Lunchbox idea and recipes: Fluffy, spiced quinoa and quick chicken cacciatore

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad - an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad – an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

I fell in love today. With quinoa. Seriously.

It took me a while of experimenting with different types of quinoa and various recipes, but it has always been touch and go. Sometimes fluffy, most times soggy and a little gritty. In spite of this, I bought a new batch of quinoa during my last trip to the organic shop. I desperately want to like quinoa, and I want my family to like quinoa too because of its nutritional content. It would be good to have some other alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes. So, last night I blog hopped, trying to find new recipes, new methods of cooking this wunderseed. At almost 10 pm, I hit upon a website that had great step by step instructions on how to cook the perfect, fluffy quinoa, every time. It actually got me so excited to try the method out that it was hard to fall asleep.

So, this morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I tackled the quinoa. While I tweaked the recipe a little to suit my son’s palate, I followed the instructions to a “T”. The result… wow!!! Fluffy, tasty, soft yet with a little bite to every kernel, (can I say kernel?) It’s not unlike well fluffed couscous but with the added benefit of a really nice, rich, nutty flavour – not a single clump to be seen.

I decided to pair the quinoa with a rich and thick cacciatore made with chicken thigh fillets. Again, the recipe has been modified somewhat – sans alcohol, of course. A cup of steamed broccoli and cauliflower completed the lunchbox combo.  It was all I could do to not have a bowl of dear son’s lunch there and then – just a teeny bit of taste you know, just to make sure that it’s ok for him. Ha! Anyway, I could no longer stop myself by 10 am – whatever was leftover is now gone. All I can say is… try this. I would so have this combo for dinner, (and breakfast, and lunch,) every other day. As for the quinoa… if it were not so expensive, it would replace rice as the staple food in this household.

So… on to the recipe:

Fluffy spiced quinoa (for in-depth step-by-step instruction and photos hop on over to lunchboxbunch.com)

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons quinoa (rinse till water runs clear and drain)
  • mix together – 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic – smash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup and 2/3 water
  1. After the quinoa is drained, add the spice mixture to the wet quinoa. Mix well.
  2. Heat the pan and with low heat, gently sautee the garlic. Careful not to brown.
  3. Add quinoa to the pan. Stir for a minute or two.
  4. Add water. Let it come to the boil. Cover the pot and bring heat down so that the water simmers gently.
  5. Leave the pot alone for 12 to 15 minutes, (do not touch, take off the lid, peep, whatever.)
  6. Turn off the heat. Walk away again. For another 15 minutes. Let the quinoa plump up further with residual liquid and steam.
  7. After the 15 minutes are up, take off the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Not spoon. Fork.
  8. Ta-dah!!! You have a bowl of the good stuff. Ready for yumminess!

Quick and easy chicken cacciatore

  • Skinless fillet from 3 chicken thighs – cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 brown onion – chopped roughly
  • 1 garlic – chopped fine
  • 1/2 red bell pepper – chopped roughly
  • 1/2 of 400 gm can tomatoes
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of pitted black olives – sliced
  • a handful of parsley – chopped
  • salt, sugar and pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil and sautee chicken pieces for about 5 minutes till brown. Remove from pan and drain.
  2. Add to the pan the onion and garlic, stir till softened, add red bell pepper. Stir.
  3. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add tomatoes and the rest of the stock. Let it come to boil and add chicken pieces.
  5. Simmer gently till sauce thickens. Season and add parsley.
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Recipe for lunchbox: Salmon and herb filo parcels, wholemeal pasta in pesto sauce

Dear son came home  and burst into the kitchen… urrr well… the rather messy kitchen as I was trying to get dinner done and on the dining table. I was cooking Asian food, and you know how messy that can get… grrrrr. However, the interruption was worth it, as his next sentence was:

“Mama, I really, really, really, really looooooooove my lunch today! Thank you.”

Apparently he loved everything that was in his lunchbox and wondered when he could have it again. Whether this was due to the fact that the food was really nice, or because he was ravenous after his 2 hours of pre-school swimming session, I will never know. I am just happy that he enjoyed the meal enough to let me know that the lunchbox combo was a winner.

I use the same base for the herb marinade and pesto sauce – not just for the sake of convenience, it also ensures that the flavours are complementary. Here are the recipes for the said lunchbox menu:

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Salmon and herb filo parcels:

  • 200 – 250 gms skinned salmon fillet – cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 sheets of filo pastry
  • some olive oil for brushing

Blend fine the following:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Wash and pat dry the prepared salmon
  2. Rub 2 tablespoons of the blended mixture on salmon pieces
  3. Cut each of the filo pastry into 2, and brush with olive oil
  4. Place a piece of the marinated salmon in the middle of one of the filo pastry half – wrap and brush the  outside with more olive oil. Repeat till all salmon is wrapped.
  5. Bake the salmon parcels in pre-heated 180 degree celsius oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fillet.

