Arugula Salad with Romesco Potatoes | Naturally Ella

(Hey Everyone! I want you to give a warm welcome to Grace Kerfoot. Grace has studied nutrition and most recently was working as a cheesemonger. She’s also been helping me in the studio and I’m so happy to have her contributing a few posts in the coming months. I think it’s always great to have some fresh perspective- helps us get out of ruts! So without further story, here’s Grace!)

When I remember to pack a lunch, I feel so much more on my game. Instead of scavenging for lunch in the city or at work when noon arrives, the ease of just pulling my own lunch from the fridge or my bag is somehow empowering – a reward for a minimal amount of prep and planning.

Packing a lunch does not have to mean a square zip-locked sandwich in a crinkled paper bag. What’s even more rewarding is when the packed lunch is something wholesome and good – it’s worth looking forward too.

The simplest things can elevate lunch from ‘getting the job done’ to great. These are my five staples for lunch hacking that make lunch packing not only more delicious but more enjoyable.

1. Good Salt

I carry around a little container of sel gris with me to work. It adds a salt boost and a hefty crunch for toasts or soft boiled eggs. If the lunch you brought tastes like it could be just a little bit better it probably just needs a little more salt.

2. Cheese

I use cheese like a condiment. A little dab of it here or there can change everything. Not to mention, I so look forward to everything more if there is cheese involved. Fresh chevre sprinkled on a simple salad adds texture and tang, a few ribbons of shaved pecorino or ricotta salata add appealing color and brightness to grain bowls or any massaged kale salad.

3. Good quality olive oil

Few eating experiences are worse than an underdressed salad or a dry bowl of grains. Having olive oil handy, even if it’s a bottle tucked in the back of your desk drawer can be a lunch game changer.

4. Pickled Things

Fermented foods literally breath life into packed lunches. Sauerkraut in a salad, pickled carrots in a sandwich, a spoonful of miso stirred into brown rice – get creative with whatever picked things you may have in your refrigerator and you’ll probably never have a dull lunch.

5. REUSABLE CONTAINERS

While this isn’t a condiment, I love using BEES WRAP and mason jars to pack my lunches – I use less plastic and makes for a more visually appealing lunch. Pictured: these metal containers.

Bees Wrap
Made from organic cotton, sustainably sourced beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin – bees wrap is perfect for wrapping just about anything. I use it for packing up a sandwich or half an avocado, or using it as a loose lid on tupperware when all the other lids go missing.

MASON JARS
The king of alternative tupperware, mason jars hold everything – and are easy to slid into a bag or the cupholder of your car. Fill a 16oz jar with soup and bring an 8oz jar full of fun toppings. They also work for salads. Just layer your grains, proteins, veggies, add dressing when you’re ready to eat – give it a shake and eat.

WHAT TO PACK

Curious where to start with exactly what to pack for lunch? Here are some recipes to get started on that hold up well being jostled to and from wherever your lunch destination may be.

Carrot Rice Noodle Bowl with Tahini-Sriracha Sauce | @naturallyella
Cucumber-Feta Quinoa Salad
Chickpea Shawarma Stuffed Pita
Overhead Shot of Chickpea Tomato Bread Salad with Arugula Pesto

Overhead shot of Blue Cheese Peach Pizza with Honey

This recipe is in partnership with Nugget Markets. See below for more details.

There are combinations that might feel a bit over-done but I will always (and gladly) eat. One of those combinations: blue cheese and peaches. Fresh, sweet peaches paired with the earthy flavor of blue cheese is everything I could want in one bite. Add it to pizza and drizzle it with honey; I’ll probably eat the whole thing.

For this peach pizza, I was lucky enough to source some amazing local honey, c/o Nugget Markets. Nugget’s Fresh to Market brand sources from many local companies and their honey comes from Pure Honey based in Winters, CA. I took a drive out to visit and left with even more of an appreciation for the honey (and the bees).

