The Saddest Cupcake

I was at Walmart today, and I found this:


I was craving cake, and I like pineapple upside down cake, so I decided to give it a try.

It is not cost effective to make this product more flavorful, so they suggest adding tasty things to mask the fact that you will soon be eating an instant cupcake that has been baked in the microwave.
I made the mistake of licking the spoon after stirring in the water.  I ended up with a fine coating of waxy shortening all over my molars.
My mug seems strangely distressed through the door of the microwave.
It took three attempts to get the spoon through the rubbery surface of the cake.  The first bite tasted like licking the sole of a boot that had trod on a vanilla cupcake.  Those flakes of pineapple that are on the box were notably absent from my first bite.
The pineapple chunks pictured on the box were actually pineapple flavored chips, all of which clustered together in the bottom of the mug.  It took six bites to consume the whole cake.  Of those bites, one had a lovely pineapple taste, one tasted vaguely of pineapple, the other four tasted like a rubber band that had been dipped in vanilla cake batter.

The final verdict:

Price: $2.50 per box.

Ease of preparation: Easier than easy.  It involved nothing more than opening a packet, adding three tablespoons of water, and stirring.

Time: It took about 3.5 minutes from start to finish.  30 seconds to read the instructions, 30 seconds to add the water, 30 seconds to stir, 1 minute 10 seconds in the microwave.

Flavor: Meh.  Boxed vanilla cake with fleeting hints of pineapple, undertones of rubber, imitation vanilla flavoring, and a slight chemical leavener aftertaste.  The box claims that it contains no artificial ingredients, and I believe them, but there is a difference between a fresh baked cake made with real chunks of pineapple and one that’s made with a variety of ingredients designed to emulate the flavor and appearance of pineapple.  This cake is definitely falls into the realm of the latter.

Texture: Soggy and slightly rubbery.

I’m trying to think of a sadder cupcake than this one.  Surely, the absence of cake would be sadder.  The cake served at the funeral dinner of a beloved grandparent would be a close second.  And then there’s this one.  Its flavor wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but it did taste rather artificial.  I am curious to see if adding pineapple and orange juice would improve it.

Update: I made another cupcake with orange juice instead of water. It tasted leaps and bounds better, but somehow the orange juice obliterated the flavor of the pineapple and made the whole cake taste sickly sweet.



Plated – Week Two

Dish 1: Ruby Red Trout with Creamy Dill Sauce, Sautéed Chard, and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes


April 7, 2017: Ruby Red Trout with Creamy Dill Sauce, Sautéed Chard, and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. This is from my second box from Plated. As I mentioned in my last post, Plated is more expensive than some of the other services, but they also allow the user to choose how many meals they want to receive (2-4) and how many dishes per meal (2-4). To save some money, I ordered only two meals this week. I intended to order a dessert as well, but I think I forgot to confirm the addition.

The box arrived on Tuesday, but I didn’t have time to cook it until Thursday evening. After previous experiences with other boxes (*cough* Martha Spoon), I was a little worried about how well the fish would hold up to the extra storage time, but those concerns were unfounded. The fish was great quality and skin crisped up beautifully. In the past, I’ve had mixed luck getting the skin on fish crispy without it sticking to the pan, but the recipe card offered some helpful instructions that I’m sure helped with my success.

The Swiss Chard got a little over-chilled during transit/storage, but it wasn’t noticeable after it was cooked. The fingerling potatoes were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. My only complaint was the dill sauce. There was a touch too much mustard in the mayo-based sauce, but I’m willing to admit that this criticism is probably more due to my personal dislike of mustard than anything wrong with the recipe.

This meal was absolutely delicious and quite filling. I would definitely make it again, but I’d do a sour cream dill sauce rather than one with mayonnaise and mustard.

Dish 2: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries


April 8, 2017: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries, my final meal from Plated. I love a good sandwich and this certainly fits that description. The addition of arugula helped to cut the richness of the sautéed onions and fontina/Gruyere mix. I went light with the mustard, but it added a nice touch of tanginess. I cooked it in my George Foreman grill which made cooking the sandwich super easy. I only wish the bread was whole wheat or multi-grain.

The portion of fries was supposed to be twice that size, but that seemed a little excessive, so I put aside the second potato for later, but the fries were gorgeous! The truffle zest was slightly peppery and earthy, and every time I got a bit of parsley I was reminded of the beauty of the world.

The downside is that this was a pretty darn expensive sandwich. The box was $54 for two meals, two servings per meal, so when broken down, this sandwich was $13.50. I could have gotten a sandwich on whole grain at Panera for less than that, and I could have gotten it on whole grain bread. I would say that the trout was worth the price but the sandwich, not so much.

My verdict is that Plated has amazing food, probably the best food of all of the services I’ve tried, but it was too expensive.

