Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: Chefs Plate

The Chefs Plate welcome booklet.

I’ll come clean. I’m not a much of a cook. Although I don’t hate or dislike the process, I’m just not one to plan out a dinner by picking up specific ingredients and then spending hours slaving over the stove in my kitchen. By the time I get home from work, I need something that can be whipped up quickly. My fiancé and I have our go to dinners nowadays. But, admittedly, we have fallen into a bit of a rut. At times, we’re not even having well-balanced or properly portioned meals.

Luckily, in the new year, I found myself scrolling through the Groupon app. There, I came across a voucher for two weeks of meal kit deliveries from a service called MissFresh (watch for a post later this month). For half the usual price plus an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code, it was too good of a deal to pass up. Little did I know that that decision would be the beginning of a small obsession with these types of businesses. By the end of January, I had signed up with three more: Chefs Plate, HelloFresh, and Goodfood. With all of them, I managed to get some sort of a discount or incentive through ads that I saw on social media, making them affordable enough to justify.

Canadian-based Chefs Plate is the first service where we completed what I’ll deem the “trial run” as neither my fiancé nor I have any intention of continuing to use the service. At the regular going rate of $65.70 (I paid half that), it’s kind of pricey considering the smallest box that comes with free delivery only covers three dishes in a week for two people, working out to $10.95 per serving. Sure, it’s less expensive than dining out at a restaurant and healthier than picking up fast food. However, armed with a few new recipes, we both agree that we can probably emulate similar meals for less than it costs to have Chefs Plate package and deliver everything to us.

In any case, here’s how the whole process works:

  1. Register an account on the Chefs Plate website. Aside from the typical personal information, it will ask for the number of meals and portions required each week and the preferred date of delivery, along with the user’s credit card information.
  2. Preview the menus for upcoming weeks. Click on each dish to see the level of skill required to make it (the majority are listed as “easy”), the estimated amount of time it takes to cook, all the ingredients that will be supplied, the number of calories in the recipe, and any allergen information, if available.
  3. Set your delivery schedule. The service allows for weeks to be skipped up to four months in advance, or the subscription can be paused indefinitely to ensure nothing is sent out without consent. Turn it back on when service is required again.
  4. Watch for the delivery to arrive on the requested date.

Chefs Plate ships using FedEx. I had our box sent to our condo on a Friday. Our buzzer number and unit info was provided with our address at the time I ordered our package. It arrived by 10:30 am that morning and was brought right to our door after I let the delivery man into our building. My fiancé grabbed it and moved all of the contents from the box to the fridge immediately.

When I got home from work, I inspected the packaging. Everything had been contained within a thermal insulated, double-lidded cardboard container. A couple of small ice packs were inserted to keep the meats cold and a thick kraft-type piece of paper separated those vacuum sealed packs of meat from the three bags of ingredients that sat on the top. The strongly lined paper bags were sealed, but a clear window at the front showed the contents and a sticker on the back indicated which dish it was for. The sticker also had the nutritional breakdown of the meal printed on it.

Read about the food journey.

Inside the box there was a welcome booklet that talked about the food journey of our kit. The three recipe cards were there, too. These are actually printed on heavy card stock and have a nice finish to them. I expect that they’ll hold up well over time. They are big cards though (8.5″ x 11″), so they may not be the easiest to store. It’s also important for me to note that most of these services expect their customers’ kitchens to be stocked with basics such as salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and sometimes milk. If any of those are missing, it’s not the end of the world. There’s usually something that can serve as an alternative.

We decided to start our Chefs Plate experience with their Greek Chicken & Tzatziki Sauce recipe. One thing we did with this one was that we substituted the chicken breasts they had provided with ones we already had in our fridge. This was simply to reduce wastage of produce we had bought before receiving our box, and the chicken that came with this recipe was saved for use later. We did notice that the size of the chicken breasts were quite a bit smaller than the ones we purchased ourselves. No matter though. This dish turned out great.

Good timing is required to get each component on the plate at the same time, but every step is outlined clearly and as long as they are followed, it seems pretty hard to mess this one up. The chicken was pan seared in a bit of oil until golden brown. Cooked cracked wheat was mixed with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and oregano. Then, all of it was tossed in a honey-based dressing to make the tabbouleh. Pita had been baked into crispy chips. Best of all, we learned how easy it was to make that addictive tzatziki sauce. It’s something we never would have gone out of our way to make from scratch. Yet, now that we know how to do it, we’ll likely do so again. We’d definitely give this a 7.5 out of 10.

A couple of nights later, we made our second recipe: Italian Sausage Cavatelli. This pack consisted of red onions, parsnip, chili flakes, rapini, cream, Parmesan cheese, ground pork and fresh cavatelli pasta. It was a surprisingly tasty dish with layers of flavour. The sauteed red onions provided a mild sweetness to the relatively light cream sauce while the rapini brought in a tinge of bitterness and the parsnips added some earthiness. Chili flakes — go easy on this ingredient, if spicy heat isn’t welcome — helped to season the pork, and the Parmesan finished it off by bringing in a shot of saltiness. The portions were very generous. If we had been a little less gluttonous, the amount of food this recipe made could have certainly fed three people or provided leftovers for someone’s lunch. Out of a 10, we’d rate this one an 8.5.

