Mom’s (and maybe Betty’s) Russian Tea Cookies

Tis the season to share one of Mom’s favorite Christmas cookie recipes! Mom loved to bake, could practically whip something up in her sleep, and her memory lives on in her recipes.

This is one of my favorites because these cookies are not overly sweet. They’re subtle, and the vanilla gives them more of a grown-up cookie feel than the standard (yet fun) sugar cookie cutouts. Perfect! Mom made these, and mounds of other baked goodness, every Christmas. As I searched online for a photo of the Russian Tea Cookies, I found that Mom’s recipe follows Betty Crocker’s pretty darn closely…I guess Mom and Betty were besties.

Powered Sugar Coated Goodness!

These will be devoured by everyone around your table and on your list!

Russian Tea Cookies
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Blend in flour and salt. Add walnuts. Shape into 1-inch balls and bake at 375 for 14-17 minutes. When cool, roll in powdered sugar. Do not exceed baking time or cookies will crumble. Seriously, watch the baking time–I have a note on my recipe card from Mom about this!


Review: CineBistro – Waverly Place (Cary NC)

I had the pleasure of attending a dress rehearsal for the newest CineBistro location at Waverly Place in Cary. Many thanks to Tara Mead Schaup, Event Manager, for coordinating an evening of cocktails, great food, and previews. I attended as a guest of a guest and was not compensated for writing about my experience. As always, this review is my honest opinion.

CineBistro is a movie theater with in-theater dining, a full-service bar, and a lounge. If any of you are thinking, ‘I know what this is, I’ve been to Raleighwood,’ stop right now. I’m not here to pick on the RW, but that’s like comparing an AMC Pacer to a BMW. Yes, it’s that different.

The bar and lounge are comfortable in a modern lodge sort of way. I would compare it to the bar at a Firebird’s restaurant. The bar menu includes a fair selection of beers–from domestic and imports to IPAs, a whole mess of liquor drinks (seriously, 22 of them), and a wine list better than I’ve seen at some restaurants. You can spend $8 on a glass of Cabernet or $110 on a bottle of Perrier-Jouet, and everything between.

But you know what I really want to talk about. The food. The food! This isn’t fast food or what you might think movie theater food would be. This is savory, flavorful, sit-down restaurant food.

To kick things off, I had The Bay Crab Dip (lump crab and three cheeses served with aged cheddar pull-apart rolls for dipping). The serving was plenty for two people to share, and it was all crab. I mean, if you like crab, get the crab! It was cheesy, too, and did I mention that it was nearly all crab? The rolls were dense and heavier than I prefer, but that’s a matter of personal taste. My main course was the Ribeye Cheesesteak (8 oz. shaved ribeye, slow-roasted in-house, with sautéed peppers, caramelized onions and topped with creamy American cheese). Even though the cheese was MIA (remember, this event was to work out the kinks), this was possibly one of the best cheesesteak sandwiches I have ever experienced. The beef was tender, not dry, flavorful, and there was plenty of it. It was served with one of my favorites–sweet potato fries. Can’t go wrong there. High points on the food.

Ribeye Cheesesteak with Sweet Potato Fries
Ribeye Cheesesteak with Sweet Potato Fries (that’s half the sandwich in the photo; I lost my mind when it arrived and ate half before taking a photo)

Dessert. I skipped because I’m on a low sugar diet, but I did sample the Butterscotch Bourbon Creme Brûlée to my left and the Cineful Chocolate Cake to my right. It’s tough for me to rate desserts since I’ve kicked sugar–everything tastes overwhelmingly sweet now. However, my two friends who let me sample theirs both said they were delicious. Note: the chocolate cake is both gluten-free and soy-free. There are several vegetarian and gluten-free dishes on the menu. Bonus points there. The menu has a lot to choose from. You can get a Caesar salad, a 9 oz. filet, or pan-seared Atlantic salmon, to list a few items.

Butterscotch Bourbon Creme Brulee
Butterscotch Bourbon Creme Brulee
Cineful Chocolate Cake
Cineful Chocolate Cake

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the seats. Oversized, leather, electric push-of-a-button recliners. Can you see it: a glass of red wine, a nice ribeye cheesesteak sandwich, and a recliner. Movie? What movie?

You can purchase your tickets online, at the kiosk in the lobby, or at the ticket counter. But they’ve made the experience even better by allowing you to reserve your specific seats in the theater. No searching in the dark for an open seat! This is not Southwest folks, this is reserved-seat civilization.

