Friday, August 30, 2013

Shared Lunches (#1 and #2)

I've started making lunch for work.  Not just for myself, but for the people I work with.  Part I-love-cooking-and-cooking-for-people and part can-I-really-make-food-that-people-would-pay-for?, I'm both excited and nervous to put the money where my mouth is.

For my bosses, I've guaranteed minimal time out of my expected working hours to do this, meaning I have to be thoughtful in what I prepare.  Majority of prep time should be accomplished at home and simple final touches and/or assembly left for the office. I've also limited the number of serves available each week because I need to cart it all in...!

Shared Lunch #1 was: Vietnamese-style Banh Mi with combination roasted pork loin and Chinese BBQ pork with homemade daikon and carrot pickle, pate, cucumber, coriander leaves and Sriracha in an Acme baguette.  As with any good Vietnamese dish, there is a good balance of salty, sour, sweet and spicy (I posted something similar here) and in my mind, you can't beat it.

I bought the Chinese BBQ pork from the biggest local Asian supermarket, that also makes it's own in-house BBQ and pickles, and the pork loin from the butchery around the corner which I roasted in chicken fat (from the soy honey roast chicken I prepared for the previous night's dinner) to a perfect blushing pink. The daikon and carrot pickle was made to this recipe and the cracked pepper pate was store-bought.

(l-r, clockwise) Coriander, pate, homemade carrot and daikon pickle, Acme baguettes, roasted pork loin and char siu.


Half a baguette, split open (with inner bread torn out and reserved for future use, e.g. breadcrumbs)
Bottom half smeared lightly with pate, upper with mayonnaise
Alternating slices of different pork over pate
Sriracha (as little or as much as you like)
Cucumber (sliced diagonally)
Daikon and carrot pickle and lastly,
Many Coriander leaves.

A vegetarian version replaced the pork for a sliced boiled egg with toasted sesame seeds - a great everyday option for when we don't have a fresh supply of delicious pork around.

Vietnamese Banh Mi

The two self-criticisms I had were that I should have been even more generous with the pork (I feared I would run out) and that the Acme baguette chosen for the job was much too dense for the delicate flavours of the sandwich.  A fabulous baguette, by all means, but one I would reserve for eating with soups, winter stews or simply with a generous spread of butter (in particular, this one) as it needs little more.

Shared Lunch #2: Roast beetroot, chickpea, leek, walnut, and goat's feta salad with balsamic dressing and side option of pan-roasted salmon.  One of my favourite winter salad combinations with the decadent addition of the salmon made for a really lovely workplace lunch.


I like to think of this as a very flexible salad as I never measure anything.  The flavours work so well together that I don't think a bit more of this or that would have too huge an impact (within reason). My only tip is to make more than you think! The leftovers will keep you happy for as long as they last.

Soak dried chickpeas overnight and cook in simmering water for 20-30 minutes, until tender.  Cool.
Beetroot, roasted whole or halved, depending on size, in foil parcel until tender (around an hour). When cool, rub/peel skin off and chop into bite-sized pieces. (You can roast as smaller pieces to save time, but I believe in cooking beetroot as whole as possible for maximum flavour). Slice and sauté leek over low heat in a generous swirl of olive oil stirring periodically for around 20 minutes, or until softened right down.  (For a tablespoon of indulgence, I sometimes add butter halfway through cooking to reenliven the cooking process). Season. Add to beetroot, when cool. 

Toast walnuts briefly in a dry pan, tossing to do so evenly and roughly chop/crush into smaller pieces. Add to other ingredients as well as crumbled goat's feta and flaxseeds (linseed) if you have them for extra texture and health.  Dress with a decent splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and taste for seasoning.


Preheat oven to 190deg and set a wire rack about 15cm below the grill element.
Meanwhile, I cut the freshest Malborough salmon, skin on and deboned, into 5-6 cm wide pieces (one per person).  In an oven-proof dish, heat a small swig of grapeseed oil on high.  When at heat, place salmon skin-side down gently in the pan to let skin crisp, rendering out the luscious salmon fat at the same time.  Season generously at this point into the pan. Once you notice the salmon becoming pink (no longer translucent) half-way up the side section, gently flip the salmon onto its other side, allowing it to absorb some of the salt and pepper that was added earlier, and then place pan on the prepared wire rack in the oven.

Cook for 10-12 minutes and remove pan from oven and let salmon stand for 5 minutes.    I love pan-baked salmon of this quality when it is just cooked and still a little translucent in the middle, so if you are not this way inclined, cook for another few minutes.

Serve with a generous pile of beetroot salad.

Self-criticisms: none, it was delicious and I was pretty stoked  I could eat this dish twice a week and be completely content.

More Shared Lunches to follow... But so far so good.  I'm enjoying the challenge even though I do feel nervous on game days waiting in anticipation for feedback as I see my colleagues (and friends) eat their lunch.  They're great though, always positive and encouraging, I often need to prod them for critical feedback.  After all, I wanted this to be a learning exercise as much as anything.

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