Tag Archives: ready to eat meals

Kirkland Signature Chicken Street Tacos Review

Surprisingly tasty dinner is not the best deal in town

In the last couple of years, I’ve tried a few of Costco’s ready-to-heat meals and I have generally been pleased enough with them. I don’t remember exactly what tempted me to get this particular kit, but it got fairly good reviews online, it wasn’t as carb-heavy as Costco’s pastas and I probably had no other plans for dinner that night. In all, I was fairly happy with it but I found it to be overpriced at the $19 instacart price, so unless I’m actually at Costco and it’s significantly cheaper, I don’t think I’d get it again.

The kit consists of moderately spiced cooked chicken, shredded cabbage, shredded Mexican cheese, a quartered lime, pots of salsa and cilantro lime crema and 12 small flour tortillas. The chicken had a pretty good flavor and it was fairly moist. To warm it up I simply heated up some oil on a skillet and cooked it, stirring often, for a few minutes. It didn’t dry out but it did acquire a nice charred flavor on some parts. The salsa was pretty standard and also a tad spicy – I would have preferred pico de gallo myself, but then again, I often do. The cilantro lime crema was OK, but I also would have preferred plain old sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. Now, I understand the difficulty of including cilantro in a kit like this, but the crema was really not a good substitute. Finally, I did miss the kit not including guacamole.

Altogether, the ingredients put together on a tortilla made very tasty tacos. Perhaps not as good as those from my corner’s Mexican restaurant, but still tastier than I had expected.

The main problem with the kit is that it’s just not very large. I’d say it feed 2 hungry people or 3 if you use up all the cabbage and tortillas. Now, that’s not bad for $19, but not great either, in particular when compared to the just-cooked and ready-to-eat fiesta packs from El Torito – which cost twice as much but give you more than twice the food, plus which you don’t need to heat up.

CookUnity Review

Great Tasting Ready-to-warm Single-Serve Meals

*May 2022 Update*

CookUnity is a new-to-me service that sends you ready-to-warm prepared meals, in single-serving trays. The meals can be warmed by microwaving them for 2-3 minutes or heating them in a pre-heated oven for 8-15 minutes. They are basically a competitor to Freshly, which I’ve reviewed before. They are, however, far superior in quality, flavor and variety. The meals taste very much like the leftovers from a high-quality, perhaps adventures, home meal. Indeed, despite the fact that they come pre-cooked and all in one tray, I’d say they rival the best meal kits.

Single-serve meals do serve a very niche clientele. They don’t really work for us as a family, though they do work to cater with those with special meals (e.g. one of our kids is vegetarian, though she’s currently away in college) or for when my husband is out of town. They would also make a good choice for when/if we go back to working from an office.

The Food

CookUnity’s main selling point is the wide selection of prepared meals they offer. I counted 110 choices of dishes, more than any subscription meal kit or supermarket that I know. They run the gamut of proteins and cuisines, from the exotic to the mundane, from the high caloric, to the diet minded. There are ample choices for vegetarians, vegans and those who keep special diets.

The second selling point in the taste and quality. Everything we tasted ranged from good to very good. The meals included special ingredients, such as hand-made sausages and forbidden rice, and mostly offered a balance of meats to vegetables to carbs. All the nutritional values are listed so you can choose when you order.

We mostly got high-caloric meals and all of them were large enough to satisfy a big appetite for dinner. We even had leftovers a couple of times.

We tried both microwaving and heating them in the oven, and there wasn’t a huge difference in results – with the exception of steak. Few steaks could survive reheating in the microwave, so if you don’t want to fire up your oven, go for other types of meats.

The meals come with an expiration date of either 5 or 7 days, so if you are getting for the whole week you probably should look at the dates when you get them and prioritize the ones that will expire first.

As far as I can tell, CookUnity contracts with professional restaurant chefs in major cities where CookUnity has commercial kitchens, and the chefs conceive of the meals and prepare them. In addition to providing chefs with the kitchens, CookUnity also buys the ingredients, packages and ships the meals and is in charge of marketing and sales. All the chefs need to do is cook.

