Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Though only one of my 3 kids likes tomatoes, Tomato Soup is something that all 5 of us love, so it’s in steady rotation around here. 🍅

tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons

I love to freeze perfect summer tomatoes to use for this in the winter, but the truth is, we eat tomato soup often, and my stash disappears quickly. I’m grateful for canned tomatoes for this exact reason. For my 2 kids who eat dairy, crispy, melty grilled cheese croutons are the thing that makes this meal an absolute favorite!

This soup freezes beautifully, it’s made in the blender and works well for lunch, making it an all around win! Of course, this meal can be made gluten free by using gluten free bread, and it can also be made dairy free by using dairy free cheese.

tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons lunchbox

Roasted Tomato Soup 
(serves 3-4)

2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 medium red onion, sliced 
1 bell pepper, cut into chunks 
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons olive oil 
3 teaspoons fresh thyme, divided
28 ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Fresh black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional) 

Method
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add the chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic. 
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh thyme. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and become fragrant. 
Place the roasted vegetables into a blender. 
Add the canned tomatoes (including juices), vegetable broth, remaining fresh thyme, salt and pepper. 
Blend together until smooth. Taste to determine whether more salt or pepper is needed. If you find the flavor too acidic, you can add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. If you like it spicy, you can add cayenne.

Grilled Cheese Croutons
4 pieces of sourdough bread
4-5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Method
Preheat the oven to broil.
Place sourdough slices on a baking sheet lined with foil and smear butter on one side of each slice. Place that butter side down and add cheese on top of each slice. Place into oven, open faced.
Broil for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is nice and melty.
Place two open-faced sandwiches together to create two closed-faced grilled cheese sandwiches. Let cool for about 5 minutes and cut into crouton chunks.

tomatoes

Cranberry Orzo Salad

Cranberry Orzo Salad

Thanksgiving season is here, and cranberries are calling my name.

I’m excited to join with Square Meal Round Table for an ingredient-based collaboration and show you this delicious salad that revolves around the sweet, tart flavors of fall’s best red friend. I’ve used fresh cranberries for this recipe, but it also works with frozen cranberries, making it perfect to enjoy all year. It’s also wonderfully adaptable; you can substitute white or brown rice in place of the orzo to make it gluten free, and if you can eat nuts (unlike me) you can use toasted almonds in place of the pepitas.

This works beautifully as a side salad, but it can also be front and center for your meal. Zingy citrus, tangy roasted cranberries, delicate pasta and some slightly crunchy pepitas all come together to make a satisfying #yesyoucranberry dish. Scroll down below the recipe to see what other folks are making with this season’s best and brightest berry. Many thanks to @squaremealroundtable and @whatannieseating for organizing this virtual Cranberry Fest!

roasting fresh cranberries

Cranberry Orzo Salad

ingredients for cranberry orzo salad

Ingredients
2 cups cooked orzo
1/2 cup fresh cranberries, halved
1 medium navel orange, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup pepitas (you can toast these if you’d like)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
salt and pepper to taste

Method
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place sliced cranberries on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes and set aside.
While the cranberries are roasting, place the cooked orzo into a large bowl and add orange chunks, red onion and lemon juice. The acidity of the lemon juice and orange will soften the bite of the red onion.
Next add the parsley and pepitas and thoroughly combine the ingredients.
Add the roasted cranberries, including any oil that remains on the baking sheet to the orzo bowl and stir again.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining olive oil with honey and orange zest. Pour this dressing over the orzo and combine all ingredients. Season to your liking with salt and pepper.

If you make this and post it, tag me (@lalalunchbox) I’d love to see!

