If you’re like me, you get really tired of eating the same old things for lunch.  Whether you work in an office or in retail or even at home, in most cases, or options for a decent lunch are limited.

That’s why I was excited when I picked up The Little Book of Lunch: 100 Recipes and Ideas to Reclaim the Lunch Hour.  I’d love to be able to make a variety of lunches, usually the night before, so I could have something better than a Wawa sub, a Wendy’s burger, or a boring salad from the grocery store salad bar.

Visually, the book is beautiful, filled with photos of lunches that look incredible.  But I have to admit that I am dismayed by the recipes inside.  Simply put, the lunches here in The Little Book of Lunch just don’t reflect choices that most Americans would consider for lunch, breakfast or dinner.


The reason why: the book was not written for our stateside audience.  It was first published in Great Britain, and written by two Londoners.  Consequently, their choices here reflect some decidedly continental preferences, and far too many Middle Eastern influences.

As such, it’s one of the most annoying cookbooks I’ve ever read, from their choice of parchment paper for wrapping sandwiches (perhaps they don’t have Saran Wrap in England?) to a Mexican-style corn recipe . . . that uses mayonnaise.

I counted them (and forgive my math if I’m wrong; I was an English major who can barely use a calculator):

Out of 100 recipes, I would only eat nineteen.

At least five use couscous, which, I know, is trendy and beloved by foodies, but average American guys want nothing to do with it.

At least eight include chickpeas or hummus.

At least two incorporate quinoa, another trendy food, but is meaningless to me.

At least four use ingredients I’ve never heard of: ras el hanout, halloumi, harissa . . .

And at least five use ingredients that are just plain weird.  Herring?  Really?

I wanted to love this book, for I desperately want to find a way to break free from the burger/chicken sandwich lunch trap.   The Little Book of Lunch may be the answer for foodies and hipsters.  But it most definitely provides few answers for those whose tastes are less extravagant or gourmet.

Amazon          Barnes & Noble



My chili pot, swimming with ground beef, onions, and beautiful chunks of garlic.


The chili recipe below is easily available from a ton of sites on the Internet.  But here’s a little background on the original version, and a personal story, which explains why I’m reprinting it here — besides it being absolutely delicious.

About a year ago a friend in Texas, Ana, lost her copy of a recipe for Texas Chain Gang Chili. She wrote to me, because it seems that I gave it to her, and she claimed it was the single best chili recipe ever.

To this day, I have no knowledge of ever giving her a recipe for anything.  But, she says I did, so I believe her.   . . . must’ve had one too many Coronas . . .

I immediately went to my own cookbooks — and my wife’s — and could not find the recipe.  (I’m stupid, I guess, because I later found it in one of the books I originally looked through.)  I searched on the Internet a few days later, but forgot what the recipe was called, so I had to write Ana back and ask again.  By this time she had found her own copy — but I was determined to find out exactly what I had given her years beforehand.

I found it on the Internet, and on many sites.  It looks like all the sites that have it copied it from one man’s site, because all the recipes mention the guy’s Aunt Diane.

I have no idea who Aunt Diane is, because she didn’t come up with the recipe.  She copied it from a cookbook, watered it down a little, her nephew copied hers, and now the whole recipe collection network on the Internet has copied it.

Don’t thank Aunt Diane — thank the Manhattan Chili Company for publishing it in their great Manhattan Chili Co. Southwest-American Cookbook back in the dim, dark year of 1986.

So, after not finding, then finding, then losing the recipe, I waited, and waited, and finally my yearning for homemade chili overtook me just a few, frigid weeks ago.  Again, I couldn’t find the damn cookbook (it was in the bedroom hiding in a stack — I never would have looked there!) so I went online and got the recipe.

Made it.  It was too thick.  Added a cup of water, some more chili powder, a little garlic powder.  Nice.  But not hot enough.

Then I found my copy of the cookbook yesterday while tidying up, and my instincts were dead on: Aunt Diane had changed a couple of things to take out some of the original’s heat and make it thicker.