Plated – Week 2 Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 10/10
Taste: 9/10
Variety: 10/10
Quality: 10/10

How many recipes would I make again? 1.9/2


Like last time, everything was delicious, easy to make, and for the most part, quite quick to prepare.  Again, the fish was great quality and held up well in transit and storage.  The only problem was that it was a bit too expensive.  The fish dish was worth the cost, but the sandwich, even though it did include truffle fries, was not.  If I was rolling in money, I would choose Plated over any of the other services so far.

Overall rating: B+

Plated – Week 1

Dish 1: Thai Fish Curry with Kaffir Lime and Jasmine Rice

Thai Fish Curry with Kaffir Lime and Jasmine Rice

March 21, 2017 – My first Plated box arrived today, and my first impression is very positive. The first dish is Thai Fish Curry with Kaffir Lime and Jasmine Rice. It reminded me a lot of a Thai Curry Shrimp Soup that I used to make. I usually don’t like tilapia, but I didn’t mind it here. The flavor of the tilapia was mild, but I could still taste it in the soup. The soup had a perfect balance of spices, and it was a very filling dish at only 690 calories per serving. I’d definitely like to make this again.

Plated, like Martha and Marley, gave the option for Tuesday delivery; however, they used a smaller regional delivery service that didn’t have a key to get into the mailroom so they had to call me to let them into the building. I was working from home, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I don’t know what would have happened if I wasn’t home. The box was smaller than the one for Martha and Marley, which made it easier to carry up the three flights of stairs to my apartment. Like Martha and Home Chef, most of the ingredients were bundled together, and thus far the ingredients seem to be high quality. The aforementioned tilapia didn’t taste too muddy and when cooked it didn’t have a mealy texture.

I did notice that one of the recipes calls for two eggs, but they weren’t included in the shipment, but they did send an email today letting me know that I’d need eggs. If I didn’t have eggs left from last week, I would be wicked annoyed, especially since this box is $12 more expensive than Blue Apron, and Blue Apron didn’t leave eggs out of the box when the recipe called for them.

One other thing that I liked about Plated is that they have 10-12 recipes to choose from every week and customization is very easy. This week, four recipes were “encore recipes,” highly rated recipes that are available for the whole month of March. The Fish Curry that I had for lunch was one of the encore recipes, and I can tell why. Next week, there are 12 recipes to choose from, and six of the recipes are encores. Another feature of Plated is that you can choose the number of servings and how many meals you want to receive each week. The minimum is 2 meals with 2 servings each, but you can go up to 4 meals and 4 servings. If you decide to order 4 meals, you will receive the meals in two deliveries to ensure freshness. They also have dessert recipes and ingredients that can be added to your box for $8. I’m going to be out of town next week, so I’m skipping a week, but I added a dessert to my box for the following week.

The only downside is the price of the box. For the 3 meal, 2 serving option, it’s $72. By comparison, the same plan with Blue Apron and Home Chef is $60.

Dish 2: Teriyaki Salmon Tacos with Seaweed Salad

Teriyaki Salmon Tacos

March 24, 2017 – This is my second meal from Plated: Teriyaki Salmon Tacos with Seaweed Salad. This meal was great and it only took about 25 minutes to make. They sent enough tortillas for three tacos, but I decided to save the third tortilla for a future meal and save the extra 120 calories for cookies.

I loved this meal. The salmon was great quality, even though it languished in the refrigerator for a few days before I had time to cook it. I was surprised that the seaweed salad complemented the tacos so well. My only criticism was that it tasted like the cucumber had gotten a little too cold in transit. It didn’t have the tell-tale signs of frost-bite, but its color and texture had suffered a bit. The avocado, on the other hand, was in remarkably good shape.
The dish was 870 calories per serving, which is a bit higher than I would have liked. I trimmed back on the calories by only using a third of the avocado per serving, using two rather than three tortillas, and cutting back on the Sriracha mayonnaise. By my estimation, I got it down to about 650 calories per serving, and I’ll be able to repurpose the tortillas and avocado for future meals.

Dish 3: Shakshuka with Roasted Eggplant, Bell Peppers, and Feta

March 25, 2017 – The final meal in this Plated box was Shakshuka with Roasted Eggplant, Bell Peppers, and Feta, and I absolutely loved it. I tried to make something like it once before with only a vague understanding of what Shakshuka is, but mine paled in comparison. The eggs had a perfectly runny yolk, the eggplant picked up the flavor of the tomato sauce beautifully, it had a nice touch of spice, and it was fairly quick to make. I’ll definitely be making this again. My only issue was that the eggs were not included in the box, which is extra annoying because the eggs were the main protein for the dish. This service is also more expensive than most of the other services. I think it would have been a fine dish without the eggs, but I’m still of the mindset that if I’m using this as a service to keep me from having to shop, I don’t want to have to go out and buy a protein.
Some people have been asking about packaging so I’m including some pictures. With Plated, almost everything comes bundled together in a bag, but the bag is pretty high quality, so I have been reusing them for other things. The eggplant was in a separate zip-top bag (not pictured), which I was able to use to hold snacks for my trip. A lot of the containers are recyclable, but they did double package the tomato puree. They were pretty much on par with the other services.
I’m taking this week off to attend a conference in New Mexico, but I’ll be doing another Plated box in a week.

