A+ A A-
  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

HOW LIBERATING ARE DINNER KITS?

 CRISPY CHICKPEA SALAD

The popularity of the the Dinner Kit reminds me of the highly successful ad campaign for cigarettes in the nineteen-sixties. At the height of the women’s liberation movement the Leo Burnett agency created a slogan to sell spindle-thin, candle-length Virginia Slims to women  The catchy phrase went, “You’ve come a long way” (they added "baby" later).  It was just tobacco, but in a new package, and the scheme worked.

Frozen dinners had already begun to liberate women working during the war in the nineteen-forties. C.A..Swanson and Son’s popularized the prepared meal in 1954 with it’s Thanksgiving dinner portion in sectioned trays.  2.5 million dinners were sold that year.  The company received hate mail from from husbands who wanted their wives to cook from scratch (to no avail). 

The newest dinner solution for the working woman is a kit containing fresh ingredients in exactly the right amounts, home delivered.  Assembly time is under 30 minutes.  Is this another “you’ve come a long way” moment?  I decided to find out for myself.

DINNER KIT INGREDIENTS

Fierce competition among more than 150 businesses that offer kits online by subscription has led to alliances between leading brands and grocery chains. I purchased a Plated brand Crispy Chickpea Salad kit at my neighborhood Jewel/Osco.  A salad had to show proof of concept, right?

To my surprise, the information on the nutrition label was almost a deal-breaker.  The contents consisting of red quinoa, canned chickpeas, feta cheese, black olives and half a cucumber contained 97% of the USDA’s daily recommended allowance for salt, 54% for fat and 900 calories per serving!   Okay, I’ll just eat less I told myself and dropped the kit into my shopping cart. 

 Once home, I unwrapped layers of plastic packaging to reach each fresh ingredient.  As the pile of plastic waste mounted, I thought about the expense of portioning, wrapping, assembling, packaging and delivering thousands of kits daily.  A business model that does not lend itself to economies of scale, seems unsustainable.   

 LEFT: RED QUINOA. BLACK OLIVES, CUCUMBER, BASIL AND PARSLEY LEAVES
RIGHT: TOASTED FETA CHEESE WITH HARISSA PASTE; ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES AND CHICKPEAS

Back on task, I dutifully followed the illustrated recipe card and my meal was ready in twenty-five minutes as promised.  Why did I feel I’d just hosted a Food Network show?  Following a script takes all the messiness, uncertainty and decision making out of cooking.  The salad was tasty but not much fun for someone who likes to cook.

 Thus far only 9% of Americans have purchased a dinner kit.  On the other hand, everyone has frozen food items in their freezer.  Dinner kits cost between $10 to $14 per serving which is less than a fresh entree at a restaurant but triple the cost of a frozen dinner.  The process of flash freezing fresh food was developed a century ago, and frozen dinners have evolved to reflect current consumer tastes.  That includes healthful portions, reasonable pricing and recyclable packaging.  They microwave in much less time than a kit and require no assembly before or afterward.  

I look forward to coming home in the evening to a delicious dinner that requires very little prep.   Nothing fancy mind you, just fresh and healthful.  How far will we have come when a Whole Foods dinner delivered by Amazon Prime is waiting on the doorstep?  I prefer to microwave something I’ve already prepared that’s waiting in the refrigerator.

PLASTIC WASTE FROM PLATED'S CHICKEN PESTO PASTA
WITH EXCESS CREAM, BUTTER AND FLAKED PARMESAN
 
  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

THE FRENCH CHILI TRAP

 

My quickly assembled pot of vegetarian chili became an unexpected culinary hit during the holiday season. More surprising was the fact that the recipe came from a French cookbook entitled Protéines Vertes (Green Proteins).  I had purchased it at the colossal FNAC store in the Paris Forum des Halles. 

So why were there so many different varieties of peppers in this chili?  I counted chipotle, cayenne, paprika and smoked paprika.  Did the author know something about seasonings I hadn’t learned?  As It turned out, the chili fragrances fused to form a spicy taste with no distinct aroma.  Oh well, spicy peppers are not typical French seasoning.  I wrote off the recipe’s addition of Greek yogurt rather than traditional sour cream as a hip way to extinguish the heat on more sensitive palates 

Was the author’s addition of the subtitle, La Bible, just an example of French extremely high self-esteem?   With religious thoroughness, each plant is identified with a photograph and its protein content; each recipe is marked with the amount of protein per person it contains.  A table of ingredients under headings: vegetables, seasonings, herbs and textural elements straddles two pages.  There’s also a chart showing long to soak and then germinate each grain, cereal and bean to amplify its enzyme, mineral and vitamin content.  Are you still with me?

This cookbook was becoming less and less French with each discovery.  Not only do the French believe they are born knowing how to cook, they have great confidence in the quality of their ingredients.  Why would they need a Bible or fuss with amino acids?

On further inspection and a little Googling, I discovered that Proteines Vertes  was originally published in English in Australia by the French publishing house Hachette.  The book’s author, Fern Green, is a food stylist by trade and runs a boutique hotel with her husband in Italy. 

The takeaway: a cookbook printed in French was not necessarily written in French. My common sense should have told me that finding a French recipe for chili is as likely as finding a short order cook who can whip up a cassoulet.  I really wanted that chili to be French.  Everyone who enjoyed eating it didn’t give a #*@#  where it came from.

 If you are curious to try the faux French chili, here are links to the recipe and an eggless cornbread I served with it.

 French Chili from Protéines Vertes

 Eggless Cornbread

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

HOMEMADE FOOD GIFTS

NICK'S QUICK BRIOCHE   

Christmas is the best time to share food gifts with friends and family.  They are personal in a way a store bought gift will never be. You don't have to admit to being naughty or nice to receive one of my gifts.  You need only live close enough to receive it in person.  That, of course, is the part I like best.

Now for a spoiler alert.  I give the same foods year after year with few exceptions.  The mini-brioches and jars of cranberry jam  I prepare have become a holiday ritual in my kitchen.  I look forward to it.   This combo became our family's Christmas morning breakfast treat as we opened presents around the tree.  I've tried new recipes on occasion that was clipped from a magazine or newspaper.  One year it was a healthy dried soup mix and a toasted granola mix.  Another year, cranberries became the star ingredient in a jam and biscotti recipes.  

Once you've experienced the pleasure of giving a homemade gift, their preparation doesn't feel labor intensive.   Just put on some Christmas music, enter into a state of 'flow' as you work, and don't answer the phone.  I've tried to make recipes for the foods I enjoy as accessible as possible.  Hopefully they will save you time by being clear and easy to follow.  Keep in minde, each batch will produce enough treats for several gifts.  

There's no time to lose.  Here are photos and links to my favorite holiday gifts.         

                                                                                                                        CRANBERRY GINGER HOLIDAY BISCOTTI 

      

LENTIL SOUP MIX 

            

  RISE AND SHINE GRANOLA                  

 

      CRANBERRY GINGER JAM                                LA BAL SCONES                                        CRANBERRY KIWI JAM