My Brown Bag Resolutions

Many of us are off work this week, and perhaps not thinking a lot about how to pack a lunch for the office. So I’m not going to discuss any specific recipe or technique for brown bagging today. But I am developing some New Year’s resolutions regarding content for this blog. Here are a few:

  • Lunches that are easy to assemble and pack;
  • Paleo lunches;
  • Gluten-free lunches (you might be surprised at what you can come up with that does not emanate from a package marked “gluten-free.”)
  • Vegetarian and vegan lunches;
  • Interesting books and articles about food;
  • Gadgets that will make brown-bagging easier

I’m sure I’ll think of more as the new year wears on. If there’s anything you would like to see, please leave a comment on this blog. Meanwhile, Happy Holidays, and I’ll be back with you next week!

Brown Bag Side Dishes

In the brown bag world, potato chips are to sandwiches as….yin is to yang, mac is to cheese, Laurel is to Hardy……and so on. I love potato chips as an occasional snack with sour cream dip. But chips as a regular part of lunch? Let’s look at the nutritional content of one serving of potato chips before we make a judgement about that.

The above chart is for a popular brand of chips, and there are some pluses here. 15 potato chips contain noticeable percentages of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, and niacin. Some thiamin also. But you must sacrifice 160 calories, 10 grams of fat and 15 carbohydrates to get the good stuff.

Let’s look at some alternatives that will supply crunch and salt, without so many calories. In researching all of this, I checked my local Albertsons.

Pickles. Go to your local lunch counter, ask for a sandwich, and what do you frequently get with it? Pickles.

Pickles are marinated cucumbers. There are two types, sweet and dill (salty/savory). I prefer dill myself, and Vlasic is one of my favorites. By the way, if you don’t get the Groucho Marx reference on the label, you need to go on YouTube immediately and see some 1930’s Marx Brothers film segments. I guarantee that you will chuckle.

Below is the nutritional info for Vlasic kosher dills. The sodium is a little high at 10% DV, but one serving is essentially no calories. Plus, lots of flavor and crunch.

Raw vegetables. I cruised the Albertson’s produce department and found these individually wrapped carrot sticks. Just as easy as packing a small bag of potato chips. Carrots are chock full of carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, and they are relatively low in calories. (One medium raw carrot is approximately 25 calories.). I find that the sweetness of carrots complements a hummus dip.

Bell peppers are low in calories (approximately 25 calories in one medium pepper) and full of Vitamin C. My favorites are the red ones; they’re the sweetest tasting. At Albertsons, I found a package of pre-cut peppers.

In order to complement the sweetness of the peppers, you might pack some hummus. Or perhaps olives? Five luscious Calamata olives are only 45 calories. Here are some cartons of olives I found at the deli section of Albertsons:

In conclusion, I do hope that I’ve given you some alternatives to the ubiquitous potato chip side car. If there’s any message here, it’s that you should be inquisitive about what your grocery store offers regarding any type of food. Ask questions of your grocers, they’re always happy to help. And so am I. Keep checking out TheBrownBagBlogger.com for tips on how to prepare and eat a tasty brown bag lunch.

Sandwich with baby bell peppers and pitted Calamata olives

References:


Prepping Sandwiches, Salad, Soup

Here are some tips on how to prepare ingredients for lunch at work.  Most of your tasks will be completed during the weekend, with little left to do during the rest of the week.

By the way, much of this information was provided by a good friend of mine who runs a wellness program for her agency.  She’s a very busy lady, especially during the weekends.  If she can find time to prep lunch, so can you! 

During the weekend:

  • Buy your bread and put in the freezer.  (My friend’s favorite is Dave’s Killer Bread, and this writer agrees.  Meaty, satisfying, with lots of protein and fiber.  It’s sold in mainstream supermarkets.) 
  • Use separate zip lock bags for storage of sandwich fillings:  One for meat, one for cheese, and so on.  Make sure that you remove all air from the zip lock.  This ensures the foods stay fresh longer. 
  •  For salads, use the same idea: Separate bags for favorite greens, sliced veggies to add to the salad, halved cherry tomatoes, etc.   (Note:  for vegetables, this writer likes Debbie Meyer’s Green Bags, which can be purchased online.  These bags truly do what the ads promise–they extend the freshness of vege’s and fruits.)
  • Soup:  Many supermarkets offer freshly made soup of the day.  You can usually find this item in the deli section.  My friend strongly recommends Sprouts homemade chicken noodle soup.  8 oz. is 100 calories.

