Packing a lunch is like giving a present, whether it’s to your future self, a child or someone special, being able to make a lunch and pack it up with love is a beautiful thing. This isn’t to say that when this “beautiful thing” returns in the evening, empty containers ready to be washed, I’m enjoying myself a bit less. I prefer the making to the cleaning up and, I love finding new items to pack, just to keep it interesting. This is where Aviva Wittenberg‘s Lunchbox cookbook come in — it is an absolute joy to cook from! Upon receiving my copy from the publishers, I immediately began to try recipes. Almost a dozen recipes into the book and it feels like I’ve got such a wonderful helpmate for lunch-making.
At the beginning of the book, Wittenberg walks home cooks through the different aspects of preparing a lunchbox — packing strategies, useful lunchbox gear/equipment, helpful kitchen tools and ingredients, and finally, the key to getting the lunch packed. The following recipes are organized into 9 chapters: 1) Brunch for Lunch, 2) Sandwiches, 3) Flatbreads, 4) Soups, 5) Salads, 6) Cold Bowls, 7) Warm Bowls (& Handpies), 8) Snacks, Dips & Spreads, and 9) Baked Sweets & Treats. As I started to flip through the book, I realized I already had the gear and many of the ingredients were stocked in my pantry or refrigerator, which felt like such a bonus (often times with new cookbooks, I have to shop before I try)!
It was difficult to know which recipe to start with, but my notice was instantly drawn to the recipe for Infallible Crepes. Not that I ever thought crepes were too challenging before, Wittenberg makes the point that crepes can be a little delicate to pack in a lunch which is why she came up with an ingenious solution! Here a small flour tortilla is dipped into a custard mixture then cooking in a pan. It’s really a French toasted tortilla, that looks like a crepe. They’re versatile because you can fill then how you would like — sweet or savoury — it’s all up to you! I went with her suggestion of packing a sweet crepe along with fruit and her Maple Seed Brittle. I’ve already made this recipe a half-dozen times and they’re truly infallible! While I enjoy the sweet kind, I love to stuff mine with cooked mushrooms and cheese.
Another excellent recipe from the book which uses flour tortillas is the Egg, Greens, and Cheese Tortilla. Flour tortillas are one of my favourite pantry items because they are so adaptable. This recipe is similar to the Infallible Crepes since the tortilla is cooked in lightly beaten egg, however, instead of having both sides dipped into the egg, the dry side is covered in baby spinach and cheese. Once the cheese is melted and spinach is wilted, you roll up the filled tortilla then slice it into pinwheel-rounds. These are delicious and I find it makes a great after school snack — Katie likes hers with a side of salsa.
Wittenberg is also thinking of ways to make the most of pantry staples — for example, when bagels get a bit stale, her strategy is to slice them into rounds, drizzle with olive oil and bake them until crisp. These Bagel Chips are a wonderful thing and, they pair perfectly with her recipe for Smoky Black Bean Dip. The dip is a combination of black beans, lime, cilantro, garlic, cumin, and sweet smoked paprika. Excellent when packed in a lunch, equally as good when enjoyed as a snack. I found a made a big batch and we even enjoyed it as a sandwich spread.
The recipe my husband is still talking about is the Vibrant Quinoa Salad w/ Orange Flower Water Dressing and Quick Pickled Onions. I think what he likes about this recipe is that it’s a hearty combination of different flavours and textures, and nothing ends up soggy (which can happen with packed lunch salads). What I appreciate about this recipe is that all the components can be prepped ahead of time, then assembled just before packing lunch in the morning.
Everyone needs a little treat in their lunch, so I baked up a dozen of Wittenberg’s Rice Pudding Muffins — scented with vanilla and cinnamon, cooked arborio rice is folded into the batter. The resulting muffins are exactly as Wittenberg says in the recipe notes: “[they] feel like a warm hug.” I found they freeze nicely, making this recipe a great make ahead option. Another fun option is the Maple Seed Brittle — two ingredients and a pan are all you need to make this crunchy sweet treat. While we enjoyed on its own, Wittenberg suggests adding bits of this brittle to a hearty salad. The clever swap of nuts for seeds makes this safe to send if you’re enjoying lunch in a nut-free environment.
What Wittenberg shows home cooks with her new cookbook, Lunchbox, is that making and packing a lunch is neither onerous nor complicated. As with anything else, if you put good things into a lunchbox, then good things will be waiting there at lunchtime. I found many recipes that we enjoy — whether at school or working from home, all of the recipes are delicious.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.