Plated – Week 1 Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 9/10
Taste: 10/10
Variety: 10/10
Quality: 10/10

How many recipes would I make again? 3/3


Everything was delicious, easy to make, and for the most part, quite quick to prepare.  Plated makes it very easy to customize the box, and they have a pretty good selection to choose from.  The meals were much more globally inspired than the other services.  I could easily see myself incorporating these dishes into my regular rotation.  The fish was great quality, and they even made tilapia palatable to me, which is a bit of a feat.  The only gripe I have is that they did not supply the eggs for the Shakshuka.

I also appreciate that you can customize how many meals and dishes you can get in each box.  I’m going to take advantage of that and order only two dishes when I return from my trip.  Plated offers the option of including a dessert in box, so I’m going to get a dessert in the next box.


Overall rating: A

Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 2

Dish 1: Pan-Seared Cod & Greens with Garlicky Potato Puree

Pan-Seared Cod & Greens with Garlicky Potato Puree

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 – My second box from Martha and Marley Spoon arrived, and I made Pan-Seared Cod & Greens with Garlicky Potato Puree today. After the issues with the fish last week, I checked the website and they advised to make the fish dishes first even though it says that it should be cooked within 5 days on the package. I guess they don’t expect people to actually make a dish the day the box arrives because the fish was still pretty icy. The flavor of the fish was better this week, but I couldn’t get a good sear, and the texture was a bit mealy.

The collard greens were delicious, and I loved the addition of dill sprinkled on everything. On the negative side, the garlicky mashed potatoes were just a touch too vinegary. The recipe recommend getting a bit of everything on the fork to ensure the perfect bite, but the vinegar totally obliterated the taste of the fish. I also take issue with calling the potatoes a puree. I followed the directions, and they were not pureed.  They were mashed. It isn’t a big deal, but I hate when people are imprecise with their terminology just to make something sound fancier.

In all, the dish was pretty good. If I were to make it again, I would use better quality fish and cut the amount of vinegar. I’m looking forward to my next meal.

Dish 2: Warm Vegetable Pan Roast with Feta & Arugula-Pepita Salad

Warm Vegetable Pan Roast with Feta & Arugula-Pepita Salad
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 –  Warm Vegetable Pan Roast with Feta & Arugula-Pepita Salad. This is the best meal I’ve had so far from Martha and Marley. It was full of some of my favorite things: sweet potatoes, mushrooms, pepitas, feta, bread, and a whole onion per-serving which, far from overwhelming the dish, was the perfect quantity of onion. The vinegar dressing was balanced perfectly with the other ingredients, and there was a lovely variety of tastes and textures.  It was a great meal.  Definitely one to save for the future.
I did have two issues, however:
  1. Holy jumping Batman on a pogo stick, this was not a low calorie dish at 810 calories per serving. As my old art teacher used to say, trust Americans to make something as healthy as a salad full of fat and calories. I’ve had chocolate cake with fewer calories.
  2. I wasn’t planning to make this dish tonight. You see, I was planning to make these beautiful black bean veggie burgers that were crusted with sesame seeds, but as I looked over the recipe card, I noticed that the recipe calls for an egg, but egg was not listed in the contents of the bag.  I looked down a little farther on the card, and the egg was listed in the “What You Need” section. I didn’t have any eggs. I ate the last one on Saturday and neglected to pick up more when I went shopping for the week on Sunday. Martha and Marley did send me a message on Monday (a day late) saying what ingredients I would need to supply, but for all of the other boxes I needed nothing more than oil, salt, and pepper, so I didn’t take the time to read it. Stupid me. Stupid Martha and Marley for not supplying all of the major ingredients. Stupid veggie burgers for tempting me with your deliciousness. I am irrationally angry and tired from writing all day.
At least the salad was delicious.
Dish 3: Black Bean Burgers with Sriracha Mayonnaise and a side of radishes and lightly marinated cucumbers.
Black Bean Burgers with Sriracha Mayonnaise and a side of radishes and lightly marinaded cucumbers
Everything was nicely bundled together.

March 17, 2017 – My final meal from Martha and Marley Spoon: Black Bean Burgers with Sriracha Mayonnaise and a side of radishes and lightly marinated cucumbers. Like the other meals from Martha, all of the ingredients came bundled in a paper bag, except for that thrice-blasted egg I mentioned above.

The radishes were very soft, so I sliced them and tossed them in the marinade with the cucumbers. The can of beans had two huge dents and a little surface rust. It was nothing dangerous (the dents were nowhere close to the seams and the rust was only on the surface), but I was a little annoyed that the can was in such poor condition.

