Hi guys, good things have been happening for us. We had a really successful open house this weekend and have gotten a verbal offer so far… hoping it translates into a formal offer today or soon and we can truly be making progress on our goals to sell this condo, downsize and stack our money for our future long distance move. (Update: they made a formal offer! Now just waiting to get all the way into contract!)
I’ve also begun writing my first full length ebook which I hope to release before the end of this year, which will be entitled The Dingus Guide to Pregnancy. Now that I’ve made it through the first trimester and have some energy at my disposal again I want to strike while my memory is fresh on the experience and everything I’m going through in pregnancy to write a guide to the entire experience in a totally keeping it real way. The good, the bad, the ugly, the things people don’t want to tell you out of shame or fear of being judged, plus all the good and gushy heartwarming stuff. So I’m excited to share that news and I’m steadily chugging away working on it.
But back on topic, I’m usually adamantly against using companies like HelloFresh, I won’t lie. I tend to find them highly overpriced compared to buying the raw ingredients in the store based on the quantities you’re getting, you’re absolutely paying a premium for convenience and prep work being done for you, but I found a really good coupon code to try it out for what amounted to $8 a night for three nights. Since I’m still not feeling the best in the world, very busy with working on house things and just plain curious, I decided to give it a go since it won’t cost us much more that buying groceries for three dinners would usually run me.
This isn’t a sponsored post, I bought this product with my own money but just wanted to share my opinion on if it was worthwhile or not and the whole experience. Hopefully I can help someone decide if they’d like to try this for themselves in the future.
Well, the box arrived around 4pm on Monday. Just late enough that I had already pulled out half of a frozen turkey pot pie that I’ve been meaning to use, so the cooking will begin another day. They say the delivery window is 8am-8pm so they were totally within their time bracket and I can’t fault them for it, we are consistent 5pm eaters and that’s not their fault.
First impression overall was that the box it came in was pretty big. Think the size of two stacked cases of 24 water bottles and rather heavy. The first thought that popped in my mind was crap, how am I gonna fit this all in the fridge. But once I got the box opened I realized a lot of this mass was filled with padding and ice packs. I removed the first layer of padding to reveal the paperwork which included the recipe cards, some advertisements for other companies with bait discounts, a couple kind of unnecessary filler mailers. Below that were three bags taped and labeled with each meals name. Below those were some large ice packs and finally the meat at the very bottom which was indeed all kept nice and cold.
When I pulled out the three packages of vacuum sealed meat the thought in my mind was that this isn’t much food and I usually cook at least double if not triple that much meat for our dinners. Granted, my meals usually produce leftovers and we are big eaters to begin with but that was my gut feeling. I had planned on feeding my almost five year old daughter out of the meals as well with a few tweaks to her portion for her palate but after seeing the quantities I wasn’t sure if that was possible without someone winding up hungry at the end, it seems these meals are indeed designed to include no overages. I didn’t explore the individual bags any further yet but looked over the menu cards and managed to get everything into the fridge easily with plans to begin this experiment the following night.
Night one: Pineapple Poblano Tacos
So I decided to let my husband choose which meal to do first and he chose the tacos, so we could have a taco Tuesday. He’s cute sometimes. They say this recipe takes 20 minutes total to complete. I timed myself to see if this was on target, from the moment of beginning prep work. I began by taking everything out of the bag and looking it over and immediately discovered one of my sour cream packets was exploded. Thankfully the mess was contained to one corner and not all over everything else but that one packet was unusable.
I had sour cream in the house already so it wasn’t a big deal to replace it from my own but if I was a regular customer and didn’t, that would put a damper on things. In the interest of this post I wrote to the customer care to see how they’d handle it. Within two hours I got an email back saying they had credited $10 to my account which was really nice. (In total transparency, after receiving the package yesterday I immediately cancelled my delivery schedule because I find the regular price for this far too expensive so I’ll probably never use that credit. But if you’re a regular subscriber, that’s great customer service and nice to know they’re so quick to react and a good incentive to order from them with trust that your expectations will be met or they’ll make it right.)
But back to the cooking… I followed their recipe card and began by doing all of the prep work to the produce. This took me about ten minutes to complete which is right on target as they project but I will note that I am very skilled and comfortable with a knife. Someone less so might take a bit longer as this was a lot of chopping to do.
