CookUnity Review

Great Tasting Ready-to-warm Single-Serve Meals

CookUnity is a new-to-me service that sends you ready-to-warm prepared meals, in single-serving trays. The meals can be warmed by microwaving them for 2-3 minutes or heating them in a pre-heated oven for 8-15 minutes. They are basically a competitor to Freshly, which I’ve reviewed before. They are, however, far superior in quality, flavor and variety. The meals taste very much like the leftovers from a high-quality, perhaps adventures, home meal. Indeed, despite the fact that they come pre-cooked and all in one tray, I’d say they rival the best meal kits.

Single-serve meals do serve a very niche clientele. They don’t really work for us as a family, now that our vegan daughter has gone away to college, though I might try it again when she comes home for winter break. They would also make a good choice for when/if we go back to working from an office.

The Food

CookUnity’s main selling point is the wide selection of prepared meals they offer. I counted 110 choices of dishes, more than any subscription meal kit or supermarket that I know. They run the gamut of proteins and cuisines, from the exotic to the mundane, from the high caloric, to the diet minded. There are ample choices for vegetarians, vegans and those who keep special diets.

The second selling point in the taste and quality. Everything we tasted ranged from good to very good. The meals included special ingredients, such as hand-made sausages and forbidden rice, and mostly offered a balance of meats to vegetables to carbs. All the nutritional values are listed so you can choose when you order.

We mostly got high-caloric meals and all of them were large enough to satisfy a big appetite for dinner. We even had leftovers a couple of times.

We tried both microwaving and heating them in the oven, and there wasn’t a huge difference in results – though the oven is better for flank steak.

The meals come with an expiration date of either 5 or 7 days, so if you are getting for the whole week you probably should look at the dates when you get them and prioritize the ones that will expire first.

As far as I can tell, CookUnity contracts with professional restaurant chefs in major cities where CookUnity has commercial kitchens, and the chefs conceive of the meals and prepare them. In addition to providing chefs with the kitchens, CookUnity also buys the ingredients, packages and ships the meals and is in charge of marketing and sales. All the chefs need to do is cook.

The Plans

CookUnity’s meals cost between $11 and $13.50 each depending on how many you ordered, I ordered 8 and paid $11.50 each (minus a coupon). The cost is competitive with meal kits and take out. The meals were definitely large enough to satisfy – but pay attention to calories. Shipping is free but they do charge taxes – albeit, judged by the amount, it doesn’t seem they included city taxes.

It is easy to skip meals, and you can even suspend your account for up to 2 months. Unsubscribing is simple as well.

The Packaging

CookUnity meals come in microwave and oven-save tray made out of paper waste product with a plastic seal. They are not compostable, but CookUnity claims they are recyclable. However, while they have the recycle symbol on them, they don’t have a number. I am thus guessing it is not recyclable at all. It’s a pity, because if they used wax instead of plastic, they probably could be composted and would eliminate a lot of waste.


The meals trays are covered by a plastic film that you throw away, and come with a paper sleeve listing the ingredients and nutrition facts, as well as cooking instructions and date of expiration, which can be recycled. Some meals have sauces or vegetables in removable plastic containers within the trays. You are supposed to remove these before you cook them. These containers are usually recyclable, or you can was them and use them yourself.

CookUnity ships their meals inside an insulated bag, with 3 small freezer packs in the bottom and 3 in the top. They say that the bag and freezer packs will be collected and re-used when you get your next set of meals (I’ve only done one week so far). This may be different in other areas.


The Shipping & Delivery

When I first ordered CookUnity they were shipping to my area through UPS. They were shipping on a Monday for Wednesday deliver. UPS was delayed with my first order, and they just sent it back. I got credit for the meals I didn’t get, which I used to order mostly the same meals a couple of weeks later.

Since then, they’ve changed deliveries in my area and now they apparently deliver the same day the food is prepared. I had no problems getting my meals the second time. Some of the bottom freezer packages had started to melt, and one of them came perforated and had started to leak fluid, but the meals were cold and nothing was damaged.

The Meals

These are the meals we tried, I’d have most of them again.

Handmade Merguez Sausage in Moroccan Couscous Stew with Harissa

by French chef Cedric Nicolas, former sous chef at Belle Vie Food & Wine in LA (now closed)

This was a very tasty dish. The merguez sausages were delicious, if much smaller than those shown, and the whole dish tasted very home made. Definitely a winner.