Cranberry Orzo Salad

Check out these other lovely accounts to see how they’re featuring cranberries!

everythingyouwanttoeat: https://everythingyouwanttoeat.blogspot.com/

SquareMealRoundTable: http://www.squaremealroundtable.com/recipes/cranberry-orange-streusel-pie

WhatAnniesEating: WhatAnniesEating.Com

RonnieVFein: http://www.ronniefein.com/blog/on-hanukkah-lets-not-forget-that-a-woman-played-a?rq=Cranberries

BeeAndTheBaker

rumblyinmytumbly:_www.rumblytumbly.com

Pieceoflovepastries: www.pieceoflovepastries.com

pricklyfresh: http://www.pricklyfresh.com/

floursinyourhair: www.floursinyourhair.com

Thehealthysins: www.thehealthysins.com

shortgirltallorder: https://shortgirltallorder.com/vegan-cranberry-orange-sweet-buns

aforkfulofyum: www.aforkfulofyum.com/http://aforkfulofyum.com/chocolate-cranberry-almond-bars/

Easy and Delish: https://www.easyanddelish.com/

siftandsimmer: https://www.siftandsimmer.com/white-chocolate-cranberry-cookies/

simpleandsweetfood: https://www.simpleandsweetfood.com

its_a_vegworld_afterall: www.itsavegworldafterall.com

my.recipe.addiction

occasionallyeggs: occasionallyeggs.com

annielcampbell: annie-campbell.com

Miminew: Https://www.theherbandspoon.com

cleanplateclb: www.cleanplateclb.com

fufuinthekitchen: https://fufuskitchen.com/cranberry-orange-biscotti/bavettemeat.com

holajalapeno: www.holajalapeno.com

joyosity: https://the-cooking-of-joy.blogspot.com/2016/12/cranberry-curd-tart.html

jessiesheehanbakes: https://www.jessiesheehanbakes.com/2017/12/06/cranberry-buckle/

whatskarencooking: whatskarencooking.com

Champagneandcookies: www.champagneandcookies.net

cooking.again:www.reencontrandomeconlacocina.wordpress.com

thebutterywhisk: www.stephaniesuen.com

wildflourchi:www.wildflourchi.com

lemonthymeandginger: www.lemonthymeandgigner.com

katherineinbrooklyn: www.katherineinbrooklyn.com

myberkeleykitchen: www.myberkeleykitchen.com

Ciao Chow Bambina: https://www.ciaochowbambina.com/cranberry-pecan-cracker-spread/

cosetteskitchen: https://www.cosetteskitchen.com

bakingthegoods: http://bakingthegoods.com/2017/11/13/cranberry-apple-brown-butter-crumble-pie/

thekitchensinkblog: www.thekitchensinkblog.com

justdatesyrup: www.justdatesyrup.com

katiebirdbakes: https://www.katiebirdbakes.com/cranberry-sauce-breakfast-rolls/

crumbtopbaking: https://www.crumbtopbaking.com/cranberry-orange-overnight-oatmeal-muffins/

thebakingfairy: http://www.thebakingfairy.net

tinykitchencapers: http://www.tinykitchencapers.com/white-chocolate-cranberry-oatmeal-cookies/

ChefDanielaGerson: https://wavesinthekitchen.com

sixsnippets

pieladybakes: https:/youcanliverichonless.com/cranberry-tarts/

ThePieous: Www.PiesAreAwesome.com

Bappy Girl: https://bappygirlyum.blogspot.com/





DIY Family Meal Ideas

I grew up with family dinners pretty much every night. I’m not sure how old I was when it started, but the memory is a strong and happy one. Some days I feel awful that I can’t figure out how to make this happen with my own family. My kids eat dinner at 5:30, and most nights, my husband isn’t home that early. Perhaps family dinner will come at some point for us, but it’ll have to be when the kids go to bed later, and I don’t see that happening for a while.

There are days I feel terrible about this. I’ve read article after article about the benefits of daily family dinners. Somehow though, we can only make it work on weekends. And even then, sometimes it’s only on Sundays. I guess it’s better than nothing. Most nights, I serve my kids dinner and sit with them while they eat. Sometimes I eat dinner with them, and sometimes I wait until later.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that regardless of the number of parents at the table, a fun, interactive dinner vibe makes the rest of the evening flow more smoothly. Most nights, we play a game called ‘Petals and Thorns’ where we go around the table and talk about the best part of our day (the petal) and the worst part of our day (the thorn) to get the conversation going. Beyond that, food that gets the kids talking makes the evening more fun. Enter: DIY meals.