Were there snafus? Of course. Some received their food quickly, while a couple of us waited. There was a glitch with the computer, but as soon as it was apparent some of us were not eating, servers from other stations quickly came to pitch in and re-take our orders. We were allowed two cocktails at this event, and when my friend ordered her second, it arrived about 20 minutes later. I’m not sure if this was connected to the computer glitch, but the staff never seemed flustered, and they were apologetic and professional. I didn’t mind eating late–the whole point was to give the team a practice run before they open this weekend on September 4.

How much for all of this cinematic glitter and glam? My evening described above, on a “live” night, would break down like this:

Movie ticket – $14.50
Cabernet (glass) – $8
Crab Dip – $13.50
Cheesesteak Sandwich – $15.00
Gratuity (17.5% added for you) – $6.40
Total – $57.40

That’s steep for my budget, so I won’t be doing my Oscar marathon here in January. However, I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the whole experience. I’ll definitely go back, probably for a special occasion or a girls night. For the couples out there, this would be a great date night. I recommend giving it a try. I think you’ll like it!


Gourmet Meals in a Box: And the Winner is…

Y’all know I’ve done two weeks each of Plated, Blue Apron, and Hello Fresh because I’ve prattled on about it in several posts. These are nice folks who will ship to your door a box of fresh produce, meats, spices and sauces to take the burden of recipe finding and grocery shopping off your shoulders. I like this!

I thought I liked cooking, but it turns out I don’t like cooking that much. Even with the entrée selections and shopping done for me, cooking three nights per week for myself is a lot of work, and I already have a full-time job. Enough! But these services are turn-on/turn-off as you please, so you can order up a box any time you want without being locked into any kind of weekly thing. I like this too!

Beyond the convenience, I prepared and enjoyed some phenomenal meals!

Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice
Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice

I mean, look at the fresh ingredients. I can barely stand it!

Bowl of long life noodles
One of the ingredients from this week’s Plated box

Which is my favorite? It’s a close call, but I have to say Plated wins! Here’s how it scored out on a scale of 1-5:

Plated LogoDelivery & Packaging – 3 (on-time delivery, but too much non-recyclable packaging)
Ease & Prep Time – 5 (I was able to prepare the meals in a reasonable amount of time!)
Taste – 5 (nearly all of the Plated dishes were delicious)
Value – 5 (about $8 per plate–I got more than 2 servings per recipe)
Grand Total – 18

Blue Apron LogoDelivery & Packaging – 4 (on-time delivery, and packing material was the most reusable of the three)
Ease & Prep Time – 3 (the prep time was longer than I would like–too much time in the kitchen)
Taste – 4 (first box was very good and second box was ho-hum)
Value – 4 (about $9 per plate–I got just a smidge over 2 servings per recipe)
Grand Total – 15

Hello Fresh LogoDelivery & Packaging – 3 (on-time delivery, but too much non-recyclable packaging)
Ease & Prep Time – 5 (meals were easy to prepare and not a bunch of time spent in the kitchen)
Taste – 4 (I liked most of the dishes; a couple were so-so)
Value – 5 (about $7 per plate–I got way more than 2 servings per recipe)
Grand Total – 17

Keep in mind that this is all very much a matter of personal taste (you know, when it comes to taste). What is delicious to me might be so-so to you, and what I find ho-hum might be delectable to you. Honestly, all three are providing great quality food and an affordable convenience that I hope is around for a long time. At least until I have a personal shopper/chef (which, it’s safe to say, will be never!).

If you would like to give Hello Fresh a try, feel free to use my KellyGropp discount code for $40 off your first box. Use code 3FEPQM. You get $40 off, I get $20 off the next box I purchase. Win-win!

If Plated and/or Blue Apron provide any discounts, I’ll be sure to share those on the Chubs Lived Here facebook page.  Like CLH on facebook so you don’t miss any give-aways or discounts!

Congratulations to Plated–I’ll be ordering a box soon!


Gourmet Meals in a Box: Hello Fresh Week 2

Week two of Hello Fresh is in the books! One of this week’s dinners was fantastic, while the other two were good. Here’s a peek at what they sent me and what it looked like after my culinary impressionism.

 Pan-Seared Salmon with Honeydew-Cucumber Salsa & Watercress Salad

This one is tough to judge because it is, after all, a matter of personal taste. Remember in week one of Hello Fresh when I loved the salmon-sweet potato cakes because they didn’t taste too salmony? Well the pan-seared salmon is full-on salmon. No sweet potatoes to take the edge off that fish taste. So, while I think it was a good dish, it wasn’t my favorite because the salmon tasted like salmon. I can’t put this on Hello Fresh. I could have chosen an alternate dish, but I think those salmon-sweet potato cakes tricked me into thinking I really liked salmon!

