We Tried Sun Basket

The third meal kit service we tried was Sun Basket. We got three two-serving meals and like when we tried Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, we made them for lunch so there was plenty for those of us at home during the day.

1.) Each meal was packaged in a bag (plus meat separately) making it easy to pull everything out at once for cooking.
2.) Huge portions so everyone had plenty.
3.) Very convenient.
4.) The instruction book was nicely made.
5.) Meals were marked to say whether they were gluten free (gluten free plan costs slightly more than the “regular” plan).

1.) The meals are expensive compared to getting the ingredients on your own.
2.) The instructions did not give measurements so they are impossible to replicate.
3.) We didn’t like the food very much.
4.) Some of the produce was less than fresh.

The box included a nice book of all the recipes. At first, I was excited about that, but when I looked closer I discovered the recipes do not include the amounts so they cannot be made without the kit. The vegetables and things were packaged in individual bags and the meat was in the bottom of the box between ice packs.

The first meal we made was seared steak and porcini sauce with sweet potatoes and chard. Fritz helped me with it. He picked music by Twenty One Pilots to accompany us while we cooked. They sent dried porcini mushrooms, sweet potatoes, chard, flat-leaf parsley, lemon, rosemary, top sirloin steak, shallots, and unsalted butter. I forgot to pull the chard out before I took this picture.

I prepared the vegetables. First I soaked the mushrooms in hot water and then pulled them out and sliced them, saving the mushrooms. The sweet potatoes were cut into half-moons. I stripped the chard leaves from the stems and then coarsely chopped the leaves and stems, keeping them separate. Then I made the gremolata by removing the parsley leaves from the stems and adding lemon zest.

Fritz cooked the sweet potatoes and chard while I cooked the steak. Then we made the porcini sauce together.

The steak was delicious and the porcini sauce was quite good, too. The sweet potatoes and chard, however, were not very good. Cameron hated it and Cameron will eat pretty much anything. We threw quite a bit away because no one wanted it.

The second meal we made was golden coconut curry with tofu, spinach, and black rice. Fritz helped me again. We listened to songs by Sabrina Carpenter (our old standby) on Alexa while we cooked. The bag included black rice, peeled garlic, ginger, tofu, red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, lime, curry spice blend, coconut milk, and baby spinach.

I prepared the tofu and vegetables. I minced the garlic, chopped the ginger, cut up the tofu into cubes, sliced the bell pepper and mushrooms, and cut up the lime.

We cooked the tofu curry by mixing everything (except the rice which was prepared separately) together. It was very easy to make, especially with everything chopped and ready to go.

We assembled our bowls with the black rice topped with the curry. The tofu was decent tofu. Cameron wasn’t a fan of the consistency. The taste though… it just wasn’t that good. Quite a bit was leftover when we were done partly because Sun Basket gives huge portions, but partly because no one wanted seconds (or, really, to even finish their first serving).

Our third and final meal was spicy chicken tinga tostadas with avocado and queso fresco. Cameron helped me with this one. He picked random songs to play on Alexa as we worked. The bag included an onion, bay leaves, peeled garlic, chicken breasts, tinga sauce base, corn tortillas, an avocado, lime, cilantro, and questo fresco.

I prepped the garnishes. I cut up the avocado, sliced the lime, and chopped the cilantro. Eventually that chunk of queso fresco got crumbled.

I chopped and cooked onion and garlic and then added the sauce base to the pan. After it came to a boil, I added the chicken and cooked them in the sauce. Once they were done, I shredded the meat and then added it back to the pan and thoroughly mixed it with the sauce. Meanwhile, Cameron crisped the tortillas in hot, oiled pan.

We made tostadas by putting the meat and sauce on the crisped tortillas and topped them with the avocado, queso fresco, and cilantro and squeezed lime wedges over them. All of the food in this meal got eaten.

