Shortly after 9/11, I lost my first majorly adult job as a Creative Director at what I jokingly call “The Worlds Worst HMO”. As the door slammed into my ass on the way out, I decided I was done working for other people and in short order removed suits, hair straighteners and alarm clocks from my worldly possessions.
With 15 years of freelancing now under my belt, I can tell you there are indeed ups and downs -- it's been 15 years since I took a vacation, but I have taken my laptop really nice places. “Look, laptop… The Eiffel Tower! Look, laptop…. Stonehenge!”
One thing I definitely do NOT miss is brown bagging lunch. The stopping and starting at a regular time each day and knowing what to bring, or whether I was going to try and scarf something unhealthy at a local joint was maddening. What I remember was drinking coffee as a sport, working through lunch, eating candy I’d never, ever buy myself off people’s desks and running home at 5pm desperate for food in a hungry like a wolf way.
If I’d had my shit together or loved myself enough to spend the time, I’d have tried harder to be healthy about it. Being hungry at work, overcaffeinated and under-hydrated made me crankier and unhappier than I needed to be. So when Claire asked me for some advice on brown bagging it (and thankfully was NOT looking for sandwich recipes because face it, been there, done that) it was great inspiration to put on my thinking cap.
Also, it was BOUND to be funny when my laissez-faire recipes encountered Claire’s scientific testing. Because we’re deep into fall, I went with warmer recipes, we can save the salads for summer.
Claire: I almost feel like I am abusing my xoConnections, but Amanda has her shit together in a way that I can only aspire to. She is a real adult with actual culinary skills where as I am more of a Stunt Eater with an angry tapeworm.
Amanda: Meh. You write endearingly about junk food and are in great shape, and I write about healthy food and am.... a shape. We are metaphorical peanut butter and chocolate, which is going to be the tagline on the xoConnections dating site this spawns.
I think it's a great idea to make everything a week ahead. Take an hour or two on a Sunday or Saturday and prep everything you’ll need for the week so you can quickly grab and go the night before.
3/4 cup of uncooked brown rice (not for nothing, but I happen to be a fan of the Minute Rice variety)
2 chicken thighs
2 chicken breasts
2 boneless pork chop
1 head of broccoli
1 head of cauliflower
1 head of garlic
1 small knob of ginger
1 small bottle of soy sauce or oyster sauce
1 head of red cabbage
1 small fennel head
sesame seeds (or any other seeds you’ve got around the house)
5 tupperware containers to go in the brown bag.
Menu for the Week
lemon chicken, brown rice, carrots, and leeks
soy chicken and broccoli, brown rice
cumin spiced pork on red cabbage and fennel, brown rice
roasted chicken thighs on mashed cauli
pork and slaw almonds, carrots, leeks, fennel, red cabbage, sesame seeds
Make the brown rice as directed. I recommend making it with chicken stock instead of water, to give it more flavor. Put it aside.
Spice the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and any spices you’ve got around- it almost doesn’t matter. Rub with a clove of garlic and then toss the chicken and garlic into a pan and throw into an oven at 375 for 30 minutes.
Claire: I used Trader Joe’s crushed garlic because I am lazy. I also grabbed the hot handle of the pan (even though I made a mental note to not do so) because why wouldn't I?
Meanwhile, throw the cauliflower into a pot of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes.
Slice the head of red cabbage, put half in a large bowl and the other half in a saute pan with some olive oil on medium-high heat. Slice the fennel and do exactly the same. Half into the bowl, half into the saute pan. Salt and pepper everything in the saute pan.
Claire: I had never cooked with fennel before and wasn’t sure how to slice it. I just sliced it across the bulb and that worked out fine.
Amanda: It helps to cut out "the heart" or core of the fennel, but after that it doesn't matter.
Slice one of the pork chops and toss with cumin, and then toss into the saute pan.
Claire: I threw the sliced chop in the pan before tossing with cumin! DAMN IT. I ended up just sprinkling cumin all over everything, but I don’t think I used enough. I don’t even know how much I used! So much for my “scientific method.”
