California – Eating Notes

I’m back from a week in California, and food is lingering on my mind. This was a quick, intense work trip for my client in San Mateo, sneaking in under the radar (sorry, friends!!) While the focus of my time was very much on the job at hand, I was thankful that many client meals ended up being over good food, and I was able to sneak in a few meals across different parts of the bay.

Beyond the food, the weather was absolutely beautiful, and San Mateo had some great short trails for me to get in both my daily mile and some restorative long walks.

:: Meal Notes ::

My first meal off the plane was brunch at Plow (although depressing, as I went exclusively for the biscuit, which they ran out of while I was waiting in line.) I ordered “the Plow”, and a side of hollandaise. Scrambled eggs, crispy potatoes, a few rashers of Neuske’s bacon, and lemon ricotta pancakes. Next time, there’d better be a biscuit, and I’ll try their BLT if it’s still on the menu.

With the office in San Mateo, I ate several meals in the South Bay, including In Burlingame, where I imbibed an excellent virgin Paloma at Barrelhouse – grapefruit, lime, syrup, salt and seltzer. I’ve been craving citrus and it didn’t disappoint. Dinner at Limon Rotisserie: rotisserie chicken, Lomo Saltado, a ceviche trio – pulpo camaron, pescado, and camarones, yuca fries and tacu tacu (rice and beans).

There was a disappointing visit to Draeger’s (I remember it being more exciting?) where we stocked up on salad material, in contrast to a fulfilling one at Rainbow later in the week,where picked up some date balls, black tahini, a cashew chocolate caramel, and a glorious grapefruit. Meals at home included summer salads with chicken sausage on the grill, fresh parsley, mint, avocado and blue cheese. In California fashion, we also stocked up on good coffee, goat yogurt, raw sauerkraut, and a box of Its’-Its. One of my compatriots acquired a $25 bottle of mango cream coconut yogurt from the coconut cult – I won’t lie, it was delicious and I’d probably get another.

Admittedly while I love my morning Nespresso these days, the thing I was looking most forward to was my coffee routine at Philz. Usually an iced Tesora, either black or with a splash of cream before heading back to the office. They have a new mobile ordering system through their app which makes ordering reasonable. (Otherwise you don’t go to Philz in the morning if you don’t have time to kill…)

Mid-week office lunches included:

The Egg and Okra curry and tea leaf salad at Best of Burma. We don’t really have great Burmese food in the Boston area. (Nor Nepalese, or Filipino, a few more of my favorite cuisines living in SF.)

At one point, I rolled into the office with $200 dollars worth of tacos from Los Primos – barbacoa, al pastor, camarones, veggie, pescado, chicken, a few stuffed quesadillas, and a large container of refried beans. I ended up eating leftovers for a few days.

For an office happy hour we headed at Attic, with perfect crispy and salty sweet potato fries, lumpia cigarillos (double the length of normal lumpia), brussels sprouts with bonito flakes, oysters, and deviled eggs. I ordered a virgin “Calamansake” with soda water, muddled ginger, calamansi syrup and lime juice which hit the spot.

I organized an outing to Takahashi Market, an asian and Hawaiian market that has been open since 1906 (four generations!) where I picked up kalua pork with cabbage, spicy spam musubi, haupia, and a lilikoi cheesecake. (The cheesecake was saved for the following evening after a late night out.) I was given a large cardboard box to tote back my haul.

Most mornings I woke early, made a cup of coffee, pulled out my notebook, wrote and planned the day hours before going for a run and then heading into the office. This was the view. That astroturf was actually soft and stayed clean – by the end of the week I was praising them for their brilliance.

My walks were equally as beautiful in the morning and the evening, and my running route had me going past a dog park every day.

On Tuesday I made it into the city for a dinner at Hawker Fare which exceed expectations given the mixed reviews of friends. I had Thai iced tea, blistered green beans, crispy rice ball salad, pork laab, sticky rice, barbecue chicken (gai yang). Kat ordered a cocktail in a cat cup, and it came with an umbrella. Behold the fabulousness.

Before the evening was over, we hopped in a Lyft to head for dessert: a scoop of olive oil rhubarb ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe, including a nostalgic celebrity sighting (BD Wong). While I was looking forward to a scoop of Secret Breakfast, I have to admit I found most of the flavors much sweeter than I remembered after so many years.

