Ceramic Knives – A love, hate relationship

Yesterday, I was shopping at Grocery Outlet when I came upon a set of Good Cooking ceramic knives. I don’t have a smart phone so I couldn’t look at reviews for them, but at $30 for the set I figured they were cheap enough to take a chance on them. They were worth pretty much what I paid for them and no more.

I’ve been using Kyocera ceramic knives for years, and I just love how sharp they are. Cutting vegetables or meats is a breeze with them. Plus I’ve never had to resharpen them. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago my trusted Kyocera “bread” knife broke while I was cutting some tough vegetable and later, it developed a chip.

Mike got me a Kyocera set of knives for Christmas that year, and they were just as good as my previous one as far as sharpness went. But the chef’s knife in the set – the one I use most often – almost immediately developed a chip and then another, and then the tip broke off (when I was washing it, I think).

I love using those knives – but they’re too expensive to be this disposable. Kyocera presumably will replace knives damaged due to a manufacturer defect – but I’m not sure if being easily broken is a “defect” or a nature of the product. Amazon reviews of the knives are filled with photos of chipped knives. I wrote to Kyocera with photos of my knives, but have not yet heard back.

Meanwhile, the Good Cooking knives are not nearly as sharp as the Kyocera. They work more like regular steel knives. This is likely because they are thicker than the Kyocera.

I assume, for that reason, these knives will last longer – but only time will tell. Reviews online are not particularly encouraging.

If anyone knows of a brand of ceramic knives that are both very sharp and don’t get easily broken, please comment below.


Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh’ Sirloin and Horseradish Cream Sauce with Garlic Bread and Roasted Carrots

Rating 5/10

This meal kit for Sirloin and Horseradish Cream Sauce with Garlic Bread and Roasted Carrots may be the first HelloFresh kit that really failed to impress me. It was acceptable dinner fare, but very pedestrian. There were no new flavors here, no tricks, no recipes I’d care to copy and repeat. It was ultimately what it looks like: meat with carrots and garlic bread, with some onions and sour cream. I’ve had it all before (indeed, I had pretty much the same dish concept from EveryPlate – HelloFresh’ cheaper meal kit brand). Moreover, it seems to me that HelloFresh is trying to cut corners and send out cheaper ingredients and ask cooks to include more and more staples of their own to the meals.

The main ingredient of this meal was the sirloin and I was unimpressed with the quality. The meat was tough and wasn’t particularly flavorful. The two steaks sent had very different shapes from each other and, as you can see above, they were partly discolored, which took from their visual appeal (at least before cooking).

The steak was stopped with sliced onions cooked with beef stock which were fine, but unremarkable. I wondered if HelloFresh was cutting corners by not including demi-glace instead of the stock concentrate.

The accompanying horseradish sauce was also disappointing. It was basically sour cream with a few green onions and horseradish powder. I think it might have been better with some prepared horseradish.

The carrots were just carrots – not my thing but my husband happily ate them just like he has every other time a kit has included carrots.

Finally, the garlic bread included the same “semi-baguette” buns that were included in the EveryPlate meal I referenced above. Once again, I really liked the consistency of the buns. I didn’t like that I had to provide my own butter – I understand that from EveryPlate, but I expect more from HelloFresh -, and I specially didn’t like that the kit included garlic powder instead of fresh garlic.

At the end of the day, however, I am likely to blame for choosing this kit. But I’ve noticed that I’m not particularly excited by many of HelloFresh’ kits – I’ll be suspending for several weeks now as I can’t find much in their upcoming menu I actually want to eat.

Update: I have 3 referrals for 1-week free of HelloFresh. E-mail me if you’d like one.


Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh’ Crispy Parmesan Chicken with Garlic Herb Couscous and Lemony Roasted Carrots + Recipe

Rating: 7/10

Believe it or not, in my half century in this earth, I’d never had Parmessan chicken. Indeed, I’ve never though of cheese and chicken as two ingredients that belonged together. Still, this recipe for Crispy Parmesan Chicken with Garlic Herb Couscous and Lemony Roasted Carrots sounded like something my picky younger daughter would eat – after all, the chicken looks like a chicken milanesa, and she loves milanesas.

Once again, this was a pretty simple recipe to put together and it didn’t really have any exotic ingredients (Israeli couscous was exotic once upon a time, but it’s now easily available). You can make it with ingredients easily found at the supermarket. Still, the chicken was moist and tasty – the smokiness of the paprika really came through. I quite enjoyed it.

The couscous, however, lacked flavor. It would have been better if some of the Parmessan for the chicken (there was more than enough) was used for the couscous.

