Home Chef Review: The Good, The Bad and The Balance

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It seems like everytime time I turn around, I see an ad for a meal delivery service and I’ve been curious as to whether they were any good.  As you know, I’m not a fan of premade anything so I had decided to forgo trying them.  Until…

I received an email from Home Chef stating that my stepmother had referred me to the program and, if I signed up, my first box would be free.  Now “free” is definitely one of my favorite things so I decided to give it a go.

Here is my review of the Home Chef Meal Box that I received for free:  the good, the bad and the balance.

Order Up! Online Sign-up Form

I cruised over to the website to sign up.  There was an initial glitch (more about that later) but it was quickly solved by customer service and I was able to sign up with minimal fuss.

There are 7 different categories to choose from: Culinary Collection, Meal Kit, 15 Minute Meal Kit, Grill-Ready, Oven-Ready, Entrée Salad and Protein Pack.  You can also designate desired cook time.  Menu choices can be further narrowed by opting for carb conscience, calorie conscience and vegetarian, as well as what sorts of proteins you prefer or food sensitivities you have.  Some kits can be modified in regard to which type of protein will be included.

The choices change weekly, although some of the more popular dishes will reappear from time to time.  The week I looked at had 19 extremely varied options.  The description is very good, noting the items that make up the meal.  Possible allergens and nutrition profile are also included.

The price is noted when you first look at selections (before clicking on the description) so it’s easy to stay within your budget. Both of my choices ran just under $9 per serving, which seems to be the minimum price, while some selections run close to $13.  My box of 2 meals twice weekly (4 meals total) would have cost $49.53 at full price, including shipping.

It’s All About The Food

Now for the important section because it’s all about the food, right?  The two meals I chose were shrimp paella and apple cherry spinach salad.  Each entree provided two servings.

The shrimp paella was an “oven ready” selection, which boasts no prep work.  I had assumed that this meant it would come pre-assembled in the pan a’la frozen dinners (but not frozen).  This was not the case. All the ingredients were packaged separately so I would have to assemble them myself.

This was not a difficult task and the meal came together quickly.  I simply dumped all the ingredients (except shrimp) into the included tin pan, mixed ‘em up, laid the shrimp on top and baked it for 18 minutes.

The shrimp paella was tasty with the fresh peas, fresh peppers, crispy red peppers, pine nuts and shrimp giving the dish an interesting mix of textures.  The flavor was mild but varied and the shrimp was very fresh.  The packaging indicated that I would have 3 days to cook it although I cooked it the day after receiving it so I have no idea how the freshness might have held up had I waited.

At 468 calories, 44 grams of carbs, 23 grams of protein and 21 grams of fat, it’s well within the guidelines of what would be considered a healthy meal.  It contains 1717mg of sodium, which runs around 75% of your daily intake but higher sodium is a given for prepacked ready-to-eats.  This amount is definitely something you could work around by modifying your intake for the rest of the day.

My second choice was apple cherry spinach salad with goat cheese and sherry shallot vinaigrette.  This was a no cook selection, although I chose to add on the chicken breast option, which did have to be cooked.

The produce that came with the meal was fresh and unblemished.  The chicken breasts were well trimmed with no visible fat.  In addition to cooking the chicken, there was a small amount of prep work to be done, namely cutting the apple and the scallion.  It came together in less than 10 minutes.

There was a generous amount of walnuts, dried cherries and vinaigrette, which gave the salad a fabulous flavor.  The only shortfall, in my opinion, was the amount of spinach that was included.  I used both portions of spinach for my first salad and some romaine I had on hand for the second one.  Again, I enjoyed the mix of textures from the apples, walnuts and dried cherries.

The nutrition profile broke down to 460 calories, 33 grams of carbs, 6 grams of protein and 200mg of sodium, all of which play well into a healthy diet.  The 34 grams of fat seemed a bit high but it would be easy to cut back on the vinaigrette, as it was a very generous 3 oz portion.  There was no notation as to how much the chicken breast changed that profile.

The things I love

The freshness of the ingredients is pretty amazing.  I only have this one box to go on but everything I received was high quality and exactly what I would have chosen if I had picked it out myself.

It’s easy.  The ingredients come premeasured and, in some cases, preprepped.  All the ingredients you need are in the box so there are no surprises or last minute trips to the store.  In the case of the oven ready selections (such as my shrimp paella), they even include the cooking pan.

