Meal Kit Review: Plated’s Seared Steak with Blue Cheese Butter and Spinach-Beet Salad

Rating 9/10

After writing a whole post reviewing this Plated meal kit for Seared Steak with Blue Cheese Butter and Spinach-Beet Salad, I realized that I had started a review the very night I made it. So I’m incorporating what I wrote then here:

I am impossibly backed up with all the meal kit reviews I need to review, but I can’t help but start with the one I made tonight: Plated‘s Seared Steak with Blue Cheese Butter and Spinach-Beet Salad. It was absolutely delicious – and a very quick recipe to make to boot.

I’m amazed at the simplicity of it:  fresh baby spinach tossed with olive oil and salt and topped with beef sirloin slices, toasted pecans, blue cheese butter (a mixture of just blue cheese and butter) and a packet of balsamic glaze.  There were also supposed to be seared sliced beets, but no one in my family likes beets so I skipped them (I’m thinking of using them to make an amuse bouche for my Christmas Eve dinner).

But all the flavors together – including the juice from the beef – were just magical.  They worked to contrast and compliment each other.  I definitely have to make this myself, though that means making my own balsamic glaze, which is easy, but time consuming.  If I find commercial balsamic glaze, I may even make this very simple salad for Xmas Even dinner.

The meal wasn’t perfect, however.  While most of the spinach was nice and crispy, some of the leaves had started to wilt.  Given that I only received my box yesterday, I’m not sure the spinach would have survived if I’d taken longer to make this kit.

Another problem was that the two steaks were terribly different in thickness – one was twice as think as the other, which made cooking them at the same time difficult.  This is not the first time I’ve encountered this problem and I wish meal kit companies would be better at this.  The beef, however, was very good quality and very tasty.

Finally, I don’t think the portion was large enough for an adult.  Perhaps it would have been if I had included the beets, but I’ve found that many of the meal kits that don’t include a carb leave me hungry.

I paid $8 for this kit for 2 people, using a $40-off Black Friday promo.


Refrigerated Meal Review: Cedarlane Cheese Tortellini with Creamy Tomato Sauce

I had not heard of Cedarlane before I found this refrigerated Cheese Tortellini meal at Grocery Outlet. It turns out that Cedarlane is a 40-year old company that sells frozen and refrigerated food. I couldn’t find this exact item in their website, but they do show several intriguing vegan meals I’ll try to find (they apparently sell this brand at Lucky Supermarkets).

This tray meal of tortellini in tomato sauce was basic but tasty. I liked how soft the tortellini were. There are three servings in this meal, but I can’t imagine that it would satisfy more than one as a full meal.

It was $5 at Grocery Outlet, so I imagine it costs significantly more at the supermarket. At $5 is a good meal, I’m not sure I’d pay any more than that.


Meal Kit Review: Home Chef is a Solid Choice for No Fuss Dining

Home Chef is a middle priced meal kit service furnishing easy-to-cook meals catering to all-American tastes. It’s a solid choice for people who want to get something tasty and not overly complicated on the table. It’s reasonably priced and some of the dishes are very good. However, overall, I wasn’t excited by the offerings.

The Plans

Home Chef offers quite a lot of flexibility with their plans. They have kits for 2, 4 and 6 persons and you can get from 2 to 6 meals a week. Meals costs $10 per person per meal (so 3 meal kits for 2 a week will cost you $60), and shipping is free for orders of over $45, otherwise it’s $10. This means that if you order only 2 meals for 2, you’ll end up paying $50. Premium meals cost extra.
Home Chef also offers “5 minute lunches” with pre-cooked ingredients for $8 a serving, and smoothies and fruit baskets for $5 per serving that you can add to your weekly deliveries.

Like other services, Home Chef provides incentives for signing up. Use this link to save $30 off your first box, or go directly to the site to get the most current offer (currently $20 off each box for four weeks).

The Food

Home Chef offers 13 meal kit choices weekly, including at least 3 vegetarian options. They don’t offer vegan options – unless the vegetarian kits just happen to be vegan. They don’t cater to any specific diet either.

The meals tend to be slightly upscale versions of basic modern American food. They include burgers, pastas, rice bowls, tostadas, flatbreads and baked chicken/salmon/pork chops with vegetable & starchy sides. Few of their recipes have exotic ingredients.

Home Chef is now offering the ability of slightly customizing some recipes by substituting the protein with another choice (for example, getting ground pork instead of beef strips or ground turkey, or getting a smaller amount of antibiotic-free chicken instead of regular chicken). This should give some flexibility to people who simply don’t like some proteins.

