Hello Yummy, Again: A Return to Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh Collage

Weirdly, for what is ostensibly a nail blog, one of my most popular and viewed posts is this one about the first week my husband and I tried Hello Fresh, a meal kit delivery service popular here in eastern Ontario.  At the end of that post I concluded that I loved everything about Hello Fresh – the creative recipes, the quality ingredients, the free shipping – but for what I considered to be a poor cost-to-value ratio.  The portion sizes, particularly for the vegetarian meals, just seemed woefully small in relation to the per plate cost.  My final word was that if Hello Fresh was coming to me at some sort of a discount, then I was on board, but I couldn’t justify the service at full price.

And that’s how I continued to approach it in 2019, making use of a number of special offers and a few damaged item rebates to fund another couple of months of delicious fresh food.  I was totally hooked, and delighted to be adding such uncommon ingredients to my food lexicon as freekeh (a rice-type grain), halloumi (salty cheese) and zaatar (a Middle Eastern spice blend) even if the small portion sizes left us habitually haunting the kitchen an hour or so after eating.

Then during the renovations we had carried out to our former condo last year, the refrigerator got unplugged, a fact that went unnoticed for some time.  Everything but our inexplicably large collection of hot sauces went bad, including six Hello Fresh entrees.  Disgusted at my own wasteful stupidity (USE THE THINGS YOU BUY, numbnuts, especially the perishable foodstuffs!) I tossed out the entire spoiled lot and cancelled my account, the end.

Well, sort of the end.  Just as we moved into our new home late last year, I received a tantalizing “Please come back” offer from Hello Fresh that, in combination with a bit of post-holiday food boredom and a fridge that’s definitely plugged in, I simply couldn’t say no to.

And we’ve been saying yes to Hello Fresh ever since, in part because they haven’t changed the things that worked (the locally-sourced ingredients, the creative recipes, the commitment to minimal packaging) but HAVE changed the things that didn’t (those weird, Franken-substance ice packs.)

The biggest positive change that I’ve noticed so far is that the portion sizes are much larger than they were before.  The recipes also seem to be more satisfying, utilizing good-for-you, fill-you-up ingredients like whole grains, leafy greens, fresh cheese, Beyond Meat and nuts.  Also a crap ton of butternut squash.  No complaints from me, I love the stuff, but there’s been a butternut squash recipe on the menu every week since we returned!  Must be in season.  But it feels like there’s some substance to these meals that wasn’t there before, and even after giving Mr. Finger Candy the lion’s share of whatever we’re having, I’m satisfied (not so much Mr. FC, but he might have a hollow leg.)

Okay, onto the fun part – what we’ve eaten the last two weeks!  Start revving your taste buds, and maybe grab a mint – there be garlic aplenty in these recipes.

Fattoush Salad with Roasted Chickpeas

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Mmm, roasted chickpeas, toasted pita and fresh veggies tossed in a white wine vinaigrette with feta cheese.  This was amazing, like tabouleh writ large.  And such bright, sparkling flavours, too, a welcome respite from the Heavy Holidays.

Cheesy Baked Ravioli

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Of the six recipes we’ve tried so far, this scrumptious pasta dish might be my favourite.  And don’t let that little pool of (butter) grease fool you – this delectable pasta dish was light, but still quite filling, with each plump pasta pillow draped in the perfect combination of roasted squash, wilted kale and smoked cheddar.  Holy YUM!

Winter Risotto

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Not sure what made this creamy, comforting rice dish a winter risotto, but I do know it was quite delicious.  Could have used more salt, though (this is not surprising; I could be licking a salt block and think it needs more salt.)  I really loved the addition of the crunchy walnuts, too – made quite a nice change from the more traditional pine nuts.

Beyond Meat Veggie Taco Bowl

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Another great new change to the vegetarian plan has been the inclusion of Beyond Meat in the recipes.  Here we have a not-very-attractive pile of red rice, sauteed Beyond Meat, kale slaw, cheese and lime crema that I swear tasted much, much greater than the sum of its tortilla-covered parts.  The portion sizes on this one were also quite large, with both of us agreeing after eating that we *might* actually be full! 🙂

Harissa Halloumi Rainbow Bowl

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Here’s some unfamiliar words to describe what’s essentially spicy grilled cheese on a bed of rice and crisp veggies, topped with a garlicky hummus dressing.  This was SO delicious, and I even got to pickle my own red onions.  I’m not usually a fan of bowl-type arrangements (“Well, that’s a hell of a jollop,” my grandmother would absolutely say) but I loved the bright, fresh flavours of this dish, even if afterwards we were feeling like the two newest residents of Garlic City.  Truly, do not eat this one if you have a first date or a job interview the following day!

