50 Meal Celebration

Today I made my 50th meal with Cook Smarts! I feel like I deserve a badge! Or maybe I should get a new apron? Something to commemorate this incredible accomplishment.

A few years ago I set a goal to cook 40 new to me things. My intent was to create a set of interchangeable sides, main dishes, and vegetable concoctions. I desired to build meal plans seamlessly that would be nutritious, delicious and filling. I wanted to be able to put something on the table in about 30 minutes or less. That year, I think I made it to 12 new recipes and my husband was primarily cooking dinner most evenings.

The next year I set my goal at 20, reasonable expectations and all. That year, I might have made it to 16, or something like that. Again the next year I set the goal again, this time I surpassed it, but my husband was still making a majority of the dinner meals.

To my credit, I mill my own wheat and make bread from scratch, pasta from scratch, have a slam-dunk ragu recipe, a taco soup recipe that pleases the Texan in our home and have several hummus recipes that have incited marriage proposals. Throughout our dating relationship, engagement and marriage we set a fun tradition of cooking interesting or amazing meals together on the weekends. I knew I wasn’t inept in the kitchen. However, until recently my husband has been primarily the week night chef.

Back in February my friend Stephanie introduced me to Cook Smarts. I made my first meal on February 21, 2016. Life-changing-moment.

Tonight I made my fiftieth meal. I’ve struggled to adequately convey the boost to my confidence in the kitchen. On the Cook Smarts website they say, “We’re here to empower you with the know-how and tools to live your best life in the kitchen because a simple home cooked meal can be the source of greater health, happiness, and community.”

I genuinely anticipated that after my three month subscription ended I would be ready to move on and recreate the Cook Smarts experience solo. I certainly did not expect I would happily sign up for the annual subscription. I never intended to be a prolific ambassador for this company, but y’all… it works. Their system, program, subscription is incredible.

One of the first things I do on Thursday mornings is check the Cook Smarts website for the menu for the following week. Sometimes Jeremy and I are a bit skeptical about the menu, “cauliflower rice”? But every single time my expectations are overridden by a very fun try.

An unexpected benefit is the online community. The Facebook private group of Kitchen Heroes is one of the most positive places on the internet. Someone will express a kind word about a dish you felt particularly unsuccessful. Another cook will ask a question and immediately receive at least five helpful suggestions. One Kitchen Hero will have something odd happen and immediately, the community is there to help.

I have been impressed over and over and OVER again by this company. Their customer service experience is out of this world. They claim to be Kitchen Cheerleaders and they fulfill this role superbly.

It is so much more than a meal plan, a menu, cooking instructions or recipe guide. It is a community of like minded individuals who want healthier lives for everyone they meet. I am so delighted to participate.

#50mealcelebration

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Blackened Fish Tacos

Blackened Fish Tacos

I added a little sugar to the crust to ensure that it gets blackened and caramelized. The sweetness also balances nicely with the spices.

Serves 4

4 white fish fillets (such as halibut or tilapia), about 5 ounces each
Salt and ground black pepper
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

Season both sides of fish fillets with salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine sugar, paprika, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Mix well to combine spices. Rub spices all over fish fillets.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish and cook 2-3 minutes per side, until fork-tender and blackened. Pull fish apart into 2-inch pieces and serve in tacos with desired fillings.

Read more at: http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2011/11/22/robins-healthy-take-taco-tuesday/?oc=linkback

Chipotle-Lime Chicken Taco Salad, Week 4

This is definitely my current favorite Cook Smarts meal. I love the flavor, simplicity and time it takes to make this dish! Basically, you mix the marinade/sauce- use half of it on the chicken as a marinade and half you add some sour cream and use it as a dressing! The biggest chunk of time on this meal is waiting 30 minutes (up to overnight) on the marinade!

Avocados, fresh tomatoes, tortilla chips, our favorite bibb lettuce- yes please!

Marinate the chicken in a spicy chipotle pepper, adobo and lime sauce- yes please!

They are really as good as they look- now that’s a plate of nachos!

One of us added cheese!

I tried to get the perfect combination of chip, chicken, tomato half, lettuce and avocado in every bite!

Tofu and mushroom lettuce wraps and pineapple coconut smoothie-Week 4 of Cook Smarts

This was really delicious! Apparently I was a bit scattered in making sure I had all of the ingredients out before I took my before shot, so you get two photos of the “before”. (That’s what I get for multi-tasking in the kitchen again!)

This beautiful line up along with the peanut butter became my peanut sauce. I love knowing exactly what is going into my sauces! I can adjust the heat, the salt, the acidity, the sweetness, everything myself and that is a power I do not take lightly!

Oh, crunchy peanut butter and peanuts, sure, why not!?  

I really appreciate being able to use more of the bag of frozen peas and carrots on this dish! Have I mentioned how much I appreciate the reduction in waste while using Cook Smarts! Even something as simple as a $1.00 frozen bag of vegetables being incorporated into multiple meals in the week!

Our thoughts and impressions:

~the pineapple and coconut smoothie was delicious, but we’re not big smoothie drinkers so, take it or leave it.
~we would prefer a creamy peanut butter and foregoing the peanuts
~I needed to squeeze more water out of the tofu so it crisped properly in the pan
~Mung bean threads or a wide egg noodle would be a marvelous addition to this dish.
~We’d definitely make this again with the aforementioned changes.