Hello Fresh Pan-Seared Salmon
Pan-Seared Salmon tasted like salmon

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Saltimbocca with Sautéed Spinach & Garlic-Sage Sauce

This dish was delicious! The prosciutto got just slightly crispy. The chicken was juicy tender, and the sage, prosciutto and sauce gave it all the flavor it needed. The side of sautéed spinach loaded with garlic and grape tomatoes is nearly a stand-alone for me. This is one of my favorite summer sides.

Hello Fresh Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken
Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken

Curried Jamaican Beef & Collard Greens with Spicy Red Chili & Creamy Polenta

This dish sounds wonderful, it has the ingredients to be wonderful, but it lacked something. Perhaps if the onion had been diced rather than thinly sliced it would have married with the beef a little better. The ground beef tasted as though all the flavor was on the outside, but when I started chewing, it was just plain beef on the inside. Does that make any sense? No? The creamy polenta was redeeming–who doesn’t love polenta?

Hello Fresh Curried Jamaican Beef
Curried Jamaican Beef & Collard Greens

The box was delivered on the day specified, and everything was kept cool and seemed fresh. However, the box was partially open. One flap had popped away from the strip of packing tape across the top. The other flap was taped down, and because of the styrofoam box within the box, there didn’t seem to be any chance of tampering.

Hello Fresh box partially opened
Box arrived like this. All flappy.

The recipes were easy to prepare, and I was quite close to hitting the HF time estimates. Hello Fresh uses more packaging than I would prefer. If I were to use any of these services on a regular basis, I doubt I would get much sleep for all the worry over the non-recyclables.

Hello Fresh packaging
Less individual packaging, but the styrofoam liner is too much

Room for Improvement

  • Nutrition labeling – for example, on the “Stock Concentrate.” This is important to me.
  • Reduce the amount of packaging and use more recyclables.

Would I Recommend Hello Fresh?

Yes. These recipes were all easy to prepare, they did not keep me in the kitchen too long, and about half of them were quite tasty (which, again, is a matter of personal opinion). The portions were large which meant I had leftovers for lunches and dinners beyond the box. Bonus!

Let me know if you’ve used Hello Fresh and what you think. Next up is my comparison of the three (Plated, Blue Apron, and Hello Fresh). Stay tuned!


Gourmet Meals in a Box: Hello Fresh Week 1

Hello Fresh is the third and final gourmet, cook it yourself, meals delivered to your home service I am trying. This one was the most difficult to register and choose my menu, but sometimes things are just difficult for me. I got caught in a loop where it asked me to choose my menu, and when I clicked to choose my menu, it asked me to choose my menu. I went round and round like that for about 10 clicks before I quit. I logged in the next day and all went well.

I did the same with Hello Fresh as I did with the others and chose a box with three meals to be delivered once per week. The package was delivered on time and everything looked good and fresh. The only snafu was that something leaked and some things were wet and sticky, so I had to wipe down the containers and bags and then sanitize my refrigerator once everything had been used.

Of the three, Hello Fresh delivered the largest box and it was lined with a styrofoam cooler. There was less packaging of the individual ingredients, but overall, the styrofoam was a lot of non-recyclable stuff. I looked it up, and I cannot recycle the styrofoam at my receptacle.

Styrofoam packaging
The styrofoam box within the box

The first three recipes were:

Old Bay-Spiced Salmon & Sweet Potato Cakes with Tomato-Arugala Salad

I was a little skeptical about these because I often find salmon more fishy-tasting than I prefer. What a pleasant surprise these were! The mashed sweet potato folded into the salmon took the edge off and gave it great texture and flavor. They came out great and I even froze a few for later (bonus!). The recipe card said it should take about 50 minutes to prepare, and of course I went over, but not by much.

Old Bay-Spiced Salmon & Sweet Potato Cakes from Hello Fresh
Old Bay-Spiced Salmon & Sweet Potato Cakes with Tomato-Arugala Salad

Cuban-Style Beef Picadillo with Red Beans and Rice

This dish was delicious! The first bite I took, I thought it was okay, but by the third bite I couldn’t  shovel it into my mouth fast enough. A friend joined me for dinner that evening and she, too, said it was a tasty dish. The green olives and golden raisins were the perfect mix of sweet and salty. The beef and tomatoes over the Basmati rice and beans made for a comfort food dream. This was some good eats. The time stamp said 35 minutes, but I think it took me more like 45 or 50. Well worth it.

