Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Iron Chef: Lunch!

"Well, judges, here we have Cheese Two Ways: a feta-garlic-toast alongside a cheddar quesadilla wedge, and served with a  peanut-studded clementine salad and pineapple garnish. Enjoy."
Necessity Laziness is the mother of invention. Because here's the thing: I can get through a week of making school lunches, but just barely. In the cartoon version, the green, palm-swaying oasis of Saturday would be, like, three feet from me, but I'm stuck in the desert of Friday morning, parched and ragged and clutching empty lunch boxes without a single idea left in my head. I will manage to eke out one final lunch (Cheese and crackers? PBJ tortilla?) before collapsing.

Only then, to my everlasting horror, the children seem to expect to eat lunch during the weekend also.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I don't say. But here's what I do say: "Iron Chef lunch!" This is a contest that the children organize entirely on their own, whereby they are allowed to use anything in the house (leftovers are fair game) to make lunch for themselves and each other. Sometimes they seem to have a time limit ("10 minutes left!" they call to each other) and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they judge each other (amazingly, it is always a tie) and sometimes they don't bother, although there is always much discussion of presentation and flavor. Sometimes they have friends over and break into teams. Sometimes there is a mandatory ingredient everyone needs to use. They appear to have intuited that if they cover apricot jam with honey and rainbow sprinkles and call it lunch then the authorities will be brought in to shut down the entire operations, and so they prepare reasonably wholesome meals. And the grace! The flair! The utter stylishness with which they accomplish this! I cannot recommend enough that you let your kids have at it. But you have to be prepared to leave them alone, or I think that the whole thing won't work. Even if it means that they garnish toast with croutons or think that a salad needs "just a weensly more pickles." Plus, you maybe have to watch a little bit of awful tear-streaked food-contest TV first (you can do this on Hulu).

"Judges, I present you with Red Grape and Dill Havarti Crostini, with cashews, mint, and a strawberry vinaigrette."
"Judges! Enjoy this Cheese Plate. Garlic toasts, digestive biscuits, brie wedges, and house-spiced olive oil."
Ben and a small friend add the finishing touches to their Cheese Two Ways "platings."
Meanwhile, Birdy and her friend (and Strawberry) figure out how to glamorize leftover rice.
Which they do successfully. "Here we have a Peanut Rice Salad, with a peanut vinaigrette, roasted peanuts, dried cherries, and a cilantro garnish." It was crazily good.

31 comments:

  1. Shannon H.9:59 AM

    How fun! We do this for dinners too...lazily admitting! And, yes, I often say to my 3, "You want to eat AGAIN? Didn't I just feed you yesterday?" They roll their eyes and laugh.

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  2. So clever! I think my kids would turn it into: how many carbs can you fit on a plate.

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  3. Anonymous10:27 AM

    My kids get to do this everyday because they make their own lunches for school! Such a stress saver for me, and I know that they'll actually eat what they pack. I wonder though if the daily grind of it hasn't sapped some of their creativity? I worry that if I gave them free reign in the kitchen on the weekend, they'd grab an apple and a yogurt and be done with it.

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  4. We do iron chef for the meals that my husband fixed sometimes. We haven't had the kids do it yet. This is brilliant!

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  5. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Sigh... it's a lovely idea for two such creative kids who get on with each other so well! My two would have smeared something on a slice of bread and spent the rest of the time bickering with each other (all the more if I left them to it!)...

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  6. Your kids are freaking amazing!

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  7. miryboo4:12 PM

    I have a hard time packing lunch for three of us three days a week (we homeschool). And still that cartoon describes me. One of mine is definitely old enough to do it on your own though...

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  8. Anonymous4:14 PM

    so we were going on a day trip & my son said he would make our sandwiches. He made himself salami w/butter. I told him I wanted mayo instead of butter. When I opened the sandwich in the car I had a mayo sandwich! I was quite surprised but at least he put in the effort. :) he said he didn't realize I wanted something else on it. haha

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    1. Love that story! (If there's one thing I've learned from years of parenting, it's be specific! :-))

      Great idea, Catherine!

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  9. Hi! http://www.zuup.com/what-is-zuup here. Your have an amazing blog. I will keep on visiting your blog and I can't wait for your latest post. Keep up the great post. Have a nice day!!

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  10. "Are you fucking kidding me?" about covers it. I'm the breakfast maker, lunch packer, dropper-offer at school/bus before I commute 40 minutes to get in the office by 8 all week (my husband teaches high school math, so he's out of the house by about 6:30). Plus I do much of the dinner prep because I do most of shopping (both of which I enjoy). But lunches during the week, especially during the spring when, as you noted a few weeks ago, the well of inspiration for any food prep is nearly dry, really push me over the edge.

