Step 2: Weekly Plan for Lunchboxes

As this week screeches to a close, my head is already rolling forward to the next. It always helps to have a sketch of what the lunchboxes would look like and for me sometimes it helps to think geographically as this give me themes to play with. I know there are many cuisines of the world to think of, but I try to stick to the ones most familiar (and the ingredients are readily available,) such as:

  • Middle Eastern,
  • Western – Swedish, Greek, Italian, American, British, Tex-Mex
  • South East Asian – Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian
  • Asian – Chinese, Korean, Indian

The countries I think of would also give me clues to what items to buy for the week – beef for mincing, chicken (whole for roasting, fillet or whole legs,) fish, prawns for protein, as well as herbs such as coriander, Thai basil, Italian basil, mint. The rest depends on the things that I can find in the market e.g. avocado, berries, spinach – whatever is fresh, in season and perhaps on sale.  Sometimes there are great bargains on certain types of foodstuff, I would usually get the item and find recipes to try out, (this was how I embarked on the Vietnamese rice roll adventure).

For each of the theme, it can further be divided as:

  • protein
  • veggies and/or fruits – salad or soup
  • carbs

If 2 items are mixed (e.g. mini pizzas – carbs+protein) that gives me an extra item to play around with (and that usually means additional veggie and/or fruit item.) Due to the limitations of the Thermos lunch tiffin that my son has, I try to keep his lunch item to 3 most days. However, on Thursday (swimming day,) I usually add another tupperware of baked goods or fruit based item as post-swim snack and for him and his friends.

Sounds complicated? Actually it helps not to be too stubborn 100% with the plan. Have a plan but be prepared to be flexible and allow for some changes to the menu based on the freshness, availability of produce and any special savers, deals that may be available at the market.

The lunchbox menu is then incorporated as part of my weekly and monthly household menu which is cross-referenced to the weekly shopping list. Below is a sample print screen of my household menu in 2010 – the reason the menu is in malay is because we then had a helper at home who did not speak English. I have translated some into English to provide the general idea of the format for the menu plan:

Sample Menu

Planning school lunchboxes: First step

IMG_00000185

When our son first went to kindergarten, I panicked about what food to prepare for him to take to school. This resulted in a meeting with his class teacher who diplomatically told me that he was bringing too much food with him and that he was having trouble finishing everything. Since then, I have moved backwards and forwards in terms of pre-packaged, ready prepared food and snacks vs. home-made, everything from scratch food.  For now, I am on a “let’s-prepare-everything-from-scratch-since-I-am-not-working-outside-the-house-anyway” mode. I just find it to be more economical to prepare lunchboxes at home, and I get to cater to his liking (while adding in some of the good stuff.) To be honest, for me, it is also one of my languages of love – preparing something that is different, nutritious and he happens to like as well.

So, how do I work out the lunchboxes? First, I sat down with my 12 year old son for a quick “consultation” to find out:

  • his likes (anything with cheese, warm soups, baked stuff, chicken, prawns, items with mince meat, potatoes, fruit etc)
  • his dislikes (anything too spicy, pungent tasting or smelling)
  • his preference vs mine (he prefers no repetition of daily meals in his lunchbox e.g: he does not want to bring stuff from breakfast or anything that he would have to eat at dinner when he gets home – though this would make life easier for me, but never mind.)
  • the dealbreakers (what he definitely do not want in the lunchboxes – rice, fried rice, fried noodles, nasi lemak, anchovies, sambal and the likes.)

With the brief from the client obtained, I have a workable guideline to follow, and he agrees that anything that I prepare that follows the above specs will be fine by him. In terms of the repetition, he actually at times, requests for a taste of his lunchbox items for breakfast (ahah!) as he could not wait to taste the food at lunch time.

So far, it has been good. He seems to enjoy his lunch box, and provides feedback on whatever that does not work as well as I had hoped – e.g. “the vietnamese rice rolls were delicious, however, the sauce was too spicy and strong tasting.” It has provided a great opportunity for two-way communication for us. I also find that he has developed a way of communicating feedback constructively and gently and there has been little need for me to sharpen my claws or lick my wounds, (aww….sniffles.)  Sometimes, I can even slip little notes such as “have a wonderful day!” in his lunch pack as a surprise – though I can imagine this could actually backfire soon, the further along into teenage-hood he gets to.