Wholemeal Pasta in Pesto Sauce:

To the remaining basil and coriander marinade above, add the following and blend fine:

  • 10 raw almonds
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. If mixture is too thick, adjust with more olive oil.
  2. Boil half a cupful of dry wholemeal pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss in pesto sauce. I sprinkle the top with some grated emmental cheese for extra flavour.
  3. Serve with grilled cherry tomatoes.

Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 7

Finally, we are getting down to the last set of photos… We had to say goodbye to the last Thermos insulated lunchpack. The top of one of the containers broke, so we got another Thermos insulated lunchbox set. Though rather pricey, it does keep dear son’s food hot until lunch time. The cost saving and health benefits of packing his lunch far outweighs the cost of the lunchbox, imho.

 

Monday: Chicken, oat and vegetable soup, steamed broccoli, cheesy tortillas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.

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Tuesday: Traditional Malaysian Vermicelli Soto – Blanched rice vermicelli, spicy chicken soup, potato croquettes,  shredded chicken, blanched beansprouts & minced scallions, chinese parsley. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Wednesday: Buckwheat soba salad, vegetable soup, baked Thai chicken nuggets. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Thursday: Salmon and herb filo parcels, pasta with pesto sauce and grilled cherry tomatoes. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 6

We are at week 6… hmmm almost halfway through! Have I been away THAT long??? Just realized… this was the week before the school vacation, and wow! I must have been burnt out or something – poor son had 3 rice days? It goes to show how important planning is prior to the start of the week 😦

 

Monday:

Cheesy tuna and wholemeal pasta bake, steamed asparagus, cherry tomatoes and tempeh chips. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt. Snack to share: wholemeal lamb pesto pizza

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Tuesday: Brown rice with spinach and mushrooms, salmon teriyaki, veggie spring rolls. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.

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Wednesday: Flavoured rice, sweet and sour chicken, pickled veggies. Mid-Morning snack: Fruit salad and raw almonds

Thursday: Lamb meatballs in tomato sauce with wholemeal spaghetti, sesame sugarsnap peas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad. Post-swim snack to share: Sweetheart brownies.

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Friday: Malaysian roasted chicken rice and condiments, salad and chicken broth. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.

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Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 5

Let’s press-on… another week of packed school lunch ideas:

Monday: Cheeseburger and sugarsnap peas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad. By dear son’s request, sigh, to take away the Monday blues. Oh well… hope this is ok, lean beef, hold the fries and soda.

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Tuesday: Home-made wantan noodles with prawn and chicken wantan parcels, prawn and vegetable broth. Mid-morning snack: Granola with fresh berries and yoghurt.

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Wednesday: Vegetarian quinoa chilli, guacamole, oven baked corn tortillas, cheese & spinach quesadillas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Thursday: Parmesan crusted chicken tenders, baked wholewheat penne and broccoli in cheese, steamed broccoli. Mid-morning snack: fruit salad. Post-swim snack to share: Banana and walnut cake.

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Friday: School Trip Jungle Trekking / Hill Climbing Packed Lunch – Roast chicken and sesame pasta salad. Snacks: Fruit salad and assorted sandwiches.

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Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 4

As a mother to a 12 (going 13) year old boy whose schedule is packed with school and competitive swimming, healthy eating is important. By packing him lunches everyday, it gives me the confidence that my child is getting his nutritional needs met. It does require some planning, and mornings are a total chaos at times, however, seeing the difference that it has made on his health, energy levels, even mood regulation – it has provided me with the motivation to carry on with early morning cooking, even if at times the warm bed seems to be the best option. It has to be mentioned too that the cost of preparing food at home is just a fraction of getting this type of meals from restaurants.

Here is another weekly round-up of dear son’s packed school lunches:

Monday: Cheeseburger with broccoli, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Mid-morning snack: Granola, fresh berries and yoghurt. (Special naughty menu for Monday morning blues…)

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Tuesday: Home-made cream of mushroom soup, toastie cheese squares, sesame sugar snap peas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad, yoghurt and oat crisps.

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Wednesday: Crockpot rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghur

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Thursday: Chicken broth with shredded chicken, veggies and wholemeal pasta. Mid-morning snack: Berries, granola and yoghurt.

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Friday: Spiced carrot and lentil soup, cheese tortillas and cherry tomatoes. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.

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Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 3

Ideas for healthy school lunchboxes for another week:

Monday: Cream of broccoli soup with low GI bread, warm quinoa salad with carrots, grilled chicken tenders with asparagus. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

Cream of broccoli soup with low GI bread, warm quinoa salad with carrots, grilled chicken tenders with aspsragus. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

 

Tuesday: Buckwheat soba in Asian basil pesto sauce, veggie rolls, Thai meatballs and pesto dip. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

Buckwheat soba in Asian basil pesto sauce, veggie rolls, Thai meatballs and pesto dip. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

 

Wednesday:

Veggie chili with oven-baked yellow corn tortillas, fresh cherry tomato salsa. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Thursday:  Assemble your own falafel wraps and tahini sauce. Mid-morning snack: Fresh berries parfait and raw almonds. To share after swimming: Tuna puffs.

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Friday: Tuna and wholemeal pasta bake, steamed broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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