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Delivered to Your Door: Healthy Habits Kitchen

18 Jun

Healthy Habits Kitchen, based in Wellesley, MA, contacted me about trying their meal kits. As much as I love traditional from-scratch cooking, I’m always open to trying a quick (while still healthy) alternative for weeknight dinners. Healthy Habits Kitchen’s ready-to-make meals are portioned out so the serving size is under 400 calories, with less than 30% fat and no more than 800mg of sodium. Plus, the meals take less than 30 minutes to prepare. I tried out three meals. Please note: while Healthy Habits Kitchen offered to send over these complimentary meal kits, all opinions are my own.

Healthy Habits Kitchen ingredients

How the shrimp with tomato and feta ingredients arrived (each meal is packed inside a mini box)

The meal kits arrived by mail in a small insulated box and were portioned out into the three meals. When they arrived the ingredients were slightly frozen: each box has a ‘prepared on’ and ‘best by’ date. I put one box in the fridge and the other two in the freezer. I chose three seafood meals because I don’t cook fish and seafood as often as I’d like to, and I was hopeful this might provide some inspiration. On the Healthy Habits Kitchen website, you can find all of their current meals: there are vegetarian, red meat, chicken, and pork meals as well.

Here’s what I made:

Shrimp with Tomato and Feta

The first meal I tried was the Shrimp with Tomatoes & Feta: sauce (diced tomatoes and onion), shrimp, orzo pasta, seasoning (lots of dill), and feta. This was delicious and the flavors were different from what I usually put together, which was exactly what I had hoped for.

photo (7)

For the second meal I made Asian BBQ Salmon with Rice. This meal fell flat – the salmon wasn’t high-quality and the sauce was too thick, so the rice and salmon were very plain and dry. I was also craving vegetables in this meal, which is odd because you’d think for the company to be called ‘Healthy Habits’ that they’d have more vegetables incorporated into the meals. I ended up eating the salmon over a spinach salad with oil and vinegar dressing.

Tilapia and coconut curry

The last meal was Broiled Tilapia Thai Coconut Curry with Rice. This meal was slightly better than the salmon, because the sauce was more substantial, but again the quality of the fish wasn’t great. I expected to make a yellow coconut curry (see image below), but this ended up being more of red peppers and shallots in a sweet garam masala sauce. I make quick curries often, so this wasn’t something I’d make again.

 

The verdict: Very easy-to-make meals, slightly expensive for my budget, recipes were hit or miss, lots of packaging

It’s easy: It felt odd to make a meal without prepping anything, but that’s just because I love the process – start to end – of cooking. For someone who doesn’t want to spend time cooking, or doesn’t feel at home in the kitchen, this would be a great option. Clean-up was limited to the two or three (for the curry) pans I used; I didn’t need a knife, cutting board, or any bowls for ingredients, which made clean-up easy. For all three dishes, the recipes were simple and straightforward. The meals took between 20-30 minutes to make.

Cost per meal: I’m cost-conscious while buying groceries and find that cooking a big meal at home saves so much money compared to going out. Portioned out, each serving from Health Habits Kitchen ends up being about $7, so if you typically go out to eat and want to transition to cooking at home, this would be a great option. Or, if you want to cook a healthy meal, and $22 for three servings outweighs the difficulty of planning a meal, going shopping for the ingredients, prepping, and then cooking, this could also be a good choice!

HHKSiteImages

Tilapia Coconut Curry (left) & BBQ Salmon (right) images from the Healthy Habits Kitchen site

The recipes: I enjoyed the shrimp dish, but the other two fish recipes could have been better developed. I would liked to have seen more accurate pictures of the recipes on the Healthy Habits Kitchen website (see above – these are very different recipes, and it looks like there’s chicken instead of fish in the curry).

Something that was a very positive experience for me was learning about portion size. When I looked at the ingredients in the box and saw that they added up to three “healthy portions’ or two ‘hearty portions’, I was skeptical whether this would be enough food for me. I was surprised, though: when it all came together, I portioned out 1/3 of the total amount for a meal, and it was fine.