Packing sandwiches the day before:

  • Pull out frozen bread and fill with dressing, meat, and/or cheese.
  • If you wish to use lettuce in your sandwich, pack it separately in a plastic bag or container.  That way you get crunchy vege’s in your sandwich.
  •  If you like tomato and/or avocado in your sandwich, carry them whole in your lunch bag, and slice them up just before eating.  Don’t forget to pack a paring knife.
  • If you have a preference for tuna, egg, or chicken salad sandwiches, I strongly recommend that you pack your salad separately from your bread.  Otherwise, you will likely end up with a soggy mess, especially if you use pita or flatbread.  If you don’t like making your own protein salads, the deli section of your local supermarket usually carries these items.

Packing salads the day before:

  • Place your salad in a sealable plastic container.  The Walmart block containers discussed in a previous post are great for this.
  • Pack your salad dressing in a separate container, and add to the salad at lunch.

Packing soup the day before:

  • If you have time in the morning and don’t want to use the company microwave, fill a metal Thermos with hot water and let sit for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, nuke the soup.  Pour out water, fill Thermos with soup, seal, and pack away.
  • An alternative is the Crock Pot Lunch Warmer, which will allow you to heat your soup while you work.  
  • For recommendations regarding hot meal containers, please review previous post from October 18, 2018, titled “Starting Right:  Brown Bag Equipment.”

NEXT WEEK:  Brown Bag Side Dishes

About Bread

Home made whole wheat/chickpea bread

For this post, I included a photo of something I made with my Cuisinart bread maker:  Whole wheat/chickpea bread.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t have access to one of these bread-making gadgets.   But who doesn’t enjoy nutritious, tasty bakery items?  

Today, I’ll discuss various breads one can find in a typical supermarket.  Once again, I went to my local Albertson’s to see what is available out there.  And I specifically looked for items that will satisfy a gluten-free and low-carb diet, because so many of my FB friends have requested this information.  I also found some specialty items that are calorie-friendly.

Some history.  In preparing this article, I considered how dependent we are on this wonderful food, bread, which is made from flour or meal and then moistened, kneaded, and baked.  How long has bread been with us?  Archeological research tells us that the ancient Egyptians were the first to develop leavened bread.  It was so fundamental to Egyptian life and culture that at the end of a work day, laborers were paid with the stuff.  Maybe that’s where we got the phrase “earned their daily bread.”



Hieroglyph featuring Egyptians making bread

We typically associate bread with sandwiches, and the term “sandwich” comes from another chapter in food history.  John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718 – 1792) was an avid gambler who would play cards into the wee hours of the night.  The story goes that when the Earl got hungry during a gambling session, he asked for meat between two pieces of bread, so he could eat with one hand while holding the cards with another.  This tale may or may not be true. Regardless, we are left with the earl’s namesake, the brown bagger’s most reliable main dish.

John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich

Because most breads are made from wheat flour, they contain a significant amount of gluten and carbohydrate.  This can pose a problem for those who are gluten-intolerant or on low-carb diets, but who also like bread.  In addition, some bakery items such as bagels contain a considerable amount of calories.  So if you’re watching your weight, what can you do?

Low-carb bread.   It’s certainly available, right there in your local grocery store.  As an example, I’ve included some photos of Nature’s Own 100% Whole Wheat Bread.  It is by no means the only low-carb stuff out there, but I’ve seen it in many grocery stores.  The nutritional info shows 11 grams of carbohydrate per slice, which is low compared with many of the other breads I looked at.  Also, less than 1 gram of sugar.  At least two Type 2 diabetics have told me that their physicians have recommended this bread.  But don’t just take their word.  If you’re going low-carb because of diabetes, PLEASE check with your own doctor before considering this or other bakery products.


Gluten-free bread.  Schar Artisan Baker White Bread is sold at the Albertson’s and Ralph’s markets near my home.  Schar is advertised as gluten-free, dairy free, and wheat free (it’s made of rice).  Please note that this does not mean carb-free.  As a matter of fact, nutritional data indicates that one slice is 18 grams of carbohydrate.  Again, if you have problems with gluten PLEASE check with your doctor before considering this or other bakery products.  

I bought some of this stuff and tried it out.  Not bad; slightly sweet.

Specialty bread.   Who doesn’t like a crunchy, chewy toasted bagel with butter or cream cheese?  Unfortunately, most normal-size bagels contain up to 300 calories per serving(!)  Thank goodness for Thomas’ Bagel Thins.   This product has 110 calories per bagel, as well as 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.  Sorry, low-carb people….one Bagel Thin contains 25 grams of carbohydrates.  That’s just the nature of bagels.  

