As much as I love reaping the benefits of meal prepping, I don’t always have the time/energy/motivation. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be happy with myself later if I don’t pack any food at all before a 3-day trip. The solution? Mini-meal prepping, where I still consider how I can tackle my upcoming workdays with what I already have in my kitchen. I lean heavily on big batch grain bowls, which are filling and easy to change up each time I make them. This week, I’ll talk about the newest grain bowl I’ve created, lunchbox strategies, and how I spent 20 hours in Washington D.C.
For my most recent trip, I made use of a single chicken breast we hadn’t cooked at the house and the vegetables already in my fridge. The result was a Korean BBQ Chicken Farro Bowl, which I’ve included a recipe for at the end of this post. I also packed some Trader Joe’s trek mix I had in the pantry, a bunch of grapes, a bag of already popped popcorn (I can’t stop eating TJ’s olive oil popcorn), and an avocado. It was enough food for one, but not so much that I felt guilty trying out a bakery on my layover. I’ve been digging the reusable bags I picked up from World Market recently for fruit, crackers, popcorn, etc… I’ve talked about this in previous posts, but I never travel without a stash of Diamond Crystal kosher salt – taking an avocado from good to great anytime the mood strikes.
While I laid over in Washington D.C., I tried Seylou Bakery near Logan Circle and was not disappointed. The bakery is known for its mastery of whole-grain & fresh-milled wheat, with a cult following behind their pain au levain. A photo of their menu online states “bread out at 1”, so I decided to wake up early and get there right when they opened at 9 Sunday morning. I was riding high, feeling pretty smug about my early arrival, only to be put promptly in my place. 10th, exactly. To be fair, they were only letting in one customer at a time due to COVID, but I knew if people were willing to wait in line, it had to be good. So I waited gamely. It moved quickly and soon I was salivating over the menu of today’s pastry offerings: whole wheat chocolate croissants, chocolate sorghum brownies, raspberry scones, oat cookies…
Finally, I was inside. I asked for a pain au levain, but the cashier said they were already all sold out! No matter, I said it was my first time in the shop and asked for his recommendation. He recommended a few loaves, and I opted for the Mischbrot, made with 100% freshly milled whole wheat flour, rye, buckwheat, levain, water, and salt. He mentioned the rustica baguettes were also hot and fresh from the oven, perfect for a first-timer. I ordered one and asked for his recommendation for pastries. Unable to choose between sweet and savory, I got both a whole wheat cheddar & onion croissant and a whole wheat chocolate croissant. Finally, a cup of coffee and the bill, so I could get out of there before the smells of the bakery further seduced me.
I had intended on getting back to my hotel before eating, but I couldn’t wait, knowing the baguette was hot. I sat at one of their tables and took it out of its sleeve to better examine it. The whole wheat made it a rich brown, darker than the refined white flour baguettes I’m used to. Its crust was well-cooked and crackled appreciatively when I tore a piece off. Still steaming, it had an almost nutty aroma that I inhaled deeply as I took my first bite. Surprisingly light and airy, the center practically melted in my mouth while the crust offered the ideal chewy density. I sipped my coffee and ate a piece or two more, astounded by how nuanced the whole wheat was in comparison to every other baguette I had ever eaten.
Eventually, I tore myself from my chair to meander back to my hotel in the overcast light of the morning, marveling at how empty the streets were and telling myself I would save the loaf to take home for Matt and me, the baguette to share with my crew, and at least an hour or two for one of the pastries.
Not 10 minutes after unlocking the door, the cheddar croissant was gone.
But it was so worth it! Again, I had never tried any whole-wheat pastries before, and just like the baguette, the wheat was subtle and complex. Not too heavy and the perfect complement to the tangy cheese and layers of butter within the croissant itself. Sheer joy. I wrapped up the rest of my baguette for later.
Pick-up wasn’t for another six hours though, and somehow, the baguette kept finding its way back to the table in front of me. By 1:30 that afternoon, I had shamelessly eaten the entire thing. The bread was so flavorful (and apparently, addictive), and though I was certainly full, it never left me feeling bloated or uncomfortable. I couldn’t get over how paradoxically light it tasted and sat with my body in comparison to most breads.
