat at Step 4.

Whole Wheat Ramen Soup

I recently discovered that January is unofficially National Soup Month. How appropriate that practically all my posts this month have concerned soup! And today won’t be any different, as I’ll be offering a whole-wheat ramen soup recipe.

I grew up eating Top Ramen soups for lunch, dinner, and snacks. It’s really tasty stuff, and economical too. Unfortunately, the product does not offer much in terms of protein or fiber.

So I was delighted to find a protein-rich ramen product at my local World Wide Market (also known as Cost Plus).

Hakubaku Organic Ramen

The whole-wheat product you see here contains 9 grams of protein per 3.5 oz. serving. In addition, it contains 3 grams of fiber. The company also makes organic udon (thick noodles) and soma (very thin noodles used in cold Asian-style salad).

Here’s what I made with the ramen:

ORGANIC RAMEN SOUP (1-2 servings)

  • One 15 oz. can chicken broth (I used chicken bone broth, which provides additional protein)
  • One bunch baby bok choy, chopped
  • One bunch green onion, chopped
  • 3.5 oz. Hakubaku Organic Ramen *
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
  • Soy sauce to taste
  • Two hard boiled eggs, sliced (optional)

1.Place broth and vegetables in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Add ramen. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 4 minutes.

3.Add sesame oil, and soy sauce to taste. Garnish with hard boiled egg.

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The noodles are a little chewier than regular ramen, but they taste good. This dish can be placed in frig and re-heated in a microwave or any other devices mentioned on this blog. In addition, it stays hot in a metal thermos.

*Hakubaku Organic Ramen can be purchased at the World Wide Market and on amazon.com. I also noted that it is sold through Whole Foods. If you have trouble obtaining this product, substitute 3.5 oz. Barilla ProteinPLUS Thin Spaghetti, which can be purchased at most supermarkets. Like the ramen, this product is also protein-rich and contains 7 grams of fiber per 3.5 oz. serving. You will need to boil the Barilla pasta for 10 minutes until done. I would suggest bring the spaghetti to a boil and cooking it for 5 minutes. Then add the vegetables, bring to a boil again, and cook for 5 more minutes.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup

I went to the local Trader Joe’s for some cooking ideas. Like other stores, TJ’s has a line of vegetable soups-in-a-carton. I purchased some of their sweet potato bisque:

The soup is creamy, low in fat, with a high vitamin A content. I decided to add some vitamin C (bell pepper, tomato) and a little spice. Here’s the result:

CURRIED SWEET POTATO SOUP (2-3 servings)

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • One small sweet Vidalia onion, chopped.
  • One large red bell pepper, cored and chopped
  • One medium on-the-vine tomato, chopped
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • One 32 fl. oz. carton Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato Bisque

1.Saute the onion and bell pepper in the oil for four minutes.

2.Add the curry powder to the vegetable mixture and saute for one more minute.

3.Add the tomato and saute for another minute.

4.Mix the sweet potato soup* into the vegetable mixture. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

5.Puree the soup using a food processor or immersion blender. Very good with naan bread.

This soup freezes well and can be reheated in a microwave or Hot Logic thermal bag. (See the “Equipment and Gadgets” section of this blog’s menu to learn more about the Hot Logic mini oven.)

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*If you don’t have access to a Trader Joe’s, pre-made butternut or other winter squash soup will work with this recipe. Several grocery stores, including Sprouts, stock cartons of these soups.

Brown Bag Equipment

We’re still in January, and there are still opportunities for new beginnings. If your resolution this year is to prepare home-made lunches for work, have I got some great info for you! Because in this post, I will discuss equipment that makes the transportation and preparation of hot and cold lunches almost effortless.

Lunch bag. There are lots of fancy lunch bags on the market, in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online. I tend to favor lunch carriers that are compact, but at the same time large enough to contain multiple meals.

After checking prices at various locations, I noted an Arctic Zone lunch bag sold at Walmart for $7.97.

The bag is approximately 6″x9″ and well insulated. It has two interior sections for food storage. Also, it fits easily into a rolling backpack.

Individual food containers. Walmart carries these items for $6.92. They fit nicely into the arctic Zone lunch bag, and they are BPA free, freezer safe, microwave safe, and dishwasher safe.

Cold pack. Assuming that you might not have refrigeration at your worksite, a freezer pack will keep your lunches cold. I found the one pictured below for under $2.00 on amazon.com.

Thermos. What if you don’t have access to a microwave and you want a hot lunch? There are a few options out there. For example, a solid steel thermos will keep food hot or cold for hours. Here’s what I’ve always used:

This item sells for $19.99 on amazon.com. It’s more expensive than other types of thermos…but it works. To get the most out of the device, fill it with very hot tap water and let sit for 10 minutes. Empty out the water and add your heated food. Just as the label says, the thermos will keep your lunch hot for hours, and it holds up to 16 oz. Caveat: The thermos works best with foods that contain plenty of liquid, such as oat meal, soup, and stews. It does not keep pilaf or pasta warm for a long time. But here’s something else that does…..