Packaging: The convenience factor is obviously there with these meal kits, but as I worked through each of the recipes, I realized just how much plastic packaging I was throwing in the garbage. All of the fish was vacuum-sealed in its own bag, each additional ingredient came in a bag or a plastic container. I understand the necessity to have each ingredient in a separate container, but I am careful to limit packaging when possible and recycle everything, so it was hard for me to generate so much waste simply out of convenience.

 

Live in the Greater Boston Area and want to try out Healthy Habits Kitchen? You can order Healthy Habits Kitchen online, and then pick up your meals at their facility, a farmers market, or have them shipped to your home. Healthy Habits Kitchen has offered 15% off your first order. Just use the discount code “EATINGPLACES” through July 31 for 15%off.

 

Thank you to Healthy Habits Kitchen for three complimentary meal kits. As with all EatingPlaces posts, opinions are my own.

Dumpling House in Cambridge

21 May

Whenever I have an opportunity to visit a Chinatown, I’m completely drawn to wandering down its streets. It awakens my senses in a way that I can only compare to walking through a mercado, like the ones I visited in Oaxaca. There are so many countries in Asia on my dream list of places to visit. Until I visit those places, though, I love trying as many new flavors and dishes as I can closer to home. Boston’s Chinatown is a great place to start, and Gourmet Dumpling House is no doubt one of the more popular restaurants for xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. However, the place is always packed and there are only about 20 seats, so trying to grab a quick lunch or dinner without a 30+ minute wait is a challenge.

Then about a month ago I saw the ‘Dumpling House’ sign along Mass Ave between Harvard and Central Square in the former Buddhist Cultural Center tea room space. Rumor says it’s a sister restaurant to Gourmet Dumpling House. I’ve enjoyed two great meals there so far- they’re still working out some of the service kinks, but the food was great and it’s hard to find a sit-down restaurant with these prices in Cambridge. While I miss the experience of going into Chinatown for Gourmet Dumpling House, Dumpling House is a good alternative.

Dumpling House mini soup dumplings

Delicious soup-filled steamed dumplings, xiaolongbao

The first time I ventured over with Renee from Eat.Live.Blog and a co-worker for lunch. We ordered the beef with long horn peppers – a dish we love ordering from Gourmet Dumpling House – and it tasted exactly the same: super spicy, tender beef, fresh green peppers. We also shared the mini soup dumplings with pork and the Sandong style pan fried dumplings (both orders are $7.25 for 7). The soup dumplings were the same as GDH, too. The interesting thing about these soup dumplings is that, while the filling is extremely moist and has a great rich flavor, the dumpling wrapper is always a little thick and slightly dry/sticky. I really love the contrast of textures while eating these, but I’ve had dumplings elsewhere that have a thinner and more delicate wrapper. I guess it comes down to individual preference; I like both.

Dumpling House has a fantastic lunch deal of an entree, soup, and white rice for $8.50 that we didn’t order, but I look forward to returning soon, because that is an amazing deal.

dumpling house pan fried udon noodles and beef

sauteed udon Shanghai style

Then about a week later I returned with my boyfriend for dinner. We ordered the soup dumplings again, plus the sauteed udon Shanghai style (above) and the sauteed flat noodles with beef (below). Both were solid choices – the udon noodles were slightly salty, but the texture of the noodles was right on and I enjoyed the mushrooms and pieces of beef throughout.

Dumpling House sauteed flat noodles with beef

sauteed flat noodles with beef

Of the two dishes, I prefer the sauteed flat noodles with beef  – I’m just obsessed with those flat rice noodles (the same kind used in drunken noodles) and the beef was perfectly tender. While I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to spicy dishes (i.e. when I ate the beef with long horn peppers I also consumed multiple glasses of water and an entire bowl of rice…), I realized halfway through the meal that I should have ordered something with a bit more of a kick. But there will be a next time!

With two overall positive experiences, I can’t wait to go back. The only warning I should include is that it’s a new place, and there is a certain amount of confusion that sometimes comes with recently opening: when we went for lunch, we asked for the dinner-size portion of the beef and peppers so we could share. They brought us the lunch-size, but charged us for the dinner portion. We asked if this was the correct size for what we ordered and they assured us it was. I didn’t believe them, but what did I know, maybe that’s the standard size? Then, when we went for dinner, the portions were huge, confirming that they over-charged us and gave the wrong portion during my first visit. It’s a small detail that I’m sure will be worked out in the coming weeks.

