Well hello there! What’s cooking? I’m back in the kitchen today with a quick profile of another meal kit delivery service for your reading pleasure.
This installment? I try it: a week of “Home Chef”.
A few years back I took on a new kitchen challenge: to cook, taste, and review a variety of meal kits. In a sea of meal kits, I wanted to answer the age old question of: which meal kit is the best on the market right now?
Among the initial entrants, I tried Sakara (not actually a kit – it’s really $$$ organic meal delivery), Purple Carrot (vegetarian), and then many months of Blue Apron which I was then too lazy to cancel. On the plus side, it was good for a more comprehensive review, which you can read here.
At the end of the day, I found that cooking meal kit takes me a lot more effort than doing my own meal planning, shopping, and cooking. It’s also a good amount of waste packaging wise. And truthfully, I’m a better and more creative cook.
Nevertheless, I’m still charmed by the appeal of having a box of goodies show up on my doorstep and someone occasionally taking over the mealtime decision making, so I’m continuing my mini quest and trying different boxes every so often in order to share with you all, dear readers.
Disclosure: Home Chef knows nothing about me, but I did get a free box through their refer a friend program, and the links to Home Chef are affiliate links which give you $30 off your kit, and give me more free food. (If you order enough kits, you can send a free box to a friend; on par with most of the other meal kit customer acquisition programs.)
Home Chef Box overview – Home Chef is a more general meal kit without any particular slant. I’d characterize them as American home cooking with a hint of global food exploration but nothing overly fussy or too adventurous for the average palate. The company is based in Chicago, and has raised 57 million through series b (see Crunchbase), which is about a quarter of the funding of Blue Apron who was just shy of 200 million pre IPO and less compared to HelloFresh’s 365 million pre IPO.
How much does Home Chef cost?
This is a little complicated: $9.95 per serving – two servings of two dishes in the box; although you can add on lunches (most are $7.99/serving), seasonal fruit ($4.95/serving), or a smoothie ($4.95/serving) as extra which is a nice touch. If you glance, it’s not totally clear that the add ons will charge you for two servings. You can also choose some weeks from “Premium Meals” which seem to include bigger pieces of steak or lamb for 19.95 a serving, but these aren’t offered every week. And if your order is under a certain amount, you get charged the $10 for shipping. So the minimum box comes in at around $49.80 and goes up from there.
What kind of meat and produce does Home Chef have?
Generally, I found Home Chef’s to have an overall decent quality of produce and meat, although, notably NOT organic. (Most of my personal purchasing is organic and I get my vegetables and meat from a farm share; so I don’t think I’d get the box regularly for this reason alone.) Nothing seemed wilted or bruised, and generally everything was tasty. The fresh sausage packed in the lasagna skillet likely wouldn’t have past the two days I waited to cook it though even though it suggests that it would last 6 days on the recipe card.
The service strikes me as less “foodie” focused compared to, say, Blue Apron’s inserts about the farms and farmers (which sometimes strikes me as greenwashing but I still buy into), although does suggest wine pairings.
What kind of recipes does Home Chef have?
The recipes and ingredients on Home Chef are notably a little bit more basic than other services. I ended up going with two fairly simple dishes which worked well, although I’d be curious as to how the flavors are on the more global recipes. Each week you get to choose from several options on the list.
As you can see in the picture of the sheet; the recipes are fairly simple and bulleted. You are encouraged to read through the whole recipe before starting (which is good practice, but always a useful reminder). I found that the recipes might leave a little too much room for interpretation for a novice cook, but I got along just fine. There were a few steps in each recipe that weren’t what I’d have written, but in the end, my dishes turned out alright. For example: the skillet called for “one medium oven-safe pan” although the picture seemed to be of a cast iron, I wasn’t sure what actual size cast iron counts as “medium” (8 inch? 10 inch?), so opted for a pyrex.
Decently quick to cook. Unlike other meal kits, the Home Chef recipes seemed to take less steps and take me less time overall to cook. Each dish was closer to 25-30 minutes of cooking (compared to Blue Apron which routinely had me chopping, prepping, etc. for 45-60 minutes.) Home Chef was closer to the promise of ease than other kits that I’ve tried so far.