The following Monday, four days after we had received our delivery, we cooked up our third kit from the box. This was a fabulous Spiced Steak & Garlic Salsa Verde with roasted fingerling potatoes and cheesy kale chips. We felt it was okay to leave this one until later since Chefs Plate recommends eating red meats last as they can be stored longer than fish or poultry. We were very happy with the cut of meat we got. It was so supple, producing a tender steak that held in all the juices once it was seared.

The meat was supposed to be marinated with a dry Salvador spice mix, salt, and pepper. However, we decided to add some smoked balsamic vinegar we had on hand. That, combined with the garlic salsa verde (cooked garlic, chopped parsley, red wine vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper), really worked to elevate the dish further. What’s steak without potatoes? The fingerlings had a pleasant buttery texture and flavour once roasted. Plus, they’re not super dense or heavy in terms of potatoes. The fresh leaves of kale had to be broiled in the oven until crisp as well. They actually provided a lot more kale than needed, so we set some aside for another time. Personally, I loved the kale chips with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. My fiancé wasn’t as much a fan of those, but he did enjoy everything else. Both of us think this meal deserves an 8 out of 10.

We were really happy with the quality of the meat and ingredients.

All three recipes took around 30 minutes to prep, cook and plate, so we were sitting down to eat soon after we started. We both appreciated the convenience of having everything we needed delivered to our door with the ingredients for each recipe carefully packaged and labelled. Honestly, it was fool proof, and I truly think it made my fiancé feel as if he was a real chef. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the service is too expensive to become a regular indulgence at our house. Nevertheless, if one’s income allows it, we’d highly recommend testing Chefs Plate at home.

This review is in no way affiliated with Chefs Plate. I purchased the meal kit on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my Chefs Plate referral link to receive three FREE plates with your first delivery.

Cooking at Home: Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Continuing with the cooking journey I started late last month, I had every intention of picking a new recipe to try sometime in March. But, I already had a fridge full of new groceries and I wasn’t too keen on having to pick up specific ingredients from the store, so I decided to forgo any form of instruction and I opted to do my own thing.

Really feeling the need to detox (I use this word lightly), my kitchen was stocked with eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes on the vine, avocados and salad mix. When it comes down to it, I’m all about keeping things simple, and when food is involved, I’ve learned that less is often better. As I wrapped my head around the items I had at my disposal, I realized that I should try making stuffed peppers. It’s something that always looks so tasty, healthy and relatively easy, so I figured it would be a piece of cake.

I decided that my basic ingredients would include one large bell pepper (I went with an orange one, so it was sweeter), eggplant, tomatoes on the vine, jalapeno cheese, Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express quinoa & brown rice with garlic flavour – I will often cut corners by going this route to save myself time – and a bit of garlic olive oil.

I’d say this took about 15 minutes to prep and about 25 to 30 minutes baking in the oven at 200 C (392 F). The cheese had melted through giving the stuffed pepper some kick, the eggplant had softened to a nice texture without becoming a squishy mess, the diced tomatoes added acidity, and the quinoa & brown rice with the garlic flavour made it a satisfyingly savoury dish.

Here’s the recipe:

Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper
1 Serving
15 min. prep
25 to 30 min. cooking time

1 large bell pepper (any colour)
1/3 of an eggplant
1 small tomato on the vine
1/2 package of Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express or bowl of rice
8 small slices of jalapeno cheese
1 tbsp Garlic olive oil

1) Cover a pan with tin foil and set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 200 C.
3) Wash your pepper. Slice the top off and scoop out the seeds.
4) Take your eggplant and cut into half inch cubes.
5) Dice your tomato.
6) Warm the package of Uncle Ben’s in the microwave.
7) In a bowl, mix the cubes of eggplant and diced tomato together. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil until the veggies are coated.
8) Add a portion of the rice to the bowl. Mix well.
9) Put your pepper on the pan and start filling it with layers of cheese and veggie/rice mixture. Alternate between the two until the pepper is full.
10) Once the oven is ready, place the pan on the middle rack.
11) Let cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

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This is an excellent recipe when you’re cooking for just yourself. Or, easily modify the portions and you’ll find that you can serve this to your guests next time they drop by for dinner. Enjoy!

Learning to Be a Better Home Cook

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

A couple of years ago, inspired by a friend who cooks and talks about food like he’s a chef, as well as by the meals I’ve eaten at restaurants in Edmonton and during my travels, and from watching the more popular than ever Food Network, I decided that I want to better my own culinary skills. Cooking is a science and an art. A beautifully presented dish can bring joy to the eye, but you also need to know what can work together to create something pleasing to the palate.

I had every intention at the beginning of 2014 to learn a new recipe once a week (or perhaps every two or three) – actually take the time to make a delicious and balanced meal. But, now, more than 12 months later, that hadn’t really happened. However, after having enjoyed a year’s worth of amazing lunches and dinners at eateries across the city, I’m now feeling a little more motivated to go ahead with my initial idea. I want to be able to make myself, my family and my friends dishes that are as good as those at all the fine establishments I’ve had the opportunity to dine at.

