5 Essential Cookware Pieces for the Beginner Home Cook


I'm a mom trying to get dinner on the table every night. Here are 5 essential cookware pieces that I think are useful for any beginner home cook.

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As much as I love to eat out, I also like to cook.  I’m not a fancy or creative cook, but I can follow a recipe.  I’m a busy mom and when I’m in the kitchen my main goal is to cook quick and easy meals for my family. While there are all kinds of kitchen gadgets and cookware out there, I hate having lots of “stuff”cluttering my kitchen. Here are 5 essential cookware pieces that I think will be useful for any beginner home cook.  These are pieces that I use on a regular basis to create basic, everyday weeknight meals.

This Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker is one of the kitchen tools that I can't live without. There's nothing like prepping your slow cooker in the morning and having dinner ready when you get home from work!

Slow Cooker – There is nothing nicer than throwing ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a ready-to-eat meal.  As you can tell from this picture, my slow cooker is well used!  I have a 6 quart Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Programmable slow cooker.   I find that this slow cooker cooks things very quickly.  I’ve had it for several years now and know to reduce recommended cooking times in recipes. I use my slow cooker mainly for soups and stews.  However, I’ve also made stuffed peppers, lasagna, Slow Cooker Lentil and Brown Rice Tacos and more in it.

Pizza Stone – I received this Emile Henry pizza stone as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago and it’s become a kitchen favorite.  The ceramic stone is made in France and comes in small, medium and large sizes.  I have a 14.5″ large ceramic stone in burgundy.  When I make pizza, I set the oven to 450 degrees F. and this stone gives the pizza a crispy bottom and crust. Although I’ve never tried it, the stone can be used on the barbecue grill.  Almost every Friday night I use the stone to make homemade pizza for dinner. Lately, I’ve been making plain, cheese pizza.  However, we enjoyed this Onion, Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza with Balsamic Glaze.

Immersion Blender – Have you seen soup or sauce recipes where they direct you to pour the liquid (sometimes hot) into a blender to puree?  An immersion blender saves you this awful step.  While I don’t use it very often, my immersion blender comes in handy often in the fall and winter when I tend to make a lot of soups.   I’ve been happy with our Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Blender.  It has two speed settings which is more than enough for my basic home cooking needs.  It’s useful when making Slow Cooker Loaded Potato Soup.

Our Cast Iron Skillet is a kitchen tool that I can't live wihout. It's able to go from stove top to oven and evenly cooks food.

Cast Iron Skillet – A cast iron skillet is such a versatile piece of cookware.  They come in many sizes from individual pans to large Dutch oven styles.  I have a 10-inch Lodge skillet that gets well used. Cast iron cookware is able to withstand high temperatures and retains heat.  It can easily go from the stove top into the oven (with the assistance of good oven mitts!).  It does need to be seasoned to avoid rusting, which is an easy process.  I often sear meat in this skillet before putting it in the slow cooker for extra flavor. I also cook burgers and cornbread in it. My husband makes fried chicken in our cast iron skillet.

Dutch Oven –  A dutch oven is another useful, multi-purpose cooking vessel.  It is a thick-walled pot, often made out of cast iron.  However, dutch ovens can also be made of cast aluminum or ceramic.  I have a 5.5-quart Food Network Ceramic Dutch Oven. I use it to braise meat as well as to cook soups and stews.  It’s also large enough for cooking one pot meals in.  This dutch oven is perfect for making Simple Clam Chowder.

Do you use any of these cookware pieces?  What’s an essential piece of cookware that you use that I didn’t mention?  

Brunching at Calle Dao {Chelsea}


{I was invited to a tasting of the everyday brunch menu. All opinions are my own.}

Just hearing the restaurant name Calle Dao, you know you are going to get a global dining experience. Calle Dao serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, paying tribute to the heyday of Havana’s Chinatown. Located at 461 West 23rd street, the new Chelsea location opened in the beginning of September. This is the second Calle Dao location (the first one is located in Bryant Park).

Owner of Calle Dao Marco Britti.

Owner Marco Britti, a musician by trade, has traveled the world as a drummer.  He has spent a good amount of time in Cuba, playing music and studying the culture and food. Calle Dao Chelsea is his seventh restaurant.

The Dining Space at Calle Dao in Chelsea.

The restaurant’s decor reflects more of a Cuban vibe. The white-washed walls lighten the space and each table has its own overhead light.  The abundance of potted green leafy plants, Chinese prints and neon lit signs add pops of color.  The beats of the Latin music playing will have you tapping your toes and make you want to get up and dance.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Bradley Warner helped create the menu at Calle Dao.

The restaurant serves brunch seven days a week.  From 11 AM to 4 PM, you can enjoy all the deliciousness they offer!  Appetizers are in the $9-$10 range, with options like these Cuban Sandwich Spring Rolls and Shrimp Empanadas.  I highly recommend the spring rolls that are served with a Mojo Lime Mustard.  They really showcase the fusion of the Cuban and Asian cuisines.

Calle Dao's tasty version of the classic Beef and Broccoli. One of the entrees offered on their seven day a week brunch menu.

Main entrees are priced from $15-$23.  I was most impressed with the restaurant’s take on Beef & Broccoli.  Tender pieces of smoked short ribs are served with Chinese broccoli and noodles in a garlic hoisin sauce.  I just wish there was more than three small pieces of meat.  They also serve a vegetarian, mushroom and broccoli version of this dish.

An entree served on the seven day a week brunch menu at Calle Dao.

