- Associated Press - Thursday, July 26, 2012

Most people consider packing lunch a chore, but I’ve always thought there is something exciting about brown-bagging it. It’s like getting to take a picnic to school, on an airplane or to work.

And when you think of lunch as an opportunity to pack a special meal, it can go from dull to delicious! I learned long ago that I would be happier if I brought the food that I like to eat from home instead of hoping the cafeteria or nearby food court would satisfy me.

After making many lunches, catering in my restaurant and learning a few tricks from my mother and other brown-bag fanatics, I have some tips for making brown-bag lunches stay fresh, safe, interesting and tasty.

• Freeze bread and make sandwiches with the frozen slices. Wrap the assembled sandwich in a dry paper towel and slip it into a zip-close plastic bag or wrap with foil. By the time lunch arrives, the bread will be thawed and taste fresh and soft. Plus, the paper towel becomes a “place mat” for your sandwich.

• Freeze individual water or juice containers. Once frozen, wrap them in a paper towel and either foil or plastic wrap and place in the lunch box. Your frozen drink will double as a cold pack for keeping the lunch “refrigerated” and food safe. And, of course, it provides an icy-cold drink.

• Create themes to inspire lunches. Use favorite books, movies or holidays for children and use favorite cuisines or pastimes for adults.

• Think about your favorite picnic food. They can become great lunch items. I especially like deviled eggs; peanut-butter-stuffed celery; pimento cheese and pretzel rods; apple slices and goat cheese; fresh cherries, etc.

• Pack one indulgent treat, such as a homemade cookie or brownie, granola bar, a square of dark chocolate, dark chocolate covered almonds or whatever is your favorite treat.

• Pack one item that can be eaten as a snack. My favorite snack is a batch of my homemade gorp (good old raisins and peanuts). Divide into snack-sized bags so they are ready to pack at any time. Or up the ante and mix a couple of tablespoons of gorp into a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter, then use it to make a gorp-stuffed apple.

GORP

Substitute soy nuts for the peanuts if nut allergies are a concern.

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Makes about 4¾ cups

½ cup toasted coconut flakes

½ cup roasted, unsalted cashews

½ cup roasted, unsalted almonds

½ cup roasted, salted peanuts or soy nuts

½ cup banana chips, lightly crushed

½ cup M&M’s

½ cup peanut M&M’s

¼ cup toasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)

¼ cup dried cherries

¼ cup raisins

¼ cup diced dried apricots

¼ cup finely diced crystallized ginger

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and gently mix well. Store in an airtight container.

GORP-STUFFED APPLE BOWLS

This is one of my favorite treats! The apple is hollowed out and stuffed with peanut butter and gorp.

Start to finish: 10 minutes

Servings: 2

½ cup gorp

¼ cup peanut butter, almond butter or soy nut butter

2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith or Pink Lady

Lemon juice

Place the gorp in a food processor and pulse for 3 to 5 seconds, or until lightly chopped. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in the peanut butter. Set aside.

To make the apple bowls, carefully slice each apple in half down the center. Use a melon ball maker to hollow out each of the 4 apple halves, leaving about ½ inch of apple flesh to form the bowls. Brush the apples with lemon juice to prevent browning.

Spoon a quarter of the peanut butter mixture into each apple half. Serve immediately or wrap to pack for lunch. To wrap, press 2 of the apple halves together, then wrap in plastic.

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