Overall, the black bean burgers tasted great, but they were very hard to work with. To coat them in sesame seeds, I tried to put them on a cutting board, but they were so soft that I couldn’t pick them up. I ended up finishing them on a piece of parchment paper which made them much easier to flip and transfer to the frying pan. Unfortunately, they only firmed up a little bit when I cooked them, so the first one fell apart when I tried to eat it. The second one firmed up a bit while in the fridge overnight and was much easier to eat after I heated it in the microwave the next day.
The sriracha mayonnaise was lovely, and the vegetables tasted pretty good. The only thing I would change would be to add a little bit of salt to the marinade for the veggies.
I’m still a little bitter about the egg thing and the quality of the ingredients. The taste of the dish was great, but I honestly don’t think it was worth the money. I could have purchased all of these ingredients for half the price.
Next week, I’m trying Plated.

Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 2 Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Variety: 9/10
Quality: 5/10

How many recipes would I make again? 2.5/3


Positives: Everything tasted great, and all of the ingredients were bundled together in a bag which was wicked convenient.  It was also easy to cancel my subscription and customize my box.

Negatives: The quality of the fish was better this week, but it was still a bit ice damaged.  The quality of some of the other ingredients was also lacking.  The can of beans was in pretty rough shape and the radishes were very soft.  I would have liked to have used the radish tops, but about half of them had gone completely brown and the other half was limp and lifeless.  I’m also a bit bitter about the missing egg.  Part of the appeal of these boxes is that everything is supplied.  I had to make a special trip to the grocery store in order to make one of the recipes and that’s just not cool.  Aside from the fish, the recipes were also surprisingly high in calories with the salad coming in at 810 calories and the veggie burger 740 calories.

I was expecting very good things from Martha and Marley, but I was quite disappointed.  The salad and black bean burger were tasty, but none of the recipes were particularly special.

At the end of this week, I was left wondering how much of the cost of the box went to branding.

Overall rating: C+

Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 1

Dish 1: Chili-Spiced Chickpeas with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Chili-Spiced Chickpeas with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – My first box from Martha and Marley Spoon arrived on Tuesday and I made the first meal for lunch on Wednesday: Chili-Spiced Chickpeas with Roasted Sweet Potatoes. The dish was delicious and easy to make; although, I did burn half of the sweet potatoes slightly when I missed my oven alarm going off. The portions were huge! I ended up getting three portions out of it. They allotted one sweet potato per portion which was a bit much when paired with half a can of chickpeas and an ample helping of sautéed vegetables.
The extras for the dish went really well with the sweet potatoes and chickpeas. There were lightly pickled onions, lime wedges, and a sour cream cilantro sauce to help cool the heat. The spice-level was a little mild for my taste, but otherwise the flavor was great.
The service is part of the Martha Stewart brand, and like the other boxes, it features seasonal ingredients. The box was similar to the others with the inside of the box lined with insulation and a collection of ice packs to keep the ingredients frosty. The insulation is #1 plastic, so it looks like it can be recycled with my bottles. Like Home Chef, all of the ingredients for each dish were sorted, but rather than being wrapped in plastic, the ingredients for each dish were collected into recyclable paper bags. There were a few ingredients in zip-top bags, but they didn’t use nearly as many as Home Chef. The liquid ingredients were in recyclable bottles.

Dish 2: Sesame-Mustard Cod with Miso Cabbage Slaw

Sesame-Mustard Cod with Miso Cabbage Slaw

Thursday, March 9, 2017 – Sesame-Mustard Cod with Miso Cabbage Slaw.  Ooof, this is probably the closest I’ve come to a failure since I started this experiment.  First, I was missing an ingredient.  I checked and rechecked the packaging, but the mint for the cabbage slaw was nowhere in sight.  I contacted Martha and Marley Spoon; they apologized and offered me a $6 credit on my next box which was nice of them.

Second, I’m not a huge fan of mustard or sesame oil. When I see a recipe with sesame in the name, I assume that they mean sesame seeds (which I love). That wasn’t the case. I can handle a small amount of mustard or sesame oil, but both of them together was a bit much for me. There was also far too much of the sesame-mustard sauce. Over half of it ended up on my baking pan, and there was still too much sauce on the fish for me. I will admit that this criticism is more due to personal taste, but I just wasn’t fond of the sauce at all.

The panko crust toasted up nicely, but the fish did not cook very well.  The piece of cod was really thick, so I went for the far end of recommended baking time (10 minutes).  When I pulled the fish from the oven, it was still largely raw.  I put it back in the oven for another 8 minutes, and it still tasted undercooked and rubbery.  There also wasn’t a lot of flavor to the fish.  I hate to say it, but I’ve had better cod from Long John Silver’s*.

There was one positive aspect to this meal: the miso cabbage slaw.  It was absolutely delicious which is a good thing because there is a lot of it.  It was made with nearly a full head of Napa cabbage.  I filled my plate twice and there’s still 2/3 of it left.  I’m looking forward to having it as a side with tomorrow night’s veggie burger.  I’m going to remember that dressing for the future.