This one was the best of the three Sun Basket meals, but it still wasn’t great. It was marked as being spicy and they certainly weren’t kidding. We live in south Texas so we’re used to spicy food, but this was extra spicy. It left our mouths burning for a long time. There was not way to adjust the spice since it was all already put together in the tinga sauce base.

Whether we’d ever use Sun Basket again or not was an easy answer: No. We just didn’t like their meals enough. It’s probably a great choice for people who want to expand their horizons and try foods they’d never otherwise try. For us, it just didn’t work out. So, after three meal kit services, Blue Apron is still our first choice.


We Tried Hello Fresh

For the second meal kit service, we tried Hello Fresh. We got three two-serving meals and like when we tried Blue Apron, we made them for lunch so there was plenty for those of us at home during the day.

1.) Each meal was packaged in a bag (plus meat separately) making it easy to pull everything out at once for cooking.
2.) The instructions included pictures to make it easy to see what we were doing in that step.
3.) Very convenient.
4.) The taste was good.
5.) Generous portions.
6.) Meals were marked to say whether they were gluten free.

1.) The meals are expensive compared to getting the ingredients on your own.
2.) Some of the vegetables were looking kind of sad.
3.) The instructions put too many directions for different parts of the meal in each step.
4.) For several weeks of menus I looked at, only two regular meals were gluten free. The third was always a “premium” meal meaning it costs an extra $10 ($5 per serving) to select that one.

The box showed up at about 11 on the date I had requested. They said it would arrive between 8am and 8pm.
We Tried Hello Fresh

Inside the top of the box was the recipe cards and some advertising flyers. The next layer down was three bags containing the vegetables and other things needed to make each meal. The bottom layer was the meat in vacuum packed packages sandwiched between ice packs.
We Tried Hello Fresh

The meal kits looked pretty cool packaged the way they were.
We Tried Hello Fresh

We made the first meal, butter-basted rib-eye steak with thyme-infused mashed potatoes and asparagus the day it arrived. The asparagus was in perfect condition. The potatoes were a little weird, though, because one was big and the rest were small. In addition to the Yukon gold potatoes and asparagus, they sent thyme, chives, a lemon, milk, garlic herb butter, and rib-eye steak.
We Tried Hello Fresh

Fritz helped me with this meal. We told Alexa to play upbeat music on the Echo and got to work. Fritz spent quite a while pulling a teaspoon of the leaves off the thyme.
We Tried Hello Fresh

After I got the potatoes on to boil, I prepped the vegetables. I cut the woody ends off the asparagus, chopped up the chives, and cut the lemon into wedges. I started the rib-eye cooking in a pan on the stove. I spread the asparagus on a cookie sheet, drizzled them with olive oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper, and put them in the oven to roast for a few minutes.
We Tried Hello Fresh

The mashed potatoes were amazing. We simmered the leftover sprigs of thyme in milk for several minutes and then added that thyme-infused milk to the potatoes to mash them. The thyme leaves Fritz pulled off were added to the mashed potatoes. That may have been the best part of the meal and we will definitely be making thyme-infused mashed potatoes again.
We Tried Hello Fresh

This meal was delicious. It was a premium meal, though, so we paid an extra $10 for it. I’m not so sure it was quite that delicious.
We Tried Hello Fresh

We made the second meal, Beef Rice Noodle Bowls with carrots, cucumber, and peanut sauce, two days after the box arrived. They sent a Persian cucumber (it was not in the best condition), two peeled cloves of garlic, a lime, shredded carrots, cilantro, green onions, thai seasoning, peanut butter, siracha, white wine vinegar, soy sauce, rice noodles, and stir-fry beef. The soy sauce made me a bit nervous since the meal was labeled gluten free, but most soy sauce is not. We took the risk that their labeling was correct and, thankfully, none of us got sick so it was, in fact, gluten free soy sauce.
We Tried Hello Fresh