Stir the cabbage, fennel and pork chops occasionally, and if you have some around, stir in 1 tbsp of apple juice or apple cider vinegar or even just beer. When the pork is cooked, take it off the stove, and add ½ cup of brown rice to a tupperware and then pour the contents of the saute pan on top. Seal it. Meal #1 done.
Cauliflower should be done now, so take it off the stove, drain it, and then use a stick blender to blitz it. Salt as needed and put in the bottom of a tupperware and put aside.
Claire: I didn’t want to have to clean my stick blender, so I just beat the cauliflower with a wooden spoon. It worked but it was very loud.
Amanda: On behalf of your wooden spoon, you can eject the blender part of your stick blender, and just hold it under the water for 10 seconds and it's clean.
Peel both carrots, cut them up into long slices, and toss one into the bowl with the cabbage and fennel and put the other aside. Slice the leek in half, wash it well, and then cut into long slices. Throw half into the bowl and put the other half aside with the carrot. Cut the lemon in half, and then slice one half into slices. Put the other half aside.
Wipe out the saute pan, and then put it back on medium high heat with a bit of olive oil. Place the chicken breast in the pan and the sliced carrots and leeks that you’d put aside. Stir the carrots and leeks, and once the chicken breast is brown on one side, turn it over. After 2-3 minutes, pour in ½ cup of chicken stock, and add the lemon slices.
Allow to cook on simmer (medium-low) until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid reduced. Once it is, add ½ cup of rice to the bottom of a tupperware, and then pour everything from the saute pan over it. (You could slice the chicken breast so you don’t need a knife, that’s up to you). Meal #2 done.
Take the chicken thighs out of the oven, and then pour them into the tupperware with the mashed cauliflower. Meal #3 done.
Take the last pork chop and put it into the oven pan you just used, throw a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper on it, and throw it into the oven at 375.
Claire: This is where I burnt my hand.
Amanda: Hey Claire, watch out. The pan is hot.
Cut the last chicken breast into slices. Wipe out the saute pan, and then heat up to medium high heat with a bit of olive oil (or sesame oil if you have it - Claire: I DID! ).
Add in some chopped garlic and ginger, and then toss in your broccoli and chicken. Stir on medium high heat for a minute, and then toss in 1 tbsp of soy or oyster sauce (or both). Go easy on the soy sauce, it makes it really salty, sometimes it needs a toss of sugar to balance it. Once the chicken is cooked through, throw the last of the rice into a tupperware, and then pour everything in the pan over it. You can add some seeds to the top. Meal #4 done.
Now, take the last pork chop out of the oven, make sure it's cooked through, cut it into slices and toss it into the bowl with all the other veggies -- fennel, leeks, carrots, cabbage, etc. Have leftover broccoli? Toss it in. Add the slivered almonds. Now, toss everything with a bit of mustard, the juice of the second half of the lemon, and a bit of olive oil as well as the sesame seeds. Toss the entire thing into the last tupperware, and bam, Meal #5 is done.
Hopefully, the entire process took you an hour and you have five meals ready to go in any order you like with a minimum of dishes to do. You can certainly fancy up any of these by adding more ingredients, spicing more, cooking more delicately, etc. But I find the major factor in lunches to go is speed and ease.
Claire: It took me an hour and twenty minutes because of hand burning and other tomfoolery.
You could replace any protein with another- fish, beef, tofu, beans, peas, etc. On the whole, this is pretty decently healthy- you’re getting fiber, an appropriate amount of grains, vegetables and protein. And since doing this every week could get monotonous, if this post is popular enough, I’ll do another soon Claire: YES PLEASE.
Obviously, most of these are going to get nuked for a minute or two (except the slaw, which would be a great meatless Monday if you took out the pork and tossed in peanuts or tofu or soybeans instead).
Claire: Okay, taste testing. MY FAVORITE PART.