Premium meals are not yet available every week, but when they are, they usually consist of fillet, scallops or even lamb chops. They cost up to $20 per portion (so yes, a meal for two would be $40).

The quality of the ingredients I got was pretty good, but Home Chef does not specialize in sending organic ingredients.

While I enjoyed the meals I got from Home Chef, it’s not my choice for a long term service because the choices just don’t seem very exciting to me. Plus as most of their meals don’t usually require exotic ingredients, I can make them at home using my ingredients for less.

The Shipping & Delivery

Home Chef scheduled meals to be delivered at my house on Tuesdays. They can arrive between 8 AM and 9 PM, so you are better off not planning to cook them that night. Personally, I prefer kits that arrive on Monday to give me more flexibility as when I cook them during the week – I don’t like to get to the weekend and feel rushed to cook a meal kit before it goes bad.

A bigger problem with Home Chef was that while my first week’s box came without a hitch, the second week’s box never appeared! They sent me a notification that it was on its way, they sent me the tracking, but it never arrived. Fortunately, customer service was very helpful and they refunded my purchase.

Note: Home Chef kits are also available at some Kroger supermarkets

The Packaging

Home Chef sends its kits in a standard cardboard box. Like other services, the box has a liner (not pictured). While Home Chef says that the liner is made of recycled cotton and denim, it apparently cannot be recycled back or added to the yard waste/compost bin. That means it takes space in the trash can – and the landfill! Fortunately the freezer packs, which are also disposable in the trash, are smaller than those of other companies.

Most of the ingredients for the meals come in zippered plastic bags (though beware that the zippers break easily). The meats, however, are between freezer packs. This is a handy way of keeping all ingredients together – though it does mean either refrigerating them all, or taking the ones that don’t need refrigerator out of the bags.

With your first order, Home Chef sends you a folder and recipe cards come pre-perforated so that you can keep them in it.

The Results

These are the three Home Chef meals I made:

Texas-Style Steak on Toast with smashed red potatoes and red onion gravy
A very good meal.
Parisian Bistro Bone-In Chicken with dauphinoise potatoes and Vichy carrots
Really, really delicious. I’ll make it again.
Jerk Steak Tacos with caramelized pineapple slaw
I wasn’t fond of the jerk sauce, but liked the slaw.

I also made one meal using my own ingredients:

Coq au Vin with Bone-In Chicken & Mashed Potatoes

This was more like baked chicken with mashed potatoes, mushrooms and wine sauce, but tasty enough

All in all, I was happy with the service. Cancelling was very easy and quick, it’s done online. Home Chef preserves your account, so that it’s easy to resubscribe again. Home Chef’s offers some incentives to resubscribe. Twice they e-mailed me giving me a $10 credit – which they seem to be adding to the $10 credit I already had (which has not gone away!). More recently, they offered me the same deal they are offering new subscribers: $20 off per week for four weeks. Alas, when I looked at their menu I didn’t find much that excited me, so I decided to re-subscribe to HelloFresh and alternating it with Blue Apron for a month or so. I will make more Home Chef recipes to get a better feel for the service, however.


Meal Kit Hack: Coq au Vin with Bone-In Chicken & Mashed Potatoes

Rating: 7/10

I didn’t get any meal kits this week, so I decided to hack a Home Chef recipe for dinner. I wanted something with chicken, as I’m trying to eat less beef, and this one seemed simple enough. I love coq au vin (which I haven’t made in a while). and while, obviously, you can’t make coq au vin in an hour, I was willing to give this recipe for Coq au Vin with Bone-In Chicken & Mashed Potatoes a try.

Alas, once I started making it, I realized there wasn’t much to it: you make mashed potatoes, you sear and then bake the chicken, you sautee the mushrooms and pearl onions, you make the 2-two ingredient sauce and voila!

The results were good, but not great – though that may be because I actually used chicken breasts instead of the thighs I prefer and because I didn’t make enough sauce for the massive breasts I got (lord, that sounds dirty!).

The sauce, which was tasty enough, consisted of 2 tsp of chicken demi-glace dissolved in 5 oz of red wine. I used beef demi-glace, as I didn’t have the regular kind.

I also didn’t use pearl onions because Safeway failed to deliver them to me.

In all, I spent $20 to make this meal, which actually fed 3 of us with leftovers (those were really big chicken breasts) – so about 1/3 less of what the meal kit would have cost.