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs

by chef Dustin Taylor, last at AC Hotel in LA

My husband had this dish for lunch one day. He can’t remember eating it at all, so it wasn’t memorable. My own recollection is that he liked it but wasn’t enthusiastic.

Braised Lamb Sabzi with Cumin Seed Rice

by Israeli chef Einat Admony, chef-owner of Balaboosta in NYC.

This dish tasted exactly what I expect lamb sabzi to taste. It’s a dish of Persian origin, tangy and fragrant with Middle Eastern spices.

Filipino Adobo Pork Ribs and Jasmine Rice

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

The ribs were very tasty, moist and tender. I also liked the rice quite a bit. It came with bok choy which I don’t like, but my dog does.

Gochujang Baby Back Ribs

by Korean-American chef Esther Choi, chef-owner of Mokbar and Ms.Yoo in New York City

I liked these tangy and tender ribs and really enjoyed the sweet corn. The rice was just OK.

Hanger Steak and Coconut Forbidden Rice

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

This was my favorite of the two hanger steak dishes we had. It’s also one we warmed in the oven. As you can see, it wasn’t cooked medium-rare as on the picture in the website, but the beef was tender and flavorful, and I could still taste the beef flavor. The forbidden rice was tasty and fun. The broccolini, however, didn’t work. It was chewy.

Garlic Hanger Steak with Roasted Vegetables and Avocado-Cilantro Lime Sauce

by NYC chef Andres Mendez

This was probably my least favorite dish of the bunch. The steak wasn’t very flavorful, and it was completely overwhelmed by the spicy sauce. The vegetables where OK, but one-dimensional. I wouldn’t order it again.

Chicken Tagine

by Israeli chef Einat Admony, chef-owner of Balaboosta in NYC.

This was a pretty good rendition of chicken tagine with couscous. The chicken was a little tough, but it was flavorful and the couscous was quite good when mixed with the vegetables.

This post contains an affiliate link that gives you a discount and, if I’m subscribed at the point when you claim such discount, might give me one as well for future purchases. As always, look to see if there are better discount deals elsewhere.

International Food Project Update: Done with the J’s

For the last 21 years – yes, 21 years, you read that right – I’ve been on-and-off trying to cook international food alphabetically. I started with Afghanistan long ago, and I’ve now just finished cuisines that start with the letter “J”.

At first, my list of cuisines only included major national cuisines – but as I gathered more regional cuisine cookbooks, I added those too. With time, they’ve multiplied to the point that national cuisines are now the exception. In all, in these 21 years, I’ve visited 215 different cuisines and cooked 690 different dishes for this project.

When I first started, I’d do a menu for a cuisine, including an appetizer, a main and dessert, and invite friends over. Later, when I had kids, I could not manage dinner parties except in the most special occasions, so I started exploring these cuisines as every night dinners. Accommodating my children’s changing tastes and diet preferences wasn’t always easy, but we managed. Still, it’s been a very slow process. If I want to finish it – something I never thought possible -, I’m going to have to speed things up.

So as I start 2022 and tackle “K” cuisines, with just one child at home (but still a picky eater), I’m going to try something different. Whenever possible, I’m going explore national cuisines for Sunday dinners, doing full menus. Not every cuisine lends itself to an appetizer-entree-dessert format – indeed, my first K cuisine, Kenya, does not – so in those cases, I’ll just explore different dishes on different nights. Otherwise, I will leave regional and ethnic cuisines for weekday nights but limit my exploration of them to just one or two dishes. We’ll see how that works.

Meanwhile, here are the J cuisines I explored, as well as the A-I cuisines I discovered and explored (usually for just one dish) in the last year:

Jakartan: Indonesian food rocks so I was happy to explore the food of the capital. The dishes I made included chicken sate, a beef & noodle soup and a great cake for dessert

Jalisciense: I didn’t make Jalisco’s most famous dish, birria, but I fell in love with their tortas ahogadas

Jamaican: there were so many good choices for this island cuisine, and I finally figured out how to make a good jerk pork.

Japanese: I didn’t try my hand at sushi, but learned I couldn’t make a vegetarian miso soup anyone liked. Other dishes, however, were great.

Javanese: coconut beef, coconut chicken and coconut balls. If you like coconut, Javanese cuisine has lots to offer.

