Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chicken Lunch Meat

The hardest part of being on a food allergy diet was finding allergy free prepackaged food. I mean, seriously, must I make everything from scratch all the time? The answer is YES. Finding one product without corn is like finding a needle in a haystack. Literally.

I had the hardest time finding corn free lunch meat. Once I found lunchmeat with questionable ingredient: lactic acid (non dairy). I thought it was corn free. After calling a company and spoke to the customer service staff, the non dairy lactic acid actually came from corn.

During my free time, you will find me scanning a cookbook after a cookbook. My house is full of cookbooks. I've bought them at Half Price Books. I've borrowed them from the library. It was my luck when I scanned through Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen. In this cookbook, there was a recipe called multi purpose meat paste. I remember the precooked pork rolls that are sold in Asian markets, but those pork rolls have MSG and other ingredients that I cannot pronounced. After reading the ingredients listed for this recipe and instruction on how to make it, I was pretty sure this recipe was for the pork roll.

So one weekend, I braved myself and made the rolls, using chicken meat. I was dumbfounded at how easy it was to make the chicken rolls. Plus, it was a perfect substitute for lunch meat too. My mom even told me that she amazed with the familiar taste of the chicken rolls. Remember, it is always made with cleaned ingredients that I can pronounce. Another product that I successfully made from scratch. Take that one off to-make list. I haven't tried this recipe with pork, beef, or fish. I'm pretty sure it can be done. One day I'll give other meat a try with this recipe. I've made this chicken lunch meat with just chicken breasts many times. Still taste great and perfect as an on-the-go lunch meat.

Chicken Lunch Meat
adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen
makes 4 rolls

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons tapioca starch
1 Tablespoon sugar
5 Tablespoons fish sauce
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  1. Cut the chicken meat into chucks.
  2. In a large bowl (with a cover), combine the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Add the chickens and coat well.
  4. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to marinade for 8 hours or overnight.
  5. Using a food processor, grind the chicken meat into paste.
  6. Divide the chicken paste into four equal parts.
  7. For each roll, place the chicken paste on to the banana leaf and form it into a big log. Note: Banana leaf is sold at Asian market in a freezer section. Thaw before use but keep them frozen. If banana leaf is unavailable, place the meat paste right on to the foil and roll into log as directed.
  8. Roll the banana leaf over the chicken paste and shape into a fat log.
  9. Place the banana leaf over the foil and roll it tightly. NOTE: At this point, the chicken paste rolls can be kept in the freezer for up to a year.
  10. To cook it, bring the water in a 4-quart pot to a boil.
  11. Add the chicken paste roll (still wrapped in foil) into the water. It should float in the boiling water.
  12. Cook it for 30 minutes, turning once. NOTE: Sometimes the roll is stubborn and won't flip over. Use the tongs to keep it in placed. The roll will plum up when cook. Don't poke a hole or anything like that. It won't burst. Promise. The roll shrinks after it cools down.
  13. Once cooked, remove the roll and place it on a plate. Let cool.
  14. Unwrap the foil and the banana leaf.
  15. Slice the chicken lunch meat thinly. Enjoy them with bread, noodle soup, or just eat them as snack. Keep the cooked chicken lunch meat in a container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Allergy Info: My chicken sandwich lunch meat is free from or can be made without dairy, eggs, corn, legumes (soy), nuts, and wheat.

UPDATE: For those of you have corn sensitivity, I want to let you know that some or maybe all banana leaves maybe dusted with corn starch. I recently bought another brand. After washing the banana leaves and separating them before I refreeze them again, I noticed white paste when I was setting them out to dry. I wasn't 100% sure if the white paste was corn starch and never called the company to confirm. But my instinct told me that it had to be something starch. With that said, you can still make the chicken lunch meat. Just use double foil when rolling up the chicken paste. The lunch meat won't have the aroma from the banana leaf but at least you will be able to eat them without getting corn allergic reaction.

Monday, September 2, 2013

School Lunches

Photo 1. Human Body
As soon as August rolled in, I started to see a lot of blogs about school lunches. So I decided to write a blog about my son's lunches.

I homeschool my kids, but Brek's been going to a private school for homeschoolers on Tuesday and Thursday. On the days he stays home, he works on the assignments with me and his daddy.

It is very difficult for me to think of what to pack for Brek's lunch. I'm so thankful that he only goes to school two days per week because I cannot imagine packing his lunch every day.

Photo 2. Superhero Sandwiches
The first year Brek attended school, he was in 3rd grade.