All of the produce was in good shape and mostly fresh, my only two gripes are that the lime was totally hard and therefore not very juicy even after being wrenched with a fork to get every bit and the cilantro, once stemmed, yielded the teeniest little pile and the instructions didn’t say to remove your cilantro from the large stems which could result in some unpleasantly grassy salsa if someone didn’t. Because of low yield after prep work, I didn’t have enough to use of either of these items for the finishing garnish as directed by the recipe once I had used them in the salsa and crema.
After the prep-work things moved quickly, dumping the salsa ingredients together and giving a quick stir, mixing the crema together (using my own sour cream to supplement) and starting the vegetables in the pan.
Here is my next gripe. I’m not sure about HelloFresh’s target audience but if you aren’t a seasoned cook and you’re strictly following their recipe card I don’t think you’d be happy with the results of the beef and veggie mixture. They say to cook the peppers and onions over medium high heat for two minutes to soften. After two minutes over medium high heat, they had barely begun to sweat and this is on a high powered gas stove. If I proceeded at this point I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed this meal with undercooked veggies.
I did want to cook these recipes to their specifications for the sake of this post but let us not forget that I am pregnant and hungry and have a husband that hasn’t eaten all day (he does intermittent fasting) so I knew we wouldn’t be satisfied with still really crunchy onions and peppers, so I cooked them to our liking. I clocked it at 7 minutes for the veggies to be at a softened state to my liking and at this point was beyond their projected 20 minutes.
At this point I also went off recipe and put the veggies in a bowl to start the beef alone rather than added to the veggies as I needed to pinch a bit of it off for my daughter’s taco, she wanted no part of the veggie blend. After removing her portion I added the veggies back in, added the pineapple juice and the mixture was complete. I found their beef cooking time to be more accurate than the veggies, they say 3-4 minutes and it took me five.
To finish, you warm the tortillas in the microwave and divvy out the beef mixture, salsa and crema. By some lucky twist of fate they had given me seven tortillas instead of the expected six so I was able to give my daughter that one and not have to sacrifice one of my own (pregnancy win!) so my husband and I both had three tacos. Start to finish it had taken me almost half an hour, so not drastically different but not as quick as expected mostly because I wasn’t happy with the cook on the veggies on their timeframe.
I took a picture of the finished product next to their recipe photo. Theirs is a little shinier and glitzier and they leave the crema on the side for presentation purposes I noticed too late, but by and large the recipe really emulates what they have you expecting to get.
And here is my daughter’s modified kids meal. 🙂
For the most important part: the taste test.
My daughter didn’t like hers. The meat was differently flavored than her usual taco meat so it turned her off. I don’t hold this against HelloFresh. 🙂
My husband and I did both like it. My original worry that this wouldn’t generate enough food for us was relieved, it created two full plates of food with three well filled tacos each. My husband said he liked the flavor, it wasn’t as good as “fancy restaurant tacos” but he enjoyed it, remarking that he could tell the ingredients were a good quality and he found the spice level barely perceptible. He wasn’t feeling super full after the meal and wound up eating our daughter’s rejected taco as well.
I found the flavor to be good, if not a bit bland. Their taco seasoning didn’t pack much punch in my opinion. I didn’t love that they sent canned pineapple and not fresh, and there wasn’t enough cilantro or lime flavor to the salsa as I expected. I found the overall flavor to be largely dominated by the crema. It was a good meal, and I felt satisfied by the end of it but not stuffed and happy that I had just consumed a nice amount of varied produce. I did notice a mild heat from the poblano but I am sensitive to spicy food, my husband is one of those chili pepper eating people with no suffering, not me.
All in all I felt this meal was worth the promotional price we paid for it which was about $8 for the whole meal and I would eat it again for that price. If it was at the regular price I think I’d feel underwhelmed. The ingredients were all of a good quality if not the absolute best and for the most part the recipe was easy to follow but again, if someone isn’t experienced enough and followed it religiously they may not love the end result.
My husband is the cleanup crew and he remarked that the cleanup was not different than a usual meal. I’d say the convenience factor is limited to your ingredients being pre-portioned for you but it was about as much effort as any weekday meal I’d put together. So that’s it for tonight, looking forward to tomorrow’s dinner to continue this experiment!
