lunch

Sep 062016
 

Chicken and Cress Spread

 

 

After a long and relaxing summer holiday, school has started again. While it’s nice to get back into the routine, one thing which can get a bit tiring is the daily task of figuring out what to put in my child’s lunchbox. I avoid processed lunch meats because of the preservatives and artificial ingredients in them, which means that I often rely on turning dinner leftovers into quick sandwich fillers. But then there are days when dinner just doesn’t translate into a sandwich filler.

 

Because of this, I often prepare my own sandwich spreads which last well in the refrigerator for three days. A simple homemade sandwich filler which I sometimes make is ‘Chicken and Cress Spread’. The chicken is gently poached in salted water with some aromatic spices and garlic cloves. Adding fresh cress (also called garden cress) brings a distinctive peppery taste to the sandwich spread. Don’t confuse it with watercress which has a larger leaf. Cress is usually sold in small pots or tubs and only the stem and leaf should be eaten raw, not the seeds. Cress will grow back again after cutting so simply use scissors to snip off as much cress as you intend to use, leaving the roots intact. New shoots should start growing for another harvest of cress (this can be repeated several times).

 

 

CHICKEN AND CRESS SALAD (SANDWICH SPREAD)

 

Ingredients:

3 skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut in half

3 whole garlic cloves (peeled)

3 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of thyme (optional)

Sea salt (to taste)

3 Tbsp mayonnaise

Cress/Garden Cress (to taste)

 

Directions:

  1. Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to the boil.
  2. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add 2 tsp of sea salt, 3 whole garlic cloves (peeled), 3 black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, and 3 sprigs of thyme.
  3. Trim your chicken breast and cut it in half. Place it in the simmering water. Adjust the heat if necessary so that the water remains simmering.
  4. Simmer for around 8-10 minutes. You want to cook the chicken until it is white all the way through. Be careful not to overcook it or it may become tough.
  5. Once cooked, remove the chicken breasts and the garlic cloves from the water and put on a plate. Discard the cooking water and spices.
  6. Allow the chicken to cool so that it is not steaming.
  7. In a food processor, add the chicken, garlic cloves and 3 Tbsp mayonnaise. The garlic becomes very mellow and subtle after simmering in water, but if your child does not like garlic you can still save the garlic cloves and mash them into your own sandwiches.
  8. Pulse gently until you get the desired consistency (less pulsing for a chunky spread; more pulsing for a smoother spread).
  9. Remove from the food processor.
  10. Taste the chicken. If it needs more mayonnaise or salt, add it now and fold it through.
  11. Snip the desired amount of cress from its pot. Rinse and pat it dry before folding it into the chicken spread. If some people do not like cress, you can always add it to individual sandwiches rather than directly into the sandwich spread.
  12. Refrigerate and eat within 3 days.

 

 

 

 

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Jul 102015
 

Salad in a Jar

 

‘Salad In A Jar’ is an idea which has been floating around the internet for a while and it’s absolutely genius! It’s a great way to prepare nutritious salad lunches that stay fresh for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. That’s right, you can make 5 days worth of salads in one go!

 

Making your own Salad In A Jar has certain advantages over buying a salad from outside:

  • You have more you control over the quality of the ingredients.
  • You can personalise your salad to include more of the things you love.
  • You can choose healthier eco-friendly reusable packaging.
  • You save money by making your lunches at home.

 

The secret to making a great Salad In A Jar is in the layering of the ingredients. While some of the middle layers can be switched around (I’ve seen different variations online), there are a few cardinal rules which everyone seems to follow:

  • The salad dressing goes in first. Always.
  • A layer of hard vegetables goes in second to create a barrier between the salad dressing and everything else.
  • The lettuce goes in at the very top and is furthest away from the salad dressing (NB: The only exception to this rule is if you are using perishable ingredients such as avocado or hard-boiled eggs, then it is ok to add these on top of the lettuce the evening before you plan to eat the salad.)
  • Pack each layer of your ingredients tightly in the jar to avoid them moving around. This way everything stays separate until you toss them together in a bowl or plate.

 

Here is my step-by-step guide (with pictures) for making your own Salad In A Jar.

 

 

Step 1: Which jars to use?

 

Salad in a Jar

 

To make Salad In A Jar, it is important that you use a jar with a tight-fitting lid. My preference is for using mason jars. The reason is because mason jars have very secure tight-fitting two-piece lids which not only prevent leaks and spills but also keep the food fresher. There is no need to vacuum seal the jars, simply closing them tightly is enough. I prefer to avoid plastic whenever possible, but if you really wanted to use a plastic container then I think you could as long as it has a tight-fitting lid (although I have never tried it).

