Review: HelloFresh’ Moroccan Pork Sausage Tagine

Rating: 7/10

I selected this meal kit for Moroccan Pork Sausage Tagine with Dried Apricots and Chickpeas over Couscous because it seemed easy enough to veganize it for my vegan daughter, by simply substituting vegetable concentrate for the included chicken concentrate, and omitting both the sausage and the cream on her portion. It did mean having to cook the sausage in a different pan, but that wasn’t a big deal.

All in all both my husband and daughter enjoyed this dish, and it’s simple enough to put together. It was a good portion for both of them. If you make the original recipe, beware that the sausage is very salty, so be careful of how much salt you use in the other ingredients.

All ingredients were good quality, though the carrots were a bit wobbly.

I should point out that calling this dish “Moroccan” is almost insulting. Yes, the dish includes couscous and dried apricots – but that’s as far as the Moroccan influence goes. The vast majority of Moroccans are Muslim, and Muslims cannot eat pork. The sweet Italian pork sausage included in this recipe is not used in Morocco. Moroccans are famous for their merguez sausage, which is made of lamb or beef and has no pork products in it, but it is probably too expensive for HelloFresh to include.

I paid about $8.50 for this mealkit or about $4.25 per portion. Great deal!


Review: Hello Fresh’ Sirloin in a Mushroom Sauce + Recipe

Rating: 7/10

Hello Fresh seldom offers steak as part of their regular offerings. Instead, dishes with steak are usually considered “gourmet” and require an additional supplement. These are usually a very poor value, so I never ordered them. I did this time because when I added to my cart, HelloFresh showed that the 65% off discount that I had applied to the supplement as well. Alas, when I checked my account I realized that I was charged the full supplement price, which makes me feel defrauded. Still, it’s a lesson learned and in the future I just won’t order any meals that require paying a supplement.

This meal kit for Sirloin in a Mushroom Sauce with Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Carrots was pretty good, if a little too much work. It basically had 5 components that had to be cooked separately: the steak, the mashed potatoes, the carrots, the onions and the mushroom sauce. I think one (the onions) could have been skipped without losing much beyond cooking time.

But all ingredients were very tasty and, in particular, the mushroom sauce was phenomenal, which helped elevate both the meat and the mashed potatoes. I’ve had similar mushroom sauces before, but I liked how simple and quick this one was (recipe below).

All the ingredients were included and they were mostly fresh (the carrots were a little wobbly) and good quality. The steaks were very, very thick but at least they were around the same thickness.

I paid a little over $20 for this meal kit, including the supplement, or about $10 per person.

Mushroom sauce

I recommend you double the sauce

  • 3 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 4 oz white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. beef demi-glace
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter over medium-high heat in a pan, preferably one you used to cook steak. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until softened – 2 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the demi-glace and the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and stir in the mustard. Simmer until slightly thickened. Stir in the remaining Tbsp. butter.


Review: Hello Fresh’ Mozzarella Stuffed Meatball Bake

Rating: 4/10

After being off meal kits all summer (both because I wasn’t cooking and because I didn’t get any good “come back” offers), I went back to HelloFresh after getting a “65% off your first box” deal. Apparently I had forgotten just how hard it was to find meals that I actually wanted to make, which is why I ended up selecting this kit for Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatball Bake
with Cavatappi and a Crispy Panko Topping
.

Truth be told, I love pasta baked with sauce and cheese, and I’m a pretty big fan of good meatballs as well. Still, this is the sort of dish I can easily make on my own and, as it turned out, much better.

There were lots of things wrong with this dish. First, baking the meatballs was a mistake, they were left dry and with a crusty shell. The recipe also called for too much salt. Second, the tomato sauce was pretty tasteless. No wonder, making a pasta sauce requires a long simmering town. This dish would have been much better with a commercial pasta sauce. Finally, the mozzarella cheese was pretty bland. The dish could really have used some Parmesan cheese instead of the bread crumbs that was included.

I paid ~$8.50 for this meal kit for two people with the discount.



Vegan Chili Recipe

My vegan daughter discovered she liked vegan chili while eating at the A.Y.C.E. buffet in Vegas – and she asked me to make her some at home. I went with this recipe because it had fairly good reviews and it seemed easy and flexible enough to make. I did make a couple of changes from the original, but my daughter loved the results and has kept bugging me to make it again.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup rice or bulgur, rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz tomato puree
  • 1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt.

Directions

Heat oil in a large cooking pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Stir in the rice or bulgur, chili powder and ground cumin.

Add the tomatoes and beans and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for about an hour, or until the beans are tender. Season and serve.

Marga’s Best Recipes


Vegan Pizza at Home: Review of Parmela Creamery Mozzarella style nut cheese & American Flatbread Farmers Tomato Pie

Back in August we visited Las Vegas, where my daughter had the BEST VEGAN PIZZA EVER at Trattoria Reggiano at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes. It tasted so much like a real cheese pizza that we suspected it might be real cheese after all. After all, my daughter had had plenty of pizzas with Daiya cheese, including from great pizzerias like Zachary’s, and they’ve always tasted like vegan pizza.