Night two: Maple and Rosemary-Glazed Pork Cutlets
For night two we went with the pork dish. This pork was served with herbed couscous and a creamy apple salad. The projected time to complete this dish was 20 minutes, it wound up taking me 25 all said.
I began by doing the prep work as advised, the only additional thing I did was peel our apple, I’m not into eating the peel. This all came together quickly and I was done in less than the projected five minutes for prep work. The scallions were easily chopped and the rosemary as well. I discovered at this point that I was given about three times the rosemary I would need, so I have that for future personal use, it was nice to have too much rather than too little like last nights cilantro.
Next making the couscous, it was quick to toss the scallion and rosemary in the pan and bring a small amount of water to a rapid boil and then the couscous handles itself set off to the side until everything else is done.
After finishing the couscous, I turned to the pork. Here I came into my biggest gripe for this meal… I did weigh the packages of meat when they arrived to see if they were accurate, and they were. This was 12oz of pork as expected however it was three chops and not four. In the demo photo you clearly see four chops and the display plate is of two chops each. If you were doing this for a date night or someone to impress it would be a bit potentially awkward and not look as nice to be divvying out one and a half chops at the end.
Aside of this discovery the pork came together as advised within their targeted time frame and I turned to the sauce. While the pork was cooking I had measured out the sauce ingredients into a single measuring cup to be able to get it all in the pan at once. I discovered I would have quite a bit of extra maple syrup which was nice. Once the pork was done and set aside the sauce came together pretty quickly but not as fast as they projected, it took mine a bit longer to thicken up than they advised it would.
Once the sauce was done and the pork was set back into it I completed the salad. I discovered a final gripe… the adorable little glass mayonnaise container. This thing was seriously so cute and tiny, so tiny that not even a teaspoon would fit inside. I had to use a butter knife to get it out and with its rounded edges couldn’t come close to getting all of it out. When dealing with a two tablespoon container that you need all two tablespoons of… I was wishing they had forgone the cute factor and just give me a few Hellman’s packets.
But once I wrestled out as much as I could the dressing came together super fast. Just a quick whisk and toss and it was done.
I plated everything up and took a comparison photo. Aside of the disparity in pork portions from the stock photo I think it looked pretty similar. My daughter elected to have this meal alongside us so I dished out a kid size portion of it and we still had pretty size decent plates of food, again disproving my original feeling that this wouldn’t be enough.
For the taste test, my daughter liked this whole dish and ate all of her pork and more than half of the salad and couscous. My husband liked it quite a bit, he generally doesn’t like couscous at all but enjoyed it this way with the herbs and the sweet maple sauce leaking into it helped things too.
The pork, while a disappointing portion, was really tasty. My husband said he wasn’t full but figured this was what a normal dinner should be. I wasn’t totally satisfied after it and wished I had about 25% more to eat when I was done but did enjoy the taste a lot. I enjoyed this ones flavor more than the tacos, but felt a bit less full than I did after those. I would make this dish again and found it to be worth the value of the promo price but for the portion of meat, absolutely not worth the regular price.
I do like that I gleaned some extra rosemary and maple syrup from the leftover ingredients, that makes me feel a bit better about the cost. Tomorrow is the final HelloFresh dinner and we are looking forward to it!
Night three: Winner winner Chicken Orzo Dinner
So for our final HelloFresh meal, we have the chicken. This is the meal my husband was least looking forward to, I guess I could say the same for myself mostly because this is more along the lines of stuff I’d normally make so not too exciting or different for us. The projected time to finish this dish was 30 minutes and I wound up done with five minutes to spare. Tonight I also had a sous chef who posed with the ingredient layout.
I began with the prep work, slicing the zucchini and tomatoes and chopping the parsley. I ran into gripe number one here… the amount of parsley provided. I displayed it next to a tablespoon here for scale. It’s confusing because for last night I was given three times as much rosemary as I needed but for this recipe, like the tacos with the cilantro, they call for this herb to be used twice and it didn’t even provide a full tablespoons worth. It was barely perceptible once mixed into the orzo and I didn’t even bother to try to save any for the garnish as advised, just mixed it all in.
After the veggies are prepped they go onto a baking sheet and get tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and half a packet of Italian seasoning, into the oven at 425 for ten minutes.