I don’t like carrots, but my husband – who ate mine – thought the lemony carrots were good. All you do is roast carrot sticks for 20 minutes, with a little olive oil and salt, and then sprinkle grated lemon zest and lemon juice on them. My daughter, who also tried them, wasn’t fond of them, however.

For some reason, the recipe for the chicken called to only bread it on one side. It didn’t say why, so I breaded it on both. It was a good call.

I cooked this kit the day after I got it, and all the ingredients were fresh and I felt of good quality.

I paid $14 for this meal after a discount or $7 per serving. I think that was an appropriate price for a home cooked meal, though obviously I could put it together for less than that if I bought the ingredients myself.

The recipe for the chicken is below. While it calls for 2 chicken breasts, there was enough breading for a third one. It serves two.

Crispy Parmesan Chicken

  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup fresh shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (~6 oz each)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream

Preheat oven to 425F Line a baking sheet.

In a medium to large bowl mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and paprika.

Dry chicken breasts with a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brush sour cream over both sides of the breasts. Transfer them one by one to the breadcrumbs bowl and press breading onto the chicken surface. Transfer them to the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.


Easy Pear Tart

“These pears are getting soft,” my daughter announced from the kitchen.

I sighed. I buy so many produce that goes bad because the child that requested it forgets about it. Indeed, I buy so much food that goes bad before anyone uses it. As it happened, at that very moment I had a two or three week old puff pastry sheet in my fridge. I’d bought a package to make mushroom empanadas for my vegan daughter and only used one sheet.

The softening pears I knew I could use – but the puff pastry? I searched online and found people asking if they could use it a few days to a week after putting it in the fridge – but two to three weeks? That seemed crazy! Still, my pastry sheets did not smell bad, they had no hint of mold in them (I do keep my fridge very cold), they were not slimy and they only had a couple of spots were they’d dried out and even then, not too much. So what the heck! I figured I’d use them.

I placed the puff pastry on a cutting board and rolled it a bit with a rolling pin. Then I transferred it to a lined cookie sheet. I sliced the pears somewhat thinly (I used the two large ones I had) and placed the pear slices on the puff pastry. I mixed some raw sugar with a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger and sprinkled it on the pears. Then I ground some almonds and sprinkled these on top.

I put the baking sheet in the fridge and turn on the oven to 400F. Once it was preheated, I put the baking sheet in the oven and baked it for about 20 minutes.

The results were great. Really, really delicious. And vegan!


Pasta with Zucchini

My daughter had a craving for zucchini tonight (!), and I didn’t really have many ingredients to work with. So I sauted succhini slices in some olive oil with some chopped garlic (I used 2 cloves but should have used 4), cooked some chickpea pasta, and then added it to the pan. The zucchini had started to caramelized by the time I added the pasta and it was pretty sweet. I added some fresh thyme, and my daughter was quite happy with the results.


Meal Kit Review: Breaded Pork Cutlets with Garlic Bread and an Apple and Sunflower Seed Salad + Recipes

Rating: 8/10

Some times the best meals are the simplest. There is nothing complicated about this HelloFresh meal of Breaded Pork Cutlets with Garlic Bread and an Apple and Sunflower Seed Salad. Nothing exotic. It can be simply put together with supermarket staples that won’t have you searching around up and down the aisles and things you already have in your pantry. And it’s very tasty and very satisfying.

All the ingredients came fresh and stayed that way, even though I cooked the meal four days after it arrived. The pork wasn’t dry and the seasoning was spot on. However, they listed the amount of kosher salt to add, but they neither included it in the kit or listed kosher salt as a needed ingredient. I didn’t have kosher salt around, so I used a smaller amount of table salt. The original recipe called for breading the pork in a plastic bag, but I used a bowl as I didn’t have a gallon ziplock bag around and I’m already using too much plastic by getting these meal kits. A bowl worked just as well.

I very much enjoyed the salad. Mine came with mixed greens – though I see HelloFresh also offers it with just arugula – and a yellow apple (golden delicious?). The dressing was olive oil and lemon juice – I’ve not been fond of this combination in other salads, but it worked here. The star of the show were the sunflower seeds, however, which added crunch and a faint sweetness to the whole thing.

I’m not giving this kit a perfect 10, however, because Hello Fresh did not include the butter needed to make the garlic bread and I didn’t have any at home. I suppose I could have looked at the list of ingredients that I needed to have at hand for this recipe before I chose it, but the whole point of meal kits is to not have to go shopping for the ingredients. Particularly in the case of this meal, where all the ingredients are so easily available, if I’m going shopping for butter, I might as well pick up the rest and cook the meal for a fraction of the cost. I understand that Hello Fresh is trying to save money by not providing the butter, but it’s still not cool.

