Winter 2015-2016 School Lunches

This time of year, there's a general feeling of UGH in the air when it comes to school lunch. Believe me, I feel it too. I pack lunches at night to save time and energy in the morning, and while it works well for us, there's still no magic fairy packing lunches for my 3 kiddos. If you're looking for a bit of inspiration to get you out of the winter school lunch blahs, look no further -- here are some of the lunches that have been fueling us through winter.  

For daily pics of our three lunches, head over to Instagram and for a look at even more options, check this out. These lunches have been chosen by my kids - and here's what's amazing: when you give kids the power and responsibility to choose, they really do rise to the occasion. Check out these lunches! If you're looking to simplify your lunch-packing life, here's what will make that a reality. Trust me on this. 

hummus with pita and carrots, apple, arugula with lemon and chocolate covered blueberries

Yogurt, "tuxedo banana," raspberries, broccoli and cookies

chicken, cucumbers, mango, golden berries and raspberries and a chocolate truffle

spinach and potato pierogies with sea salt yogurt for dipping, pea shoots, raspberries and dark chocolate

leftover pizza on a lollipop stick, raspberries, mango and chocolate covered blueberries

chicken sausage wrapped in puff pastry, mango, clementine, blueberries and cookies

black beans and brown rice, raspberries, golden berries, apple, green beans and cookies

breakfast for lunch: mini waffles and mini maple syrup, mango, yogurt and blueberries, peas and a cookie

egg, clementine, apple, green beans, rice cakes and cookies

eggs, broccoli, raspberries, coconut date roll, toast sticks, clementine, carrots and a mini no-bake (egg-free) chocolate chip cookie dough bar

banana sunbutter dog with jam, cara cara orange, broccoli, strawberries and homemade granola bar

ham, date, pea shoots, broccoli, blueberries and granola

pancakes, "tuxedo banana," carrots, strawberries and a brownie bite

macaroni and cheese, raspberry and carrot "wands," clementines, fig bars

leftover pasta with turkey meatballs, zucchini, peas and cookies

arugula salad, chicken cutlet, raspberries and brownie bites

cheese and crackers, carrots, blood orange, apple and a chocolate

salad with goat cheese, leftover pasta with tomato sauce, mango and a brownie bite

Looking for lunch containers for your school lunches? Check out our favorites

Carrot Soup for Cold Weather

Tonight's dinner plan calls for turkey meatballs with marinara sauce and pasta. I'm not sure what to do about that because it's freezing here in New York and a craving for warm soup completely took over and I've just made this giant batch of carrot soup. 

carrot soup
ingredients for carrot soup

It was innocent enough; I had all of the ingredients in the kitchen and this soup is easy enough to prep and finish in under an hour so it seemed like a good idea. And that giant bowl I just had for lunch really hit the spot. The hardest part of this soup was pureeing it, because after my run-in with a stick blender a couple of years ago when I almost lost two fingers, I threw it out and my only option is a blender, which does the job, but not as seamlessly. 

If you're craving something hearty and warm and also vegetarian, I've got you covered. 

carrot soup on the stove

Carrot Soup with Sweet Potato

carrot soup in the blender

4 tablespoons of grapeseed or vegetable oil
5 -6 cippolini onions, chopped, or one small yellow onion chopped
2 pounds of carrots, peeled and cut into pieces  
2 sweet potatoes
7 cups vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped  
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon + zest of one lemon

In a large pot on medium high heat,  add the oil and onions. Sauté until translucent, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes and stir. Add the stock or water, bring to a boil and simmer for approximately 35 minutes. Add the dill, salt and pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are soft. Add the lemon juice and purée with a stick blender.  Garnish with lemon zest.

Want more carrot soup ideas? Right this way and here too

For more deliciously hearty winter soups, check out: 
Winter Root Soup  
Lentil Curry Soup
Kale Soup

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

'Tis the season. Gifts for teachers season, I meant. But it also happens to be the start of hot cocoa season, so I figured I'd combine the two this year.  