Rigatoni in Roasted Butternut Squash Sauce

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Here’s that butternut squash once again making an appearance, this time as part of a super filling pasta dish made with (more) kale and creamy stracciatella cheese.  I generally find that Hello Fresh meals strike the perfect balance of fresh-and-filling, but this guy was way rich, and I felt hella pooched after eating, even if it was utterly delicious.

We have two more weeks of Hello Fresh meals coming to us, so please come back to this space soon to see what other combinations of kale, butternut squash and garlic we’ll be enjoying next!

Hello Delicious: A Week of Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh Collage

A few weeks ago my husband came home bearing a $40 off coupon for Hello Fresh.  Hello Fresh is one of those meal kit delivery services where you make your weekly selections from a range of menu options, and then the assembled ingredients are delivered to your door some days later, to await your magical culinary touch.  I’ve been really curious about Hello Fresh and other outfits of its ilk (Goodfood, Red Apron) but, frankly, frightened off by what I consider to be an unequitable ratio of value to cost.  As in I think it’s a pretty poor one.  But with a coupon that covered more than half the cost of a week of Hello Fresh meals, the time seemed right to satisfy my curiosity and give this fun delivery service a try.  Here’s how our week of Hello Fresh broke down.

First, because Mr. Finger Candy is a vegetarian, we went with the veggie meal plan.  Hello Fresh offers three different plans – family (predominately meat-based entrees), pronto (quickly prepared dishes) and veggie.  All of the plans are available for either two or four diners, and you can choose to receive three or five meals a week.  We went with the three-meal veggie plan for two people at a cost of $73.99.  With free shipping and our $40 off promo code, that brought the cost down to $33.99, or $5.67 a plate.

Hello Fresh is a subscription service, although you’re free to cancel your subscription penalty-free at any time (provided, of course, your latest box of grub is not already on its way) or even suspend your subscription for a period of time.  The latter is particularly helpful if you’re perhaps going to be away from home for a while, or even if you just don’t care for any of the coming week’s planned meals.

Your three (or five) meals come wrapped, by the individual recipe, in a brown paper bag, and the brown paper bags are themselves boxed up in a large, insulated cardboard box lined with disposable freezer packs.  The excess packaging issue (or the perception of excess packaging) is one that Hello Fresh seems to be acutely aware of, and they appear to be making every effort to pack their goods in recyclable and biodegradable packaging made from sustainable sources.  In addition, they offer free pick-up and shipping on the ice packs, should you not wish to cut them open and dissolve the contents down the sink (or, alternately, to slice them open and play around with the semi-frozen, 99 percent water-based solution contained therein.  It was just like trying to hold handfuls of frozen lubricant, an activity I already clearly indulge in a lot!)

My first nit to pick, however, is not with packaging waste, of which there was, all things considered, precious little.  It’s more that I had arranged my day in order to accommodate a delivery window of 8 am to 8 pm, only to discover, well after the lunch hour, that our order had in fact already been delivered, and was at that very moment leaning (and melting) against my front door, where it had been sitting, in a very hot and humid hallway, for anywhere between one and four hours.  The contents of the box, our meals, were just fine and none of the ingredients had spoiled, but the bottom of the main box was approaching sodden and had to be disposed of immediately, because it reeked of wet cardboard death.  A simple knock on the door just to let me know the delivery had arrived is all that was required here.

The three vegetarian meals we received included a pasta dish (Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini), a Thai-influenced entree (Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati rice, Eggplant and Cremini mushrooms) and a salad (Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette.)  There’s some indication on Hello Fresh’s website that you can in fact choose the entrees you’d like from any given week’s menu (say, for instance, you’re not super jazzed about Thai cuisine, and would prefer another one of the dishes on offer) but the policy isn’t clear and I wasn’t able to make any changes to our order.  Which is just as well, because I absolutely would have jettisoned the veggie skewers, as I’m not that fond of Thai food, which would have been a shame, as they were utterly delicious.

Each recipe took about half an hour to 40 minutes to prepare, and produced one plate (or bowl) of food per person and nothing more; we absolutely did not realize next-day leftovers from these recipes.  Having said all that, the recipes were nicely laid out and easy to follow, and I even picked up a couple of new cooking tips from the rigatoni dish (and I thought I knew all the pasta tricks!)  I especially liked the “exactly what you need inside” approach to the ingredients; as I puttered about my kitchen tossing exactly 18 cherry tomatoes with precisely one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar from the miniature, two tablespoon-bottle provided, I felt like I was the star of my own little cooking show.  Of course, it helped that I was addressing an audience of one curious cat and one curiouser husband as opposed to just talking to myself in the middle of the kitchen.  Let’s see how each entree stacked up, shall we?

Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato Sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini

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This was so delicious, I could have eaten both bowls myself, and then probably a third just for total overkill measure.  I had not the most optimistic of hopes for this dish; as a lifelong pasta devotee, I just assumed I had already enjoyed (or made) all the great pastas in the world.  Also, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than cherry tomatoes, basil and cheese.  So how delightful was it to find out I was completely mistaken on both scores?  Because this bright, fresh, super flavourful pasta dish was not only unexpectedly scrumptious, but making this recipe also taught me a few new tricks – first, that fresh basil can sometimes be a tough old thing, and a minute or two in a hot, blanching bath will do it wonders, secondly, that I’m drowning my roasted tomatoes in liquid when just a tablespoon or two will suffice, and thirdly, I don’t use either vinegar or my broiler enough.

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But making this incredibly delicious pasta – indeed, all three of the dishes – laid bare what I consider to be the one and only flaw to the Hello Fresh service – namely, that the very small portion sizes do not represent good value as set against the per plate cost.  When I pulled the ingredients for this recipe out of the bag, I had a great laugh at the comically small amount of dried rigatoni.  Look at how teeny weeny it is!

Rigatoni 1

However, looking at it in a more positive light, making these recipes also exposed one major obstacle to my plateaued weight loss efforts, that being that I’m wildly overestimating my portion sizes.  A single serving of this rigatoni dish clocked in at 727 calories, and as I’ve already indicated, I not only thought the portion sizes were tragically tiny, but that I could have eaten about three times as much.  So a cool 2,200 calories in pasta alone.  Which may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but could I have eaten both bowls?  Yes, absolutely.  Which may account for at least some of my inability to move the weight loss needle in any significant way for some months now.  Creeping portion sizes are a real dink.

Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati Rice, Eggplant and Cremini Mushrooms

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Well, this was an unexpected hit!  As in I had expected to hate it, because I really, really dislike Thai food, just to an unbelievable degree.  But I’m always game to try something new (I’ve eaten – and sort of enjoyed? – duck testicles, for pity’s sake) and I’m so glad I did, because this dish was incredibly delicious.  I think I cooked the spicy peanut butter sauce down just a tad too much (it was decidedly thicker than the one pictured on the recipe card) but holy crow, who cares, it was great.  I particularly loved the bright flavours of the cilantro-lime basmati rice, and prior to this, I would have gone to the mat over my hatred for basmati rice.  But this was a particularly inoffensive basmati, neither too flowery, nor too starchy.  Like the rigatoni, I’d make this yummy dish again in a heartbeat.

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However, about an hour after eating, both Mr. Finger Candy and I were utterly famished; like, gnawing the chair rail molding hungry (no, just us?  We do have a lot of decorative molding in our apartment.)  These veggie skewers were so delicious, but once again, there was simply not enough food.

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Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette

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Finally, we come to the dish I was the least enthused about (bean and bread salad, really?) and while it was tasty, it was my least favourite of the three recipes, in large part because this kit was missing the Italian seasoning blend, a somewhat crucial component to a salad where the only other flavour is LEMON!!!  Oh my gosh, so, SO lemony; too lemony.  I cobbled together a vaguely Italian-ish seasoning blend from spices in my pantry, but that’s somewhat defeating the whole “exactly what you need inside” principle Hello Fresh literally prints on the outside of their bags.  What would you do if you didn’t have any of those spices in your kitchen?  Eat intensely lemony bean and bread salad, that’s what.  And while I actually quite enjoyed the hearty beans with the fresh, crunchy vegetables and the toasted garlic bread cubes (the smell as they were toasting was utterly intoxicating) I thought the vinaigrette could have benefited from both the missing Italian seasoning blend, and a tablespoon or so of dijon mustard.

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Geez, I also forgot that one half of one of the mini cucumbers had gone mushy, requiring me to substitute a handful of cherry tomatoes from the fridge.  Delicious, but again, quite besides the point.  Presumably because of the beans, this dish was super duper filling.  And I’d absolutely make this dish again as well, just with a few necessary flavour adjustments.  This recipe really represented the poorest value for the money, though, and I would not have been happy paying the full plate price ($12.33) for such a dish.  Heck, I’m not sure if I was happy paying $5.67 per plate.

Salad 1

The too-long, didn’t-read version breaks down like this: I see a lot of utility for a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh for many, many people – those who hate to shop and would prefer if someone else did it for them (me!), those with little cooking experience or a very pared down kitchen (definitely not me), people who travel a lot and never keep a fully stocked kitchen (occasionally me), home chefs looking to juice their repertoire of recipes (very much me; I’m always on the lookout for a great vegetarian meal), travelers staying in suites with kitchens who may wish to make their own meals (never, ever me; I’m not cooking after a long day at the Disney parks!), those on restrictive diets seeking to strictly monitor their portion sizes (should be me, apparently) or those looking for a unique wedding or other special occasion gift (not me anytime soon that I know of, although I’d gladly accept such a gift!)