I’m getting another cod dish from Martha & Marley next week.  I’m hoping that this was just a bad batch and next week is better.

*Update: I had the second piece of cod for lunch today, and the flavor of the sauce was much better after mellowing out over night.  The quality of the fish was no better with the second piece.  It still looked undercooked, even though I heated it on high in the microwave, and it was mostly flavorless.  The microwave did the texture no favors, but honestly, I didn’t expect it to – fish and microwaves are generally not friends.  I’m starting to think that 425 degrees Fahrenheit was just too hot to properly cook the fish.  It should have been cooked at a lower temperature for longer.  The Miso-Cabbage Slaw was still the star of the dish.


Dish 3: Farro Stir-Fry with Broccoli and Mushrooms

Farro Stir-Fry with Broccoli and Mushrooms
Sunday, March 12, 2017 – Just a quick review of my third recipe from Martha and Marley Spoon. The dish was Farro Stir-Fry with Broccoli and Mushrooms. It was quite delicious and flavorful. The farro added a nice texture and nuttiness to the dish. The only criticism of the flavor is that the recipe called for the ginger to be cut into small matchsticks so the flavor didn’t distribute very well through the dish. Every few bites, I would get smacked in the face by ginger, completely overwhelming all other flavors for the next two bites. Otherwise, I was quite happy with the flavor of the dish.
Unfortunately, there were some issues with the quality of the ingredients. My mushrooms were bruised and slightly mushy, and one had grown a fringe of fuzz around the the bottom of its stem. The red pepper was also a little soft. Admittedly, I didn’t get around to making this dish for five days, but I’ve had mushrooms in my fridge for weeks that didn’t look in such sorry shape. Quite disappointing. I’m hoping that this week’s ingredients are in better shape than the ingredients I got last week.

Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 1 Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 9/10
Taste: 7/10
Variety: 9/10
Quality: 4/10

How many recipes would I make again? 2.4/3


Positives: The ingredients for each meal were packaged together in paper bags, and the recipes were easy to follow.  I also liked that the list of ingredients was on the same side of the recipe card as the procedure for cooking, so I didn’t have to keep flipping back and forth.  The other thing that I liked was that I could get the package delivered on Tuesday which works better for my schedule.

Negatives: I had to create a new grading category for this week: quality.  Honestly, I thought about adding it before, but I didn’t think it would be necessary.  I started with the grading system after I had received boxes from a few companies, and the ingredient quality was always so stellar that I didn’t think I would need a quality category.  Martha and Marley Spoon proved me wrong.  The ingredients were great for my first meal, but my second meal was missing the mint and the fish was quite sub-par.  The mushrooms for the third meal were bruised and mushy, and one was even a bit moldy.  The red pepper for that dish was also a bit soft and wrinkly.  It was like I had left them in my fridge for ten days rather than five.  I was not impressed.  The other ingredients – green pepper, farro, broccoli, etc – were just fine.

When it comes to cost, at $62 the subscription is two dollars more per week than Home Chef and Blue Apron, but when it comes to quality, Martha and Marley is just not worth it.

Snicket Box

Snicket’s review: My cat does not like the Martha and Marley box nearly as much as she liked the Blue Apron and Home Chef boxes.  It’s slightly taller than the other boxes, so she has to use the scratcher to jump into the box, and it has two really long flaps that don’t fold down properly making it hard to jump into.  She had been using a Home Chef box constantly until I had to replace it, but she’s only used the Martha box once since then.  She just jumps into the box, scratches around a bit, and then jumps out again.  She also preferred the salmon from Home Chef to the cod from Martha.

I’m getting one more week of Martha and Marley.  Fingers crossed that it’s better than week 1.

Overall Rating: C-

Home Chef – Week 2

Since it was comparable in price to Blue Apron, I ended up getting two weeks of Home Chef.  If anything, the second week was even better than the first.

Dish 1: Black Bean Tortilla Soup with avocado, lime, and homemade tortilla strips

Black Bean Tortilla Soup with avocado, lime, and homemade tortilla strips

Thursday, March 3 – My second Home Chef box arrived on Wednesday, and I cooked this for lunch today. It’s Black Bean Tortilla Soup with avocado, lime, and homemade tortilla strips. The soup was delicious and easy to make. It took about 40 minutes, but a lot of that time was passive time as the soup simmered. The dish was vegan and extremely filling. I got three meals out of it. The tortilla strips softened almost instantly when they hit the soup, which was ok, because they were like noodles.

The only issue I had was with mashing the beans. The recipe asked for half of the beans to be mashed into a paste, but I somehow misplaced the business part of my masher a few years ago. I bought a replacement that works great for potatoes, but not so good for mashing anything else. I could have gotten out the immersion blender, but that would have required effort. Still, the soup was delicious, if a bit thinner than the recipe called for. It was nicely spicy. I could definitely see myself making this again.

Dish 2: Teriyaki Ginger-Glazed Salmon with stir-fried bok choy and carrots

Teriyaki Ginger-Glazed Salmon with stir-fried bok choy and carrots.