In summary, check out Dumpling House, and feel free to invite me.

Dumpling House, 950 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA

South African Cuisine at Karoo Restaurant on Cape Cod

29 Nov

I love visiting Cape Cod in the fall and winter – it’s a family tradition that has taught me how to enjoy travel during all seasons. As nice as it is to wander through the Provincetown crowds and lay on the beach in the summer, the colder months represent a slower and more subdued side of the Cape that I appreciate just as much.

Interior of Karoo Restaurant in Eastham Massachusetts

My parents had been to Karoo once before and had a great experience, so I was excited to try South African food for the first time. There are two Karoo locations on the Cape: the seasonal Karoo Kafe in Provincetown (opened in 2002) and the year-round Karoo Restaurant in Eastham (opened this year). In both locations, Chef Sanette Groenewald brings flavors from the Western Cape in South Africa where she grew up,  while incorporating extensive vegan and gluten-free options.

South African cuisine is very multicultural as a result of colonization and immigration. As in all areas where people have experienced racial injustice, it is difficult to celebrate unique combinations of food that result without recognizing that people have been discriminated against or worse for decades. However, I always feel that people can appreciate and respect fusion cuisines if they understand the history that contributed to those flavors. Enjoying South African food at Karoo inspires me to better understand the history of the region.

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer Stout

Karoo in Eastham has a great beer selection, including many local breweries on tap and imported bottles. One of their weekly draft specials was Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer Smoked Imperial Stout from Ipswich. I enjoyed the strong coffee and molasses tastes that are smoothed by a hint of sweet brown sugar  – all of these deep flavors were a nice complement to the light curry of my meal. I liked the glass that it was served in as well – a mini goblet of sorts.

Peanut Soup

The West African Peanut Soup has a pumpkin-carrot base with hints of peanut. The clean peanut taste reminds me of fresh peanuts, which I really enjoyed. This was a great appetizer, particularly for the rainy and blustery day that we visited.

Snail Rangoon

Inside the snail rangoon at Karoo

I love trying new-to-me food and I am slowly adding to my list of ingredients and dishes that I’ve tried and cooked with. One food that I had never tried until Karoo was snails! I know, I can’t believe it either. The Fried Snail Rangoons served with a soy, ginger and honey sauce are not your typical escargot. Each of the five pieces that come in the appetizer are unfortunately mostly wanton wrapper, but the creamy snail inside the middle is very pleasant. I look forward to trying more snail dishes in the future, although I probably wouldn’t order this dish again.

Peri Peri Wings

These Peri-Peri Wings, however, I will absolutely order again. The Karoo website describes Peri-Peri sauce as an “African Portuguese sauce is made from tomato, chilies, onions, ginger, and a variety of different herbs and spices. Spicy, not hot.” It is SO good and my perfect kind of heat for wings. The grilled chicken wing meat is extremely tender and it is served with the perfect amount of sauce. There are a must-try and I can’t wait to make my own.

For my meal I ordered Bobotie, the national dish of South Africa, which is a beef meatloaf (my second meatloaf after the Painted Burro Yucatan Meatloaf!). This bobotie is a very soft texture, gently flavored with curry, and completely melts in your mouth. It is topped with a thin layer of egg, baked, and served with rice, chutney, and a few banana slices. The picture I have from the meal does not do the dish justice  (it’s really not that pretty of a dish in general), so just trust me that you need to try bobotie.

The atmosphere was very easy-going and welcoming. Our server was fantastic – he seemed to really enjoyed working there and was happy to answer all of our questions. The bartender was also very friendly and knowledgeable – Karoo would be a great place for drinks (their cocktail list has some fun local flavors)  and appetizers at the bar if you are looking for something lighter.

I’m so glad Karoo was my first experience with South African cuisine and I hope to return soon.

