Monday, May 2, 2011

Lovin' Lunch

My office’s neighborhood is bleak. The building sits on the margin of midtown Manhattan, at the outskirts of the grimly-named Hell’s Kitchen, beyond the subway map's rainbow-hued reach. 

Foraging for lunch in this wasteland makes me cranky, so I almost always bring my own. My nightly lunch-packing ritual takes me back to those evenings in grade school when one of my parents would prepare lunches for me and my brother to take to school the next day. When the task fell to my dad, as it usually did, you could count on a lunch of PB on wheat bread, a sack of pretzels, an apple, and some raisins, all in a brown paper bag. My mom’s lunches were often tossed into a plastic shopping bag and included whatever was in the fridge or pantry: a leftover Halloween candy bar if you were lucky, a handful of dehydrating carrot sticks if you were not.

I would have died of jealousy for
this revolting-looking lunch
Both approaches offended my fussy 8-year-old aesthetics.  As a compulsive kid, I coveted the neatness of individually-packaged foods, which my parents thought were wasteful. My classmates’ cello-wrapped boxes made their pretzel sticks look far more appetizing than mine in their clumsy fold-top sandwich baggies (oh how I longed for at least a Ziploc!) I wanted themed lunches, like the girl whose mom regularly packed her “mini” lunches—mini bagel, mini lady apple, mini candy bar. Major envy. 

Karma and DNA being what they are, I’ll probably be cursed with a brat who demands as labor-intensive a lunch as that Simpsons bento box. I’m grateful to my parents for demonstrating that children can grow to a ripe old age without having their every bratty demand indulged, whether it’s for boxed pretzels or “blue hair” meatballs. For now, though, I like to indulge my demands for a fresh and pretty lunch. This pineapple salmon fits the bill, and brightened my day despite the bleak neighborhood outside.

This Mozart bento box actually looks tasty
(well, the right half does)
Pineapple Crusted Salmon
1/2 cup finely chopped pineapple with its juice (about 4 ounces total)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 medium lime
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Pinch salt
2 6- to 8-ounce salmon fillets (each about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick at the thickest point)

Combine the pineapple, lime zest and juice, crushed red pepper flakes, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a shallow roasting pan, large enough to comfortably hold the fish, with aluminum foil or parchment paper and lightly grease it with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Place the fillets in the pan skin side down with 1 to 2 inches between them. Sprinkle each fillet lightly with salt. Top each fillet with the pineapple mixture, evenly coating the tops. Bake for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness, until the fish is cooked through, but not dry. If the topping looks overly moist (and not crustlike), place the fish under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes to evaporate the excess moisture. Serve hot (or cold over spinach with bits of pineapple, edamame, corn, and grape tomatoes, like I did). 

Notes for the Naked:
I got lazy and didn't crush the pineapple as small as I should've. Still tasted good to me. (Speaking of which: This blog isn't meant to be a testament to my cookery mastery. I cut corners and screw up all the time. But each time I do so, I become a little more comfortable in the kitchen. I hope that hearing about my mistakes helps you get a little more comfortable, too.)

1 comment:

  1. i can pack you a cool looking lunch! just let me know the day!