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!

Cheers!
Kelly

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!

Cheers,
Kelly

 

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!

Cheers!
Kelly