Thursday, September 13, 2012

French-Inspired Cookbook Review -- The Grown-Up Lunch Box by Joy Manning (Review)

A French Picnic (The Grown-Up Lunch Box, Vol. 1) by Joy Manning - Click Image to Close

Most people take a lunch hour, but few take full advantage of their midday break. Instead of relaxing over a wonderful, wholesome meal, there’s a frantic rush to the drive through, a slice of greasy pizza, or a sad peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Worse yet, there are those days when things are too hectic to get lunch at all, which results in low blood sugar, a bad mood, and diminished productivity.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Planning ahead—for example, setting aside an hour or two over the weekend to made make something you’ll actually want to eat for lunch—can mean you have nourishing and delicious food at your fingertips when you need it most. A few creative recipes can mean the difference between a lunch break that restores you, and one that leaves you feeling sluggish. The Grown Up Lunch Box series will arm you with ideas and cooking projects that will transform your workday. It’s a quality-of-life upgrade that’s well worth the effort.

The first collection of five recipes, “A French Picnic,” is inspired by the French, who give ingredients, mealtime, and cooking the respect they deserve.


I’m sitting in traffic, with the radio turned up to drown out my stomach’s rumbling. My head hurts, I’m cranky, and I have no idea why I don’t start keeping granola bars in the glove compartment. Once again, I ate only an orange and a piece of string cheese for lunch and now, at 7 pm, after my 9-hour workday and 40-mile commute home, I’m starving.

This happens to me regularly, more often than I want to admit, even though I’ve been a nutrition editor and cookbook author. I am more than capable of making a really good lunch for myself. I know the health benefits of the midday meal and the perils of skimping on it. This shouldn’t happen.

My husband does this too. Some days after work, even though deep down we want to have a nice night and enjoy each other’s company, we’re both too grumpy and hungry to cook or even be nice to each other. Or, worse, when midday hunger strikes we eat something that sends us back to our desk bloated and groggy, like take-out pizza or drive-through French fries, sometimes chased with a sugary drink like soda. Sound familiar?

I know you’ve probably been there, too. For most of us, the best-case scenario is a boring sandwich of peanut butter and jelly or turkey and cheese that will get us through the day without a major blood sugar crash or fast-food remorse. However, a meal like this brings no gustatory pleasure and makes you feel like you’re a kid again—but not in a good way.

It doesn’t have to be like this. I’ve recently made a lunchtime resolution. Lunch should be a break from the workday that restores my energy and fuels the afternoon. It should be wholesome, homemade, and delicious. It should be fun. And with just a little effort, it absolutely can be. Like going to the gym, putting on sunscreen, or getting a medical checkup, making sure you have a good lunch is part of taking care of yourself and a measure of your self-esteem. Aren’t you worth a little extra effort to pack something you will really enjoy eating? The Grown-Up Lunch Box is a powerful tool for creating a better quality of life. With these recipes, you can start now. It does require you to invest some kitchen time over the weekend, but it’s not as hard as your commute home on an empty stomach.

As I am cooking up all kinds of ideas to take back my lunch break, I’d love to see what you eat every day. Tweet me your usual lunch menu @joymanning or let me know what kind of recipes you’d like to pack for yourself. I often post a twitpic of my midday meal, and I’d love to know what you’re eating, too. If I know you’re watching, I’m a whole lot less likely to grab French fries or a sad piece of string cheese. Let’s make lunchtime a whole lot better—together—one great recipe at a time.

This group of recipes is one I like to make on a Sunday afternoon for the week ahead, especially when I know I’m going to be stressed and busy. I’ve never been to Paris, but I imagine that if I lived there, rustic pâtés and homemade breads like the ones in this cookbook would be a way of life.

Traditional pâtés, made from highly perishable meats, probably aren’t the best lunch box fare, especially because you’ll hardly feel energized for the afternoon after eating something so rich. But I drew inspiration from the flavors you often find in French pâtés and terrines to create something that feels just as fancy—even if you must eat it in your cubicle. My recipe is a vegetarian version based on lentils and walnuts, so it’s packed with protein, fiber, and flavor. It keeps well even without refrigeration for hours, and its flavor actually deepens and improves over several days.

