Meal Kit Hack: HelloFresh’ Singapore-Style Hakka Noodles with Summer Veggies

Rating 8/10

For the first time, I got to cook a recipe that fit within two of my cooking projects. As a Hakka recipe, this meal of Singapore-Style Hakka Noodles with Summer Veggies fits into my International cuisines project. As a recipe from a meal kit, it fits into my meal kit hacks. Plus, it’s a vegan recipe, which I’m guessing will soon become a project of its own.

What’s even better, is that my daughter liked it! It’s one of the very few vegan meals she’s said she’d like me to make again.

It was, I must admit, more complicated than most of the stir fries that she eats so often now – and it used more pans – but hey, it’s all about the results. I tasted the noodles, and they were delicious – very much like the garlic noodles that you get at a variety of Asian restaurants. I’m definitely going to make them again just for me 🙂

Talking about noodles, I waited to make this dish until I could send my husband to the Asian supermarket to pick up some Hakka noodles. We usually shop at 88 Manor Market, where they have a zillion varieties of noodles, maybe more. But I also wanted him to pick up some pork belly for a different recipe and I wasn’t sure they’d have it there – so I asked him to go to Foodnet instead. I hadn’t been there before, however, and apparently Foodnet is the one noodle-free Chinese supermarket. Go figure. They did have a 4 lb box of Imperial Taste Dried Noodle, which turned out to be vermicelli-like noodles. According to the box, they had a “chewing taste!,” and they did prove to be nicely chewy. They worked great in this recipe even if they weren’t what Hakkas in Singapore would use.

I spent $10 to make this recipe, which resulted in two large bowls. That’s half of what the HelloFresh meal kit would cost (though this kit is from England, so you can’t get it anyway :-). As usual, I count the total cost of the ingredients I had to buy to make this meal, but not of the ones I already had at home.

Plated IngredientsMy IngredientsCost
200 g Hakka Noodles4 lbs Taiwanese dried noodle$5
10 g chives1 pckg fresh chives
(used less)
$2.3
30 g ginger1 lb ginger$2.3
1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce2 garlic cloves + 1/8 tsp chili saucepantry
1 Tbsp soy sauce1 Tbsp soy saucepantry
1 tsp mild curry powder1 tsp mild curry powderpantry
113 g julienned carrots1 carrot$0.2
1 zucchini1/2 zucchinipantry
113 g Green Peas1 cup grozen green peaspantry
200 g extra-firm tofu8 oz extra-firm tofupantry

I will link to my version of the recipe once I post it on my International Cuisines site.


Meal Kit Hack: Plated’s Chicken Marsala/Madeira with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes + Recipe

Rating: 8/10

I had no reason whatsoever to make this meal kit hack other than the fact that I’m enjoying hacking meal kit recipes and blogging about it. Hey, we all have our weird hobbies.

I did, mind you, need to use the rest of the skinless/boneless chicken thighs my husband got me by mistake a few days ago (the first half I used to make this meal hack) and I love Chicken Marsala, but I could have gone with my usual recipe – which is absolutely delicious. Granted, Plated’s recipe for Chicken Marsala is almost exactly like my own (this one doesn’t use shallots, though) – which is probably why this recipe was absolutely delicious as well.

The recipe for the chicken, that is. I did not enjoy the fingerling potatoes at all. The Dijon taste was too weird. Maybe I put too much, I had to guess how much were in the “packets” and “containers” that went with the kits, but more likely it’s just not a good combination.

I did make a couple of changes to the chicken recipe, the main one was that I used Madeira instead of Marsala. I usually keep Marsala around, but apparently I had actually run out of it the last time I used it. Madeira has very similar notes to Marsala, and I figured it would produce similar results. It did! If anything, the Madeira was better than the Marsala (or maybe, this is just a better recipe than mine).