The Plans

CookUnity’s meals cost between $11 and $13.50 each depending on how many you ordered, I ordered 8 and paid $11.50 each (minus a coupon). Some of the meals – progressively more of them – which have more expensive ingredients have an added cost, usually $4 to $7. The cost is competitive with meal kits and take out, particular now that inflation has hit us hard. The meals were definitely large enough to satisfy – but pay attention to calories. Shipping is free but they do charge taxes – albeit, judged by the amount, it doesn’t seem they included city taxes.

It is easy to skip meals, and you can even suspend your account for up to 2 months. Unsubscribing is simple as well.

The Packaging

CookUnity meals come in a microwave and oven-safe tray made out of paper waste product with a plastic seal. They are not compostable, but CookUnity claims they are recyclable. However, while they have the recycle symbol on them, they don’t have a number. I am thus guessing they are not recyclable at all. It’s a pity, because if they used wax instead of plastic, they probably could be composted and would eliminate a lot of waste (though probably wouldn’t be oven safe).


The meals trays are covered by a plastic film that you throw away, and come with a paper sleeve listing the ingredients and nutrition facts, as well as cooking instructions and date of expiration, which can be recycled. Some meals have sauces or vegetables in removable plastic containers within the trays. You are supposed to remove these before you cook them. These containers are usually recyclable, or you can was them and use them yourself.

CookUnity ships their meals inside an insulated bag, with 3 small freezer packs in the bottom and 3 in the top. The bag and freezer packs are picked up when you get your next set of meals.

The Shipping & Delivery

When I first ordered CookUnity they were shipping to my area through UPS. They were shipping on a Monday for Wednesday deliver. UPS was delayed with my first order, and they just sent it back. I got credit for the meals I didn’t get, which I used to order mostly the same meals a couple of weeks later.

Since then, they’ve changed deliveries in my area and now they apparently deliver the same day the food is prepared. I had no problems getting my meals in subsequent deliveries. Once they texted me to tell me they were going to be late, but weren’t.

Customer Service

Customer service has been stellar. They’ve been prompt in answering my e-mails, solved problems when they existed and responded to texts.

The Meals

These are the meals we tried, I’d have most of them again.

Soft Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragout & Porcini Cream: A+

This might look like gruel, but it’s really a comforting hug in a plate. The dish is exactly what the name describes and it tastes exactly like you hope it will taste. The polenta is soft and sensuos, the mushrooms earthy and delicious. Microwaving this dish did make the mushrooms a bit rubbery – an expected problem – but they weren’t overly so and the taste made up for it. I’m sure they’d be better if reheated in the oven. I’d definitely order this again for when I need unapologetic comfort food.

Handmade Merguez Sausage in Moroccan Couscous Stew with Harissa: A-

by French chef Cedric Nicolas, former sous chef at Belle Vie Food & Wine in LA (now closed)

This was a very tasty dish. The merguez sausages were delicious, if much smaller than those shown, and the whole dish tasted very home made. Definitely a winner. For some reason I enjoyed it less the second time around, but it may just be how I was feeling.

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs: B

by chef Dustin Taylor, last at AC Hotel in LA

My husband had this dish for lunch one day. He can’t remember eating it at all, so it wasn’t memorable. My own recollection is that he liked it but wasn’t enthusiastic.

Lamb Kebab with Turmeric Hummus and Roasted Sweet Potatoes: A-

by Kentucky born chef Akhtar Nawab, owner of Alta Calidad in New York, Otra Vez in New Orleans, and Prather’s on the Alley in Washington, DC

These were kofta-like rather than kebabs per se, as the lamb was ground and mixed with spices, but it was very tasty nonetheless. Kofta tend to be dry, and this was no exception, but it was no drier than pretty much every other one I’ve ever made or encountered. They came with a cumin spiced hummus, which tasted lightly of curry and was also very tasty. It worked as a dip for both the sweet potatoes and lamb. I’m not a huge fan of sweet potatoes, but these were quite good.

Braised Lamb Sabzi with Cumin Seed Rice: A

by Israeli chef Einat Admony, chef-owner of Balaboosta in NYC.