Here are some of our favorites lately:

DIY Sweet Potato Bar

DIY Sweet Potato Bar

Sweet potatoes are fabulous all year ‘round, and this dinner hits all the high notes with me and my crew. You can make it hearty with bacon and cheese; it’s a great way to add veggies with broccoli, peppers, onions or radishes; it can be sweetened with cinnamon; it can be spicy and sharp with salsa and scallions.

Here we’ve got bell peppers, scallions, caramelized onions, salsa, cheese, radishes, sour cream, avocado, broccoli, cinnamon, bacon and pea shoots. Something for everyone! You can also add black beans, leftover chicken… the sky’s the limit!

DIY Tacos

DIY Tacos

Raise your hand if your family loves tacos! My family loves them, but they each have different opinions about what should be included. Having the ability to customize makes everyone happy. And here’s my favorite part about this meal: leftovers are absolutely divine. Here we’ve got grilled chicken, guacamole, red onion, avocado, cilantro, lettuce, radish, beans, tomato and cheese. There’s salad and brussels sprouts on the side, but this dinner has no rules… those are welcome to go in too!

 
Toast Bar

DIY Toast Bar

Breakfast for dinner is always a hit here, and lately we’ve been all about banana toast. Offer some various breads, nut butters, jams and fresh or dried fruit and you’ve got something magical. The best part here is that you can go sweet or savory. Add smashed chick peas or hummus, leftover chicken, avocado, and it’s a whole new angle!

My favorite thing about DIY Toast is that you’ve got options to keep it simple or make it more complex. Either way, make sure to start with some really amazing bread!

DIY Wafflewiches

DIY Wafflewich

If you’re into the DIY Toast idea, you are definitely going to love my DIY Waffle Bar. It starts with homemade savory waffles (recipe here) and grows from there. This can be wonderful for any meal, not just breakfast.

Bonus points for serving a rainbow of colors. :)

Our family favorites include cheese, bacon, jam and avocado. Here we also have berries, cream cheese, radish and tomato.

Do you have DIY meal favorites? I’d love to hear about it! Shoot me an email or let me know on Instagram or Facebook. If you make one of these meals and post it, be sure to tag @lalalunchbox #lalalunchbox!

Clementine Cupcakes

Clementines are a thing of beauty. They're juicy, flavorful, high in vitamin C, perfectly transportable, easy to peel, easy to eat. The list goes on and on. Am I right? Plus, they've got to be one of the best accoutrements for a Halloween lunch. Just draw a pumpkin face on the peel and call it a day! 

Clementine Pumpkin

After buying two bags of clementines, I wanted to get creative with them. How about Clementine Cupcakes? My son was on board immediately. My older daughter and her friend bake together every Monday, so as it turned out, I didn't have any white sugar in the house. I used maple syrup instead and am happy to report that it worked out beautifully for these cupcakes! These cupcakes have a bold citrus flavor, so if you're looking for more of a "hint" of citrus, reduce the amount of zest that you use. I’ve also added cardamom to add brightness to these cupcakes, and I’ve made them dairy free by using olive oil. The flavor of the olive oil really comes through here, so choose something fruit and flavorful. I paired it with a chocolate sour cream frosting, (because chocolate) and that recipe is also below. 

Clementine Cupcakes

Clementine Cupcakes

Ingredients

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup of maple syrup
2 large eggs
zest of 3 clementines (or one tightly packed tablespoon)
1/2 cup of orange juice (or a combination of freshly squeezed orange, lemon and clementine)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
clementine segments for garnish

* Preheat the oven to 350. 
* In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive oil and maple syrup.  Slowly add in the eggs. Once thoroughly combined, add the zest, orange juice and vanilla extract. 
* In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. 
* Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and use a whisk to make sure there are no clumps. 
* Pour into a muffin tin lined with paper cups and bake for 20-24 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. This recipe makes 12 small cupcakes, or 10 large ones.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

What you'll need: 
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Once the chocolate chips are melted and slightly cooled, add the sour cream, vanilla and salt. Mix thoroughly. This recipe will make more than enough for your cupcakes, which is a good thing because it's kiiiiiiiiiind of irresistible! Garnish the cupcakes with clementine segments and enjoy! 