The waitress at Trattoria Reggiano had suggested that their pizza was made with nut cheese, so when we saw packages of Parmela Creamery Mozzarella style nut cheese at our local Grocery Outlet, we had to try it. My daughter is very glad we did. While it didn’t work I tried to make an Alfredo sauce with it, it makes a mean vegan pizza.

Parmela Creamery’s cheeses are made with cashew milk, which is cultured and then aged – following a process similar to dairy cheesemaking. It’s not surprising that they taste considerably better than Daiya’s cheeses, whose main ingredient is tapioca flour.

A search online suggests that it’s not easy to find Daiya cheese in stores, though there are a couple of places that sell them online, so we need to stock up at Grocery Outlet and start looking for other nut cheeses to try. When available, a 7 oz package of Parmela Creamery shreds costs $6-7.

My daughter has been making her close-to-real pizzas by putting the cheese on frozen American Flatbread Farmers Tomato Pie. This is a thin pizza shell covered in tomato sauce with some veggies, basil and balsamic vinegar. She just covers it with the shreds and bakes it. I also found this product at Grocery Outlet, but it also seems hard to find in regular stores. Where available it should retail for about $8. I’m not sure why this product is not described as vegan – the only potentially non-vegan ingredient listed is yeast.


Restaurant Review: Joe’s Pho, San Leandro

This is not as much a restaurant review, as an overall praise of Joe’s Pho, a year-old restaurant located near Bayfair mall. I had never even heard of it until my friend Parker suggested we go there for dinner, as our old friend Eddie was back in town. I’m not a huge fan of pho (or soup in general), so I was reluctant at first – but Parker mentioned it had other food.

God, I’m glad we went. Joe’s Pho not only has an extensive menu, but the food we tried was delicious. Alas, I didn’t want to inconvenience everyone by asking specifically about their dishes – but everyone agreed they liked the food, including my vegetarian and vegan friends (there are plenty of choices for vegans).

Personally, I ordered the basil popcorn chicken appetizer ($9), and was very happy with how tender and flavorful it was. I’ll definitely order it again in my next visit. I also had the grilled beef banh mi ($6.50), a Vietnamese sandwich, and loved the marinated beef. The proportion of beef to veggies was also quite good, and I liked that the bread was a soft bun.

The place itself is large and informal. They have long tables, so it’s perfect for groups. Service was friendly and attentive.

I can’t wait to go there again with my family, at which point I’ll take pictures and write a better review.

Joe’s Pho
15070 Hesperian Boulevard
San Leandro, CA
(510) 363-9691
https://joespho.com/
M-Su 10 AM – 10 PM


Restaurant Review: Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles Has What It Takes

The Ethiopian Feast

Los Angeles has several Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants. Unfortunately, they are all on the same street, South Fairfax Avenue near downtown. That means that if you live in the San Fernando Valley, as does my family, you have to trek all the way to Los Angeles if you want to have some of this delicious and very unique food.

So that’s exactly what we did last month when I went to visit my family down south. My sister read of bunch of reviews and decided on Little Ethiopia (also the name of the neighborhood) – all in all, it was a good choice.

We were a large group, as quite a few of my family members went, including two babies. Fortunately, the restaurant was rather empty. We made a lot of noise! The staff was extremely accommodating and friendly. It’s definitely as family friendly a restaurant as you are likely to get.

The menu is pretty typical for an Ethiopan restaurant. We shared both the meat and the lentil sambusas as an appetizer ($8 for 3) and they were very tasty – though a bit too spicy for some of us (to be expected, this is Ethiopian food, after all). The 2-year old in our party really liked them, spice and all.

As an entree, I shared the $40 Ethiopian feast (pictured above) with my husband and daughter. It was probably not enough food for 3, but my daughter is a light eater and there was more food at the table. It comes with doro wat, alicha wat and tibs. They were all very tasty.

My vegan daughter shared the vegetarian combo ($15), which is vegan, and thought it was pretty good. She particularly liked the kik alicha (a split pea stew) and also ordered it as a side ($6).

Meanwhile, the spaghetti with tomato sauce ($11) satisfied the picky older child in our party, it was a large portion with plenty of leftovers.

While the restaurant is comfortable and very affordable, it’s probably not the most elegant restaurant on the street. If you’re in a date, one of the other ones may be better. But if you’re after good Ethiopian food in a familiar atmosphere, this will do it.

Little Ethiopia
1048 South Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(323)-930-2808
http://www.littleethiopiarestaurants.com/
T-Th, 11 AM – 9 PM
F- Su, 11 AM – 10 PM


Costco Has the Worst Burger EVER

My husband went to Costco the other day and I asked him to get me a BBQ brisket sandwich for lunch. Unfortunately, our local Costco in San Leandro (at least) no longer carries them. Instead, they have added a burger to their menu and my husband figured he’d get me that instead. Bad, bad move.