This dish tasted exactly what I expect lamb sabzi to taste. It’s a dish of Persian origin, tangy and fragrant with Middle Eastern spices.

Pasture-Raised Rack of Lamb with Creamy Potato Gratin: B+

by NYC chef John DeLucie, chef at Bedford&co , Ainslie, and Empire Diner, The Lion, and The Waverly Inn

This was a premium dish, almost restaurant-priced at $19. Unfortunately, while it was good, I don’t think it was worth it. The lamb chops were tasty and juicy enough, but they were underseasoned. They needed the accompanying gelatin to brighten them up, but the flavor of the gelatin hid the lambiness of the chops. The potato gratin was very tasty and satisfying in itself, but it matched the lamb very badly. The flavors were not at all complimentary – the strong cheesy flavor in the gratin overwhelmed the lamb, so the two components had to be eaten separately and with sips of water in between. Scalloped potatoes would have been a better choice.

Filipino Adobo Pork Ribs and Jasmine Rice: A

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

The ribs were very tasty, moist and tender. I also liked the rice quite a bit. It came with bok choy which I don’t like, but my dog does.

Gochujang Baby Back Ribs: B+

by Korean-American chef Esther Choi, chef-owner of Mokbar and Ms.Yoo in New York City

I liked these tangy and tender ribs and really enjoyed the sweet corn. The rice was just OK.

Hanger Steak and Coconut Forbidden Rice: A-

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

This was my favorite of the two hanger steak dishes we had. It’s also one we warmed in the oven. As you can see, it wasn’t cooked medium-rare as on the picture in the website, but the beef was tender and flavorful, and I could still taste the beef flavor. The forbidden rice was tasty and fun. The broccolini, however, didn’t work. It was chewy.

Garlic Hanger Steak with Roasted Vegetables and Avocado-Cilantro Lime Sauce: C

by NYC chef Andres Mendez

This was probably my least favorite dish of the bunch. The steak wasn’t very flavorful, and it was completely overwhelmed by the spicy sauce. The vegetables where OK, but one-dimensional. I wouldn’t order it again.

Herb Marinated Steak with Ratatouille and Rice Pilaf: C-

by chef Dustin Taylor, last at AC Hotel in LA

This is another strike-out by Dustin Taylor (who fortunately redeems himself with the next dish). I liked the texture of the beef, tender but somewhat chewy/tough, but it had practically no seasoning and it was almost tasteless. What is worse, the smell and flavor it did have was somewhat fishy. I don’t have any fish in the fridge, so it couldn’t have acquired it from something else. The pilaf was nice enough, but the ratatouille was mostly eggplant and zucchini, with little in the way of onions or peppers. It’s winter, so I understand the latter, but still! This is not a dish I’d order again.


Grilled Tagliata Steak with Arugula, Parmesan and Lemon: D

by NYC chef John DeLucie, chef at Bedford&co , Ainslie, and Empire Diner, The Lion, and The Waverly Inn

This is the 3rd subpar steak dish I get from CookUnity, and this helps to cement my opinion that steak just does not lend itself to being cooked in advance and re-heated. This steak was tough, a little chewy and not all flavorful. I did like that it came with a fresh side salad, but it also lacked flavor. I don’t complain often that a meal has too much steak and too little salad, but that was the case here. In all, I would not order it again. Note that your millage may vary, the one CookUnity steak we liked is one that we warmed in the oven rather than the microwave.

Braised Beef and Polenta: C

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

On the one hand, there is nothing I can fault this dish for. It tasted exactly like what I expected it to taste. On the other hand, there are more delicious ways to braise beef, some wine and caramelized onions would have done wonders. Still, a satisfying meal.

Update: I got this dish for a second time, and it now came with only a tiny bit of sauce. There was too little to even moisten the meat and polenta, and the meat was overcooked and terribly dry. Without the sauce, it was also rather unseasoned. I wouldn’t get it again. (Note: photo is from the first time I got it).

Chicken Tagine: A-

by Israeli chef Einat Admony, chef-owner of Balaboosta in NYC.

This was a pretty good rendition of chicken tagine with couscous. The chicken was a little tough, but it was flavorful and the couscous was quite good when mixed with the vegetables.