You’ll also find a simple recipe for Whole Wheat Flatbread. It takes all of 15 minutes to put these together, and when you pull them toasty and warm from the oven you may decide never to buy crackers again. It is a revelation. Even days after you first bake them, they taste far fresher than anything you’ll find in a box. I think these are the perfect vehicle for a lush spread of this vegetarian pâté, but if you don’t want to tackle the baking project, your favorite store-bought crackers or a slice of good whole grain bread will do just fine.

When you order pâté at a French restaurant, you usually get a slew of little accompaniments to complement the savory spread: mustard, onions, capers, and pickles are especially common. I like pickles best, so you’ll also find a recipe for quick Pickled Carrots and Fennel Sticks. These are great on the side, as a snack, or layered right on top of a pâté-slathered slice of flatbread. (Again, some store-bought cornichons would be an acceptable substitute.) Packed up with a few Chocolate Orange Truffles and a canteen of Cucumber, Cantaloupe, and Strawberry Cooler, it’s a midday treat that will leave you feeling good.

It’s true that I’ve eaten it stuck at my desk, straight out of plastic containers, crumbs falling into my keyboard, but (like most lunches) it is even better enjoyed on a park bench on a sunny day. Close your eyes and pretend you’re sitting outside a Parisian café if you want to go all the way with your lunch escape. I promise you’ll be twice as productive all afternoon. And when you get home, you’ll be nourished enough to greet your spouse, roommate, or pet with a smile, and muster up the wherewithal needed to make dinner. Trust me, I’ve been there.


My Thoughts:

I was sent a .pdf version of this cookbook last night, and have since tried 4 out of the 5 recipes, which are included in it.  When you purchase this cookbook, which is volume 1 in the series, and French inspired, you will receive the following recipes:

Lentil-Walnut Pâté with Port and Thyme
Whole Wheat Flatbread
Pickled Carrot and Fennel Sticks
Cucumber, Cantaloupe, and Strawberry Cooler
Chocolate Orange Truffles

I tried all but the Lentil-Walnut Pâté with Port and Thyme, as I didn't have all the ingredients on hand.  As a busy mom, I am always looking for quick and easy, yet healthy snacks and meals that I can whip together for lunches (for my husband and I), and snacks.  So, when I saw the recipe for the Whole Wheat Flatbread last night, I ended up baking up a batch after the girls went to bed.  My husband stayed up to help me sample them.  We ended up pouring ourselves a glass of wine, and having cheese and crackers with these fresh baked flatbread.  Wow, these fresh baked flatbreads were amazing.  Much better than any baked crackers we have purchased and tried from the market.  This recipe was quickly and easy to make, and didn't leave any leftovers :-)  I can't wait to make more over the weekend, and store in an air-tight container for the upcoming week for snacking.

I ended up surprising my husband with the Cucumber, Cantaloupe, and Strawberry Cooler this AM.  This flavored water cooler was so refreshing.  I served it over ice, and as we sipped it, we liked the sweetness and tartness of the fruits.  I wish I had this recipe during the summer, as I would have been making a jug of it to have on hand for a cool and refreshing drink on those hot summer days.

Don't tell my husband, but I tried one to the truffles I made this AM.  I was going to save them as an after-dinner snack to share once the girls were in bed.  But, every time I passed by the kitchen this AM, I couldn't resist, and had to try one.  As a chocoholic, this easy to prepare chocolate treat really hit the spot.  I am surprised that I haven't gone back for seconds -- well, we are only halfway through the day. :-)

Overall, this French-inspired cookbook was a quick read.  You don't have to be a pro in the kitchen to whip together any of the five recipes included.  And, once you make them, especially the flatbread, you will be marking these recipes, to make again and again.


Right now Untreed Reads is offering this cookbook in the following digital formats (EPUB, MOBI and PDF) for only $.90.  What a steal, huh?  Click here to purchase now --  It can also be purchased in the Kindle format from Amazon.

Disclosure:  I was sent a .pdf copy of this cookbook from the publisher in order to write up an honest review.  The views above are mine and mine alone.

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