Adrian was my helper for this meal. We put songs by Sabrina Carpenter on the Echo and got to work. I prepped the vegetables and meat while he pulled the leaves off the cilantro and did some dancing. I sliced the cucumber and put it in the vinegar with some salt and sugar (the kit did not include the sugar needed to complete the meal). I minced the garlic, chopped the green onions and separated the whites from the greens, and cut up the lime. I added the thai seasoning, some of the garlic, and some sugar to the beef to prep it for cooking.
We Tried Hello Fresh

I boiled the noodles for about 16 minutes (they were different from the ones in the picture and from the directions given on the card – they included a note with how to adjust the instructions) while prepping the vegetables and cooking the meat. Then I made the peanut sauce and saved half and tossed the noodles with the other half. Then the food was all ready to eat.
We Tried Hello Fresh

While the Beef Rice Noodle Bowls were good, they just weren’t that good. The peanut sauce was kind of blah and the thai seasoning on the beef didn’t add much flavor. The carrots were served with it just raw which was odd. We squeezed the lime wedges on them so they weren’t too bad.
We Tried Hello Fresh

We made the third meal, Figgy Balsamic Pork with roasted green beans and rosemary potatoes, on Thursday. The kit included a shallot, Yukon gold potatoes, green beans, chicken stock concentrate, rosemary, pork tenderloin, fig jam, and balsamic vinegar. The green beans were looking kind of iffy by the time we made this meal.
We Tried Hello Fresh

Ani and Adrian did most of the work for this one. Adrian chose to play Sabrina Carpenter’s music on the Echo while they cooked. They finely chopped the rosemary and shallot and cubed the potatoes.
We Tried Hello Fresh

Ani seared the pork tenderloin on the stove before finishing it in the oven along with the green beans and potatoes.
We Tried Hello Fresh

The figgy sauce was surprisingly easy to make and the pork was cooked very nicely. Even though some of the green beans were on the edge of still being good, once they were roasted they were fine for eating.
We Tried Hello Fresh

I’m not a huge fan of pork, but this turned out quite nice. I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the fig sauce. I’ll likely make the pork and sauce again, but I might use apricot preserves instead of fig next time.
We Tried Hello Fresh

While we enjoyed trying out Hello Fresh, I doubt we would use them again. The main reason is the cost, but also because I preferred Blue Apron. While, Hello Fresh was good, Blue Apron’s instructions, ingredients, and taste were all just better when comparing the two.

We Tried Blue Apron

A couple weeks ago I got a MyPoints offer to sign up with Blue Apron. Jamie was about to go out of town and I hate cooking when he’s not here, so I figured why not try it.

1.) Everything is pre-portioned.
2.) The instructions are colorful and easy to follow and give totals of the ingredients so you can recreate the meal again on your own.
3.) It’s very convenient to have a box of ingredients delivered to your doorstep.
4.) The recipes we tried were seriously delicious.
5.) The ingredients were all very fresh.
6.) The chicken was diced up nicely without any gross bits left (and I am very sensitive to gross bits on my chicken).
7.) Portions are generous (we did two person meals and split them between four of us – adult, two teens, and kid – for lunch just fine).

1.) It’s expensive to do every week (though if the alternative is going to a restaurant to eat, it’s a huge savings).
2a.) There are very few gluten free options and I couldn’t even see what the meals would be until after I signed up.
2b.) They didn’t say whether any of the recipes were gluten free so I had to guess which would be safe and of the 8 options that week only two were okay.
3.) If I wanted to do the family size meals they are for families of four with no way to scale up to my family of six.

The box arrived mid-day on the scheduled delivery day. The top was the vegetables, then there was an ice pack thing, then the meat (double sealed), and then another ice pack thing.
We Tried Blue Apron

I pulled everything out and made sure everything we’d need was there and then stuck it all in the refrigerator. I made one of the meals two days later and the other three days later (the vegetables were still in perfect shape when I used them).
We Tried Blue Apron

The first recipe we made was Ancho Chile Chicken Tacos with Cabbage Slaw. I enlisted Cameron’s help that day and we took turns playing upbeat songs very loudly on our Amazon Echo.