The honey Nugget sources is raw honey which means all the good stuff is left in the honey. One note, which came directly from Doneice of Pure honey: Crystallization is a natural part of raw honey and the easiest way to get the honey soft: set it outside on a warm day.

Read more and see the recipe.

Sesame Sunflower Crunch | Cooking Component

When it comes to textures, I’m all about the crunch. This is why I gravitate towards chips, crackers, and granola. This sunflower crunch is a mix between toasted nuts and granola. It’s simple on ingredients but the end result is a multi-use mix that adds the perfect crunch to soups, salads, and yogurt bowls.

One of the things I love about this mixture: it doesn’t compete with grains. It can help add a boost to your morning oatmeal or lunch grain bowl without competing with the grains (like a traditional granola would). Be sure to check out the variations. There are many different directions you can go with this simple component recipe.

Read more and see the recipe.

Sweet Corn Polenta with Fried Egg and Sun-Dried Tomato Relish

There are a few summer staples that happen every year. Roasted tomato salsa, grilled zucchini, and this fresh polenta. Traditionally, polenta is made from dried/stone-ground corn. This version relies on using fresh summer sweet corn. The texture is different but the flavor of the polenta is all summer warmth.

I usually make the polenta base the same and it’s rare that I add cheese (but that is an option). The toppings, however, are anything goes. I like to pile high the summer vegetables and flavors. This sweet corn polenta version features one of my favorite toppings: fried eggs.

The fried eggs in this recipe are my favorite: Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. It’s been such a treat to work with them on a few recipes. As I’ve mentioned before, we use eggs so often in our house whether it’s for a simple breakfast scramble or egg salad for lunch. I know these eggs come from a company that works with small, family farms and cares about the environment.

Read more and see the recipe.

Overhead shot yogurt topped with blueberry jam and granola with cups of coffee and a pink linen.

One of my favorite coffee shops in town serves two hot food items: waffles and yogurt bowls. If I had my way, I’d eat both, everyday. The waffles are perfect and they make a homemade jam for topping which they also use on their yogurt bowls. Since it’s not cost-effective for me to eat there every morning, I decided to come up with a quick breakfast that incorporated the same idea of jam + yogurt.

I know chia jam is one of those things that might feel silly but it’s kind of amazing. It comes together quick and the chia seeds make for the perfect texture. The blueberry chia jam is also perfect for all that summer fruit you might have on hand (including stone fruit). Add to that my favorite sunflower crunch that is like granola but just seeds: it’s a meal.

Read more and see the recipe.

Roasted Butter Tomato Sauce Pasta

Post sponsored by the French Ministry of Agriculture. See below for more details.

Since having a child, I’ve found myself eating more foods from my childhood than I ever thought I would. Peanut butter sandwiches now with fig jam. Grilled cheese sandwiches updated with romesco and avocado. And pasta by way of this roasted butter tomato sauce. You’re never too old for your favorite childhood meals.

This roasted butter tomato sauce is a riff on the famous Marcella Hazan recipe that uses canned tomatoes with onion and butter. Since we’re overflowing with tomatoes right now, I decided to slow-roast roma tomatoes in Président butter and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and the melty wedge of Saint Andre cheese for the perfect summer sauce.

Also, you might notice a heavy French presence in this recipe. For this recipe, I’m partnering with the French Ministry of Agriculture to bring a little French culture home. What better way to enjoy dinner than with a little French influence (and french wine- especially this Côté Mas Rosé Aurore). The slight fruit flavor of this rosé is the perfect crisp balance for the pasta.

Read more and see the recipe.

Pistachio Peach Salad | Naturally Ella

There are two things I love about eating out at a restaurant. I want the meal to be something I can’t easily make at home and I want meals that spark an idea. This pistachio peach salad was inspired by a meal I had at a recent dinner in Santa Cruz. My friend Liz puts on magical dinners around food history (called the the Curated Feast) and was kind enough to invite me to her recent dinner about the Silk Road.

