Monday, January 9, 2012

School lunches: Attempt #1

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new quarter in my graduate program. I had a whole month off (during which time I was able to start this blog), but now it's back to the reality of juggling part-time work and full-time school. Ugh!

One of the things I've struggled with in the two quarters I've been back in grad school is the challenge of knowing what to bring for lunch. When I work, I generally bring yummy leftovers from the previous night's dinner. When I'm at school, however, there's no refrigerator for me to store my lunch, and I have to carry it around with me all day, so it has to be compact enough to fit in my bag, and something that doesn't need to be kept cold all the time. It also has to be satisfying enough so that I'm not distracted during class thinking about how hungry I am!

What I wound up doing during the Summer and Fall quarters was to fall back on an old standby from my elementary school days...PB & J! At first it was sort of fun, and reminded me of simpler times. But by the end of the Fall quarter, I was over it. Also, it wasn't nearly as good as I remembered from my childhood, which could have something to do with the fact that I was using Ezekiel bread (which is really good, but not nearly as sweet and cake-like as Wonderbread) and almond butter to make it healthier. Nor was it filling enough for my needs.

So I've finally decided to tackle this problem head-on and start trying out different recipes for foods I could easily bring with me to school that will satisfy me during my long days of classes. Tonight I tried my first one, and I must say I'm quite pleased with the results...this could definitely be added to the rotation! It's a Cranberry Orange Quinoa Salad, which I found on a blog called Gluten-Free Cat (the fact that it's gluten-free is completely inconsequential to me...I just like it because it's GOOD!). Here it is:
Cranberry Orange Quinoa Salad
by Heather
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/3 c dried cranberries
  • 1 c mandarin oranges
  • 1 T orange zest
  • 1/4 c pinenuts
1. Soak the quinoa in water for 15 minutes, drain, and rinse to wash away the bitterness of the saponin (the one I bought had already been rinsed, so I skipped this step)
2. Soak the cranberries in water to liven up the wrinkly babies.
3. Bring the quinoa to a boil in 2 cups of salted water in a sauce pan. Reduce the heat, lid, and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Remove from heat for 5 minutes with the lid in place. Then remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and cool.
4. While the quinoa is cooling, prepare the ingredients that will easily transform your quinoa into a sweet, tangy salad . Chop the cilantro, drain the oranges and cranberries, and zest the orange.
5. When the quinoa is cool, mix in the olive oil, red wine vinegar, and orange zest. Then gently fold in the mandarin oranges, cranberries, and cilantro. Sprinkle pinenuts on top and garnish with cilantro.
Serve cold and enjoy!

If you've never had quinoa before, you should try it. It looks and acts like a grain, but it's actually a seed, and it contains lots of protein and all sorts of nutrients (including calcium, phosphorus, and iron). I've used it in other recipes with moderate success, but for me, this one tops them all. I think the sweetness of the oranges and cranberries balances the slight bitter taste of the quinoa, which is why I liked it so much better than other preparations. Plus, the crunch of the pine nuts adds a nice texture. Even the hubby liked it!

Now that I know I like it, next time I'll definitely make a double batch of this so it will last me a few days. In the meantime, I'll still be on the lookout for yummy, satisfying, easy-to-make, portable lunches that don't remind me of elementary school.

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