Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 2

Week 2 of the packed lunch round-up. Another rather short week due to long-weekend and 1 day off school for son who was feeling unwell.

Tuesday:  Pumpkin and spinach lasagna, twice-baked low GI crostinis with broccoli and walnut pesto spread. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Wednesday: (son stayed home as he was feeling unwell – no packed lunch)



Salmon cakes with steamed broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt. Post-swim snack to share: Malted milk chocolate cookies.




Brown rice with cumin and broccoli, vegetarian kofta korma, chicken and spinach stirfry. Fruit cocktail jelly to share with friends (it was a very hot week!) Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.

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Grilled Pacific Mackerel for Dinner – Japanese at home anyone?

Pacific Mackerels grilling in my desktop oven.

Pacific Mackerels grilling in my desktop oven.

This family loves Japanese food. If hubby had his way, we would have grilled fish and miso soup daily. If dear son had his way, we would have salmon rolls, grilled salmon belly and salmon maki for breakfast, lunch and dinner… Did I mention that dear son loves salmon in any form? Unfortunately for the two of them, there is that other person in this house… Me! The other sad thing is the fact that I am the cook, so they have to bear with whatever I can rustle up in the kitchen, ha!

However sometimes, I do get a hankering for a good ole Japanese dinner and that means grilled fish, miso soup, chawan mushi, mixed veggies and kelp salad with steamed Japanese rice. I can literally hear the hooting in the background as dad and son perform their we-are-having-Japanese-food happy dance.

We have not been to a Japanese restaurant in a while because being Muslims, we observe the halal rules and that means that all meat and meat products have to be slaughtered in accordance to Islamic guidelines, and we have to be careful that the food is free from pork and pork by products as well as alcohol. So those restaurants that state – No pork served, it does not equate to the food served being halal for us.

It also means checking all the ingredients of food items that we buy to ensure that it is free from non-halal animal products and/or alcohol (rice wine e.g. sake and mirin.) It just seems to be the better option for us, to have our favourite Japanese food prepared at home.

The good news is, my favourite fish – Saba (in Japanese) or the Pacific Mackerel is available fresh and in abundance here! Though my knife work in filleting the fish leaves a lot to be desired, I will keep trying until the fish served is boneless and free from jagged edges… (maybe in 10 years, if we are lucky.) So a meal for three with my complete menu above costs us less than USD10 – yes, try and beat that!

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To prepare the Saba Shioyaki, I followed the recipe from the kitchen tigress <- click on highlighted text for recipe and step by step instructions.

For lesson on filleting Pacific Mackerels – click on this – a tutorial made by the Japanese Knife Society.

I have also previously provided the recipes for miso soup and chawan mushi in the post here 

Malaysian Tomato Rice to chase the rainy day blues away…

Tomato rice,  beef korma,  chicken in red sauce and pickled vegetable salad.

Tomato rice, beef korma, chicken in red sauce and pickled vegetable salad.

It rained last night, and it has continued to pour all day here, in Kuching. While I love the rain, unfortunately too much rain makes me want to snuggle under my comforter, surrounded by my pillows and snooze continuously.  Fortunately, (or otherwise depending on how you look at it,) housework never ends. It meant saying buh-bye to my bed and hello to my dusting cloths, vacuum cleaner, mop and bucket. By midday I was happy to be able to put away laundry and start on dinner.

If I felt lethargic all day, I can only imagine how hubby and son were faring out there. A look in the fridge showed me some leftover canned tomatoes, half a carrot, half an onion and it dawned on me to use up whatever leftovers I had in the fridge and make Tomato Rice.

It has to be said that this type of rice was never popular in this household because it can be rather sour. Hubby has really low tolerance to sour stuff, however, I thought by using canned tomatoes instead of tomato paste, the tartness can be toned down.

Traditionally too, the spices and onions were sautéed in ghee or clarified butter. This has now been replaced in this household with extra virgin olive oil resulting in a cleaner and lighter tasting rice.