I also went out of my way to look for “antibiotic-free” chicken, only to find out that California passed a law to ban the use of growth-promotion antibiotics in chickens. Antibiotics can only be used if a veterinarian prescribes them to cure a specific ailment. So it would seem that any “antibotic-free” designation on chicken raised in CA is just for advertising purposes. I had wanted to see if antibiotic-free chicken tasted better than regular chicken, and obviously I found out it didn’t.

I did find out, though, that searing the chicken skin-side-down for a couple of minutes and then baking it at 400F, leaves you with a very nice crispy chicken skin.


Meal Kit Reviews: EveryPlate is Pretty Good for the Price

EveryPlate is a budget meal kit brand launched by HelloFresh, which has found it difficult to keep customers due to the relatively high price of their meals. It offers simpler meals than its parent company, with fewer fancy ingredients. It also only offers 5 choices a week, one of which is a ” premium” meal and costs $6 more per kit, which helps keep their prices low. At $13 per 2-portion kit (including shipping costs), it’s considerably cheaper than HelloFresh’s $20 regular kits. But exactly because they have fewer ingredients, they are also easier and quicker to put together and cook.

The Plans

EveryPlate has two plans: 3 meals for 2 people per week for $30 + $9 shipping (so $39) and 3 meals for 4 people per week for $60 + $9 shipping. That means that for the 2-person plan, you get are paying $6.50 per person per meal – cheaper than other services, but not the $5 they advertise.

Use this link to get $20 off your first box.

EveryPlate’s reduced costs are achieved by offering fewer meal choices, each with fewer ingredients, reducing assembly time by not separating ingredients by recipe in the box and by not including some ingredients their recipes call for (e.g. butter & ketchup).

The Food

EveryPlate offers four meal choices a week plus a premium choice that costs $3pp/$6 per kit more. The premium choice is usually steak.

The meals are usually uncomplicated American favorites, things such as grilled cheese sandwich with tomato sauce, burgers, baked pastas and the now-popular “bowls”. Most meals include pork, chicken or sausages – there is rarely a vegetarian meal.

For me, the lack of choices means that, despite its affordability, I couldn’t use this meal kit every week, as I seldom can find three meals out of the four they offer that at least two people in my house would like.



The ingredients, in general, were of good quality. The meats were tasty and at least as good as supermarket meats. I particularly liked the ranch steak. The produce was hit and miss. I got a yellow onion instead of the green onion the recipe called for. The tomato didn’t arrive ripe – but it was fine two days later when I went to cook that recipe. The garlic and the limes were old, however. Fortunately, I was able to get a few good garlic cloves out of the garlic for the recipes that needed them, but neither lime could produce much juice.

While some meal kits include all the ingredients you’ll need, save for salt, pepper and cooking oil – EveryPlate is more stingy. They require you to use (and have!) your own butter, sugar, flour and ketchup, for example. As not everyone has a stocked pantry, make sure you read what each recipe calls for before ordering it.

The Shipping & Delivery

EveryPlate delivers their boxes (at least to my zipcode) on Wednesdays. I got a shipping notification on Tuesday. My box was delivered in the late morning, but it’s not guaranteed that it won’t be later in the day. For that reason, it’s probably not a good idea to plan to make one of their kits for dinner that night. The problem is that kits are usually most useful during weeknights – but if you use your first one on Thursday night, you’ll either have to make the last one during the weekend or leave it until Monday. The meats seem to be vacuum sealed so that I don’t think that would be a problem – but given how non-fresh some of the produce was, I wouldn’t have wanted to wait that long.

The Packaging

Like other meal kits, EveryPlate comes in a cardboard box. This one is on the small side and came more beaten up than others I’ve gotten. It also was carelessly sealed.

The ingredients were all thrown together inside an insulated bag. Dried ingredients were in a box on top of a freezer pack, with items needing refrigeration underneath them. The carelessness in putting the materials in the box resulted in one of the BBQ packet arriving open.

Unlike other kits, the ingredients didn’t come in individual bags for each recipe and they didn’t have stickers indicating to what recipe they belonged. Rather, they were all mixed in together. This turned out to not be an issue. As there were fewer ingredients that in other kits, I simply kept the dry ingredients in the box on my kitchen counter, and put the meats and sour cream (the only ingredients that needed refrigeration) in the fridge.

As with most other meal kits (save for Sun Basket), the box can be recycled, but the liner and freezer packs cannot.

