Tag Archives: cooking

We Tried SunBasket. Here’s My Review.

I’ve tried those meal-box kits in the past, when they made more sense, when we were four people for dinner, every day.

They don’t make as much sense when we’re now sometimes three people for dinner and sometimes just me, and when the children  have their favorites and thanks to divorce guilt I just want to make them their favorite stuff — chicken fried rice, spinach and black bean enchiladas, homemade pizza, grilled chicken “gyro” salad — rather than try new things for them. And for me, it’s easy enough to come home at dinnertime with children and go through the rehearsed motions of making something familiar.

It’s different when you’re making a meal that says it only takes 20 minutes but you have to be glued to the recipe the whole time to determine next steps, and the timing is more like 30-40 minutes and your children are hungry and the food is new and strange to them, and they’re tired, and so are you.

Thanks to a friend, I got a big discount to try SunBasket. We haven’t used one of these kind of meal kits in years, and I thought it was time to try again.

First week: Quick Chicken Chow Mein, Seared Salmon with Pearl Couscous and Salsa Fresca, Southwestern Steak with Roasted Poblanos and New Mexican Chile Salsa. I ordered the 2-person plan, not the family plan, figuring if the kids hated it, I’d have leftovers for lunch, and if they liked it, I could open a can of sardines or something for myself.

Monday: Quick Chicken Chow Mein

The box was arriving Monday. I was picking up the children from camp Monday after they’d been away for a week. Between transitions and the Monday-ness of Mondays, I’d planned to make the Quick Chicken Chow Mein (the quickest meal) that night.

On the drive home, the older boy asked if I could make chicken fried rice, one of their favorites, that night.

“Well, I am not really prepared to make that,” I said. “We’d have to stop at the store. I was going to make Chicken Chow Mein tonight.”

Same flavor profile, kind of, right?

“OK!” he said cheerfully.

OK.

The children were really hungry but the meal was fairly quick to make. And…kind of bland. I added soy sauce to mine. The children ate seconds but said they preferred my chicken fried rice and found this kind of flavorless.

Short review: It’s fast, full of veggies, they ate a lot of it, and it makes a lot of food. I’d call this a win if it were more flavorful.

Tuesday: Southwestern Steak with Roasted Poblanos and New Mexican Chile Salsa

I’d planned to make the salmon on Tuesday night, then hold the steak until Saturday (the kids would be back on Friday, but that’s Pizza Night). SunBasket recommends using the food up within five days, though, so I asked the kids what they wanted tonight: steak or salmon.

“Steak!”

OK, then. I proceeded with that recipe, roasting sweet potatoes and red onion and poblanos. None of us really like sweet potatoes. The children don’t like red onion or any onion. They don’t like peppers, sweet or poblano or raw or roasted.

I wasn’t sure they’d enjoy having their steak rubbed all over with sweet paprika, so I left that out. I also left out the chile salsa, because they like their meat plain.


Honestly, it was too hot to have the oven at 400 degrees for that long.

Short review: Not a great summer meal unless you have AC. Not a fun meal for children (or me–I didn’t really like the veggie combo). Might be too zippy as a family meal. Meat was great quality. I would love to follow this recipe to the letter and try the steak with the paprika and the chile salsa).

Also Tuesday: Seared Salmon with Pearl Couscous and Salsa Fresca (minus the salsa fresca)

I also realized I wouldn’t have a chance to cook the salmon until Saturday (ugh), so I decided to cook that tonight, too, along with the couscous in case the kids needed a neutral side because we all hate sweet potatoes.

The salmon prep bag included a yellow pepper, a tomato, and a cucumber (and shallots, a lime, and honey) for the salsa fresca. I thought the salmon would be more interesting with the salsa fresca, but I knew the kids would be eating the steak, not the salmon, and I could use the veggies in their lunches tomorrow, so…I sprinkled the salmon with sesame oil and soy sauce instead.

The children ate all the steak. I ate some salmon. I ate the roasted veggies that went with the steak. The children did not like the couscous (MY CHILDREN DO NOT LIKE COUSCOUS, WHICH IS ANOTHER FORM OF PASTA, WHAT THE…).

