Our verdict: Packed and The Little Book of Lunch

Maureen: (chuckling) Let’s have some lunch! What did you think?

Kirstin: It completely changed the way I think about lunch at the office for the better.

Maureen: How?

Kirstin: I plan ahead. I always have chorizo in the refrigerator ready to go. I will make more than I need for dinner, knowing that I can use the leftovers.

Maureen: Like a roast chicken?

Kirstin: Exactly. I had a bird that was way too large the other day and Tom told me we’d never eat all of it. But I told him that I already had plans for the leftovers.

Maureen: There’s nothing better than using leftovers. It always makes me feel so virtuous.

Kirstin: This has been a revelation and I’ll never look at my lunch the same way again.

Maureen: I guess it’s different for me since I work from home and usually for lunch I’m just foraging through the refrigerator taking the best of the leftovers. But saying that, there were some really yummy recipes in there that I would make for myself. This would be especially good on the days when I feel chained to my laptop because of deadlines, so it would make me step away from the computer.

Kirstin: Lunch is now something I look forward to at the office, and that’s great.

Overall Grade (A- F):  B (Maureen)  B (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Anything with chorizo (Kirstin)
Grade for Photography (A-F): A
Any disasters? Kirstin: No Maureen: The paella wasn’t a disaster, but I thought the suggestion that you make it before you leave for the office was comedy gold. Who would have time to do that?
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf. Maureen: Not sure.
Would you give this to a friend? Kirstin: Yes. Maureen: Yes, but only to friends who work in an office. I’m not sure it would apply to the mighty band of freelancers I know.

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Our verdict: Packed and The Little Book of Lunch

“Salted Caramel Brownies” from “The Little Book of Lunch”

Intellectually, I know that salted caramel brownies can’t be classified lunch. But my heart says otherwise, given that I myself have done so on several occasions. In this case, the recipe comes from the aptly described section, “Bribing Colleagues with Sweet Treats.”

I fully endorse this message. Although I work from home on my own (other than the supervision from Buddy the dog), I do occasionally have to go to meetings or meet ups, and I can categorically say that every meeting is improved enormously when baked goods are included.

Unfortunately, this recipe didn’t quite deliver. Now that the boys are on their summer break, I thought this would be a nice thing to have kicking around the house when they inevitably get hungry. Nicholas and I made them together and we thought, based on tasting the batter, this would be a fantastic brownie experience. It didn’t work out that way.

What you do is you make salted caramel (which always makes me nervous) but then also brownie batter. Once everything is made, you take a third of the caramel and mix it into the brownie batter, then you spread half of the batter in the pan, put another third of the caramel on top of that layer, top that off with the rest of the brownie mix, and finish it all off with the remaining third of the caramel topping off the brownie.

The problem was that the top layer of caramel puffed up during baking, which made the resulting brownie pan a big gooey mess of chocolate and caramel. As Nicholas noted, “This looks NOTHING like the picture in the book.” We then had a long discussion about food styling, so at least it was a teachable moment.

The picture above was taken after things had calmed down and I put the brownies in the refrigerator for 24 hours to set. Don’t get me wrong– there’s no such thing as a brownie disaster if they didn’t burn. They tasted delicious, but it just didn’t work.

The boys suggested that the brownie part of the recipe worked fine, so maybe if I made them again, I should just make that part of it and skip the salted caramel. It’s not a terrible suggestion, since the brownie part was very, very good.

Regardless, the takeaway from this is: always bring in baked goods to the office or a meeting if you can. It definitely makes things sweeter.

“Salted Caramel Brownies” from “The Little Book of Lunch”

“Poor Man’s Paella” from “The Little Book of Lunches”

I need to admit up front that I didn’t actually eat this for lunch. I made it for dinner. But I would be surprised if you could find anyone who would be willing to get up 35 minutes early before lunch so they could make this and take it with them. Not me, that’s for sure.

It was decidedly delicious. We all loved it and I definitely will be making it again for dinner, not least because it’s a one-pot dinner, which makes cleanup spectacularly easy.

The inspiration for the dish, as explained in the introduction, was Ottolenghi’s paella. If I had to guess, it probably was this one, as published in the Guardian and the original was made by Kirstin in this very blog seven years ago, which you can read here.

Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing wanted to make Ottolenghi’s paella, but realised they didn’t have many of the ingredients so they boiled it down to the essence of the dish. Or, as Nicholas rightly pointed out, “Spicy rice with tomatoes.”

I added all of the optional extras, which I’m sure made it far more interesting and tasty: chorizo, peppers, frozen peas and parsley. Tim suggested the next time I make it that I also throw in some prawns at the end, which is similar to what Jamie Oliver did in Save Jame! (technically, “Save with Jamie”), which Kirstin also tested out and loved, which you can read here.

Clearly, paella for dinner is a winner. But getting up early to make paella for lunch? Very ambitious and equally unlikely for most people.

“Poor Man’s Paella” from “The Little Book of Lunches”

“Chorizo with couscous, roasted peppers and tomatoes” from The Little Book of Lunch

Kirstin: I will eat pretty much anything with chorizo, even though I admit I bought the wrong kind of chorizo for this recipe. That’s internet shopping for you! You think you’re buying chorizo and actually you’re buying chorizo sausages. Anyway. I digress. I made this one morning before heading to work and while cooking and eating my porridge. I say that to give you an idea of how quick and easy it was to make. Next time I plan to buy the right kind of chorizo because that will be epic with the peppers! And there will be a next time!

“Chorizo with couscous, roasted peppers and tomatoes” from The Little Book of Lunch

“Roasted red peppers with anchovy and tomato” from The Little Book of Lunch

Kirstin: I used to make this recipe from an Alastair Little book ALL the time. As a starter. It never crossed my mind to make it for lunch. Genius. I made this the night before, slicing garlic into the halved peppers and adding tomatoes and anchovies before roasting for 30 minutes. I then microwaved them the following day at work.
These taste of summer which was something I loved looking forward to as I watched all the sun inside (while being stuck inside). I just wasn’t so keen on the anchovy bones that got stuck in my teeth afterwards. I’m not sure my patients liked seeing me struggle with them either, so I might just leave that bit out next time!

“Roasted red peppers with anchovy and tomato” from The Little Book of Lunch

Cookbooks of the month, July 2017: “Packed” and “The Little Book of Lunch”

Maureen: Two books for the price of one! You wanted to do lunch books because you have lunch at work, unlike me since I work from home.

Kirstin: I’m cooking interesting food at lunchtime now. I’ve already taken in a microwave egg poacher and microwave egg boiler, so I figured there must be other interesting lunch things I could do. I’ve been missing htis oppty to make delicious food and cheer myself up in the middle of the day.

Maureen: I get that. I remember when I worked in an office and lunch was an opportunity to get up from my desk and get away from the computer. Now that I work from home, all it means is I go downstairs and forage through the refrigerator looking for good leftovers.

Kirstin: I was also trying to have fewer carbs. Carb-free lunches is basically salads, so it’s good to try new stuff. I can see this is a growing market. There’s definitely space out there for good lunch books.

Maureen: Off to the world of lunch, then.

Cookbooks of the month, July 2017: “Packed” and “The Little Book of Lunch”