The ingredients we got for this recipe were chopped chicken breast, corn tortillas, shishito peppers, green onions, a lime, red cabbage, cilantro, creme fraiche, ancho chile paste, sugar, and grated cotija cheese. The only questionable ingredient for us was the tortillas. Many corn tortillas are gluten free, but not all. We happened to have some gluten free ones in our cabinet, though, so the two non-Celiacs ate the ones from the kit and the rest of us ate the ones we knew were safe.
We Tried Blue Apron

We chopped all the veggies and cooked the chicken and peppers as directed.
We Tried Blue Apron

We laid everything for the meal out on the counter so people could assemble their tacos themselves.
We Tried Blue Apron

They were so good. The slaw was a big surprise how good it was. We enjoyed this meal so much that I put it on the menu for next week.
We Tried Blue Apron

The other meal was Seared Steaks and Roasted Potatoes with Balsamic-Glazed Mushrooms. For this one, I cooked with Fritz and we turned Maroon 5 way up on the Echo.

The ingredients for this one were steaks, cremini mushrooms, garlic (needed 2 cloves; they sent a head), Yukon gold potatoes, kale, butter, balsamic vinegar, creme fraiche, and a shallot. The only things not provided by Blue Apron (for both recipes) was salt, pepper, and olive oil.
We Tried Blue Apron

We chopped up all the vegetables. Good thing we have a bunch of bowls!
We Tried Blue Apron

We cooked the steaks and while they rested, we cooked the mushrooms.
We Tried Blue Apron

While the steaks, mushrooms, and kale cooked, we oven roasted the potato wedges.
We Tried Blue Apron

We set out all the parts of the meal on the counter to get ready for plating.
We Tried Blue Apron

This meal was also quite delicious. My oldest son was not impressed by how rare I cooked the steak (I liked it!) and he refused to touch the mushrooms. He didn’t like the kale either. Everyone else seemed okay with everything.
We Tried Blue Apron

Our little Blue Apron experiment was fun and yummy. Will we do it again? Not regularly. We might get a couple meals for a treat/alternative to going out to eat once in a while. The cost really isn’t worth it to me, especially since I have to guess whether things are gluten free or not. One thing is for sure, though. They do make cooking fun!

I Hate Celiac Disease

Not only do I hate Celiac Disease, I hate how sensitive I am. Now, I am very, very careful about cross contamination. Our house is gluten free and I only eat at restaurants I trust. But even restaurants I trust aren’t perfect. I’ve only been glutened once before since I discovered Celiac was the cause of my digestive issues so I guess less than once a year isn’t bad.

This time a little piece of grilled onion ended up mixed in with my fries and I ate it before I realized it was there. The grilled onions at that restaurant are beer braised. Beer has gluten in it and so terrible things ensued. That was Friday. I’m already a lot better. The worst has passed. Now I’m just a little swollen and achy, but the weekend sure was miserable.

Amazing Cupcakes and Some Practical Math

Yesterday Fritz and I made some amazing cupcakes. We used a recipe from the December/January 2017 issue of Gluten Free and More for Vanilla Chocolate Mint Cupcakes.

As we measured the ingredients, I asked Fritz some math problems like we have 1/2 cup of tapioca starch, 1/2 cup of potato starch, and 1/3 cup of white rice flour so how much is that all together and I need 3/4 cup of milk, but I don’t have a 3/4 cup measure so what two measuring cups can I use to make 3/4 cup. Simple questions, but very useful things to be able to calculate quickly when cooking or baking.

The vanilla cupcake mix ended up really good so Fritz, being the helper got to eat the leftover batter. That is, of course, the best part about helping bake.

While the cupcakes baked, we made the mint chocolate ganache filling. It was surprisingly easy. We just mixed cream, dark chocolate bits, and mint flavoring.

Fritz tried it, but didn’t like it very much. The dark chocolate was quite overpowering. He wasn’t sure it would be okay in our cupcakes, but he really didn’t have to worry.