In any case, I think oven-baked garlic bread is not a good choice for this meal. Both the pork and the salad can be put together rather quickly, but making the garlic bread requires preheating the oven, which is both a waste of energy for such a small meal, and a waste of time. Instead, they could have suggested toasting the bread in the same pan where the pork was cooked.

I’m also dinging the recipe because I was still hungry when I finished – even though I ate a lot of salad (there was plenty of it). Perhaps that’s due to not being able to make & eat the garlic bread.

After the discount, I paid $14 for this kit or $7 per serving (regular price would have been $20/kit or $10/serving).

BREADED PORK CUTLETS

  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 4 pork cutlets
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into 2 wedges

In a medium bowl, combine breadcrumbs, salt and spices. In a different bowl or plate, coat pork cutlets with sour cream (you may need to use your fingers to spread it). Transfer the cutlets to the bowl with the breadcrumbs and coat well.

Heat a 1/4″ layer of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, transfer cutlets into the skillet and fry on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to absorb extra oil. Serve with lemon wedges on the side to squeeze on the cutlets.

APPLE AND SUNFLOWER SEED SALAD

  • 1 apple
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 oz spring mix
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 oz sunflower seeds

Core the apple and slice into thin slices. Thinly slice the celery.

Put apple, celery and spring mix into a medium bowl. Dress with olive oil. Squeeze the lemon half on it and mix. Add the sunflower seeds and mix again.


Meal Kit Review: Hello Fresh’ Creamy Dill Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans + Recipe

Rating: 7/10

This week I went back to Hello Fresh, as I didn’t like the offerings of any of the services I hadn’t yet tried – and I was given a good deal ($20 off each of 4 boxes) for re-activating my account. I got just two meals (which frankly, works better for us, as I’m always rushing to cook all kits before they go bad) and tonight I made the first one for my daughter and I. It was pretty good.

This meal of Creamy Dill Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans was extremely simple: you cut and bake some potatoes, baked some green beans, sauteed some chicken and then made a quick sour cream-mustard-dill sauce. Still, it was a tasty and satisfying meal and I very much enjoyed the sauce (recipe below). My daughter didn’t have any sauce, but she liked the other elements.

There were some problems, however. The main one is that there wasn’t enough sauce. What they sent was barely enough for one serving (so it was fortunate my daughter didn’t want to try it). They need to double the ingredients for it. Secondly, the chicken breasts were too thin and they cooked in less than the 4-6 minutes per side that they recommended. Also, the portion size was a bit on the small size (or I was particularly hungry).

This is a very easy meal to put together on your own, however. I think I will add dill to the herbs I grow on my window to be able to easily make it again.

After the discount, I paid $14 for this kit or $7 per serving (regular price would have been $20/kit or $10/serving).

Creamy Dill Chicken

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (12 oz)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tsp chicken stock concentrate
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped dill
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 2 Tbsp water

Pat dry chicken breasts and season with salt & pepper. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add chicken breaths and cook until cooked through and golden, 3-6 minutes per side. Turn off heat, remove chicken and keep warm.

Add the sour cream, chicken stock concentrate, dill, mustard and water to the saute pan and mix well, scraping up the brown bits on the pan. Serve chicken with sauce.


Meal Kit Review: Blue Apron’s Oregano Chicken & Fresh Tomato Pan Sauce with Farro & Zucchini

Rating 7/10

Tonight’s Oregano Chicken & Fresh Tomato Pan Sauce with Farro & Zucchini meal was pretty good. Not good in the “oh my God, Blue Apron rocks” sense, but more in the “that was a satisfying dinner and I have nothing to complain about” way.

The star of the meal was the chicken – and given that the boneless filets were just sprinkled with salt and oregano and then sauteed on olive oil, I’m not sure I can give Blue Apron that much credit for it. Alas, the chicken was fresh and it had never occurred to me to cook chicken so simply, so they do get some kudos. I would definitely make it again, but with thighs, as the breasts were too dry.

The tomato/caper sauce was OK. It was only needed because chicken breast is so dry in general – it’d been superfluous and not missed if we’d had thighs. The farro with zucchini was actually quite tasty. Alas, I don’t like zucchini so I didn’t actually eat the vegetable, and there was far too much of it – but my zucchini-eating daughter liked it. The farro without the zucchini was good. Again, not in a mind blowing way.

The meal was quick to put together – I’m a slow cook and I don’t think it took me over 40 minutes, and there weren’t too many complicated steps. In all, I was happy to find how easy oregano chicken can be and that farro is another whole grain alternative to rice my family members will eat.