The chef prepared a peach barley dish that hit all the right notes. And so, I made mental notes and created this peach salad pulling inspiration from that dish. At the heart of this dish is a pistachio-fennel crumble. The crumble is one of my new favorite salad additions. It’s a fun flavor and has a wonderful texture to dishes like this.

One note. The beans here are optional and totally not for everyone. I recommend starting this recipe without the beans if you’re at all unsure. I just like the beans because it gives me the ability to eat this salad for lunch.
Read more and see the recipe.

Crepes with Tomatoes and Butter Hazelnuts

Post sponsored by the French Ministry of Agriculture. See below for more details.

One of my first forays into cooking was for my school’s international dinner night. I was in French class and within the first few weeks of class, I became obsessed with French culture. I thought the language and the art was (and still is) beautiful but the food, oh the food. There’s nothing quite like a meal of French food shared around a table of friends and family (plus any given day I’d gladly take a croissant and coffee for breakfast).

And so, these crepes are a bit of an updated nod to bringing French culture home. We eat savory crepes quite often and the roasted tomatoes tossed with a hazelnut-butter dressing might be my favorite summer treat. When served warm, the St. Agur blue cheese melts a bit into the tomatoes and it’s so rich and delicious. What really brings this meal home is the Trimbach Pinot Blanc. The wine helps balance the richness of all that wonderful President butter and St. Agur blue cheese.

Best of all, you can make an extra large batch of the crepes to use throughout the month (they freeze amazingly well). Have these beautiful savory crepes for dinner then have a breakfast crepe or dessert crepe the following week. Or, if you’re like me and have a child- a bit of nut butter and honey spread instead a crepe makes for the perfect snack!

Read more and see the recipe.

Adobo Grilled Sweet Corn

Living in California now for over 5 years, I’ve learned that most food produced here is just as good (if not better) than most any place else. California tomatoes, olive oil, wine, stone fruit, beans, and grains occupy a majority of our meals. However, and I’ve had arguments with people about this, the Midwest has the best sweet corn. Give me Illinois peaches & cream sweet corn any day.

Of course, I’m not so picky that I’ll refuse California sweet corn. It’s still delicious and I inevitably end up with an abundance (the $4/1 price is just too good). While I use it to make quite a few recipes during the season, I also like to save the kernels and cobs to make items I can use throughout the year.

Sweet Corn Broth/Stock

Saving the Season: 3-Ways with Sweet Corn | Sweet Corn Broth | Naturally Ella

One of my favorite items to make is sweet corn broth, primarily because it’s easy and uses the cobs once the kernels are removed. I’ll keep a bag in the freezer that I will keep adding cobs to during the season. Then, once I get a few cobs saved, I’ll make a large batch of broth to freeze.

My ratio for broth is usually 1 cup of water for 1 cob. I like to make it in 8 cup batches and toss in onions, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. This is also another recipe for broth that’s a bit more involved but also delicious.

Once you have the broth, use it in soups or risottos. I also love to make fresh polenta and use the sweet corn broth with the fresh corn- it’s such a powerful corn flavor!

Freezing

Saving the Season: 3-Ways with Sweet Corn | Freezing | Naturally Ella

For keeping the kernels past the summer months, I freeze. I’ve tried a few different methods including just sticking the corn in on the cob. However, the best method to ensure solid flavor and texture is to blanch the sweet corn, drop it in an ice bath, remove the kernels, then freeze it. For a more thorough how-to, The Kitchn has you covered.

Canning

Saving the Season: 3-Ways with Sweet Corn | Canning | Naturally Ella

Finally, canning sweet corn. Sweet corn is very low on acidity which means it’s best to use a pressure canner to can the corn. I don’t own a pressure cooker so I find ways to can sweet corn that are a bit higher in acidity (primarily making this tomato sweet corn salsa).

Of course, there are ways to can sweet corn. This is the method for pressure canning or you can also make a sweet corn relish that can be canned. There’s a few different versions but this version is solid, Mexican version, and traditional version can get you started.