In your first delivery, Home Chef sends you a little plastic binder to save your recipe cards. It’s a little flimsy, but was a nice touch.
What’s in the Home Chef Box?
Aside from the recipe cards, the box itself is filled with individual bags – one for the combined meats, and then individually packaged bags for the separate meals themselves which include all produce, spices, etc.
* Packaging – I’m not sure that anyone will solve this – it’s about the same size box as Blue Apron; each meal comes in it’s own little plastic bag, and the meats are separated into bags, the box here is filled with an icepack, and a soft plastic material filled with batting of some type. Still a PITA to break down and recycle, but what can you do?
I’ll note here that my Frenchie Bertram is not afraid of much in life, with the clear exception of cardboard boxes from meal kit delivery services. Which he wanted to let me know was NOT OKAY for me to put on “his gel mat bed” in front of the stove while I took this photo. If I could have added the audio file from his complaints here, I would have.
How much food is in each Home Chef box? Is Home Chef healthy?
Portion Sizes – appropriate for two light-moderate eaters. I was still hungry after both dishes. I tend to supplement meal kits anyway with more vegetables, but volume alone wouldn’t have been enough for me to be satisfied, even though calorically the dishes were in the 500-700 calorie range. I’d love to see more vegetables to round out the dish.
Nutrition: the recipes themselves do have ingredients and high level macros listed (calories, carbs, fat, protein and sodium) for those interested in tracking. You can choose from a variety of different diet preferences, including vegetarian, low carb, and calorie conscious meals.
Other notes: I had to email customer service to move my first deliver date (before cut-off) because I ended up having a last minute travel situation. They were quick, competent, and pleasant to deal with.
The Bottom Line:
Did we enjoy the Home Chef meals? Yes. Both meals tasted good. The pork dish was slightly better looking in presentation, but flavors were very good with both. As mentioned above, would have liked a little bit more vegetable for volume! I think overall I prefer a slightly more spiced and creative dinner if ordering a meal kit, but Home Chef does deliver on overall taste if you don’t mind a slightly boring meal.
Would we order Home Chef again? Possibly. I haven’t actually canceled the service, so it’s quite likely that I might try another box to compare and update this review.
:: The Weekly Meal Plan : Week of September 11th, 2017 ::
This week’s prep: hard boiling eggs for snacks, boiling potatoes, cooking a batch of white rice, cooking down some frozen spinach with garlic, chopping down a bunch of herbs from the garden to eat this week, making a batch of iced tea.
Fitness and nutrition: This Sunday is the Salem 10k, and I’m starting to ramp up my training for the Tufts Health Plan 10k for Women in early October (I’m a race ambassador – save 10% at checkout through 9/15 with my link!). Most of my nutrition will be keeping things simple, and eating enough carbs.
Saturday: Barbecue teriyaki chicken and broccoli. Known affectionately as the Trader Joe’s special. I shop and batch cook over the weekend, and prefer to keep my Saturday dinner super easy.
Sunday: Ground pork and asparagus stir fry with tomato rice. A riff on a recipe from Nom Nom Paleo’s new cookbook.
Monday: Roasted cauliflower, chicken drumellas, Annie’s. A little bit of comfort food to start the week.
Tuesday: Pork chile verde with Boston butt from the meat share, potato. Mostly just a dump into the Instant Pot – and I’ll cook two days in advance so the flavors have time to do their thing.
Wednesday: Salmon with edamame succotash. I tend to get the wild frozen Sockeye from Trader Joe’s, unless I see something at the store that looks particularly fresh.
Thursday: Braised lamb breast with cucumber salad and white rice. This is a fatty cut of meat – I’m going to marinate in a Chinese flavor base and then slow braise for 3 hours until the meat is shreddable.
Friday: Date night! Bertram goes to daycare and we go out to eat!
To mark each season, in practicing what I preach, I’ve been making a new Self Care Bingo board to print out and complete. I thrive on gold star stickers and crossing things off the list; and if I don’t plan to do it, I don’t do it! So much of self care is really fitting in the little things – day to day activities that bring calmness, clarity, and joy to life.
If you want to play along, download your summer self care bingo board (just click that “I Want It” button; it’s free), get yourself a pack of gold star stickers, choose your own adventures, and make yourself a priority! Bonus points if you cross out every single box – I’d love to see your completed boards!