Thomas’, of course, were first known for their English muffins.  But they have branched out.  In addition to the Bagel Thins, Thomas’ also offers a nice pita bread.  Frankly, I think it has a better and chewier taste than other pitas on the market.   One loaf is 140 calories, with 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.  Once again, the low-carb folks won’t be happy to hear that one loaf also contains 27 grams of carbs.

 

Finally, I’m going to throw in Flatout Flatbread, which I discussed in a previous blog.  This is a highly nutritious food product that can be found in the deli section of major grocery stores.  The carbs are rather high at 22 grams per flatbread.  However, the product is only 90 calories per serving, with 7 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber.  Please see my previous blog, called “Walking the Periphery-Part 4” regarding how to make a flatout sandwich.

In conclusion:  There are many varieties of bread in your local bakery.  You can make wise choices by looking at nutritional information on the packaging.  When it comes to bread, I look for the following:

  • Calories
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sugar content
  • Protein
  • Fiber

By the way, I welcome any and all comments about bakery items that you have been satisfied with.  Please write!

NEXT WEEK:  Packing sandwich ingredients

References:

  • “Bread Cook Book,” Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 2, (1966): p. 222.
  • “13 Ancient Egyptian Food Facts You Should Know,” https://www.historyly.com/egypt-history/popular-ancient-egyptian-food-facts/, 13 September 2016,.  Web.  6 December 2018.
  • “John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  30 November 2018,.  Web.  6 December 2018.

Leftover Turkey: Pumpkin-Turkey Stew

I meant to write about sandwich bread this week.  However, we’re all in need of using up that leftover turkey meat, so here’s a variation on a recipe I posted several weeks ago.  It’s a savory, satisfying stew that stays hot in a metal thermos for work.

SOUTHWEST PUMPKIN AND TURKEY STEW (3-4 servings)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1 cup (3 stalks) chopped celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked turkey, cubed
  • 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 four 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, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

5. Mix in lemon juice to finish.  This dish is very good with cornbread.

Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 1

This post includes a great recipe for vegan lentil soup.

Let’s take a walk through the grocery store.  We’ll not be going up and down aisles, as many people do when shopping.  Instead, we’ll walk around the periphery of the market.

Why?  Because store sections displaying fresh foods, such as produce, meat, and dairy, are almost always situated in the periphery of any grocery store.  In learning how to prepare lunches that are nutritious as well as delicious, it’s important to be acquainted with the freshest foods your market has to offer.

I live near an Albertson’s, and today I chose it for our peripheral trip.  So I passed through the front entrance, took a sharp left towards the produce section, and….Wow, look at the colors!  And that’s just the berry section!

PRODUCE 5

Produce is often intimidating to people who are not sure how to cook or prepare fruits and vegetables.  Also, produce goes bad relatively quickly without proper storage, and this discourages consumers who feel they don’t have money to waste on such tricky stuff. But fresh produce tastes so good.  And fruit and vegetables inevitably lose some nutrients when they are canned or frozen.

Fortunately, these days fresh produce is often packaged in 2-4 serving allotments.  For example, the berries that you see above are in two to three serving-sized containers.  By the way, berries that you don’t use can be placed in Tupperware containers and frozen for future use.  So don’t restrict yourself to the more durable fruit, like apples and oranges.

PRODUCE 3.jpg

Many markets now have salad counters with product in individual containers.  Although it costs a little more, single-serving salad is convenient for those of us who don’t have time to chop up lettuce.

PRODUCE 4

One of my favorite vegetables is cauliflower.  I love it raw with dip, or steamed with cheese sauce.  It used to be that cauliflower was only sold by the head.  Now you can purchase bags of cut-up florets for consumption.  So convenient!

********

Here is a recipe which incorporates cauliflower and other vegetables into premade canned lentil soup.  It is easy to make and delicious.  It also freezes well.  (And for my vegan friends….it’s vegan!)

EASY CURRIED LENTIL SOUP (3 to 4 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped cauliflower
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • One medium vine-ripened tomato, chopped
  • Two cans Progresso lentil soup (look in soup section)

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil until smoking.  Turn down the burner to low.
  2. Add the onion, bell pepper, and cauliflower.  Saute and stir for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the curry power.  Saute and stir for another minute.
  4. Add the tomato.  Saute and stir for yet another minute.
  5. Add the lentil soup and mix all ingredients well.  Heat until the mixture is almost at a boil.
  6. Turn down the burner and cover saucepan.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

This dish is great with naan or pita bread.

