Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Cure for the Common Lunch: Re-purpose Leftovers for Gourmet Portable Lunches that Pack Themselves

Do you have a jar of salsa that’s been in your refrigerator door for three months, waiting for the next Super Bowl party? Is last night’s chicken wedged between a bowl of uneaten veggies and half a stale baguette? Stop thinking of these as boring leftovers and start thinking of them as convenient ingredients for your gourmet brown bag lunch. You’ll soon be wishing you had a fridge full of leftovers.

The packed lunch is nothing new. It is called bento in Japan, tiffin in India, dosirak in Korea, and baon in the Philippines Here in the U.S., the concept is being reborn and growing far beyond a humble PB&J sandwich and apple tucked in a brown paper bag.

In Cooking with Trader Joe’s; Pack A Lunch! (Brown Bag Publishers, $24.95, August 2011), Celine Cossou-Bordes presents ingenious recipes for portable meals that can be assembled in minutes. Whatever is not already in your fridge can be bought in a single trip to a single grocer: Trader Joe’s. From the fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables to the specialty sauces and condiments, frozen seafood, and prepped vegetables—every ingredient in these recipes is available at Trader Joe’s.

“Years ago, it wasn’t popular to ‘brown bag’ a lunch,” says Cossou-Bordes, “but now we look enviously at the person with homemade leftovers or carefully arranged Bento boxes from home. Instead of spending precious lunch-break time driving around town and waiting in lines to buy an unhealthy and high-calorie meal, many people are now taking their lunch to work.” A packed lunch means you’ll be eating healthier foods you really like, saving money, and saving time.

All the recipes in this book create meals that are easy to pack and that travel well. The meals are perfect for lunch at work or school, on a picnic, while camping, on the road or the plane, or for a potluck.

Cossou-Bordes, who teaches cooking classes in the San Diego area, adds, “The trend carries over to kids’ lunches as well. Unhealthy cafeteria school lunches have been at the center of criticism and controversy these last few years. Parents are always asking me for healthy, balanced foods they can pack without spending all morning on it.”

Cossou-Bordes’ number one tip is to take advantage of leftovers. She advises, “I recommend that you keep a pantry well stocked with different types of rice, pasta, beans, sauces, salsas, and spreads. Mixing and matching staple ingredients, leftovers, and fresh ingredients will make wonderful and easy meals feel right at hand.”

Here are her top 10 most versatile leftovers:

1. Chicken: Use shredded chicken in quesadillas and sandwiches. Make a salad by tossing with greens, veggies, and dressing. Add to soup.

2. Meats & Deli Slices: Use leftover meats in sandwiches and salads. Roll deli slices up, filling them with leftover veggies or salads.

3. Seafood: Serve leftover salmon on a bed of greens with a tangy dressing, toss shrimp or langostinos in a creamy salad, or stuff seafood in a wrap with shredded veggies and savory salsa.

4. Veggies: Use in salads, wraps, and sandwiches. Use as a base in savory quiches and frittatas.

5. Beans: Use leftovers in wraps, salads, soups, chili, and even pasta dishes. Combine beans with brown rice and a fruity salsa for a simple lunch that satisfies.

6. Pasta: Make pasta salad or pasta pie, a great portable dish baked up with only minutes of prep time.

7. Potatoes: Mash leftover potatoes and make fritters. Cube and make twice-roasted potatoes or potato salad.

8. Bread: Don’t throw away stale bread! Make bread pudding, French bread soup, or panzanella (Italian bread salad tossed with greens, garbanzos, and/or salmon). Combine stale bread with leftover cream cheese, jam, egg, and milk to create delicious muffin bites that are perfect as a take-along snack or dessert.

9. Rice: Make rice salad, stuff a burrito, serve with beans, or add veggies and egg and teriyaki sauce to make a quick fried rice dish. Stir leftover rice with leftover salsa, heat, and enjoy Spanish rice made in minutes. For dessert, use rice to make sweet and delicious rice pudding.

10. Quinoa: Make a colorful quinoa salad by mixing with veggies and lemon zest. Add quinoa to soups or chilis to thicken and add healthy protein.

Cooking with Trader Joe’s Cookbook: Pack A Lunch! by Celine Cossou-Bordes is a novel cookbook that uses Trader Joe’s stores as a “prep kitchen” to make lunches that nearly pack themselves. Using time-saving prepared, frozen, and bottled products makes gourmet cooking easy for even the most novice of cooks.

ISBN 978-0-9799384-5-0

Hardcover, 272 pages, full-color photography

Price: $24.95

Cookbooks from the Cooking with Trader Joe’s series are available at bookstores everywhere including Barnes & Noble and Their website, blog, and free recipe newsletter are found at

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