Meal Kit Review: Plated Scallop Penne with Mint-Spinach Pesto, Roasted Mushrooms, and Walnuts

Rating: 7/10

We never eat enough seafood – as only two of us in the family like it -, so I decided to order seafood dishes for my first week with Plated.  It was a bad move as my husband ended up being out four out of five nights this week, but I made this one for our sole dinner together.  It was a modest success.

The meal kit for Scallop Penne with Mint-Spinach Pesto, Roasted Mushrooms, and Walnuts consists of 4 components: baby scallops which are simply seared, a spinach pesto which you make in the blender, mushrooms and walnuts which you toast in the oven and pasta, which you cook and  mix with peas.  That meant the use of three pans plus the blender, which for someone like me without a dishwasher, is a little more washing that I like to do.  I also wasn’t excited about having to roast the mushrooms and walnuts in the oven, as it seems to me a waste of gas to have to preheat the oven for just this purpose.  I wish Plated’s recipes were a bit more efficient.

All that said, the meal was very simple to put together and cook.  I was very happy with the spinach pesto, which seems like a good way to get some veggies into your diet.  I was hoping I could make the pesto vegan by not adding the Parmesan, but without it it had a terrible flavor.  With it, it was perfectly balanced.  I should note that I added the whole package of Parmesan, not just half.

The other problem with this meal kit is that it didn’t include enough walnuts or mushrooms (there were maybe 5 walnuts and 3 mushrooms for the whole meal).  It was good as it was, but more of the two would have made it better.

I was afraid that the meal wouldn’t be large enough for two, but we were both satisfied after eating it.

As a final point I should note that the scallops arrived semi-frozen.  I don’t know if that’s because they were frozen to begin with or whether they semi-froze by being in contact with the freezer sheets.

All in all it’s a good meal and I will make the spinach pesto again (recipe below).

Spinach Pesto

  • 1 1/2 oz spinach leaves
  • 1/8 ounce mint leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 oz Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Using an electric blender, pure together the spinach and mint leaves, garlic, cheese, olive oil and water.  Once you have a smooth paste, mix in the lemon juice and salt.


Meal Kit Hacks: HelloFresh Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce & Garlic Bok Choy + PB Sauce Recipe

Rating: 7.5/10

HelloFresh does not have many vegan meals, so I was happy to find this recipe for Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce & Garlic Bok Choy that I could hack for my vegan daughter.  While it wasn’t a complete dinner – we have yet to find a way to make tofu taste like anything but tofu, outside of deep frying it -, my daughter loved the peanut sauce and enjoyed the coconut rice, I’ll be making both of those again (see recipes below).   She hadn’t had bok choy before, and she won’t again – she found this vegetable utterly tasteless, even with the peanut sauce.  Fortunately, there was extra broccoli from our meal for her to eat.   Most importantly, she totally appreciated that I made her food.  Given that she’s the only vegan in the family, she often is on her own as far as cooking goes, so any time I cook for her it’s a treat.

Making this meal at home was rather cheap, as most of the ingredients are those you are likely to have in your pantry (peanut butter, rice, soy and hot sauce, sesame seeds), and those you don’t are cheap to buy.  In all, I spent under $6.50 in this meal for two people.  HelloFresh charges $20-$24 for the same food.

 

HelloFresh Ingredients My Ingredients Cost
1 block tofu 1 lb tofu $2
2 baby bok choy 2 baby bok choy $2.60
1 Tbsp sesame seeds 1 Tbsp sesame seeds pantry
2 Tbsp peanut butter 2 Tbsp peanut butter pantry
1 can Lite Coconut Milk 1 can Lite Coconut Milk $1.25
1 cup basmati rice 1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice pantry
2 cloves garlic 2 cloves garlic pantry
1 lime 1 lime $0.50
1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs 1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs $1 (for 8-cup ox)
1 tsp hot sauce 1 dash siracha pantry
2 Tbsp soy sauce 2 Tbsp soy sauce pantry

If you’d like to subscribe to HelloFresh use this link to save $40 off your first box, and I’ll get a $30 credit – which I probably won’t use as I’ll be unsubscribing form HelloFresh shortly to try a different company.

Coconut Jasmine Rice

  • 1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1 1/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • dash of salt

Rinse rice.  Put coconut milk, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add rice, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.  Fluff with a fork before serving.

Peanut Butter Sauce

  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • squeeze of lime juice
  • a dash of hot sauce

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.


Meal Kit Hack: HelloFresh Balsamic Rosemary Steak with Garlic Herb Toasts and a Roasted Pear Salad on the Cheap + Salad Recipe

 

Rating: 8/10

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.

 


Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce Review

Sweet 'N' Smoky Pork Chops

Photo borrowed from Hello Fresh

Rating: 8/10

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.


Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh Pork and Poblano Tacos Review & Kiwi Salsa Recipe

Rating: 7.5/10

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.

 

Review

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.

 


Plated Hack: French Onion Burgers with Salad

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.


Three More Cuisines Go Up: Cohauila, Chiapas and Florence

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!


Int’l Food Project Update: Campechana,


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.

 


Hakka Tofu with Mushrooms

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

 


Easy Roasted Pork

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.

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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.

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