20. S’s Mason Jar Salads

IMG_3837

I have been trying, valiantly, to eat better and less lately, and one of the major ways to do that, it seems, is to take one’s lunch to work. By many estimates, you save dollars every day that you choose to pack something from home (unless, you know, it’s filet mignon or something), so I figured part of my goal would be monetary, but primarily I wanted to bring only enough food to nourish me, not to make me sluggish after lunch. I had experienced, after a big catered staff meal, the fog that descended over me and made me feel like there were no productive activities for me to work on for at least an hour or two. I’d inevitably turn back to coffee, which I’m trying to cut down on as well, just to perk up for the last few hours.

So what I needed was a pack-ahead meal that was appetizing to me, while not always just being leftovers from the night before. I’ve talked about leftovers before, and with Husband faithfully scarfing them most days, I rarely want that to be my only option.

Enter, the Mason Jar Salad.

I thought it was non-revolutionary at first, just a cute package for a normal food. However, it’s really quite lovely. Mason jar salads are built on a simple principle: use a dressing on the bottom, a layer of hearty veggies, cheese, and pasta in the middle, and lettuce on top. When you get to work, the veggies will be flavorful from having gotten into the dressing, the lettuce will still be crisp, and the whole thing will mix pretty epically when you are dumping it out into a bowl. This can be tricky, but it really works quite well. Especially if you have a sink where you can wash the bowl and fork and keep them for a future salad day, and take the goopy mason jar home all sealed up and non-smelly… this just makes so much sense. It takes the multiple tiny containers out of salad transportation, and ensures non-wilty lettuce.

My first salads were made just with what was on hand: bell peppers, carrots, fresh mozzarella, cashews, and baby spinach. For one of them, the bottom layer was a creamy caesar dressing, and for the second, I used honey mustard (not even honey mustard dressing; just honey mustard I had in the fridge). The first salad filled my bowl perfectly and the peppers were imbued with a bright parmesan flavor, but total I had very little dressing and cheese on the salad. The cashews had gone from stiff-crunchy to slightly-crunchy, which was still perfectly pleasant; if you hate that effect, you might put them atop the spinach just to keep them out of the dressing. I usually don’t like carrots, but the mildly marinated effect of the dressing made them really quite delicious.

I got this idea from S, who sent me a link about the salads, which I will recommend to all of you; they have a bunch of good ideas for when you don’t want to just play fridge roulette and throw in whatever you have. Over the years, S and I have enjoyed many meals together, but it’s kind of fun to be accompanied, even from far away, on new endeavors toward healthier eating. S has never been unhealthy, that I know, but her salad suggestion helped me on my path.

19. S’s Creamy Chipotle Sweet Potatoes

IMG_3826S and I have seen each other through a lot: in particular, we’ve each moved upwards of 5 times since we met in high school, and somehow, calling each other and chatting for hours is still our method of coping with new things. When Husband hears me say “Hi S” on the phone, he knows to go do other things because it’s going to be a while.

S’s recipe comes from a friend she visited on a big moving-to-a-new-state road trip last year, and she said that even though she doesn’t have a physical copy of the recipe, she would email it my way.

S’s sweet potato recipe came at a great time for me – I had a big carton of coconut milk in the fridge and a pack of sweet potatoes that needed to be cut up and used in some way. The kick of spices added to this dish made up for the fact that, because I was trying to get the sauce to congeal up a bit, I left them in the oven for longer than recommended. I would definitely add a step of mixing the potatoes around and make sure that there isn’t enough cream (or in my case, coconut milk) that they basically stew instead of roasting. The result was delicious but not at all firm/crunchy the way sweet potatoes can sometimes brown up.

It’s been almost like a spicy breakfast porridge for me this week, which has been full of cold days and quiet rising early on the weekends. Having steaming sweet potatoes with the peppery kick to them gets me energized for days of reading and writing and crocheting and walking, which are the things I like best on the weekend… other than eating. 🙂 I called S right after making this dish, and got filled in on her life, job, new friends, etc. This is part of why the blog was so important for me and why it has lasted these first two months: when I’m making the dishes that people I love gave me, I seem to really make the effort to stay in touch.

That being said, I am wondering: what does modern long-distance friendship look like? A lot has been said for how Modern Romance (yes, the Aziz Ansari book is one example) is happening, but I wonder: do you play Words with Friends with your grandma? Do you call your friend and talk for an hour while absentmindedly cleaning house? Are you a texter or a messager or what?

At the same time, I’m finally making some friends here in my new town! I don’t have recipes from them yet (haven’t shared the blog with them… eee!) but I’m hoping to get them in on this too. One new friend, B, is big into urban gardening and I am a total newbie to gardening in all forms, so I’m hoping that more of my food can be local and actually from gardens I participate in!