Sky Valley Tikka Masala Sauce Review

My local Grocery Outlet store is currently currying a variety of Sky Valley bottled sauces. I picked up the Tikka Masala sauce because it’s vegan, and I’m always looking for stuff that my vegan daughter can eat. Unfortunately this was a bust.

The sauce itself wasn’t bad. While I wouldn’t say it tastes like the tikka masala you can get at Indian restaurants, it’s better than anything I could make myself. Indeed, it tastes very much like Trader Joe’s masala sauce. They are both far more acidic and less sweet than your restaurant tikka masala sauce.

The big problem for my vegan daughter was that the sauce was too spicy. She ate it with lots of rice, but still couldn’t get past the spice. Now, she doesn’t like spicy food, so in terms of level of spice I’d say this sauce is “medium” spicy.

The 13.8 oz bottle of Sky Valley tikka masala sauce sells on their website for $5.30, but it was just $2 at Grocery Outlet and it was on sale for just $1.75 at Walmart (regular price $3.65). It’s produced in Danville (so not to far away from where I live) and exported all the way to the UAE!


Meal Kit Reviews: Purple Carrot Is a Total Failure

I have a vegan daughter, so in my journey to try all meal kit companies, I decided to give Purple Carrot a try.  It was a total disaster.  She did not like any of the three meals she got, and ended up not eating more than a few bites from each.  This is a child (well, teen) who realizes that since she adopted a vegan diet, she does not get to be picky on what she eats – but Purple Carrot failed to meet even her very low standards.

In all, I cooked three meals in one week.  I got a $30-off your first week deal, so I ended up paying $42 for this box ($14 per kit or $7 per portion).  Money very badly spent as most of the food went to waste, even the dog wouldn’t eat it.

The Plans

When you subscribe to Purple Carrot you will get a weekly box with three 2-serving meal kits, for $72.  You can choose a so-called “plan,” high protein, quick & easy or chef’s choice, but that only determines which meals you will get sent by default if you don’t make choices in a given week.  Shipping is free.

Purple Carrot also sells a variety of breakfast and lunch kits that you can add to your order.

The Food

Purple Carrots offers six vegan meal choices a week.   Proteins are usually tofu, tempeh, beans or legumes.  My daughter is a big fan of “fake” meats – in particular fake chicken -, so she wasn’t thrilled that these were not offered.   The recipes are modern and sound like the sort of things you would get at a mid-priced restaurant here in California.  As you could expect, there is an emphasis on vegetables and whole grains, and many of the recipes have Mediterranean, Mexican and Asian influences.

The ingredients were mostly fresh and of good quality, but the garlic came damaged, as you can see. I’ve never seen garlic turn this way, so I’m not totally sure what happened to it. I did e-mail Purple Carrot and got a $5 credit for my next order – which will never happen.

The ingredients came organized by kit/recipe in plastic bags – with some larger ingredients (the bok choy shown here) on their own bags. The garlic came on its own as it was supposed to be used in the other recipes.

The Shipping and Delivery

The box came the day it was supposed to come and during the day. I had an e-mail the week before letting me know when I’d be getting it, but no reminders nor a tracking number.

The Packaging

The kits came inside a cardboard box. Unfortunately, not a particularly well sealed cardboard box. Fortunately, all the contents were fine (save for the garlic).

Inside there were recipe cards, and the ingredients, with freezer packs at the bottom. Everything was crisp. I don’t believe the lining was recyclable but I’m not sure. The freezer had to be thrown on the trash.

The Results

Red Lentil Coconut Dal with Cilantro Chutney & Brown Basmati Rice

This dish might have been OK had I not added the cilantro chutney. As it was, it was so spicy that it was totally inedible for my daughter.

Miso-Chili “Meatballs” with Zucchini Noodles & Sesame Tomato Sauce

The issue here was texture. To my daughter, the zucchini noodles looked so much like pasta that she was expecting them to eat and feel like pasta – the strange texture threw her off and not in a pleasant way. She also disliked the texture of the “meatballs”.

Za’atar Tofu with Mediterranean Quinoa Pilaf & Romesco Sauce

Finally, this dish suffered from being tasteless. Not only was the tofu pretty insipid – something which my daughter has come to expect – but so was the quinoa pilaf.

Despite our experience, Purple Carrot seems to be liked by many people, and given the lack of vegan meal kits out there, it’s probably worth your while to try it for a week if you are vegan (just remember to unsubscribe after you get your box to avoid paying for a second week – in case you don’t like their fare).