I’m going to go through these the in the order that they were consumed. It is worth noting that I am not the best photographer, so if any of these look less than delicious, it’s my fault. Also, the precipitation you get from storing food always bums me out.
Amanda: Interesting note, theoretically, you're not supposed to cover or put hot food back in the fridge immediately.The steam coming off the food is trapped in the container, and bam. Condensation. But since condensation=moisture=yummier food.. it's a wash.
Claire: Monday was cumin spiced pork on red cabbage and fennel, brown rice.
I really should have added more cumin. I don’t know how much, just more. Since I forgot to toss the pork with it, it was more of a sprinkle on afterthought. Next time. Other than that, the pork was tender and the vegetables were great! I have a new vegetable I can eat (fennel), which is fantastic because I think I’m dying.
Amanda: There is no such thing as too much cumin. I am an avid overspicer. Some cumin, if you have it, chili pepper would be great.
Claire: Tuesday is Taco Tuesday so I went had tacos out with co-workers.
Wednesday I had the pork and slaw almonds, carrots, leeks, fennel, red cabbage, sesame seeds.
This is a feast for the eyes AND the mouth. So pretty.
Unfortunately, I forgot the seeds and could not find the leeks. I used a sweet onion (my favorite) and it was fine. I felt really virtuous and healthy eating this and my co-workers were like “Oh no, a Pod Person.”
Thursday was the roasted chicken thighs on mashed cauli.
I was actually a little sick on Thursday and stayed home from work. I had some of this though, and it is quite good. I think it would have been even better if I used skin-on chicken, but this is probably healthier anyway (something I care about deeply). I also added a couple of tablespoons of butter to the cauli. I really wanted to add cheese but was trying to not be such a Claire. Sean had some of this too and was a fan.
Amanda: When I make it, it's skin on. You are brave to have taken one for the cause:) Also, butter and/or cheese in cauli is just fine. YOU HAVE TO LIVE, CLAIRE. CHOOSE LIFE. Cheesy life.
Claire: Friday was lemon chicken, brown rice, carrots, and leeks.
Again, I had to sub onions for leeks.
This was delicious! I feel like I want to add another spice, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe just more salt? I dunno. I’ll play around with it a bit. I feel like it was more flavorful when it was first cooked, so maybe I could pack some fresh lemon to squeeze on after reheating. Very filling though.
Amanda: When you do it again, try basil or dill or even sage would be interesting. You can just leave a slice of lemon or wedge in it when you put it away, it would help.
Claire: THE EXTRA MEAL THAT I ATE JUST NOW: soy chicken and broccoli, brown rice.
FAVORITE. I love ginger and I added a buttload to this. Like an inch of fresh ginger, grated with a microplane. That with soy sauce and sesame oil is one of my favorite flavor combos.
UNFORTUNATELY, I lost track of my rice and didn’t have enough left for this dish but it was quite filling anyway.
It’s also worth noting that this was over a week old so now you know that it keeps for over a week. I’ll let you know if I get sick but it should be fine; ginger has antimicrobial properties.
Amanda: Yeaahhhhhhhh... I'm not sure how I feel about week old food, but Claire is like, a real like scientist, so she will either be right or will invent a new antibiotic.
As workpace snacks, I love to have almonds, wasabi peas, and nori snacks, which you can get at a local asian market, if you have one. I’m a big fan of drinks like Odwalla -- as long as you’re doing a healthy green or protein juice and not just, you know… lemonade (if you loathe green drinks as I do, I have found Odwalla Berry Go Mega to be totally palatable). I also love the pre-cut pineapple available at literally any store.
Also, I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay hydrated! Suck that water down, ladies, and if you need to make it more appealing, bring lemon or lime or orange to work to throw in your water bottle. Also, if you keep 2 water bottles at work, you can always have one chilling in the fridge with a teabag in it. I’m a massive fan of plain cranberry tea or Tazo Passion. Just throw one in with water and an hour or two later, you’ve got tea.
Whew. So if I can do it, and Claire can do it, YOU CAN DO IT! What tricks do you have for easy, healthy meals at work?