Cuban-Style Beef Picadillo from Hello Fresh
Cuban-Style Beef Picadillo with Red Beans and Rice

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Compote, Spinach Salad & Crispy Shallots

Of the three recipes, this was my least favorite, but it was still good. The problem was, I got an email from Hello Fresh the day before delivery telling me the pork was not up to their quality standards. There was no evidence that the pork was harmful to eat, but they suggested that I not cook it. I appreciate that they caught the problem and notified me. And really, this happens at grocery stores too, so no points deducted for having an issue with one of the products. They were on top of it and said they would reimburse me the cost of the pork plus give me a $10 account credit for the inconvenience.

However, I don’t know that I purchased the right cut of pork at the local Harris Teeter to replace it. And, I have a history of preparing tough pork. I’m having total deja vu here because I am certain I made that same statement about beef recently. Hmm, apparently I can’t prepare meat properly!

Anywho, the dish had good flavor, but the pork was tough. I had another friend over for dinner that evening, but given her vegetarian status, she was not affected by my poor pork-cooking skills anyway. She said the apple compote and spinach salad were great. Hello Fresh said 35 minutes; I delivered in 45.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops from Hello Fresh
Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Compote, Spinach Salad & Crispy Shallots

On a scale of 1 to 5, here’s how the first week of Hello Fresh went:

Delivery and Packaging – 3.5

I cannot move beyond the fact that the entire box was lined with a styrofoam cooler. Additionally, this was the largest box of the three. And there was the issue of the leaky something and having to wipe things off and sanitize my refrigerator.

Quality of Ingredients – 4

With the exception of the pork, and remember I said I would not deduct points for that because it can happen to anyone, everything was fresh and of good quality. Again, nutrition labeling on the ingredients which are not fresh fruits or vegetables would be helpful. I guess I’ll just say that ’til I’m blue in the face.

Ease of Preparation – 4.5

Either I’m getting better at this cooking thing, or these were some easy-peasy recipes. The time involved was not much more than suggested, and each recipe called for slicing and dicing only 5 ingredients. Only 5!

Taste – 5

These recipes were delicious, and again, at least one of them was a dish I would not have thought I could prepare (the salmon cakes). I’m pretty pleased with myself!

Value/Price – 5

The cost is $69 per box, which includes three recipes, each providing dinner for two. That comes to $11.50 per plate. I got more than two servings from each recipe, so it was more like $7.50 per plate. For me, this is a super deal, because I typically spend between $9 and $12 per day on lunch when I don’t prepare something ahead of time (which is typically my predicament).

So there you have the first week of Hello Fresh. I have one week to go beginning tomorrow. Let me know if you have any questions–I am always happy to chit-chat with you all!


Gourmet Meals in a Box: Blue Apron Week 2

My second week of Blue Apron has come to a close. Although some of the recipes were more time-intensive than I would prefer and, in my opinion, not quite as yummy as the other service I sampled (although that is a matter of personal taste), I had some pretty good dinners from my own kitchen without ever having to step foot in the grocery store. Success! Without further ado, here’s how the last week played out.

Crispy Fish Tacos with English Pea Guacamole & Pea Tip Salad

Crispy Fish Tacos
Crispy Fish Tacos were a little grease-logged

I love fish tacos, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m a little fussy about them. These fish tacos were fine. Not great, not bad, but sufficient. Not a glowing endorsement of my own cooking! I don’t think I got the oil up to temp before I added the coated Mahi Mahi, which left the fish soggy with grease. The guacamole was the main accompaniment in the tortilla, and while it was decent, there was no onion. I missed the onion. And there were peas. Blue Apron incorporates seasonal elements to ensure the freshest ingredients possible, but it felt like they didn’t know what to do with the peas, and someone said ‘just throw ‘em in the guac!’ The peas did no harm, but they didn’t seem to have a purpose, either. I couldn’t discern the flavor of the peas in the guacamole, nor did they add much texture. The salad included pea tips (I’m assuming the leaves from the pea plants) and golden beet. I don’t care for red beets (as I thought all beets were), but I completely enjoyed the golden beet in this salad. Points for introducing me to this lovely vegetable!

Pulled Chicken Mole Quesadillas with Monterey Jack Cheese & Shredded Cabbage Salad

Chicken Quesadilla
Chicken Quesadilla…burned

These had a lot of flavor and were more hearty than your average chicken quesadilla, likely due to me leaving the cooked chicken in large chunks when I pulled it apart, and the sauce having tomato paste and Mexican dark chocolate, which gave it a serious presence. This was no wimpy quesadilla. In fact, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, the dark chocolate could have been toned down—less of it would have taken this dish from very good to delicious. But very good is very good, right? I burned the first one, standing right in front of it, never taking my eyes from it. Completely my fault. Perhaps I should be subscribing to take-out instead.