Short review: Salmon was very fresh, excellent quality. Veggies for salsa fresca were very fresh (and will be great as crudites for the kids’ lunches tomorrow, because no way was I going to chop everything up just for myself). Maybe the kids would have eaten the couscous if I hadn’t put granulated garlic on it, but honestly they don’t mind garlic, so…I think we’re just not couscous eaters. I don’t love it, either.

In Short…

  1. I was pleased with the meal choices, variety, recipe layout, and quality of ingredients and packaging.
  2. I still suffer divorce guilt, and my kids are only here half-time, so when they are here, I will generally make them their favorites, which tend to have them eating a lot more vegetables than they ate tonight.
  3. I appreciate the chance to have them try new things, and it’s good for them, too.
  4. Getting out of our food rut was fantastic for a few meals.
  5. All in all (see “divorce guilt,” “favorite foods,” and “eat their veggies”), I can’t continue this.

SunBasket, you’re fine, but we’re not a great match at this time. Thanks for letting me try you at a discount.

Kale Pesto and Smug Salad: Beyond Kale Chips

Tonight I had one of those “Oh crap, what can I make for dinner??” moments…long after the time I should have already started cooking dinner.

I am meal planning these days and have been using Six O’Clock Scramble but recently switched to eMeals (review coming soon!!), but even so, this week things fell apart. Last night I made boxed mac-and-cheese (Annie’s, at least) for the kids. I NEVER make them boxed mac-and-cheese. It’s absolute emergency food, in my opinion. My special snowflakes only eat wholesome fresh dinners made from organic scratch.

Except, you know, last night.

And then my husband, when he got home, suggested that he go pick up burritos or maybe order from our favorite Szechuan place, and I pointed out that now that we’re sending one child to private school, I’m going to be the budget bitch. I pointed to the can of Trader Joe’s Turkey Chili on the counter.

Granted, they could really brighten up their label. It’s dismal, black and dark red, like something you only eat if you hate yourself and it’s raining out and you’re in a sad motel room alone with a plastic spoon. He promised to keep our Szechuan order in check, but I got too hungry to wait and opened that can.

The chili, once heated, was pretty good. I added the kids’ leftover frozen-but-heated-now-cooled veggies (sorry, at this point are you wondering why I ever claimed to be a locavore foodie or a one-time chef in a fancy restaurant? I promise, I am the former and was the latter. It’s just that these days, sometimes I just have to cope, like last night).

Tonight, though, I rocked it so hard in the spontaneous dinner department. Once again, the afternoon got away from us, so I left the kids out in the yard* and went up to cook.

I took some kale, put it into the blender with plenty of olive oil, added raw pumpkin seeds and some nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt, and blended away. The resulting kale pesto was spectacular.

pesto

I ate this for lunch today, spread on bread.

 

Then, I was determined to cook out of our cabinets (since it was way past dinnertime and I had to think fast and there was no time to thaw anything) and ended up making food that the kids loved. Why have I bothered with “fancy” recipes for tomato ragu (“I hate this pasta! I want spaghetti, not fettuccine!”) or lemon chicken and couscous with spinach, feta, and pine nuts (“What is this gross stuff?? Get it off my plate!”**) when I could have been tossing hot dogs at them all week?

Meanwhile, I cooked whole-wheat shells, adding frozen peas and corn near the end. I drained it, added canned salmon and olive oil and grated Parmesan, and served it, holding my breath.

pastapesto

They loved it so much Ben ate it for lunch today, too…as did I.

They LOVED it.

As Max asked for his third plateful, he said, “Mom, you know what would be really good with this? That green sauce.” He meant standard basil pesto but I offered him some kale pesto. Unfortunately, he got a big chunk of raw garlic (“too spicy!!”), so I offered him basil pesto instead.

Ben wanted both kinds of pesto and ended up eating the kale pesto with his hands (this is how the child gets away with everything–because if you are willing to eat raw kale pesto by the handful, child, you are the winner).

I, of course, doused my plateful of pasta with the kale pesto and later ate some remaining kale pesto with a spoon. WHAT??

