Week Three of Hello Fresh: delicious meals and quasi-final thoughts

Earlier this week we got our third Hello Fresh meal delivery. The teenager (I have reason to believe teenager #2 will be moving this week; as she has only been home a few hours in the last week, I hereby formally declare that teenager #1 is now, once again, the teenager) asked to try one of the discount offers provided in another of our subscription services.

They are certainly clever marketers. Box one comes at something like 50% off, then they scale back the discount until delivery four is eight percent off.

And box five, for four people, once you include the shipping, is about $40 per meal.

On my previous Hello Fresh posts (see Hello Fresh, Continuing Thoughts on Hello Fresh, and Hello Fresh Delivery Two)

Now, as I have mentioned, I am a good home chef and a very thrifty shopper. For the cost of one of these meals I bet I could replicate at least three of their recipes.

But that’s not the real point of one of these services, at least in my opinion.

These services:

  • Renew people’s interest in being in the kitchen.
  • Teach people to cook without the risk of randomly googling a meal on the internet, buying the wrong ingredients or admitting you don’t have any skill in the kitchen.
  • Offer the convenience of avoiding the shopping experience or running out of or forgetting a key ingredient.
  • Provide better choice and healthier options than restaurants.
  • Help people meal plan and stick to that plan which can reduce the chance of poor food-related decisions.
  • And my favorite, expose people to new recipes and new uses to standard ingredients, expanding a person’s cooking repertoire. That, in my opinion, is worth the investment and why, after next week, I will be converting to a two-meal, once-a-month plan.

Now for the “cons” of specifically Hello Fresh:

  • I am freaked out by the idea that my raw meat spends 24-36 hours in transit, and by the amount of ice packs in that box. The waste generated upsets me. I noticed that our cat foster godmother reuses the boxes as cat huts.
  • The ingredients sometimes disappoint. I bought their “chicken protein pack” and their chicken strips were tiny chunks— like popcorn chicken. I ordered an extra bag of Brussel sprouts and they were either $3.50 or $3.99, which is the going rate for fresh Brussels. Now they are my favorite and I thought Hello Fresh might have access to special sprouts. Maybe organic or a unique source. Nope. Green Giant.
  • Our schedules in this house are chaotic and finding the time and energy to commit to preparing several meals a week like this is more stressful than I anticipated.
  • The recipes assume you have a certain efficiency in the kitchen. I think we, on average, require one hour at least for a meal that should take 10 minutes prep time and 30 to cook.
  • There’s a lot of rice.
  • I’m not sure these meals fill me up for more than two hours.
  • There are cheaper meal delivery services available. One friend recommended trying Every Plate.

So what have we tried so far?

  1. Pork with Apple Dijon Pan Sauce over farro and wilted kale. (Photos above) I liked it. Teen found the pork scrumptious and well-seasoned but does not care for neither farro nor kale.
  2. Thai Ginger Curry with creamy coconut veggies, peanuts and lime rice. I loved their creative use of red peppers and green beans for the vegetables. They provided a fantastic, full-fat coconut milk. Teen did not care for it. She likes my curries, but this curry was not her thing.
  3. Tuscan Garlic Butter Chicken with creamy kale and paprika carrots. Amazing. All around. The Tuscan heat spice blend excites me. Teen still hates kale.
  4. Paprika Chicken in a Lemony Sauce with pistachio rice and roasted carrots. Not the rich Hungarian dish I was hoping for but very yummy. We both agreed. The pistachios in the rice seemed so decadent.
  5. Thai Shrimp with candied peanuts over sesame cabbage and arugula. I bombed this one. I loved the salad portion and the peanuts, but I’m not a fan of shrimp. The teen loves shrimp but is not fond of purple cabbage and discovered that she detests arugula. So I ate salad for three days until I got sick of it and she ate a lot of shrimp.
  6. Meatloaves with creamy mushroom sauce plus garlic mashed potatoes and roasted Brussel sprouts. The teen and I might agree this was our favorite. But I didn’t eat my mushrooms.
  7. Creamy Cilantro Steak Bowls with garlic lime rice and charred poblano. I enjoyed this one but they were so generous with the steak portions that I got three meals out of what was listed as two servings. This was spicy. And that was good, but the vegetable was onions and neither the teen nor I wanted to chomp on a serving of cooked onions.

We have one meal left this week— apricot ginger chicken— and one more box coming this week. Hello Fresh offered a refresh of our taste buds, but hits hard on the wallet.