Another one of my favorite entrees was the Chorizo and Garbanzo Hash.  The chorizo and garbanzo beans are mixed with sweet potatoes, peppers and onions and topped with sunny-side up eggs.  This was a very flavorful dish with a great combo of flavors.

Other dishes I tried were a Lamb Picadillo & Corn Congee, topped with poached eggs and Huevos Al Horno (eggs baked in a white bean stew with Chinese sausage).  The picadillo was an interesting fusion of the two cuisines.  The Huevos Al Horno was a hearty dish.  However, this was one of the few dishes that I felt that I could make myself at home.  When I dine out I try to order dishes that I wouldn’t make at home due to the complex ingredients, flavors, or cooking methods.

A classic Cuban sandwich served on the everyday brunch menu at Calle Dao.

The menu has a couple of classic dishes like this Cubano sandwich with Mojo glazed pork, cured ham, salami, pickles and Gruyere cheese.

Besides the Mushroom and Broccoli noodle bowl, Calle Dao offers several other vegetarian-friendly options.  They make a Black Bean and Mushroom Burger, Shiitake Spring Rolls and two different salads. More breakfast-y options include a vegetarian omelette, Maduro & Eggs (fried rice topped with eggs), Avocado Toast and a strawberry jam and cream cheese filled french toast.

One of the delicious cocktails served at Calle Dao. I enjoyed a brunch tasting at the newest Chelsea location.

The restaurant has a fully stocked bar and also serves wine and beer.  Master mixologist Joy Daniel has created several unique Cuban-Asian cocktails to accompany Calle Dao’s menu.  I prefer my drinks on the sweeter side and sampled the “Flor de Oro”. Made with vodka, rose and vanilla infused dry vermouth, cherry jam and fresh lemon juice, this cocktail did not disappoint.

Calle Dao serves some amazing desserts like these Bunuelos and Matcha Tres Leches.

You have to leave room for dessert!  I tried both the Bunuelos (fried dough balls, rolled in Chinese Five Spice Sugar and served with a chocolate coconut sauce) and Matcha Tres Leches.  Both were amazing, but if I had to recommend only one, I’d vote the Tres Leches.

Whether you are in Chelsea to visit an art gallery, see a show or to shop, take a brunch break at Calle Dao.  You are in for a great dining experience!

Cardoso Cookies {Made in New York}

Cardoso Cookies are made locally in the Hudson Valley. Anthony Cardoso is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and makes his cookies with all natural ingredients.

I recently attended the Fall Hudson Valley Restaurant Week kick-off event at the Culinary Institute of America.  By now, you know I’m attracted to all things sweet and I was compelled to stop by the Cardoso Cookies table.  There, I had the pleasure of meeting founder Anthony Cardoso.  He graduated from the Culinary Institute in 2002 so you can bet he’s qualified to make a good cookie!

Anthony Cardoso is the founder of cookie company Cardoso Cookies. A graduate of the Culinary Institute he uses fresh ingredients with no preservatives.

 What was his motivation for starting Cardoso Cookies?

Anthony wanted to start a food business where the primary focus was on producing a consistent, high quality, and fresh (made to order & from scratch) product. He didn’t want a brick and mortar storefront or a food truck (at the time it was too big of an investment). While visiting the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, he realized that there was a lack of sweet options.  This helped him narrow his focus down to cookies.  The following months included lots of recipe development, package testing, and test shipments all over the nation to friends and family. Cardoso Cookies was launched on August 1, 2015.

Based out of Hopewell Junction, Cardoso Cookies are primarily available for purchase online. Orders can be placed through the company website and  shipped anywhere in the United States.  Once an order is placed, the cookies are baked to order and usually shipped or delivered the next day. He even offers free local delivery if you happen to live near Hopewell Junction! Additionally, Anthony sells his products at local events and markets to grow a following.  Past events have included the Hudson Valley Wine and Chocolate Festival, the Stormville Flea Market and the Fishkill Farmer’s Market.  You can also purchase his cookies at Crown Maple, in Dover Plains or North River Roasters in Poughkeepsie.

I asked Anthony which was his most popular selling cookie.  He said it’s the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie. That’s not terribly surprising but it also happens to be his favorite, too!  What sets their chocolate chip cookie apart from a classic chocolate chip is the inclusion of 4 different types of chocolate chips (milk, semisweet, bittersweet, and white).  As a bittersweet chocolate lover,  Anthony also really enjoys the Bittersweet Brownie cookie. The bittersweet chocolate batter and semisweet chocolate chips make it a rich and delicious cookie.

But how do they taste?!

Anthony was offering samples of many of the different cookies he makes and sells.  I took him up on his offer to bring a selection of cookies home to share with the family.  As a family lifestyle blogger, I seek to highlight family-friendly products in my “Made in New York” feature.  I try to have everyone in the family sample and give opinions on the products.  Cookies definitely qualify as family-friendly in my house and my kids were super excited to be cookie taste testers.

Of course, I had to try the famous Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie although I was a bit more intrigued by some of the other variety of cookies that we sampled.

Birthday  Sugar Cookie – This is a sugar cookie filled with sprinkles.  I liked the soft chewiness the most.

Hot Cocoa Cookie –  This is a dark chocolate cookie with milk chocolate chips and marshmallows.  This was a soft cookie and one of the more fragile ones.

“New”Tella Cookie – This is a thick sandwich cookie filled with Callebaut chocolate ganache and chocolate hazelnut spread filling.  I wasn’t expecting the cookies to have a cinnamon flavor and, although they were tasty, I think I’d prefer them with a plain butter cookie.