The food is high quality and delicious.   The portions are generous and could possibly be stretched into 3 adult portions, depending on appetites.

They indicate possible allergens that might be present on the ingredient list for each recipe so there’s no need to go searching for that information.

The price per serving is indicated right up from so it’s easy to stick to a budget.  My box would have cost $12.38 (including shipping) per serving which would be equivalent to eating at a moderately priced restaurant.  If I were to stretch the box out to 6 servings, each meal would cost only $8.25.  I think this is a great value. And guess what makes it even better?  I’ve partnered with Home Chef to give you $60 off your order!

The customer service is excellent.  When I first went in to accept the offer, a box popped up informing me that I already had an account and could not receive the discount.  While this was technically true, I had never ordered after my initial sign-up.  I sent an email to Home Chef to explain this.  They replied promptly to tell me that they had deleted my original account and I would be able to proceed with the offer.

The things I love less

According to their website, Home Chef claims that their ever changing weekly menus leads them to use different vendors to obtain the ingredients they need to fulfill those menus.  Although they say their ingredients are “occasionally organic” and that they source responsibly “whenever they can”, they are unable to guarantee either.

Despite the fact that they include allergens on their “ingredients list”, the actual lists themselves only include the major players in the recipe but no macro ingredients.  “Rice Pilaf” and “tomato seasoning” were listed on the ingredients list of my shrimp paella but there’s no way to ascertain what these two items actually contained in regard to spices or artificial flavorings/preservatives.  And you know how much that rankles me.

And then there’s the “leftovers”.  I’m a bit horrified by the amount of trash that was generated by 4 meals, as you can see in these pictures.

According to the Home Chef website, the cardboard shipping container is recyclable, which, of course is always a good thing.

The insulated liner is made from recycled cotton and denim, which I assume is biodegradable, although this isn’t mentioned specifically in their literature, nor do they address the possible contamination due to the dies used in denim.

The ice packs contain water and polyacrylate (which is harmless) and can be reused or split open to dump contents down the drain.

This leaves lots of plastic, wraps, bags and containers, which can be more problematic.  I don’t want to delve into world events in this article, but I think it’s safe to assume that we’re all aware that plastics are not as easily recycled as they used to be (and to be honest, some never were).

I don’t have any solutions, I’m just saying it makes me uncomfortable to add this entire tall kitchen bag full of trash to the top of the heap at my local transfer station.  This is four meals worth.

The Final Conclusion

What’s the bottom line?  Where do we draw the line between convenience and what are (or may be) negative consequences?  What’s the final conclusion?

The truth is that we make these compromises every day.  Every time we start up our car, everything we mail order, every single item we choose that isn’t locally sourced from small businesses.  Even those locally sourced products, in most circumstances, come at some cost.

In the case of these meals, they may be a blessing to those who don’t have easy access to a store, have limited cooking facilities or cooking abilities.  They may be a lifeline for someone who wants to eat a healthier diet but doesn’t have the time, knowledge or capacity to make that happen on their own.

I, personally, found them to be tasty, convenient and (for the most part) healthy.  I would not rule out ordering again.

What about you?  Have you ever tried a meal service or do you use one now?  Tell me all about it in the comments below!

All my best,

Cynthia

cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

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Basic Pizza Crust

Basic Pizza Crust

1 tsp dry active yeast

1 tsp sugar

1¼ cup warm water (110℉)

3½ cups flour

1½ tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water. Set aside for 7 minutes until yeast blooms.

Put flour and salt in a bowl of stand mixer with dough hook attached*. Add bloomed yeast and mix on low until mixture turns into a smooth, soft dough (about 5 minutes). Don’t over knead.

Cover loosely and let the dough rise for 45 minutes. Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours or up to 36 hours. The dough will more than double in this time so make sure your bowl is big enough!

Grease 15”x10” baking sheet and press dough into bottom of pan. Alternately, you can use one large or several smaller round pizza pans. It can also be adjusted according to how thick or thin you prefer your pizza.

Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 500℉.

Bake the crust for 5 minutes and remove from the oven.

Top with desired toppings and bake for an additional 8 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the toppings are bubbly.

*You can do this step by hand, it will just take a little longer.

8 servings, 220 calories per serving (crust only)

Hack: Pizza crust can be stored for later use after the initial 4 minute bake. Wrap well in plastic wrap or tightly sealed freezer container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 4 weeks.

Hack: Pizza cooked with toppings can be stored as described for pizza crust above.