Up until now I’ve been winging it and, don’t get me wrong, I’m not terrible in the kitchen. Everything I’ve ever cooked has been edible and even quite tasty, but I’d like to add variety by building on what I already know because I want what I put into my mouth to be healthy and nothing other than delectable.

But, where do I begin? My biggest dilemma is that I never have a fully stocked pantry of food or ingredients just lying around waiting to be molded into some spectacular meal. So, I have to be really proactive about planning ahead. I also think I have to slowly work my way towards dishes that require a little more technique.

My plan is to scour the cookbooks I’ve amassed and the Internet for what, I hope, will be a yearlong experiment. If I am able to keep up with it, I’ll do my best to chronicle the more successful attempts here on my blog.

And, should set recipes not work for me, I’ve told my parents that they can go the way of Chopped (or Chopped Canada) and bring me random baskets of various ingredients and I’ll take up the challenge of preparing them a meal that is fit for consumption. So, wish me luck!

In the meantime, I have dipped my toes in by learning how to make one of my favourite desserts. In no way does this recipe really help me add to my repertoire of main dishes, yet it is a handy one to have in my back pocket should I need to whip a little treat up with short notice.

Panna cotta is a traditional Italian “cooked cream” dessert. I typically order it at restaurants when I want something that is subtly sweet and feels relatively light. The ingredients and cooking method have changed over time, but, regardless, it’s a classic that is surprisingly simple to make. It can also be garnished a number of ways to bring in different flavours. Making this, you’ll feel like a proper dessert chef in no time!

Vanilla Panna Cotta*
6 servings
10 min. prep
6 hr. cooking time

7 g (1 pkg) unflavoured gelatin
1 1/2 cup milk (2% suggested)
1 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Fruit or cinnamon to garnish

1) Grease six 1/2 cup ramekins and set aside.

2) Pour milk into a small saucepan. Sprinkle the entire package of gelatin into the milk. Let stand for 1 minute.

3) Heat the milk and gelatin mixture on medium, making sure to stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

4) Add the cream, sugar and vanilla extract to the pan. Keep on medium heat so it remains hot, but not boiling (be very careful about this!). Stir occasionally until smooth.

5) Pour the liquid into the six ramekins. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

6) Once set, you can slide the panna cotta out of the ramekin and serve in a bowl or on a plate. You can also opt to serve it in the ramekin. Top with fruit, honey or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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*Modified from Cook iPad app contributor Reizel Ayeras’s recipe.

Décor to Adore

Décor and interior design is so important in curating a look that screams you. When friends or family walk into your abode, you want them to feel like they have entered a home that represents who you are. That’s why there are so many different looks to suit the large spectrum of people out there.

I have been a condo owner for about two years now, and I am still building my nest. The essentials, such as my bed, dresser, desk, TV, couches, and dining room table are all there, but the rest remains a work in progress. I just haven’t found the right pieces that will bring everything together and make it truly my own.

The truth is, it always takes time to find the things that will fit and speak to you (as Pier 1 Imports’ commercials say), but until I do, I will continue to scour the city for them.

One such place I was able to get a preview of what is to come this year is at the Alberta Gift Fair that was held last weekend in Edmonton, Alberta. The event is for registered store owners, so it wasn’t open to the public, but these are the top 10 trends I noticed and might consider incorporating into my home.

1) Striking colours including turquoise and shades of green and grey

A mix of home accessories that incorporate green and grey.

A mix of home accessories that incorporate green and grey.

2) Wood/natural materials

Leather and wood bar stools with oval cutouts.

Leather and wood bar stools with oval cutouts. These were found at Homesense.

3) Clean lines and cutouts (see above image)

4) Bold patterns

A patterned mirror and nesting tables seen behind an Eiffel Tower room partition.

A patterned mirror and nesting tables seen behind an Eiffel Tower room partition.

5) European elements (see above image)

6) Vintage/rustic/found objects

Tables that look to be made out of vintage wire wheels, painted bright colours.

Tables that look to be made out of vintage wire wheels, painted bright colours.

7) Clocks – not necessarily a working one

The face of a clock becomes the top of a table.

The face of a clock becomes the top of a table.

8) Stackable shelving

IMG_2774 - Copy

Versatile shelving or tables depending on how you look at these singular boxes.

9) Leather and metal

A classic armchair with an industrial, modern feel.

A classic armchair with an industrial, modern feel.

10) Horses – I’m not sure if it’s because it’s the Year of the Horse for the Chinese or what, but I saw an abundance of equine themed art.

A painting of two horses - very ethereal.

A painting of two horses – very ethereal and contemporary as opposed to western themed.

I think I have a pretty eclectic sensibility when it comes to what I wear and what I put in my home. Hopefully I find a way to incorporate it all without it becoming overwhelming.

What kind of design style do you lean towards? Are there any trends or looks you plan to add to your house? Do you have suggestions for easy, yet stylish do-it-yourself projects? Please share below!