Update: I got a coupon for CookUnity which arrived pretty much at the same time that I was tired of cooking, so I re-subscribed. These are the meals I’ve tried since the original review (more will be added):

Old Version

Spiced Chicken With Pork Chorizo Roasted Peppers: B+ (downgraded from A)

by chef Dustin Taylor, last at AC Hotel in LA

The first couple of times I had this dish, I really enjoyed it. I found the chicken nicely spiced, moist and tender, the rice flavorful and harmonious with the hearty chorizo/pepper mix. This last time I wasn’t as a big a fan. I felt the chicken was a bit scrawny and needed more flavor, and the Mexican chorizo seemed less integrated into the other ingredients. There also seemed to be les peppers. I’d still order it again, but hope it’d get better.

Chicken alla Cacciatora: B+

by NYC chef John DeLucie, chef at Bedford&co , Ainslie, and Empire Diner, The Lion, and The Waverly Inn

This is a perfectly acceptable version of chicken alla cacciatora. The chicken, particularly the skin, was tasty and the sauce tasted exactly like you’d expect it to, though perhaps it was a little too heavy on celery for my taste. I was a bit disappointing at the size of the portion. The chicken itself was sort of scrawny and there was no starch as a filler (except for carrots, but I’m not fond of carrots myself). A larger portion of chicken or some starch to go with the sauce would have given this dish an A.

Coq au Vin with Tagliatelle Pasta: C

by French chef Cedric Nicolas, former sous chef at Belle Vie Food & Wine in LA (now closed)

This is a premium dish, costing $16. I actually found this to be a lazy dish. There is really no excuse to not make a good coq au vin, it’s a simple recipe and one that is ideal as a leftover. But this one was a failure. The main sin is that I don’t believe the chicken had been braised in the red wine sauce, despite the fact that that’s the whole point of coq au vin. The chicken was bland and had not incorporated any of the flavors of the sauce – my guess is that it was cold when it was plated alongside it. Most tellingly, it had not been stained at all by the red wine, which is what happens when you braise chicken in a red wine sauce for a while. The sauce itself was rather pedestrian and there wasn’t very much of it. Still, the dish wasn’t unpleasant to eat, so I gave it a C, but it certainly did not meet expectations. If you do want to eat a good coq au vin, here is the recipe I’ve used for the last 30 years.

This post contains an affiliate link that gives you a discount and, if I’m subscribed at the point when you claim such discount, might give me one as well for future purchases. As always, look to see if there are better discount deals elsewhere.

Review’s Thistle’s Korean Style Veggie & Rice Noodles and Togarashi Tofu

Rating 6/10

This was the dinner offering for Wednesday, this week, but my daughter was out that night so she took it to school this for lunch today. It looked like a salad to her, so she thought it was a lunch. That meant, she ate it cold.

She thought it was fine, but she did not like one of the herbs – probably the cilantro. It reminded her of a deconstructed spring roll (her words). She said she’d eat it again, but wasn’t enthusiastic about her.

Because she took it to school without my knowing it, I wasn’t able to photograph it.

Freshly Delivers Ready to Heat Meals, but are they any good?

Update: I re-subscribed to Freshly once again in May 2022, following a week of CookUnity meals. This review will be updated as we eat the meals.

Freshly is a 21st century TV-dinner delivery service. What they send is freshly prepared, fully cooked, microwavable meals. Sort of like Hungry Man, but with fresher and better quality ingredients, updated recipes and no preservatives. The meals take 2 to 3 1/2 minutes to warm up and 2 more minutes before you can plate them (though nothing stops you from eating them directly from the tray, they do look better plated).

While these single-serving meals don’t really work well for dinner as a family, I do find them useful when my husband is out of town – with one daughter in college and the other with an erratic schedule, I often find myself having dinner alone. And, of course, they make convenient lunches any time I don’t have leftovers. Still, they are pricy so I prefer to think of them as dinner fare.

When I first tried Freshly, it was the first service of its kind. Since then, others have come along. I’ve really enjoyed CookUnity, a service where the meals are planned and theoretically cooked by professional chefs, which I felt was a couple of notches better than Freshly, but I decided to give Freshly another try to see if competition has made them better.