So here is the basic rule: If you have kale, you need olive oil and some salt. Cooked, raw, roasted, whatever– with those three ingredients, you rule the world.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

I also made what I’m calling Smug Salad: raw kale, half a red onion, the old red cabbage from the lower left produce drawer (chopped), sliced scallions (because don’t you just feel smug using kale and the tired veggies from your fridge…plus nutritional yeast??). Massage chopped kale leaves with olive oil. Add the other stuff. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and sea salt and raw pumpkin seeds. Spritz with fresh lemon juice and serve, knowing you are an acai berry and some pomegranate away from Utter Superfood Salad.

kale cabbage

[One other confession: This kale was from a bag. Whole Foods sells these 16-oz. bags of washed, torn kale. It’s awesome if you haven’t made it to the farmer’s market in a while and you want kale in a hurry and you just can’t deal with washing it because your sink is full of dishes.]

Why didn’t I take a picture of the finished salad? I don’t know! But it is beautiful.

*This is kind of a huge deal if you live in the city and your yard isn’t fenced. But I could hear them the whole time and occasionally popped down for surprise checks. They, as directed, stayed in the backyard and did not kill or blind each other with sticks. And I got to make dinner. Win-win-win!!

**Oh yes, that got sent him away from the table IMMEDIATELY.

Meal Plan: Week of July 8

I haven’t forgotten the meal plans! Last week was a little tricky, though, as we were away for July 4th. Saturday night we were up in Lowell and took the kids to a South Indian vegetarian restaurant. Yum! They didn’t love it. Ben ate more than Max did, though. We won’t give up on having them try new things.

enormous paper dosa

enormous paper dosa

This week, I didn’t make it to the farmer’s market and am trying to use whatever we have in the fridge. Also, our oven hasn’t yet been repaired and I’m trying to cook on the grill more. Our stove still works, but grilling is more fun.

I say “trying” not because I suck at grilling (I am actually pretty good at it and used to grill all the time, every night, especially vegetables), but because we live on the second floor and the grill is down in the backyard and when you have small children, grilling in this situation becomes tricky, with all the running up and down the stairs to get stuff or prep food in the kitchen (i.e., the salad), and the children would therefore be left unattended in one place or the other at a time of day when they are “not as easygoing and mellow as they are earlier in the day.” Ahem.

Monday: Jerk Chicken Satay with pineapple dipping sauce (Wildtree freezer meal), corn on the cob, shredded cabbage salad with scallions and lime dressing. We used the grill, hooray! (only because Ben was napping). Max helped with most of this meal, though I got nervous when he put on his apron and insisted on turning things on the grill (he was nervous, too, and I helped him). I flat out refused to let him use the mandoline to shred the cabbage.

Some boiled, some grilled.

Some boiled, some grilled.

Tuesday: Black beans and rice, Swiss chard. I bought a ton of black beans at Costco, and since we all like them, I think black beans and rice will be appearing weekly.

Wednesday: Pasta and meatballs, spinach salad.

Thursday: Pizza on the grill, raw beet salad (soooo good). I love making pizza on the grill but haven’t done it in years. Let’s hope I still remember how!

Friday: Turkey burgers and hot dogs, some kind of vegetable.

Saturday: ??

Sunday: ?? Probably fish.

I was discussing meal plans with a few other people, some of whom are perhaps a little smarter than me. One woman, rather than reinventing the wheel every single week like I do, has three meal plans — A, B, and C — and rotates them. Aha! That’s it!

She very kindly sent me her meal plans, which look yummy and like stuff we make. I really like that idea. I do tend to be a little whimsical in the kitchen, and I usually rely on what’s on sale and what I find at the farmer’s market. But since I’m not really building meals around this week’s supply of Swiss chard or what have you, I could easily have a plan of three weeks of main dishes, with sides varying depending on the harvest.

It got me thinking about some staples, themes, and frequently repeated meals, and here are a few:

  • Black beans and rice
  • Fish (pan-cooked or baked/broiled)
  • Wildtree freezer meal (eight of these left!)
  • Pasta and meatballs, or pasta and beans, or pasta and veggies
  • Pizza
  • Chicken (bah, chicken; I think we’re all sick of it): grilled? pan-cooked? I need a more interesting way to prepare it

In other happy food news, I was reading about cold brewed coffee and decided to make some. Basically, you mix coffee grounds and water and let it sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours, then strain it. The concentrated result is a great base for cold/iced coffee drinks — just add milk and/or ice. It tastes a lot different than brewed coffee that has cooled down — less bitter, less acidic, more flavorful.