I ended up spending almost the same amount to make this dish than I would have spent buying the kit – $18.3 for me vs $24, if bought as a subscription, or $21.4, if bought at my local Safeway. As usual, I didn’t have to spend money in some ingredients that I already had at home, but had to buy larger quantities than needed of other ingredients. I think

Plated IngredientsMy IngredientsCost
9 oz cremini mushrooms8 oz sliced cremini mushrooms$3
8 oz fingerling potatoes20 oz fingerling potatoes
(used less)
$3
1/8 oz parsley1 Tbsp parsleyhome garden
1/8 oz rosemary2 tsp rosemaryhome garden
1 lemon1 lemon$1.10
2 boneless chicken breasts5 boneless chicken thighs$5.50
2 packets butter2 Tbsp butterpantry
1 container chicken stock1/2 tsp chicken stock concentratepantry
1 packets Dijon mustard2 Tbsp Dijon mustardpantry
1/4 cup flourflourpantry
1/2 cup Marsala1 cup Madeirapantry
2 Tbsp heavy cream1 qt heavy cream
(used less)
$5.70

My local Safeway carries this kit often, and I would consider buying it. My big hesitation is that it comes with chicken breasts, when I really prefer thighs so much more.

Chicken Madeira

  • 5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup Madeira
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp chopped parsley
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Cover each chicken thigh with plastic wrap and then pound until thin. Place flour in a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste. Flour the chicken thighs and leave aside.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until golden, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Using a slotted spoon remove mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

Add olive oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Carefully transfer the chicken thighs to the skillet and cook until done, about 4 minutes per side. Remove to a clean plate and set aside.

Add the Madeira, chicken broth and reserved mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream, parsley and lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 1 minutes. Return chicken to the the skillet and cook until the chicken is warmed through, about 5 minutes.


Meal Kit Hack: EveryPlate Garlic-Rosemary Chicken with Roasted Root Veggies

Rating 7/10

I was planning to make a chicken stew tonight, but my husband bought skinless, boneless chicken thighs instead of the chicken parts I’d asked him to get. So I was left with trying to figure out what to make for dinner with the ingredients I had at hand. I could have easily replicated a meal I’d made before, but I saw it as an opportunity to try something new. I looked through different meal kit company sites, but the only one that had a simple recipe I could make with the stuff I had at home was EveryPlate. Perhaps I should have started with them.

This recipe for Garlic-Rosemary Chicken with Roasted Root Veggies was uncomplicated, but I thought pretty good. My daughter, who didn’t want the rosemary-garlic topping found the chicken flavorless, but that’s to be expected. The rosemary-garlic topping was good, if not gourmet quality. I’m not sure I’d make this particular dish again, however.

I used chicken thighs rather than the chicken breasts that the kit would have used, both because that’s what I had at home and because I much prefer them. I didn’t have a carrot, a sweet potato or Yukon gold potatoes, so I substituted with the two large russet potatoes I had at home.

I made this meal for 3 people. EveryPlate does not have kits that feed three, but their kit for 2 would have cost $13 (including shipping). A kit for 3, if it existed, would have cost $18. I spent ~$7.50 making it for the three of us. Had I used a carrot and sweet potatoes, it might have cost a couple of dollars more. While I didn’t buy any ingredients to make this meal, I had bought some recently enough to qualify as not being in my pantry just waiting to be used.

EveryPlate IngredientsMy IngredientsCost
2 skinless boneless chicken breast fillets6 skinless boneless chicken thigh fillets$5.50
1 carrotommitted
2 sweet potatoesommitted
5 Yukon gold potatoes2 Russet potatoes$1
rosemaryrosemaryhomegrown
1 red onion1 red onion$1
2 garlic cloves4 garlic clovespantry
1 “unit” chicken stock concentrate1/2 tsp chicken stock concentratepantry


Meal Kit Hack: Blue Apron’s Fusilli Bucati Pasta with Summer Squash, Corn, & Tomatoes + Recipe

Rating 8/10

My vegan daughter is into zucchini. She only recently discovered it (i.e. was willing to give it a try) and now she can’t get enough. I made her pasta with zucchini the other day, by just winging it, but tonight I decided to actually shop for and follow a recipe. I decided on this Blue Apron recipe for Fusilli Bucati Pasta with Summer Squash, Corn, & Tomatoes because it was simple and easy to “veganize”.

