Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Best Lunch Box Ever!

The countdown has begun. We start back to school in a week and a half. Second grade is fast approaching and all the signs are pointing that way. A new backpack is awaiting for new adventures, school paperwork is complete for turning in to well-rested teachers, and bedtimes are creeping back to an earlier hour. We are getting ready for new beginnings and a brand new year.

It's not often I find my seven year old son on the sofa watching Sports Center while marking pages in a cookbook. Yesterday, he was enthralled with Katie Morford's new book Best Lunch Box Ever. He takes his lunch to school four days a week and a snack each day. Like most moms, I'm always trying to put together meals that are travel friendly and contain enough goodness to keep him going until the school bus spits him out in the afternoon. All while making them appealing to him in the lunchroom. Trust me - that's a lot easier said that done.

When I saw Camden reading (and enjoying) Katie's book, I was thrilled. I'm taking it as a sign that lunch boxes will be easier for both us. As a mother, I love that she included a chapter on making over leftovers to be appealing for little people the next day. Those are my favorite kinds of lunches. From basics of picking out the right packaging to keeping lunches cool or hot until noontime, Katie's included it all.

The recipes that Camden marked as his favorites are BLT Roll-Ups, Sweetie Pie Quesidillas, Crispy Applewiches, Sour Cherry Oatmeal Bars, and Everybody Loves Chocolate Pudding. Both of us are super-excited about the DIY Microwave Popcorn that has kernels popping in brown paper lunch bags instead of the less-desirable version we've all known for years.

May all mothers everywhere find this school year opens with lunch boxes that are less stressful and healthier for those we love the most. Thanks to Katie, that's entirely possible.

Sweetie Pie Quesadilla

I've been making chili with black beans and sweet potatoes for years. This takes those two winning flavors and pairs them with melted Monterey Jack cheese for a quesadilla that is far more satisfying than the norm. Cooking the quesadilla over medium instead of high heat allows the sweet potato to get tender by the time the outside is crispy and the cheese is melted. Leftover cooked vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, or peppers can be chopped up and substituted for the sweet potato.

Makes 2 servings

3/4 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese
Two 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortillas
1/2 cup grated peeled raw sweet potato
1/4 cup cooked black beans, drained
2 tablespoons mild green taco sauce
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Sprinkle half of the cheese evenly over one tortilla. Scatter the sweet potato over the cheese, followed by the beans. Spoon the taco sauce over the beans and top with the remaining cheese and the remaining tortilla.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Put the quesadilla in the pan and cook until golden brown and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes. With a spatula, flip the quesadilla and cook until the second side is golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the quesadilla to a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes.

Cut into quarters. Wrap or pack into two containers.

MAKE-AHEAD NOTES: can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. In the morning before school, reheat in a pan or pop into the toaster oven to restore crispiness, if you like.
*Recipe and photo from Best Lunch Box Ever.

Sour Cherry Oatmeal Bars

The sweet-tart taste of sour cherry jam over a crumbly, brown sugar–sweetened dough is pretty scrumptious. The recipe is a twist on a fruit crisp I’ve been making for years, only in this version the crust shows up on both top and bottom, and jam subs in for fresh fruit. I cut the bars into petite squares that are just big enough for a lunch-box treat (or an after-school snack along with a glass of cold milk). If you can’t get your hands on a jar of sour cherry jam, feel free to substitute apricot or raspberry instead.

Makes 20 bars

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sour cherry jam

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper so that it drapes a couple of inches over two sides.

In a large bowl, add the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt and stir with a fork. Add the butter and, using an electric mixer on low speed, mix until the ingredients form a uniformly crumbly mixture, about 45 seconds. Add the walnuts and continue mixing on low speed until they are evenly distributed, about 5 seconds.

With your hands, press two-thirds of the dough firmly and evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. (If the dough sticks to your hands, cover it with a piece of parchment paper as you work.)

With a spoon, spread the jam evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the remaining one-third of the dough evenly over the jam. You will see the jam peeking through.

Bake until the top is deep brown and the jam along the edges begins to darken, 45 to 50 minutes.

Let cool in the baking pan for 30 minutes.

Run a knife along the two sides of the pan that don’t have an overhang of parchment paper. Grab the two ends of parchment paper and carefully lift out the sour cherry oatmeal square and transfer to a cutting board.

Cut into 20 bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the pantry or 2 weeks in the freezer.
*Recipe and photo from Best Lunch Box Ever.

Recipes and photos from Best Lunch Box Ever used with permission. Photos by Jennifer Martiné. Copyright 2013 Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Sullivan Morford, Chronicle Books.

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved.


The Southern Sideboard said...

How perfect! My oldest starts school this year and I've been thinking about how I can keep his lunches healthy and fun. So this is timely. I am in love with your Around the Southern Table Cookbook and am cooking my way through it. Hubby is a HUGE fan!

Rebecca Lang said...

Thanks so much! I love that you love the book. Good luck with the new school year!