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Sometimes you just can't make it into the kitchen to cook. Dr. Gourmet has reviewed over 800 common convenience foods, ingredients, and restaurant selections so that you know what's worth eating - and what's not. View the Index of all Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

Just Tell Me What to Eat!

Just Tell Me What to Eat!

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP has counseled thousands of his patients on healthy, sustainable weight loss. Now he's compiled his best tips and recipes into a six-week plan for you to learn how to eat great food that just happens to be great for you - and if losing weight is your goal, you can do that, too.

Get the prescription for better health as well as healthy weight loss, including:

  • What to eat
  • How to cook it
  • When to eat it
  • What to eat at a restaurant
  • What to eat if you're in a hurry
  • and best of all....
  • Why eating great food is the best health decision you'll ever make.

Hardcover: $19.99 +s/h | Paperback: $15.00 +s/h

 
 

Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

Sun Basket



Chef and physician Timothy Harlan reviews three meals from Sun Basket, the ingredient delivery service

We stumbled across another packaged food delivery scheme recently: Sun Basket. This is another in a very crowded market of services that includes Blue Apron, Home Chef, and Hello Fresh. They do have a number of menu choices, including "Lean & Clean" and a gluten free option. Pricing is a bit high at $11.99 per serving, with recipes making enough for 2 or 4 servings. That can get a bit pricy depending on the meal.

First up with their Moroccan Lamb Merguez Patties with Warm Carrot Salad. The meals have a less of a carbon footprint in the packaging than any other we have seen. Most of the ingredients are in plastic baggies, with only a few in small plastic containers. The recipe is pretty complex, however. You start with oil in a pan and chopping almonds to be toasted with the baharat spice blend. When that is done, more oil goes into the pan with the carrots (that you have to peel and chop) and the remaining spice. Chop some cilantro, mix it with the packaged ground lamb and merguez spice and then form into patties. Once the carrots are done and out of the pan on a plate, the recipe calls for MORE oil and cooking the patties in the same pan. While all that is going on the preserved lemon is pulped and minced, combined with the lemon-tahini dressing, raisins, the remaining cilantro, and the arugula. Finally you plate the salad, top with the carrots, plate the lamb patties, and sprinkle the almonds over the top.

Whew!

The instructions indicate that this takes 20 to 30 minutes. It took me a full 35 minutes and I have some skills.

The result is, in short, "Meh."

The flavors are OK but not great. It is hard to tell what to do about it because each step of the instructions says to season with salt to taste. The Nutrition Facts indicate that the recipe contains 880 milligrams of sodium. If that is the case, it must all be in the salad dressing, because the carrots and lamb are quite under-seasoned (the baharet "spice" isn't spicy or even flavorful). I suspect that the sodium and fats are not accurate for the finished dish, and if you seasoned this well it would come in at over 1,000 milligrams of sodium. Total fat is listed at 62 grams (!!!) but the recipe calls for adding another 3 teaspoons of oil for an additional 239 calories.

One caveat is the salad dressing is really good. I only used half of it. More and the salad would have been inedible.

I will not go into the same description of making the Salmon with Roasted New Potatoes and Green Beans. It is equally complex and takes just as long. The result is, however, not as good as the lamb.

This dish is just confused. A sherry mustard vinaigrette, tossed together with roasted potatoes and green beans and combined with pan seared salmon, topped with a overpowering lemon-mint dressing (that the Greek yogurt can't soften the tartness of). It just makes no sense. Forget about the amount of sodium or calories. This dish is so unappetizing and weird that you might not eat it.

The green beans were clearly past their prime and we debated whether to cook them or not. After a rinse in cool water they looked slightly better but were still not something I'd be willing to cook, let alone eat (one of the shallots we received for the pasta dish was frankly rotten). The salmon was sealed in a vacuum-packed bag and looks like it might have been frozen and thawed more than once. The salmon skin did not have the scales removed: not a crisis but not terribly appetizing either. I did have to wonder how many of their customers would not have known how to descale the fish or even whether to check that it had been descaled properly. Getting a mouthful of fish scales would put me off eating fish for sure.

Although my wife thought she was selecting all gluten-free items when she was placing the order (remember that I have Celiac disease), we did end up with one pasta dish. ("I was really surprised they had gluten-free pasta," she said.  "Guess I shouldn't have been.")

The Fresh Pappardelle with Cremini Mushrooms, Spinach, and Ricotta was just as confused as the salmon dish. You start by putting two tablespoons of oil in a pan, and that's 239 calories and 27 grams of fat before you even start cooking anything. Garlic and shallots are sauteed together with crimini mushrooms and ...rosemary?... along with a heaping teaspoon of lemon zest and then sauteed spinach is added with walnuts sprinkled over the top. Finally you add a big glop of ricotta cheese, which is nothing but bland, bland, bland. How this recipe manages to reduce garlic and shallots to flavorlessness is nothing short of impressive.

Like so many of the other delivery services, Sun Basket suffers from oversize portions, ranging from only a little oversized (5 ounces of lamb per person rather than 4) to moderate (3.5 ounces of pasta per person rather than 2) to truly restaurant sized (6 ounces fish per person as opposed to 4). We inquired of the company and found that the Nutrition Information included in the instruction booklet included with each order does NOT include anything added at home - so the 239 calories and 27 grams of fat we started out with for the pasta dish must be added to the recipe's stated total of 690 calories and 35 grams of fat to yield a minimum of 810 calories and 48.5 grams of fat. This doesn't include the tablespoon of oil you're instructed to use to keep the cooked pasta from sticking together, the 1/4 cup white wine in the sauce (optional), and the "season to taste" (additional salt and pepper).

In the end, we can't recommend this company.

So far, I am not impressed by any of these delivery services. I have had colleagues argue that they might get people cooking by giving them instruction, but honestly, the recipes are quite complex and require multiple steps, pots, pans, and techniques that novices don't know. These aren't really convenience meals but convenience shopping services. Our analysis is that you would essentially be spending up to $50.00 per hour to have someone shop for you. If you really just need someone to shop for you, there are grocery stores near you that will do that for you and likely charge you less - and chances are you won't get rotten produce.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP

Dr. Gourmet

Reviewed: October 13, 2017