Friday, March 3 – This is the second meal from this week’s Home Chef box: Teriyaki Ginger-Glazed Salmon with stir-fried bok choy and carrots, and holy crap was it good. The teriyaki sauce wasn’t too sweet, but it was flavorful. The fish was good quality and super flavorful. The only thing I thought it needed was a little bit of sesame seed.

I did run into some troubles making the dish. When I followed the timing for the recipe, the salmon was finished before the vegetables were. Since I was using my stove for cooking and countertop for cutting, I didn’t have anywhere to put the fish when the timer went off. I turned off and opened the oven, and just let the fish rest there for a little bit until the vegetables were done. I was worried that it would dry out, but luckily, it didn’t. The fish was tender and juicy.

My hands also started shaking a few minutes into cooking, so my spring onion ribbons aren’t as dainty as they were in the picture with the recipe. I kind of like my chunky ribbons though.

Thus far, Home Chef has not failed to impress. This was probably my favorite meal since I started this experiment a month ago.  I also just noticed that this recipe is a customer favorite.  I can see why.

Dish 3: Penne Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream

Penne Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream
Monday, March 6, 2017 – This is my final meal (for now) from Home Chef: Penne Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream. The dish was really delightful and super easy to make. I find that too much sun-dried tomato can be a little overwhelming, but this dish was very well balanced. I only used half of the cream that was called for in the recipe which I think lightened up the dish quite a bit.  Mixed with the pasta is sautéed mushrooms and wilted spinach. There wasn’t quite enough garlic, but the shallot helped to compensate. I was also a little too conservative with the amount of red pepper. I should have used the whole packet.
The thing I liked most about the meal, aside from the delicious taste, is that it was a one-pot wonder. The mushrooms, shallots, and garlic were sautéed in a large pan. They were then removed, and the pasta, three cups of water, and the ingredients for the sauce were added to the pan. I didn’t even have to drain the pasta, so I didn’t have to wash a colander when I was done. This might not seem like a big deal, but I’ve be a huge slacker when it comes to washing dishes. The fewer pans I use, the fewer I have to wash, the more time I have to work on my dissertation. It’s a win-win-win.
Overall, this dish was great. It didn’t take a lot of time or effort, and I was able to wash my cutting board and knife while the pasta was cooking, so I didn’t have a lot of mess to clean up when I was done. It was, unfortunately, a bit carby, so I don’t think the dish is going to end up in my regular rotation of dishes.
Tomorrow, my box from Martha and Marley arrives. This service is curated by Martha Stewart, so I have high expectations.

Home Chef Week 2 Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 10/10
Taste: 9/10
Variety: 10/10

How many recipes would I make again? 2.5/3

Verdict: I loved the meals this week.  I wish they had sent another salad, but the fish came with a ton of vegetables, and there were mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes in the pasta, so I can’t complain too much.  There’s not a dish from this week that I wouldn’t happily make again; although, I might not make the pasta again for a while since it was a little too carby for me.  Home Chef gets a blue ribbon.

Overall Rating: A

Home Chef – Week 1

This is the fourth post in my continuing series testing out home food delivery services.  This week’s box came from Home Chef.  The price is the same as Blue Apron, and most of the packaging is recyclable.  Unfortunately, they don’t offer a service to return the packaging that I couldn’t recycle.

The first box came with a nifty little binder along with a pamphlet with pictures and descriptions of common kitchen tools and knife cuts. It also has sections with storage tips, preparation tips, and cooking temperatures. This was something that the other boxes didn’t include and would be helpful for people who don’t have a lot of experience cooking.

When setting up the subscription, I was able to choose my dietary preferences: meat, seafood, or vegetables.  They also allowed me to choose which foods I avoid.  The list included pork, soy, red meat, nuts, gluten, dairy, mushrooms, and shellfish. For additional preferences, I could choose low-calorie and low-carb.

I selected seafood and vegetables for my preferences, and my avoidances were pork, red meat, and shellfish. For my additional preferences, I selected low-calorie.

Dish 1: Bulgar, Sweet Potato, and Pomegranate Grain Bowl with blood orange and shallot vinaigrette

Bulgar, Sweet Potato, and Pomegranate Grain Bowl with blood orange and shallot vinaigrette

Thursday, February 23, 2017 – Today I made the first of my Home Chef meals: Bulgar, Sweet Potato, and Pomegranate Grain Bowl with blood orange and shallot vinaigrette. It was absolutely scrumptious. The pomegranate seeds provided a little pop, almonds added a touch of crunch, the arugula was crisp, the vinaigrette was tangy, the sweet potato added a bit of sweetness, and the bulgar wheat added a little body. It was really great. And look at how pretty it is! The only thing that I would have added was a little bit blood orange or pomegranate juice to the vinaigrette.

