St. Paul-based nanny and entrepreneur Lori Karis made a splash in the local baby-food market last year with her Sweet Cheeks organic baby food, but now she has her sights set on a slightly more sophisticated palate. Earlier this year she introduced Savory Simmers soups and Sweet Cereal — heat-and-serve soups and oatmeal that is geared toward adults but is baby-friendly enough for parents to share with their little ones. Like the baby food, the adult-oriented foods are made with vegan, organic, and (mostly) locally sourced ingredients, and the soups are also gluten-free.
Two tasters recently put the three Savory Simmers varieties — Fresh Pea with Quinoa, Cauliflower White Bean, and Butternut “Bisque” — and one Sweet Cereal to the test, sampling each product hot from the microwave. (All four are sold frozen and can also be reheated on the stovetop.) Though none of the products ($4 each) won over-the-top raves, each one had its definite merits. The rundown:
Fresh Pea with Quinoa
200 calories / 12 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic peas, filtered water, low-sodium organic vegetable broth, organic potatoes, organic onions, organic thyme, sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil
Though neither taster is a pea-soup aficionado, it was easy to appreciate the sweetness of the first Savory Simmer, perhaps due to the fact that the soup contains fresh rather than split peas. The quinoa was almost imperceptible in taste, but the chenopod added heft to the soup. While Taster A enjoyed the soup’s chunky texture, Taster B would have preferred the peas to be pureed.
Cauliflower White Bean
220 calories / 12 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic cauliflower, organic potatoes, organic white beans, organic onions, filtered water, organic tahini, organic fennel, organic cumin, sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil
Karis makes her own tahini for the Cauliflower White Bean soup, and the presence of the sesame paste is apparent as you bring the spoon to your mouth. The sesame aroma certainly lingers as you sip the soup — whether that’s good or bad depends on your affection for tahini. The punch of the cumin also comes through quite strongly, so if you’re not a fan of Middle Eastern flavors, this soup isn’t for you. But it was Taster B’s favorite of the three, while Taster A would have preferred to taste more of the vegetables rather than the added flavorings.
130 calories / 12 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic butternut squash, filtered water, low-sodium organic vegetable broth, organic potatoes, organic carrots, organic onions, organic celery, organic garlic, organic ginger, extra-virgin olive oil, smoked paprika, sea salt
The bisque is in quotation marks because this vegan soup lacks the cream base of traditional bisques, as well as the non-dairy creaminess that is inherent in many butternut squash soups. In fact, a more accurate name for this soup would be “plain ol’ vegetable” because the butternut flavor isn’t strong enough to distinguish itself from the other vegetables. But don’t let that stop you from trying it — when viewed as a vegetable soup, the Butternut “Bisque” is a pleasant potion with just the right hint of ginger. The smoked paprika was a bit much for Taster B, who said the smokiness was reminiscent of smoked fish, but this was the preferred soup of Taster A.
Steel Cut Oats and Apples
190 calories / 8 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic steel-cut oats, filtered water, organic apples, organic cinnamon, sea salt
While most instant oatmeal packets weigh in around 1.5 ounces, Karis’ Steel Cut Oats and Apples comes in 8-oz. containers, making it a very hearty breakfast. With properly cooked oats and a strong, sweet apple flavor, the breakfast dish only needs a little more cinnamon to be a true winner. Taster B also recommended brown sugar, though Taster A thought an adequate amount of cinnamon would suffice. (A maple and brown sugar variety would be a welcome addition to the Sweet Cereals line.)
One has to applaud Karis for making the kind of baby food that parents would like to cook for their own kids if they had the time or wherewithal, and her dedicated local following demonstrates the market for such a product. When it comes to adult food, however, it’s not a clear call — while the soups and cereal are infinitely better than what you’d pour out of a can or stir up from a packet of dry ingredients, none bowled over the tasters. Home cooks could likely make similar foods that they can easily adjust to their own flavor preferences; for folks on the run or without the time or skill, the Sweets Cheeks products are a healthy, nutritious, made-with-love option that trumps Campbell’s or Quaker any day.
All Sweet Cheeks foods can be ordered online or purchased at several local co-ops. Check the Sweet Cheeks website for the most up-to-date list of products and retailers.