Jerezana: this Spanish city offered tasty dish after tasty dish, from braised oxtails to their own version of chicken cordon bleu

Jewish American: a roasted chicken was a failure, but their cheese blintzes and apple cake rocked

Jiangsu: I only made one dish, ribs, but we enjoyed it a lot.

Jiangxi: we enjoyed the fish and chicken from this Chinese regional cuisine, but the steamed pork with rice powder was a disappointment.

Jordanian: This was the only “J” cuisine from a country I had visited. I think my dishes were better than anything I ate there.

And these are the regional and ethnic cuisines I briefly explored, mostly for just one dish:

Chicken with Papaya

A’chik Mande / Garo: I enjoyed cooking an unusual dish of chicken with papayas from a tribal group in the Indian highlands.

Banana and Peanut Fritters width=530 ><br clear=



Acholi: While I only made one dish, peanut & banana pancakes, it was great to learn about these Luo people from northern Uganda.

Khachapuri

Adjarian: bread with cheese and an egg, hard to believe it but it works!

Hot and Sour Fish

Ambonese: unfortunately, the one dish I cooked from the Indonesian spice islands, was a failure


Balochi: I made the most famous grilled chicken dish from these southern Pakistani cuisine

Bukharian Jewish: The single dish I made from these people from Uzbekistan was a complete mess, but it was fun to try a new cooking technique.

Cornish: I tried my hand at traditional cornish pasties and failed terribly. No wonder they’ve improved on the recipe in the last century or two!

Manja

Gagauz: the culinary traditions of this Muslim people from Moldova may not be particularly exotic, but I did enjoy their chicken with a paprika gravy.

Gobble Meal Kit Review: Butter Chicken With Basmati Rice & Naan Bread

8/10

I absolutely love Indian food, but I’m cursed with not being able to successfully replicate my favorite dishes – of which butter chicken ranks at the top. I’ve tried making it, and while the results weren’t bad, they were not nearly as good as those of my local Indian restaurants. I’ve also tried a number of commercial sauces, none of which can compare to restaurant-make. That’s why I was particularly impressed that Gobbled managed a very good butter chicken sauce, that rivals that at any of our local restaurants.

The kit was fairly easy to make: you cooked the pre-cubed chicken for a few minutes, then added the prepared butter sauce and cooked it for a few more. Pre-made rice was heated in the microwave and a single naan bread was supposed to be baked in the oven. I hate preheating a whole oven just for that, so I put it in the air fryer for 4 minutes. It was a bit crispy, but very good.

Finally, the kit came with a cucumber & tomato salad with a pre-made salad dressing. I don’t like cucumber and my husband doesn’t like tomatoes, so we ate our vegetables separately. The dressing was OK, but didn’t really have much to do with the rest of the meal.

In all, another very good Gobble meal.

All About Calamansi fruit

Yesterday I was introduced to a completely new ingredient to me: calamansi fruit. These tiny citrus fruits are also known as kalamansi, calamondin and Philippines limes or lemons. They are extremely sour, and their juice is used instead of lemon or lime juice in Filipino and other southeast Asian cuisines. They do have a more orangy taste profile than lime, and a common substitute for their juice is a mixture of equal ratios of orange juice and lemon or lime juice (though I imagine the result will be less sour). Calamansi start out green, and turn orange when they are ripe. I don’t know that their taste changes much, however, the ones I got were mostly orange (see picture) but they were extremely sour.

Sun Tropics Chilled Calamansi Lime Nectar - 64 Fl. Oz. - Safeway

I came across them in a recipe for Ambonese fish, which called for their juice. I was excited to see that calamansi juice was available at my local big-chain supermarket, but disappointed when I got my order and found out that what they sell is actually calamansi nectar, a drink whose first and second ingredients are water and sugar. Basically, it’s a lemonade made with calamansi fruit instead. As a drink, it’s rather good. I liked it much better than lemonade though les than limeade. It did feel the particular brand I bought was rather watery, but perhaps in my old age I just need more intense flavors (I don’t have a problem with commercial limeade, however).

As much as I enjoyed the drink, I still needed to find calamansi which, fortunately, was an easy task in California. Not only do we have a large Filipino population which consume these fruits, but it seems that we have a good climate for growing them. I found several ads on Facebook Marketplace for people who had trees in their backyards and sold them for $4/lb.

However, I ended up buying these at a local Asian supermarket with a large Filipino selection. A 1/2 lb bag was $2.25 and it produced 1/3 cup of juice. So it is definitely more expensive than lime/lemon/orange juice. I think there might be commercial brands selling calamansi juice, but I didn’t think it was worth my time seeking them out at the local Asian markets.