:: This week in food ::
I’ve been on a potted herb buying spree, and have put myself together a nice herb garden – theoretically to cut costs on herb buying – although, I think I’ve probably been a little overkill in my plant acquisitions. I have multiple types of basil, thyme, oregano, parsley and cilantro, lemon verbena, and dill. Don’t mind the over-exposure, there’s far too much sunshine out today!
I was ahead of the game with my meal planning this week, and my absolute favorite shopping is on holiday weekends when everyone has theoretically already shopped for the weekend and the aisles are totally empty. The store was practically blissful, and the samples plentiful. Here’s my meal plan for the week.
:: The Weekly Meal Plan : Week of July 3rd, 2017 ::
This week’s prep: I roasted a chicken on Sunday, and popped the carcass in the slow cooker overnight for stock. I still have to hardboil more eggs, but I’ll likely do this mid-week.
Fitness and nutrition: I finished Amanda’s FasterWay bootcamp (the new session starts on July 10th and it’s almost sold out!) and have moved on to training for the Falmouth Road Race (7 miles; near the end of August). I’m still trying to stick with some of the carb cycling and IF from the Faster Way (Amanda’s program) because it works well for me.
Sunday: Nom Nom Paleo’s Damn Fine chicken, Jamie Oliver’s extra crispy roasted potatoes, green beans. I was hoping for the grill, but for some reason the ignitor stopped working on me and it was too hot out to troubleshoot. The green beans I steamed in an inch of salted water on the stove for about 7 minutes, and tossed with olive oil and lemon juice.
Monday: cod with bright herby sauce, mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower. I’ve been getting frozen wild cod pieces from Trader Joe’s for the times when I’m not likely to pick up something fresh at the market. These are cheaper, and I could care less about eating big pieces. I’ll make a bright sauce (like a chimichurri) with some of my fresh garden herbs, and serve with mash, and golden roasted cauliflower.
Tuesday (4th of July!): hot dogs, baked beans, and steamed broccoli. We aren’t going anywhere for the 4th, so it’s staying home and eating some comfort foods. I have some strawberries and whipped cream and if I get my act together, some shortcake biscuits.
Wednesday: taco salad and enchiladas. We don’t eat too much processed food in this house, but Amy’s cheese enchiladas are a universal favorite. Somehow they are SO good!
Thursday: takeout – likely Chipotle! It’s a full day of meetings and errands, so I’ll likely pick up some Chipotle on the way home.
Friday:Turkish ground meat and zucchini. With fistfuls of my grandmother’s Istanbul spice mix, dill, parsley, and yogurt.
This weekend, we drove into Boston to take Bertram to the French Bulldog Meetup at Peter’s Park, and hang with my friend Melissa and her pup Bentley. If you haven’t seen dozens of French Bulldogs having a total snort fest; well… it’s an experience! What I lack in extroverted-ness, this little dude makes up for as quite the social butterfly. He makes human and canine friends pretty much every where he goes.
Aside from my role as Bertram’s human, life these past few months has been overwhelmed by business ownership work-mode, a big family loss (my grandmother passed away), and the general craziness of spring time. It’s been hard to sit down to make time for reading, but in a re-commitment to self-care, I made a concerted effort to do so. Here’s a snapshot of my weekend reading.
My friend Traca turned me on to the author Dorie Clark, and I’ve been diving into her writing on marketing, branding, and thought leadership. She’s highly prolific on the internet, but I’m a fan of hardcover, so I picked up her 2015 best seller – Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. I have a bit of an elevator pitch problem as a Jill of All Trades, and have been trying to improve my own messaging around what I do and who I can help – lots of nuggets of wisdom in this one to set me further down the right path.
Truthfully it has been more than a few months since being able to really curl up and dive into a new cookbook, but I’ve been lucky to read my way through two incredible ones over the past few weeks that I can’t not mention here. Both fall into the long-anticipated cookbook category, and neither have disappointed.