Pork & Tomatillo Pozole with Hominy, Avocado & Radishes

Pork & Tomatillo Pozole
Pork & Tomatillo Pozole was good!

With ground pork, lime, and tomatillos, this soup was quite tasty. The garnishes were key—radish, cilantro, and roasted pepitas sprinkled on top added a ton of flavor. This was a fairly simple and quick recipe to make, and I had 3 ½ meals from it. You know I like that. I’ll add this recipe to my book because I like simple, quick, and tasty all together!

The delivery arrived on the appointed day this week (not a day early), and everything was kept cool and seemed fresh. The recipes were all fairly easy, although some were a time drain (a lot of slicing and chopping).

Blue Apron uses less packaging than the other service I tried, which I like. Fewer plastic bottles, a more reusable insulated lining in the box, and a smaller box.

Blue Apron Packaging
Blue Apron Packaging

Room for Improvement

  • Nutrition labeling – I am stuck on the nutrition labeling thing. Tell me how much sugar is in the little bottle of “Golden Mountain Sauce.”
  • Possibly offer the option of having the vegetables pre-chopped for an extra $5. I would pay that so I could eat dinner closer to 9pm vs. 10pm.

Would I Recommend Blue Apron?

Yes, but I would ask if you enjoy spending time in the kitchen (or have time to spend in the kitchen) and also note that even though I found these six recipes to be good, they did not meet the standard set by Plated (in my opinion). It is completely a matter of personal taste. The best part is that I didn’t have to find recipes, shop, and carry it all up the stairs. All I did was push the box through the door and start cooking!

Drop a comment if you have used Blue Apron (or any of the other services). I’d love to hear what you think!



Gourmet Meals in a Box: Blue Apron, Week 1

Last week I received my first shipment from Blue Apron, another of the ingredients-and-recipes-delivered-to-your-home services. It was easy to sign up and choose which delivery day worked best for me, and I can start/stop deliveries at any time–there is no contract or commitment. The box was delivered a day earlier than scheduled, and luckily, this turned out fine. However, if I had been travelling (like the week before) and not been home, all of that food could have spoiled. But I was home, and the spoils were mine!

In the box were the ingredients to prepare three recipes, each recipe providing two servings (dinner for two). I should have measured the box from Plated, because it looks to me that the Blue Apron box is smaller, which I like. Reduce, reuse, recycle! The packing material seems less voluminous, too. Here’s what it looked like inside the box.

Open cardboard box with foil bubble wrap inside
It looks spacey…in a non-ditzy way. Ha!
Inside the cardboard box are fresh vegetables, spices, and meats
All the fresh goodness inside the box!

Beneath the fresh veggies and spices were the three packages of meat set atop two frozen gel packs. As with the first service, I signed up for three recipes per week, and the eats they sent me were:

Dukkah-Spiced Salmon with Spring Vegetable & Oyster Mushroom Ragout

The recipe card said 35-45 minutes. When I read through the recipe, the actual cooking time was about 25 minutes, so Blue Apron was estimating a quick 10 to 20 minute prep. Apparently, they estimated that I also have a kitchen staff, or at the very least a sous chef, because I finally got to enjoy the meal 1.5 hours later. Sheesh! I am a little slow with the slicing and dicing action, but an extra 45 minutes is borderline ridiculous. Especially when I’m hungry sliding into hangry. Good thing the finished product was quite tasty! There was a whole lot of fennel involved, which you would think could be overpowering, but it wasn’t. There were enough other flavors that it all came together perfectly.

Blue Apron Dukkah-Spiced Salmon with Spring Vegetable & Oyster Mushroom Ragout
The Salmon was flavorful!

Laotian Larb Gai with Sticky Rice, Peanuts & Mint

This recipe had a cooking time listed of 15-25 minutes. Again, my feeble kitchen skills mocked me, but not nearly as badly as with the first recipe. This dish was so incredibly delicious that I ate until I didn’t feel well. Yep, the old self-inflicted yucky tummy syndrome. I’ll never learn. The ingredients included lime juice and zest, red onion, mint, chile pepper, and “Golden Mountain Sauce.” Nutrition labeling would be super helpful to know exactly what said product is, and for me, how much sugar it contains.

Blue Apron Laotian Larb Gai with Sticky Rice, Peanuts & Mint
I ate too much of this the first night. I couldn’t stop!

Sirloin Tip Steaks with New Potato, Asparagus & Radish Hash

Lastly, beef. Mmmm BEEF! This recipe included one ingredient that surprised me–radishes. I love radishes…they remind me of my childhood. Dad and Mom always grew them in our garden, but we only ate them on salads or as a snack, always raw. I never thought to cook a radish, nor did I realize how mild a radish becomes when you do cook it. The dish was hearty and flavorful enough, but then it was topped with a pesto sauce made with capers that was delicious! I had some beef left over and made steak and eggs for dinner one night and threw a dollop of the pesto on that too. Yum!