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Cinnamon Brown Sugar Oatmeal with Raisins

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Oatmeal with Raisins

½ cup milk

½ tsp vanilla

1 tbsp raisins

¼ cup old-fashioned rolled oats

2 tbsp brown sugar

⅛ tsp cinnamon

Measure milk, vanilla and raisins into a small saucepan and bring to boil over high heat.

Stir in oats, brown sugar and cinnamon and bring back to boil. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cover pan and let oatmeal stand for 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

1 serving, 250 calories per serving



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Homemade Chinese Dumplings

Homemade Chinese Dumplings
(Courtesy Yuhong Sun)

 

½ head green cabbage

½ head napa cabbage

8 green onions

1 oz ginger (4” knob, ¼ cup)

1 lb ground pork

2 eggs

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp red wine

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp olive oil

2 pkgs dumpling wrappers (100 wrappers)

Dipping Sauce (per serving)*

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Chinese vinegar

1 tsp crushed ginger

1 tsp chili sauce

1½ tsp sugar

1½ tsp sesame oil

Finely chop the cabbages and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and set aside. The salt will draw liquid out of the cabbage. Only a small amount of salt is needed.

Finely chop green onion and ginger. Set aside.

Place ground pork, eggs and ginger into a bowl and mix for 2 minutes.

Using your hands or cheesecloth, squeeze water out of cabbage and place into a clean bowl. Add green onions, pork mixture, sesame oil, red wine, soy sauce and olive oil. Mix together well.

Take one dumpling wrapper and place one tbsp filling in the center. Wet the edges of the wrapper with water and seal completely. The amount of filling and shape you fold it in is less important than ensuring that the edges are completely sealed so filling doesn’t leak out. Continue until all the filling is gone.**

Put a large pot of water on the stove and heat to boiling. While the water is heating, assemble the dipping sauce.

When water comes to a full boil, add about 20 dumplings. Bring water back to a full boil and add enough cold water to bring the pot down to a gentle boil. Cover pot and cook dumplings until they float to the top of the water, about 3-4 minutes. Continue adding cold water as necessary throughout cooking to keep water at a gentle boil.

Remove dumplings from water with a slotted spoon and serve with dipping sauce.

If preferred, dumplings can be cooked in an air fryer for 6 minutes instead of boiling them.

*Because of the thin consistency of the dipping sauce, it’s often made in small bowls for each individual person or to share between two or three people.

**Dumplings are often serving at gatherings and traditionally assembled jointly by the group or family that are going to eat them. Try experimenting with different shapes and have fun putting them together with your guests!

10 servings, 270 calories per serving

Hack: Cooked or uncooked dumplings can be frozen for up to 3 months. Lay in a single layer on a cookie sheet, making sure the edges are not touching, and place in the freezer. Once they are frozen, package in freezer bags or containers for storage. Add 2 extra minutes to cooking time. As with fresh, frozen boiled dumplings are ready when they float to the top of the water.

Hack: Ask the produce clerk to cut a head of cabbage into wedges so you’ll only have to buy what you need. They’ll wrap the leftover pieces and put it back on the shelf for sale.

Hack: Leftover cabbage can be used to make this andouille and fried cabbage recipe

Hack: Hack: Do you know that you can freeze fresh ginger root? Grating it in it’s frozen state is easier than grating it fresh and, if you choose organic ginger, you don’t have to peel it! Simply place in a sealed freezer bag or container and pop it in the freezer.

Hack: Chop leftover green onions and freeze in a sealable freezer bag or container for future use. While they won’t retain the crispness that would make them suitable for salads or garnish, they will be fine for cooking.

 

 

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Roasted Red Cabbage with Shrimp

Roasted Red Cabbage with Shrimp

8 oz red cabbage, roughly chopped (3 cups)

1 cup onion, sliced

½“ ginger root, finely diced

2 tsp olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

8 oz 50-70 count raw shrimp, deveined and shelled

2 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp)

1 tbsp honey

2 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp sweet chili sauce

½ tsp sesame oil

1 cup cooked rice, hot

Preheat to 450°F. LIne a 9’ x 13” baking pan with parchment paper.

Place the cabbage, chopped ginger, and onion in the baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste; toss to coat. Arrange in an even layer. Roast 14 to 16 minutes, or until slightly tender.

