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  1. Hello Fresh Hack: Balsamic Rosemary Steak with Garlic Herb Toasts and a Roasted Pear Salad on the Cheap + Salad Recipe

    October 17, 2018 by marga



    Today I ended up with some extra top sirloin.  This meant I had to figure out what to do with it and I had so much fun making hacking the Plated recipe for French onion soup burgers, that I decided to hack something from Hello Fresh this time, as I’ve started trying their kits. I decided on this recipe for “Balsamic Rosemary Skirt Steak with Garlic Herb Toasts and a Roasted Pear Salad” because I had most of the ingredients at home and it was one of their “premium” recipes, which cost an additional $12 per 2-person meal.  There is no way that I’m going to spend $36 on a meal for two without leftovers that I have to cook myself, unless a rack of lamb or some prime beef is involved, so I can only try these recipes by making them with my own ingredients.

    Once again, I shopped at my neighborhood grocery store so I had to make some drastic substitutions:

    Hello Fresh Recipe My Version My cost
    1 pear 1 bag Bosc pears $3
    1 demi-baguette 1 loaf sourdough bread $2
    2 shallots 1 large shallot Pantry
    1/4 oz rosemary 2 tsp chopped rosemary homegrown
    2 Tbsp. garlic herbed butter 4 Tbsp. garlic herbed butter pantry/homemade
    12 oz skirt steak 12 oz top sirloin $6.50
    3 tsp balsamic vinegar 3 tsp red wine vinegar pantry
    chicken demi glace 1 tsp. beef base pantry
    2 oz arugula 2 oz mixed greens leftover
    2 oz Ricotta salata  4 oz blueberry goat cheese  $3


    In all, I spent $15.50 on the meal, less than half of what I would have spent if I’d bought the kit.  I was lucky that all the substitutions worked great.  Bosc pears are actually preferable for baking as they keep their shape.  Sourdough bread (which I’d bought the day before and not used) is tastier than the plain baguettes and the croutons came out great.   While I, myself, prefer skirt take, the top sirloin worked just as well and it was more tender than skirt steak would have been.  And the blueberry goat cheese on the salad (for which I used the mixed greens I bought for my last hacked recipe) was a revelation.   I did have to make the herbed butter myself, but it wasn’t too hard.  I simply chopped a few fresh herbs I had around the house (rosemary from the side yard, basil and some of the living herbs thyme I bought for my last recipe) in addition to a couple garlic cloves and mixed it with softened butter.

    The overall meal was very good, and I loved that it had three elements: steak with a sauce, a grown up salad and herbed garlic bread – but it was a pretty laborious meal to make for that reason.  Still, we both enjoyed the steak and the sauce certainly added flavor to a cut that I think usually needs it (as opposed to NY steak or rib eye which just need salt to be great).  The herbed garlic bread was quite good and I very much enjoyed the salad.  The blueberry goat cheese, in particular, was a revelation.  I’d never had thought of putting it on salad otherwise, but it worked perfectly well.

    But hacking this meal also had me make a mistake: instead of using balsamic vinegar, which I did have in my pantry, I just used regular red wine vinegar for both the steak and the salad.  If I had been using Hello Fresh’s own ingredients I wouldn’t have been able to make the mistake.  I’m sure the balsamic vinegar would have improved the flavor of both.

    Below is my recipe for the salad.  If you want to try this kit without having to make it yourself,  you can use this link to get $40 off your delivery of Hello Fresh (it’s a referral link that will also give me credit towards a future purchase).

    Roasted Pear Salad with Blueberry Goat Cheese

    • 2 Bosc pears
    • 1/3 French or sourdough baguette or 1/4 bread loaf
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil + more for drizzling
    • salt & pepper to taste
    • 2 oz mixed greens, washed and dried
    • 2 tsp red or balsamic vinegar
    • 2 oz blueberry goat cheese

    Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.

    Cut off ends from the pears, cut them in half and core them; then cut the pairs into 1/2″ wedges.

    Cube the bread into 1/2″ cubes.

    Place pears on one side of the prepared baking sheet and bread cubes in the other.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake until the bread is toasted, about 8 minutes.  Remove the bread cubes to a salad bowl.  Turn the pear slices and continue cooking until soft, about 10 more minutes.  Remove from the oven.

    Add the mixed greens to the bowl with the croutons.  Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Toss.  Top with pears and crumble the goat cheese over the salad. Serve.