Blue Apron Sirloin Tip Steaks with New Potato, Asparagus & Radish Hash
The pesto was the perfect complement.

On the 1 to 5 scale, here’s how I scored the first week of Blue Apron:

Delivery and Packaging – 4

While I like the fact that Blue Apron uses smaller packaging, fewer plastic bottles, and a thinner insulating material, they delivered a day early which could have been disastrous. Anything else in the world I order online can be delivered a day early and I will be elated, but when it is perishable food, unless Blue Apron knows my personal schedule (which they do not), the box needs to be delivered on the day agreed upon. It seems wrong to knock a point off for being early, but there it is.

Quality of Ingredients – 4

Everything seemed to be of good quality and was certainly flavorful. As I mentioned with the previous service, nutrition labeling on the ingredients which are not fresh fruits or vegetables would be very helpful. It is important for me to know the sugar content of anything and everything.

Ease of Preparation – 4

There wasn’t anything terribly difficult about these recipes, however, the time involved was more than I prefer. The first recipe had me slicing and dicing 10 ingredients. 10! It was 8:30 by the time I got home from work, walked and fed the dog, went to yoga, and made one phone call. I was eating dinner at 10:02 p.m. That’s too late for me.

Taste – 5

Each of the three recipes were delicious, and they were dishes that I never would have thought I could prepare before I started trying these home delivery services. It’s pretty impressive what a simple girl with a small kitchen can do when everything is delivered to her doorstep!

Value/Price – 4

The cost of this box is $60, and that is for three recipes, each providing dinner for two. That comes to $10 per plate, and I pretty much got two servings from each recipe (aside from the one extra serving of beef), so the $10 per plate is accurate. This is quality food that tastes great, and it was delivered to my door. In my world, this is a deal.

There’s my review of the second meals-in-a-box service I tried. Let me know if you have any questions–I’ll be happy to answer what I can! Until next week, when I review my second box of Blue Apron…


Gourmet Meals in a Box: Plated Week 2

Last week, I reviewed Plated after my first box of cooking, and I loved it. At the end of box two, and before I move on to review Blue Apron, here is a look at this week’s Plated meals.

Ginger Trout en Papillote with Miso Butter, Sweet Potatoes, and Snow Peas

This dish looks fancy but was deceptively simple to make–gotta love that! And, it was so good I ate until my tummy hurt. The ginger and miso butter melted into the fillet and gave the trout flavor beyond my expectations. The sweet potatoes were seasoned, drizzled with olive oil and baked, then tossed with the snow peas that had been sautéed just until bright green. It was my first time baking in parchment paper (which was included in the box), and it was a snap. Honestly, this recipe is probably going to be a regular in my kitchen.

Ginger Trout en Papillote with Miso Butter, Sweet Potatoes, and Snow Peas
Ginger Trout en Papillote with Miso Butter, Sweet Potatoes, and Snow Peas

Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice

I was glad to have read through the entire recipe first for the purpose of timing, but it too was low on the difficulty scale. The flavor was incredible, and I have never cooked with such high-quality beef. It was more dense than any ground beef I have ever seen. Good, good stuff. The cilantro and chopped peanuts were the perfect garnish, and this little piggy had three lettuce wraps for one meal!

Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice
Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice

Fresh Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Artichokes, Garlic, and Lemon

This was another great tasting dish, but I got a little tripped up with the artichokes. You would think that spaghetti with no meat would be simple. And maybe for you it would be. However, it was my first time preparing artichokes and it turned into a learning experience. I now know to peel a couple more layers than what looks right. Very flavorful, and I love artichokes, but of the three dishes this week, I would give this one the 3rd place ribbon.

Fresh Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Artichokes, Garlic, and Lemon
Fresh Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Artichokes, Garlic, and Lemon

If I had to choose a favorite, it might be the trout with sweet potatoes and snow peas, but the lettuce wraps are an incredibly close second.

Again, the box arrived on time and everything inside was kept adequately cool. The recipes were in the easy/medium range (with the exception of the artichoke snafu), but every day is an opportunity to learn, right?

My only reservation, still, is the amount of plastic involved. Here’s a shot of the packaging for three meals. Actually, this is without the two frozen gel packs that are each the size of a dinner plate. The cardboard and plastic bottles went in the recycling bin, two of the green plastic bags have been reused, and the foam-filled liners that look like kindergarten nap pads are hanging out at work in hopes someone will need packing material. The majority of the plastic bags went in the trash. I’m hung up on that.