Juicing the calamansi turned out to be very easy if a bit time consuming. You basically cut off the side with the stem and then squeeze them by hand into a strainer – they are full of seeds. Alternatively you could just squeeze them into a bowl and then strain the whole thing, I imagine. At least when they are ripe, they are very soft and very easy to squeeze.

I’m actually looking forward to find another dish that calls for these little fruit, they are that cute and fun to cook with. Meanwhile, I’ll just drink the calamansi-ade.

Gobble Kit Review: Braised Beef Stroganoff with Fresh Gigli Pasta

8/10

I learned my lesson in my last Gobble box: order meals that include sauces and items that I cannot easily replicate myself. Otherwise, Gobble is not that much of a convenience. While it seems fewer of Gobble meals meet both this requirement and my personal meal preferences, this kit did both. It was quick and easy to make and very tasty. What it was not is beef stroganoff.

The kit required minimal preparation, all I had to do was slice some onions and mince some garlic, probably just so I felt I did something. Beyond that, I had to boil some fresh pasta, and prepare the beef from pre-made ingredients. I mixed the braising liquid from the beef with a prepared demi-glace sauce and some beef stock in a bowl and then heated the beef in a pan. I added the sliced mushrooms, cooked for a few minutes, and then added the sauce I’d mixed and pre-cut carrots and peas. After a couple of minutes I added the cooked pasta as well as some pre-made herbed butter. After plating it, I finished it with sour cream and parsley.

Both my husband and I were happy with the meal, it tasted homey and like something I’d make (just not like stroganoff), and the portion was adequate.

Restaurant Review: Awazi Kitchen – Oakland

Gored Gored

My daughter was home for the weekend from college and she wanted Ethiopian for dinner. I decided to give Awazi Kitchen a try because it was rather new and got great reviews on Yelp. It was fine, though not special enough to make me eager to come back.

The restaurant is located in downtown Oakland, next to what used to be Le Cheval. It has a large square room, with socially distanced tables. It was completely empty at 5 PM on a Saturday. This would be a good place to go with a crowd, as it has the space and at least at that time, you wouldn’t have to worry about sharing air with customers outside your group (I’m writing this review during the pandemic).

Their menu is pretty straightforward and serves the usual Ethiopian dishes you can get at most Ethiopian restaurants. You can order online and you can specify how you want your dishes made – I asked for two to be made mild and they complied.

Kik Alicha

We ordered the Kik Alicha (yellow split peas in a mild sauce, $13.3), the Gored Gored (beef cubes in sauce – $16.6) and the Meat Combo ($18), which included Doro Wot, Yebeg Alicha & Beef Wot. All the meals came with cooked vegetable sides and plenty of injera. I’d bought another portion of injera just in case, but it was completely unnecessary.

Both my husband and daughter were happy enough with their dishes – which tasted pretty much like you would expect. The wots were far less spicy than at other Ethiopian restaurants, however. The portions were generous and they both had leftovers.

I was less happy with my gored gored. Now, this is usually a raw meat dish, but in the menu description at Awazi Kitchen it said you could have it rare or medium-rare. I chose medium-rare but what I got was raw meat. I don’t necessarily have a problem with raw meat, but the beef cubes were too tough and chewy to be able to be eaten raw. If you are going to do a raw dish, you really need to use very tender meat – this wasn’t it. Fortunately, I was able to solve this problem by transferring the meat to a pot, adding some water and simmering it for about 10 minutes. It was pretty good then, but I would not order this dish again at Awazi Kitchen.

Awazi Kitchen
1009 Clay St
Oakland
(510) 817-4155
https://awazi-kitchen.business.site/

HelloFresh Review: Italian Beef Melts

8/10

My final HelloFresh kit this week was Italian Beef Melts with Onion, Green Pepper, Mozarella & Roasted Potato Wedges. Once again, I was impressed at how tasty this dish was. HelloFresh has given me a new appreciation for how good simple American cuisine can be.

To make the sandwiches, you slice and sautée the onions and peppers, you cook the ground beef with Italian seasoning and beef base and then mix them together. The kit has you make garlic aioli by mixing mayo with garlic powder and garlic butter by mixing your own butter with that same garlic powder. Instead of the garlic powder, I minced some of my own garlic cloves and used that. The buns are toasted with the garlic butter and mozzarella cheese, you spread the mayo and then add the beef filling. They were filling and very tasty.

