Samantha writes: My husband and I made a pact to brown bag it for the next couple of months to save some money. Turkey sandwiches are all good and well, but I’d like to start doing something more exciting than sandwiches. Here is a pic of my fridge. If you can get back to me by early tomorrow and the preparation doesn’t take more than like 10 minutes, I’d like to make something before leaving for work – if not I’ll make it tomorrow for the next day. In the aluminum foil is grilled chicken breasts. There’s some cheeses – feta, cheddar, Parm -, lettuce, fresh herbs – cilantro and thyme – oranges, grapes, etc… I have some grains, pasta, couscous in the pantry, and some canned tomatoes, too.
Tony’s take: You’ve probably done the math, Samantha – $8 (for an average lunch) x 5 days/wk = $40/wk x50 wks/yr = $2000/yr x 2 people = $4000 for you and your husband to eat out every day (after taxes). That’s a lot of scratch. But here’s the deal: I’m not completely objective on this issue, because I can’t let on what a waste of money it is to go out for lunch because then you’ll not go to b.good and I’ll be screwed. Go out once a week to your local b.good (space it out so we don’t just get slammed on Fridays) and then brown bag the other 4 days of the week. You’ll save some money and eat healthier, I’ll make a living, and we can all go out for a steak together on a Friday night. Now as for your actual predicament, I’m with you that going beyond an actual sandwich can make lunch more interesting/ substantial and the overall work experience less crappy. Pack it into nice containers, pair it with something good to drink and you can bask in a little mid-day oasis, provided you actually have time to eat and your workplace isn’t stuffed with looneys pacing outside your office door (or officicle) waiting for some report from you. The chicken makes sense to use but so does that watermelon (on the middle shelf) and feta. I get that you’re trying to make something a little more interesting than the standard turkey sandwich, so I would suggest really getting crazy: make a feta and watermelon salad and set it atop some couscous tossed with the grilled chicken, some orange juice (from that fresh orange) and some chopped cilantro. I know that feta and watermelon might sound like a weird pairing, but it works (salty feta fills out the sweet watermelon). It’s just the kind of jazzy meal that will make brown-bagging it feel worthwhile and fun and the kind of thing that your co-workers will be jealous of, provided they’re not pissed at you because you owe them that report.
Serves 2+ Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 5 minutes
What you need: Ingredients: Grilled chicken (or rotisserie chicken), watermelon, feta, olive oil, orange, S+P, couscous, cilantro, spices (ground cumin, chile powder, cinammon), red wine vinegar.
Equipment: Cutting board, chef’s knife, small saucepan, wooden spoon, tupperware (for packing everything up)
How to do it: Make the couscous: Stir together 3/4 cup water, 1 Tbs. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. each ground cumin and chile powder (just 1 tsp. of one or the other if that’s all you have), a pinch of cinammon, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in 3/4 cup couscous, cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes so the couscous absorbs the water, then uncover, fluff with a fork and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet to cool for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, dice up 1 cup grilled chicken, juice the orange, and chop 2 to 3 Tbs. cilantro. Toss the couscous with the chicken, a couple of tablespoons of the orange juice, the cilantro, and some salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil or orange juice if you like. Distribute the couscous into 2 containers (for each of you) and top with alternating slices of feta and watermelon (make the feta thinner than the watermelon). Pack a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper into a container for drizzling over the feta/watermelon salad at work.