I did, of course, make some changes to the recipe – as you can see by ingredient list below. Instead of fusilli, I used rigattoni pasta. I prefer to give my kids chickpea pasta, rather than wheat pasta, as it has more fiber and protein – and Grocery Outlet, my closest grocery store, didn’t have chickpea fusilli. I used more garlic and more corn than what came in the Blue Apron kit because it was so recommended by the people who commented on the recipe. I used zucchini instead of summer squash as we’re still in winter and cherry tomatoes because they were easy to find. And I used
Romano/Parmesan/Asiago cheese mix because that’s what I had at home – though instead of adding it to the pan, I served it on the side. I did the same with the butter. That way, both my vegan and my non-vegan daughters were happy. Finally, I used basil instead of parsley because several reviewers said basil worked best.

My kids were very happy. My oldest daughter liked it as much as any meal kit I’d ever bought – and while the youngest didn’t like the tomatoes (she’s currently anti-tomato), she just picked them out. The kids particularly liked the corn, which added crunch and sweetness to the dish. Next time I’ll experiment with using other types of tomatoes to see what work best for both girls.

In all, I spent $9 to make this recipe – a significant saving over the $20 it would have cost if I bought it from Blue Apron. This includes the price of the ingredients I had to buy in larger quantity than needed (e.g. the pasta and corn, which they only had packaged by four cobs), but not of the items I had at home.

Blue Apron IngredientsMy IngredientsCost
½ lb Fusilli Bucati Pasta½ lb chickpea rigattoni pasta$2
2 cloves garlic3 cloves garlicpantry
1 ear corn2 ears corn$4
1 Summer Squash1 Zucchini$1
½ lb Heritage Globe Or Cocktail Tomatoes10 oz cherry tomatoes$2
¼ tsp Crushed Red Pepper FlakesskippedN/A
2 Tbsps Butter2 tsp butterpantry
2 Tbsps Grated Pecorino CheeseRomano/Parmesan/Asiago cheese mixpantry
1 bunch Parsley6 basil leavesgarden

Pasta with Zucchini, Corn, & Tomatoes

This recipe feeds four, it doubles the recipe in the kit.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta of your choice
  • 4 ears of corn
  • 1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Zucchini, cut in 1/3″ thick half moons
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • butter to taste (optional)
  • Grated cheese to taste (optional)

Directions

Put a pot of salted water to boil. When ready, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, cut corn kernels off the cob and discard cob and silks. Season halved tomatoes with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan. When hot, add the zucchini slices all in one layer and fry until brown, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add corn and garlic and stir fry for two minutes. Add the tomatoes, season, and stir fry for another minute. Turn down heat to low. Mix in half of the chopped basil.

Once the pasta is ready, drain, reserving 3/4 cup of cooking liquid. Add pasta to the vegetables and mix. Add the cooking liquid and cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes, or until the water boils off.

Transfer to serving plate(s) and sprinkle remaining basil on top. Served accompanied by butter and cheese.



What Are the Best Meal Kits Out There? Join Me as I Find Out

For years, I had been avoiding meal kits.  I’d get coupons for HelloFresh in the boxes of online orders for all sorts of products or hear my friend rave about the cool Blue Apron meal that awaited her at home, and I’d just shake my head.  To me, the idea of meal kits made no sense.  At a cost of $10-$12 per person, per meal, meal kits rival the cost of take out but you have to go through the trouble of making the meal yourself.   Plus unlike take out, meal kits portions are measured so you won’t have leftovers.  Financially, I figured, I got more bang from my money from ordering out and with less mess.

