Greeking out with Popit!

June, here so soon? Breezy, beautiful month of June, she’s here before you know it, but gone in the blink of an eye. Inviting us back outside with a radiant warmth, now is the time get that free Vitamin D and soak in the sun. Naturally, dining alfresco is my favorite opportunity to do so, with a homemade meal at the ready whenever weather permits.

Eating outside demands a bit more preparation than cobbling together a meal on the fly at home. That’s why I’m turning to Popit! once more to plan ahead. Stocking the fridge at quiet times means I can just enjoy when I get a break in the action, or perhaps a break in the clouds on a rainy day. These accommodating containers actually make food last longer because they’re 100% airtight, so you’ll never have to worry about spoilage or food waste if sudden storms derail your excursion.

What to put in these efficient boxes, you ask? This month, it’s all Greek to me.

The love of pasta transcends all cultural boundaries and knows no seasonal limitations. As the weather warms and cravings skew lighter, this infinitely adaptable noodle is flexible enough to follow suit. Pasta salad is a summertime picnic staple, gleaming in all the colors of the rainbow with any number of fresh vegetables tumbling over twists or tubes, nestled in shells or toppling out of trumpets. The best salads have a distinct theme to unite these otherwise disparate additions, and an eye for presentation certainly doesn’t hurt.

Greek salad lends itself beautifully to a pasta-based adaptation, ripe with briny olives, gem-like cherry tomatoes, tender artichoke hearts, and crisp cucumbers. Glistening with a light coat of red wine vinaigrette, the whole melange is gently kissed by the invigorating breath of fresh herbs.

Laid out in neat rows like a fancy composed salad, it takes on an air of greater prominence, turning the everyday outing into a special occasion. Of course, feel free to toss everything together for simplicity’s sake. It will taste every bit as good, even if it gets jostled around in your bag while in transit. If closed properly, Popit! guarantees there won’t be any spills whatsoever. You could even take soup or gravy anywhere wanderlust beckons. You certainly don’t have to worry about oil stains from leaky seals, so go ahead, throw caution to the wind and take it outside!

If there’s a chill in the air, don’t despair. This meal is just as delicious heated. You don’t even need to take it out of the container. Popit! can be used in the microwave; simply remove the lid to avoid a vacuum from being formed, stir well, and dig in.

Getting hungry, or just getting tired of being stuck indoors? Grab a Greek pasta box and get out there. Lunch is ready whenever you are.

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Introducing: Meal Planning with Popit!

Perhaps you’ve seen the immaculate rows of perfectly curated lunchboxes captured for posterity on Instagram, or entire shelves dedicated to meal prep and make-ahead recipes in bookstores. Meal planning is all the rage these days, though it seems daunting to dive right in.

Meal planning is not just for busy office workers or students on the go. Even if you’re eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home, everyone can reap the benefits:

  • Prevent mindless snacking by setting aside perfect portions.
  • Save time by cooking in batches.
  • Stress less by knowing exactly what’s for dinner.
  • Maximize your budget by resisting the lure of takeout.
  • Reduce food waste by using up what you already have.

The best containers are durable, lightweight, leak-proof, microwave- and freezer-friendly, easy to clean, and available in multiple sizes. That’s why I’ve chosen Popit! to house my meals. They offer all that, in both glass and BPA-free plastic food storage containers, which snap closed with airtight locking lids. No leaking, no cracking, no discoloring here. Plus, they conveniently nest together for space-saving storage.

Popit! has made it possible to bring you a bold new series featuring fresh recipes every month, to help fill the gaps in your daily menu. I’m excited to kick things off with a simple, satisfying burrito bowl worth throwing a fiesta for.

Brains and beauty go hand in hand for this well-balanced bundle. Colorful, crisp vegetables sit comfortably on a bed of fluffy cilantro rice, with a hearty scoop of black beans for a complete protein complement. Rich, thick avocado crema gets packed alongside to keep everything fresh, but I wouldn’t blame you for breaking out the chips to polish off the final drops. It’s everything you could ask for in a properly loaded burrito, minus the grease, stodgy flour tortilla, and potential wrap malfunctions.