Red Velvet Cookie – This is a classic red velvet cookie with white chocolate chips.

Salted Caramel Chocolate – This is another delicious sandwich cookie.  A thick chocolate filling and local Hudson Valley-made Cara-Sel Salted Caramel are sandwiched between two chocolate cookies.

Thick Mints Cookie – This is a super thick, chocolate and mint flavored cookie, covered in a chocolate coating.

All of the cookies were delicious.  However, the unanimous family favorite was the Hot Cocoa Cookie.  Although I didn’t try them myself,  Anthony had other varieties available to sample including the Brookie (1/2 chocolate chip, 1/2 brownie), Bittersweet Brownie, and Apple Oatmeal.  He also sells Maple Doodles, Peanut Butter cookies, Peanut Butter Cup cookies, Oatmeal Raisin, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, and a S’mores cookie.  He even sells a vegan chocolate chip cookie.

As you can see from the labels, these cookies are made with all natural ingredients.  Because there are no preservatives, these cookie are best eaten with a week. You probably won’t have to worry about that because there’s no way they’ll be sitting around uneaten! If you’re planning to save some cookies for a future date, though, they can be frozen for up to three months.

Besides cookies, Cardoso Cookies also sells edible cookie dough. The dough contains no eggs or egg products and is ready to eat.  The 3-pack sampler contains 10 oz. jars of Classic Chocolate Chip, Birthday Cake and Brownie Batter.

The cookies and cookie dough make great gifts and party favors.  Gift tins and boxes are available and would make great holiday gifts or a tasty treat for a dinner party.  His prices are quite reasonable too.  Small gift tins of 6-8 cookies start at $12.99.  A (21-24 count) sampler pack of 3 different cookies of your choice is $36.99.

Be sure to follow Cardoso Cookies on Instagram and Facebook to stay up-to-date on where they are selling.  They will also soon be offering special deals for social media fans.

Thirsty Thursday: September Beverage Round-Up

A September Beverage Round-Up of the different drinks that we tried throughout the month.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the end of September.  For this month’s “Thirsty Thursday” I’m doing a beverage round-up of new drinks we’ve tried during the past month.  Just when we think that the beverage market has reached its saturation point, new drinks continue to be created.  And, of course, NY Foodie Family has to try as many interesting newcomers as we can!

Included in our September beverage round-up this is a 5 calorie antixoxidant-infused beverage.

bai Antioxidant Cocofusion – bai launched in 2009 and is the Mandarin Chinese word for “pure.”  It is also an acronym for “botanical antioxidant infusions.”  The company creates beverages using only natural flavors and without artificial sweeteners.  This was our first time trying a bai beverage and I picked up this Antioxidant Cocofusion in Puna Coconut Pineapple at our local Acme.  It was on sale but but normally retails for $2.29 a bottle.  This is a coconut and pineapple flavored coconut water and the flavors were noticeable. The drink is sweetened with stevia which I thought had a noticeable taste.  My husband noted that this particular flavor might be enhanced with the addition of some rum.  There are four flavors in the Cocofusion line including Andes Coconut Lime, Maui Coconut Raspberry, Molokai Coconut and this Puna Coconut Pineapple that we tried.  Although we weren’t huge fans of this particular flavor, I am interested in trying drinks from some of their other product lines.

Izze Fusions – Izze brand beverages was co-founded by best friends Todd Woloson and Greg Stroh. The brand is named after Todd’s daughter.  The Izze line of products include sparkling juice, sparking water and these fusions. Izze Fusions are fizzy fruit beverages that come in three flavors:  orange mango, lemon lime and strawberry melon. The drink is sweetened with stevia extract, which had a noticeable taste.  The rest of the family enjoyed these though. Fusions are sold in a box of eight at local grocery stores and retails at our local Acme for $5.99.

Langers Cucumber Lime with Mint Juice Cocktail – Langers is a family-owned juice company that has been producing a variety of beverages since its formation in 1960.  When I saw Cucumber Lime with Mint juice cocktail on the shelf I had to give it a try, since I’ve never seen anything comparable before.  This juice cocktail has no high fructose corn syrup.  It definitely has a very evident cucumber and lime flavor.  I have to be honest, neither the kids nor I were fans of this drink.  My husband made good use of it by mixing it with some bourbon to create a cocktail.  I purchased this beverage at our local Shoprite on sale for $1.99.

This kombucha energy beverage comes from Poland. It was included in our MunchPak snack subscription box.

O by Oshee (Kombucha energy drink) – This beverage came in our MunchPak snack subscription box.  While I don’t think that this beverage is available in local stores, it is available through the MunchPak store. This drink comes from Poland.  My husband enjoys kombucha but when he tried this drink he couldn’t detect any kombucha flavor. Instead, this drink reminded him of a regular Red Bull.

Ocean Spray Cran-Pineapple – I grew up drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail.  Over the years, Ocean Spray has continued to expand their line of cranberry juice beverages.  Whenever I see a new cranberry flavor, I have to try it.  We all enjoyed this Ocean Spray Cran-Pineapple.  I liked the combo of sweet and tart flavors.  These drinks tend to be sweet and have quite a bit of sugar.  But we always dilute our beverages with 3/4 seltzer and 1/4 juice which makes a nice spritzer.  I bought this juice at our local Shoprite on sale for $1.99.

Included in our September beverage round-up ROAR organic is an organic coconut water.