Dish 2: Cremini Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tarts with red onion, dried cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette

Cremini Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tarts with red onion, dried cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette

Friday, February 24, 2017 – Today was my second meal from Home Chef: Cremini Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tarts with red onion, dried cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette. All of the ingredients came bundled together in a bag which was super convenient. It took about 20 minutes to prep and sauté the vegetables and about 5 minutes to assemble the tarts. The tarts then baked for 12 minutes, so the meal didn’t take very long to make.

When completed, the tart’s crust was nice and crispy and the veggies were delicious. The arugula added a bitterness that contrasted nicely with the creaminess of the cheese. I went light on the balsamic because I’m apparently the only person in the entire world who is not a fan of how balsamic tastes with sautéed mushrooms. The tiny amount I put on added just enough zing without being overwhelming. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I’d used the whole dressing packet. The cranberries got a little lost, but I’m pretty sure I would have thought something was missing if they weren’t there.

The tart was a little tricky to eat. I tried to eat it like pizza, but the puff pastry crust kind of delaminated and fell apart when I picked it up. I admitted defeat and used a knife and fork, a move which would have significantly impacted my political career had I done it in public (see here:…/politics/kasich-eats-pizza-with-a-fork/).

The tart was super delicious, and the portion size was perfect at two big tarts per serving (~550 calories). I have some puff pastry in my freezer, so I could see myself making a similar dish in the future.

Dish 3: Lasagna Bianca with cremini mushrooms and spinach

Lasagna Bianca with cremini mushrooms and spinach

February 25, 2017 – The final meal in this Home Chef box was Lasagna Bianca with cremini mushrooms and spinach. While my lasagna recipe is much better*, this wasn’t too bad. It was made with heavy cream, ricotta, and mozzarella and flavored with basil pesto. I went very light on the heavy cream because of the whole lactose intolerance thing, but I don’t think the extra heavy cream would have made that much of a difference. Yeah, the pasta probably would have been a little more tender, but I like my pasta to have a bit of a bite. Plus, one cup of heavy cream is 820 calories, so reducing the amount of cream cut the calorie load for the dish considerably.  The recipe, as written, was 880 calories per serving.

As much as I love mushrooms, I was a little disappointed that two of the vegetarian dishes for this week used mushrooms for their protein. It wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if someone else were eating with me, but after I eat the second serving of lasagna tomorrow, I will have eaten two pints of mushrooms in the span of three days.

On the plus side, the portion size was nice and big. The piece in the picture is a little bit more than half of a serving. For scale, that plate is a 9″ diameter salad plate, not a full-sized dinner plate.

When I reheated my second serving the next day, I dumped some marinara sauce on top of the lasagna before I heated it.  This kept it from getting dry, but it also added a ton of flavor.  I definitely preferred it with the marinara. I guess I’m just not a huge fan of white lasagna.

My next Home Chef box arrives on Wednesday! I think it has fish in it.
Home Chef Week 1 Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 10/10
Taste: 9/10
Variety: 7/10

How many recipes would I make again? 2.3/3

Verdict: The tarts and grain bowl were amazing.  That grain bowl was probably my favorite dish yet.  I loved the combination of ingredients.  The lasagna was pretty good, but I still prefer my own.  I generally don’t eat pasta every week because it is so heavy.  I’ve probably eaten more pasta in the past month than I have in the three months prior.  The directions for Home Chef were the best written of the three services I’ve used.

Overall Rating: A**

*When I make lasagna, I go all out. I make my own sauce, pasta, and ricotta, so it’s quite an undertaking. I usually only make lasagna when I’m throwing a dinner party.

** The score actually calculated out to be a B+, but I gave them bonus points for bundling all of the ingredients for each recipe together, the awesome binder to put the recipes in, and because they had my favorite dish so far.

Green Chef

This week, in my continuing series of home food delivery services, I decided to try out Green Chef.  After the introductory week, the vegan meal plan would have cost over $80, so I only did it for one week.  By contrast Blue Apron was only $60.  Another issue that I had with Green Chef was that I couldn’t recycle any of the packaging, and there was no option to send it back to Green Chef for them to recycle.

Dish 1: Barbecue Tempeh with Maple-Roasted Squash and vegan broccoli gratin

Barbecue Tempeh with Maple-Roasted Squash and Vegan Broccoli Gratin

Friday, February 17, 2017 – This week’s food subscription box is from Green Chef. When I signed up, I chose the vegan option. Each dish is about 600 calories, and they are very veggie driven (YAY!). My first meal was ok. It was Barbecue Tempeh with Maple-Roasted Squash and vegan broccoli gratin. There wasn’t quite enough barbecue sauce on the tempeh and too many bread crumbs on the gratin. The butternut squash was a bit uninspired. It was just the squash with a bit of maple syrup, salt, and pepper. It went well with everything else, but it could have been a bit more special. I like tempeh, but the pieces were a bit too big to actually absorb the barbecue sauce. I ended up cutting it more thinly in the hopes that it would absorb more sauce, but that only helped a little. Also, the instructions were a little difficult to read while actively cooking.  I completely missed that I was supposed to finish the gratin in the oven until I had been cooking it on the stove for 10 minutes.  The pictures on the instructions weren’t overly helpful.  I know what it looks like to put cubes of butternut squash in the oven. What would have been helpful is a picture showing me how they wanted me to cut the tempeh.