Served cold, straight out of the fridge, at room temperature on-the-go, warmed lightly in the microwave, or hot from the moment it’s made, it’s a delicious combination at any temperature. Designed for two servings, it could be one lunch for you and your partner, two lunches for you, OR double the quantities and containers to maximize your time and effort. Get twice as much delicious food out of the deal, and spend that much less time worrying about it. Get in, chow down, and get on with your life. That, my friends, is the beauty of meal planning.

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Taking a Dump for Dinner

The mere concept is ripe for ridicule. Built upon a shaky foundation of canned goods and prepared foods, dump-and-bake meals are the semi-homemade answer to the daily dilemma of someone who doesn’t want to, doesn’t like to, or doesn’t know how to cook. All you need is a can opener and a cooking device; I do understand the appeal. Quick, easy, pantry-friendly, and so much more SEO gold, convenience seems to win the war over good taste in this instance.

Of course, don’t get me started on the name. “Dumping” is simply never a positive verb. Evoking images of landfills, garbage, dropping or throwing away, I can’t get past the term. Mentally condensed, I read it out as “Trash Casserole” nine times out of ten, without thinking about it. Of course, don’t get me started on the connotations of “taking a dump.”

Snark aside, there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s a shame the idea is maligned by basic nomenclature, but you can’t blame a child for a name given at birth. Considering the dire state of my refrigerator, it’s time I get my head of out the gutter- Or toilet, as it may be.

Relying more on unprocessed dry goods than traditional alchemic creations of modern prepared foods, my take on classic stroganoff is an effortless one-pan approach to nearly instant gratification. Soy curls, some of the greatest unsung heroes of meatless proteins, take the place of more bovine inclusions. Re-hydrating right in the cooking liquid, alongside dry pasta, there’s no fussy soaking, draining, sauteing, or separate special treatment necessary.

You don’t even need to break out the knives if you plan your pantry well. Purchase pre-sliced mushrooms, jars of minced garlic ready to go, and even frozen diced onion to keep in the true spirit of dumping doctrine. Heck, go ahead and use canned>mushrooms if need be. There’s no shame in making the most of what you’ve got, and this luscious cream sauce is so rich, it can easily conceal a multitude of sins.

Soaking in all the umami seasonings built into the broth, tender noodles provide actual substance, rather than filler for this rendition. Use whole grain options for a bit of extra fiber, or gluten-free if you’re intolerant. Remain flexible, keep an open mind, and start preheating your oven.

Comfort food shouldn’t just provide solace on the plate. If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose that it should be soothing to create, too.

I get it: Dump dinners sound like culinary defeat, the last attempt at sustenance devised by a starving cook at the end of their rope. It doesn’t have to be that way. Emboldened by fresher fare, let’s all take back the notion and take a dump for dinner, together!

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Roll with the Punches

I received free samples of California Walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by California Walnuts and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Bob and weave, parry and block; keep on dancing around obstacles and don’t let anything stop you. We’ve all suffered setbacks in recent weeks, to put it lightly, and even on the brightest of days, it’s easier said than done. How can one keep on going, keeping on rolling, in the face of such daunting odds?

There’s no easy answer, certainly no snappy, one-size-fits-all solution, but it all starts with you. That means nourishing your mind and body, which comes together quite nicely for me in the form of healthy, fun, and light meals. This one is literally how I roll.

California Walnuts, rich in plant-based omega-3, are a solid staple for versatile snacks both sweet and savory. Blended with umami miso and savory herbs, they turn into a stunningly creamy, unbelievably cheesy take on dairy-free ricotta. Spread lavishly across tender planks of grilled zucchini and twisted into tidy pinwheels, I’d be willing to call it the new power lunch.

Complementing the Italian-leaning seasoning, simple marinara sauce is a velvety tomato blanket to cradle these bundles, although it could just as easily be served alongside as a dip, turning each pinwheel into two-bite canapes for a crowd. One day, hopefully soon, those garden parties will blossom with friends, family, and good food once again.

Just keep on rolling, friends.

