Tuesday, June 11, 2013

cook simple gluten-free meals :: review and giveaway contest

Almost-instant, gluten-free meals in the age of DIY
Since I decided a few months back to go back to a traditional advertising job, balancing everything in my life has become a challenge: quality time with F-stop, blogging, running and squeezing in a little time to just be. I've found myself cooking on the weekends, partly as a way to exhale and partly as a way to prep for the week to come.

The nice folks at Cook Simple sent me 6 boxes of vegan-possible, gluten-free, quick-cook meals to try and their timing could not have been better. I normally avoid instant meals and kits like this, and to be fair, I probably would not have bought them had Cook Simple not asked me to review their products. But I tried all of them over the course of the past week 8 weeks, and I would definitely pick up again some of the flavors again. So never say never.

Recognizable ingredients – always a good sign
Good points: These are much more flavorful than your average instant meals and are made with whole foods and pronounceable ingredients, none of which contain gluten. They are surprisingly tasty, thanks to well-thought-out spices and flavor combinations. And they are simple to prepare. Perfect for those nights when you are too busy or tired to cook. Even the kitchen-phobic will have no problems.

I was a little scared when I opened the package. It looked like astronaut food.
No-to-good points: My biggest "beef" is that whoever wrote the recipe directions didn't know diddly-squat about vegetarian cooking. Most boxes required 1 pound of chicken or turkey and included 1 pound of cubed tofu or soy crumbles as an alternative. Trouble was, those proteins did not always pair well with the main meals. I added, for example, 1 pound of tofu per the package directions, and against my better instincts, to the Cranberry Wild Rice version. I thought the combination was weird – seitan, crumbled tempeh or chickpeas would have been more harmonious choices. Plus the wateriness of the tofu added 20 more minutes to the cooking time, which made the rice watery.

But other than this, I was pleasantly surprised. I prefer cooking from scratch. Who doesn't? But on late nights or for the culinarily challenged, these little boxes are godsends. You can always spice them up if they are too bland for you [I did on some....but not on others]

Skillet Lasagna
Skillet Lasagna had a retro, comfort-food aura. Reminded me of something that might have appeared in Betty Goes Vegan  The box said to add 8 oz soy crumbles but I added 8 oz of crumbled tempeh instead, with great results.

White Bean Chili, cooking
White Bean Chili: Although the flavors were straightforward, I really liked this one and would buy it again. Like the Skillet Lasagna, it had a retro feel about it; it reminded me of something my mom would have made in the 70s – which is probably why I loved its carby comfort. I used TVP instead of soy crumbles. 

Tamale Pie
Tamale Pie: I thought I would hate this one – it looked Sahara dry when I removed it from the oven – but I actually loved it. The earthy depth of chili flavor contrasted so beautifully against the sweet cornbread, Very easy to slice and transport for lunch, and topped with avocado slices and rounded out with a salad, it was the centerpiece for a complete meal.

Punjabi Curry
Punjabi Curry: This is the one I thought I would like best but it was my least favorite – a bit heavy on the cardamon. But I ate it all up just the same, so it was a minor issue. As you can see, it made a good portable lunch.

Cowboy Chili: This was an interesting combination: cinnamon, quinoa and beans. Not sure of how many cowboys have access to cinnamon and quinoa, but still, it's a fun name, perhaps celebrating a kinder, gentler cowboy? Still, it needed some "doctoring." I added some agave nectar to sweeten it up a tad, a glop of Sriracha to give it some kick, and a sprinkling of scallions for some contrasting color.

Cranberry Wild Rice: I added the tofu [uncooked] as suggested to this dish but wish I hadn't. It would have been better without or with crumbled, steamed tempeh or pan-fried soy curls instead. Although perfectly respectable, this flavor was not my favorite because I'm weary of the wild rice-cranberry pairing.

Contest time 

Okay kids! The nice folks at Cook Simple have agreed to send a sample care package to one lucky winner [US/Canada residents only, please.] Just comment and tell us which flavor you would most like to try. Extra brownie points for doing any or all of the following:

I will announce the winner either this weekend or at the end of June. I haven't decided yet. Mwaaa-ha-ha! So tell us what you think. Good luck.

Please note if you do not include an email or blog where I can reach you, you will be disqualified [Pathetic that I have to spell that out – but it's happened before more than once.].

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Danielle P. said...

I've never had tamales, but the tamale pie looks and sounds delicious!

(I now follow you and Cook Simple on Twitter, where I'm @primesaut.)

Amey said...

fun! there are definitely nights - like you said - where a simple, premade dinner really fills the bill. We eat pretty late, but a lot of time, it's suddenly 9 pm and I still haven't started cooking. OOPs. I like the way you described the white chili, so I guess that's the one that tempts me most.

Ladywaters said...

I think I would like the Tamale pie, it looks interesting and tasty.

Ladywaters said...

Does following you on Pinterest count? I don't do Facebook or Twitter. ;-/
Hope so!

Erika P. said...

I want to try the White Bean Chili

Jan Scholl said...

Oooh. the curry please!

The Peace Patch said...

Skillet Lasagna sounds deeelish! Thanks for the reviews!

Tanya said...

Everything looks yummy! I think I'd most like to try the Cowboy Chili and the curry first. sunshinestgurl AT gmail DOT com

Tanya said...

I follow The Urban Vegan on fb :)

Shanna said...

I would love to try the tamale pie! shanna.sanders@gmail.com

Heather B said...

Oh, skillet lasagna, for sure!

I follow you on twitter, facebook and pinterest and now follow cooksimple on facebook and twitter.

Heather B @ http://olasow.blogspot.com/

Lori said...

Since I am a sucker for anything cranberry, I'd say the Cranberry Wild Rice!

Debra Lee said...

The white bean Chili for sure!
Following you both on Twitter Distracteddebra
Following you both on Facebook under Needle d

Carla Anderson said...

Oooh that white bean chili does look deliciously creamy! But then, the cowboy chili is intriguing combination of flavors...

Johanna said...

These all look great!


Jennifer K said...

Cowboy Chilli!

xomendyrox said...

white bean chili! i follow you and cook simple on twitter! @xomendyrox

thanks for the giveaway!

xomendyrox said...


Kit said...

These look really yummy, I would love to try the white bean chili.

patricia in ct said...

wow - fast and without a million ingredients I can't pronounce!! Looks like a great find - I would love to try the tamale pie!!

Ranveer Patil said...

This is great do you have a catologue if so I would love one to share with friends and family.
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