I am proud to say that I did manage to save the chocolate croissant (also incredible) for breakfast the following morning, and the loaf of bread made it all the way home untouched. I’m already dreaming of the salted butter waiting to be slathered on top and the pasta sauce it’s destined to sop up for me in the days to come…
Korean BBQ Chicken Farro Bowls
This is a relatively simple grain bowl that is great hot or cold. If you are making this for dinner, wait to cook your grain and veggies (paragraphs 2-4) until you start cooking the chicken to keep everything warm. If you’re making lunch in advance instead, you can go ahead and prepare the other components while the chicken is marinating. No need to keep everything separate (unless you just want to); each element is relatively hardy and can stand up to all being thrown together in the same container.
In the spirit of the mini-meal prep theme, stay focused on what you already have. I almost always have sweet potatoes on hand. They’re such an easy way to bulk up nutritional content, make a dish more filling, and last seemingly forever in the dark confines of the pantry. But if you don’t have them/don’t like them, don’t use them! Regular potatoes are an obvious swap, any type of hardy squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.) would be a great option for comparison next to the summer squash/zucchini. Parsnips, turnips or even carrots are fair game too. Swap the farro for your preferred grain, though hearty/denser is better in my opinion. Brown/wild rice or barley would be my go-tos, but quinoa or couscous would work too.
Please don’t skip the gochujang. But if you miss, I guess Sriracha is an okay swap (though not at all the same). Seriously worth seeking out/making yourself. Any protein will work – even tofu, though it will take much less time to marinate, maybe only 30-45 minutes I would guess. I ran out of sesame oil the other day, and some watered down tahini with a little grapeseed oil worked in a pinch.
Mostly, as usual, just have fun! And please let me know how it turns out for you, I love hearing about your variations. Enjoy!
- 1 chicken breast
- ½ onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, peeled & grated
- 2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 heaping tablespoons gochujang paste (you can buy this pre-made from the store or use the recipe from my post 2 weeks ago, linked)
- 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- 2 heaping tablespoons honey
- ¼ teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 ½ tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus more to taste
- ½ c of quick-cook farro (or whatever hearty grain you prefer)
- 1 small sweet potato
- 1 medium squash or zucchini, sliced into rounds
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Combine onion, garlic, soy sauce, gochujang, brown sugar, honey, rice vinegar, and sesame oil in a bowl and stir to combine. Place chicken in a resealable bag and pour in the marinade, ensuring the chicken is completely covered in sauce. Seal and refrigerate as little as 4-6 hours and as long as overnight.
Fill a medium-sized saucepan with an inch or two of water and simmer it over medium heat. Fit with a steamer basket, then place your sweet potato in it. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and leave to simmer until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your potato. A fork should easily pierce through when it’s done. Remove from basket when tender and allow to cool on a cutting board. When it’s cool, cube into bite-sized pieces and toss with a little soy sauce and sesame oil. Taste, and add salt if needed. Set aside.
While the potato is steaming, simmer ½ cup farro in well-salted water for 10 minutes. Strain and transfer to whatever container you plan on using to store the meal, or bowls if eating immediately. Set aside.
Heat a tablespoon of neutral oil, like vegetable or grapeseed oil, in a skillet over medium-high. When the oil is shimmering, add the squash/zucchini, season with kosher salt, and cook until browned. I like them to stay dense with a little chew still, so I only cook them for about 5 minutes. Cook them for longer if you prefer them more well done. Toss with equal splashes of soy sauce and sesame oil. Taste and adjust based on your preferences. Set aside.
When you’re ready to cook the chicken, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While it’s heating, heat a stainless-steel or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Make sure to use a pan that is oven safe. Pour in about a tablespoon of the same neutral oil you use for the squash/zucchini. When the oil is shimmering, carefully place the chicken breast in the pan, laying it down away from you to avoid having any oil splatter on you. Reserve marinade. Then DON’T TOUCH IT for at least 5 minutes! We’re trying to get a nice, even browning on the surface of the breast, and moving it around on the plate won’t allow it to do that. After 5 minutes, flip it over and repeat for another 5 minutes. Pour the reserved marinade over the chicken, then transfer the pan to the back of the oven (read: the hottest part). Let it bake for 15-20 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool. Slice the breast thinly crossways, then in half to cut even, bite-sized pieces.
Assembly time! Top bowls or container of farro with sliced chicken, cubed sweet potato, squash/zucchini, and sliced green onion tops (reserve the whites for another use). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy!