The Easy Meal-Planning Experiment That Got Me Out of My Quarantine Cooking Rut
Cooking is my happy place—but I needed a little help to keep it that way.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to cook. Even as a kid, I would request to make dinner for the family—researching recipes, planning meals, and drawing up handwritten menus. I have iPhone notes on iPhone notes documenting recipes invented in moments of inspiration, and there’s nothing that makes me happier than sharing the food I cook with people I love.
But lately, I’ve just been so damn busy. And on those days when work time bleeds into dinner time, cooking starts to feel like a chore, rather than a joy. Throughout my life, but especially during the pandemic, cooking has been a refuge, and the kitchen has been my haven. That happy place is something I’m not willing to sacrifice to stress—so I needed a solution.
Luckily, as part of our spotlight on mental health this month, M.M. has teamed up with Hungryroot to encourage our subscribers to eat well, take lunch breaks, and generally enjoy their food. I wondered if their grocery-delivery and meal-planning service could help me save time during the week—and thus, keep the magic of cooking alive—so the team kindly sent over a box of goodies for me to try. Here’s what I ate (and wore) during my week with Hungryroot.
In my shipment: flour tortillas, chickpea cavatappi, superblend salad, cauliflower cheese crackers, broccolini, lemon-tahini dressing, chicken sausage, dried mango, red lentil fusilli, portobello mushrooms, roasted salmon, superfood tomato sauce, cold brew, mini muffins, double chocolate cookies, eggs, almond chickpea cookie dough, and avocado crema.
If you’re interested in trying Hungryroot, use the code HUNGRYFORMMORE to get 30% off your first two deliveries, plus your choice of a free gift for life (valid through 4/30/21).
Anticipating our Hungryroot delivery, my fiancé, Eric, and I had skipped our usual grocery trip. Luckily, the food we had left was ideal fodder for one of my favorite breakfasts: rice, a soft-boiled egg, and whatever pickled vegetables happen to be around. I pulled out the rice cooker, then rinsed a cup of sushi rice until the water ran clear. I chopped kimchi, some pickled ginger, and a little leftover takuan (sweet pickled daikon) that we’d used to make pad thai the week before. Once the rice was done, I seasoned it with sesame oil and mirin.
Eric and I have a shared note in our phones that lists egg sizes alongside precise amounts of cooking time. According to some quarantine-fueled, very scientific research, we’ve determined that these are the cooking times required to achieve a slightly-runny, just-short-of-gummy yolk and a perfect, bouncy egg white.
Yes, we are fun at parties. Why do you ask?
Because we’re among friends, I’ll admit that I wore pajamas for most of the work day. And by 5pm, I was feeling what I can only describe as “like a plastic bag,” to quote Katy Perry. It was time for action. I put on the James dress in rust, which made me look like the dancer emoji, and really what more could you want from a piece of clothing? I asked Eric to make me a red cocktail to match (because aesthetics) and shook some dried mango from my Hungryroot delivery into a bowl.
I am somewhat of a dried-mango aficionado, borne from an attempt to eat less gummy candy, borne, in turn, from the fact that I am now substantially closer to 30 than 20. And let me tell you, this Solely stuff is top notch. It has only one ingredient (mango), it’s soft and chewy (not all dried mango is), and it happens to pair gorgeously with negronis. I’ll be off the Haribo in no time.
Side note: Wear the Annika T-shirt over the James dress to make it feel more casual.
For dinner, Hungryroot sent over ingredients for a red lentil pasta with chicken sausage, broccolini, and superfood tomato sauce—comfort food, but make it healthy. Emboldened by the Hungryroot team’s suggestions to “make it my own,” I added chopped sundried tomatoes (whose oil I used to saute everything), capers, and finely grated Pecorino Romano. The package of fusilli said it contained three servings, so obviously, the two of us finished all of it.
In case you were wondering, celebrating Taco Tuesday is a rather excellent way to pass the morning. Hungryroot had sent a lovely recipe for portobello mushroom breakfast tacos, complete with a tangy avocado crema that created a satisfying tonal palette alongside my Marcia T-shirt in cactus and Curie pants in olive.