Next, weekly plan for lunchboxes.

School Lunchbox: Old Fashioned Cheese Burger, Slaw of carrot, apple and raisins and Oat Crisps

IMG_00000306

This lunchbox was combo was requested by dear son. OK, he did not request the slaw, but he did request for the burger. Apparently the previous lunchbox of cream of mushroom soup, cheese and garlic pillows and fruit salad was not filling enough and the poor guy was hungry 😦  So, what was a mum to do? I had to acquiesce to his request and try to balance it out with veggies.

Cheeseburger (makes 2):

IMG_00000304 IMG_00000305

  • 300 gms minced top round – lean beef
  • 1/2 chopped onions
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  • a slice of cheese per burger
  • sliced and de-seeded tomatoes
  • sliced lettuce
  • sliced cucumber

Mix all together and form into 2 patties – not too thin. Heat a frying pan with a little olive oil. Grill burgers on both sides. When almost done, place a slice of cheese on top and let it melt. Remove from heat and let rest for a few minutes.

Toast some burger buns, spread a little bit of margarine (to prevent bread from getting soggy.) Place some sliced lettuce, de-seeded tomatoes and cucumber on the buns, add the burger patty and cover with the other bun. (**my son doesn’t want pickles or any sauce on his burger, so the patties have to be juicy).

Carrot, Apples and Raisins Slaw

  • 1 carrot – grated fine
  • 1 apple – grated fine
  • a handful of raisins, soaked in apple juice for 10 mins
  • dressing – 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp honey – mixed well.

Add all above ingredients together and chill till ready to use.

Oat Crisps (adapted from Pioneer Woman)

  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 3/4  cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celcius
  2. Cream butter with both sugars till mixed, add eggs and vanilla, mix.
  3. Sift together flour, salt and baking soda – add to the butter mixture.
  4. Add in oats and almonds, stir to mix.
  5. Place spoonfuls of mixture on parchment lined baking pan – bake for 10 minutes.

School Lunchbox: Home-made Wonton Noodles, Shrimp and Chicken Wonton Parcels and Vegetable broth

Dry wonton noodles, chicken and shrimp wonton parcels and veggie broth

Dry wonton noodles, chicken and shrimp wonton parcels and veggie broth

Busy, busy day uploading today…. I have left this blog for about a week and a half due to circumstances as covered in my posts before this. So, today for son’s lunchbox, I decided to be a little adventurous – making the wonton noodles from scratch and using the same dough rolling it really thin to make the wonton skins for the parcels. It took me 90 minutes to make everything this morning, though this does not take into account the post cooking clean up time 😛

Wonton Noodles (adapted from ChubbyHubby)

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 9 tablespoons cold (icy) water
  • a few drops sesame oil
  • some cornstarch for rolling

Method:

IMG_00000308  IMG_00000312 IMG_00000313 IMG_00000314

  1. Sift the flour and salt into electric stand mixer. Make a well in the middle of the flour.
  2. Beat eggs and cold water – pour into the well.
  3. Put on paddle attachment. Switch mixer on low (Kenwood Major speed 2) and leave for 5 minutes (while you prepare the wonton pockets)
  4. The mixture will be like little balls. Pour out onto floured surface and knead. The mixture is hard but you must knead, it will come together. Put your elbow into the kneading for about 5-7 more minutes – the dough should be pliable and springy when pushed with a finger.
  5. Wet your hand with a few drops of sesame oil, rub all over dough, leave to rest for 30 minutes (continue preparing wonton pockets)
  6. After 30 minutes, divide dough into 4, (I use 3 for noodles, and 1 for wonton skins)
  7. Pat the dough flat, roll using widest setting. Fold into 2, roll again (repeat 3 times) Keep setting the roller thinner after each 3 rolls. I stop at setting no. 6.
  8. Dust thin sheets with corn flour and cut.
  9. For the wonton skins – roll to the thinnest setting (till you can see your hands on the other side) dust with cornflour and cut.
  10. Boil hot water in big pot and get ready another big container of cold water.
  11. When hot water is on a rolling boil, put in a handful of noodles. When it starts floating, retrieve and plunge into cold water. Do for all noodles.
  12. Just before adding to the flavourings – dip the noodles quickly in hot water, drain and put in the mixing container.