Unicorn Fairy Mermaid Birthday Cake

I’ve always been a big birthday fan. When I was a kid, I used to count down the days to my birthday starting about six weeks before the big day. I can vividly remember the birthday cakes that my mom would make. Delicious chocolate rolls with raspberry jam. White cake with ballerinas whose skirts were made of more cake and gorgeously decorated frosting. Go big or go home, right?

 unicorn fairy mermaid cake

unicorn fairy mermaid cake

Birthdays provide the opportunity to celebrate the day my kids were born and marvel at all the time that has passed since that day. My kids love to hear the stories about the day they were born, and I love to retell it! Birthdays absolutely deserve special attention in my book, and it delights me to pass that tradition on to my kids.

When my youngest daughter said she wanted a unicorn fairy mermaid birthday cake for her upcoming 6th birthday, I was excited! Daunted, sure. But excited. She told me what she wanted just about 6 weeks before her birthday… yep, this kid is a direct descendent! Unusually, she couldn’t decide whether she wanted a vanilla cake or a chocolate cake. So I decided to make a striped cake! I ordered a bunch of awesome cake props from Amazon, and set to work to master a layer cake that didn’t require separate layers. I wanted a cake striped with chocolate and vanilla, but baked in one pan. Less cleanup! This took time and patience, and quite frankly, though I’ve now made this many times, the layers still don’t come out perfectly every time. This is real life.

That said, having solid recipes for both the white cake and the chocolate cake are absolutely essential. No matter what the stripes look like, it should taste great! I used this tried and true white cake recipe for the vanilla cake. It’s my go-to for white cake and it has never, ever failed me. Trust me when I say you’ll want to bookmark that one. I’ve included the recipe for my chocolate cake below, as well as the instructions to make a striped cake.

striped unicorn fairy mermaid cake

I hope you give this a try! If you make this and post it on Instagram, please tag @lalalunchbox and #lalalunchbox so I’m sure to see it!

Chocolate Birthday Cake

Ingredients

two cake batters
  • 1 cup all purpose flour 

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 large egg

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

  • 1/4 cup avocado or neutral oil

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1/2 c coffee

Prepare the Chocolate Cake

  1. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl.

  2. Add in egg, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla and mix on low until fully incorporated.

  3. Add coffee and gently stir. The batter will be very thin.

 make sure layers are nearly cooked before adding more batter

make sure layers are nearly cooked before adding more batter

Make a striped cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an springform cake pan with parchment paper and spray sides and bottom.

  2. Pour a heaping 1/2 cup of white cake batter into springform pan, and tilt the pan until it covers the entirety of the bottom. Bake for 6-7 minutes, or until the cake seems not quite fully cooked. Remove from the oven.

  3. Pour a heaping 1/2 cup of chocolate cake batter on top of the first layer, again making sure to completely cover the white cake layer. Bake for another 6-7 minutes, following the same guidance on the previous layer.

  4. With each successive layer, the cake may need an additional minute or two in the oven (not more). You’ll need to keep a careful eye on the cake during the cooking process.

  5. Repeat the process until the batter is finished. When the final layer is poured on top, bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

  6. Cool the cake for at least 30 minutes.

  7. After that resting time, I like to pop the cake in the freezer while I’m making frosting. A cold cake makes the frosting process much easier.

striped cake

Marshmallow Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces cream cheese

  • 6 ounces of unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 6 ounces marshmallow fluff

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar

  • 1-2 teaspoons plant based, natural food coloring (optional)

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix on medium high until you have a uniformly smooth, creamy frosting.

  2. Use a spatula to spread evenly on cake. You’ll likely have extra frosting. Enjoy it on whatever you’d like!

  3. Decorate as intricately as you’d like!

unicorn fairy mermaid birthday cake