Part biography – part recipe book greatest hits; Unforgettable is my favorite type of cookbook – one that I can sit down and read like a novel, featuring tried and true dish inspiration that connects deeply with time and place. The biography gripping – as a pioneer of middle eastern and mediterranean cookbooks, Paula has long been one of my heroes. Her cookbooks are almost all on my shelves, and yet in each page of Unforgettable I learned so much more – from her persistent reinvention, to her struggles with early onset Alzheimer’s. Truly thankful to Emily and team – this book is a gem. (As is Paula – if you aren’t following her on Twitter, you should be!)
Now, I’m actually fairly certain we had one such conversation in November of 2010, right around the time that I was working with my friend Karen on her cookbook Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It because in that conversation I was so amazed by her energy and enthusiasm that I distinctly remember going home feeling empowered and writing the ENTIRE outline, syllabus, and recipe index for my Turkish cookbook. Which.. of course is sitting in my Google Docs.. and hasn’t been written yet. Alas, c’est la vie!
But I mention this not to feel sorry for myself, but because seven years is quite a long time to wait for a cookbook, but this book does in fact, live up to the wait.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is part textbook (in the best way possible), part master recipe guideline and inspiration. And filled with Wendy MacNaughton’s cheeky hand drawn illustrations. The entire first half of the book is Samin being Samin – an incredible teacher and guide, with infectious enthusiasm for food, good cooking, and good eating. While I consider myself an adept cook, each section was filled with new easy ways to think about cooking – written in a manner that would teach and inspire novice and expert alike. How she *actually* manages to pull this off, I have no idea – this is so hard to do and it’s brilliant. (You’ll likely want to grab a copy, and go ahead and buy a second one to give to someone as a gift.)
And most importantly for me it provided a wealth of inspiration for this week’s meal plan! The best reminders from the book this week – the power of salt – and how important it is to salt your food early. In two weeks, it’s changed my habits completely – and the food all tastes more delicious.
:: The Weekly Meal Plan : Week of May 21st, 2017 ::
This week’s prep: hard boiling eggs for snacks. I bought myself a new gadget – despite committing to avoiding the purchase of uni-tasking – a bright turquoise Dash Go Egg Cooker. Cute, no?
Fitness and nutrition: I’m heading into week 4 of my online fitness bootcamp; going strong! We follow a carb cycling plan, which focuses on timing meals to match our training days to ensure we are eating enough to support our fitness levels to allow for both fat loss and muscle gain. It’s a more mindful way of eating to support athleticism.
Sunday: Braised beef, tiny baby potatoes, and sprouts. This meat and potatoes dinner is the ultimate comfort food. (Cheat sheet: buy the Braised Beef with Demi Glace from Trader Joe’s. It’s divine.)
Monday (low carb): Samin’s citrus salmon, avocado salad, and steamed broccoli. I get wild salmon, either frozen sockeye, or if the fresh catch looks good and is on sale, treat myself to King salmon.
Tuesday (low carb): Samin’s glazed five-spice chicken + bright Asian slaw. I’m always a sucker for five spice.
Wednesday: Turkish taskebab with tomato rice. This is a family favorite – a meaty tomato-ey braised stew.
Thursday: Jamie Oliver’s Aegean Kakavia. Fish stew from his travels cookbook. As we creep onto summer, I find myself consistently craving Mediterranean food.
Friday: I have a credit to Sweetgreen; I’m likely to pick up a salad; but honestly, I’m treating Friday like a free spot this week.
Saturday: out! We’ll be at a wedding. Bonus, they’ll have Middle Eastern catering, which is pretty much my jam.
We’ve launched ourselves well into spring here in New England. This winter was only moderately oppressive, but still, when the days become warmer, I always feel massive relief. I can breathe again. This weekend I went to my first Red Sox game of the season – a perfect 80 degree day with seats in the shade. The stadium was filled with what felt like the entire population of Chicago rooting for their Cubs. We sat in a sea of cheering Cubs fans, as our multiple run head start was wasted. They caught up and then hit after hit we fell behind, and ended up losing 7-4. I would have been sadder for the loss, but the game was good, both teams played with zest, the stadium was packed, and the air was warm with a breeze. A great day for baseball.
This coming week is a full one, and to get a head start, I’m sitting on a Sunday planning out my meals. In the spirit of springtime, I’ve made a short list of things I’d like to eat.