When hubby and son walked into the house, the smell of the rice and accompaniments wafting from the kitchen told them that they are in for a treat. The happiest moment of the day for me is when we are all sitting around the dining table and I get to listen to the chatter while serving what I know would be a wholesome meal, cooked with love to the two most important people in my life.


Tomato Rice (for 4)

  • 1 star anise, 3 cardamom pods, 3 cloves, a cinnamon stick about 5 cm long
  • 4 shallots, 2 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh ginger (all sliced thinly)
  • 1 fresh lemongrass (bruised)
  • 2 cups basmati rice (soak 30 minutes)
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup canned tomatoes + juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh milk
  • A small handful fresh coriander
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in rice cooker pot. Sautee whole spices, sliced items and lemongrass. Gently cook until onions turn amber.
  2. Add canned tomatoes and 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional.) Break tomatoes up into small pieces and stir to ensure tomato paste is incorporated.
  3. Add chicken stock and milk. Season with salt.
  4. Add soaked and drained rice. Stir gently. Let liquid come to a boil
  5. Add fresh coriander. Cook rice as per normal.

Beef Korma

  • 500 gms stewing beef
  • 6 shallots, 3 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh ginger, 1/2 tablespoon whole black pepper – all blended finely
  • 1 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 tablespoon Korma spice powder
  • 2 potatoes cubed golf ball size
  • 1 carrot sliced (not too finely)
  • 1 red onion – quartered
  • 1 tomato – quartered
  • 1 each red and green fresh chillies (halve length wise)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  1. Cube beef according to preference.
  2. Put beef in a pot with blended ingredients, Korma powder, some water and salt. Boil covered till beef is tender (this can be done in pressure cooker)
  3. Once beef is tender, add potatoes and carrots.
  4. When potatoes and carrots are soft, add red onion, chillies, tomatoes.
  5. Lower heat, add yogurt, taste seasoning. Sauce should be thick.


To add to the aroma, finely slice 6 shallots and 2 cloves garlic. Sautee in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When caramelized, pour everything into the Korma pot. Cover pot tightly. Sprinkle fresh coriander just before serving.

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

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:

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



  • 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.



  • 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.

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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.)

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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 🙂

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School Lunchbox: Broccoli and Cheese Soup, Baba Ganoush, Arabic Bread


Well, yesterday’s soup was a success, and as it was red, I thought today, we would make a green one – I had been meaning to treat him to a cheesy soup, so broccoli and cheese was the perfect choice. It, however, took me quite a while to think up the accompaniment and after a few hours of heeing and hawing, the fridge provided me with the answer – 6 eggplants sitting forlornly forgotten at the back of the crisper. “Cook us…” it appeared to implore, so Baba Ganoush it was – egg plant and tahini dip. The Arabic bread was a doozy, seeing that I had the dough resting in the freezer already (an industrious streak saw me experimenting with a few bread doughs one afternoon, so the freezer is stocked with different types, calling to be defrosted and used.)

So, this morning while I was fighting with the skins of the eggplants, burning my fingers in the process (whatever happened to my asbestos fingers??) and muttering various unrepeatables under my breath, in sauntered the son who proceeded to down a whole bowl of the soup, voicing his approval happily oblivious to the fact that the kitchen was a right old mess. I had got more flour on the floor than on the bread, 1 bread was already burnt, another was on the way to being cremated, and there were at least a hundred items in the sink and on the workspace to be washed. Hubby wandered in then to get his vitamins – again… oblivious. I wonder if men are created to not notice messes? I was so frustrated by the state of the kitchen that it was all I could do to not scream at that point. Anyway… both were shooed out, had their breakfast while the lunchbox was prepped and photographed. It took a good hour of cleaning to get the kitchen spic and span again and I am thinking that perhaps, if I were more organized, such catastrophic messes can be avoided. How does Giada do it? Ina never seems to break a sweat and their kitchen is always shiny clean. Makes me wonder if they actually cook at all if the cameras are not on… sigh. On to the recipes:

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Broccoli and Cheese Soup

  • 2 heads of broccoli (medium) – cut into florets
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I mix cheddar and emmental – love the nutty flavour from the latter)
  • a little salt, some freshly ground pepper, and 2 tablespoons butter

– heat butter, sautee onion, garlic and thyme for a few minutes till onion turns translucent.