Plus, of course, I can store it in a Mason jar, and god knows I love Mason jars!

coldbrewed coffee

cold brewed coffee

Speaking of Mason jars, jam season is almost upon us! Our raspberry patches have been really productive. I need another day or two’s harvest, and then I can make jam! I can’t wait. And then it will be peach season, and plums, and apples…

What are you cooking this week? Do your meal plans rotate, like my friend’s, or do you come up with new ones based on your whims? 

Meal Plan: Week of June 10

That’s right, a menu plan! I’m finally trying to get ahead of the game a little and plan meals (and do the appropriate grocery shopping) on the weekend to make weeknights a little easier. For more than a year I’ve been inspired by the wonderful, tasty-looking meal plans at Random Recycling. So it’s time to try it myself.

Of course, yesterday’s grocery trip involved a tired Ben while C and Max were at the nearby pet store buying fish, so my trip did not go as smoothly as planned. I came home with coconut-milk popsicles but no milk, cream cheese but no bagels, seaweed snacks and a few cans of beans but no bananas. You know. Typical shopping trip, really.

But this week I’m on it, and this is what it looks like:

Sunday: Two Bean and Corn Burgers, corn on the cob, broccoli. The recipe is from the seasonal Whole Foods pamphlet “Meals for 4 under $15.” (They have a similar pamphlet of meals for under $10.) I’m always intrigued by these but have never made one of these recipes before. The burgers sounded good but were a little mushy (maybe I didn’t drain the beans well enough?). I thought they were pretty good and much better than the usual bean burgers I make, but no one else — as usual, when it comes to bean burgers around here — seemed to like them. C ate only one. Max had one bite; he’d been expecting a beef burger. Ben opted out completely and ate mayonnaise on a bun (whatever!).

bean_burger

Two Bean and Corn Burgers

Monday: Salmon, penne, carrots, Swiss chard. We may not be doing a CSA this year after all (I dropped out due to, frankly, stress), but we’ll be hitting the farmer’s market pretty hard this year and buying from our CSA farmer. Win win! We got some lovely Swiss chard from him on Saturday, after our entire family (including Max, on his own bike) biked to the farmer’s market four miles away. Yes! C and Max rode on the sidewalks and I pulled Ben in the trailer. It was Max’s first real ride out of the neighborhood, and he did great!

Tuesday: Pizza or hot dogs, alphabet soup, birthday cake. It’s Ben’s birthday! Not yet sure if we’ll make the pizza ourselves or order it, if he decides he wants that.

Wednesday: Poached Cod in Tomato Sauce with Chorizo and Feta, London Broil with Spinach (both courtesy of Plated!), brown rice, green salad. Thanks to Klout, I scored four free meals (plates) from Plated.com, and they arrive Tuesday. Since Tuesday is Ben’s birthday and I want dinner to be something I know he’ll eat, the Plated meals will wait until Wednesday. I think I have to do some basic cooking/assembly, but basically the pre-measured ingredients arrive on my doorstep and I just have to cook them — 20 minutes or less, they say!

Thursday: Baked Mexican Rice and Beans, cucumber and carrot sticks, hummus. Also from that Whole Foods pamphlet — I’m trying a few new recipes this week, since I’m sick of our usual fare, and also I want more meatless options. This is similar to Sunday’s meal, but it has cheese and greens in it and hopefully will have a better reception than the burgers.

Friday: Leftovers!

Saturday: Grilled chicken, or possibly date night.

I like to have quick back-up meals planned, just in case something comes up. So those are spaghetti and meatballs (the meatballs are in the freezer), or macaroni and cheese.

I still have to wash and prep the chard and wash the lettuces, but otherwise I think we’re in good shape for the week!

…except we’re nearly out of milk and bread, and no hot dogs here either, and I still need snacks and birthday treats for the preschool class on Tuesday, since I’m parent helping and Ben is coming with me, so I still need a quick grocery run tomorrow. But hey, I’m meal planning! Look at me go!

Want Fresh Local Produce? Visit the Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market!

Last weekend I made it over to the Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market. If you’re in the Boston area on a Saturday, be sure to stop by! It’s in the Armory on Highland Avenue (you know, that big white fortress or castle-like building?).