Plug-in Lunch Warmer.  Over the last few years, experts have developed a whole list of plug-in lunch containers that are alternatives to microwaves or toaster ovens.  I’ve tried one or two of these items.  One of these is the Crock-Pot Lunch Warmer.

CROCK POT 2
CROCK POT

You can purchase the lunch warmer online from various sources, including Amazon.com, Target, Best Buy, and crock-pot.com.  It holds 20 oz. and costs anywhere from $19.99 to $29.99, depending on where you buy it.  (I note that Best Buy advertises it at the lower price.)

The lunch warmer heats your food within two hours without burning or drying it up.  The best feature is the double seal, which keeps food odors from escaping while lunch is cooking.  Thus, you can plug the warmer in at your desk without bothering your neighbors.  I’ve warmed up everything from stews to pasta to pilaf, and the results are always great.  By the way, the inner container is removable and very easy to clean.  Caveat:  Although the instructions indicate that you can coil the plug-in cord around the base of the warmer for storage, do not do this.  Over time, this stresses the base of the cord, and the warmer will eventually short out.  I found out the hard way and ended up purchasing another one.  Also, do not cook raw food with this lunch warmer.  It’s only to be used for warming food that’s already cooked.

Hot Logic thermal bag. The Hot Logic mini bag is a single-serving conduction oven contained in a nylon bag and insulated with aluminum. The operative element is a hot plate placed inside the container. The mini bag is sold on amazon.com, along with a Pyrex container for approximately $55.00. You can also purchase the entire set for a comparable price at https://myhotlogic.com.

Hot logic thermal bag
Hot logic thermal bag with 6 cup Pyrex insert

I spent last year testing one of these devices, which heats food in 90-120 minutes. I was impressed by its versatility. It heats up pre-cooked items without drying them out. It can be safely plugged into your car using a converter, per the manufacturer. And here are some other things it can do:

  • Frozen dinner, cooked in its own package. If you don’t have time to unpack a frozen dinner before cooking, you can put the unopened box in the hot logic and cook it like that, per the manufacturer. Cooking time is 120 minutes.

Below is a single-serving frozen dinner I placed in the hot logic, without the Pyrex dish:

After two hours of cooking, I opened the package up. The cardboard was not burned or otherwise damaged. The interior container and plastic film cover were not damaged, either. The food came out piping hot and ready to eat.

Amy’s Ravioli Bowl, after cooking in Hot Logic
  • Cooking meat. The manufacturers have indicated that their product can cook raw fish and chicken. I tried raw chicken last year, and while it came out completely cooked, it was essentially boiled. This is not my preference for hot cooked chicken. Instead, I prefer using the Hot Logic to warm up pre-roasted chicken and other meats (90 minutes). On the other hand, raw frozen salmon came out great. (Assuming that you like your salmon poached.)
Frozen raw salmon seasoned with Lawry’s Lemon Pepper Sauce/fresh dill, and frozen vegetables, before cooking

After two hours of cooking, here are the results:

Frozen raw salmon and vegetables, after cooking.

The food was piping hot, flavorful, and completely cooked. (Advisory: While frozen and pre-cooked vege’s heat up well in the Hot Logic, you can’t cook raw vege’s in the device.)

  • The Hot Logic works with a variety of cooking containers. You can heat food using aluminum, plastic microwave safe, and glass containers. In order to keep cooking odors from escaping into your work space, I would recommend using the Pyrex container. It contains odors better than other materials.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve provided you with information that will open your mind to the variety of foods you can bring to work for lunch. Next week, I’ll continue with brown bag recipes.

Making Soup Out of Salad

Cabbage and Kale Salad Soup

I recently went to Walmart in search of a healthy salad to offset the fatty holiday fare I’d eaten. But it was a cold day, and none of the selections looked especially inviting to me. Suddenly, I got a bright idea……

Bagged salad

CABBAGE AND KALE SALAD SOUP (3-4 servings)

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bag of Walmart’s Market Side Sunflower Bacon Crunch Salad (only use the vegetables, which include green cabbage, romaine lettuce, kale, red cabbage, carrots, green onions)
  • 1 medium sweet videlia onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, minced
  • 2 tablespoons dried celery flakes
  • 2 tsp. Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups water

1.Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the vege’s from the salad bag and the chopped onion. Do NOT add the salad dressing, bacon crumbles, or sunflower seeds!

2.Saute the vege mix and onion for about 5 minutes.

3.Place the vege’s and onion in a crockpot. Add dill, celery flakes, salt, bay leaf, and water.

4.Cover and cook on High for 3 hours.

5.Remove the bay leaf. Puree the mixture using a food processor or hand immersion blender.*

The butter gave my soup a rich flavor. I added a little extra salt, but you might not want to do so. This soup freezes well and can be heated at work using a microwave or one of the portable devices I have previously recommended. (Check out the “Menu” for this blog and look under “Equipment and Gadgets.”)

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*Several months ago, I purchased a Cuisinart immersible hand blender from amazon.com. It cost about $50, and was worth the money. The device has a detachable blade and is much easier to clean than the traditional blender or food processor. You just stick the blade end into the cooking vessel, push the button, and the device does its work within a minute. I will be demonstrating the usefulness of the blender in future articles.