School lunch wasn't available, and it had something to do with a licensed commercial kitchen that the school staff didn't have access to. Microwave was available and was very helpful if I had to send lunches that needed to warm up.

I really didn't know what to pack for Brek's lunch during his first school year. As it turned out, he mainly had boring sandwiches for lunch. They were probably soggy in a plastic bag. Poor kid.

Before Brek started 4th grade, I was determined to pack him a better lunch. I searched online for school lunches and noticed how some bloggers used really cool lunchboxes.

Photo 3. Hot Dog Rolls
The lunchbox that caught my attention the most was from the PlanetBox. It's stainless steel, and it's like a laptop with different size segmented containers. As soon as they were on sales, I bought two Rovers. Money well spent.

Each time I pack his lunch, I can see how the food is arranged in different colors. So his lunch might be regular sandwiches, but they were in fun shapes. This was the time when I started to document his lunches by taking pictures and posted them on my personal Facebook page as future references.

Photo 4. Brisket Steamed Bao
When Brek entered 5th grade, I noticed that superhero shape sandwiches were not cool any more. He wanted the food he would normally eat at home. This meant that I had to pack him lunches that he would need to be heated up in a microwave.

If at all possible, I tried to come up with a theme lunch. Just to make it fun. Instead of farm animals or superhero shapes, I would stick with mathematical shapes like square or circle. Sometimes I sneaked in fun shaped sandwiches anyway. Just because....

Photo 5. Turkey Manchego Cheese Panini
This year, Brek is in 6th grade. (I still have teary eyes just thinking how big he's gotten.) I bought him a bigger size PlanetBox called Launch. The main lunch segmented container is bigger which gives me more room to pack him more of the main meal.

I always ask Brek what he wants for school lunch. Let's face it. If I pack something he doesn't like, he probably won't eat it. That would be a waste of my time and a hungry kid during school day.

I also check his lunchbox to see the leftovers. If his lunchbox is empty, whatever I pack for him that day is worth repeating. And if I see anything left in his lunchbox that is not eaten, I usually ask him what is wrong with it. Most of the time, he says he's full or he doesn't like it. Beets can be pretty spicy, so I don't mind if he doesn't eat it. I still add them as part of his lunch, hoping he would at least take a bite. And he always takes ONE bite.

Photo 6. Smoked Salmon Sushi Rolls
Over this summer, I found out that Brek has dairy intolerance. To compensate for the non dairy sweets, I'd make him something sweeter for his lunch. Chocolate in his lunchbox is a must... for caffeine fixed, especially on a test day.

Remember that if the food is difficult to eat, you can bet he won't eat it. Slice fruits or vegetables into slices, coins, or sticks so they are easy to handle. Cut sandwiches into small pieces for an easy pick-me up.

Hope you are inspired to make your own lunch or for your love one. Let me know what is in your lunchbox lately.

Photo 7. Quesadilla
Photo 1. Human Body: pizza bones, crunchy radishes, carrots, and chips, bloody color from pomegranate seeds, CRUNCH bar (leftover from Halloween treats)

Photo 2. Superhero: This was Brek's first day of school lunch (4th grade). Packing lunch comes with experience. Notice the lack of colors in this one. The colors improved with time. I bought many pressed cookie cutters. More fun than just a regular cookie cutter.

Photo 3. Hot Dog Rolls: I made the rolls using the bao dough. They were baked until golden brown. I also baked ham and manchego cheese rolls using the bao dough too.

Photo 4. Brisket Steamed Bao: The brisket was leftover from dinner. I steamed bao bun as a bread alternative to the sandwich white bread.

Photo 5. Turkey Manchego Cheese Panini: This was Brek's first day of school lunch (6th grade). Instead of having a boring sandwich, I pressed it in the grilled pan to have the pretty grilled mark.
Pretty presentation helps. Homemade flour tortilla.

Photo 6. Smoked Salmon Sushi Rolls: Brek's favorite lunch is smoked salmon sushi rolls. I gave him more sushi rolls than I did last year. Since this was sea food theme, I added shrimp chips to stays in the sea food theme. Shrimp chips are available at Asia markets but read the label to avoid MSG.

Photo 7. Quesadilla: For this quesadilla, I added shredded goat cheddar cheese with crab meat. I coated pretzels with non dairy melted chocolate then added all natural sprinkles to make them more colorful. The silicon cupcake liners were used to hold the sweets and veggies. Plus, they made his lunch looked pretty colorful.

Allergy Info: As of this writing, Brek has dairy intolerance to cow's products. He can have goat or sheep's milk product. Be sure to prepare lunches according to your food allergy diet.