Karoo Restaurant, 3 Main Street, Unit 32B, Eastham, MA

Delivered to Your Door: Blue Apron

27 Jun

BlueApron_Box

Blue Apron, a company based in Brooklyn, will send box of ingredients to your door once/week for three vegetarian or meat/seafood meals. With Blue Apron, subscribers can put together convenient home-cooked meals while utilizing new recipes and ingredients.

Cara Eisenpress from Blue Apron AND Big Girls Small Kitchen (her blog is amazing, if you aren’t already a fan) emailed me and asked if I’d like to try a Blue Apron box. Of course I did! So my insulated vegetarian meal box arrived in the mail on a Wednesday, and the contents were still cold when I opened it up after work. On the top was a letter from the Blue Apron Team, along with three beautifully illustrated recipe pages.

StirFryIngredients

Serving sizes are larger than estimated in the recipes, which was a nice surprise because one recipe was more than enough for a huge dinner for two and another single serving for lunch the next day.

Oil, salt, and pepper are not included in the box (the oil was particularly noticeable because I ran out of olive oil the week the box arrived!). Including all of the items would have been helpful, so you could literally not have a single item in your kitchen and still cook three delicious meals. But aside from those three items, everything else arrives portioned out and ready to prep.

Here are the three meals I made with the box:

BlueApronPizza

Whole Wheat Pizza Topped with Arugula Salad

Salad-topped pizza is one of my go-to options at a pizza place. Maybe I’m just tricking myself into thinking it’s healthier, but really, fresh greens on top of pizza is a good combo. The dough for this recipe arrived pre-made in a bag and I let it rise for a few hours. Closely following the recipe (i.e. trying not to make it up as I usually do), I spread out the dough on a large baking sheet, which resulted in a very thick whole wheat crust. Even though the recipe didn’t say to do this, I should have divided the dough into two and made two separate pizzas. Everything else, though – the tomato sauce, cheese, olives, and dressed salad on top was fantastic. I’ve made pizza a million times, but I felt very accomplished with this one!

BlueApronStirFry

Maple & Sesame Root Vegetable Stir-Fry

I cook a lot of stir-fries and sometimes I feel stuck using the same ingredients and flavors. This dish tastes like it was cooked in a restaurant, which was very rewarding. It was a little heavy on the sugar compared to my typical homemade stir-fry, but if I was using the box on a regular basis, I would just use a little less maple syrup. I also used fresh lotus root and sunchokes for the first time – trying these new ingredients was really exciting and delicious.

BlueApronRatatouille

Tempeh Ratatouille on Wheat Berries

This was my favorite of the three recipes, and also provided the opportunity to use two more new-to-me ingredients: tempeh and wheat berries. When my box arrived the graffiti eggplant had gone bad, so I had to buy another one, but aside from that all of the other ingredients were ready to go. I prepared the ingredients and began cooking the tempeh in my wok in stages as the recipe instructed. Once the tempeh was browned on all sides, I added the red pepper flakes, which promptly started smoking and left a nice black coating all over my wok. The recipe didn’t say to mix together the garlic, red pepper flakes, sugar, vinegar, and tomato paste before adding to the tempeh, but lesson learned on that one! Funny how following a recipe can sometimes make me forget common cooking sense. I transferred the tempeh over to another pan and, after that first little mishap, everything else fell into place perfectly. I ate this for three days straight – it made a lot of food and was so delicious.

As with any new culinary experience, I realized a few things about myself as a cook that I didn’t think about before this food box adventure:

  1. I rarely use recipes and, when I do use them, it’s only as a guide.
  2. There are a lot of basic ingredients I’ve never used.
  3. I love recipe testing and thinking about how I can improve recipes.

Trying out Blue Apron was a great experience. I love grocery shopping, but I know plenty of people who can’t stand it. For a homecook who has the disposable income to let someone else do the shopping and meal planning for them, this would be a great solution. It’s $60/box, which is more than I spend on groceries for the week, but to a lot of people the time and energy savings would be totally worth it. Plus, it’s like receiving a delicious present every week!

Thank you to Blue Apron for the complimentary box. As with all EatingPlaces posts, opinions are my own.

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