#120 | Lunch!
By Olivia Mack McCool
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast, with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.
Olivia: Hi, I'm Olivia Mack McCool, and my cookbook called Lunch! is a guide to 10 weeks of flavorful, colorful, and powerful lunch bowls.
Suzy Chase: In the 1960s, nutritionist Adelle Davis said, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper." Your cookbook seems to dispel the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Talk a little bit about that.
Olivia: Sure. Well, it's funny you should bring up Adelle Davis. Actually, my grandmother who had such a big part raising me, was a huge Adelle Davis fan, so I grew up with her.
Suzy Chase: Really, oh, that is wacky.
Olivia: Yeah, I have her book.
Suzy Chase: Oh my god.
Olivia: Yeah. So, lunch. I make a big case for lunch being the most important meal of the day, throughout the book, because, yes, breakfast ... Each meal is important, of course, and breakfast is important. But the kind of lives that we live now, especially in New York City, and people of my generation, you're working all day. And lunch is your time in the middle of that workday, to get your energy.
And if you eat something ... If you cave and you have the cheeseburger or pizza, we all know. We've been there, you know what happens. And you have to take a nap. You feel like you have to crawl under your desk for 30 minutes. So, my feeling is that lunch is super important, because it fuels the rest of your day. It kind of makes or breaks it.
Suzy Chase: You were trained at Le Cordon Bleu, and you're a Brooklyn-based food stylist and recipe developer. What did you set out to accomplish with a cookbook about lunch?
Olivia: I am all those things. But also, I love teaching people. I love inspiring people to cook, especially people my age, and my friends and my peers, and my family members. And I really ... I think cooking even just really simple meals at home is such a ... I think it's like a survival skill, and everyone needs to have it.
So I'm always trying to inspire people to realize that it's actually not that hard. It just takes a little time and a little effort. And a little inspiration, which I was hoping to give people.
So, my goal was to show people that, if they just put in that two hours of prep on Sunday, I'm providing you with the grocery list, that you can make your lunch five days a week. And the other key is really accessible ingredients, ingredients that you can get at any supermarket, all over the country. You can have five homemade lunches, which is better for your wallet, and definitely better for your health.
Suzy Chase: For those of us who don't meal prep, it can be intimidating. What do you suggest to get over the initial anxiety?
Olivia: Oh, I definitely suggest that you read the whole meal prep instructions before you start. Because it might seem like a lot, but if you read all the instructions, and you know what's coming, and you'll realize that it's not so difficult. The other thing, major, major tip: clean your kitchen and empty your dishwasher before you start. Super helpful.
Suzy Chase: That's a good one. That is so good.
Olivia: Yeah. I don't actually have a dishwasher, unfortunately. But I make sure that my sink is empty and my dish rack, the drying rack, is totally empty.
Suzy Chase: So, if we're on a budget, what are some healthy items we should buy in bulk?
Olivia: Even though I do live in Brooklyn, I belong to Costco, because sometimes I do some private cheffing on the side, and it's been helpful for me. I also have a car. But you'd be surprised, big box stores like Costco or BJ's, they are really on trend right now with healthy foods.
I buy all my organic quinoa there. I buy all my organic extra virgin olive oil. They now carry avocado oil, which is so expensive at stores like Whole Foods. But if you buy it there in bulk, it's a really good price.
So, I would say, all the things that aren't going to go bad, right: pantry items like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil. Things that you use all the time that aren't going to go bad.
Suzy Chase: Who are some of your culinary influences?
Olivia: Ah, good question. So, I have to say ... People ask me all the time, how did I learn how to cook? And of course I was trained at Le Cordon Bleu, but I was cooking for a long time before that.
And when I was a child, I loved watching television, like any other child. But I really only watched the Food Network. So, I learned how to cook from Ina, Giada, and also when Martha Stewart had her show ... I forget, it wasn't on the Food Network, but I loved watching her, too. So I have to say, the classics. Classic American television stars.
Suzy Chase: In this cookbook, you have 10 weeks of lunches. The layout is a little different. Can you describe it?
Olivia: When my publisher and I started the process of ... When I pitched Lunch! to them, they had a bit of a framework for me, in the sense of, they wanted a book about lunch. But, they said, "That's all, and you run with the concept."