Review: End of Hello Fresh week two and random junk we tried

My daughter often stops at Grocery Outlet in part because of their “rainbow Coke program” where you can rummage through lose cans of soda and mix and match flavors for 25 cents each. They have weird food, good deals, and allow us to try things on which we wouldn’t usually splurge.

Tonight we made the Cheetos Jalapeño Macaroni and Cheese. Now, hands down, without question, my absolute favorite ultra-processed boxed macaroni and cheese product is Wegmans house brand Spirals and Cheese dinner, which I often used to get on sale for 33 cents a box.

This hard larger than average noodles that once prepared very quickly absorbed all the sauce. It tasted exactly like jalapeño cheetos. Except you didn’t have to chew so much. I ate a bowl, and the spice developed on the roof of my mouth versus my tongue. I added a can of tuna and had another bowl. A two-serving box was 79 cents.

Other Random Products

  • Fried Oreos: finally tried them at Sheetz. Gooey in the middle. Enjoyed them but was disappointed by the end product because I never realized how much of the allure of Oreos was in the crunch factor.
  • Strawberry Ice Cream Cone Hershey Kisses: very smooth strawberry flavor and I didn’t expect the crunchy bits. Honestly, between 20 flavors of Oreos and constantly rotating flavors of Hershey Kisses, my taste buds are getting burnt out. How many different flavors of potato chips and Mountain Dew do Americans really need?
  • Tropical Swedish Fish: like the iconic red flavor of Swedish Fish that vaguely resembles cherry, these tropical Swedish fish vaguely resemble something familiar but the flavors listed on the box aren’t even all flavors (passion fruit, pina colada, beachy punch and tropical island). They are weird and the colors are muted and off-putting.
  • Dunkin’s Peach Lemonade Refresher: possible one of the most over sweetened items I have ever tasted. Even teenager #1 who likes sweet things couldn’t drink it. So I suggested she blend it with some diet ginger ale we had in the house. That she loved.

And as promised— a brief update on Hello Fresh.

Meals, for four servings, cost about $35 each, when including shipping. The meals are amazingly curated and the recipes amazing. This week I tried to pick things my daughter would like but that I wouldn’t normally buy or don’t often take the time to make.

The Turkey meat loaves with mashed potatoes, Brussel sprouts and mushroom sauce were a hit. But the shrimp Thai salad bombed. I don’t care for shrimp, poor teenager #1 struggled to eat it all. And didn’t. And it turned out I didn’t notice when I ordered it that the based of the salad was arugula. And the teen hates arugula. So I ate massive vegetarian salads for dinner for three days. They were scrumptious but I don’t want to eat arugula again for a while.

We downsized our box from three meals to two as it is Sunday, another box ships tomorrow and we still have steak from last week to make.

So while we are eating better, we are spending a whole lot of money, struggling to find time to be in the kitchen and then stressing over getting the meals prepared before they go bad or another box shows up.

My initial review of Hello Fresh

I enjoy cooking.

I adore eating.

I run a very thrifty household.

So, I decided to use my birthday money and one of those special introductory offers you see everywhere and try Hello Fresh.

It arrived Monday.

Here is the halfhearted unboxing as I was running out the door to go to work: First Hello Fresh Box (unboxing)

We made the honey-ricotta crisps for breakfast yesterday. Here are the videos for that:Part one and Part two.

My only criticism is that what they call a “baguette” is what I call a roll. Maybe Italian but not French. Folks, if your baguette is soft on the outside it is not a true French style bread. It should be crispy outside and soft inside.

Today I started cooking. For real.

Before continuing, please note: my spirit animal is a cat. As a consequence, I don’t like being told what to do and I tend to be flexible with directions. If you’re a strict, play-by-the-book sort, you might have a stroke reading this.

Because we just make pork with rice and stir fry vegetables on Monday, I didn’t want rice. Two of my meals include rice. (Teenager #1 cooked the pork, teenager #2 said it was delicious. I am eating mine at work tonight.)

I decided to make the vegetarian curry, but swap the rice for the creamy kale from the Tuscan chicken dinner.

I ordered extra chicken, just to try some of their other products. Let me say, even as I make some criticisms, everything was delicious. And having a food service, retail background and commercial kitchen experience, I know some of the challenges Hello Fresh faces when combining food with a subscription service.

But this chicken is not “strips.” The package says strips, but it is chunks. And wow is whatever that packaging juice is slimy. Some of these chunks were too small to even cook. I fed them to the dog.

Hello Fresh chicken “strips”

I made the chicken with everything else because I usually have breakfast at 1 and dinner at 7:30 so I wanted to make it a little heartier.