The Plans

You can subscribe to get anywhere between 4 and 12 meals a week, and a box is delivered weekly. Meals cost between $9 to $12.50 each, depending on how many you buy. I chose the standard 6-meals deal, which costs $10/meal or $60 a week – which is about the same price as meal kit companies such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh. They now also offer some premium meals at premium prices, usually $1-$2.50 more. Shipping used to be free but it’s now $10/week.

If you use my referral link you can get $90 off, I think divided between your first 3 boxes. I’d also get a $30 credit.

The Food

Freshly offers 48 meals to chose from, a significant expansion from the 30 they had in the past. They have greatly expanded their vegetarian and vegan offerings, they now have 6 of the latter – making it a good choice for those with pesky vegan children. The recipes are modern and classic American fare, plus some things in fashion (like Korean bibimbap). I found most of the dishes to be filling.

I thought the quality of the food was very good (save for one dish). But personally, I don’t think I’d use them frequently simply because they don’t have enough meals that appeal to me.

The meals take between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 minutes to heat up, plus 2 minutes to rest.

The Shipping and Delivery

When I first signed up, they assigned me to get my meals on a Wednesday. That’s not really convenient for type of food which is best suited for busy weekdays. However, I was able to change my preferences to get my meals on Mondays in the future.

The meals were delivered during the day with plenty of time to use them.

The Packaging

Freshly’s meals come in microwavable plastic trays, covered with a film of plastic – just like TV dinner. They do have a recyclable cardboard sleeve around each one that includes information about the meal’s ingredients and nutrition.

The trays come in a recyclable cardboard box. Both the freezer packs and the lining of the box are landfill material. It did bother me that Freshly tries to make itself appear more environmentally friendly by claiming that “most” of the lining – made out of recycled denim – is biodegreadable. That may be the case, but you cannot compost the lining (I called Freshly and confirmed this), and biodegradable matter thrown in a landfill produces methane and other greenhouse gases, for which reason most modern landfills are packed tightly so no biodegradation occurs. Freshly surely must know this, so it’s attempting to deceive its customers which gives me a bad feeling.

Same with saying that their freezer packs are “non toxic’ – well, I guess it’s something – but why not provide compostable freezer packs or those that can be emptied down the drain?

The Results

The newer meals I tried are on top. Click on the name for a thorough review.

Hearty Veggie Bolognese with Red Lentil Ziti & Parmesan Cheese
Teriyaki Salmon Cakes with Brown Rice & Spicy Green Beans
Probably as good as it gets for refrigerated TV meals.
Ranch Chicken with Broccoli-Cheddar Cakes
Dry chicken, flavorless ranch, this was a thumbs down.
BBQ Shredded Beef with Roasted Carrots & Cornbread
A pretty solid meal
Rustic Chicken with Mashed Potatoes & Veggies
As good as chicken & mashed gets in a TV tray
Garden Veggie Bowl
A nice veggie bowl
Steak Peppercorn
Surprisingly tasty, juicy steak and tasty mashed potatoes

In all, they were clearly superior to frozen meals, and they were of about the same quality as meals you make from meal kits, and – depending on the restaurant choices in your area – probably about the same quality as takeout/delivery. I think at $10/meal, they’re a bit overpriced – but at $7 (what I paid for each with a promo), they make a lot of sense – at least if you are not a picky eater, and you don’t mind repeating your meals frequently.

I think that if you like enough of their offerings, Freshly is a good solution for people who want a nice meal at work/school and don’t want to go out to a restaurant or get take/out. They are certainly very quick to microwave. They also work for families like mine where it’s hard to know who is going to be eating dinner at home each night. If they had a whole line of vegan meals, I might very well get them for my vegan daughter. And they are definitely a good idea for single people who don’t want to cook for themselves every night.

But obviously, they cannot replace family dinners – the idea of each one of us eating something from a microwave is sad. If you are a family that sits together for the dinner every night, these are not for you.

If you do subscribe, you can use this referral link to get $30 off your first three 6-meal boxes ($90 off total).

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.