The Results

These are the three meals I made during my first (and so far only) week of EveryPlate:

Carne Asada Fajitas with Pickled Onions and Lime cream
This dish was just OK
Steak Tagliata with Tomato Jam, Creamy Kale and Garlic Bread
A surprisingly enjoyable dish with good quality beef.
BBQ Pork Sloppy Joes with Pickled Onions and Sweet Potato Wedges
I made a mess of this, but the pork was still tasty

All in all, I was happy with them. They were relatively easy to make, quicker than other meal kits, and they were tasty. The portions were also OK – though in some cases this was because of the empty carbs (just look at the size of that garlic bread in comparison to the beef!).

Cancelling the service was also very easy – just do it online. A week after I cancelled, I got an offer to come back and get 6 free meals. Alas, I can’t find three meals that two of us would like in the upcoming menus.


Meal Kit Review: EveryPlate’s Carne Asada Fajitas

Rating 5/10

Tacos & fajitas seem to be one of the most common meals offered by meal kit companies. I’ve ordered them a few times, simply because I didn’t see anything else they offered that we might like, but it’s not a top choice for me. I can get three ready-made tacos of a similar size at the Mexican Restaurant in the corner for $13, and I don’t have to spend the time cooking them. Or, of course, I can make them myself for a few dollars.

Still, some of the taco recipes I’ve made have been good and I’m always up for a discovery. This recipe for carne asada fajitas with pickled onions and lime cream, however, did not produce one. The tacos/fajitas were pretty straightforward and just OK flavor wise – indeed, they might have been better without the southwestern flavoring.

They were fairly easy and quick to make and at $13 for a meal for six tacos, they were pretty cheap.

I got this kit for free, with a special one-time code that someone gave me. The regular cost for the two serving kit is $13, including shipping. Use this link to get $20 off your first box.


Meal Kit Review: EveryPlate’s BBQ Pork Sloppy Joes

everyplate sloppy joes
I didnt manage to take my own photo when I made these.

Rating: 7/10

Sometimes a meal kit fails you, and sometimes you fail a meal kit. This time I think both of us failed each other. I think this could have been a pretty good meal kit if I’d had all of the ingredients, and if I had been more careful while putting it together. As things were, my husband got a decent sandwich – but not really a sloppy joe – and I got to eat the remaining filling with a spoon. At least it was pretty tasty.

This EveryPlate kit consists of ground pork which is supposed to be cooked with BBQ sauce and ketchup, potato buns, an onion to quickly pickle and sweet potatoes to bake. One of the two packets of BBQ sauce my kit came with was open, so I had to toss it away. Unfortunately, when I went to make the pork, I realized I didn’t have any more BBQ sauce at home. Even worse, the kit called for using my own ketchup – and I was also out of it. At the end, I was only able to cook the ground pork in a the single packet of BBQ sauce. Amazingly, this still gave a very nice flavor to the pork.

I didn’t try the pickled onions, but my husband raved about them. I’m thus including the recipe below.

As for the buns, I burnt my first two when I put them in the toaster – and then dropped them (thus my lack of a sandwich myself). I also managed to burn the sweet potatoes. Indeed, one of the things that did not work with this kit is that the sweet potatoes require that you preheat the oven (something which takes at least 15-20 minutes) and then you cook them for 20-25 minutes. The rest of the meal takes a very short time to make. So we were ready to eat far before the sweet potatoes were ready – which is why I forgot about them.

I got this kit for free, with a special one-time code that someone gave me. The regular cost for the two serving kit is $13, including shipping. Use this link to get $20 off your first box.

Quick Pickled Onions

  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • juice from one lime
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Let to pickle for at least 10 minutes.

Sloppy Joes

  • drizzle of oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/3 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 cup Ketchup
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp lime juice

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, season with salt & pepper, and fry, stirring frequently, until soft – 4-5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the ground pork and cook, stirring and separating, until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add the bbq sauce, ketchup, water and lime juice. Cook, stirring frequently, until it thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in burger buns topped with the pickled onions.


Meal Kit Review: EveryPlate’s Steak Tagliata

Rating: 8/10

Last week I tried EveryPlate meal kits. At $39 a week for three 2-serving meals, it’s one of the cheapest services out there – though when shipping is included each portion is $6.50, not the $5 they advertise. Premium dishes (those including steak, I’m guessing) are $3 more pp, or $9.50. My first week was free, as I got a one-time promo code from a current user.

Of the three meals I had, the Steak Tagliata with Tomato Jam, Creamy Kale and Garlic Bread (a premium kit) was by far the best and as good as any meal I’ve gotten in a meal kit. The beef was ranch steak, a cut I’ve mostly gotten in meal kits, and it was tender and delicious – certainly a cut above the meat I get at Safeway. I also very much enjoy the tomato jam. It was easy to make and delicious. There was too much of it for the steak – but I liked it so much that I ate it by itself.