Meal kits, moreover,  seemed to be the culinary equivalent of painting by numbers:  you end up with something that may be nice but you put no creativity into it (though then again, 99% of my cooking means following a recipe, so what creativity do I ever use?).  Moreover, I worried the meals would not be that tasty and that the portions would not be large enough to satisfy us.

But I’ve been in a huge cooking rut.  I got to the “H” in my international cooking project and I’ve been left with a lot of cuisines that have just not been inspiring me or that require me to hunt for ingredients that are problematic in the first place (pork belly, anyone?).   Moreover, I live with four people with very different diets: a vegan, an uber-picky tween, a low-carb eater and me, who hates vegetables.  Forget cooking a meal that the four of us can eat, I can rarely cook something that will satisfy three of us!   So rather than cook, we’ve been eating a lot of frozen food and take out.  Both horrible options for our taste buds and/or our wallet.  I was ripe for something else.

A few weeks ago, I was doing an online order for Safeway – our local supermarket – when I came across their listings for Plated meal kits.  They had four that I could get as part of my deliver order, with no commitment to a subscription and with no shipping charges.  I figured I’d give it a try and wow, it was a revelation.  The meal was fun to prepare and I did enough of the work (albeit following detailed instructions) that, at the end, I had the same type of satisfaction as when I cook a meal from a recipe I chose and shopped for myself.  The psychology involved reminds me of the story of how boxed cake mixes only took off after marketers began suggesting that cooks add eggs and other elements to make them their own.   And the results were great.  The portion was perfectly sized, the ingredients seemed high quality (unlike what I’m sure the cheap restaurants I order from use), and the results were very tasty.  I wanted more.

And that’s when I remembered those HelloFresh coupons I still had around.   I figured I’d start with them and then give other meal kit services a try and see what they really have to offer and how do they compare to one another.   Some of these companies also offer their recipes online, I will be cooking some of these both to get a greater sense for what each company offers without breaking the bank and to get a sense of just how good or bad of a deal the kits are versus shopping for the ingredients yourself.

I hope you’ll come along in this journey and leave comments of your own experiences with these services – and these recipes.

Meal Kits Subscriptions Reviewed So Far

How Meal Kit Subscriptions Work

While you can now find individual meal kits at supermarkets (Safeway & Albertson’s sell Plated, Walmart  sells their own, Gobble and other ones, Kroger sells Home Chef), most people get meal kits by subscribing to one of many services.  Of these, Blue Apron is the largest one in the US, will HelloFresh, a German company that operates in several countries, following it.  There are currently dozens of meal kit companies, some specializing in particular diets or regions.

A standard meal kit subscription is for a weekly box containing three meal kits, each for two adults.  Some subscription services allow you to order fewer meal kits a week, while others let you order more.  Some subscription services also have kits that feed three or four people.  When you subscribe, you usually chose the “plan” you prefer.

What are Your Meal Choices? Can You Chose What Meals You Get?

Most meal kit companies offer contemporary American food, though I’ll be exploring the meal choice differences between companies.  Some companies offer vegetarian or even vegan options and some even specialize in this fare.  Some have specific plans for specific diets such as paleo and keto.

Most subscription services put up a list of the meal kit options you have every week and allow you to select the ones you want.  You usually have a deadline of 5 to 7 days before you receive the meal to make your choices.  If you don’t make it, many of these services will just send you their own choices.

If you don’t like any meal options for a week or you’ll be out of town, you can simply suspend your shipments for that week – and you can even do that for multiple weeks in advance -, as long as you remember to do it before the deadline.

What Do You Get in a Meal Kit?

Meal kits come with most of the ingredients you need to make the meal you select in the precise amounts called for by the recipe.  For example, the HelloFresh meal kit for Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce came with a sealed package with 2 boneless pork chops,  2 scallions, a handful of small gold potatoes, an apple, little jars with jam and mayo, a little bottle with vinegar, a small plastic packet with a spice mix, a tiny sachet with sour cream and a sealed plastic bag with shredded carrots.