Now for a PSA on cooking mushrooms. I have learned that you need to cook mushrooms longer than you think you should to get them really crispy and meaty (I know it’s kind of gross to describe a vegetable as meaty, but it’s true). You’ll saute your thinly-sliced portobellos, or shiitakes, or hen-of-the-woods, or whatever fungi you have on hand, and as they soften, your pan will fill with liquid. This is when you will panic. You will want to stop cooking the mushrooms, and pour the water out into the sink, using your wooden spoon as an ineffective mushroom dam. Do not do this. At this juncture, you must turn it up to eleven, which in this case, means medium to medium-high, depending on your stove. The water will evaporate, and the crisping will begin. Once it starts, it won’t take long. Mushrooms crisped, you will assemble breakfast tacos and top them with chipotle Cholula. They will be delicious and meaty, in a vegetarian type of way, and you will be proud of yourself. You’ll carry this nugget of pride throughout the work day, and it will help you send that email/start that project/write that article (ahem, this one) that you’ve been putting off.
For lunch, we had Hungryroot’s Superblend salad with roasted salmon and lemon-tahini dressing, which took two minutes to prepare, ten minutes to photograph, and five minutes to eat. (Remind me never to become an influencer. Taking pictures of everything you eat and wear is freaking exhausting.) Filling, smoky, salty, crunchy—this salad had it all! 10/10 would eat again.
I did attempt several “action shots” in which I was actively chewing bites of salad. My decision to exclude them from this article is my gift to you, dear reader.
On Wednesday, my dog slept in, which means I slept in. When I finally woke up, groggy and puffy, I was grateful to have a bottle of cold brew in the fridge. I sipped it slowly as I made more coffee in the French press (don’t judge).
In case the caffeine wasn’t enough, I decided to wear the vibrant Vicky tank in sunshine for a zap of energy (I wouldn’t normally wear silk to snack on the couch, but this particular silk is machine-washable). I tucked my tank into wide-leg white jeans, popped Hungryroot’s lunch break playlist on the speakers, and felt like myself again.
I promise there is more than cheese in those bowls.
Remember that chicken sausage pasta from Monday? Well, it didn’t use all the sausages, so we sliced those up and used them to top this creamy, garlicky, fennel-y deliciousness, and ate it all on ovals of sliced baguette. I recommend topping this with a large helping of parmesan cheese, which is a good rule of thumb in most cases.
Hungryroot had sent me some mini blueberry muffins, which were like the vegan, better-tasting version of those Entenmann’s muffins from elementary school. We’d been munching on them throughout the week, and by Thursday, we were down to the last two—a shame. But maybe for the best, because I knew I’d need something substantial before a day packed with Zoom meetings. I defrosted frozen berries (30 seconds in the microwave, and boom—fresh berries), mixed in some greek yogurt, and added a drizzle of honey, sent to us from a friend who works with the San Francisco Bee Cause. The fuel I needed, with the promise of muffins later on.
Most days, I walk my dog, Quincy, through Prospect Park. I love it so much, it almost feels like cheating—to live in New York City, but still get to experience the seasons through old trees, untouched snow, the sparkling lake, the sunbathing turtles.
Today, though, it was drizzly and muddy, and I didn’t want to have to give Quincy a bath, which is the only recurring source of unpleasantness in his very pleasant doggy life. So instead, we played “bed fetch,” which is where I throw his ball from the couch to the bed the next room over, and he pounces on it with the ferocity of a lion catching its prey. He is a ridiculous animal.
Is this an ergonomic work situation? Asking for a friend.
After that, snack time. I finished the last two muffins with the rest of the cold brew, and in my Leo pullover, Claressa earrings, and jeans, I almost felt like I was back in a coffee shop, pre-pandemic, asking for the Wi-Fi password. A win these days, if you ask me.
Cooking with Hungryroot for a week felt like taking a meal-planning vacation—I got to experience the fun of cooking (and eating) great food, without the stress of making grocery lists in between meetings. I came out of it feeling refreshed, with my love for cooking still very much intact. In fact, maybe I’ll try making croissants this weekend…
Madeleine Kim is a Brand Manager at M.M.LaFleur, where she started out as a stylist. She loves developing styling-focused content and creating newsletters that bring the M.M. community together.