ROAR Organic Electrolyte Infusions (I received samples of this beverage for review purposes only.  All opinions are my own.) ROAR Organic kindly sent me a sample of their beverages to sample.  Founded in 2016, ROAR Organic is a line of USDA certified organic coconut water-based electrolyte infusions.  They currently come in four flavors (Pineapple Mint, Cucumber Watermelon, Strawberry Coconut and Mango Clementine).  They are made with all-natural flavors and sweeteners.  We received the three flavors pictured above.  Like many of the other drinks reviewed this month, these drinks contain stevia.  I find stevia to have a bitter taste and prefer to drink beverages that do not contain the sweetener.  However, my husband and kids enjoyed these drinks.  The electrolyte-infusions in these drinks set them apart from the other coconut waters on the market. Out of the three flavors we tried, the favorite was the Strawberry Coconut.  ROAR Organic can be purchased online at Taldepot.com and Amazon.com.  They are sold in bulk and retail on Taldepot.com for $31.00 for a pack of 12 (18 oz) bottles.

Included in our September beverage round-up ROAR kids is a line of water-based beverages for kids.

ROAR Kids – (I received samples of this beverage for review purposes only.  All opinions are my own.)  ROAR organic also sent me a sample of their new kids line of beverages.  ROAR Kids is a water-based beverage that is naturally flavored.  As you can see, they partnered with Disney’s Marvel Studios for their packaging.  With just 2 grams of sugar per serving, ROAR Kids comes in Grape, Apple and Fruit Punch flavors.  Both my kids enjoyed these drinks, with their favorite being the grape-flavored.  ROAR Organic can be purchased online at Taldepot.com and Amazon.com.  They are sold in bulk and retail on Taldepot.com for $21.00 for 12 (12 oz) bottles.

Have you tried any new beverages recently? 


MunchPak Subscription Box {Review}

{Sponsored post – As usual all opinions are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for helping to support NY Foodie Family!}

Subscription boxes continue to be very popular, because who doesn’t like receiving a mystery box of fun each month? If you are an adventurous snack eater and want to try snacks from around the world, then MunchPak is for you!  The MunchPak snack subscription is easy to customize.  You choose how often you want to receive a new box (weekly, every two weeks or monthly) and how many snacks you want in each box (5+, 10+ or 20+).  The company realizes that some of their customers may have either food allergies or a strong preference in snack choices. There is an a la carte menu of 15 choices priced at an additional $1 each so you can ensure you receive only specific snacks.   Drink options are also available as an add-on to the box (tea, coffee, soda, juice, energy drink or water) for $5/each.  Yes, you have to be careful or the price can really add up quickly!  However, a basic, 5+ snacks box delivered once a month can cost as little as $9.95/month if you prepay for 12 months.  If you choose to subscribe month-to-month, it will cost $12.95/month.  You can use code: SNACKIN for $2 off your first MunchPak.com order!

There’s no set theme to the snacks you receive in your MunchPak box.  Each box includes a variety of full-size snacks and treats from different countries.  Unfortunately, there’s no information card included to tell you about the snacks you just received.  However, you can download the Snack Scanner app and scan each snack’s barcode to find out what country it is from. You can also find out more info on the MunchPak site by searching in the “Our Shop” section.

We recently received a snack box for review.  It has been almost two years since we last tried MunchPak, so we were excited to see what we’d receive in the box.  Our 10+ box included the following eleven snacks and drink:

Draze Apacz Pomaranczowe – (Poland – candy) These candy balls had the flavor of an orange creamsicle.  They were crunchy on the outside but grainy on the inside.  We found them to be overly sweet.

Jacquet Bakery French Crepes (France – cookie) – These crepes are made in France but Jacquet Bakery has had a US prescence since 2013.  We received a 1.1 oz single crepe with chocolate filling, however the crepes are also sold with a strawberry filling or plain.  There are no artificial ingredients or preservatives in the crepes and they can be warmed up or eaten as is.  Since we were traveling in the car, we ate it as is.  We found the crepe to be very dry and the filling too sweet.

Au’some Chewy Bites – (China – candy) These chewy bites are small and pebble-shaped with a sweet taste.  The texture reminded us of the inside of a jelly bean.  Although we received strawberry flavored bites, we thought they tasted more like grape.  These are available in pineapple flavor as well.

Cookania Nutsy – (Pakistan – cookie) The description on the package describes these as “real peanut pistachio cookies.” There were three, small cookies in the package. We found them to be very dry and crumbly but liked that there were actual pieces of pistachio in the cookies.

Hanuta Haselnuss-Schnitte – (Germany – cookie) These cookies are made by Ferrero.  The package contained two square cookies, each encased in its own little tray.  Each consists of a thick chocolate, hazelnut filling sandwiched between two wafers.  These were really tasty!

Mieszko Zozole Musss – (Poland – candy)  This was such a fun bag of candy.  The bag contained approximately 15 pieces of individually wrapped lemon and orange flavored candy, although there was only one orange candy in the bag.  These were hard candies that had a fizzy, liquid center.  They were very different from anything that we have had before.

Doritos Pizzerola – (Mexico – chip) This bag of Mexican, pizza flavored Doritos did not last long.  These had a pizza flavor with a slightly bitter after taste.

Bebeto Laces – (Turkey – candy) These are raspberry and tangerine flavored candy strings with a sugar coating.  They had a sweet and sour gummy flavor that reminded us of Sour Patch Kids.

Goralki Nougat Wafers (Poland – candy) This is a candy bar consisting of layers of nougat flavored wafers encased in chocolate.

Stark Smoki (Serbia – chips) This snack has the looks and texture of a cheese doodle.  However, it has a slightly salty peanut flavor.