In the meantime, combine the garlic, honey, soy sauce, sweet chili sauce and sesame oil to make a sauce. Dry shrimp with paper towels and place in a bowl.  Toss with 2 tablespoons sauce. Set aside to marinate, stirring occasionally, at least 10 minutes.  Reserve remaining sauce.

When cabbage is done roasting, remove the pan from the oven, leaving the oven on.  Push cabbage to one side of the pan and lay shrimp on the other side of the pan in a single layer.  Discard any leftover marinade.

Roast 5 to 7 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Remove from the oven. Stir the roasted shrimp and cabbage to combine.

Serve the roasted shrimp and cabbage with the cooked rice. Top with the reserved sauce.

2 servings, 410 calories per serving

Hack:  Shrimp can be purchased individually from the seafood counter at most grocery stores.  Alternately, it can be purchased frozen in larger portions if you wish to keep some on hand.  Thaw needed amounts before cooking.

Hack:  Shrimp can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator.  It can be thawed more quickly by placing it in a sealable bag and submerging in a bath of cold water for about an hour.

Hack:  Ask the produce clerk to cut a head of cabbage into wedges so you’ll only have to buy what you need.  They’ll wrap the leftover pieces and put it back on the shelf for sale.  If you find that you have leftover cabbage, use it to make this tasty coleslaw!

Hack:  Do you know that you can freeze fresh ginger root?  Grating it in it’s frozen state is easier than grating it fresh and, if you choose organic ginger, you don’t have to peel it!  Simply place in a sealed freezer bag or container and pop it in the freezer.

Hack:  Place any leftover rice while still warm (to retain moisture) in serving size containers and freeze for future use.

 

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Sweet And Hot Chili Sauce

 

Sweet And Hot Chili Sauce

⅓ cup rice vinegar

⅓ cup water

½ cup sugar

1 tbsp white wine

1-2 tsp red pepper flakes*, according to taste

1½ cloves garlic (1½ tsp)

1 tsp finely minced ginger root

1 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Place all ingredients except cornstarch into a small saucepan and bring to boil, stirring constantly. When sugar has melted, add cornstarch mixture and allow to cook, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about one minute.

Remove from heat, allow to cool and transfer to an airtight container. Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

*Red pepper flakes can be purchased in the spice section of the grocery store, labeled as “red pepper flakes” or “crushed red pepper”. You can make your own with dried chili peppers using a mini chopper or sharp knife.

Yield: One cup. Serving size 2 tbsp, 38 calories per serving

Hack:  Use this sauce to make roasted red cabbage with shrimp!

Hack: Chili sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator and heat gently to restore consistency.

Hack: Do you know that you can freeze fresh ginger root? Grating it in it’s frozen state is easier than grating it fresh and, if you choose organic ginger, you don’t have to peel it! Simply place in a sealed freezer bag or container and pop it in the freezer.

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Cuban Pulled Chicken

 

Cuban Pulled Chicken

 

¼ cup dried cannellini beans

1 cup water

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, mined (2 tsp)

1 chicken breast (½ lb)

1 cup chicken broth

2 cup chopped tomatoes (1 lb)

¾ cup pureed orange

¼ cup lime juice

¾ cup dry white wine

1 tbsp cumin

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

½ tsp thyme

1 cup broccoli florets

1 red pepper

¼ cup matchstick carrots

1½ cups cooked rice, hot

Cover beans with 1 cup and allow to soak for 6 – 12 hours.  Drain and rinse.

Heat olive oil in a deep skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Dry chicken breast with a paper towel, add to the pan and brown on both sides.  Add broth, turn heat to high and bring to a boil.  Turn heat down to medium low, cover and simmer chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160℉, 6-10 minutes. Remove chicken breast from pan.

Add tomatoes, orange, lime juice, wine, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and thyme to pan and bring back up to a boil.  Add beans and turn heat down to low. Simmer beans for 45-60 minutes or until tender.

While beans are cooking, shred chicken and place in the refrigerator.  Chop broccoli florets into bite size pieces and slice red pepper.

When beans are tender, add broccoli, peppers and carrots to the pan and simmer to desired tenderness, 5-7 minutes.  Add chicken back to the pan and heat through.

Serve over hot rice.

3 servings, 450 calories per serving

Hack:  Frozen vegetables work well in this recipe.

Hack: Puree any leftover oranges in the blender or food processor for use in recipes such as cakes, cookies or breads. 1 orange yields about ½ cup, which can be sealed in a bag and stored in the freezer.

 

 

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