The curry included fresh lime, fresh cilantro, and an amazing full fat coconut milk. It included green beans and red pepper as the base of the meal which wouldn’t be my normal pick. Turns out it’s a great mix. And the recipe forced me to work with shallots. Have never done that.

I hate onions, but I know they cook down in a recipe like this.

The secret to the creamy kale was Tuscan heat spice and sour cream. Kale and sour cream go so well together… I wonder how it would be with herbs de Provence instead of Tuscan heat…

Finally, let me at that the meal is supposed to take 45 minutes, prep & cooking. Mine took more than an hour, in part because I didn’t stick to one meal but mixed and matched.

We still have two more meals and I did schedule a box for next week.

With mandatory overtime ongoing at work, it’s an easy way to make sure I eat real food.

First Thanksgiving of the season

I have always harbored a certain resentment that holidays are defined as certain days, and since I worked retail for a decade, I adopted the attitude that holidays and celebrations happen when people gather not on a certain date or on the fourth Thursday in November.

My foster cat godmother gave us an 18-pound turkey and as I was a vegetarian for about eight years until my carnivorous daughter was born, I have never cooked a turkey. And it felt like this was the year to try.

I did some internet research and got the bird out of the fridge only to discover that my cheap refrigerator had frozen part of this damn turkey and even after soaking it in hot water we had a terrible time getting the neck from the chest cavity.

But luckily the teenager is stubborn like her mother and got the neck out, which looked and felt disturbingly phallic.

Teenager with a bird neck

I assembled the coleslaw by placing cabbage, radishes and carrots in my Ninja food processor. I made a honey mustard dressing.

I slathered the turkey with butter, purple pepper, smoked paprika, poultry seasoning and sage and placed it in the oven. I “basted” it every thirty minutes by recycling the juices from the drip pan and wiping them across inside the bird with a pastry brush.

Then I whipped up the corn bread and placed it in my neighbor’s oven while I assembled the green beans Caesar and the sweet potato crunch.

I didn’t have enough pecans so I put some mixed nuts in the Ninja and that made my nuts more like nut butter. That was the only real “fail” of the night. But I liked it.

I heated up some corn and made some butter-sage turkey gravy from scratch. Nan brought some cranberry sauce. And Darnell and Amber were kind enough to stop by and rescue me when it came time to carve my bird.

Teenager #1 made a deliriously good batch of homemade mashed potatoes.

I heated up some corn and the spaghetti squash I grew in my compost heap.

Jan stopped by with her ladyship Sobaka and we had three teenagers in the house. That felt good.

Ham everywhere

My neighbor’s boyfriend gave me a ham that had to weigh about 8 pounds.

As I spend the first decade of my adult life cooking as a vegetarian— I have never made a ham.

So this was a first.

To use all this ham:

  • I sliced some big pieces for sandwiches.
  • I took the pieces half of the size of the sandwiches and labeled them “breakfast” for ham and eggs.
  • I shredded the dry pieces for soup.
  • I, with the teenager’s help, made ham salad. We even had army teenager over to open the pickle jar.
  • I froze some ham.
  • I had a ham sandwich on white bread with extra big slices of American cheese.
  • I packaged some ham for a friend.
  • I put the ham bone, all the fat, and some smoked pork neck bones in the crock pot to make stock for ham and black bean soup.

Those happy little things

The past few days have been a roller coaster. A cliche I know but the simplest way to describe life.

Something spooked the budgies at 5 a.m. this morning, which in turn spooked the cockatoo. I had not caged the cockatoo as we had a rough day yesterday and she was mad at me. So I turned the light on to soothe everyone and Nala (my Goffin) flew into my bed with me.

This blog will be mostly a random list of nice things with pictures and a review of McDonald’s spicy nuggets.

So let’s handle the review first.

Angel’s Review of McDonald’s spicy nuggets

I like them. Very much. Good with a side of ranch.

For more on our trip to McDonald’s for Buy One Get One nuggets — with TWO teenagers— see our video on YouTube: Taste Test: Spicy Nugs

Onward…

MY teenager had her first day of Zoom classes as part of her hybrid public high school yesterday. Her friend, who will affectionately be “the second teenager” in this space, joined us.

After class, we visited our friends at Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab to get a large crate for our Greek Pride Foster Kittens so we could segregate Hermes as he has ringworm.

(For more on the kittens:

Zeus and Apollo

Kittens are one of the things that make me happy.

Other things that make me happy:

Thank You Tucker Provisions

The teenager wanted to get out of the house yesterday and I knew as a responsible adult we needed some fresh produce.

With the Coronavirus still keeping our state on lockdown, I’ve been trying to explore as many small local businesses as I can that are adapting to the situation.