The side dish was HelloFresh ubiquitous oven baked potatoes – they were plain this time, but I added some Italian seasoning to make them tastier. I feel, however, that HelloFresh should have chosen a different vegetable. This dish was very carb heavy to begin with and very light in vegetables. Maybe zucchini chips would have been a better choice? I did like the potatoes, however.

Kit for four servings

I made this dish five days after receiving it and everything was still fresh.

This post contains a referral link, if you sign up you get a discount and I get a $10 credit if I’m subscribed to HF when you subscribe, which I probably won’t be.

Hello Fresh Review: Chicken in Dijon Sauce with Balsamic Greens, Walnuts & Grapes plus Garlic Bread

7/10

Hello Fresh often offers slight variations of the same dishes. I’ve encountered the Dijon sauce in this meal kit as a dill sauce and a chives sauce, both served on chicken breasts. I’m happy to say that the sauce is just as good without the herbs, though the kit makes about half as much sauce as you really need for this dish.

The garlic bread, made on a ciabatta bun, was very good as well – even though I had refrigerated the buns for four days by the time I made it. The reason was probably the copious amount of garlic butter it contained. HelloFresh doesn’t end you butter, so they’re very generous in their recipes with your own supplies. Here, each bun slice asked for a whole tablespoon of butter. Still, at least the results were worth it.

The main reason I’m giving this kit low grades was the salad. It was nothing special and I don’t think it went particularly well with the chicken.

The meal kit was easy enough to make, but the chicken half breasts were too thick to cook in the recommended time – they took me about 15 minutes to cook altogether. The ingredients were fresh, even though I cooked them four days after I received the box.

This post contains a referral link, if you sign up you get a discount and I get a $10 credit. Before you do, though, e-mail me as I may have credit for a free box to be sent to you.

HelloFresh Meal Kit Review: Mozzarella & Herb Chicken with Roasted Carrots & Buttery Couscous

8/10

This was my first HelloFresh kit in over a year, and an update on a Parmesan chicken kit I had in 2019. I’m glad to say it was an improvement. The mozarella-panko-Italian seasoning crust was delicious – so much so that my daughter ate a second chicken breast (I got a meal kit for four this time) and asked me to make it again. Indeed, the kit made enough breading for six breasts altogether, so I did make it again for her a couple of nights later.

The couscous, which I found to be rather tasteless last time, was cooked in chicken broth and lemon zest this time, and was very tasty. The copious butter didn’t hurt, of course. The carrots were OK, not exciting, but good enough.

The portion size was adequate for non-huge apetites or people with a carrot fetish. Among the three of us, we ate the whole 4-person meal kit, except for the carrots. There were lots and lots of big, fat carrots.

I should note that the instructions for this dish left out how long the chicken should cook for. Fortunately, I was able to figure it out by looking at the Parmesan chicken instructions. The answer is 15 minutes.

The ingredients were fresh, and overall I was quite happy with the meal kit. It should be easy enough to recreate.

This post contains a referral link, if you sign up you get a discount and I get a $10 credit. Before you do, though, e-mail me as I may have credit for a free box to be sent to you.

Gobble Meal Kits Review: Seared Salmon with Crispy Potatoes, Frisée & Lemon /Walnut Vinaigrette

I did not actually order this meal kit, and I was quite unhappy when I saw it added to my order online. Neither my daughter nor I like salmon, and I need my meal kits to at least serve two people. I e-mailed Gobble right away, and they gave me a credit for the cost of the meal. As it happened, they sent it to me with top sirloin instead of salmon anyway.

Overall, this meal kit was a disappointment – even free. It consisted of another tiny steak, pan grilled and then sparkled with some paprika sumac spice mixture which didn’t add anything. The steak was good, but boring. On the side was a salad of frisée lettuce, pan fried potato slices, walnuts and olives (I omitted these) in a rather pedestrian lemon gremolata. It wasn’t a bad meal, but I can accomplish the same thing by getting steak and ready-made-salad at the supermarket. Again, I have no one to blame but myself for selecting this meal. But really, I’ve had trouble finding exciting meals in Gobble – something I noticed as well last year.



I do have to commend Gobble for the freshness of their food items. I cooked this meal exactly one week after I got it, the beef was perfectly fine and the lettuce had barely started to wilt.