Coconut creamed corn

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Creamed corn isn’t generally considered a “healthy” side. But swap in coconut milk for regular old dairy or a heavy bechamel sauce and you have a much lighter version of this classic that celebrates the beauty of late summer corn.

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This dish also comes together in minutes and is full of herbs and aromatics like garlic, shallot, ginger, lime zest, and basil. Add some quick sauteed shrimp, some grilled or roasted white fish, or a rotisserie chicken and you have a very quick dinner filled with healthy fats and real ingredients. You’re also free of gluten, dairy, sugar, nuts, and soy if you have corn leftovers for tomorrow’s lunchbox.

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Coconut creamed corn

½ tsp coconut oil
2 medium or 3 small garlic cloves, sliced or minced  
1 very large or 2 smaller shallots, sliced or minced
½-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced or shredded
3 large ears corn with kernels removed from the cob (about 2 heaping cups of kernels)
6 Tbsp coconut milk
Heaping ¼ tsp lime zest
15-20 basil leaves, chopped
¼-½ tsp flaky sea salt
Pepper

Heat the coconut oil over a medium flame and when hot, add the sliced or minced shallots. Saute for 1-2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent and starting to brown.

Turn the heat down to medium low and add the sliced or minced garlic. Saute for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant. If the onions or garlic brown too quickly, turn down the heat.

Add the minced or shredded ginger and sauté for one more minute.

Add the corn kernels and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and let bubble for one minute until the milk has reduced to more of a sauce than a milk, but don’t let it disappear.

Remove from the heat. Add the lime zest, minced basil, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust according to your taste.

Yield: 3 servings

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How to fill a lunchbox

 Chicken and cheese taco with cherry tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries,  Romesco  sauce, guacamole, and flax seed tortilla chips.

Chicken and cheese taco with cherry tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, Romesco sauce, guacamole, and flax seed tortilla chips.

I spend a lot of time thinking about, planning, and executing M's lunches. And there are days when he eats...none of it. But there are days when he eats tons and I feel utterly triumphant. I wanted to share my top lunchbox tips so that you, too, can declare victory when that lunchbox comes home nearly empty (and you haven't worked that hard to make it happen).

 Sushi is always a favorite and can be filled with WHATEVER your kid likes. See my  Instagram post  for my simple sushi rice recipe.

Sushi is always a favorite and can be filled with WHATEVER your kid likes. See my Instagram post for my simple sushi rice recipe.

1) Repurpose leftovers: Obviously, you can plop a portion of last night's dinner into your kids' lunchbox. (See below for some favorite ways to do this.) But another tactic is to make extras of the proteins and veggies that were dinner's components. Those ingredients, plus a tortilla with some cheese (or vegan cheese) and avocado, become a taco, quesadilla, or roll-up. We're also big fans of the "open face" sandwich with cheese melted on top. Or, cube it all up and make a skewer. Or, if your kid is a pasta eater, add those proteins and veggies to noodles and some jarred sauce. Easy peasy.

 Leftover fried rice plus smoked salmon, blueberries, cheese, hummus, and pretzels.

Leftover fried rice plus smoked salmon, blueberries, cheese, hummus, and pretzels.

2) Prep: Every weekend I do these 5 things:

  • Hard boil some eggs

  • Make a white, wheat, rice, or bean pasta

  • Bake mini muffins or doughnuts

  • Make no-bake energy balls or granola bars

  • Roast two veggies that I know M will eat

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3) Send breakfast for lunch: I often make double breakfast and add it to a lunchbox later in the week. For instance, these two-ingredient egg and banana pancakes are a big favorite. Use them as sandwich bread with nut or seed butter and chia jam or rolled them up like little cigars. Savory waffles like veggie or cheese can sub in for sandwich bread. Granola cups are also an easy batch bake that work for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

4) Take inspiration from their classroom learning: I like to theme M's lunches, but that's mostly because I need inspiration and not because I'm trying to win any mom awards. Dinosaurs, Butterflies, and The Ocean were particularly fertile ground. Even if "theme-ing" lunch just means cutting out a sandwich shape, it feels a little special.

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5) Deconstruct something they like: Add the fixings for tacos, nachos, sandwiches, pasta, etc and let them put it together themselves. Like a homemade lunchable.

6) Think about appetizers: Have you considered sending your kids to school with a cheese plate or chicken sausage pigs in a blanket? Half of M's lunch most days is a crudite plate.

 See? Basically crudite.

See? Basically crudite.