Some meal kits offer fewer ingredients – for example Dinnerly says they keep their meals cheap by only having 5 ingredients in them.

The meals usually call for but do not include staples such as salt/Kosher salt, pepper, butter and oil/olive oil.

The meal kits and recipes I’ve tried so far include a main dish and one or two side dishes – usually a starch and a vegetable.

How Much Do Meal Kits Cost?

Meal kits costs vary by company.  At the bottom of the barrel, you have Dinnerly and Every Plate, which offer 3 weekly meals for 2 for $39 ($6.50 per person, per meal) includding shipping costs.  Both companies get very iffy reviews, but I will assess them myself later in this project.

In the middle, companies like Blue ApronHelloFreshHome Chef and Marley Spoon charge $60-$65 ($10-11 per person/per meal) for the same 3-meals-for-2-people standard subscription.

And at the top, you have companies like Plated, Sun Basket, Gobble and Green Chef offering the standard 3-kits-for-2-people deal for $72 to $84 ($12-14 per person/per meal).

Some companies have premiums on special meals (e.g. HelloFresh will charge $12 more for “gourmet” meals) and most of the larger companies have special deals heavily discounting your first week of meals.  I will be taking advantage of these discounts in doing my reviews of meal kits.

In addition, companies that offer the two meal kits a week option usually charge more for these, and companies that offer meal kits for more than 2 people have a lower per-person cost in these.

Are Meal Kits A Good Value?

This is one of the questions that I will be exploring in this project.  In addition to buying and making meal kits, I’ll be “hacking” meal kit recipes by making them with my own ingredients and comparing how much money I’ve spent on them.  Of course, you can’t buy a single celery rib or a tablespoon of sour cream, so in evaluating my cost I will consider the total cost of whatever I had to buy to make the meal – and exclude the cost of any item I already had at home.

So far, I’ve made five meals from meal kit recipes at an out of pocket cost of $2.75 to $7.50 per person/per meal, and total cost of $5.50 to $18.50 per meal (I increased some of these recipes to feed 3 or 4 people).

My costs, however, reflect the actual ingredients I bought.  Some may be of lower quality than the ones sent by the meal kit companies.  Some of these companies specialize in sending organic produce and free range meats that I may not be able to find at my local discount or regular grocery stores.  Moreover, some of these companies send gourmet items such as demi-glace which I’d have to special order (and will in this particular case for future meals).

And the total cost of the meal does not account for the time shopping for the ingredients or correctly portioning them for each meal.  Time is money, after all, and most people do not enjoy spending it grocery shopping.  Do bear in mind how much you like or dislike to shop and what else you could be doing with your time while evaluating the actual costs of these meal kits.

How Long Does It Take To Prepare a Meal from  a Kit?

Meal Kit companies usually give you an estimate of how long it’ll take you to make a meal from their kits, usually ranging from 15 minutes to an hour.  While I haven’t done this yet, for future meals I will measure how long it actually takes me.  This is more complicated than it sounds, because I seldom *just* make a meal – rather I alternate the steps of making meals with other tasks around the house.  But I’ll try.

What Are the Instructions Like?

All kits come with instructions.  Cheaper kits require you to download them and either print them or follow them from your internet device.  More expensive kits come with printed cards or a magazine with all the recipes for that week’s kits.  Most have step by step instructions, some of which are illustrated.  I’ve found the illustrations helpful specially when trying to determine how to cut vegetables.

The instructions for these meal kits help you maximize your time by intercepting the steps you need to follow to make the main dish and any accompanying side dishes or sauces.  I’ve found this particularly valuable.

What Equipment Do You Need?

The meal kits I’ve used assume that you have a fully stocked kitchen as far a cookware goes, though some provide alternatives in case you don’t (e.g. use a spoon to mash potatoes if you don’t have a masher).  Though some of these recipes try to minimize the number of dishes you use, they are not always successful. I’ve found myself having to wash as many pots and implements following these kits as I’d normally have to wash, if not more.