Mommy’s Palms Waffles Dulce de Leche flavor (Russia – cookies)  -These are stroopwafels, two thin waffle cookies with a thin layer of caramel between them.  The package contains six large cookies.  These had a taste that reminded us of a Girl Scout Samoa cookie without the chocolate.  You can warm these up in the microwave for a few seconds.  But they were super tasty as is.

Oshee Kombucha Drink (Poland – drink) My husband is the only kombucha drinker in our house so this drink was all his!  When I poured it into the glass it was fizzy.  I took a tiny sip and found the drink to be really sweet.  My husband didn’t taste any kombucha flavor.  He said it reminded him of a Redbull and if he hadn’t seen the can, that’s what he thought he was drinking.

As you can see, the MunchPak box includes different types of snacks including cookies, candy and chips from many different countries. While we didn’t enjoy all the snacks that came in the box, we always like giving them a try.  If you really enjoy a snack from your box you can visit the “Our Shop” section on the website and order some more!

Ready to try MunchPak.com? Use code SNACKIN for $2 off your first box!

Have you ever tried MunchPak?




Back-to-School Snacks From Hain Celestial

{Sponsored post – all opinions are my own}

September is fast approaching and for those of us in New York state, that means the new school year will soon begin. This also means it’s back to packing school lunches. My kids hate when I give them the same thing to eat every day, so I’m always on the lookout for new snack options.  Hain Celestial kindly sent me a sample of some of their products which will make great back-to-school snacks for the kids!

Hain Celestial is headquartered in Lake Success, New York.  Celestial Seasonings, alba Botanica, Earth’s Best Organic, Garden of Eatin, Ella’s Kitchen, Soy Dream and Terra are only a sample of the companies that Hain Celestial markets, manufactures and sells. The company, founded in 1993, aims to, “make it easier for people around the world to adopt healthier lifestyles through foods they eat and the personal care products they use.” They use responsibly sourced ingredients and are mindful of their environmental footprint.  Basically, you can feel good about using their products.

Here is a review of some of the snacks that we sampled:

Garden of Eatin’ Organic Tortilla Chips – These tortilla chips are made from organic corn.  I find them to be thicker and denser than other tortilla chips on the market.  We tried both the nacho and ranch flavors of these chips. The nacho chips have a light cheese flavor.  We found the ranch chips to be more flavorful, but beware, they had a strong garlic flavor.  Be sure to have some mints ready after eating these!

Sensible Portions Stacked Veggie Chips – While our family is familiar with veggie straws (see below), we had never seen veggie chips before! These are stackable chips made with a combination of potatoes and vegetables.  We tried the sour cream & onion variety and liked them.  The chips are crispy with a light, sour cream flavor.  Other flavors available include BBQ, Sea Salt, Cheddar Cheese and Sea Salt & Vinegar.

Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Straws – My children are no stranger to veggie straws.  However, we had never seen flavored ones before.  They were excited to try these cheddar cheese flavored straws as well as ranch and sea salt.  We have found new flavors to incorporate into our veggie straw snack rotation!

Terra Plantain Chips –  I was already familiar with Terra and love the brand’s vegetable chips.   My kids are familiar with plantains and have had tostones and sweet plantains.  Although I’ve had plantain chips in the past, I had never tried the Terra brand.  After trying these, my daughter’s exact words were, “I’m addicted to these!”  These chips are small and bite-sized.  They are thinner than other plantain chips that I’ve tried but still tasty.

Thank you Hain Celestial for introducing our family to so many new items to add to our back-to-school snack rotation!

What are some of your favorite school snacks?

CSA Alternatives

It’s March.  Some parts of the country are still getting snow.  But, if you are thinking of joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), now is the time.  While thoughts of warm weather and juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes are at the back of our minds, local farmers are getting ready to start planting.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  By joining a CSA you are purchasing shares of vegetables and produce from a local farm.  When joining a CSA you pay upfront for a certain number of weeks (usually about 20 weeks from June – October) of produce.  While the price can be daunting, (approximately $600-$700 for the season) many farms provide payment plans to help ease the cost.  Each week you pick up your share of locally grown produce.  Most farm CSAs include only veggies.  However, other goodies like fruit, eggs, cheese, syrup and more can be added at an additional charge.

Joining a CSA has many benefits.  Since a CSA is provided by a local farm you are supporting local agriculture.  You are getting fresh produce, every week for a set number of weeks, the quality of which is far superior to anything found on a grocery shelf.  You also get to try new vegetables and/or experience different varieties of familiar favorites.

Last summer my family joined a CSA for the first time.  We experienced all of the benefits listed above and were introduced to new vegetables like mizuna and buttercup squash.  We joined a CSA that offered choices in the veggies we received each week.  For example, one week we could choose a bunch of swiss chard or kale and mix and match 2 pounds of several different varieties of peppers and/or eggplant.  It was fun taking the kids with me each week and having them see and help choose the vegetables.

However, this year we aren’t joining a CSA.  We plan on traveling a lot this summer.  Unfortunately, the CSA that we joined last year was for 20 weeks with a specific day and set times for pick-up.  We would end up missing too many weeks to make it monetarily worth it for us.  However, I still would like fresh, local veggies when we are home.  There is nothing better than a ripe tomato in the summer.  Add a slice of fresh mozzarella, some fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or olive oil and I’m in heaven!

So what are are some CSA alternatives?

