September 5, 2011

Brown Bag Lunches...You've Come A Long Way Baby!

Ah, sack lunches...fond memories of parochial school lunches and the fare that Mother so lovingly inserted within our "lunch buckets" (as Sister Judith Ann referred to them!) spring to mind. Growing up in the 60s, brown bag meals often included  a package of Twinkies and individual portion Fritos wrapped in saran wrap. We were blessed with parents who opposed preservatives. They considered their children to be worthy of nutrition-rich, fresh foods. Mother would bake loaves of stone-ground wheat bread daily. Before school, she would line the counter with six sandwiches in the making, as brother Steve required a few more than the girls since he played football and needed more calories. During the course of production she would shoo the cat away as it wasn't unusual to find  the previous night's ketchup-trimmed meatloaf within those slices. Her chocolate zucchini cake or oatmeal raisin cookies were the grand finale. In the day, I was painfully aware of the girl sitting next to me who savoured her Oreos. I was envious of those ripple potato chips and would have gladly traded my carrots sticks for one of her snowballs. But in hindsight I realize how fortunate I truly was.

I could not resist these!

With four children of my own, brown bags afforded an opportunity for me to insert small notes of encouragement, and seasonal napkins to celebrate the season. That noontime respite summons pleasant thoughts no matter what savories are harboured within! These are some delicious lunch ideas for your little brown-baggers!


Steak and Cheese PoBoys
1 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 Tbs. olive oil
Hickory smoked sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 1/2 lb. New York strip sirloin, thinly sliced
4 French sandwich rolls, split lengthwise, with one long side intact
6 oz. provolone cheese, sliced

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. Place a steel grill fry pan in the center of the grill and heat until smoking.
In a bowl, stir together the onion, bell peppers and 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, and season with smoked sea salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the fry pan. Cover the grill and cook, tossing the vegetables occasionally, until browned and softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with aluminum foil and place on the edge of the grill to keep warm. Return the fry pan to the grill.
In a bowl, stir together the steak and the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil, and season with smoked sea salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, place the beef in the fry pan, cover the grill and cook, tossing the beef occasionally, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes per batch. Return all the beef along with the vegetable mixture to the pan and stir to combine.
Place the sandwich rolls, cut side down, on the grill and lightly toast, about 1 minute. Cut 4 pieces of foil, each about 4 inches wider and 8 inches longer than the rolls. Place each roll, cut side up, on a piece of foil and twist the ends, creating a “boat” to hold the roll. Place a large piece of foil or a baking sheet on the grill and set the foil boats on top. Divide the beef mixture among the rolls and top with the cheese. Cover the grill and cook until the cheese is melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sandwiches from the foil and serve immediately.

Autumn Country Baked Beans
1/2 lb. thick-cut smoked bacon
1 small yellow onion, diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. dried Great Northern or small white beans, picked over, soaked overnight in water to cover and drained
1 cup barbecue sauce 
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. dry mustard
1 Tbs. granulated garlic
1 Tbs. chili powder

In a large, heavy-lidded pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp and the fat begins to render, 8 to 10 minutes. Discard the fat, leaving a few tablespoons in the pot. Add the onion to the pot, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the beans, barbecue sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, Dijon mustard, dry mustard, garlic and chili powder. Add enough water to just cover the beans, up to 2 cups, and stir well. Keep the pot on the burner over medium heat. Partially cover the pot and simmer the beans, stirring occasionally, until deep dark brown in color and thick, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

School Days Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
12 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Prepare the baking sheets with cooking spray. Preheat an oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth. Stir in the oatmeal, chocolate chips and walnuts. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

Too Cute! Just Makes You Happy!
Nothing Says Lovin', Like A Goodie From Mom's Oven!

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