Not good, Diane.  You wussed it down.

So here is the authentic recipe, although I’m copying Aunt Diane’s version from the Internet, so you can see that I’m restoring the intent and ingredients of the original.  My comments, and the differences between the original recipe and the ‘net version, are in red.  Personal comments are in parentheses.

By the way, I urge you to get the real cookbook.  You can order it here.  The restaurant can be found here — go north and experience joy . . .

Texas Chain Gang Chili:

(from Aunt Diane)

This is spectacular.

* * *  * * * * *

1/4 cup olive oil or rendered bacon fat

2 large yellow onions

8 medium cloves garlic minced (I like garlic, so I used large cloves)

4 jalapenos stemmed and minced

1.5 lbs ground beef

1.5 lbs beef chuck, cut in 1/2″ cubes

2 tsp salt (I use 2.5)

5 Tbsp chili powder (or fresh/dried ancho chili pods) (Ancho chili pods are NOT in the original recipe. I used 6 tbsp of chili powder. I like chili powder.)

2 Tbsp cumin

2 Tbsp oregano

2 tsp Cayenne pepper to taste. (Aunt Diane left this out. CRAZY! By the way, after refrigeration, a lot of the heat disappears. PUT IN THE CAYENNE!)

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes drained and well-crushed

4 cups beef stock (Aunt Diane changed it to 3 cups.)

2 16oz cans dark red kidney beans rinsed and drained. (I consider beans OPTIONAL, although they are included in the original recipe. Authentic chili doesn’t have beans.)

 * * *  * * * * ** Sauté onions, garlic, jalapenos.

* Cook beef separately and drain.

* Combine spices, garlic, meat. Cook 5 min.

* Add tomatoes and stock and bring to boil.

* Slow cook for a couple hours. (Stir occasionally.)

* Add beans about five minutes before finished. (Naaaaah.)

Rusty’s Horseradish Sauce

Are you as tired of store-bought steak sauces as I am?  I mean, seriously, even the high-priced ones from New York restaurants, like Smith and Wollensky’s or Peter Luger’s, just don’t cut it — they are NOT what I’m looking for.
What do I like?  Spice.  Tang.  Maybe only a HINT of sweetness.  Just something different from the goddamn mainstream.
So here’s what I’ve made, based on a basic sauce that restaurants serve with Prime Rib.  I’ve added stuff, a little more flavor and texture, and it goes not only with Prime Rib, but is good with Rib Eye steaks grilled out, hamburgers, and even with traditional Corned Beef.  Trust me.

Rusty’s Horseradish Sauce for Two

Two heaping tablespoons of prepared horseradish

One or one and a half heaping tablespoons of sour cream

One green onion, chopped

1/2 tablespoon fresh ground pepper

Pinch of white pepper

Pinch of garlic powder

Pinch of parsely

Sprinkle of dry mustard


Combine it all, stir, serve cold on top of your meat.  If you know what I mean.

Rusty’s Chicken Noodle Soup for Two

• 1 boned chicken breast, cooked (I broil mine)
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 chicken bouillon cube
• 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
• 1 stalk celery, sliced thin
• 2 small tomatoes
• 1 tbsp Italian spices
• 1/2 tbsp Parsley
• 1/4 or 1/3 onion, diced (more or less, depends on how much you like onions)
• Raw, frozen or cooked vegetables that you would like (I add Mexicorn, but you can add lima beans, cut green beans, whatever)
• 1/4 bag egg noodles

Poke a few holes in the tomatoes with a fork. Bring the chicken stock and water to a boil. Throw in the bouillon cube and mix. Add all the raw vegetables and the tomatoes, the spices and Parsley. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and their shredded peels. (You can now dice the tomatoes and throw them back in — whatever you like). Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add the frozen or leftover vegetables. Shred the chicken breast and add to the pot. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add the noodles and bring the soup to a strong simmer for 15 minutes.

At any point if you need more broth, add chicken stock. I also like to add a few dashes of Tabasco.