Now that summer’s over, it’s back-to-reality time, back to all-out busy. But if sending the kids off with a packed lunch is on your daily agenda, there’s good news. J.M. Hirsch, having “logged several years in the lunch box trenches” and having blogged about the slog, shares his tricks, tips, recipes, ideas and, most importantly, his emphasis on getting beyond old notions of what lunch should be (take a hike, PB&J) in Beating the Lunch Box Blues, his easy-to-follow, creatively organized take on on-the-go lunches, with an intro by Rachael Ray. The format is super-lunch-preparer-friendly, with hundreds of delicious suggestions for new healthy, happy combos, accompanied by “show and tell” photos that make their prep a breeze. Plus, Hirsch adds 30 recipes for quickly doable dinners designed to provide killer lunchable leftovers, e.g., Speedy Beef Stew morphs into tasty Empanadas and/or a Stew Grinder. Note: All these midday meals are great for grownups, too!
RUSTIC, GUTSY, SIMPLE
Amy Thielen grew up in the Midwest, trained as a professional cook, did a “culinary tour of duty” working under some of New York’s greatest chefs, then moved back to her beloved roots on the edge of the Plains. Now she’s distilled her deep appreciation for the food of the Midwest into The New Midwestern Table. Believing that the best, most iconic dishes are passed down hand to hand, generation to generation, she’s collected 200 recipes that celebrate the regional traditions that waves of immigrants have brought, and still bring, to the American heartland. Though a few recipes are from restaurant chefs, most of them come from Amy’s own experience of Midwestern home cooking, tweaked to fit modern tastes, and she sets every one in a fascinating, often personal, context. She’s dubbed this food “regular, no-nonsense eating,” but you’ll find tempting new treasures here—Smoked Whitefish Brandade, a fabulous fusion called Booya-Pozole Community Stew, Classic Duck in Wild Rice, Milk Cooked Vegetables and warm Persimmon Pudding topped with clouds of whipped cream.
TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
The subtitle of Liz Neumark’s exuberant new cookbook, Sylvia’s Table, promises “Fresh, Seasonal Recipes from Our Farm to Your Family,” but there’s more to the concept. Neumark wants families not just to eat together, but to cook together and gain a real appreciation of what good food is and where it comes from. It’s a book for grownups who can share the hundreds of recipes that come from Neumark’s personal collection, from her hugely successful New York City catering company, from professional colleagues and from friends with their own kids and grandkids. Seven years ago, Neumark created Katchkie Farm in the Hudson Valley, where she runs the Sylvia Center, a place where children can find “the joy in being with fresh food”; she also works to bring that joy to children in New York’s inner city. Neumark encourages a kind of easy cooking that’s built around the seasons—Roasted Beet Soup, served hot or cold; Hearty Winter Beef Stew; Down-on-the-Farm Pasta Salads or Omelets that showcase what’s fresh at the moment; Butternut Squash Bread Pudding; and Homemade Apple Roll-Ups. Springing up among the recipes are lots of short essays that inform, entertain and spark your imagination.