  2. Hello Fresh Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce Review + Sauce Recipe

    October 16, 2018 by marga

    Sweet 'N' Smoky Pork Chops

    Photo borrowed from Hello Fresh

    We are not pork eaters, both because commercial farming of pigs – fairly intelligent animals – is just brutal and because we don’t find pork particularly flavorful meat, but there weren’t many exciting menu choices in the week I chose to try Hello Fresh,  so we went for this meal kit.  We were pleasantly surprised.  While I was a bit disappointed on how small the boneless pork chops were – specially after I cut off the strip of fat on one side -, the cinnamon-paprika spice mix gave them a very nice flavor, in particular when topped with the cherry sauce.  I don’t like cherry, but loved this sauce and would think it’d go well with turkey as well.    The mashed potatoes could have been better – the kit included small potatoes that couldn’t really be peeled, and I prefer peeled potatoes in my mash.  The slaw was pretty good, but not earth shattering.

    The meal was also fairly easy to make, the carrots come pre-shredded, which saves a lot of time.  The apple was fresh and delicious.  All the ingredients seemed to be high quality and the recipe was easy to make.

    In all, this was a good dish.

    I’m more likely to pay $12 for it than for the tacos I had before.

    If you’d like to try Hello Fresh, you can use this link for $40 off your first box (it will also give me $30 towards a future delivery).

    Cherry Sauce Recipe

    enough for 2 chops

    • 1/8 tsp hot paprika
    • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
    • 3 Tbsp. cherry jam
    • 1/2 tsp water
    • 1/2 tsp vinegar
    • 1/2 Tbsp. butter
    • salt & pepper to taste

    Combine in a microwave safe bowl the paprika, cinnamon, jam, water and vinegar.  Microwave on high for 45 seconds.  Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper.

  3. Hello Fresh + Pork and Poblano Tacos Review & Kiwi Salsa Recipe

    October 16, 2018 by marga

    It’s true, sometimes all it takes is one trial.  After trying the Plated meal kit for Vietnamese Meatballs with Chile-Lime Dressing,  and being impressed by the convenience and taste, I decided it was finally time for me to join the 21st century and try  other meal kits.  There are a myriad of companies selling these, of course, but I settled on Hello Fresh because I’d gotten tons and tons of coupons for it with other stuff I’d bought online.

    I didn’t look at the menu until after I signed up & paid, and I was actually disappointed once I saw the options.  Most of the offerings seemed to be mainstream American food with a little twist.  I was further disappointed that many of the recipes that sounded more exciting and that included steak or other more expensive ingredients had a $12 premium! A $12 pp meal is no bargain, but at $18 pp, we’re talking about restaurant prices.  Still, I was able to find a couple of recipes that sounded good.  If you want to try Hello Fresh, use this link and you’ll save $40 off your first delivery (and I’ll get $30 off my next),  which gives you a better deal than the promo I used!  Remember to cancel within 2 days of getting your first box to not be charged again.



    I wasn’t expecting much of this dish based on the title.  We’re not big taco eaters at home.  However, this dish was better tasting than it had any right to be.  The kiwi salsa was particularly refreshing and unusual, and I can imagine making it again (recipe follows).  I had never thought of mixing sour cream with lime juice before, but it was a good idea and I’ll do it again as well..

    The pork itself was pretty tasty and while the Mexican spice almost gave it the flavor of Mexican chorizo, it was mild and tasty.  This is not my favorite flavor, however.

    The meal made four tacos, so two per person.  It was just the *right* amount of food to satisfy me, though as I had an early dinner, I was hungry later.  So far this have been the same problem with all the kit meals I’ve made.

    In all, I thought the meal was great for the discounted price I paid for it, but I can get very good tacos for less than $12 pp at my corner Mexican restaurant (albeit not with this great kiwi salsa).

    Kiwi Salsa

    • 1 Roma tomato, chopped
    • 1 Kiwi, chopped
    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 5 cilantro stalks, leaves removed & coarsely chopped
    • 1 small lime, halved
    • salt & pepper to taste

    In a bowl, mix together the chopped tomato, kiwi, onion and cilantro.  Squeeze a lime half on the chopped vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper and mix well.


  4. Plated Hack: French Onion Burgers with Salad

    October 15, 2018 by marga

    I have recently started trying “meal kits” and while I love the idea of simple meals I can make in under an hour, I hate how expensive they are.  At $20-$28 per entree for two people, they cost about the same as take out and there are no leftovers!  Still, they are super convenient.

    Today, I decided to try to recreate one of those kit-meals buying the ingredients myself to see how they worked and whether I saved money.  Now, if you are a professional billing $500/hour (or even $100), the time spent at the supermarket hunting these ingredients will surpass any savings you may have – so these meals are really ideal for people for whom time is literally money.  But my time is far cheaper than that.

    I chose this recipe for French Onion Burgers with Gruyere and Arugula because I had read good things about it while looking through Plated reviews and it has fairly common ingredients, which I hoped I could easily find at the quirky discount grocery store near my house.  I wasn’t able to get all the ingredients I needed, but I think the substitutions worked well enough.  I haven’t tried the Plated kit dish, so I don’t know how it compares to mine as far as flavor goes, but I don’t think it’s likely to have been significantly better.  My version was far cheaper, however. While the Plated meal for 2 costs between $22 and $28, depending on where you buy it, I spent a mere $15 in groceries and had enough food for 3 people (alas, neither of my kids would eat this, so we have leftovers for tomorrow) with groceries remaining.