On Thursday, we had an excellent dinner at Foreign Cinema – starting with my first cocktail of my week – the Felicity – Hennessey VSOP, passionfruit liqueur, dry amaretto, fleur de sea, lemon and lime juice. I couldn’t resist. Kat, one of my dining partners who is also a stylist, gave me a side part, and a dark lip, which managed to stay perfectly through an entire evening of food and drink. I think I’ll keep it up.

For dinner: the lavender baked goat cheese; the plancha with calamari, clams, and mole rojo; Ceviche; pasta with corn; the sesame fried chicken; and a steak with corn and peppers. Dessert was similarly blissful – a chocolate pot with a thumbprint cookie; and the standout – rose meringue with cherries, sorbet, vanilla almond cream. The film was Splash, but regretfully I was sitting right under the big screen, and my only comfortable view was that of the rest of the diners.

To extend the evening – we headed to the Make Out Room, where the DJ was playing a mix of Cumbia and early 00’s favorites – enjoyable until someone came up to us to ask if we were having “mom’s night out” (Who says that as a pick up line?? Also, so what if we were??), at which point he was escorted out of our eye-roll zone, and a round of tequila was ordered for the group. Our evening progressed – five minutes in a completely empty Double Dutch, and then wrapping up the night over quiet conversation at Casanova.

The next day: a plate of pasta with spring vegetables and tomato cream sauce at Merchant Roots (very good!), as well as a slice of warm carrot sandwich. I headed over to the Rothy’s show room to try on a multitude of sizes, but alas, determined that none were a perfect fit.

For my parting dinner, I had a reservation at Boulevard. I’d never been, despite long admiring Nancy Oakes, and so many of the accomplished chefs that have come up in this kitchen. We shared Spanish octopus; Sea Scallops, and a plate of salad with burrata. We shared the pork chop (the meat was perfect), and a steak; dessert was a peach tart and the summer berry buckle. My observation: classic, California, nothing flashy, just all executed well and the taste of the season.

For my final morning, work people all packed up and headed their separate ways to the airport, and I had the house and the trails to myself for a final few hours.

Before heading home, I made one completely out of the way trip I couldn’t miss: I packed my bags, and took a Lyft from San Mateo to Berkeley for one last perfect bite.

Finally, two slices of always delicious Cheeseboard pizza, and a salad with yogurt and mint dressing. A last iced mocha Tesora at Philz, and then despite giving myself well over an hour to commute back to the airport, I barely made the airplane, arriving nearly 25 minutes after the plane had started boarding. I made it on the flight, waved out the window, and spent the trip listening to my audiobook. So long, Bay Area, I’ll be back before you know it.

PS: California, you are weird sometimes.

The Second Lunch Tastes It: The Home Chef Meal Kit

Home Chef Box The Second Lunch

Well hello there! What’s cooking? I’m back in the kitchen today with a quick profile of another meal kit delivery service for your reading pleasure.

This installment? I try it: a week of “Home Chef”.

A few years back I took on a new kitchen challenge: to cook, taste, and review a variety of meal kits. In a sea of meal kits, I wanted to answer the age old question of: which meal kit is the best on the market right now?

Among the initial entrants, I tried Sakara (not actually a kit – it’s really $$$ organic meal delivery), Purple Carrot (vegetarian), and then many months of Blue Apron which I was then too lazy to cancel. On the plus side, it was good for a more comprehensive review, which you can read here.

At the end of the day, I found that cooking meal kit takes me a lot more effort than doing my own meal planning, shopping, and cooking. It’s also a good amount of waste packaging wise. And truthfully, I’m a better and more creative cook.

Nevertheless, I’m still charmed by the appeal of having a box of goodies show up on my doorstep and someone occasionally taking over the mealtime decision making, so I’m continuing my mini quest and trying different boxes every so often in order to share with you all, dear readers.

Disclosure: Home Chef knows nothing about me, but I did get a free box through their refer a friend program, and the links to Home Chef are affiliate links which give you $30 off your kit, and give me more free food. (If you order enough kits, you can send a free box to a friend; on par with most of the other meal kit customer acquisition programs.)

Home Chef Pork Chops The Second Lunch Dog

The details: 

Home Chef Box overview – Home Chef is a more general meal kit without any particular slant. I’d characterize them as American home cooking with a hint of global food exploration but nothing overly fussy or too adventurous for the average palate. The company is based in Chicago, and has raised 57 million through series b (see Crunchbase), which is about a quarter of the funding of Blue Apron who was just shy of 200 million pre IPO and less compared to HelloFresh’s 365 million pre IPO.

How much does Home Chef cost?

