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.)

From the Outer Rim #2: Recipes Every Man Should Know

Last year, Stuff Every Man Should Know was published by Quirk Books.  It’s a slender volume of how-to articles, tips and trivia: How to Hold a Baby, Tips for the Grill, How to Read the Stock Index, Facts and Notes About Wine, Jokes for the Office, a Date, and the Kids, and Five Pick-Up Lines in Five Different Languages.

It’s a great little book — a starter for a bunch of other manly, how-to books out in bookstores, but still very cool in its own right.  However, I’m much more interested in its companion volume that just came out: Recipes Every Man Should Know.

Like its predecessor, Recipes is tiny, but it is PACKED with cool little recipes for basic foods that, well, every man should know how to cook.  A Great Cup of Joe,  Better-Than-IHOP-Pancakes, Popcorn Toppings, Bacon Brownies, Eight Essential Sandwiches, Lobster with Beer and Butter Sauce, Six Classic Cocktails, and Spaghetti and Meatballs, Sunday-Gravy Style, as inspired by the kitchen scene in The Godfather.

The recipes here aren’t only inspired choices, but they’re perfect for men who don’t have a lot of time — nor the inclination — to spend their lives in the kitchen.  They’re simple, down, dirty and delicious.  And the graphics for How to Carve a Turkey and Kitchen Tools are exactly what us neanderthal, visually-oriented dudes need.

If this primer to men’s cooking leads to other, more thorough cookbooks — such as Gentlemen, Start Your Ovens and Will Cook for Sex — then go for it.

This is a great place to start building your Man-Kitchen.  Here’s the link.