– Add flour and stir for 2 minutes (gentle fire) – add milk, whisking quickly so as to avoid lumps. Add chicken stock, let mix come to a boil and thicken slightly.

– Add broccoli florets and simmer till soft. Once broccoli is soft, switch off heat. Add cheese. Let it cool slightly. Blend till smooth and return to pot.

– If soup is too thick, add more milk, re-heat, careful not to allow to boil. Taste before seasoning, add salt and pepper and taste again.

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Baba Ganoush

  • 6 small eggplants
  • 1 garlic – chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • some salt to taste

– After washing, char the skins of the eggplants on the stove top. (This is not to cook the eggplants, but to impart the charred flavour.) Once the eggplant skin is blackened a little, put the eggplants on a baking sheet. Roast in 220 degree celcius oven for 20 minutes (or until cooked.) Remove from oven, put into a bowl and cover for 5 minutes. Let it steam – this will make skin removal easier. Remove the skin, and place the soft insides in the food processor.

– add all other ingredients and whizz…. taste seasoning. Adjust. Drizzle top with olive oil. Done.

** if you don’t own a food processor, you can chop the eggplants fine, and mash the garlic with some salt till very, very fine before mixing with the rest of the ingredients by hand.

Menu Malam Selasa

  • Gulai Ayam Masak Padang
  • Ikan Goreng
  • Tumis Bayam
  • Sambal Belacan


Sibuk betul hari ini. Rasanya macam tak berapa sempat nak duduk dari pagi tadi. Check facebookpun sambil mundar-mandir sana-sini buat kerja itu-ini. Akhirnya buntu kepala, tak tahu nak masak apa. Godek-godek freezer, keluarkan ayam dan ikan. Dari kecil lagi, di rumah saya kalau masak kena ada satu lauk berkuah, satu lauk bergoreng, satu lauk sayur, sambal dan ikan kering. Walaupun sekarang ini, saya tak berapa gemar nak menggoreng atas sebab kesihatan, dan juga atas sebeb pembaziran minyak, namun sebab ketandusan idea, saya terpaksa goreng ikan. Ikan itu saya lumurkan dengan rempah gulai padang itu sedikit, sebelum ditambahkan dengan kunyit serbuk dan garam. Sedap juga rasa rempahnya.

Di bawah ini saya lampirkan resepi Gulai Ayam Padang untuk 4 orang makan:

  • 2 keping whole leg ayam (saya potong kecil)
  • 3 batang serai (dititik)
  • 1 daun kunyit (disiat dan disimpul)
  • 3 helai daun salam segar
  • 1 asam keping atau 2 sudu besar jus limau nipis
  • garam dan gula
  • santan dari 1 biji kelapa – sederhana pekat

Rempah blend:

  • 5 bawang merah
  • 3 bawang putih
  • 1 inci halia
  • 1 inci kunyit segar
  • 1 inci lengkuas
  • 5 biji buah keras
  • 3 lada merah segar

– Masukkan bahan blend, serai ketuk, sedikit garam dan ayam ke dalam periuk. Jerang dengan api perlahan hingga ayam keluar air dan kecut sedikit.

– Masukkan santan, pastikan api perlahan dan kacau sekali sekala, jangan sampai santan pecah. Bila ayam lembut, masukkan daun salam dan daun kunyit serta asam keping. Rasa, tambahkan garam dan gula. Bila ayam empuk dan kuah pekat, matikan api dan hidangkan dengan nasi panas.