 

The size of the mason jar you use will depend on the amount of salad you want to eat in one sitting. I like using 500ml (1 pint) mason jars for lunch and really packing the ingredients in. I use 1 liter (1 quart) mason jars for making and storing salads to accompany dinner for my husband and myself. Always make sure your jars have been washed in hot soapy water and are dry before filling them.

Packed correctly, Salads In A Jar can stay fresh in the refrigerator for upto 5 days, so make sure you buy enough jars for the number of salads you want to make!

Order your mason jars online now!

Step 2: Collect and prepare your ingredients

 

Salad in a Jar

 

Don’t let this image intimidate you. When I first started making Salad In A Jar, I only used salad dressing and 3 ingredients: cucumbers, chicken and lettuce. And guess what? It tasted great! Once I saw how easy it was, I started adding more ingredients. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of ingredients you think you may need, start small and build up slowly.

 

You can put virtually anything you like in your Salad In A Jar. There are no quantities as such. If you like a certain ingredient, add more of it. It is purely according to your preference.

 

Although this is the step which takes the most time, if you think about the number of lunches you are making ahead, then it’s actually time saved in the long-run. Some things you will need to do at this stage include the following:

  • Use a separate bowl or plate for each of your prepared ingredients.
  • Cook any ingredients which need to be cooked (ie. grilled protein, grains). Allow to cool and chop if necessary.
  • Wash, dry and chop your vegetables and fruit (NB: it is important these are dry to avoid condensation forming in the jars).
  • Dice or grate your cheese.
  • Have your salad dressing ready (either home-made or shop-bought).

 

 

Step 3: Salad Dressing

 

Salad in a Jar

 

How much salad dressing you use will depend on how robust its flavour is and your own personal preference. In my 500ml jar, I like to use 3 tablespoons of homemade dressing. If you use shop-bought dressing, you may only need to use 2 tablespoons as its flavour can be more enhanced than home-made dressing.

 

If you are new at this, you may want to experiment by making one salad jar and testing how many tablespoons of dressing you need to make it taste the way you want. You will very quickly get an idea of how much dressing is best for you.

 

 

Step 4: Hard vegetables

 

Salad in a Jar

 

Hard vegetables which won’t get soggy in the dressing come next. This layer should be thought of as the barrier between the salad dressing and the rest of the salad. Some examples of hard vegetables include:

  • Bell Peppers/Capsicum
  • Broccoli (raw)
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower (raw)
  • Cherry tomatoes (whole)
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Radishes
  • Red onions (chopped)
  • Spring onions
  • Sweet potato (raw)

 

 

Step 5: Grains and Beans

 

Salad in a Jar

 

Grains and beans come next. Some examples include:

  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Any type of beans (chickpeas/garbanzo, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, etc)

 

 

Step 6: Protein

 

Salad in a Jar

 

If you plan on eating your salads within 3 days, you can place your chopped protein next. If you plan on eating your salads within 5 days, you may want to leave the protein out of some of the jars and add freshly cooked and chopped protein at the top of those jars later in the week (closer to the time you will eat it). Some examples include of protein include:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Hard-boiled eggs (should only be added the evening before you plan to eat your salad, and can be placed on top of the lettuce as it will be there for less than 24 hours so won’t make the lettuce soggy)
  • Seafood and fish (should only be added the evening before you plan to eat your salad, and can be placed on top of the lettuce as it will be there for less than 24 hours so won’t make the lettuce soggy)

 

 

Step 7: Cheese, please

 

Salad in a Jar

 

Diced or grated cheese goes in next. Like protein above, if you plan on eating your salad within 3 days, go ahead and put it in the jars. If you plan on eating your salad within 5 days, you may want to leave the cheese out of some of the jars and add it at the top of those jars later in the week (closer to the time you will eat it). Some examples include of cheese which works well in salads include:

  • Cheddar
  • Feta
  • Mozzarella (well-drained)
  • Parmesan
  • Pecorino

 

 

Step 8: Soft vegetables & fruits, fresh herbs, nuts & seeds

 

Salad in a Jar

 

Softer fruits and vegetables go in next to avoid them getting squashed by the weight of the heavier ingredients. Some examples include:

  • Avocado (If you toss diced avocado in lemon or lime juice, it should stay fresh in your jar for 2-3 days. You can always add avocado to the top of some of your salad jars later in the week closer to the time you plan to eat them.)
  • Berries (blueberries, strawberries)
  • Dried fruit
  • Fresh herbs (coriander/cilantro, basil, flat-leaf parsley)
  • Grapes
  • Green Beans
  • Nuts (peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds)
  • Peas
  • Roasted vegetables (pumpkin, zucchini/courgette, eggplant/aubergine, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot)
  • Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds)
  • Tomatoes (diced with seeds removed)

 

 

Step 9: Top up with Green Leaves

 

Salad in a Jar

 

Top up whatever space you have left with fresh green leaves. Remember that it is important that the jar is tightly packed so that the ingredients don’t move around too much.

