A better spice of life

Kat Cummins gazed upon spice containers and knew she could do better. She was right. The Wayzata resident, now a senior at the University of Notre Dame, won second place and $1,800 in the 16th annual Student Design Competition sponsored by the International Housewares Association for her elegantly simple design for a spice container she calls spice (at left). The 2¼-inch white plastic cubes open with a press of the finger and are stackable. A leaf-shaped window shows the spice inside. "I wanted to consider sustainability, aesthetics and consumer appeal as well as manufacturing in my solution," said Cummins, who toured factories, evaluated molding processes, met with engineers and researched racking systems, all toward shifting consumers from disposable to reusable spice containers that were easy to open, yet still cost-competitive. In short, the path from idea to cash register is a lot more complicated than you might think. Cummins said she is talking with manufacturers and will let her hometown crowd know when spice hits the market. In the meantime, she earned an all-expenses-paid trip this month to the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago, where she'll display her invention. Congrats, Kat.

Best book-signing ever

Beatrice Ojakangas, featured in last week's Taste, will be signing copies of her latest cookbook, "The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever" (Chronicle, $24.95), from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. March 14 at Byerly's in St. Louis Park, 3777 Park Center Blvd. She'll provide samples from the more than 500 recipes in this, her 26th cookbook. Ojakangas, who lives in Duluth, was named to the Cookbook Hall of Fame of the James Beard Foundation in 2005.

Sous-chef to go

Talk about finding a niche. EatGeneration.com is a new food service that delivers a ready-to-cook meal to your office with all the prep work such as measuring and chopping completed. You're still the cook at home in your kitchen, but without having to stop at the grocery or peel potatoes, you should have a meal ready in 30 minutes or less. "People still have ownership of the meal," said Alyssa Shultis of EatGeneration, by which she means the pride of preparation, but not the distress of nutritional decisions made by the restaurant or takeout counter. You can choose the menu, customize seasoning options and measure calories and nutrients with the website's automatic calculators. Three-course meals average about $10 per person, and the company uses local and organic ingredients whenever possible.

We gave it a try, and were mightily impressed with the freshness of the Brussels sprouts and red potatoes and the ease of preparing the Parmesan-breaded pork chops. At first, the packaging gave us pause; everything from salt to a pat of butter came in individual cups. Shultis said the cups are not plastic, but made of a product called NatureWorks PLA, a Cargill product derived from plants and which is both recyclable and compostable. Shultis said her company intends to offer container send-back soon, "so we can compost them in bulk."

Delivery is gradually expanding from the core cities and is available at several large corporations across the metro area. Check out menus and delivery options at www.eatgeneration.com.

TEXT BY KIM ODE • kode@startribune.com