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Shepherds Pie-Cook Smarts Week 4

I’m wildly excited to be using Cook Smarts still. 4 weeks of fantastic experiences in the kitchen. Spoilers: Neither of us loved this dish in the “please repeat” category, but both of us were delighted to eat it. One of the most intimidating parts of the meal planning process for me is hoping we both enjoy the meal. I put a lot of emotional investment into my choices that ultimately I set myself up for disappointments. Cook Smarts has taken this emotional component out of the equation. We both agreed that as often as possible I will cook from their menu. If there’s a dish that both of us are really, genuinely uninterested in, I might skip, but unless this happens I will be cooking from the menu.

We discovered that while the flavors of this dish were really well done, and everything was cooked properly, neither of us are interested in eating it again. However, I thought this would make a fantastic meal-to-share with anyone who enjoys “meat and potato” type meals or particularly loves shepherd’s pie. Also, this dish would freeze really well. If you make meals for families and want a gluten-free, non-dairy dish that’s hearty and comforting, this might be your meal. (To make it dairy free I subbed non-dairy sour cream and just skipped the butter).

Shepherd’s Pie seasoning mix: so yum!

Freshly chopped onions, yummy tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.  

The before photo!

That’s a lot of food in that side profile! 

Apparently I misread the directions because I was supposed to have chopped green onion pieces left to sprinkle over the top, oh well!

Coq au Vin 

After years of cooking together we are much braver when it comes to seemingly intimidating dishes. Coq au Vin sounds like a very impressive and intimidating so we tackled it this weekend. After we went shopping on Saturday we realized that the dish would need to marinate in the fridge overnight so we decided we would prep it together on Sunday afternoon and I would cook it for dinner Monday night.

This dish is involved. I think that’s why it seems intimidating. There’s an aromatics portion, the chicken is coated in flour and then pan fried, and preparatory steps for ingredients needed the following day.

The recipe calls for two full bottles of Pinot Noir in the sauce, but I’m pretty convinced that some in a glass goes quite well with the meal rather than cooking all the wine. And on that note, a better quality Pinot Noir for the non-cooking portion is recommended.  
Honestly, in our humble opinion, after making this dish only once, we were not a fan of the floured chicken. We would prefer a non breaded version if we make this dish again.  

It certainly looked yummy before we soaked it in wine!

Alton Brown’s Coq au Vin video   Oh, these aromatics! Yum!

You cook the mushrooms, pearl onions (we substituted sweet yellow onions because our grocery store was fresh out of pearls), and lardon (what? we used bacon) and then refrigerate them to use in the sauce the next day. (In the background of the image below).

Original Recipe
  After I pulled it out of the oven, it did not look pretty but it smelled fantastic.

At this point in the recipe you strain out everything you see below, retain the chicken, cook down the fluids, add in the mushroom/onion/bacon mix to the reduced liquid and you are ready for a plate!img_3859

I didn’t take a picture of the plating because it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. He recommends you serve it over egg noodles, I used bread and that was pretty yummy.

Her remake of last night’s recipe

I realize that a good portion of my posts about Cook Smarts might sound like a sales pitch, (and let’s be honest, I’d totally appreciate a remuneration package for my advertising), but that’s not the case. This subscription service has revolutionized our week nights and my hope in sharing this is that someone else will benefit as well.

Most of the meals are 30-45 minutes from start to plating and every single meal uses fresh ingredients (and sometimes frozen, boxed or canned, as well. I haven’t gone off the deep end!). I’ve made my own seasoning mixes, my own salad dressings, salad mixes and the list goes on. My confidence in the kitchen is skyrocketing. This isn’t to say that every dish has turned out perfectly or that we’ve loved every single meal, but we’ve enjoyed a majority.

Take tonight’s meal for example. I had chicken thighs thawing in the fridge and since tonight wasn’t an “authentic Cook Smarts” night I was going to do something really simple. However, newly inspired with last night’s dish I decided to do a variation on the meal and repeat it! The only thing I changed was using peas instead of the avocado and orange salad for the side. To be fair, a post from Cook Smarts today inspired my creativity. They shared a “cooking mad libs” post about the “secret” formula for many of their dishes and encouraged making your own substitutions. You can find this post on facebook or in their articles.

I felt so empowered to make a creative meal to enjoy in my home! Full disclosure, I love pinterest, I have a fantastic “on the menu” board. I have every intention of cooking through my list, but I’ve been burned too many times with untested or just-plain-bad recipes. I had every intention of making out my own menus and creatively cooking meals, but I had a lot of emotional investment in A) the meal turning out perfect, B) hoping my husband would love it, C) that I would love it, that I crippled myself before beginning. Now I have the perfect excuse to try new foods, recipes etc that have been tested so as long as I can follow directions the meals will turn out.

We’re learning a lot through this process. We’re trying dishes we may never have experienced and learning we do like green eggs and ham sometimes! (Okay, that was just my Dr. Seuss humor sneaking out.)

Thanks for following along on my cooking adventures. If you decide to sign up, let me know, I’m excited to have more people enjoying their kitchens and dining experiences!