Ultimately, though, I think the main reason a person might continue on in their Hello Fresh subscription is because they have a lot of disposable income and they don’t mind spending it in this fashion.  Because for all of the positives – and there are many, many positives, nearly overwhelmingly so – the price-to-value ratio is so skewed, I think you just have to enjoy the experience of a meal kit delivery service, and nothing more complicated than that.  And if you do see value in something like Hello Fresh, that’s awesome; if we could afford it, we would have continued on with our subscription.  But as it was, the increasingly budget-conscious person I’m becoming derived little pleasure from knowing that I could have made four times the amount of pasta using $30 worth of full size ingredients that I got off my own butt and bought at the store.

So would I use Hello Fresh again?  In the words of one of my personal heroines, Mabel Pines of the animated TV show Gravity Falls, yes, definitely, absolutely!  With the caveat being that it would have to come along with a pretty major discount to offset what I consider to be the one stumbling block to the service – the prohibitive cost.  Otherwise, I loved the entire experience – it was fun, produced really tasty meals and was a nice little break from the usual.  One and three-quarters of a thumb up for Hello Fresh from this blogger.

Bunnicula!

Bunnicula!

Life’s a funny thing sometimes, isn’t it?  Just the other day I was wondering if one of my favourite childhood books, Bunnicula by James Howe, would be appropriate for a friend’s seven-year-old mega reader.  Published in 1979, Bunnicula (and a couple of follow-up books; it was a three-part series) tells the story of the Monroe family and the small, frightened bunny they adopt after finding him at a theatre during a showing of Dracula. Dubbed “Bunnicula,” the new recruit joins a menagerie of animals at the Monroe home that includes patient, wise and understanding Harold the dog and Chester, a conspiracy theorist cat who is deeply suspicious of his adorable new roommate.  Suspicious enough that when vegetables begin appearing in the kitchen pale, lifeless and drained of their juices, Chester immediately declares Bunnicula an actual vampire.  Shenanigans ensue that may involve Chester trying to off Bunnicula by throwing a steak on top of him as opposed to, you know, staking him.  It’s all so cute.  I adored those books.

So as these things go, I decided to do some nail art honouring Bunnicula and his juice lust. But it’s been about 20 years since I’ve even laid eyes on those books, and I couldn’t remember the names of the pets or even Howe, the author, so off to Wikipedia I scrolled. That’s when I discovered that just this past February The Cartoon Network began airing an animated Bunnicula show!  I understand it’s not quite MY Bunnicula – this show apparently depicts a rabbit that was the beloved pet of Dracula – but how weird is that?  I haven’t thought about the Bunnicula world in decades, and suddenly in the span of two days I can’t get away from it.  Life’s just odd like that, I guess.  I mean, not vampire bunny odd, but odd just the same.

For these nails, I decided to depict Bunnicula in his natural state – mid-drain, some of his victims lying nearby, pale and lifeless.  I particularly like the carrot juice droplets hanging from his two front fangs.  I do wish he didn’t look quite so demonic (smeary topcoat just makes everything great) but it definitely fits.  Still, better beets than blood, right? 😉

14 Carrot Gold

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Ba-dum *ching*!  Happy Easter weekend, friends.  Hope you’re hoppin’ about with your friends and families having a wonderful time.  I’m inside, where an indoor kitty like me prefers to be anyways, working on my nails and just enjoying some downtime with Mr. Finger Candy, so I’ve already got that good time situation sorted. May you enjoy yours, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. 🙂

Eat Your Veggies

Eat Your Veggies

For week one of January’s N.A.I.L. Challenge, in which I have just declared myself a participant (gauntlet thrown, yard stomped, envelope maxed!), the theme is health and wellness, something we could all use a little – or a lot – more of. For me, health comes more in the form of everyday wellness: Is your life generally okay? Are you more or less happy? No one you love is suffering? Then you’re well. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s something we should all strive for – your everyday, regular old contentment. It can do wonders for the spirit.

But seeing as this is a nail art challenge and my style leans quite heavily towards the cartoony, my near-existential natterings weighing the perfect ratio of happiness to wellness may not be the most appropriate sub-subject choice.

So I went with vegetables! Because my personal health could use more vegetables, and I’ve been meaning to do some veggie-themed nails for ages now – this challenge just gave me a wonderful excuse to do so!