At the same time, the orzo went into a pot of boiling water and I began to prep the chicken. Here is gripe number two. You’re supposed to butterfly these breasts but the two I got were kind of ragged and not nice, tidy breasts suitable for butterflying. They also weren’t properly cleaned and with a service like this I expected they would’ve been. So I cleaned them and did the best I could to butterfly but it was kind of a hack job.
Those got rubbed down with the remaining Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and went into the pan for three minutes on each side over high heat. While everything was cooking I diced the mozzarella for the veggie topping. At this point a lot of multitasking is happening and for me, this is how I generally cook, but it occurred to me that for someone unexperienced things could become a bit overwhelming at this point as you have four things to think about and the orzo and veggies both needed attention within two minutes of each other.
The chicken was done before either of the other components and placed onto a plate off the heat. The orzo was drained and dressed with a squeeze of lemon, the parsley, salt and pepper. Finally, the veggies came out after ten minutes and were topped with the diced mozzarella, packet of panko and shredded Parmesan and put back into the oven to broil for five minutes.
At this point everything else was done and waiting on the veggies and I wondered if their advised timing could be better tweaked so that the chicken isn’t sitting getting cold for five minutes while the veggies finish. Maybe swapping the mozzarella and chicken prep would do the job. But I followed their directions as advised and this was how it wound up, so I put the chicken plate over the orzo pot and tented it all to buy some time, realizing an unpracticed cook might not think to do this and eat cold chicken once the veggies are done.
After the veggies were done everything was quickly dished out and my daughter was eager to eat this meal after participating and observing the process. My plates deviated a bit from the stock photo. Note their tomatoes are a lot more vibrant and solid looking, mine had pretty much disintegrated. I had no parsley for garnish and I had held back a pinch of Parmesan to use as garnish instead.
And the most important part, the taste test: this one kind of underwhelmed us. My daughter liked the orzo but she found the chicken over seasoned. My husband also found the taste of Italian seasoning overwhelmed everything else and didn’t care for it much and also just felt this recipe was pretty basic and boring. I liked the flavor for the most part but agree it was pretty one note and not too exciting. We both felt that this dish was the most ‘cheap’ feeling of the three, and not a great value even at the promotional price.
I had fun doing this experiment and given the opportunity I would try more of their dishes for the promotional price I paid here which worked out to about $8 a dinner. Even though this was the two person meal plan, through both luck of a few extra ingredients along the way and pinching off our portions I was able to feed two adults and a five year old a properly sized meal.
For the most part, we really did enjoy the completed meals. I had a few gripes along the way with damaged, under-portioned or poorly prepped ingredients which is a lot more forgivable at $8 a meal than the standard rate of nearly $20 a meal that would be the non promotional price. If I had paid the full price for this package I would very likely have contacted customer service and complained about these issues because I don’t find has lived up to the standard they have set for quality assurance.
I did have the issue of the exploded sour cream that I reached out about and they issued me a ten dollar credit to my account. I don’t see myself buying again full price but I will explore if that credit can be combined with another promotional code. If so, I might do this again because there were a lot of things I did like about this experience.
I liked trying new recipes and even learning a few new sauces and combinations that aren’t already in my repertoire. I can see myself recreating aspects of all three of these meals on my own, and even repeating the entire taco meal with a couple of tweaks.
It’s obviously convenient to simply pull a bag of already sorted and portioned ingredients out of the fridge and get cooking rather than meal plan, shop and prep for yourself but with handing such control over to a company it’s annoying to have an issue of some kind with every meal.
There are some issues with their recipe planning and I feel they work on the assumption that their subscribers have at least a certain level of kitchen knowledge which may not be the case. For example, my husband who is less experienced, knowing his skill level I could see him having a few snags along the way with needing to make judgment calls that their recipe isn’t quite right and getting a subpar result if he didn’t know to do so. Maybe I just discovered our next experiment, repeating the subscription and having him do it all without any intervention from me and see if my suspicion is correct.
All in all, if you can get HelloFresh for the promo price I would happily recommend you give it a go for one order. You can cancel immediately after receiving it to prevent being charged full price the next week. It was fun and I’d say a mostly satisfactory experience and it fed us for three days for about what I’d normally spend on our groceries anyway.