How do Meals Taste?

This is another question that I’ll aim to answer in this project.  So far, I’ve cooked eight meals from meal kits and five more from meal kit recipes using my own ingredients.  All the meat-based meals have been good to great.  The vegan meals I’ve cooked have been merely OK.  But it’s early in the project.

What is Good About Meal Kits?

For me, it’s the fact that many of the meal kits I’ve tried include not only a main dish (which is often rather simple), but also one or two side dishes and that the chef behind them has done the required planning so that all you have to do is follow the steps in the recipe.

Moreover, the kits include all the ingredients you need for the meal so you don’t have to worry, when you menu plan, that your local grocery store may be out of one.

Finally, there is no food waste.

What is Bad About Meal Kits?

They generate a lot of garbage.  While some of it is recyclable (e.g. the boxes and some of the little bottles and jars), the frozen gel packs are not and they are just being accumulated in landfills.  Moreover, many of the veggies come in plastic bags which are not really recyclable either – of course, this is also true of the packaged produce you buy at the supermarket.  While the meal kits bought at the supermarket also have a lot of plastic packaging, at least they don’t require these non-recyclable gel packs, so they may be a better option environmentally.

The meal kits are also pretty expensive, specially if you have to feed a whole family.  And there are no leftovers – which means that the effort you put into preparing a meal feeds you just once.

Do you have any questions? Leave them below.

 


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 Hacks: HelloFresh Oven-Baked Apricot Chicken Legs with Roasted Potato Wedges and Lemony Broccoli

Rating: 6.5/10

I was inspired to make this recipe for Oven-Baked Apricot Chicken Legs with Roasted Potato Wedges and Lemony Broccoli by actually seeing a similar Plated meal kit on Safeway delivery.  While I’ve been cooking for many years, the idea of using jam as a glaze or sauce for meats is actually very new to me.  I tried it recently in the HelloFresh Pork Chops with Cherry meal kit and I was both impressed and intrigued.

I figured I’d try the  HelloFresh version in order to get a more thorough view at the offerings from this company before moving on to the next.

All in all, this meal was perfectly fine but not particularly exciting.  I did use orange jam instead of apricot, as I prefer that flavor myself, but that’s the only change I made from the kit.  The chicken was pretty good, it was perfectly cooked and moist and I liked the flavor of the skin.  However, it was not spectacular – a home meal, rather than a restaurant quality one.  The potatoes were good but not remarkable, and the lemony broccoli was not a great hit for the family.  Still, they ate it.  In all, it was a perfectly all right family meal which I don’t think I’d make again.

I made a bit more chicken and potatoes that the 2-person recipe called for so I’d have enough for 3 people (one doesn’t eat broccoli so I didn’t increase that amount).  In all, I spent $18.50 out of pocket for this meal for three, instead of the $20-$24 this would have cost me from HelloFresh, though I saved a bit by not having to buy potatoes as I already had them at home.

HelloFresh Ingredients My Ingredients Cost
32 oz chicken legs 3 lbs organic chicken thighs and drumsticks $9
1 tsp paprika 1 tsp paprika $1 for jar
24 oz Yukon Gold Potatoes 3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes pantry
1 Tbsp fry seasoning* 1 Tbsp Homemade fry seasoning pantry
1 lemon 1 lemon $2.50 for bag of lemons
2 oz Apricot jam 4 oz orange jam pantry
2 tsp Dijon mustard 4 tsp Dijon mustard $5 for jar
16 oz broccoli florets 1 lb broccoli $1
1 tsp chili flakes forgot to use 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.


Meal Kit Hack: Sun Basket’s Spanish paella with tofu, mushrooms, and peas

Last night, while making a hack of Sun Basket’s Spanish paella with tofu, mushrooms, and peas, I discovered why meal kits can be great for those home cooks among us that are not great at paying at attention at what we are doing.  I totally messed up this recipe because I did a hack job on it.  The results was a meal that lacked flavor. My vegan daughter ate it, but was not happy with it.  And believe me, as a vegan, her standards are not exactly high.

