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!

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Vegetties

Who out there isn’t a sucker for a good impulse buy? On my most recent trip to Bed Bath and Beyond, or as I like to call it, the Abyss (meaning I can get lost for hours in there thinking that I need things that I definitely do not need), I was feeling accomplished with myself as I was waiting in the checkout line. Everything in my basket was on my original list, and I didn’t stray from that list at all. That is, until I laid eyes on this funny-looking and oddly-named contraption called The Vegetti. At an attractive price of only $14.99, the Veggetti promised to “turn veggies into healthy spaghetti instantly!” I was intrigued.

The cashier saw me eyeing it and said, “I bought that and I LOVE IT! I’m on a no-carb diet and am obsessed with pasta and that thing has literally saved my life.” Well, first, I had to do a little internal eye-roll because any vegetable that you put through the Vegetti is going to be made of carbohydrates – complex carbohydrates that would be healthier than the carbohydrates in pasta (think – more fiber!), but carbohydrates nonetheless. However, the cashier seemed really excited, which made me really excited, so I overlooked her error and bought it.

Well, tonight was my first experience with the Veggetti, and I must say I was impressed. It has two openings that lets you pick between thin strands or thick strands, is very lightweight, and easy to handle. I Veggettied a zucchini through the thin side and a yellow squash through the thick side and ended up with really cool-looking noodles that were full of fiber, not to mention they were also completely gluten free. Don’t get me wrong though, because I seriously LOVE gluten. However, for anyone who suffers from Celiac’s disease, a gluten intolerance, or who loves pasta but doesn’t want to overdo it with the calories (cough cough me), then these Veggetti noodles make for a wonderful alternative.

Zucchini

The package comes with a little booklet that has cleaning instructions and a few recipes. It seems as though you can cook the vegetable noodles in the same way that you would cook freshly-made pasta. Pretty cool! My only criticism is that it can be hard to clean, as food particles can get stuck in the blades and those babies are SHARP. However, the pieces of food eventually broke free using a cleaning brush and the Veggetti is dishwasher safe, so that may solve the problem.

So, what did I make for dinner tonight? I honestly just threw together all the frozen vegetables I had in my freezer (corn, broccoli, and mushrooms) into a pan with some olive oil, and let them defrost and cook. Then I added garlic, a cooked chicken thigh, and both the zucchini and yellow squash noodles. I then cooked for about 5-6 minutes until the noodles were tender and topped with parmesan cheese. One zucchini and one yellow squash yielded  A TON of noodles so I even have leftovers for tomorrow. This dinner was nothing super fancy but it was easy, filled with veggies, satisfying, and tasted delicious. I must say I’m excited to keep trying new dishes using vegetable pasta instead of regular pasta; my absolute FAVORITE dish in the world is fettucine alfredo with broccoli, garlic, and spinach, so I think I’ll make that next time with zucchini noodles rather than real fettuccine.

Pro tip: cut the noodles after you’re done Veggetti-ing (this word doesn’t get old) in order to “create shorter, easy to manage strands,” according to the booklet that comes in the packaging.

dinner

You can read other people’s reviews and buy the Veggetti (at a cheaper price than I did – that’s the beauty of doing your research rather than succumbing to the impulse buy) at Amazon here: Buy the Veggetti! 

What’s your favorite impulse buy? Do you have a good dish that incorporates spiralized veggies? Share in the comments!