This is a little complicated: $9.95 per serving – two servings of two dishes in the box; although you can add on lunches (most are $7.99/serving), seasonal fruit ($4.95/serving), or a smoothie ($4.95/serving) as extra which is a nice touch. If you glance, it’s not totally clear that the add ons will charge you for two servings. You can also choose some weeks from “Premium Meals” which seem to include bigger pieces of steak or lamb for 19.95 a serving, but these aren’t offered every week. And if your order is under a certain amount, you get charged the $10 for shipping. So the minimum box comes in at around $49.80 and goes up from there.

What kind of meat and produce does Home Chef have?

Generally, I found Home Chef’s to have an overall decent quality of produce and meat, although, notably NOT organic. (Most of my personal purchasing is organic and I get my vegetables and meat from a farm share; so I don’t think I’d get the box regularly for this reason alone.) Nothing seemed wilted or bruised, and generally everything was tasty. The fresh sausage packed in the lasagna skillet likely wouldn’t have past the two days I waited to cook it though even though it suggests that it would last 6 days on the recipe card.

The service strikes me as less “foodie” focused compared to, say, Blue Apron’s inserts about the farms and farmers (which sometimes strikes me as greenwashing but I still buy into), although does suggest wine pairings.

What kind of recipes does Home Chef have?

The recipes and ingredients on Home Chef are notably a little bit more basic than other services. I ended up going with two fairly simple dishes which worked well, although I’d be curious as to how the flavors are on the more global recipes. Each week you get to choose from several options on the list.

For my box, I chose the grilled pork chop with whole grain dijon sauce, and the Italian sausage lasagna skillet.

Home Chef Meal Variety

How easy are the Home Chef recipes to follow? 

As you can see in the picture of the sheet; the recipes are fairly simple and bulleted. You are encouraged to read through the whole recipe before starting (which is good practice, but always a useful reminder). I found that the recipes might leave a little too much room for interpretation for a novice cook, but I got along just fine. There were a few steps in each recipe that weren’t what I’d have written, but in the end, my dishes turned out alright. For example: the skillet called for “one medium oven-safe pan” although the picture seemed to be of a cast iron, I wasn’t sure what actual size cast iron counts as “medium” (8 inch? 10 inch?), so opted for a pyrex.

Decently quick to cook. Unlike other meal kits, the Home Chef recipes seemed to take less steps and take me less time overall to cook. Each dish was closer to 25-30 minutes of cooking (compared to Blue Apron which routinely had me chopping, prepping, etc. for 45-60 minutes.) Home Chef was closer to the promise of ease than other kits that I’ve tried so far.

Home Chef Recipe Cards The Second Lunch

In your first delivery, Home Chef sends you a little plastic binder to save your recipe cards. It’s a little flimsy, but was a nice touch.

Home Chef Recipe Binder The Second Lunch

What’s in the Home Chef Box?

Aside from the recipe cards, the box itself is filled with individual bags – one for the combined meats, and then individually packaged bags for the separate meals themselves which include all produce, spices, etc.

Home Chef Meal Kits The Second Lunch

* Packaging – I’m not sure that anyone will solve this – it’s about the same size box as Blue Apron; each meal comes in it’s own little plastic bag, and the meats are separated into bags, the box here is filled with an icepack, and a soft plastic material filled with batting of some type. Still a PITA to break down and recycle, but what can you do?

I’ll note here that my Frenchie Bertram is not afraid of much in life, with the clear exception of cardboard boxes from meal kit delivery services. Which he wanted to let me know was NOT OKAY for me to put on “his gel mat bed” in front of the stove while I took this photo. If I could have added the audio file from his complaints here, I would have.

Home Chef Packaging The Second Lunch

How much food is in each Home Chef box? Is Home Chef healthy?

Portion Sizes – appropriate for two light-moderate eaters. I was still hungry after both dishes. I tend to supplement meal kits anyway with more vegetables, but volume alone wouldn’t have been enough for me to be satisfied, even though calorically the dishes were in the 500-700 calorie range. I’d love to see more vegetables to round out the dish.

Nutrition: the recipes themselves do have ingredients and high level macros listed (calories, carbs, fat, protein and sodium) for those interested in tracking. You can choose from a variety of different diet preferences, including vegetarian, low carb, and calorie conscious meals.

Home Chef Pork Chops The Second Lunch

Other notes: I had to email customer service to move my first deliver date (before cut-off) because I ended up having a last minute travel situation. They were quick, competent, and pleasant to deal with.