*****

Next blog:  Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 2

Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 2

meat section MEAT COUNTER.jpg

Those who are following this blog may remember that last week, we took a look at the produce section at my local supermarket.  Today, we’re visiting the meat counter.

It’s certainly more convenient to obtain precooked luncheon or canned meats from other sections of the grocery store instead of cooking meat yourself.  However, for health reasons some of us should not consume the added salt, MSG, and other ingredients that are used in the production of prepared meats.

It is advantageous to use product from the meat counter.  You can opt to season your meat any way that you wish.  And if you are concerned about fat and cholesterol, you can choose among several low fat options.  For example:

Red meats.  Stew meat is an economical cut of beef that can be prepared on the weekend, then re-heated for lunches during the work week.  Below, we see a photograph of extra lean stew meat.

meat section BEEF STEW MEAT

Years ago, I learned how to cook beef stew in a wonderful way.   I used to work at a local auto repair shop as a data entry clerk.  The family who owned the business was Persian, and they always served their workers a delicious home-made stew at lunchtime.  The owner’s wife gave me the following recipe:

Persian Crock Pot Stew

  • 1/2 cup green onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, minced
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3-4 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1 cup beef broth (you can use dried bouillon dissolved in 1 cup water)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried celery flakes
  •  1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained (make sure you use kidney beans without sugar or additional sweetener)
  • Juice of one lemon

1.Thoroughly rinse the first four ingredients.  The easiest way to mince is with a food processor.  Otherwise, pull out a knife or cleaver and start chopping.

2.Saute the minced greens in 2 tablespoons of oil for 10 minutes in a saucepan.  Then place in the crockpot.  Wash out the saucepan.

3.Brown the meat in 1 tablespoon oil in the saucepan and then add to the crockpot.

4.Add the next five ingredients to the crockpot.  Cover, turn to Low, and cook for 8-9 hours, or until the meat is tender.

5.Drain the kidney beans and add to the crockpot.

6.Add the lemon juice to the crockpot.  Stir.

7.Cover the pot and allow to cook on Low for another 1/2 hour.  Season to taste.

8.This stew is delicious over rice or as is with pita bread.  It re-heats well and stays warm for hours in a Thermos because of its soupiness.   You can also microwave to warm or use the miniature CrockPot lunch warmer referred to in a previous article.

*****

Poultry.  I see the butcher is offering skinless chicken breast.  Perfect!  Without its skin, chicken has much less fat and cholesterol.  I can put some breasts into a foil-lined baking dish, add a little salt and pepper, turn the oven on to bake at 350 degrees, and cook for 40 minutes.  (It’s done when there’s no sign of pinkishness in the breast when sliced in half).

meat section CHICKEN BREAST.jpg

I will let the meat cool, wrap tightly in Saran wrap, and store in the frig.  It’s a great, low-fat addition to salads, sandwiches, or pre-made soup.   Suggestion:  Cook your fowl on the weekend to eliminate prep time during the work week.

*****

Seafood.  Many people shy away from seafood simply because they’re not sure how to cook it.  However, I’ve discovered that you can cook some fish, such as salmon and trout, in the microwave.  It’s easy and makes for a much more efficient cleanup.

Looks like we have some sockeye salmon today.  It’s pricier than Atlantic salmon, but in my opinion has much better flavor.  So I will ask the butcher to slice off a piece for me.

meat section SALMON.jpg

Steamed Microwave Salmon Fillet

  • Place your fillet in a microwave-safe dish.  I prefer using a pasta bowl.
  • Marinade with your favorite sauce for 1/2 hour.  (I’ve used teriyaki marinade, chicken marinade, and plain salad vinaigrette).  Today, I’ll be using a balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Cover the fish with another smaller plate to make a tight seal.
  • Cook in microwave for 4 minutes.
  • Remove from microwave and carefully lift the top plate off.  (Suggestion:  push the top plate away from you to allow steam to escape from opposite side.  You don’t want to burn yourself!)
  • Eat hot with your favorite side dish.  Or let cool, wrap tightly, refrigerate and use later as an addition to your favorite salad.  Salmon is delicious hot or cold.  Here are some lunchtime suggestions:
    • Teriyaki marinaded salmon is good re-heated with rice.  Green salad makes a good side dish
    • Cold balsamic marinaded salmon is good on top of a Greek-style green salad.
    • Cold salmon is also good topped with plain yogurt mixed with chopped fresh dill.  Sliced cucumber with vinaigrette is a good side dish.  (We’ll talk more about yogurt in my next blog.)
STEAMED SALMON COOKED

NEXT BLOG:  Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 3