Dressing for Dry Wonton Noodles (from 3 hungry tummies)

  • 1.5 tbs of garlic oil (3 cloves of garlic chopped fine, fry over slow heat in a little vegetable oil)
  • 1 .5 tbs of light soy
  • 1.5 tbs of caramel sauce
  • 1 tbs of oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp of castor sugar
  • dash of white pepper

Shrimp and Chicken Parcels (adapted from 3 hungry tummies)

IMG_00000309  IMG_00000310

  • 200 gms shrimp – clean and chop into tiny pieces
  • 100 gms minced chicken
  • 2 scallions (white part) chopped fine
  • a pinch of grated ginger
  • 1/2 of beaten egg
  • dash of light soy sauce
  • dash of oyster sauce
  • dash of sesame oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.5 tsp corn starch

Mix all the above together. Fill wonton skin with 1 tsp, wet the edges of skin and pinch together.

Fry till golden.

Chocolate Macarons with Salted Caramel Filling

IMG_00000295

Based on the requests that I have received, I am going to share with you the recipe of the chocolate macarons with salted caramel filling that I made last week. Sorry it took so long, but it has been crrrrrrazy around here the past couple of weeks.

Now, are my macarons perfect? Nope! It is still a work in progress. Is it difficult to make macarons? Urrr…. I don’t think it is the most fiddly thing I have ever done, the opera cake takes that title. However, it is the most technically challenging thing and many variables will make a difference to the resulting macarons. The one you can see above has lovely feet, however, the macaron itself is thick and I think it is because I was too afraid to mix the almond meal with the meringue, so the macronage is a little thick. I think it should be a little thinner in consistency, so I guess, 5 or 6 more turns with the spatula would have been perfect. See? It’s things like that that drives me crazy. Little, subtle things make a difference to the result. I will need to make a few more of these before I will be really happy. The problem is… who will eat them?

Chocolate Macarons (recipe from bisous a tois)

  • 50 gm egg whites (about 2 eggs) – age in fridge for 48 hours
  • 25 gm caster sugar
  • a pinch cream of tartar (to stabilize the egg whites when beating)
  • 100 gm icing sugar
  • 50 gm ground almonds
  • 5 gm cocoa powder

IMG_00000291  IMG_00000292  IMG_00000294

Method:

  1. Grind ground almonds, icing sugar and cocoa powder in your food processor. Sift twice.
  2. Beat egg whites till foamy, add the cream of tartar
  3. Add caster sugar bit by bit, beat till glossy and look out for stiff peaks.
  4. Fold in ground almonds mixture – don’t have to be too gentle with the folding. Once well incorporated, place on silicone mats for baking (I tried to use parchment paper and the bottom of the macarons stuck to it!)
  5. I used cookie scoop (hence the marks on top of the macarons) but if you have piping bags, pipe the macaron into small circles.
  6. Leave for about 1 to 2 hours for a skin to develop (when you touch the macarons, there is a dry skin on it and the mixture does not stick to your fingers) – try not to make this when it is raining! Otherwise, keep the macarons in a room with air conditioning running directly on to the trays)
  7. Bake in 160 degree oven for 5-7 minutes (depending on your oven)
  8. Cool before peeling off the silicone mats – leave to cool in fridge for 24 hours before filling.

Salted Caramel Filling (from the macaronqueen)

  • 75 gm brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoon salted butter
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • a pinch of sea salt

Method:

  1. Combine brown sugar and butter in pot and boil
  2. When the mixture is melted and bubbling, add cream (be careful, it will spit!)
  3. Continue to stir till boiling. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Let it cool.
  5. Ready to use as filling for macarons.

IMG_00000299    IMG_00000297

 

 

 

A tale of the past weekend…

So, last weekend was the inter-school swimming competition, so the weekend was pretty chaotic for us. His dad and I donned our cheerleader hats and spent most of the two days with other swimming parents as we cheer our kids on, comfort them when the swims don’t go as well as expected, and generally be around whenever parental support was needed.