    Here is a list of the ingredients in the recipe, what I bought and the price.

    PLATED Ingredient My Substitution Cost
    Beef Stock, 1 container Beef broth, 1/2 cup pantry
    Yellow Onion, 1 small Yellow Onion, 1 regular $0.70
    Thyme, 1/8 oz. Living thyme plant $2
    Lemon, 1 Lemon, 1 $0.80
    Ground Beef, 12 oz Ground Beef, 16 oz $3.50
    English muffins, 2 English muffins, 3 $2.80
    Baby Arugula, 3 oz Mixed Greens, 5 oz $3
    1 Tbsp Flour, 1 Tbsp pantry
    Gruyere, 2 slices Processed Gruyere Cheese product, 7 oz $2.20
    Unsalted butter, 3 packets 1 Tbsp pantry
    Dijon mustard, 2 packets Coarse Dijon mustard pantry
    TOTAL  $15

    Note that I had to substitute baby arugula for mixed greens as all the packages of baby arugula at the grocery store had expired yesterday.  The price was the same than for the mixed greens, however.

    Where I did save a lot of money was by using “Gruyere cheese product” instead of Gruyere.  Unfortunately, my discount grocery store didn’t have it and I decided to substitute with this product as at least it had Gruyere as its main ingredient.  Alas, it didn’t take anything like Gruyere and rather it was a more solid version of Laughing Cow cheese.  Delicious, but far cheaper and different than real Gruyere.  In reality, I don’t think the substitution mattered – the flavor of the onions was so strong that I doubt any cheese would have broken through.  The cheese did add to the creaminess of the burger, however.

    All in all, I felt the burgers were interesting and tasty but the combination of burger and fresh onion flavors wasn’t a big winner for either me or my husband.  I sort of liked the English muffing for a bun substitution, but that’s because I was smart enough to eat the burger with knife and fork.  My husband didn’t and wish he had a bun instead.

    Neither of us were that fond of the lemon juice/olive oil dressing on the greens, however.

    Still, I’m left with 4 English muffins I can have for breakfast, some newly discovered and delicious cheese “product” I’ll eat as a snack (indeed, it’s so fun and unexpected that I may serve it as part of my Xmas cheese course), some more greens to eat as a salad and a very cool thyme plant.  I can’t complain at all.

  5. Three More Cuisines Go Up: Cohauila, Chiapas and Florence

    May 17, 2018 by admin

    These are three more “make up” cuisines I explored recently, which I had skipped when I originally cooked “C” and “F” cuisines, several years ago by now.

    For Chiapas, I made a delightful Pollo en Frutas

    For Coahuila, I made much less successful but literal enchiladas

    and for Florence, I made a pasta & beans dish and a braised beef dish.

    Check them out!

  6. Int’l Food Project Update: Campechana,

    May 13, 2018 by admin

    My international food project is going.  Slowly, even painfully so, but going.  I’m a bit behind on updating the website, but here are three cuisines that I finished some months ago but never got around to adding.   Two of these were “make up” cuisines, those that I skipped when I first reached them – either because I couldn’t find recipes or didn’t recognize them as cuisines.  Rather than making multiple dishes for each one of them, which would keep me from advancing through the alphabet, I decided to cook just one or two dishes.  This is what I made:

    For Assam, I made fried fish with rice, a very simple dish and yet one I couldn’t stop eating.

    For Campeche, I made fish in a green sauce.  Alas, I didn’t use the right fish and it disintegrated.  But the sauce was great.

    And I’m very happy to announce that I’ve started the “H” cuisines.  I am totally committed to even finish H before the end of the summer! Hey, I could get lucky and do it before the beginning of the summer, but let’s be realistic!

    And my first H cuisine is… Haiti!  Now that was fun!  You get five full recipes here, one particularly good.


  7. Hakka Tofu with Mushrooms

    May 13, 2018 by admin

    I was making Soy-braised Chicken and Mushrooms for my family, as part of my exploration of Hakka cuisine, and decided to try making it with tofu for my vegetarian daughter.  She liked it well enough, though did mention that the tofu didn’t quite absorb the broth and she didn’t think it was as flavorful as she’d liked. Perhaps seitan would be a better bet for this dish.


    • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
    • 1 cups hot water
    • 1 Tbsps. vegetable oil
    • 1″ fresh ginger, peeled and thinly slivered
    • 1 Tbsps. minced garlic
    • 1 lb extra-firm tofu
    • 2 Tbsp kecap manis
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
    • 2 greens onions, including green tops, cut in 2″ lengths


    Soak dried mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes to 2 hours. Remove mushrooms from the water, reserving both.  Squeeze out extra water from mushrooms, and cut mushrooms in half. Strain the water through a fine mesh to catch the sediment. Set both water and mushrooms aside.

    Heat oil over high heat in a wok. Add ginger and garlic and stir fry until the garlic starts to brown. Add tofu and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms and the mushroom water. Add the kecap manis. Bring to a boil, then bring down heat to low, cover the wok and simmer until the tofu is warmed through, about five minutes.

    Using a slotted spoon, remove tofu and mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Bring heat to high and reduce cooking liquid until it’s about half a cup. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the green onions. Return tofu and mushrooms to the broth, warm if necessary, and then serve.


  8. Easy Roasted Pork

    May 13, 2018 by admin

    I forgot to take a photo of the whole pork shoulder, this was just the piece that was left.

    I do a lot of my grocery shopping online, and Safeway is not particularly attentive to what they send me.  I had ordered pork belly, but I got pork shoulder instead.  It most definitely didn’t work for my recipe, so I looked for something online so the meat would not go to waste.  The recipe below was just perfect.  It was super easy to make and the “crust” was just delicious.


    3 Tbsps.  olive oil
    3 Tbsps. minced garlic
    Salt and black pepper to taste
    4 lbs  pork shoulder


    Preheat oven to 425°F.

    Mix together the olive oil, garlic and salt & pepper in a small bowl.  Brush it all over the pork shoulder.

    Place the pork shoulder on a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 325°F and roast for four hours.  Remove from oven and let sit for 20 minutes before slicing.

    Based on Aaron McCargo Jr.’s recipe at the Food Network.

    Marga’s Best Recipes

    Marga’s Food

  9. Banana Cream Pie and Coconut Cream Pie Recipe

    April 22, 2018 by admin

    I had a couple of pie shells that I had to use today so I decided to make pies – I had bananas and coconut, so banana and coconut cream pies were the obvious choices.  The recipe for the custard on the pie is the same, I just doubled it and used half over bananas and half mixed with coconut.  The pies were simply delicious.  I used the egg whites to make a meringue topping – just so I I could do something with them – but you can serve the pie with whipped cream instead.  Unfortunately I don’t have a broiler in my oven, so it didn’t come out as well as it could.  The pie itself was delicious, however.

    • 1 9″ pie shell
    • 3 egg yolks
    • 3/4 cup white sugar
    • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 2 cups milk
    • 2 Tbsp. butter
    • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 3 large bananas, sliced OR 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
    • whipped cream


    • 3 egg whites
    • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
    • 3 Tbsp sugar

    Bake the pie shell according to instructions or your recipe. Let cool.

    Preheat oven to 350F

    Beat egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside.

    Place sugar, flour and salt in a medium sauce pan and place on the stove over medium heat.  Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil, lower the temperature and cook for two minutes.  Scoop a ladle of custard from the sauce pan and transfer to the bowl with the egg yolks. Mix well.  Pour egg yolk mixture back into the sauce pan, mix and cook for two more minutes.  Mix in the butter and vanilla extract, stirring until they are incorporated.

    If making a banana cream pie, place the banana slices on the bottom of the pie shell, then pour custard over it.

    If making a coconut pie, stir the coconut into the custard.

    Pour the custard into the pie shell.  Bake for 12′.  Cool and then transfer to the refrigerator for an hour.

    If making the meringue, using the whisk attachment in an electric mixer, beat together the egg whites and cream and tartar until it becomes foamy.  Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until it forms stiff peaks.  Spoon meringue onto the cooled pie and put under the broiler for 3-4 minutes.

    Adapted from Rudy Pfeffer’s recipe at

    Marga’s Favorite Recipes

  10. Tofu Ropa Vieja

    April 18, 2018 by admin

    I made Ropa Vieja for dinner tonight, one of my old-time favorites, and decided to serve the same thing to my vegetarian daughter.  She was quite happy with the results. Really, all I did was make the sauce, reserve some of it before I added the beef, add some vegetable base and tofu.  She was happy and I was happy I was able to feed her.  I’m sure you can substitute another meat substitute for tofu, but that’s what I had at home.  I always serve this with fresh sourdough bread.

    Tofu Ropa Vieja


    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • 1 onions, chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
    • 1 cups tomato sauce
    • 1/2 cup red wine
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1/2 tsp vegetable base
    • salt & pepper to taste
    • 1 lb extra-firm tofu, cubed


    Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium sauce pan.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until they start to caramelize.  Add the bell pepper and cook until soft.  Add the tomato sauce, wine, bay leaf and vegetable base.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.  Uncover, and the tofu cubes and cook for another 15 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and serve.