I had chosen this recipe to hack because my vegan daughter had eaten a vegan frozen paella that she liked before and because most of the ingredients were easy to get.  Alas, that did not mean I actually got them.

Mistake #1: First,  I went shopping for this at my neighborhood discount grocery store which didn’t have frozen peas!  I decided to skip them because peas are mostly filler, but still, they add a nice color to any dish plush some vitamins.

Mistake #2: I didn’t check my pantry before I shopped for this recipe, so it wasn’t until I started cooking that I realized that I didn’t actually have rice! How do you forget that?  True, I don’t cook much with rice because of its high glycemic index, but still that’s a pretty major thing to not realize I was out of.   And given that rice is the MAIN component of paella, you’d think the dish would have been doomed from that point on.  I did find barley while looking for the rice – something I’d bought ages ago and never did anything with it – so I decided to substitute with that.

Then, as I was making the paella, I realized I didn’t have the required paprika either!  OK, in this case, I did have a paprika jar with traces of paprika inside it, but not enough for even the teaspoon this recipe called for.  No matter, I decided to use whatever paprika I had in the jar and add oregano.  Indeed, the paella recipe I use (or used to use when I still cooked rice regularly) calls for both paprika and oregano, and the latter is stronger flavor.

Mistake #3: What makes meal kits great is that most of the ingredients are given to you in the exact amounts that you will use.  Now, for normal people who read recipes carefully, this is probably not a big deal – but I’m not a normal person.  So while I knew the recipe called for 3/4 cups of rice, and I wrote down that I needed 3/4 cups of rice, when it came time to actually adding the rice-cum-barley to the recipe, I doubled it in my mind and added 1 1/2 cups instead!  What this ultimately meant is that there weren’t enough flavor agents (mostly leek and garlic) to flavor this dish sufficiently.  Mind you, I tried to spice it up by adding extra salt, garlic powder and more oregano, but it never quite made it.

Mistake #4: My real mistake, however, was in choosing to make this particular recipe for paella.  Chances are, it was never going to work.  What makes paella great is the saffron flavoring, and this one didn’t call for it (probably because saffron is so expensive).  I didn’t have any at home either (I swear I used to have some but I can’t find it!).  Chances are, this recipe was never going to turn out.

Still, my out of pocket costs for this recipe were just $5.50, which is still less than half of what the meal kit would have cost  There are leftovers for at least 3 more meals – and while I think normally my vegan daughter might skip eating it given how unenthusiastic she was about it last night, we’re out of vegan food at home, so she’ll probably be forced to have it for dinner again tonight 🙂

 

KIT INGREDIENTS I BOUGHT COST
1 leek 2 leeks (used  1) $2.50
3 cloves garlic 3 cloves garlic pantry
4 oz cremini mushrroms 8 oz button mushrooms $2
3 oz grape tomatoes grape tomatoes $1
3 oz roasted red peppers Skipped  –
1/2 tsp turmeric 1/2 tsp turmeric pantry
1 tsp sweet paprika 1 tsp oregano pantry
3/4 cup rice 1 1/2 cups pearl barley pantry
1 cup vegetable broth 2 cups vegetable broth pantry
3/4 lb tofu 1 lb tofu $2
3-4 springs leafy herb 3 basil leaves pantry
1/2 cup peas Skipped

Pantry = an ingredient that I had at home already (whether in the pantry or the fridge).

Sun Basket is a Northern California based meal kit service started by a Slanted Door chef. They use organic produce – which I didn’t. They have vegan and vegetarian options as well as meals appropriate to other specific diet plans and seems to have the highest ratings among the services out there.  I signed up for it and will be trying it next week.  Use my referral link for $40 off your first delivery (I will also get a $40 credit for future deliveries).


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.

 


Plated Hack: French Onion Burgers with Salad

Rating: 5/10

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.