We Tried It: A Step-By-Step of Our Attempt at Cooking Foodland’s New Meal Kits
We made a mess, accidentally overcooked one dish and forgot to use one of the ingredients. Here are our tips on how to perfectly cook Foodland’s new “Calabash” meal kits.
As a busy worker who loves to cook, yet can’t always find the time to research new recipes, I could do with some help when it comes to meal planning. So when Foodland recently introduced “Calabash,” an in-store and food delivery service for home chefs looking for a quick-and-easy meal option, I jumped up and down and obnoxiously waved my hand around HONOLULU HQ to be the one to try it.
Before we begin, here’s a little backstory on my skill level:
In one of my past lives I worked for a decently-sized restaurant group where I received a handful of amazing tips from the chefs and butchers I saw everyday. Aside from that, I cook at home almost on a daily basis, spend a decent amount of Sunday planning my meals for the rest of the week (because it’s healthier and to keep myself on a budget) and have a slight obsession with any media created by Gordon Ramsey and the late Anthony Bourdain.
Nice to meet you, fellow home cooks: Let’s begin.
Meals to Mix and Match
The selection at Foodland Farms in Ala Moana Mall is just to the left of the entrance.
Photos: Katie Kenny
For now, Calabash meal kits are only available at Foodland’s Ala Moana location, or you can order them online and have them delivered ($12.99 delivery fee on orders $50 or more). I opted for the in person experience to handpick my kits. Armed with my eco-friendly tote, I selected mains and sides which could potentially complement each other. For a light option, I chose to keep the ti leaf-baked fresh catch with lomi tomato ($15.99) on its own. For a heartier meal I paired the main kit of pulehu steak with spicy sambal and Hāmākua mushrooms ($17.99), with the side of roasted garlic and kale smashed potatoes ($7.49). Each box clearly states that there are only two servings per kit.
Prep Yo’ Kitchen
Depending on the kit you’re working with, the only extra ingredients recommended are salt, pepper, olive oil and shoyu. As for tools you’ll also need foil, pots and pans, bowls, rimmed baking pans and a potato masher (although you could use a fork). After a good read-through of all three cooking instructions, I realized I would also need a sharp chef’s knife and a cutting board.
Meal Kit #1: Ti leaf-baked fresh catch with lomi tomato
I decided to try my hand at the fish dish first. Once laying out all the ingredients (after a good wash) I wondered about ratios. I personally would have liked to see more baby bok choy to go with the fresh fish fillets.
Notes: On the box it says “fresh catch” but does not specify what kind of fish. It’d be nice to know what kind of fish I’m working with.
Ready … Set … Chop!
The Calabash ads on YouTube and the website insist there is minimal chopping: Lies! Most of the action is slicing, dicing and halving root vegetables. The instructions on how to handle each ingredient is a bit wordy and made me second guess my basic knife skills. Sticking to the words “slice,” “chop” and “dice” would be much more straight forward.
Instructions for the Instructions (or Don’t Do What I Did)
I’ll admit it: I messed up the step on turning the foil into a steamer bag. After you pile up all of the ingredients in the middle of the large ti leaf and fold each side over your food tower, you’re instructed to create a “packet” with four sides up and around the wrapped fish by various ways of folding and crimping. I know how to make a little foil pouch for baking fish in the oven but this instruction threw me. I made a four-sided tray at first but after a minute of looking at the fish in the oven I pulled everything back out to fix my mistake.
Whoops: The Sequel
Flavors were bright and light but I wanted the fish to be slightly more rare. And more of that delicious bok choy, please!
Once I put the two bundles back into the oven, I still had 14 minutes on the clock for my meal. I thought 14 minutes at 425 degrees in the oven seemed a bit long but I was determined to stick to the manual. Sadly my fish was slightly overcooked and personally I felt like there wasn’t enough chili garlic oil to dress both fillets. I can definitely see myself making this dish again but I would buy everything individually (more bok choy, more sauce and thicker fish) and switch to a 10 minute bake. Still, the dish was a winner.
Better Luck Next Kit
Pleasantly stuffed, I powered through and went on to meal number two. Moving on to meal two required multitasking, as I was making both a side and a main. Given my poor reading skills in the previous attempt I thought “thank goodness it’s steak”—I’ve rarely met a piece of beef I couldn’t conquer.
Meal Kit #2: Roasted garlic kale smashed potatoes
Game: Spot the beer!
The prep and cook time on the roasted garlic and kale smashed potatoes is 35 minutes while the steak is 15 minutes, so I started chopping (so. much. chopping.) for the mash. Warning: kale mashed potatoes do not look like the photo on the packet. They taste much better than whatever they photographed.
Things Are Looking … Hold That Thought
Two misshaps with this one, neither were dealbreakers thankfully. Firstly I switched to autopilot and started peeling the cloves when we’re specifically told to roast the entire head of garlic in foil. Secondly I did not add the Tuscan kale to the hot pot of potatoes so the “folding” process didn’t go as smoothly as planned. (Just a thought, how can one “fold” the kale into the pot before you mash the potatoes? I felt like I was just placing quarters of potatoes on top of large leaves.) But, dear readers, I won’t leave you hanging: all ended well with the side. Read on!
A fair bit of mash comes out of that little meal kit so I portioned it out for two dinners and one lunch. I placed the dinner portions in the now switched-off oven for warm keeping.
Meal kit #3: Pulehu steak with spicy sambal and Hāmākua mushrooms
From left to right, top to bottom: 1) Once you place the steaks in the pan, walk away to avoid fussing. 2) If you have a thick cut, sear all sides to develop flavor. 3) While meat is resting, throw the other ingredients into the same pan to absorb tasty steak juices. 4) Add mushrooms once you have released all of the flavors from the shallots. 5) Place butter or sauce in the center of the ingredients to heat up before mixing.
This steak recipe is very straight-forward and quick. The dry rub comes in a little container so the only work you have to do (after patting down the meat to dry it) is generously massage it into the steak. Some things I did to perfect the meat were as follows:
Bring meat out of the fridge 20 minutes before cooking so it reaches room temperature
Before applying a dry rub, tenderize meat by massaging it with Kosher salt and beating it with a meat hammer
Do not press down on steak (or any meat for that matter) when cooking. This pushes out all of the tasty juices, leaving you with a dry piece of meat
The steak rested while I cooked the shallots and mushrooms with the spicy butter. Once everything was ready I took the mash out the oven, piled on the mushrooms and shallots and then placed the sliced steak on top. Boy, oh boy, that was one tasty dish.
With the combination of mushrooms, mash and meat, I had an entire sirloin steak left over after dinner. I had specifically chosen the thicker piece to slightly undercook (about 10 seconds away from a perfect rare) so it would be a pink medium when I reheated it at work the next day. I ate it while writing this and both the steak and mash microwave well.
While cleaning up, I not only found a few chopped ingredients I had forgotten to add at some point to one of the meals, but also thought about ways to slightly tweak each kit to my preference:
The Fish Dish
Needs to be eaten right after cooking
Could definitely pair well with the pineapple cauliflower “rice” side
Pick up a couple extra heads of bok choy
Add more oil and garlic
Dampen leaf (or keep it in the freezer) prior to wrapping
Steak and Mash Three Times
If you want a more traditional mash, pick up one extra Yukon gold potato
But if you want to keep it light, stick to the recipe
Add a tablespoon of your own unsalted butter to the mushrooms and shallots if you’re not a big spicy fan
Steak was delightful but the only complaint I have is that the cuts of sirloin were strangely disproportionate