Double Duty Dinner/Lunch Recipes 

Sweets with oomph

No bake add-ins

Happy lunching everyone!

Clam pizza

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Clam pizza is such a Connecticut thing. I'm sure some would argue that it's also a New York thing, but I feel like Frank Pepe, the New Haven pizza institution, is best known for it's clam pizza, and thus, clam pizza is a Connecticut thing. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I first tried this briny, garlicky pie on a trip to Connecticut long before moving here myself. And I've been on a Goldilocksian journey to find the best one ever since. They have either been too salty, not garlicky enough, or without cheese and that is not acceptable to me when it comes to pizza. (Don't yell at me, people who think seafood and cheese should never mingle.)

 Some slapdash mis-en-place.

Some slapdash mis-en-place.

We have not yet found our favorite (sorry, Pepe's), but instead have been making our favorite. Full of three different kinds of cheese and two different kinds of garlic, this pizza tastes like clams and tastes like a proper pizza, but also SO MUCH MORE. 

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I used a pizza stone on a grill because a) not everyone has a grill, so you can easily recreate this in an oven with the pizza stone (see directions in the recipe); and b) because I've never grilled my pizza directly on the grates. If you're braver than I am, here are some instructions for that method.

If you aren't as into garlic (this recipe calls for 10 cloves!), either reduce the number of fresh cloves or just use the roasted ones. Their flavor is much mellower and blends well with the cheese.

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And please do garnish with the lemon and sea salt. They make a huge difference in the end product.

Clam pizza

1 pizza dough
Flour to prevent sticking when rolling out dough
Coarse corn meal, about 2-3 Tbsp
1 cup ricotta cheese
6-7 roasted garlic cloves (see method below)
2-3 large raw garlic cloves, minced
2 cans clams, drained (about 4 oz of clam meat)
1/2- 3/4 cup nutty cheese such as gruyere, sharp cheddar, gouda (not smoked), or fontina,
shredded
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
Parsley
Lemon wedges
Sea salt
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

For the roasted garlic:
Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400. Smash 10 cloves of garlic, but don't remove the peels. Add them to a small oven proof container. I usually use a ramekin or a coffee mug. Cover with olive oil. Cook in the oven until the garlic is bubbling and fragrant and the cloves are very soft when (carefully! hot oil!) pushed on with a spoon, about 10 minutes.

Preheat your grill on high or your oven at 500. Remove the top rack of your grill or the second rack of your oven and move the remaining rack to the lower middle portion of the oven. (You want enough room above the rack to negotiate your dough onto the pizza stone, but be close enough to the top of the oven to easily brown your cheese. Add the pizza stone and let heat for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep all of your toppings. Add the raw and roasted garlic to the ricotta, drain your clams, and shred and combine the mozzarella and nutty cheeses. Set aside. 

On a floured pizza board, roll out or press out your dough until very thin. Lift up half of the dough and scatter the coarse corn meal underneath. Repeat on the other side. Jiggle your pizza board to make sure that the dough will slide off easily. 

If cooking in the oven, add your toppings before placing the raw dough on the pizza stone, periodically shaking the pizza board to make sure that the topped dough will slide off easily. If the toppings are weighing down the dough too much, carefully add more corn meal under the crust.

Slide the topped, raw dough onto the pizza stone carefully. Cook for 6-8 minutes without opening the oven. Check the pizza and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the cheese and the sides of the crust begin to brown. Check the bottom crust for doneness (it should be golden brown and crispy). Remove from the heat and top with chopped parsley, sea salt, lemon, and crushed red pepper flakes (optional).

If cooking on the grill, make sure all of your toppings are measured and easily spreadable. Slide the plain, raw dough onto your grill and quickly top with the ricotta and garlic mixture, the clams, and the shredded cheeses. Close the lid to the grill and let cook for 5 minutes. Check for doneness continue cooking for 2-3 minutes until the crust and cheese begin to brown.

Check the bottom crust for doneness (it should be golden brown and crispy). Remove from the heat and top with chopped parsley, sea salt, lemon, and crushed red pepper flakes (optional).

One note about grilling, the number of burners on your grill will change the speed at which this pizza cooks. A 6-burner grill might take less than 5 minutes, so check it sooner. A 3-burner grill might take a minute more. Use your judgement based on your grill or oven.

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Fried green tomatoes

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If your child loves french fries and tomatoes, then they will love fried green tomatoes. Or, they will reject them out of hand because they're mercurial toddlers like mine. One day, M will love these. I'm sure of it.