So I knew right away I wanted to provide more of a formulaic layout for people, because I like I said earlier, I love accessibility, and I love ease. And I really want to empower people to actually cook from my book.
So, when I was thinking about it ... There's quite a few books out there about bowls, and lunch bowls, and grain bowls. But each recipe stands alone, and you have to get all those ingredients just for that one bowl, and that's not really how we cook, in our regular lives.
So, I knew that I wanted to provide a shopping list, and I also wanted to provide the Sunday prep. So, every chapter has a shopping list with everything you need, and nothing you don't need. It also has a two-hour Sunday prep, sometimes a little less than two hours, Sunday prep, where you're making all your grains, you're prepping all your vegetables, so you're ready for the week.
It also has a few recipes in the beginning that are kind of the building blocks of each bowl that's going to come later in the week. So, once you're done with all that on Sunday, and you put everything in your glass containers, et cetera, then each night before the next day, you prep your bowl, and you're ready for the next day.
Suzy Chase: So, why did you choose to center the cookbook around the bowl?
Olivia: My publisher is called Dovetail, and their parent company is called W&P Design, and they manufacture some awesome products. A lot of their products revolve around cocktails, and kitchenware. So, in the beginning of last year ...
They're a client of mine, I style a lot of their cookbooks, and we have a great relationship. And they came to me and said, "In the end of 2018, we're coming out with some products that are," for lack of a better word, they're very chic Tupperware, something that you'd want to bring to work, and that works really well. It's leakproof, and comes in really good colors.
And they started out with this product called Porter, which is a bowl meant to bring your lunch to work. And I think the hope is that they'll have other products coming out next year. But they approached me and said, "We love your style, we know you really well. We'd love you to write the book that accompanies the product."
And not that the book ... They're not sold together necessarily, but they're merchandised together, and they're a great giftable item, even for yourself. You know, you get the book, and you get the bowl, and you're all set up.
Suzy Chase: What are some lunch foods that travel well, in your Porter bowl, and won't get mushy sitting at your desk?
Olivia: Oh, really good question. I thought a lot about that, when writing this book. I think grains are an awesome things for lunch, for many reasons, but definitely because they hold up. You can put dressings on them, vegetables on them, and they hold up all day long.
Same with rice noodles. I'm a big rice noodle fan, and chapter one uses rice noodles. And they soak up really delicious dressings, but they don't go soggy, and they're all ready for you right when you open your bowl at lunch.
Suzy Chase: For 10 chapters, you solved our lunch planning problems. Now, for chapter 11, you supplied us with some fun and easy treats. Describe chapter 11.
Olivia: So, chapter 11 was an addition to the book. And I told my editor, I said, "I have this idea for an additional chapter," but I was hesitant to commit. 'Cause, you know, I had a deadline. But I really wanted to add this chapter, and so I kind of half-promised her.
But I'm really happy I pulled it off, because I love a little sweet treat after lunch. Or I even love my lunch with like a cracker, something crispy, that little extra treat factor. And I'm really into baking that is grain-free and refined-sugar-free, in my own life. So I wanted to pass on just a few really simple recipes, just to show people that if they had a little extra time, that they could make some treats for their lunch.
I really love the lime and coconut cookies, they're my favorite recipe out of the chapter. And they have kind of a cult following now, amongst my readers and my friends. And they are using almond flour, and coconut oil, and lime zest, and maple syrup as the sweetener.
Suzy Chase: Did you do the food styling for this cookbook?
Olivia: I did do the food styling, which was so awesome. I can't even describe to you how exciting that was. You know, I'm on set every week with all different projects and all different clients, and I style a lot of cookbooks.
And cookbooks are actually my favorite kind of job, because they're just ... I don't know, there's something about it, at the end, there's this physical thing that you get at the end of all your hard work. But styling my own cookbook was pretty thrilling. I can't deny that.
Suzy Chase: I made a few of the recipes from your week three menu, so let's talk about that. First was the farro ... Is it farro, or farro?
Olivia: Well, I think that's up to interpretation. I mean, I say farro.
Suzy Chase: Okay, we'll go with farro. Okay, so, I made your farro bowl, with chicken skewers. And the chicken was marinated in a yogurt mixture, and I really think that the cinnamon kicked up the flavor in that chicken.