Ricotta Toast with Butter-Fried Peppers

I’ve noticed an increase of toast offerings at local coffee shops. Avocado, vegetables, and fruit are all popular items but what caught my eye at the last coffee shop was the ricotta toast. Good ricotta is delicious (and better yet, it’s actually quite simple to make at home). Add it to toast and you have one delicious breakfast. Take it sweet (peaches, pears, berries) or take it savory, like this ricotta toast with peppers.

So why peppers? This time of year is the best for peppers, especially my favorite: Jimmy Nardello. Most of the non-bell varieties have amazing flavor. I’ve given two options for this recipe: tame and spicy. If you’re not a heat fan, find the Jimmy Nardello peppers (or in a pinch, bell peppers). If you like a kick, use the Fresno peppers- you won’t be disappointed.

Read more and see the recipe.

Summer Loaded Veg Burger with Fried Egg

Post sponsored by Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. See below for more details.

I feel like I’ve truly hit adulthood in the past few years, marked by a love of runny eggs. I could easily eat a ghee-fried egg and toast for breakfast every morning, just swap in and out some fresh produce depending on the season. While I know runny eggs aren’t for everyone, for me they are the highlight of a meal.

Beyond just the egg, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of putting eggs on items that don’t traditionally get eggs. For breakfast, a solid bowl of oats topped with an egg is the perfect savory way to start your day. For lunch, salads are always a good option. And for dinner, pizza with a fried egg or my new favorite, this loaded veg burger.

There’s a couple things going on with this burger. I use grilled vegetables to make a smoky sauce as the base. The arugula adds a nice peppery flavor, and the zucchini brings a great way to add more vegetables. Best of all, the burger is topped with one of Pete and Gerry’s organic eggs. I love partnering with them because I know the eggs come from humanely treated, free-range chickens (and I’m supporting small farmers).

Read more and see the recipe.

Grilled Pear Halloumi Salad | Naturallly Ella

Post sponsored by California Pear. See below for more details.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of driving down interstate 5 from Sacramento and seeing all the produce grown. It can be humbling to drive among the various orchards and realize just how much produce is produced on the valley floor.

I’m excited to partner again with California Pear for the harvest season. I’ll be highlighting a few new pear recipes this season. About 60 multi-generational family farms will produce about 2 million 36-pound boxes of Bartlett pears and 500,000 boxes of a variety of California-grown pears, including Seckel, Bosc, French Butter, and Comice.

The California Pear season is officially under way, making these pears the first U.S. pears to hit the market. I know pears are usually thought of as a fall treat but having them in July is pretty magical (like in this grilled pear salad!) When you head into your grocery store, be sure to look for the label ‘California Grown’ to pick up a fresh, locally grown pear.

Read more and see the recipe.

Overhead Shot of Chickpea Tomato Bread Salad with Arugula Pesto

Heirloom tomatoes are king of the summer. There’s nothing quite like the taste and texture of a perfectly ripe tomato. Take that and add a few of my favorite items for this delicious bread salad. A peppery arugula pesto is the flavor while the toasted bread brings the texture.

I could have stopped there but these types of salads often become my meals (like when I have leftovers of the salad on the night I’m frantically packing for vacation). When the bread is toasted well (dry throughout- crouton style), the bread will keep texture hours after the salad is assembled. It’s a perfect picnic or lunch bread salad.

Read more and see the recipe.

Overhead shot of sweet corn farro risotto topped with parsley

Post sponsored by Bob’s Red Mill. See below for more details.

I’m a glutton for heat. I’ll gladly brave my oven being on if it means I can get a comforting meal on occasion, especially one that involves summer produce. It’s hard to go wrong with sweet corn in the summer and this sweet corn farro risotto is about as comforting as it gets

I prefer to use this baked risotto so that I’m not standing at the stove-top. Using Bob’s Red Mill pearled farro helps create a creamy base that only gets better once you add the cheddar cheese. Make sure you’re using a good sharp cheddar. The saltiness from the sharp cheese balances the warmth from the farro.

Read more and see the recipe.