CookSmarts, A Review

So, I just completed a three-month run of this program called CookSmarts, a service that puts together weekly menus with recipes and grocery lists. I found out about it through a blog on MyFitnessPal and decided to sign up the day after Thanksgiving with a Black Friday special – 3 months worth of recipes and meal planning for only $12.60. Not too bad! In addition to weekly menus, recipes, and grocery lists, CookSmarts provides a large library of videos that teach you how to cut, chop, dice, and prepare different kinds of vegetables, fruits, and proteins. Not only that, but each week includes weekend prep directions for your recipes that will make assembling and putting together a meal on a weeknight that much quicker. Each recipe also comes with a vegetarian, gluten-free, or paleo modification. I wanted to try CookSmarts because I wanted to get in the habit of cooking more and eating out less. I accomplished this goal, and I actually learned a lot about food and cooking. I may be a dietitian, but that doesn’t mean I’m a stellar cook by any means. However through Cooksmarts, I learned how to pair different flavor profiles and learned what works well together. Examples: Miso, maple syrup, panko, and butter – delicious. Fish sauce, coconut milk, and thai curry paste – divine. Balsamic vinegar, bacon, Brussels sprouts, and brown sugar – there’s nothing better. I also learned cooking techniques that have made me a better home-chef in general, like the proper ratios of a vinaigrette, thickening sauces (which I learned about in college, but have rarely practiced since), how to build flavors by cutting in with acid, etc. etc. Where can I find the application for Chopped because I’m starting to sound super fancy.

Things I liked about CookSmarts:

  • The weekly recipes arrived the Thursday before, giving you enough time to plan and prepare your week ahead.
  • The recipes were super easy, none were too involved or took longer than an hour to make.
  • The recipes often incorporated ingredients I wouldn’t normally jump to use, and weren’t intimidating (like radishes, shallots, or parsnips), that now I like to cook with often.
  • A lot of the recipes in a week use similar ingredients, so your grocery lists aren’t too crazy.
  • It forced me to learn how to meal plan! Which is such an important tool in general healthy eating and weight loss.
  • It built up my pantry with ingredients that are found in a lot of different recipes, like balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, chicken stock, maple syrup, honey, dijon mustard, flour, brown sugar, Panko breadcrumbs, and various spices. Now whenever I look up a recipe in a cookbook or online, I usually have a majority of the ingredients because I have those standard pantry items that I just never believed I needed to have before.
  • There’s a very supportive community of fellow users on Facebook (it has its own Facebook group specifically for subscribers) where people ask questions and share meal ideas and pictures of their culinary creations.
  • A new feature that was added throughout my three months with CookSmarts was an “Add It” button to MyFitnessPal, which I use daily. You can modify the ingredients to what you used in the recipes and add it right to your food diary for the day.

Things I didn’t like:

  • While it was fun to work with new ingredients, some of them and their associated recipes were just too out there for me. There was one week that had an Indian dish, and while I like Indian food, I didn’t want to hunt down and buy a whole container of Harissa paste.
  • While the good recipes were really good, I found that the bad recipes were really bad. But, it should be noted that there were maybe 4-5 recipes that I considered bad throughout the entire three months. There was one recipe that consisted of cabbage and some type of chicken, and the whole plate was beige. And it tasted beige. And I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it. There was another crockpot recipe that was so acidic and soupy, I had to disappointingly scrap that as well.
  • The recipes include nutrition facts, and while a lot of the recipes were pretty healthy, I found that a good amount of them were super high in either fat or sodium, or both. A lot of the recipes called for multiple tablespoons of cooking oil (I usually set the limit at two tablespoons), which drove up the fat content, and there is a lot of salt being liberally added. While I don’t technically need to be watching my sodium intake (I don’t have high blood pressure), and typically like saltier foods, it was just too much. I would feel super thirsty for days after eating some meals, despite rarely adding extra salt while cooking (a frequent instruction in many recipes) and using low sodium versions of ingredients like chicken stock and soy sauce.

A sampling of some meals that I made:

1. Red Curry Shrimp Stir Fry with Cauliflower Rice (I always made this with brown rice instead of cauliflower rice. The brown rice seems to soak up the heavy sauce much better than cauliflower, and I honestly love rice with Thai).

2. Spice Roasted Fish Tacos

3. Kale Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables and Lentils (and goat cheese!)

4. Stir Fried Udon Noodles

At the end of the day, would I recommend CookSmarts? Absolutely. It lit a creative fire under my butt (and on my stovetop) and got me to try new things and learn new skills. I now have a lot more confidence in the kitchen and I learned a lot about myself, such as that I find a lot of comfort and serenity in chopping vegetables and putting together a meal from scratch. However, as I commence half marathon training, I don’t think I will be able to keep up with it, as now I have to devote more of my time on getting into shape for running 13.1 miles. But more on that to follow… In the meantime, I will definitely carry on with certain tricks that I’ve picked up, like meal planning and prepping ahead, and continue to make quick and easy dinners that I’ve archived.

If you want to check out CookSmarts and sign up, check out their website, and let me know what you think!

The Best Part of the Salad

I will say that my absolute favorite food category is pizza, but salad is a VERY close second. I love a good crunchy fresh salad. They can be big, small, varied in taste and textures, customizable, cheap to make, seasonal, and colorful, and therefore nutritious. Eat the rainbow, taste the rainbow, am I right? But if you were to ask me what my favorite part of a salad is, I would have to tell the truth and say the croutons. I don’t use them all of the time because I find that if I buy a package of croutons, I WILL eat the entire bag within 3 days. This is not a good thing. One serving of the store-bought variety is typically only 5-7 croutons, and who actually has the willpower or control to stick with that? I’m also getting on this kick of eating a little cleaner and steering away from heavily processed foods. A salad can be topped with other nutritious crunchies like nuts and seeds, but sometimes they just don’t satisfy like a crouton.

That’s why I sometimes just NEED to make these golden squares of wonder. Homemade croutons are super fast and easy to make, and the best part is you have 100% control over how you season them and how much oil you use. I feel like they elevate my salads to a higher level, like something I would get at a restaurant. They also incorporate stale bread. So if you’re like me, and occasionally like to buy baguettes or fresh loaves at the bakery, and you have a hard time finishing them before they go completely stale, then this recipe is for you.

Homemade Croutons

Servings: 2, Total time: 5-10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/6 of a stale baguette, or freshly baked loaf of bread OR 4 slices of whole wheat or white bread
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • season to taste with: salt, pepper, thyme, dried parsley, oregano, garlic powder

Instructions:

  1. Dice the bread with a serrated knife into desired size.
  2. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and whichever other herbs and flavors of your liking in a bowl.
  3. Heat a small pan over medium low heat, do not add any extra oil so as to toast the bread more easily. Place the croutons in the pan and toss around until they reach the desired degree of toastiness. I personally prefer nice and crunchy on the outside, but still a little soft on the inside.

My version may not be as diet-friendly as the store-bought version, but in my opinion it tastes WAY better, and will likely always prefer these to any store-bought alternative. What’s your favorite salad topper??