Olivia: Yeah, so, cinnamon is something that I love cooking with. Of course, I love baking with it, but I love it in savory foods. I make a lot of, maybe like Middle Eastern or Indian-inspired dishes with cinnamon. And these chicken skewers are no exception. It really kind of adds that, "Whoa, what is that flavor?"
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Olivia: It's funny how cinnamon is really sweet, without having any sugar in it, but it just ... I don't know, maybe it just makes your brain think that this is sweet. And it's really nice, really nice, with chicken.
Suzy Chase: And I'd never made farro before. It's so fast.
Olivia: Oh, yeah, it's so easy. And you can just boil it just like pasta. So there's all different kinds of farro, too. I mean, if you ... Kind of like in the sense of oats, you know, there's quick-cooking oats, there's steel cut oats. Stores like Trader Joe's, they sell a quicker cooking farro, that's great if you're-
Suzy Chase: Yeah, that's where I got it.
Olivia: Yeah, it's great, if you're on a time cramp, and you need to cook it quick, it's delicious. And it's nice and chewy. It's a really good grain.
Suzy Chase: The cilantro and mint chutney was a super fresh drizzle over the chicken.
Olivia: Yeah, so, that is a really delicious sauce, and it's really easy. I'm sure you saw it the same way. You just stick everything in the blender, you blend, just taste it to see if it needs more salt or whatnot. But cilantro ...
I mean, we all want to eat our greens and eat our vegetables. But we forget that actually, cilantro and parsley are really, really healthy, and they have tons of antiinflammatory and antioxidants in it. But sometimes it's hard to eat a lot of it, 'cause usually it's just a garnish.
But this sauce has a whole cup of cilantro leaves in it, so it's really concentrated. Along with mint, and garlic. And it's like this fresh, kind of savory, semi-exotic tasting sauce. It's really good.
Suzy Chase: I loved the roasted butternut squash with sage. And the kale and Brussels sprouts slaw. I put it all together for a whole meal, which, I don't know if I was supposed to or not, but. Like you just pile it up in the bowl, and it was incredible.
Olivia: Oh, yeah. I mean, I always tell people when I'm talking to them about the book, I'm like, "Make all this stuff, double the recipes, 'cause I know you're going to like it, and eat it for dinner, or eat it for whatever meal. Put it all together."
The slaw is super delicious, and it's like a fresh, crunchy slaw, that has a really good dressing on it. And talk about healthy, I mean, it's kale and Brussels sprouts. And then, the butternut squash, you get that soft, roasted, warm flavor. I love sage, too.
Suzy Chase: I was so bummed. I didn't make the seed sprinkle, because I confused pepitas with pine nuts, at Trader Joe's. Big, big bummer. But that sprinkle looks amazing.
Olivia: Yeah, you should take some time and make ... Well, it doesn't really even take that much time. But, you should make it, and this is one I even say, in the note at the bottom, "Double the recipe. You're not going to be upset if you do."
It has a huge cult following in my family. Every time we go see my in-laws in Minnesota, they ask that I bring quart containers of this stuff. And actually, all the books ... When the book came out, my publisher, the publicist there, she sent books to editors at magazines, and whatnot. And we sent a little jar of this seed sprinkle with every book, because it's so delicious.
Suzy Chase: Now for my segment called My Last Meal. What would you have for your last supper?
Olivia: Oh, that's easy. I would gorge myself on oysters, like as many oysters as I could fit in my stomach. I'm obsessed with oysters, and I like dirty martinis. So I would have unlimited, all you can eat oysters, and maybe not unlimited dirty martinis. I want to remember the experience.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Olivia: Definitely. So, on Instagram, my handle is @OliviaMackMcCool. And my website is OliviaMackMcCool.com. Easy to remember.
Suzy Chase: So, I have to give a quick shoutout to Sam Sabol, a fellow wing member, who introduced your cookbook to me. She has her cookbook club called CookBooking in Brooklyn, and S'more Stories. And I'm so thankful she hooked us up for this fun cookbook conversation. Thanks so much for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Olivia: Thank you so much for having me. And yes, shoutout to Sam, thank you so much for making this happen. It was a pleasure.
Outro: Suzy Chase is on Instagram, @CookeryByTheBook. And don't forget to subscribe to this podcast, over on CookeryByTheBook.com, or in Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery by the Book podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.
Photo Credit: W&P