Take a trip the Farmer’s Market

Many towns have a local farmer’s market.  It’s nice to wake up early on the weekend and stroll the various stands.   Farmer’s markets differ in number and types of vendors, so you may have to check out a couple before you find a favorite.  A benefit of farmer’s markets is that you can also pick up bread, cheese, eggs and even sometimes meat, jam, pickles or honey.  You are also able to talk with workers who may have helped plant and pick the lettuce you are buying!  Another benefit of visiting the farmer’s market is that you can see the produce and purchase the quantity and type of veggies that you want.


 Join a Local Produce Delivery Service

Field Goods is a year-round local produce delivery service that delivers to many areas of the northeast United States.  It’s a subscription service with four different size bags to choose from.  You choose a delivery location convenient to you and the produce bags are delivered there weekly for you to pick up.  They even deliver to workplaces, if enough employees sign up for delivery.  You can put your subscription on hold and restart any time.  The produce bags include both fruit and veggies and they also offer add-on items including artisan breads and dairy products.  Some other produce delivery services include Farmbox Direct, Hungry Harvest and Farm Fresh to You.  Do a quick Google search for “produce delivery” + your town or state and you will likely find several different options.  Almost all of these services work similarly to Field Goods.

Plant a Garden

If you have the time and space try planting a garden!  While this option requires a lot more work on your end, it is much more cost effective.  You can either start plants from seeds or buy starter plants from your local nursery or even Home Depot or Walmart.  We have a super tiny backyard with very little direct sunlight, so unfortunately planting a garden isn’t a viable option for us.  However, we do try to do some container gardening on our deck and grow herbs and tomato plants.

Are you joining a CSA this year?  Or are you choosing a CSA alternative?


Dinner Thyme Meal Delivery Service {Review}

I received product samples to facilitate this review.  However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

I was very excited when Dinner Thyme reached out to me and asked if I’d like to try their meal delivery service.  As a reader of the blog, you know that cooking dinner for my family every night is important to me.  When searching for recipes to make, quick and easy are my top priorities.  If you’ve tried other meal delivery services before, you know that although all the ingredients are delivered to you, you still end up cooking the recipe, which often takes at least 30-45 minutes to do.  Dinner Thyme is different from most other meal delivery services in that each meal can be cooked in approximately 10-15 minutes!

Most entrees cost $11.95 – $12.95 per serving.  One of the benefits of Dinner Thyme is that you can choose exactly which menu items you’d like and select the number of portions of each item that you want.  This is great for example if you want a home cooked meal but you know your spouse is going to be away.  You can peruse the menu and pick one portion of a meal that you’d like that maybe he or she probably wouldn’t enjoy.  Then you can pick two portions of another dish that you both like that you can cook another evening. Or, if you are inexperienced in the kitchen but want to impress your significant other with a home-cooked meal, Dinner Thyme is perfect!  Easy to follow directions are provided with quick cooking times!

If you’re looking for something sweet to end your meal with, Dinner Thyme also has dessert add-on options each week.  From cookies for $1.65 to a cheesecake for $3.95 a slice, there are four dessert offerings.

So how exactly does the Dinner Thyme meal delivery work?

Each Monday, the upcoming week’s menu is e-mailed to you.  There are nine menu choices each week, including at least one chicken dish, a fish and/or seafood choice, a pork selection, a pasta, and a vegetarian dish.  Each choice lists the price and the estimated cooking time.  You can decide if you’d like to order any of the meals and in what quantities.

If you don’t want to order anything that week you can choose the “skip this week” option.   Depending on where you live, you may also have the option to choose a delivery day.   Approximately five days before your order is shipped you will receive an e-mail receipt confirming the meals ordered.  The e-mail also notes any ingredients that you may have to have on hand (olive oil, for example).

Dinner Thyme Delivery Box

The order is shipped via FedEx and you receive an e-mail with the tracking number.  You do not need to be home when the package is delivered.  Insulation and ice packs are used to keep the ingredients cold.

A letter is attached to your recipe cards noting the meals you ordered.  It also notes within how many days each recipe should be prepared as well as general recipe tips.  For example, shaking the sauces before using and non-stick pans are usually recommended for cooking.

The ingredients in the box are labeled with letters to indicate which items go with the corresponding recipe.  Everything is pre-portioned so you have the exact amounts to cook the recipe.  Recipe cards include nutritional information as well as easy to follow, step-by-step instructions.

Dinner Thyme is currently available in the eastern region of the United States.  The delivery area includes Maine down to parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and as far west as parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Arkansas and Missouri!

For you lucky readers, Dinner Thyme is offering $20 off your first order with coupon code: READYSETCOOK!

Now, on to my review!


I tested out two Dinner Thyme meals.  I chose four portions of Pineapple Salmon Tacos with a Sour Cream Sauce priced at $11.95 for each portion.  I also chose four portions of Chicken and Waffles with Braised Kale and Butter Syrup priced at $12.95 per portion.

For my zip code delivery is available only on Tuesdays.  Last week, this happened to be Valentine’s Day.  My recipe card noted that the salmon tacos were best prepared within 3 days of delivery and the chicken and waffles  best within 4 days, so I decided to make the salmon tacos first.

Pineapple Salmon Tacos

Pineapple Salmon Tacos with a Sour Cream Sauce:
My kids wanted to help cook me dinner so I had them make the Pineapple Salmon Tacos.

With supervision, the kids were able to put this meal together on their own.  My daughter cut the salmon into strips and cooked them in the pan while my son coated the salmon in the pineapple glaze and prepped the tortillas.  They both helped drain the pineapple pico and put the arugula and sour cream in bowls.  While the “time to table” for this recipe was estimated at 9 minutes, with the kids cooking, it took almost 25 minutes.  This was with several pauses to reread instructions, find proper dishes, etc.  The directions and execution of the dish was super easy, even for an almost 11 and 8 1/2-year-old.  If I made this dish on my own, I think I could have had it made in the estimated 9 minutes.