On a positive note, he managed to get 5 bronze and 2 silver medals for his age-group. He also improved his personal bests, which is what we were all hoping for.  As he has only been training with the team for about 3 months, we are really pleased with the progress that he has made. It is a balancing act for a 12 year old and requires some sacrifice and discipline on his part to wake up early on Saturdays to be at the pool by 6 am. There is little time for tv watching on weekdays as he gets home only at 4.30 followed by dinner, homework and studies before being at the pool by 6.45 pm and not finishing till 9 pm. The only down time he has is on Sunday and it is a really precious day for all of us. He gets to sleep in late, we get to have long lunches as a family and wind down a little, before homework and assignments claim his time again.

Sometimes I wonder if this is the kind of life that I want for my child. His waking hours are divided between studying and swim training. They swim anything between 4 and 5 km per night, sometimes at lap pace for stroke correction, other times sprints. The good thing is, I know this is good for his health. He seems fit, motivated and growing well. He sleeps well and there is little time for computer games, wii or ps3. The only thing I worry about is if he is going to blame me for a “lack of childhood” experiences when he is a grown-up. I guess, we just need to balance it all out as well as we could for as long as he wants to.

I was never a competitive swimmer, but used to compete in tennis tournaments as a junior player. As an adult, I remember the tournaments with great fondness – meeting up with friends, competing with others, learning to win and lose gracefully, playing fairly. The training gave me life lessons and discipline that were valuable throughout my school, college and working years. I hope my son will also learn good life lessons in swimming that he can carry through with him as an adult.

Busy week so far…

Pardon me for the tardiness in updating this blog. Wait.. wait.. there is a really great excuse for this, we have a visitor at home. My darling sister in law came to town on a break this week, so I have been enjoying the fact that there is another woman-person at home to talk to and spend time with. So much so that this blog has had to suffer for it, oops! However, lunchboxes continue to be packed, and have also had a little motivation to try out new recipes, e.g. chocolate macarons with salted caramel filling (ooooh, mama!) and baked coffee cheesecake, not to mention our little stash of cookies around my finally completed “hospitality corner.”

So what did I pack for my dear boy’s lunchbox this week? OK, here goes:

IMG_00000270 IMG_00000269

Monday:

  • Roasted butternut, carrots and chicken sausage soup
  • Cheese scones
  • Steamed vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower)

Tuesday:

IMG_00000276

  • Rice noodles
  • Chicken and vegetable broth

I separated all items – rice noodles is blanched in hot water and kept separate from the broth so that it won’t get soggy. The broth is kept hot in the thermos along with the chicken pieces, vegetables are also placed separately from the broth, otherwise there will not be enough broth for the noodles.

Wednesday:

IMG_00000284

  • Lamb Souvlaki
  • Tzatziki
  • Home-made pita bread

I will fill in the recipes below each of the heading above later when time permits, but for now, I hope the pictures will help with some packing ideas.

Another project I had been working on is my abovementioned hospitality corner. One of the final purchases I made in Riyadh was the much wanted Cuisinart coffee maker with burr grinder attached. The machine grinds coffee beans fresh each time, and as the freshly made coffee is stored in a thermal carafe, there is no need for a hotplate to keep the pot of coffee warm either, so goodbye burnt tasting and smelling coffee! (Yes, yes, I did count the number of times I used the word coffee in the previous sentence!) Anyhoo.. it would be nice to have a corner where one can make coffee or tea and have some nibbles (cookies/biscuits and other lovely nibblets) – so, with all the hardware in place, it was time to bake. The result is a small jar of granola, and 2 glass jars containing oatmeal cookies and chocolate chip with malt cookies, to go along with the coffee and tea corner. Ahh… Now that is in place, I am a satisfied woman.

IMG_00000267  IMG_00000268

To round this update up, I decided to make chocolate macarons with salted caramel filling because my son thought macaroons and macarons are one and the same… so he had to be educated, so there! (Yes, yes, and the education ended with all the said macarons being consumed the same night, sigh with nary a picture to take.)

IMG_00000285 IMG_00000289

Finally, I made a baked coffee cheesecake for sister in law (and me,) to have with our coffee as we inaugurated the hospitality corner in my cute little house 🙂 Hmm, we are running a little low in the cookie department, but no worries, I still have the dough all rolled up in the freezer, ready to be sliced and baked pronto when the last cookie is consumed 🙂

IMG_00000287 IMG_00000290