A PORTABLE LUNCH DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER than this. With a play date coming up, Phoebe and I set out to make lunch for her and a play pal but there were strings attached. It had to withstand a trip across Rome via stroller. That’s where this new recipe came in. Continuing on my Sneaky Chef kick, I changed a few things from her Mac-n-Cheese Lunchbox Muffins and came up with something great. Though, in full disclosure, not everyone thought so. Only one of the four kids in attendance ate one, and you can guess which one it was when I say, yay! It was Phoebe, who shockingly employed not one by two of my usual “try-it” tactics to persuade her dining companion–a fellow toddler with the picky eating habits only a little guy his age can do so well– to try the cups and green beans. (Am I a glutton or what?) Oh well. Two moms and one toddler ate well. It could be worse, and sometimes is.
I WAS EXHAUSTED. It turns out that having a toddler and a baby (plus a husband, house and job) is tiring. I just needed a quick dinner but it had to be healthy. We’d been relying too heavily on pizza around here, being Rome you can imagine how often this possibility comes up, and I was craving something more fresh. That’s when I saw these giant shrimp at the store. Sold!
PHOEBE IS A MEAT LOVER. I’m not sure why but she even gets excited about saying the word, “meat!” Anyway, I’m using this to my advantage these days–and enjoying easy lunches. Here’s today’s idea: Roll a slice of fresh turkey from the deli around a little rectangle of cheese. Try to use organic and experiment with flavors. Cheddar cheese, provolone, Swiss. Substitute ham or salami or…
WE LOVED IT, PHOEBE DIDN’T. Such is life, especially when you’ve got a toddler. This lentil soup, originally inspired by the Barefoot Contessa, is a favorite for Paul and me but this time I added a couple of special ingredients: lentils that Paul got from the Salone Del Gusto food festival plus fresh turkey sausage. Lentils are such a great source of protein and fiber, plus this soup makes a perfect meal any time of year.
To top it off, we had the good fortune to slather toasted bread with fresh olive oil, picked and processed by hand from Paul’s co-worker and friend David Bowen.
None of this mattered to Phoebe. She ate two bites and moved on to a banana. Two nights in a row.
- 1 pound green lentils
- 1 pound turkey sausage (cooked)
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for serving
- 4 cups diced yellow onions (3 large)
- 4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (2 leeks)
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 large cloves)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 cups medium diced celery (8 stalks)
- 6 cups medium diced carrots (6 to 10 carrots)
- 3 quarts chicken stock or canned broth
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons dry red wine or red wine vinegar
- Parmesan cheese grated on top
Start by pouring the lentils into a large bowl and cover with water. Allow to sit for 15 minutes then drain. While you’re waiting for the lentils, get started on the sausage.
Use a large stockpot and begin with olive oil over a medium burner. Cook the sausage until it’s done, then remove to a plate. Add a little more olive oil then saute your onions, leeks, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and tender. Be sure to turn your burner down so you don’t brown the veggies, you just want them to be soft and tender. Add celery and carrots and saute for another 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and drained lentils, cover, and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, reduce the heat again and simmer uncovered for about an hour. Check for salt, pepper, cumin or herbs. When the lentils are tender you’re ready to add the sausage and red wine. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.
I’VE MADE IT BEFORE BUT THIS TIME, I ADDED A LITTLE MORE OOMPH. By now you know that I love my Barefoot Contessa. But you also might be aware of her delicious yet wildly fattening food, a dilemma for someone who is already 14 pounds heavier than usual, also trying to keep a 17-month old foodie happy and healthy. This is where Ina Garten meets Missy Chase Levine.
You might know Missy as The Sneaky Chef, and if you don’t, you should. She’s such a clever resource for parents trying to pack more veggies, whole grains and other good stuff into foods kids love. Her version of tomato soup includes a puree of white beans and cauliflower, mashed up ahead of time and quietly worked into the soup without any picky tastebuds ever detecting the difference. But since Phoebe actually likes both of these things (for now), I just added them in their regular form. It worked well because soup isn’t so easy for her to eat, what with her limited mastery of spoons and all. The beans and cauliflower chunks made it easier thicker and easier to get onto the spoon and that she did, with gusto. After all, this is one of Barefoot’s best soups.
Quick idea for a toddler-friendly lunch or dinner…
- one whole wheat tortilla cut in half + cheese + turkey, chicken, ground beef or beans
- put one side of the tortilla in a pan and add the cheese plus protein, making sure to get cheese on top and bottom because it’ll be the glue, and add the top
- saute over medium-low heat until cheese is melted, flip once
- cool and cut into cubes
It also works well on the go.
hard-boiled egg (yolk only)
steamed and pureed spinach
whole wheat cereal
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
= Baby Eggs Florentine
What’s your most surprisingly successful lunch recipe?
I LOVE THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA. I just do. I always have, I hope I always will. Her recipes are always delicious, they inspire me to try new things and she just seems fun, doesn’t she? With that husky laugh and a button down shirt, there she is making all manner of soups, roasted chicken and decadent desserts from her Hampton’s manse, surrounded by handsome men of a particular persuasion. I love it. The problem with her dishes though, as anyone who has ever seen an episode of her show (or a recipe for that matter) is that they’re usually laden with butter. But not this one. That’s why I made it for Phoebe.
Her recipe on the Food Network website is easy to follow and totally delicious. I used fresh rosemary from my terrace and added cubed pancetta, just for extra flavor. Paul loved it. Phoebe spit both of them out. Otherwise, she ate it all. Really! For her portion, I strained out most of the liquid, drizzled olive oil on top and grated a little fresh Parmesan cheese. In big gulps Phoebe used a spoon, her fingers and would’ve tried chopsticks if she thought she could shovel more of this rosemary goodness in with them. So, hooray!
Think we have a mini-Contessa in the making? Maybe I should just enjoy the soup success before I get ahead of myself. And before Phoebe starts requesting a mini-BMW of her own…