A serving size for this meal was three tacos a person.  I was a bit skeptical that just the tacos would be enough food to make a meal.  When I make tacos I usually serve a salad or rice as a side dish.  I was surprised to find that three tacos was perfect for my husband and I.  Taste-wise, this meal was a winner!  Both kids loved the tacos.  I set out all the ingredients separately so they could add what they wanted, but they both put everything on their tacos. The kids each had two tacos each, which left some ingredients left over.  There was actually a lot of arugula left over, but my husband made a salad for lunch the next day.  He topped the arugula with the leftover salmon and pineapple pico.  I used the leftover tortillas the next morning to make myself scrambled egg breakfast tacos.  So, nothing was wasted.

Chicken and Waffles with Braised Kale

Chicken and Waffles with Braised Kale and Buttered Syrup:
We love chicken and waffles!  It’s a perfect comfort food, especially with this cold weather.  It’s definitely not a dish that I think of as a quick, weeknight meal though.  I decided to test this recipe out on my own, without the assistance from the kids to get a more accurate idea of timing.  This dish required a bit more in the prep department, since the chicken had to be floured, dipped in the buttermilk mixture and then covered in the corn flake mixture. It then had to be cooked in a pan for 1-2 minutes per side.  Unfortunately, I could not fit all four chicken breasts in my skillet, so this prolonged the overall “time to table.”  I also found that the 8-10 minutes that I had while the chicken was cooking in the oven was not enough time to get the bacon crispy.  So, I cooked it for a bit longer and still did not get the bacon crispy in that extra time.

Although the “Time To Table” for this recipe says 15 minutes, for the reasons I mentioned above, it actually took me closer to 25 minutes.  For a weeknight meal, I don’t think that’s bad at all.

The chicken breasts were decently sized.  The kids ended up splitting one and then my daughter came back for a second half.  This was plenty of food for both my husband and I.  Taste-wise, this meal was another winner.  Everyone enjoyed it…..especially the kids!  Braised kale and all!

I recommend making sure you have a pair of sharp kitchen scissors handy.  As seen in the above pictures, almost all the ingredients are sent in vacuum-sealed packages.

Overall, I enjoyed and would recommend this meal delivery service.  The stand-out benefits were definitely the speed in cooking and having the exact amount of ingredients needed to make the dishes.  Not having to measure out ingredients and not having all the prep work cut down on clean up as well, with fewer dirty dishes!  As an experienced home cook, I found most of the weekly recipe selections to be dishes that I have made or can easily make on my own.  Having a family of four, paying $11.95-$12.95 per serving can quickly add up.  My kids loved the recipes (and cooking the meal!) and have already asked when we are getting it again! While I wouldn’t rule out using Dinner Thyme meal service again, at this point, it’s more of a use if/when needed type of service for us.  However, for couples, especially those who would like to cook more at home, this is a great service!

Remember to use coupon code READYSETCOOK for $20 off your first order!  I’d love to hear your experience with Dinner Thyme meal delivery service!


November & December Six-Pack

November Six-Pack
For our first six-pack review of 2017 we combined November and December’s six-pack.  Life got busy and my husband just wasn’t drinking enough!!!   Back in mid-November I took my husband to the Warwick Valley Bed & Breakfast to celebrate his 40th birthday.  While we were in Warwick, we came upon the Craft Beer Cellar.  My husband was like a kid in a candy shop when we entered the store.  The shop sells all kinds of craft beer and ciders by the bottle.  For the November & December six-pack all the beers were hand-selected by my husband from the Craft Beer Cellar.

A Tout Le Monde Megadeath

Unibroue:  A Tout Le Monde Megadeth –  A Tout Le Monde Megadeth is a beer created through a partnership with craft brewery, Unibroue, and Dave Mustaine, co-founder and lead singer of Megadeth.  A Tout Le Monde is a Belgian style Saison ale, brewed in Quebec.  The beer was recently launched in October in 12 ounce bottles.  This beer was one of my husband’s favorites!  He thought that the beer had a unique flavor, which he liked.  It had hints of spices and the tang of grapefruit, but the flavor was smooth and not overwhelming.  As he said, anything with Megadeath on it is worth trying and this one was a winner in his opinion.

Verdict:  A winner!  Definitely worth a try.

Ballast Point

Ballast Point Brewing Company Mango Even Keel – Ballast Point Brewing Company began in 1996 and is based in California.  They brew spirits as well as craft beers.  The Mango Even Keel is available year-round in a 12-ounce can and draft.  This is a hoppy, session ale with mango flavors.  My husband found this beer to be very hoppy and bitter.  There was just a hint of mango flavor.  He didn’t end up finish this one and noted, “I won’t go out of my way to get another one.”

Verdict:  Pass

Belhaven Scottish Oat Stout

Belhaven Brewery Scottish Oat Stout –  Belhaven is Scotland’s oldest working brewery, established in 1719.  This Scottish Oat Stout is not currently on their website but appears to be available online and at distributors throughout the country.  The commerical description notes that this beer is, “dark, rich and layered with a wonderfully silky texture and a lingering finish.”  My husband found this beer to be thick and flavorful with hints of coffee and chocolate.  It was one of his favorites of the bunch!

Verdict:  A winner!  One of his favorites!