The cupcakes finished baking so we set them out to cool. They turned out so nice and pretty.

With the cupcakes and filling done, it was time to make the mint chocolate chip Italian meringue buttercream frosting. It really sounded complicated, but went together pretty easily. The frosting presented us with another, harder, math problem. We had 1/3 cup of one kind of shortening left, but we needed 3/4 cup total so we had to make up the difference with butter. I showed Fritz the markings on the stick of butter and had him figure up how much butter 3/4 cup would be and then subtract 1/3 cup to find the answer of how much we needed.

We took a little break until the cupcakes were all the way cooled and then we hollowed out the centers, filled them with the ganache and then topped them with the frosting.

We sprinkled some chocolate sprinkles on top to make them extra fancy.

After almost 2 hours our cupcakes were finally ready to enjoy. They are so incredibly good and so rich we can only eat one at a time. Surprisingly, they are better after they’ve been refrigerated for a while. A definitely a hit and totally worth the time it took to make them!

Cameron’s 15

Cameron got up this morning at 4:30 to make pancakes and homemade strawberry syrup for his seminary class.
Cameron's 15

He asked for peanut butter and jelly for his birthday meal. Since he’s part of the 1/3 of our family that doesn’t have Celiac or a wheat allergy and our house is gluten-free, he got a loaf of bread and little jars of peanut butter and jelly and was sent outside to eat his lunch.
Cameron's 15

In just 15 years, he’s grown from a 6 pound 6 ounce 20 1/2″ snake baby to a 147 pound 5’11 1/4″ man boy.
Cameron's 15

Getting glutened sucks…

…but getting over being glutened is pretty nice.

A couple weeks ago, on a Friday night, Jamie and I went on a date to Orange Leaf. Usually I just get frozen yogurt and fruit. Fruit is generally safe from cross contamination. That night I decided I wanted some almonds, too. The almonds were right next to the crushed graham crackers. The little warning voice in my head told me it was too risky. But did I listen to that little warning voice? Of course I didn’t.

Within a few minutes of ingesting those microscopic bits of cross contaminated gluten, my stomach started screaming in pain. It’s funny, but when a Celiac has certain symptoms we immediately start thinking about what we’ve eaten recently and what may have gotten us sick. The thing is, if we’re careful (and listen to that little warning voice) odds are those symptoms are from something not at all related to Celiac Disease. Plus, the pain from gluten is just different and very easy to recognize.

Soon after my stomach started yelling at me, I told Jamie we needed to get home. Immediately. It’s a good thing Orange Leaf is less than a mile and a half from our house so I made it just in time. Getting glutened is so lovely.

I spent that weekend in bed alternating between reading, napping, and rushing to the toilet. By Sunday evening I was feeling a lot better. Not great, but good enough I could get out of bed and go back to relative normalcy. Crazy that something I couldn’t even see could cause that much pain and exhaustion. (Interestingly, Ani and a friend of mine with Celiac have gotten glutened every time they’ve eaten at Orange Leaf – but Ani has never gotten glutened at YogurtZone).

Fast forward a week and a half to Wednesday. I woke up after spending the night getting up every hour and a half or so to pee (five times!) and my joints were almost back to their normal size. My vague headache was gone. I had actual energy. I cleaned like crazy since I had only been able to do basic straightening while I was glutened (my floors really needed to be mopped!) I felt so much better. The next day was even better and by 2 weeks after the glutening I was back to normal.

It’s easy to forget how sick I was before we discovered my problem was Celiac. It’s easy to forget the chronic exhaustion, the pain in my joints, the difficulty walking due to pain in my heels, the stomach pain that feels like it’s swelling and might explode, the multiple trips a day to the bathroom and associated soreness from that. But then I accidentally ingest a little bit of gluten and I’m reminded just how bad Celiac is and how glad I am that we figured out I have Celiac last year and normally I don’t feel sick anymore.