He said he had an inkling that the burger wouldn’t be good when he saw the patties coming out of the steamer. And he was right. This has to be the worst burger I have ever eaten, bar none. And I’ve eaten many bad burgers in my time.

The meat (and I’m assuming it’s meat) was so incredibly dry, that I have to believe it’s mostly filling. It also tasted just like the burgers they used to serve in middle school when I was a kid – not a good memory. Except these were drier.

The patties are enormous, which in this case it’s just not a good thing. It only means you have more unappetizing food to get through.

I didn’t want to waste food, so I ate through almost half of it until I decided that I just couldn’t do this to myself. The dog ate the rest. She, at least, did not complain.

But you are warned: stay away from these burgers.


You get what you pay for: Beef Tenderloin at Grocery Outlet

I wasn’t planning to buy beef tenderloin when I went to Grocery Outlet last week – but I saw it in the front case for just $6 a pound, and it seemed too much of a bargain to pass up. Really, I should have known better. As we say in Spanish, lo barato sale caro or what’s cheap, costs you more.

It’s grilling season for us (in other words, I’m happy to throw something on the grill this summer, but I’ve no desire to otherwise cook), so I coated the tenderloin with a herb mixture and then grilled it. I will admit that I overcooked it – it was much thinner in parts than your regular tenderloin – but that wasn’t really the problem. The quality of the beef was.

I can’t quite pinpoint what the problem was, maybe because it was a combination. The herb coating was great, but the rest of the beef lacked any beef flavor, if anything it had the offputting flavor of cheap meat (duh!). The texture was off as well, and it was just not enjoyable to eat.

My tenderloin was about 2 1/2 pounds so we ate maybe a third of it, and kept the rest as leftovers. It’s been several days, and none of us have reached out to eat the remaining. I may slice some and add it to nachos today, but the rest will go to the dog.

Lesson learned: don’t buy cheap beef.

Note: I don’t recall what brand it was, but it’s one often carried by Grocery Outlet – I’ll make a note of it next time I go.


Restaurant Review: Kabob Express – San Leandro

Kabob Express is, apparently, a food stand at Bayfair Mall in San Leandro. I say apparently because I’ve never actually been – I’ve just ordered take out a couple times. The most recent one was a couple of nights ago, and I was very satisfied with my order.

My order this time was just for my vegan daughter and I. She got a felafel wrap ($11.50), which comes with hummus, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, grilled onions and tahini sauce. You can specify for it to be vegan and it comes with a side of vegan tahini sauce. My daughter was very pleased with this wrap, and particularly liked the tahini. She’d order it again.

Mantu – Afghani dumplings with beef sauce

I had the mantu ($8), an Afghani dish of dumplings with a meat sauce. While this is listed as an appetizer, the dish is large and heavy enough that it can qualify as an entree. It is also absolutely delicious. The steamed pasta is very soft and has a consistency that I just loved, and the beef is intensely spiced. My only complaint is that it didn’t have enough yogurt sauce to balance the richness of the beef. I made up for it by adding some sour cream.

I also ordered a lamb gyro wrap ($12), which I ended up eating the next day. Once again, I was very happy with it. It had thick lamb cubes, tender and perfectly seasoned (in the past, it was a bit too salty). It was a little bit on the small side, however, and given the price I’d been happier if it came with a side.

I also ordered a mint lassi, but got a mango lassi instead. It was good, thick and very sweet. The mint lassi I’ve had in the past was a bit thin, but also tasty.

In the past, I’ve also ordered the samosas, which were very crisp and had a slightly spicy potato filling.  They were very small, maybe half the size of a regular one.  They didn’t taste like regular Indian samosas but were good.

I’ve also had the lentil soup, which was chunky and tasty. It did seem to contain meat, but it’s now listed as vegetarian, so they may have changed the recipe.

I didn’t order the hummus this time (which, beware, comes without pita bread, you must order that separately) because last time around it had a very mild flavor, more tahini than chickpeas. Beware that as with the other items, they might have changed how they make it.

Finally, I was disappointed to not find the bolani in the menu any more. This is an Afghani flatbread stuffed with potatoes, onions and herbs. I really liked it when they had it.

Prices at Kabob Express have gone up pretty radically since last year. The mantu, which was just $6 a year ago, is now $8 while the lamb gyro has gone up a full $4.50, from $7 to $11.50. Still, their prices seem in line with other local restaurants.

You can order Kabob Express through Grubhub ($5 delivery fee) or Doordash (free deliver if over $35, but a $4-5 fee). Doordash prices are slightly higher on some items. Delivery took a little over an hour, apparently because my order wasn’t ready in time (or so said the driver).