Enough updates for now. Here’s S’s Sweet potatoes:
– Preheat oven to 350 (or maybe 375?).
– Cut up a bunch of sweet potatoes.
– Put them in a pan (that has edges) with a bit of oil and salt and pepper.
– In a pot, mix together cream, chipotle peppers (from a jar, or in dried/seasoning form), and a hefty amount of Adobo. Heat on medium; don’t let the cream boil.
– Pour cream mixture over sweet potatoes (they should be covered but not drowning). Bake at 350 deg. F for about 40 minutes or until potatoes are cooked.

18. A’s Baked Mac and Cheese

Husband is the friendly sort, and invited his two ex girlfriends to the wedding; one of them gave us a recipe for macaroni and cheese. I’d never met her before, but she has a warmth and kindness that I noted in the barn where we all ate dinner and danced the evening away, and I see why he liked her. I felt a weird kinship with her, for having liked the same man.

Early on in our dating time, I met one of Husband’s best friends, D. It was at a dinner with friends of mine, and everyone was treating us somewhat like untested material – my friend L was asking all kinds of questions about Husband and telling him ridiculous stories of me in college, embarrassing me thoroughly and delighting him. D had only one question for me, so I thought I was going to get off easy, but it was an odd one. “Do you like condiments?” he asked, causing Husband to chuckle.

I uneasily said “Not really?” because I had always thought bright red ketchup and scary yellow mustard were awful. I didn’t load my sandwiches up with mayo or hot sauce, though I did sometimes want something, barbecue sauce or something else, to dip my french fries in. But even that was a recent development – I hoped that D wasn’t about to tell me that Husband was a die-hard ketchup fan. “Good,” he said. “(Husband) hates condiments.”

As I’ve gotten more into cooking and developed a healthy respect for the utility and deliciousness of sauces in general, I’ve eased up on a variety of condiments, but Husband stands strong – other than a little cup of buffalo sauce to amp up any particular dish that doesn’t properly singe his insides, he doesn’t partake. One of his favorite dishes from Cincinnati, chili cheese coneys, customarily comes with a dash of bright mustard that is mostly swallowed by other flavors. I have grown to like it in that moderate capacity; Husband, on the other hand, actually sends his food back if someone forgets and puts the dread mustard on it.

All of this to say that when A’s baked macaroni and cheese recipe contained a teaspoon of dry mustard, I knew that I was being given a challenge – could Husband figure out that this recipe has mustard in it and turn up his nose, or would it amply disguise itself amongst the other delicious flavors? I appreciated A issuing this challenge for me.

I personally still don’t favor traditional mustard – it’s stringent in a way that I just cannot abide. What has truly won me over is honey mustard – I rarely want honey by itself except as a sweetener in baked goods, but there is something truly separate about the mixture of honey and mustard, creating something unlike either of the previous flavors. I recently tried a blackberry-flavored honey mustard and it was all I could do not to slurp it up straight from the jar – so delicious.

Still, I thought the dry mustard was an important investment because if mac and cheese took on a honey flavor, even if it was unexpectedly delicious, it was sure to cue Husband in and make him guess the ingredient. And obviously I’m looking to deceive him, not make a delicious dish… oh wait… anyway.

Showing my true colors, I was so amped up about sneaking mustard into my husband’s food that I didn’t take the time to actually buy… noodles. I assumed, because of my love of tricolor rotini and Husband’s penchant for angel hair, we both bought plenty of pasta over the weeks and we’d obviously still have some… right? As it turned out, we had exactly 1/2 a cup of rotini and a half box of angel hair left. Does angel-hair make mac and cheese? In our house, I guess it does.

In the end, Husband loved my weird cheese and two-kinds-of-pasta mixture, but I am certain it needed a second go of it. I made the dish again a month later, to much better results. Still, I felt triumphant that first batch, because Husband dug in with gusto and the presence of the mustard evaded his senses. When told, he continued eating. His rationale? “Dried mustard isn’t as bad as real mustard,” he said. I maintain that I pulled one over on him; anyone who knows his penchant for teasing and pranks knows that this is only what he deserves.

A’s  Baked Mac and Cheese

 

  • 1 cup cooked elbow noodles
  • 1 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1tsp of dry mustard
  • 3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup milk

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place mac in 1 qt. cassarole dish and stir butter, egg, salt, mustard, and 2.5 cups of cheese. Pour milk over mixture. Top with remaining .5 cup of cheese. Cover with foil and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for 10-12 minutes. Enjoy!