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Legume Love Affair

Stocked up on dry beans recently? Judging by the empty shelves anointed with “sold out” and “temporary shortage” placards replacing usual price tags, you’re certainly not alone. Always one step behind the trend, pickings were already slim by the time I got motivated to hit the grocery store. A few bedraggled sacks of dusty pinto beans looked the most promising, which isn’t saying much.

Nothing against the little legume, but it doesn’t inspire the same way that, say, chickpeas do. They’re not quick-cooking like lentils. They’re not sexy like fresh fava beans. They’re not my first choice, but by no fault of the bean itself. It’s a personal failing that I couldn’t see beyond their ruddy pink skins to embrace the creamy elegance within. Every bean is worthy of greatness, especially in such lean times, so it was still a prize to snatch up at that late hour.

Rather than taking the typical Texan approach, I cast an eye out to farther afield to Georgia for inspiration. No, not The Peach State, but the eastern republic nestled at the intersection of Europe and Asia. There, lobio (ლობიო), is an indispensable staple, marking the place at every dinner table throughout the year. A thick, rich stew made with pureed kidney beans, finely ground walnut paste, and the tangy smack of tart cherry juice, sour green plums, or unsweetened pomegranate juice gives it a distinctive (and addictive) taste. It’s worth pointing out that the word “lobio” only means “beans,” allowing ample room for variations on the theme. There are a number of varieties of this dish already in the wild, so one based on pinto beans is hardly a stretch.

Some prefer to keep their beans entirely whole, while other cooks roughly mash the tender legumes, and still more chose to puree the mixture to silken sufficiency.

Tkemali, a sharp, fruity sauce made from sour plums is the traditional topper most highly recommended here, but a drizzle of thick, syrupy pomegranate molasses, or even a bold balsamic reduction can provide a similarly satisfying contrast, cutting through the concentrated bean bonanza.

You can serve lobio as an easy one-pot entree, or a side with grilled kebabs, baked tofu, or some other simple meatless protein. Either way, don’t let a lack of any one bean stop you from firing up the stove; all legumes, big and small, are welcome here.

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Holidays Delayed

Feeling festive, or just faking it? If you fall into the latter camp, you’re not alone. I’ve been keeping a seat warm for you by the fire here, just waiting for until the holidays blow over. As much as I adore the merriment, the traditions, the seasonal treats, it’s hard to remain so jolly when it’s Christmas approximately six months of the year.

Beyond the standard Christmas creep, publishing deadlines mean I need to think about pecan pies and pinwheel cookies in June, at least. I’ve already had at least two Thanksgiving dinners before fireworks go out for the 4th of July. When it’s finally December, at long last, the best I can do is plaster on an ugly sweater and retreat for burgers after everyone else gets their second plates of glazed ham roast and gravy.

I love the holidays. I relish those early photo shoots and brainstorming sessions, garnishing my apartment with tinsel remnants after putting away all the other props. I just need a little palate cleanser, okay?

Before we dive head-first into the all-singing, all-dancing days of holly jolly revelry, let’s just take a breather. Clear the table of all the wrappings and bows, set aside menus for feast soon to come. Schedules are packed with events, work still needs some cursory attention, but I promise, there will be time. Right now, let’s just sit down to a bowl of soup, shall we?

It’s the kind of soup that hits the spot anytime, which makes it just so perfect for this moment. Hearty but not heavy, savory and soothing, it can lift the spirit for scrooges and saints alike. Tender, toothsome black lentils pop like caviar amidst a brothy base of simmered vegetables, tinted red with tomato and smoky paprika.

Whole almonds make an unexpected cameo, slightly softened from the heat, still bearing a resounding crunch at the core. It’s an unconventional addition I first (and only) encountered during my stint baking for a cafe, where the soup of the day was largely open to creative interpretation. I don’t know who first whipped up this idea, or if maybe it was an accident in the first place, but I happen to love the surprising combination of textures and tastes.

Don’t let the holiday season bully you into forced gaiety. One thing I’ve learned from years of crushing FOMO and endless deadlines is that if you take a moment to hit the reset button, start in on something completely different, and allow your mind to wander where it desires, ultimately, you’ll come back to the intended path stronger. Happier. Merrier. And in this case, with a full, and fully contented stomach.

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