I kind of can’t believe I’m here writing this post.
When I first looked at the Project Food Blog challenges, I thought it would be “so great” to make it to Challenge #6 and pack a meal to go, and then I second-guessed myself and thought that it would be highly unlikely that I would even get to Challenge #6 because there are “so many other blogs better than mine” out there. Shows what I know!
Thanks to all YOUR support, I get to do a Challenge #6 post for Project Food Blog!
The challenge really spoke to me, as I complete it on a daily basis anyway. Prepare a meal to-go, one that carries well and tastes great. I’m a teacher, so I pack my lunch “to go” every day, and we all know that I don’t eat food that tastes bad! So to “up the ante” so to speak, I knew I needed to get creative with my meal and how it was carried.
Part of the challenge was to pack the entire meal in our custom Project Food Blog cooler:
My cooler made itself right at home and plopped itself on the couch to watch TV immediately while I set to work cooking and packing things to fill it. While slumming on its lazy bottom, the cooler reminded me that it was the food’s ONLY source of transportation, and warned me that it better not spill all over its pretty shiny lining.
What receptacle could I use to pack up a delicious meal that would LOOK great, CARRY well, and go from cooler to belly with little more effort than open and eat? The answer was obvious, at least to me.
Mason jars are the perfect container to pack a meal that not only is portable, but is pretty to look at. Most of us have glass jars laying around the house from spaghetti sauce, jam, peanut butter, and pickles. Packing lunch is a great way to keep using those jars after your oats-in-a-jar. I, however, didn’t have quite enough jars to pack a 3-course meal for two with a beverage, so I hit up a local store for cases of new jars.
What I wanted to do with this challenge was to show you, the reader, a few things.
- A packed lunch does not have to be a boring sandwich or ugly leftovers
- A packed lunch can be just as delicious when you eat it as it is when you pack it.
- Delicious food for lunch can be accessible and healthy
- It’s a lot more fun to enjoy a delicious lunch with someone else who appreciates good food than eating alone at a desk.
The menu was chosen for a few reasons:
- General accessibility.
- Day-after appeal. Some foods simply taste better the next day!
I invited my assistant principal Stasia to eat lunch with me so I could complete this challenge because she is just as into food as I am! Part of the challenge was to create a side or appetizer, main course, dessert, and beverage that ALL fit in the Project Food Blog cooler (as the cooler consistently reminded me as it sat on the couch) and so I set to work cooking and assembling. Everything was cooked and assembled, not an hour before eating, but rather nearly 12 hours before, as most of my school lunches are packed just after dinner the night before.
To ensure that all the food I was bringing was generally accessible to most home cooks and not “OMG I can’t believe you MADE that” kind of food, I did use a few shortcuts: dried pasta for one, cake mix for another. But, the important parts were homemade!
All the recipes for the following dishes can be found here. (PDF document)
The appetizer: Berry-Apple Salad with Pomegranate-Balsamic-Basil Dressing
The entree: Homemade pesto on whole wheat rotini with fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella
The Dessert: Pineapple Angel Food Cake with Blueberries and Homemade Lemon Curd
The Beverage: Strawberry Limeade
The Side Dish: Garlic Herb Whole Wheat Bread
All together now:
The Cooler approved of the contents. I warned it to not consume anything as I had a very important lunch date the next day! Everything got packed up in the (very insistent) Project Food Blog Cooler complete with plates and silverware.
And into the fridge the cooler went until 6 a.m. the next morning. The Cooler was NOT happy when I woke it up from its night’s sleep, but it didn’t have much of a choice. It was still dark when The Cooler and I set out for work.
While I taught for the day, The Cooler had a very eventful day. I caught it learning some Spanish
Playing the maracas for my coworker’s class:
Hanging out with José the Jalapeño
Looking up words in the library’s unabridged dictionary
And making copies (the cooler, the coolinator, makin’ copies…anyone?)
I interrupted The Cooler’s copy job so it could do its real job: feeding Stasia and I lunch! I was eager to see how well all the dishes had held up in their 12-hour rest in the cooler.
See for yourself:
The only change I could see was that the limeade turned a beautiful pink color, and the fruit and pasta had both settled a little bit. We took no time with digging in! Teaching and disciplining middle school kids can really work up an appetite! (Yes, those are Splenda packets atop the limeade. It was a little tart to begin with, so I packed them as a “just in case” sweetener. They weren’t needed!)
In order to fully enjoy the pesto pasta with the tomatoes and mozzarella, we both dumped our jars out onto the plates I brought, even though the dish easily could’ve been eaten straight out of the jar.
Next up, though Stasia and I were both full, came the dessert: pineapple angel food cake, blueberries, and lemon curd. The angel food cake comes from an old Weight Watchers trick in which a can of crushed pineapple is mixed into a box of angel food cake mix and baked in a 13×9 pan. The result is a deliciously sweet and sticky treat with a fraction of the fat and calories of regular cake. The homemade lemon curd, however, was far from your health food item.
The best part of having the berries, cake, and lemon curd all packed separately was that they could be added as needed. Stasia and I took turns dumping berries into our cake jars, topping them with lemon curd, eating a few bites, then repeating.
And then, after being far too full after a school lunch, Stasia and I had our picture taken…
The remaining limeade was drunk quickly, the leftovers went home with Stasia, and The Cooler got re-packed for its journey home.
Before The Cooler came back with me to my classroom for the remainder of the afternoon, it demanded that we take a break. Apparently, carrying a 3-course lunch for two in jars is hard work! Luckily, our school’s library has a lovely lounging area in which we could rest.
I’m truly looking forward to my next school lunch packed in a jar, because not only did the food hold up remarkably well, but it’s a much greener way to pack food. There are no leaching chemicals when the jars are microwaved, and while a meal in a jar might garner a bit of attention in the lunch room, the cleanup is easy, and the jars are easily washed in the dishwasher with no chance of melting or the odd disfigurations that can happen to plastic containers. Glass jars also insulate food fairly well. A cold dish put in a jar will stay cold much longer than a cold dish put in plastic.
So, the lesson here? A lunch at work does not just have to be a salad or sandwich! It truly is more fun to eat with a friend. Food in a jar can be beautiful and delicious. The Cooler worked very hard, and deserves the week-long break it will get in my closet.
Voting on Challenge 6 will begin at 8 a.m. CDT on Monday, October 25. I’d love your support!