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A working dinner
January 27, 2009 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I work three nights a week. What can I bring for dinner? I love to cook, but I can't seem to come up with dinners that are small and easy to pack, don't require refrigeration, and are moderately healthy.

I'm suffering from a crisis of imagination. I don't have any dietary restrictions and will eat pretty much anything. There are no places close enough to my workplace for me to purchase my dinner at, especially because I get only a half-hour off to eat.

I've got an icepack that keeps things cold enough, but I don't want to bring anything that should really be stored in the fridge until I eat it, like seafood or something with a lot of heavy cream in it. I also don't have access to a microwave so I can't bring soup or anything that really should be served hot. I'm not opposed to eating the same thing two nights in a row (or even three) so something like a big squash lasagna that can be eaten cold throughout the week would be fine (this is what I did last week and the icepack kept it cold enough so that I wasn't worried about the cheese).

I like to carry my lunch in my purse, which is relatively large. I can fit one small (16-oz) round Ziploc "twist and lock" container and one regular sandwich-sized Rubbermaid container in my purse along with the icepack. I don't want to bring anything that is too large to fit into one or both of those containers.

I've been bringing variations of cold pasta or sandwiches for the last two weeks and it's becoming boring. I love spending time in the kitchen making food, and am happy to spend a day preparing meals that I can bring during these three work nights. It would be nice if I could make enough for my partner to have a main course waiting for him when he gets home, but that's not a necessity.
posted by k8lin to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
We've got a favorite quinoa salad:

Cook up some quinoa, and let it cool. When it's cool, add:
*a can or two of black beans (or chickpeas, if you like)
*chopped green onions
*cubed feta
*whatever other veggies sound good (bell peppers, carrot, corn, etc.)
*some avocado

Dress it with olive oil and vinegar, or lime or lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

It doesn't need constant refrigeration, it's got a decent amount of protein, and it's yummy. And whatever leftover plain quinoa you might have is good for breakfast (add milk and heat, or yogurt, plus fruit/honey/berries/etc.).
posted by rtha at 8:55 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not a great cook, but I'm a big fan of both tofu Pad Thai (a noodle dish, so maybe your pasta-overload would make this sound unappealing, and you should probably leave out the egg) and couscous with roasted vegetables and chick peas. Both are tasty cold and contain the protein you need to get through your shift, but don't require extensive refrigeration.
posted by pammeke at 8:58 AM on January 27, 2009


I've found blogs discussing bentos to be a great resource for ideas for packed lunches (or dinners). My current favorite is Lunch in a Box. And here's her post on food safety for packed lunches.
posted by needled at 9:13 AM on January 27, 2009


Chickpeas are a great base for a filling cold meal. I like a salad with a can of chickpeas, about 1/5 lb feta, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, maybe some corn, red peppers, a handful of cumin, cilantro and the juice of a lemon and a slug of olive oil. And some black pepper. This usually does me for 3 lunches. Add a couple of snackier things to round out your dinner.
posted by gaspode at 9:14 AM on January 27, 2009


Ratatouille? I was very pleased recently with a variation of this recipe.
posted by kmennie at 9:27 AM on January 27, 2009


A travel immersion water heater might help, either for heating water for things that only need to soak in hot water for a few minutes (ramen noodles, instant potatoes, couscous, etc), or to heat-up ready-to-serve soup (made at home, or canned). Or a small kettle if you can stash it someplace.

Seconding the suggestion of salads.

If you could sneak-in a single-burner hot plate and a small pot. That would let you heat a wider variety of pre-cooked or canned meals.

Failing that, maybe a reusable heat pack could be used to warm something up that you've previously prepared and kept cold with the ice pack, or again heat possibly something canned.

A can of tuna, add lemon juice and pepper or something. Crackers and cheese.

Consider some foreign staples, places where people are limited in refrigeration and heating.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2009


falafel pita

roll up a string cheese, lettuce, and matchsticks of cucumber&carrot in a whole wheat wrap, then slice into little sushi-lookin' bitelets

antipasto salad

arancini
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:42 AM on January 27, 2009


Does your job require you to use a computer? Can you hook up a USB lunchbox so you can have a hot meal?
posted by onhazier at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love pasta with pesto (made from summer basil is the best, but the stuff in the tube is passable), a little bit of lemon juice, and peas. You could toss in any veg, really. I prefer it room temperature or cold.

Hummus and a variety of crackers and veg (like sugar snap peas...yum).
posted by cooker girl at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2009


Noodles particularly rice noodles are like the blank slate onto which a lazy ass chef can throw whatever is in the kitchen.

Alton Brown has makes a fun pad thai.
posted by plexi at 11:12 AM on January 27, 2009


Lots of great recommendations so far, thanks! I am really not interested in figuring out how to make foods hot when I'm there, though - I'm just looking for room-temperature or cold food suggestions. I'm not terribly concerned about the lack of a fridge, either, because the ice pack keeps my food cold enough and I get my dinner break three hours after I start, so the lack of refrigeration isn't super concerning to me (but still, I don't want to bring things like seafood, mayo, or cream).
posted by k8lin at 11:47 AM on January 27, 2009


+1 cold pasta with pesto. I like tortellini, personally, for that extra wonderful cheesiness.
posted by MadamM at 12:06 PM on January 27, 2009


Seconding Lunch in a Box. It's got great recipe ideas and also great reviews of containers -- LiaB is how I learned about the Lock & Lock containers, which are totally leakproof and fit in my rather small bag. It's also how I learned to pack a box tight with a nice variety of stuff -- even a rather plain meal can be made much more appealing by the addition of some cherry tomatoes or a little mini-dessert. Once you get your fridge stocked properly, it's easy and fun to do.

Now for some food ideas:
- Salad greens with tofu, nuts, dried cranberries, etc. + dressing in a small separate container + bread or crackers
- Hummus + things to dip in it (carrots, celery, bread/crackers, cherry tomatoes, etc)
- Spanakopita (this is one you can make a big recipe of and eat for a few days)
- Gyoza or other dumplings with dipping sauce (you can get pre-made frozen gyoza in big bags at an Asian grocery)
- Rice + beans
- Coconut rice + curry (or stir-fry)
- Bean-based soups that taste good cold: black bean soup, lentil soup, split pea soup, etc.
- Salads made of shredded kale or swiss chard actually improve with a few hours a room temp. Stack up a few leaves, roll them up into tight cylinders, and slice into very fine shreds. Dress with whatever vinaigrette you like best.

One more note: I like using tofu kan in many of my packed meals because, unlike chicken or other meats, I don't need to worry about it spoiling.
posted by ourobouros at 1:19 PM on January 27, 2009


Unless you are in a very hot environment you may be overly worried about the refridgeration thing - my lunch doesn't even get a cool pack unless it is a very hot summer day. In my experience (10 years of lunches) most things that do not contain raw egg/seafood/meat will be just fine after several hours at room temperature.

As for suggestions:
- Rice salad
- Mixed salad with feta/mozarella cheese
- Leftovers like roast vegetables with shredded roast beef/chicken or whatever takes your fancy
- Tuna salad
- Alternatively get a flask and have hot soup/stews
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2009


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