Home Chef Italian Sausage Skillet Lasagna The Second Lunch

The Bottom Line: 

Did we enjoy the Home Chef meals? Yes. Both meals tasted good. The pork dish was slightly better looking in presentation, but flavors were very good with both. As mentioned above, would have liked a little bit more vegetable for volume! I think overall I prefer a slightly more spiced and creative dinner if ordering a meal kit, but Home Chef does deliver on overall taste if you don’t mind a slightly boring meal.

Would we order Home Chef again? Possibly. I haven’t actually canceled the service, so it’s quite likely that I might try another box to compare and update this review.

Want to try Home Chef? Here’s a link for $30 off your first order.

Want to read more meal kit reviews? Here’s my comprehensive review of several months worth of Blue Apron meals, and I’ll be updating this post as I try more kits.

And so begins November

November. Yes, it’s here! And so begins my usual foolhardy pursuit during the month of November – known as NaBloPoMo, a terrible acronym that announces my intent to blog every day of the month. Some of these posts will be brief, others longer. We start, as I usually do, with food.

Specifically, my cart tonight at Trader Joe’s.

A few notes on this cart, which contains some of my favorites:

sardines in olive oil – I eat these at least once a week. Sometimes as sardine salad. Sometimes mashed with some avocado. Occasionally with some balsamic. They are also my dog’s favorite snack.

shredded brussels sprouts – these are my all purpose fall greens – I usually cook them with the pancetta cubes – and some chicken thighs.

flowers – I buy myself some every week. During the summer I got to pick some gorgeous bouquets as part of my farm share, but alas, winter is nearly here, and I must make due with store bought.

Belgian chocolate pudding – what can I say about this? It’s thick, rich, and you are satisfied with a small amount. I don’t do dessert every day, but this is nice to have in the fridge in a pinch, if I need to satisfy my chocolate fix.

organic chicken thighs – this is one of my most consistent purchases from Trader Joe’s – one of the only meat purchases I make outside of my meat CSA. I don’t do breasts – thighs for life!

ezekiel bread – made from sprouted grains. We actually rarely have any bread products in our house, but I’ve been craving avocado toast.

I also have some almond milk for blended drinks, fennel, dill, and pork tenderloin to test a few recipes this week.

What are some of your Trader Joe’s favorites?

Buy a Kringle at Trader Joe’s

If you happen to see a large white rectangular package the size of a record at Trader Joe’s this week, buy it immediately, take it home, and have a party. A KRINGLE party! For some reason, probably because Kringle are shockingly delicious, Trader Joe’s has it seasonally stocked, and I’m here to tell you that you must purchase it. Your life will be better for it. The heck with the party, just eat it all yourself.

Kringle

{I found this picture on the internet searching for O&H Danish Pastry Kringle, and marveled at those excellent Movember mustaches. And then realized that this picture was probably from the early 80’s, and that was just how facial hair was done, back in the day.}

Kringle, for those uninitiated to the delicacy, is a buttery, flaky, layered pastry, filled with marzipan, and topped with icing. In Denmark, the Kringle was a pretzel shaped pastry (the Danish symbol for a the baker’s guild), but when immigrant bakers moved to Racine, Wisconsin, they reshaped it into an oval. The Kringle is now the official state pastry of Wisconsin. There are two Kringle factories of note: Racine Danish Kringles, and O & H Danish Bakery. There is also a company that makes a Kringle Cream Liquor, which I have not tried, but might taste delicious stirred into morning coffee.

You can enter the contest on O & H Danish Bakery’s website to win a kringle, but if you happen to see one at Trader Joe’s, buy it right away, and thank me later.

West Coasters, apparently they sell Kringle in Solvang. The last time I was in Solvang was on one of our very first date vacations. Our first evening we had the pleasure of eating Stouffers meals that we purchased at the supermarket, and heated in the hotel – because everything in the town closed by seven pm.

Saturday outing

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It should be known that Vietnamese food is on the absolute top of my cravings list, and the best that I’ve found in the Boston area so far is at Pho So 1 Boston in Randolph. Today we had to make our way to IKEA to make a return and for a few household items, and we stopped here for a quick lunch. I had my usual – bún thịt bò nướng – grilled beef over rice noodles with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. I’ve yet to learn to adequately re-create this at home with just the right marinade and char on the meat, but probably for the best, because I’d be eating it every other day. (When I do make this at home, I usually ditch the rice noodles, and just grate extra veg and call it salad.)