Cardboard box, packing material, and plastic containers
Packaging for one box (three meals)

Room for Improvement

  • Nutrition labeling
  • Reduce the packing material (or make it all recyclable)

Would I Recommend Plated?

Absolutely! This has been some of the tastiest cooking I’ve ever done, and best of all, I didn’t have to search for and choose recipes, shop, or carry it up two flights of stairs. This is one happy girl!

Drop a comment if you give Plated a try–I’d love to hear what you think!



Gourmet Meals in a Box: Plated Week 1

Let’s get to it! My first meals-in-a-box service was (and still is) Plated. I had no expectations; this entire process was new to me.

It was easy enough to sign up, choose my delivery preference (Wednesday or Saturday), and complete my taste profile. I had the option to exclude dishes with gluten, pasta, dairy, pork, fish, soy, beef, chicken, shellfish, nuts, and peanuts or that are vegetarian or spicy.  When the box arrived, it was like waking up on Christmas morning. I was giddy about a box of food sitting at my doorstep!

Plated box waiting at doorstep
It was a Plated Christmas!

In the box were the ingredients to prepare three recipes, and each recipe is enough for two servings (dinner for two). This first delivery included recipes I would have never chosen on my own based on the fact that they sound way too fancy for my basic kitchen skills.

  • Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes
  • Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth
  • Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad

This is what it looks like inside the box:

Open box with foam-filled liner inside, recipe cards on top
Foam-filled liner inside the box
Foam-filled liner inside plated box
Inside the foam-filled liner

Beneath the foam box within the box were two frozen gel packs to keep everything cool. The meat was packed next to these, and everything felt like it had been kept at a safe temperature.

Two frozen gel packs
Frozen gel packs, each about the size of a dinner plate

Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes

I dove right in with this recipe and began at Step 1. Makes sense, right? The prep work felt a little disjointed and added to the overall prep/cook time. As I was eating dinner, I noticed on the far right of the recipe card, second paragraph, it suggested I read through the entire recipe before beginning. It even reads “Trust us–you’ll be glad you did!” Granted, I should have known, but perhaps moving that little nugget of info to the top left of the card, where one begins reading, would be helpful. But now I know.

The dish smelled and tasted great, but the steak was tough. Given my history with beef and the fact that every piece I have ever prepared has turned out tough, well, I really can’t pin this on Plated, now can I? I followed the recipe, but I think there may be some other-worldly force standing between me and tender beef. Also, I had a tough time plating this one to look pretty, so thank goodness I took a pan shot before I dug in!

Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes
Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes

Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth

Now that I was an experienced Plated chef, I read through the recipe card before beginning my prep work. Genius! This recipe was easy-peasy and tasted SO good! It was my first time cooking with, or even tasting as far as I know, Chinese broccoli. I would compare it to kale (which I love). I didn’t use any of the Sriracha hot sauce because I’m not a fan of spicy, and I used only 1/2 of the agave because of my low-sugar diet. Even with those modifications, this dish was flavor all the way. The noodles were not the stiff, dried variety I typically purchase. They were soft and doughy, fresh-made pasta. Oh. Em. Gee. Seriously, look at this pasta:

Bowl of long life noodles
Long Life Noodles
Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth
Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth

Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad

This, too, was a super-simple dish to prepare. I was skeptical about whether this could be a main course for me. Back home, gnocchi is typically served as a side, so I don’t think of it as an entrée. But wow! The sauce was full of fresh basil, onion, oregano, red pepper, and garlic. Did I mention the fresh basil? Then baked until the mozzarella was just bubbly and beginning to brown. It was delicious as a main course, and the spring salad was a nice complement. The salad dressing was a combination of Champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, and olive oil.

Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad
Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad

So, on a scale of 1 to 5, I score it like this:

Delivery and Packaging – 4

This is tough to score. Although the delivery was right on time and the food was kept cool (I would give a 5 for that), I am not a fan of the volume of packaging materials. I asked the Plated people whether everything was recyclable, and got this response:

Boxes: We work exclusively with cardboard suppliers that are members of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Most of our boxes are made from 100% recycled content without virgin particle board. All of our boxes are 100% recyclable. Simply break down the box and place curbside with your recycling.

Gel Packs: Our water-soluble cooling gel packs are non-toxic and non-hazardous. To recycle, simply clip the corner, discard the gel and recycle the plastic curbside. Most sink drains can accommodate the gel, but if yours is particularly sensitive, we recommend putting the gel in the trash (it has no measurable environmental impact). You can also reuse the gel pack. It’s great to keep a few on hand!