:: The Weekly Meal Plan : Week of April 30th, 2017 ::
This week’s prep: hard boiling eggs for snacks. I have a tray of wilted fennel salad to incorporate for the first few days of the week, and green beans, and leftover beef tenderloin. I have some kabocha and cauliflower rice in the freezer that I’d like to use up.
Fitness and nutrition: For the next six weeks I’ve started a new training cycle opting for an online boot camp to keep my fitness level up until triathlon and racing season start. We follow a carb cycling plan, which focuses on timing meals to match our training days to ensure we are eating enough to support our fitness levels to allow for both fat loss and muscle gain. It’s a more mindful way of eating to support athleticism. While my normal meal planning balances macronutrients more generally, when I’m carb cycling, I’ll have lower carb days on more cardio focused fitness days, and higher carb days when doing heavier strength training, which I’ve noted below in my meals. (If you have questions about carb cycling, feel free to ask!)
Sunday: salmon, roasted potatoes, and green beans.Mostly leftovers, I’ve been picking up frozen wild salmon from Trader Joe’s to keep for days that I don’t have time to shop.
Monday (low carb): stir fried chicken thighs, with sliced leeks, mushroom, and asparagus. Getting several seasonal vegetables in at once.
Tuesday (low carb): cobb salad with avocado, chicken sausage, tomatoes, cucumbers, bacon, and lime vinaigrette. It has finally become warm enough for salad for dinner!
Wednesday: pork bolognese over spiraled carrots. Grabbed a batch of spiralized carrots from the Trader Joe’s freezer section to test out.
Thursday: ground beef and beans. Usually topped with an egg.
Friday: leek and cauliflower frittata.
Saturday: out! We’ll likely head up to Maine for some lobster for the Coloradan house guest to get her summer time fix.
While 2016 will be marked in almost everyone’s books as a doozy of a year, I’m truly looking forward to what 2017 has to bring for me, my friends, my community, and the world. I’m riding a good amount of momentum for the new year – I spent the last few weeks setting concrete goals for my business and my life, and I did quite a bit of clean sweeping. It feels good to have the year off on a good foot.
I don’t typically make resolutions, but I use the season to double down on my goal setting and reinforcing good habits. I’ve been working my way through my own winter self-care bingo board, and got extra points for starting off the year with a 5k race this morning. I’m using it as a benchmark for some running goals this year: I’m hoping to run a 26 minute 5k (and not die in my A race triathlon – the Patriot half). This month I’ll be doing a mile a day running streak, and for strength work, I’ve signed up for a women’s lifting class that meets on Monday and Wednesday night each week.
:: The Weekly Meal Plan: Week of January 1st, 2017 ::
This week’s prep: none! After a week of parties, I’m starting fresh by going shopping on Tuesday for the rest of the week’s meals. One notable change these past few months has been my refrigerator. After a lifetime of operating a refrigerator by stuffing it to the gills with options, I decided that I really wanted my fridge to look more like those sparkling clean specimens in those “fridge sneak peek” articles about famous people. Years old condiments were tossed (don’t worry, I still have full side door shelves), and I know keep food in there primarily for the week and no more than that. I can actually SEE what there is to eat, and it really helps to curb snacking.Sunday: skirt steak with latkes and kale salad. This is truly an amazing kale salad. The recipe is from Epicurious, and I’ve made it a handful of times at home now. We had it again this week at a party, and I remembered how much I love it and made it again.
Monday: seafood medley cioppino. I have a bag of mixed frozen seafood from Trader Joe’s which is going in a pot with a jar of Rao’s marinara and possibly a little bit of wine.
Tuesday: beef bottom roast in the InstantPot. I’m still looking for good recipe inspiration for this. It may end up being ropa vieja style, or possibly Irish beef stew.
Wednesday: roast chicken, potatoes, and a Hungry Root spiralized side – a few weeks ago I tried my first Hungry Root box – it’s spiralized veggies which come with sauces that you toss and cook. The price is insane ($9 at Whole Foods), but they are so good that I’ve been buying one a week and loving them.
Thursday: yellow lentil soup – I think I’m going to go with some South Asian flavors here, and make some Dal.
Friday: turkey, refried beans, and egg. I’ve been cooking this almost every Friday. It’s a 100% winner for the household, and always makes us happy.
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