Ingredients for hot cocoa mix

Ingredients for hot cocoa mix

Last year, my sister made vanilla extract for everyone and I plowed through it in no time flat. I decided to try my hand at a homemade gift this year and, while I'm not the best with ribbons and things, I can vouch for the mix inside. 

Hot cocoa mix for holiday gifts

Hot cocoa mix for holiday gifts

Here's the recipe (this makes enough for one 8 oz jar):  

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup date sugar
1/4 cup turbindo sugar
1.5 teaspoons ground vanilla
1 teaspoon salt

I like to add 2 tablespoons of mix to just a bit of hot water to form a paste and then add an additional 6- 8 ounces of hot water or milk. Stir well and enjoy! 

p.s. - you can use 1/2 cup of whichever sugar you prefer. Great additions include a teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne or 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper. If you cannot find ground vanilla, no problem. 

What are your go-to holiday gifts for teachers? 

Lentil Curry Soup with Sweet Potato and Kale

I'm knee deep in winter soup obsession. 

I'm pretty sure if there were a log of my cooking patterns, I'd see repetition every January with hearty soups. So when I saw this recipe for Sweet Potato Lentil Curry Soup on Food52 posted by Sarah Kieffer of The Vanilla Bean Blog, I got all kinds of excited. 

Typically, I wanted to make it immediately, but I didn't have exact ingredients, so I made some substitutions. That said, I do plan to make the original recipe and am certain it's amazingly delicious. 

The first change I made was in the lentils; I only had black beluga lentils, not brown. Additionally, I didn't include the red pepper or carrot and I cut the amount of garlic in half and increased the amount of ginger. As long as I was making changes, I figured I'd add the last bit of lacinato kale that was in my fridge. We're all friends here, so I suppose I can admit that I had three bowls of this in one sitting. 

Give this a go! It sure hit that must-heave-hearty-winter-soup spot for us! 

Lentil Curry Soup with Sweet Potato and Kale

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1/3 cup peeled and minced ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (I used mild) 
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (or roughly 2 1/2 - 3 cups)
1/2 bunch lacinato kale, chopped 
1 14 oz can of coconut milk (I used full fat with the cream)
2 cups black beluga lentils
1 teaspoon salt 
7 cups vegetable stock (or water) 
Juice of 1 lime
1 bunch of minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup tamari

1. In a large pot, saute the red onion, garlic and ginger in olive oil for about 10 - 15 minutes, or until onions are translucent. 
2. Add the curry powder, hot pepper flakes, sweet potatoes and kale. Sauté for 5-8 minutes or until the seasoning has evenly coated the sweet potato. 
3. Add the coconut milk, lentils, salt and vegetable stock. Simmer and cover until the lentils and sweet potatoes are tender, approximately 45 minutes. 
4. Add the lime, tamari and cilantro, stir and enjoy! 

Sesame Lace Cookies

It's that time of year. Cookies, cookies, cookies. We bring them to friends and loved ones, we give them to teachers, we make them for parties

I came across the recipe for Lace Cookies in the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion cookbook, made a few modifications and voila: 

Sesame Lace Cookies

Sesame Lace Cookies

I had never made lace cookies before, frankly because I thought they were complicated but I was wrong! Kind of. The dough setup was easy. It was the baking that threw me for a loop. The first batch that went into the oven completely melted together into one giant cookie sheet-sized lace cookie. My husband laughed, at which point I suggested that he take over the dough assembly portion of the job. He rose to the occasion. His lace cookies were crispy and light, perfectly shaped and sized.

Kudos, husband. 

Sesame Lace Cookies

3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
2 1/4 cups of rolled oats
1 3/4 cups of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sesame seeds (toasted or raw)

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 
In a bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter on low heat. Add the melted butter to the dry ingredients. Add the egg, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix thoroughly. Finally, mix in the sesame seeds. 
Roll the dough into about one inch balls and place on the cookie sheet, making sure to leave enough space between each dough ball. Bake for 5 -7 minutes. Remove them from the parchment paper after they've cooled slightly.