I’ve never been to Tucker, an Australian Cafe at the Simon Silk Mill in Easton. They hosted an amazingly successful benefit to raise money to fight the Australian brush fires.

So they already have my admiration.

The only friend I know who ate there was not impressed— she felt rushed and a tad snubbed by their waitress.

But I’ve been intrigued by their recent business model… They’ve adapted by becoming “Tucker Provisions” and it’s like a drive up general store.

Tucker web site

They feature a a variety of other local and regional farmers, vendors, and small businesses. The apples in the picture are from Bethlehem’s Scholl Orchard. The golden raisins are super plump and juicy, so good.

And I am so looking forward to trying the potatoes, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, rhubarb and broccoli.

I even splurged on some Mexican soda.

While we were out, the teenager spotted these:

She loves rocks.

“Mom,” she says as the car is stopped. “There are some really nice rocks over there.”

“Go get them,” I tell her.

Maybe she’ll be a geology major.

For supper last night I decided I wanted homemade cream of broccoli soup. We have some heavy whipping cream in the fridge that’s past its date, more than a week past, and I hate to waste.

And Tucker had broccoli.

I based my soup on this recipe

Now I never follow a recipe, never exactly. Either I never have all the ingredients or I just don’t want to. This was a little of both. While I prepped the soup, I roasted some of the Brussels and our last radishes and the smallest of our fingerling potatoes.

I made mini bread bowls out of the heavily discounted fresh baked but day old dinner rolls I bought at Weis last weekend and tossed in the fridge. I even toasted the removed guts of the bread bowl to make croutons on top.

Good stuff. Looking forward to enjoying it for lunch if the rain keeps up.

We have a jumper! (This post jumps around)

I’ve been allowing myself to sleep in a bit and these days I’m waking up between 6:15 and 6:30. I lay in bed sometimes until almost 7, but I’m always dressed, with pants and everything, and at my desk with a hot cup of coffee by 8:30.

I’ve enjoyed sharing an office with my birds— three budgies and a Goffin’s cockatoo—all of whom must be enjoying the electronic swing I listen to at my desk and the bird playground I have assembled for them.

Yes, that’s the teenager’s kitten who refused to get out of the cockatoo’s cage.

Now, when Nala the cockatoo destroys toys I save the salvageable pieces and put them in these spare dishes and she plays with them and throws them at the cats.

I think I have some new toys coming for the parakeets, and I also need to order them more ladders and perches because they have suddenly destroyed everything in their cage.

Work passed easily, I feel like I was quite organized and productive. And I’m off tomorrow. I took an unplanned paid time off to take care of some health issues. So it will be part trip to the pharmacy, part virtual doctor visit and part mental health day.

There’s a contact we have at work at a local company that is the point person for a rather large food drive that benefits our agency. Because of the state lockdown, they can’t host this food drive so the employees contributed cash instead, but she didn’t want to mail it and our offices are closed.

So the teenager and I took a road trip. It’s strange when a 25-mile round trip to the next town and back feels like a major outing. I donned my mask, put on my gloves and we exchanged an envelope of cash in the parking lot.

That might be the closest I will ever come to feeling like a drug dealer. Nope, scratch that. I’ve driven around with a trunk full of Girl Scout cookies.

My teenager and I have the best conversations while in the car. We talked a lot about financial responsibility and budgeting and how important it will be for her to determine her own style of fiscal management. She admires my discipline, chicanery and creativity with making my money work for me.

I taught her about different ways to trick yourself into putting money into savings. The first of course is to set up automatic transfers. Another is to have a portion of your paycheck direct deposited into savings.

The easiest is to always, as soon as you take a new job, decide on a number of how much goes into retirement if your job offers a retirement plan. That way before you even see how much your take home pay is, the money goes into your future.

And if your job doesn’t have retirement options, go to your bank and contribute to an IRA. Every year. Because money saved when you are young goes far.

That motivated me to go ahead and take the plunge and use that last $1,000 of my stimulus check that I had put into savings and use it to prepay for 400 gallons of fuel oil for next winter’s heat at $2.199.

That was painful. But at least it’s over. Next I need to contact the dentist about the $859 bill they sent me for my crown. My insurance company didn’t cover anything but $17. I’m annoyed because the dentist thought they’d pay 50%, the tooth still isn’t right AND the bill they sent didn’t include the credit for the $394 I already paid.

But paying for the fuel oil was enough adulting for today.

The teenager made an amazing steak dinner.

And Nala loves onion rings.

The teenager discovered, because I sent her an Instagram post, that The Attic thrift store has an online sale and bid on a red dress. That she won.