Liner/Insulation: Depending on whether you’re receiving a same day or overnight shipment, your insulation will be made of thin, metallized plastic and could have an additional polyurethane foam beneath the plastic. If you have a foam liner, it can be recycled at a polyurethane recycling facility. The outer plastic shell is recyclable at specific #7 plastic facilities. You can check Earth 911 for a list of recycling facilities in your area. If an option isn’t available, you can discard these in the trash and know we’re working to bring you an easier solution in the future! [I checked the Earth 911 site, and there are no facilities in my area to recycle polyurethane. We do, however, recycle #7 plastic, so there is that.]

The bottles/bags/containers: As all are made of plastic, they can be recycled, but we personally love removing the labels and keeping them on hand for future use. The deli-style containers are perfect for leftovers and the bottles are the best way to get salad dressing to the office, sans mess!

Kudos to Plated for keeping most of the packaging recyclable, but I would sleep better knowing it is all recyclable. We all need goals, right?

Quality of Ingredients – 4

Everything was high quality, with the exception of the mixed greens salad. I saved that meal for last because there was no perishable meat involved, but the salad was just beginning to wilt. Also, nutrition labeling on the Plated containers would be helpful. I had no idea if, or how much, sugar was in ingredients like the little bottle of Champagne vinegar for the salad dressing.

Ease of Preparation – 5

Honestly, this could not have been easier, and I would rate myself as having little culinary skills.

Taste – 5

Each of the dishes were filled with flavor and tasted delicious. I was especially impressed with the fresh basil. The leaves were twice the size of any fresh basil I’ve purchased in the grocery store or that I’ve grown on the deck.

Value/Price – 5

The cost of this box, which included three recipes, was $72. Each recipe provides two meals (dinner for two), which comes to $12 per plate. However, I got three generous servings from each recipe, so that gave me 9 meals at $8 per plate. When you factor in the quality, taste, and convenience of having it delivered to your door, I say this is a deal. And keep in mind, my favorite salad that I walk across the street for nearly every day is $9 and has no meat. No more!

So there you have it, my first meals-in-a-box review–woot woot! Let me know if this has been helpful and maybe even a little interesting. Regardless, I’m going to keep eating!





Gourmet Meals in a Box (you’re the chef)

The only time I have ever enjoyed grocery shopping was when my Mom lived nearby and we shopped together. I harbor a strong dislike toward the task, but my Mom can turn anything into a near circus. We would stroll the aisles, catching up on our respective single-lady lives that week, and Mom would be startled by something and give a little “whoop!” (or drop whatever was in her hand), or she would repeatedly remove her bags from the self-scan area before she was allowed to, and inevitably a store associate would come over and sort it out because I am useless when laughing hysterically. Grocery shopping with Mom = good times.

Mom moved back to Wisconsin several years ago, and we all knew this day would come…I have turned to complete strangers to grocery shop for me. Ha!

I tried. I would search for recipes, try to recall what was in the pantry–I was never at home when the inspiration to peruse recipes would strike–and then would go to the store, be shocked at the prices, haul it to the car, haul it up the stairway to heaven my condo, only to find I was missing one or six key ingredients. You know what I would do then? Nothing. I would say to myself, you can get those items tomorrow. And tomorrow became the next day, and by the week’s end, I would toss the rotted food in the trash (except for the fruit; I always ate the fruit).

The ready-to-eat items I purchased would be eaten the same day. As soon as the bags were unloaded, I would stand at the kitchen counter with the orzo salad, olives, snap pea crisps, and 85% dark chocolate and eat until my tummy hurt. Then, for the following five days, I would dine out for lunch and eat cereal for dinner. Rinse and repeat.

Occasionally, I get it together and cook some meals, but for the most part I feel awful about being wasteful with the food I purchase. So, I’ve been thinking about those gourmet meal delivery kits. All of the ingredients for two or three meals are packed in a box and shipped right to your door. Along with the recipes. It sounds too good to be true. A fantasy world. It has me written all over it!

Bowl of long life noodles
One of the ingredients from this week’s Plated box

You know I’m a sampler, so I can’t simply research and choose one. I’m going to try at least three of them. I am preparing the last meal from my first Plated box tonight, and plan to try Blue Apron and Hello Fresh as well. I’ll give you the 411 on each, and thought I would hit these categories:

  • delivery and packaging
  • quality of ingredients
  • ease of preparation
  • TASTE!
  • value/price

Are there any other categories you would like to hear about? Let me know, because Lord knows if you ask me after the fact, there is a snowball’s chance I’ll recall something without it having been on the list. I am a list-keeper for good reason. And let me know if you have used one of these dinner-in-a-box services. I would love to hear your thoughts!