Dish 2: Black Bean Gorditas with homemade masa cakes and sautéed potatoes & poblano

Black Bean Gorditas with homemade masa cakes and sautéed potatoes & poblano


Saturday, February 18, 2017 My second meal from Green Chef: Black Bean Gorditas with homemade masa cakes and sautéed potatoes & poblano. It was absolutely delicious and only a little scorched.

Still having trouble with the instructions. The steps aren’t very well divided, so it’s hard to follow the steps and get the timing right. I had to spend a good two minutes figuring out what to do with the second half of the onion while trying to keep my stuff from burning.

Dish 3: Red Curry Tofu with Black-Rice Ramen, broccoli & cauliflower, peanuts

Red Curry Tofu with Black-Rice Ramen, Broccoli & Cauliflower, Peanuts

Monday, February 20, 2017 – My last meal with Green Chef was decidedly meh. It was Red Curry Tofu with Black-Rice Ramen, broccoli & cauliflower, peanuts. The curry was a little vinegary and didn’t have very robust flavor. The slaw didn’t really go with the curry. The black rice noodles were nice, but I think I would have preferred black rice. There was very little sauce, so my last few bites were unseasoned, gummy noodles. The instructions were much better organized than the first two meals, but the pictures still weren’t particularly helpful.

The other downside to Green Chef was the cancellation process.  I had to cancel the subscription the Wednesday before the next delivery.  Since my first delivery arrived on Wednesday, I pretty much had to cancel the next order before the first had even arrived.  The cancellation was also a multi-step process.  I had to e-mail the company through the website and then click a link in an email to complete the process.  Blue Apron’s cancellation process was much easier.



Green Chef Summary

Ease and clarity of instructions: 6/10
Taste: 6/10
Variety: 9/10
How many recipes would I make again? 1.2/3

Verdict: Two of the dishes were mediocre.  The only dish I would make again is the Gorditas.  I would do the barbecue tempeh again, but I’d use a completely different recipe.

Overall Rating: C-

Later this week, I’m trying Home Chef!  It comes with some great recommendations, so I’m very excited.

Blue Apron – Week 2

This is a continuation of my reviews of home delivery meal services.  I tried Blue Apron for two weeks.

Dish 1: Crispy Barramundi with Melted Leek & Roasted Vegetables

Crispy Barramundi with Melted Leek and Roasted Vegetables

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 – Today’s meal is Crispy Barramundi with Melted Leek & Roasted Vegetables. The fish was good quality and nicely flavorful. It paired well with the horseradish sauce, which was so delicious I want to eat it on everything.  The melted leeks were absolutely scrumptious.  Stupidly, I flipped over my fish a second time, and it went from being crispy to being not crispy.  I chalk that up to user error.  I would definitely make this dish again.

Dish 2: Sicilian Cauliflower Pizza

Sicilian Cauliflower Pizza

Friday, February 10, 2017 – Today’s Blue Apron: Sicilian Cauliflower Pizza. Rather than having a sauce on the pizza, the cauliflower was coated with tomato paste, garlic, and capers. The pizza was sprinkled with golden raisins before being baked. The raisins weren’t obvious (they rehydrated a bit in the oven so they weren’t as raisiny). They just added little pops of sweetness, so each bite was a little different. I probably used a third less cheese than the recipe called for because they sent a lot of cheese. I cooked it until the cheese went dark because that’s the way I like my pizza. I’m generally not a huge fan of too much oregano, so I was a bit concerned about having it in the sauce and on top of the finished pizza, but the raw oregano added little notes of pepperiness. They sent enough supplies for three servings. Overall, this was scrumptious!

Dish 3: Fresh Basil Fettuccine with Datterini Tomatoes & Goat Cheese


Sunday, February 10 – My final Blue Apron meal (at least for the time being): Fresh Basil Fettuccine with Datterini Tomatoes & Goat Cheese. It was a bit heavier than I usually eat, but absolutely scrumptious. The goat cheese added just a little creaminess to the sauce. I may steal this recipe in the future when I’m having a pasta craving. There’s an enormous bag of spinach in the recipe, so I felt like I was at least getting some green veggies.

Stay tuned: this Wednesday, I’m getting a box from Green Chef as I continue exploring home meal services.

Blue Apron Week 2 Summary

Ease: 9/10

Taste: 10/10

Variety: 9/10

How many recipes would I make again? 3/3

Verdict: While the Fettuccini was a little heavy for my taste, the sauce lightened it up a bit.  The cauliflower pizza was a revelation, and I will surely put cauliflower on future pizzas, and that horseradish sauce with the Barramundi was amazing.

Overall Rating: A