I just dropped M off for his first day of a new school year. He was only off for a week between "grades" but I felt so nervous this morning! M had a tough time adjusting to his last classroom and now he has new grownups, a new space, and some new kids to contend with. Ugh. I don't like change. That must be where M gets it.

We also have a nut allergy in the classroom this year, so I'll be more mindful of nut-free recipes for lunches and snacks.

ALSO also, after just a week off from packing lunches, I forgot what a huge drag it is. My sympathies go out to those of you getting back to it after an ENTIRE summer off. Strength to you, fellow lunch-packers.

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The keys to good fried green tomatoes, to me, are soaking overnight in buttermilk, and cooking with HOT oil. I've gotten equally delicious and crunchy results from using a little bit of oil and a lot of oil, but the heat seemed like the common denominator.

I also experimented a lot with corn flour and different grinds of cornmeal. I initially liked corn flour the best, but it's very easy to get too much flour, which doesn't cook evenly. (Picture #2 was taken BEFORE I knocked off the excess.) Ultimately, my favorite was straight-up, finely ground cornmeal.

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Fried green tomatoes

3-4 large green tomatoes, sliced in ¼-inch thick slices
1-2 cups buttermilk, full or low-fat (enough to cover the tomato slices)
1 tsp salt, divided
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
½ tsp paprika
Ground pepper
¼ cup avocado oil
Course sea salt

Slice the tomatoes and discard the end pieces. Place the tomatoes in a container and cover them with buttermilk. Add ½ tsp salt, cover, and shake. Refrigerate for at least a few hours and up to 1 day.

Combine the corn meal, salt, paprika, and pepper in a large container. Set aside. Heat one to two tablespoons of avocado oil at a time until very hot.

Working one at a time, shake off excess buttermilk and immediately place the tomato slice in the cornmeal mixture. Cover both sides well, but shake off the excess cornmeal as well.

When the oil is hot (when you add anything to the oil, it immediately starts bubbling), add the tomatoes (as many as will fit in your pan, but don’t crowd them; work in batches), and fry for 3 minutes. Check for brownness and flip when golden. When second side reaches golden brown, remove to a paper towel and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Between batches of tomatoes, pour out any leftover oil and carefully wipe off any cornmeal left in the pan. Heat two more tablespoons of avocado oil and repeat the cooking process with remaining tomatoes.

Yield: 12-16 tomato slices

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Creamy tomato and white bean pasta

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TOMATO SEASON IS HERE!!!!!!! I looooooove tomatoes. Love. And so does M (though he mysteriously won't eat them in his lunchbox anymore).

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M does not always love beans though. He eats them, but they aren't on the top of his list.

As anyone who's read this blog knows, I have a relationship with healthy eating. Like all relationships, it takes work and there are lots of struggles. But any article titled, "The Last Conversation You'll Ever Need To Have About Eating Right," I am 100% going to read. I mean, I'm not going to stop having conversations about eating right, but I liked the article and one of my main takeaways was: Beans are good. Full stop. So, we're eating more beans, which is sometimes a struggle with a toddler.

These beans are not the healthiest things I've ever eaten. But a little bit of cream and Parmesan go a long way. A boat load of tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, and fresh thyme also do some heavy lifting to form a dish that is hearty and tasty and takes advantage of the best summer produce.

But the secret ingredient here is patience. Reducing the sauce to a syrupy, caramely sauce gives you maximum tomato flavor.

And then your toddler will eat beans.

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Creamy tomato and white bean pasta 

1 Tbsp olive oil
½ large white onion, minced
5 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds cherry or other heirloom tomatoes (or a mixture of both)
1 can white beans
2 Tbsp heavy cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup pasta, cooked
¼- ½ tsp salt (more to taste)
pepper
Thyme (2 tsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried, or to taste)

In a medium pot, bring well- salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

While the water is coming to a boil, mince the onions and garlic. Over medium-low heat, saute the onions for 4-5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute, or until fragrant.

Chop the tomatoes and add them to the onions and garlic. Turn the flame up to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, or until the tomatoes release their water and begin to boil.

The liquid should be at a consistent and vigorous boil. If it isn’t, turn the heat up slightly until the liquid begins to boil. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tomato liquid has reduced by more than half and become syrupy, about another 8-10 minutes.

Add the heavy cream and parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Continue simmering for 4-5 more minutes, stirring regularly, until the sauce thickens. (You should be able to scrape the bottom of the pan and the sauce doesn’t ooze back right away.)

Add the beans and pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Cook for one more minute to heat the beans and the pasta through.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh or dried thyme.

Yield: 4 servings (one heaping cup each)

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