I love mason jars. They are perfectly portioned, retro, convenient, and reusable. They are affordable, accessible, versatile and stylish. They contain, shake, serve and store. And they travel. And given that Round 6 of the Project Food Blog challenge is to create a meal that will travel well and still look great, and given that my pizza pops survived Round 5 (THANK YOU for all of your wonderful votes, wonderful people!), I get to do something I’ve wanted to do for ages: create a mason jar meal. My meal for two fit easily in the Project Food Blog cooler we received, with plenty of room to spare.
I wanted a meal that tasted freshly made, even after sitting for hours in a jar. Mason jars allow you to stack food in layers, keeping unfriendly mixing at bay, until right before serving. My biggest challenge was deciding in what order to layer the meal in the jar. How could I dress the salad but not have limp lettuce? How do I prevent pesto from browning? Here’s how I layered things (there really isn’t layering to the chips, cookies or drink, but I thought you’d appreciate the consistency):
chickpea and chicken salad: Rinse and drain a can of chick peas. Place about half in a bowl, add your desired salad dressing (generously, as this will dress the whole salad) and mix. Spoon a layer of the chickpea mixture on the bottom of a mason jar. Top with a layer of sliced baby carrots, a layer of bite-size, cooked, seasoned chicken pieces, a layer of cucumber slices and a layer of lettuce. Shake right before eating.
homemade bagel chips: Slice several bagels in half. Slice crosswise in thin slices. Brush both sides of the bagel pieces with olive oil and arrange on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once. Let cool and place in mason jar.
pesto pasta: Cook penne pasta and drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the water. Prepare pesto: Process two cloves of garlic, about a cup of fresh basil leaves and 1/4 cup of walnuts in a food processor. With the blade running, pour in about 1/4 cup of olive oil and the pasta water. Add salt and pepper to taste and blend. Add about 1/2 cup of Parmesean cheese. Mix briefly. Blend in more olive oil or hot water to desired consistency. Spoon a layer of pesto on the bottom of a mason jar. Add a layer of halved cherry tomatoes, a layer of cubed mozzarella cheese, and some of the penne pasta. Shake right before eating.
white wine sangria (adapted from this Martha Stewart sangria recipe): In a saucepan, combine and heat 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup honey, the zest and juice of a lemon, six whole cloves, and two cinnamon sticks over medium heat to a simmer. Turn heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes. In a pitcher, combine a bottle of white wine, the spice mixture, one apple peeled, cored and cubed and lemon slices. Refrigerate overnight and pour in individual mason jars.
chocolate sandwich cookies: Prepare chocolate cookie dough (click the link for recipe). Chill, roll out, cut out 1 1/2 inch circles and bake according to the recipe. Let cool. Prepare frosting (click the link for recipe) and tint white. Prepare a frosting bag with a coupler and size “10” tip. Fill with frosting and close tightly with a rubber band. Pipe and fill a circle of frosting on the back of a cookie and top with another cookie. Let dry overnight before packaging in mason jars.
The beauty of mason jars is the pretty package. You can add ribbon, labels, and tags. Or attach napkins, plasticware, and straws with ribbon. I made labels for the top: “SHAKE” (pasta and salad), “CRUNCH” (chips), “SWEET” (cookies), “SIP” (drink), and “BRR” (ice).
To test the freshness, I prepared my mason jar meal in the morning and we dined in the evening. The result? Even better than I expected. Flavorful, fresh, balanced. The layering works well for meals-that-have-to-wait because the veggies at the bottom of the jar marinate in the dressing and sauce, adding flavor, but the food at the top of the jar stays pristine. The pesto stayed green and the lettuce crisp. My pesto could’ve been a bit thinner for better mixing, but that’s my only complaint.
- I used the wide-mouth mason jars for the meal, as that made layering the food easier. For the drinks, I used the small mason jars.
- Add a couple extra mason jars filled with ice to your cooler to keep things cool.
- Mason jar meals would be ideal for outdoor parties and picnics to keep the bugs away.
- Mason jars add heft and the fear of breakage, so while they are perfect in so many ways, and they are perfect for traveling when heft and the fear of breakage is controlled (such as a nearby picnic, for tailgating, or for traveling in cars). I wouldn’t recommend packing a mason jar meal in your rucksack and climbing a mountain.