    I've taken to staying in bed facebooking on the iPad or reading a book on weekend mornings until my husband has fed the kids or they have fended for themselves. It is great. But this Iron Chef idea? Genius. Looks like I'll be lounging in bed until after noon on the weekends. ;-)

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  11. Anonymous8:58 PM

    My brother and I used to do something like this. I guess we were old enough to be left alone at home because I don’t remember any parent intervention. Basically, one of us would watch TV while the other one would make the TV watcher something to eat. The only rule was that it had to be real food that really would go together—-no ketchup-covered sock sandwiches. We would make things like cereal with hot chocolate mix sprinkled over it, and the eater would have to guess the ingredients. There was no one around to shut down our operation (where were the authorities?!?) and we had a great time.

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  12. That crostini looks good enough to be in a restaurant. I'm really impressed with the kids creativity here. My son would decide it was a goldfish and mini-oreo free-for-all.

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  13. I am looking forward to seeing Strawberry featuring in future Birdy significant life moments such as graduation and etc :)

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  14. I love this for two reasons:
    One: I am so happy that I am not alone in the "Crap, you want to eat again?" line of thinking.

    Two: This is the perfect way to get out of making another lunch while fostering creativity.
    I love those "just pulled it out of my ear and it was brilliant" moments.

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  15. Allyson6:28 PM

    I thought my kids were the only ones to do this. We call it Iron Chef Pleasantville. (Yes, we live in Pleasantville-- feel free to make fun of us). My kids are, annoyingly, very competitive, and expect me to judge them. At 10 and 12, they are old enough to take constructive criticism, so I very gently critique the dishes ("a little too sweet" was a recent judgment of an apple dessert made by my daughter, which involved about 1/4 cup sugar per serving). I love their creativity and emphasis on presentation, though. And sometimes they do come up with really good ideas. Now if I could only come up with a competitive kitchen-cleaning showdown....

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    1. Anonymous4:05 AM

      Wish I lived in Pleasantville! There are worse names :)

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    2. Anonymous10:51 AM

      Well, I live in Belchertown...

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    3. Anonymous8:37 AM

      Belchertown - hmmm! :) There is a town in Scotland called Dull (and one in Oregon called Boring)

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  16. Anonymous10:11 PM

    I love this idea! Love! and I am so glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about packing lunch. Every 2 weeks on a Friday, my kids' school serves a hot lunch or pizza lunch... You should see me on a Friday morning... hoping it's a hot lunch or pizza day... and then jumping with joy when it is. Such a relief. Tomorrow, happily, is pizza! Yay!

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  17. Ah, if I tried this in my house, one child would prepare Pan Seared Salmon with Avocado Remoulade, while the other would go with Peanut Butter (Jif) On Butter Crackers. And if I were judging, the PB would win. This is why, by the way, I read Catherine's blog, and try as many of the recipes as I do (= 'a lot'). Imagination in the culinary arena is not exactly my strong suit.

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  18. As the Mom of two boys, I feel the same way 4 or 5 times a day. They are still to young to be left alone in the kitchen, but they love when we do a "Chopped" dinner. I put together the mystery box. The kids and Dad make dinner. I don't have to cook, and the kids eat every bite of what they make. A win for everyone.

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  19. My kids are 4 and 2 so I don't think they're quite ready for this...but it sounds like a great idea! Do you have any suggestions of things to keep in your pantry/fridge to make it easy to come up with such good ideas? I feel like when I hit that wall of "I can not think of another thing to feed us" it's because my fridge and cupboards are literally bare. Maybe I need to work on stocking them a little better.

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  20. libramom100810:25 AM

    Shockingly, my children expect breakfast, dinner and snacks on the weekends as well. WTF? Even though I've been a (happy, lucky) parent for 8 years, I'm still surprised at the amount of time I spend In the Kitchen Preparing Food for these growing people. I may have been more prepared had I not lived on cereal, pasta, eggs and take-out for all of my adult life leading up to their births. Thanks as ever for sharing Catherine, you do my heart good.

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  22. I'm so with you on the school lunches, especially lately. We have just a few more weeks of school and I'm excited to go back to making lunch once per day! We are definitely implementing iron chef lunch this weekend-thanks for the great idea!

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  23. You guys have so much fun.

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  24. Alison12:39 PM

    Hello Catherine are you there? Is everything ok? We miss you!

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  26. Sarah3:58 PM

    Thank you for the laugh, I hear you on the school lunches. 4 weeks to go! I am definitely trying Iron Chef lunch on the weekend, brilliant idea!

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