When You Want to Learn How to Cook Like the Pros…

This is not my typical blog post. But I know that a lot of my photography clients are busy professionals and/or parents so they may benefit from this little experiment I started about a month ago to try out some of those curated meal delivery programs. We’re a busy family – two working parents, little children. I don’t have time to figure out what to cook every night, how to cook it, and even do grocery shopping for it sometimes. But convenience usually means pre-packaged meals with lots of preservatives or take-out food that is not healthy for you. I wanted to improve my cooking skills, widen my horizons (cook more variety), eat healthier meals (fresh ingredients), and control our portion size. If my kids liked it – BONUS!

Everyone has their favorite of these companies (there are so many of them!). I didn’t know which to choose, so I decided to subscribe to 4 of them until I found the one I like. Here is what I found out:

HelloFresh – I tried 5 meals from this company: Peppered Rib-Eye Steak with Truffled Mashed Potatoes & Green Beans Almondine, One Pan Hearty Pork Chili, “Little Ears” Pasta with Sausage, Baby Broccoli and Pesto, and Warmly Spiced Chicken Thighs with Sugar Snap Peas and Basmati Rice. I really liked this company. The dishes were very yummy, visuals were great, and explanations were easy to follow. The website was a little bit clunky to navigate. You can easily skip meals the weeks you don’t want them. This one allowed you to choose from 3 different plans. A Classic Plan (2-4 people, 3-4 meals per week), a Veggie Plan (2-4 people, 3 meals per week), or a Family Plan (4 people, 2-3 meals per week). It was about $9.99 per serving unless you opted for the Premium dish (usually steak) that week. They did send me a lot of marketing emails which was annoying but I am sure I could have opted out of that. I would give this service 4/5 stars.

Plated – This is supposedly the Rolls Royce of home delivery meal services. It provides you up to 19 different recipes to choose from each week, but their prices are a bit more than others. I was not as impressed as I thought I would be. We tried Sausage-Stuffed Portobellos (which was a total fail on my part), Steak au Poivre, Chicken Francese, Beef Patty Melts, and Saucy Meatball Sliders. The food was amazingly good. The preparation was ridiculously complicated and time-consuming. Some of the recipes had me make my own dressing. I don’t have time for that! There are some things I am ok with getting from a bottle. A couple of the meals felt more like a lunch-type food than dinner. The serving size was good, though and we were thoroughly full afterwards. This one also offers the option of dessert, too. If you want to be a gourmet chef with the extra work, then this service is for you. You really have to love to cook to do this one. I’d give it 3.5/5 stars.

Home Chef – I was kinda hooked on this service from the beginning when I saw a friend post about one of her meals on Facebook. On my first order, I got this very nice binder and all of my recipes were hole-punched so I could keep them nicely organized and archived for future use! All of the services provide your recipe cards (so you can duplicate it on your own) on glossy card stock, but this one went the extra mile with the binder! We tried Hickory-Seasoned Salmon, Parisian Bistro Steak, Mozzerella-Stuffed Chile Rellenos Burger, and Blue Cheese and Green Onion Crusted Bone-In Pork Chops. The food is really good, recipes are simple enough that I didn’t feel like I was cooking for an eternity, and the recipes are more our taste (flavorful, but not too out there)!! I am only docking it half a star because on one of my recipes they forgot two of the ingredients, but I emailed them from their website and in less than 5 minutes I had a very apologetic and heartfelt reply and $7 credit. The prices are very reasonable, too. 2 servings, 2 meals per week costs about $40 with shipping. I would give this one a 4.5/5 stars.

Blue Apron – Lots of people rave about this company and everything is very well put together and I had no isues with the customer service or the packaging or freshness of the ingredients, but the recipes were so eclectic. My husband & my palettes are just not that refined I guess. He was not a big fan of the things I cooked from them. I made two meals from Blue Apron: Barramundi & Tzatziki Sauce with Summer Vegetable & Freekeh Salad and Soy-Glazed Pork & Rice Cakes with Bok Choy & Marinated Green Beans. I didn’t even know what half of these ingredients were.

I learned so much over the past few weeks but here are the top 5 things I learned from this ‘experiment’:

1) These meals require A LOT of Olive oil. Probably should buy a jug of it next time you are at the store.
2) They use words that I don’t understand. I am a very basic cook. Before I started on this adventure, I could pull off a simple baked chicken dish, meatloaf, spaghetti or an egg sandwich. That’s about as complex as my own mother cooked, too. I never learned words like “zest” or “beaurre mannie”. It’s like a whole other language. Thankfully some of these companies explained it for me on their recipe sheets otherwise Google was my friend.
3) Along with fancy words, comes fancy kitchen tools. I had to buy a lemon zester, a garlic mincer, a potato masher, etc. These were not things I had in my kitchen previously. I suggest buying it from an online retailer like Amazon or a cook shop in town than buying it directly from one of these companies because it is much cheaper that way.
4) Good luck trying to cook with children around. I recommend waiting until a responsible adult is home to watch the children because cooking these meals require intense focus and things can get very hot. I nearly burned myself a few times, and I definitely burned the broccolini a couple times. Distractions are not good. Also, my little children were not adventurous enough to try many of these meals, so I still have to cook something separate for them.
5) They aren’t kidding when they say read the recipe all the way through before you start. It’s complicated, people. You don’t need any surprises along the way.

In all seriousness, using these meal delivery companies has definitely upped my cooking game. My husband is impressed by my cooking skills now. Heck, I am impressed by my new cooking skills. I definitely could not do this every night though, especially the nights where we are running around to various activities and don’t get home till 8pm. That’s why they invented McDonalds and Chinese take-out. You need to carve out a good 60-90 minutes to prepare these meals. They lie when they say 30-40 minutes. So we’re going to do this probably 2-3 nights per week only. I really like how much I am learning from it! The one thing I don’t like about this type of service is the amount of waste each week (large box, ice packs, containers for every little ingredient), but it sure is convenient! And time is money. Just don’t forget to skip the weeks you are out of town or you’ll have a nice festering package of food on your doorstep (not speaking from experience), and with services like this it is subscription-based so you have to remember to cancel it if you aren’t interested in receiving it anymore.

The winner from my experiment is HOME CHEF! (Click the link to get $30 off your first order if you want to try it out!)

P.S. the photos taken for this blog post were taken by my iPhone in my poorly lit kitchen 🙂