Arts at the Armory

The market will be going strong through April, thank goodness. It’s on two floors of the Armory, with vendors selling breads, baked goods, cheeses, cider, jam, apples (yes! apples! local apples!), and greenhouse vegetables (baby spinach, for example). You can also find incredible root vegetables (the line was to here), locally made Tazo chocolate (we bought the Tazo Orange disks, which are unbelievably good), freshly made cider donuts, and frozen meats and seafood.

 

Market scene

Market scene

cheese

Cheese, up!

I love the farmer’s market. I love summer markets, too, but I tend to take them more for granted. And as a long-term CSA member, I admit that by the end of our CSA season, in November, I’m happy to be able to go to the grocery store and decide what vegetables I want to get, and how much of them. Yes, I love my CSA and value being a CSA member, but this year, for some reason, by the end of it I was ready to be done.

But absence and the heart….you know what they say. So in early January, to walk into an indoor farmer’s market and be able to rummage among heaping baskets for fresh cold fat carrots, and golden carrots, and beets (including golden and chiogga), and yams, and beautiful and delicious watermelon radishes, and parsnips, and celeriac…I admit I teared up, so happy was I to have my hands on locally grown produce again.

The kids kept asking, on the way there, if there would be apples. I couldn’t promise, but I was pretty sure there would be.

I was right.

Yes, apples!

Yes, apples!

Roots for us!

Roots for us!

helpful info

Follow!

Roots galore

Roots galore

roots2

Watermelon radishes…sooooo good

cabbage

Name that vegetable.

Gluten-free baked goods

Gluten-free baked goods

Don’t let sentimental weirdos like me keep you away, though. Come fill up a bag and make yourself a good meal or several. You can also sample almost everything: cheese, pastries, chocolate, bread, wine…

Fresh cheese

Fresh cheese

Music

The Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market always has live music. Last week it was a good musician playing popular current hits. He did it well, and it made nice background music.

Bustling market

Bustling market

Kids’ Stuff

The market often has entertainment for kids, including face painting, balloon artists, crafts, and other things. And there’s always a corner where kids can sit and color.

Or you can just carry your kids around while they happily eat raw radishs. Ben ate this after eating a cider donut. Really. Apparently he, too, was happy to see local produce again.

Or you can just carry your kids around while they happily eat raw radishes. Ben ate this after eating a cider donut. Really. Apparently he, too, was happy to see local produce again.

Vendors

As I mentioned, you can find produce, meat, seafood, eggs, raw milk, apples, cider donuts, chocolate, cheese, and jams. Oh, and also nuts. Most vendors are regular; there are a few rotating spots each week, too.

Seafood, even!

Seafood, even!

All kinds of good meat and fresh eggs.

All kinds of good meat and fresh eggs.

greens

Eat greens!

Affordability

OK, stuff at the market might cost a little more than they do at Stop and Shop, maybe. But it’s about 298 times better for you, the planet, and the local economy. Plus, it tastes a thousand times better. Trust me. We bought carrots at [Local Major Grocery Chain] two weeks ago, and they were woody and tasteless and tough and dry and horrid. Last weekend, we bought carrots at the farmer’s market, and they are sweet, juicy, flavorful, fresh…basically, they are carrots that we want to eat!!

Also: If you are on food assistance (EBT/SNAP), the market will match $10 for you! So for $20 of SNAP dollars, you will get $30 worth of tokens!

Market Manager MaryCat Chaikin.

Market Manager MaryCat Chaikin.

You can buy tokens when you walk in, so that if you only have a credit or debit card, not cash, you can get tokens (worth $1 and $5 and possibly other amounts) up front, at the manager’s booth. It’s also easier, I found, to use tokens with vendors rather than pulling out cash at each stand.

They take Visa.

They take Visa.

Details

The Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market is from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday into April, at Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave., Somerville, MA.

And after writing this and looking at all the pictures, I think I know where I’m headed tomorrow!

Disclosure:  I was compensated with market goods for this post (yes! Will write for food!), but I was willing to do it anyway, for free, because I’m a big fan of farms, farmers, farmer’s markets, fresh food, local food, Somerville, and the Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market (plus all the other winter farmer’s markets in the area, and the summer ones….bringing good fresh farm food to us city-dwellers!).