I love the ingenuity our local small businesses are showing. I hope it continues after the lockdown ends.

Go follow AtticClothes

Last but certainly not least, I tried this Cascara tea which is supposedly full of antioxidants and it tasted really good.

Easter Sunday Pandemic Stream of Consciousness

I started today with the debate of whether to blog about Nala, my Goffin’s cockatoo, or my thoughts on what makes a good day or a good weekend, something the teenager seemed insistent upon us having.

But the cats started climbing the parakeet cage, I made the “mistake” of reviewing some news coverage of Donald Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, and frankly, I’ve lost my train of thought more times than I can count.

So while I’m still lost in a sea of randomness, watching Mistofelees (my daughter’s formerly feral/stray kitten) decide how to get off the budgie cage without crossing Nala’s path, let me also say I used the hydrating hair mask from last month’s Ipsy Glam bag and my dry curly hair is remarkably not puffy today.

The first time I tried it, I didn’t see any results. This time was very different.

(For more on my Ipsy experiences, see here: Review of my Ipsy April 2020 Glam Bag)

It’s Easter Sunday, but the teenager opened her basket on Good Friday (I’m suddenly realizing how disrespectful that was of traditional Christian culture). Oops.

To see our silliness on that, I have YouTube videos:

Mom prepares the Easter Box

Teen opens her Easter box

I washed her new sheets and hung them on the line yesterday. I helped her make her bed and I hope she had a lovely night of sleep on them. She picked the most colorful ones first.

In the next order of randomness, I think I’m going to make a Buffalo chicken spaghetti squash casserole for Easter dinner.

Now, shall I even expound on my thoughts on the Coronavirus situation. Perhaps briefly.

  • I think the isolation vs. develop herd immunity arguments both have merit. It’s hard for anyone to know what is “right” in any major situation. What makes a good leader is the depth of response, the logic behind it and how organized the implementation is.
  • Those who have resources and power will always sacrifice those who have less to maintain their resources and power. It is true of most humanity. Even those will less. Look at the hoopla over toilet paper.
  • I think this change in how we live and work could have some broad implications. I would like to see, in my Pollyanna nirvana, a world where we all slow down, shop less, and spend more time with our loved ones. But in reality, I think we will see shifts in service delivery (perhaps huge changes in public education), reductions in consumer goods available/continued shortages, and more poverty.
  • Our civil liberties have changed since 9/11/2001 and they will continue to decrease. The notion of privacy is almost completely dead if not buried. I remember when science fiction warned us we would all be microchipped and have our physical money taken away. Now, the core of our lives are tracked, spied on and connected to a mini-supercomputer we carry with us everywhere we go. We call it a smart phone.
  • Technology companies are developing identifiers for each of us via our phones to track who may have been exposed to Covid-19 and alert those they with whom they came in contact. This technology will no doubt track us all in other ways in the future but I’m not against it. Because, see previous bullet, in today’s world there is no real privacy boundaries left.

So let’s enjoy this sunny Easter and celebrate life and spring.

With the pandemic looming, and people still struggling in the every day ways, you have to rejoice one moment at a time.

Recent food and random Monday silliness

Today was hard—one of those days where I thought I had all my ducks in a row only to be asked why the sheep were still out to pasture.

A goofy image, but how I feel.

The teenager and I have been eating well. My neighbor has been sharing some of her Hungryroot deliveries. If she doesn’t like it, she sends it to my house.

That’s how I discovered that I like polenta.

So this weekend, I made spaghetti with Hungryroot’s Spicy Thai peanut sauce and sautéed fresh radishes and frozen stir fry vegetables in sesame oil and Bragg’s liquid aminos.

For breakfast that morning we’d had scrambled eggs in homemade crepes with turkey bacon, Gouda and a pickle.

Today for breakfast, the teenager had the last of the Thai peanut sauce and bacon on a bagel.

For lunch today we had leftover spaghetti, vegetable dumplings and Green Giant Steamfresh superfood edamame mix. So yummy.

Dinner was salad with sesame dressing and Hungryroot lemongrass tofu.

And yesterday the teenager baked me the most amazing dark chocolate cookies with dark chocolate chips and piles of fresh coconut.

My dear friend and traveling companion M got to meet Nala over FaceTime today and commented how she was more cuddly and quiet than he expected.

She’s been very tired lately, but she’s been waking often in the night.

Nana sleeping on my chest

And for one last burst of cheer, here’s a pile of kittens:

And the teen and I did some taste-testing:

Strawberry Twinkies

Lemon Hostess Cupcakes