The garlic bread consisted of two buns (they called them demi baguettes but they had a sweeter, softer consistency – they were clearly buns); each was individually wrapped in sealed plastic. They were surprisingly good as well.

Finally, while I didn’t like the kale – not a surprise, as I don’t like most vegetables – my 14-yo ate it.

The portion size was just right, neither of us were left hungry – though it may have been because of how much garlic bread we got.

The ingredients were mostly fine, though the garlic was old and it came already sprouting. The tomato wasn’t ripe when it arrived, but it was just right two days later when I actually cooked this meal. Of course, by then the kale was just starting to dry out.

Note, this meal kit requires the use of your own butter – most more expensive kits include it.

I got this kit for free, with a special one-time code that someone gave me. The regular cost for this two serving kit is $19, including shipping. Use this link to get $20 off your first box.

RECIPES

Tomato Jam

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • salt & pepper to taste

Pour oil in a saute pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until softened, stirring often. Add the tomato, vinegar and water. Cook, stirring frequently, until very soft – about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the sugar. Season with salt & pepper. Turn off heat and serve as a relish.


Refrigerated Meal Review: Heat.Eat.Done Chicken Marsala with Penne Pasta

Chicken Marsala with Penne Pasta Review

Last week I found this refrigerated tray meal for Chicken Marsala with Penne Pasta at Grocery Outlet, and decided to give it a try. I love chicken marsala. At $5 for what is really a portion for one person (unless you are eating something else), it’s not exactly cheap for a pre-made, refrigerated meal, specially when bought at a bargain store, but I figured it was worth a try. Unfortunately, that was all that it was worth.

The chicken in the dish was incredibly dry. Now, this is very unusual for microwavable meals, but somehow Heat.Eat.Done managed it. The sauce also didn’t actually taste of Marsala wine – it lacked the sweetness of the wine -, and it was too liquidy and tasteless. I would not buy it again.


Restaurant Review: Xiang Yuan Xiao Long Bao, San Leandro

The other night I decided to take Mike out to dinner. One of our daughters didn’t want to go out and the other one was out, so it seemed like a great opportunity for a date night – and for trying a new restaurant.

After our first choice didn’t work out, we ended up at Xiang Yuan Xiao Long Bao – which occupies the space that Ming Tasty had for many years. It was an inspired choice, as neither of us had ever had Shanghainese food per se, and we love trying new things.

Given the name of the restaurant, we of course had to try the Xiang Long Bao (also known as XLB) from the Dim Sum menu (which seems to be available at any time). We ordered both the pork ($7) and crab ($8.5) versions. Not having XLBs before, we were unprepared for what we got: a steamed dumpling filled with both meat and broth! To accomplish this, cooks add pork skin to a broth and allows the collagen from the skin to melt into the liquid. The pork skin and veggies are discarded, and the now collagen-rich broth is refrigerated and allowed to solidify. It’s then chopped and added to the dumplings along with the filling. Ingenious and delicious.

I wasn’t sure how to eat the dumplings, so at first I broke them with my chopsticks and just ate each part separately. Later I adopted Mike’s method of just putting the whole thing inside my mouth (make sure they cool down before you do this). They were much better that way, as flavors and textures are allowed to combine in your mouth. Apparently, the proper way to eat them (or at least the way used by the restaurant reviewer at the East Bay Express) is to bite off the top, allow the broth to cool, and then to sip it, before eating the rest of the dumpling. I think I like Mike’s way better, though they are a little bit big (and I have a small mouth).

We also ordered the green onion pancake ($4). This was very oily, and therefore pretty filling. It was a bit bland, but it was great with the broth from the dumplings. I’d order it again, but would want some sort of tasty sauce to go along with it.

Finally, we had the pan friend pork buns ($8). These were unlike any pork buns I’ve had before. Instead of bbq pork, they had the same soupy filling as the dumplings, though with less liquid. Once I abandoned my expectations that they be sweet, I found them very good. They were also easier to eat, and I’d definitely order them again.

The restaurant itself is in a good location in downtown San Leandro, but suffers from a very generic building. Still, it’s nicely decorated with photos of Shanghai at the turn of the 20th century – I was somewhat surprised of how western it looked.

Image result for shanghai 1920s

Service was competent and polite.

All in all, I look forward to returning.

Read the East Bay Express review for more suggestions on dishes to try.