 

 

Step 10: Refrigerate until ready to eat

 

Salad in a Jar

 

Cover and refrigerate your completed jars for upto 5 days. When you are ready to eat your salad, simply empty the contents into a bowl, toss, and enjoy!

 

Salad in a Jar

 

 

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Apr 032015
 

Classic Egg Salad

 

 

Here is a basic recipe for Simple Egg Salad. At a minimum, you only need to use four ingredients: hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, fresh lemon juice and sea salt (if you don’t know how to hard-boil eggs, see my Cooking Tutorial: How To Make Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs.) You can add a few greens such as chopped celery, scallions/spring onions or herbs but it is not absolutely necessary.

 

When it comes to egg salads, the two main issues are ‘how to chop the eggs’ and ‘whether or not to use mayonnaise’. I also recently discovered a little tip about the best sequence in which to combine the ingredients in an egg salad which I will share with you at the end of this post.

 

How To Chop Your Eggs

 

People have different ways of chopping their eggs when they make egg salads.

  • Mashing with a fork – I am an advocate of mashing your eggs with a fork because it gives you the most control to get the texture you want. For me, the ideal texture is when the egg pieces are small and uneven.
  • Egg slicer – Some people use an egg slicer to slice their eggs in one direction and then rotate the eggs and slice through them again to get evenly diced pieces. I have tried this method and I really didn’t like the angular uniform texture it created. But if you use this method and you like, then go for it!
  • Food processor – Some people use their food processor to make a very smooth whipped spread, but for me this method leaves no texture to the eggs. I prefer something chunkier. Plus, do you really want to have to wash your food processor just for a simple egg salad?

 

To Add or Not To Add Mayonnaise

 

Mayonnaise is another biggy. Some people add loads while others avoid it entirely. I am not a huge fan of mayonnaise. I have tried finding an alternative to put into my egg salads by using yogurt or creme fraiche, but somehow I haven’t quite got the taste right yet. In this recipe for Simple Egg Salad, I use 3 Tbsp of mayonnaise and then thin it out with 1 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice, which makes the dressing less cloying and much fresher.

 

A Little Tip About the Sequence of Adding the Ingredients

 

As for the the sequence in which to add ingredients while making an egg salad, here is a little tip I recently discovered. In the past, I would always mash my eggs directly into the dressing which tended to make the egg salad a little mushy. But then I realised that there is a better way, so here is what I do now. I get two medium-sized bowls. In the first bowl I prepare my dressing mixture and in the second bowl I mash my eggs. Once the eggs are mashed to my desired consistency, I tip them into the dressing and fold them together. That way I am simply coating the eggs in dressing. Once the dressing and eggs are mixed, I fold in my chopped vegetables and herbs.

 

 

Share your thoughts: I am going to be experimenting with Egg Salad recipes. What do you add to your Simple Egg Salad which I have left out?

 

Classic Egg Salad

 

 

CLASSIC EGG SALAD

 

Ingredients:

6 hardboiled eggs

3 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp coarse sea salt

1 celery stalk (optional)

2 scallions/spring onions or 2 Tbsp of chopped chives (optional)

2 Tbsp freshly chopped dill or parsley (optional)

 

Directions:

  1. Hard-boil 6 eggs. For directions on how to cook hard-boiled eggs, see my Cooking Tutorial: How To Make Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine 3 Tbsp mayonnaise, 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1 tsp coarse sea salt. Set aside.
  3. Wash and chop 1 celery stalk, 2 scallions/spring onions (or chives), and some dill or parsley. Set aside.
  4. Peel your hard-boiled eggs.
  5. In another medium-sized bowl, mash your peeled hard-boiled eggs with a fork to your desired texture.
  6. Add your mashed hard-boiled eggs to your mayonnaise mixture and fold together.
  7. Fold in the chopped celery, scallions/spring onions/chives, and dill/parsley (optional).
  8. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  9. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh black pepper on bread, toast or lettuce leaves.

 

Share your thoughts: I am going to be experimenting with Egg Salad recipes. What do you add to your Simple Egg Salad which I have left out?

 

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