Einstok Icelandic Arctic Pale Ale

Einstok Icelandic Arctic Pale Ale – Einstok Brewery is located in Akureyri, Iceland, 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle.  This pale ale is where, “robust hoppiness meets smooth malty undertones.”  This beer had a smooth taste.  However, my husband had higher expectations for the beer.  The label makes the beer compelling, but my husband noted that if it didn’t have a special label, “it’s just beer.”  Overall this gets average ratings, but he wouldn’t get this one again.

Verdict:  Pass

Rogue Mocha Porter

Rogue Mocha Porter – Rogue Brewery and Pub opened in October 1988 in Ashland, Oregon.  The beer is now brewed exclusively in their Newport, Oregon location.  Rogue makes ales, porters, stouts, lagers and spirits, as well as ciders and sodas.  According to Rogue, their Mocha Porter has, “a bittersweet balance of malt and hops with a light cream finish.”  This beer is available year round.  My husband found this beer to be dark and rich with a nice lingering, chocolate-y flavor that he enjoyed.

Verdict:  A Winner!  Would get this beer again.

Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale

Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale – Charles Wells has been a British family brewery located in the United Kingdom since 1876.  They brew over 25 beers including this Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale.  This beer was inspired by the traditional British dessert, combining darker malts with toffee, caramel and fruity aromas.  My husband found this beer to be dark and rich with a sweet finish.  He thought it tasted like the dessert that it’s named after.  Although different, in his opinion, this isn’t a beer that you can drink more than one at a sitting.

Verdict:  Definitely worth a try.  He’d get this beer again as a treat.


Food Buys & Tries {Volume 1}

I’m not into buying lots of “stuff.”  However, for me food doesn’t fall into the “stuff” category.  You buy it, you eat it and hopefully enjoy it and then it’s gone.  If you don’t like it, it’s not a big deal and you don’t have to buy it again. Food doesn’t clutter up the house and for the most part is reasonable in cost. I’m always on the lookout for new food products for the family to try.  For the first volume of Food Buys & Tries I tried to focus on more healthy choices. However, I do have to warn you that ice cream and kettle chips are high on our list of likes!

Brooklyn Bred Bistro Buns

Brooklyn Bred Bistro Buns (Country Potato) – My kids are not big sandwich eaters.  This can make packing lunch a challenge.  I saw these Brooklyn Bred Bistro Buns in the bread aisle of Shoprite and thought they looked interesting.  They are thin and soft.  I added some cold cuts and lettuce to the sandwich and both kids enjoyed their lunch.   These were $2.99 for a pack of 8.  Brooklyn Bred is a company based in Brooklyn.  I enjoy supporting New York made products and will be purchasing these again.

Verdict:  Buy.  Support made in New York products. Plus, they are really good!

dr. Praeger's Asian Veggie burgers

dr. Praeger’s Asian Veggie Burgers – I like a good veggie burger.  I especially like Asian veggie burgers since they tend to be really flavorful.  This burger was a good veggie burger.  It’s made with cooked brown rice, carrots, peas, broccoli and more.  I’m not a huge fan of ginger, which unfortunately is an ingredient in most Asian veggie burgers, this one included.  The taste of ginger in this burger was evident but not overwhelming.  I added a slice of cheese and some lettuce and it was enjoyable.  dr. Praeger’s is an independent, family-owned business, started by two heart surgeons. The company focuses on making great-tasting products with simple, whole ingredients.  Just a note, this burger was extremely soft.  I heated my burger in the toaster oven and it practically fell apart when I flipped it, as directed.  The burger can also be heated in the microwave or a skillet.

Verdict:  Buy if you like veggie burgers and Asian flavors.  This is a flavorful, but soft burger.


Froozer Blue Aloha frozen fruit snacks – These frozen fruit tubes are just that, frozen fruit and veggies.  I bought the Blue Aloha variety that includes pineapples, grapes, bananas, blueberries and carrots.  There are six fruit tubes in a box and these are found in the frozen fruit section of the grocery store.  I like that there is no added sugar or preservatives in these bars.  My son made a face when he first tried this and stated that “it tastes weird.”  However, he did end up finishing it. I tried a taste of his and noticed the lack of sugar right away.  This snack was an adjustment for my kids who are used to eating sugary cereals and snacks.  However, I plan on buying these again and trying the other flavors, tropical sunset and strawberry bliss.  These fruit tubes are a good source of Vitamin A & C.  They will make a nice addition to our winter breakfast rotation when the kids get sick of eating apples, bananas and oranges!

Verdict: Buy.  Your kids will get fruit and veggies in a fun way.

Litehouse Caramel Dip

Litehouse Caramel Dip – My kids are big fruit eaters and come fall, apples are a staple in our house.  I bought this caramel dip on sale at Acme for $1 for us to try.  This dip is super sweet!  My kids enjoyed it, but they like anything sugary.  The dip is not thick and was sliding off the apple slices.

Verdict:  Skip.  My kids like to eat apples.  No need to complicate the process or give them unnecessary extra sugar.

Egg White & Turkey Sausage Breakfast Pockets

Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin:  Egg White & Turkey Sausage Flatbread Pocket Sandwiches – Mornings are pretty crazy in our house.  Most mornings my daughter has to be out of the house by 6:55 to make a 7 AM club at her middle school.  These breakfast sandwiches are only half a pita and contain an egg white with cheese and turkey sausage.  Each box contains six individually wrapped sandwiches.  It only needs 75-85 seconds in the microwave to heat it up and it’s easily transportable (she can take it with her and eat it in the car if needed!).  My daughter really enjoys these.  I tried one with a little ketchup and thought it was okay.

Verdict:  Try if you can buy them on sale.