At IKEA, we made our return easily even without the original receipt, and picked up a knife magnet, some candles, and a coffee frother to take home. I know that there are people who loathe the IKEA experience, but I’m not one of them – I’d happily move in to one of those 372 square foot apartment spaces, and who can resist salmon portions and swedish meatballs in the dining area?

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These pictures are all from last weekend, when we did the exact same IKEA/Pho So Boston 1 run. Creatures of habit? Hammy, the traveling lion is a cute scheme created for my high school reunion this summer – he spends his time traveling from classmate to classmate to pep us up for the big weekend. It’s right this time of year that I need some cute overload, so I’ve been showing him the sights before sending him on to a lucky classmate. Also, I really need a dog.

Sunday Catch Up

A Sunday night with no new Game of Thrones? What will we do? Oh, that’s right, the new season of True Blood starts tonight. Thank goodness for HBO. It’s been quite a long week, but this weekend I spent some time busying myself around the house, plenty of time out doors, and eating a few special meals out. On Friday night we had our usual Friday night dinner date at the Cottage. I went for the chicken tortilla soup, and a side of mashed potatoes. I don’t know. It was cold, a little rainy, and I just really wanted mashed potatoes. Potato police, just leave me alone.

Last night, we ended up at Gustazo in Belmont, for a Cuban dinner. We shared pork chicharrón with guacamole and mango salsa, Devon had the churrasco steak with chimichurri, and I went for the picadillo – ground beef with stuffed olives, tomato, topped with a fried egg, with buttery rice and sweet fried plantains. And then there was dessert. Gustazo has no liquor license (b.y.o.b.), but my goodness do they have good coffee. I went with the Cafe Bonbon – the Cuban equivalent of Vietnamese coffee, strong espresso with sweetened condensed milk – and the flan con coco. “That’s one hell of a flan!” Devon said to me, and I’d have to agree. Not too sweet, and the absolute perfect quivering creamy texture.

To balance these meals, I’ve been an active bee. Last week I mentioned my participation in the Runner’s World Summer Running Streak – I’ve really been enjoying the momentum that running a mile a day gives me – it eliminates the stress of choice, and I’m just so excited to get out and run. It’s also given me confidence to run longer distances – a few weeks ago I ran the Newton 10k and PR’d, and yesterday I ran the Heartbreak Hill Running Company’s Firehouse 10-miler. 10 miles – that’s a good 4 miles longer than I’ve ever run before. I wouldn’t say that I trained for it, but the goal was just to run and finish, and finish I did. (Actually 10.88 miles. We got a little bit lost.)

Here’s a snapshot of last week in fitness:

Sunday: Kayaking on Lake Waban, 1 mile run + 2 mile walk on the Charles
Monday: 3 miles of walking (to and from work), + mile run
Tuesday: Rest day (drove to work) + mile run (in rain boots!)
Wednesday: 4 miles of walking + mile run (in flip flops!)
Thursday: 2 miles of walking, mile run (in the pouring rain!)
Friday: Mile run, work meeting walk (with a work dog!)
Saturday: Firehouse 10 miler! (10.88 miles)
Sunday: 1 mile run, an hour of Open Platform at CrossFit

The Meal Plan: Meal planning! I still do that. Except when I don’t. Lots of comfort food for this week, because I set off to the store without actually planning out my meals or consulting any one of my million cookbooks. Today I ended up at four grocery stores to get everything I wanted. Well, actually, I wanted matcha and glutinous rice flour to make these, but I couldn’t find the rice flour at any of the four stores, and I didn’t really feel like spending $20 on sub-par matcha. First stop was Russo’s, then a brief pit-stop at Stop & Shop, specifically for some Goya Black Bean soup, because, while it isn’t particularly healthy, I crave it enough that I cave in once and a while. And man, the entire Goya aisle makes me tingly and excited. Then Trader Joes, because, even if I don’t need anything at Trader Joe’s, I always need a sample. And finally Whole Foods, because on Sunday night I like to get some good fish for dinner.

Sunday: Copper River Sockeye salmon, black bean soup, rice, and avocado.

Monday: Spaghetti and Meatballs (i.e.: convenience food from Russo’s), and tomato basil salad.

Tuesday: Shakshuka (a.k.a. Eggs in Purgatory) with feta and salad

Wednesday: Pancetta, peas and orzo (from Nigelissima)

Thursday: Turkey chili with cheddar dogs and fried egg

Friday: Out to dinner

See that crispy salmon skin? Nobody ever wants to eat it except for me. What will you be eating this week?

Have a great Monday everyone!

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