Pinteresting Baking: 4th Birthday Treat

Yeah….so…..the 35 weeks of baking hit a hard wall.  I cannot even explain it, but I literally could not bring myself to blog.  I was and still am baking and I usually remember to take pictures, but sitting at the computer and editing images and then writing about the experience seemed so daunting and add to the fact that time just would not stop.  But I am not the one to give up.  I am just tweaking or adapting the plan.  I have lost track of the weeks and have had several weeks without baking so I will just bake when I can and post when I remember.  With the holidays coming up, I suspect there shall be a great frequency of posts.

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My son’s 4th birthday was in August and, true to my rule of “only one”, he did not have a party.  We had our dessert ceremony as a family or four plus the in-laws and went on a mini-trip planned with the munchkin in mind (The rule of “Only One” is that only one kid gets a birthday a year and the other gets a trip or a day of their choosing-from meals to some fun location).

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This dessert was so fun to make.  It’s a Neapolitan cupcake!  Basically a chocolate layer and vanilla layer of cake and a strawberry frosting on top.  My layers did not come out as defined as the picture from the original post and when I removed the cupcakes from the oven, you could see the chocolate bubbled through the vanilla.  The bonus, is that the frosting covered it up and it tasted delicious.

I guess I can say this was just a fun dessert with a cherry on top.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 9 – A Sophisticated Strawberry Cake for A Sophisticated 7 Year old

I did not take many pics of this one so I will also attempt to spare you the long, drawn out, wordy blog, but don’t get too comfortable with this format.  For my 9th Pinteresting goodie, I chose to make a cake for my son’s actual birthday.  Again, I will be posting his party sometime this week.  He loves strawberry desserts so what better treat than to create a delicious Strawberry Cake with an even more irresistible Brown Buttered, Roasted Strawberry Buttercream Frosting.  Oh yes, you heard me right, roasted strawberry and, at this point, you are likely not surprised that the butter has been “browned”.

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For this cake, I actually combined two different recipes with the frosting being the sole inspiration for the cake.  My son liking strawberry desserts was a cover-up I must confess.  The roasting of the strawberries was exactly what you imagine….heavenly.  First you toss the fresh strawberries in brown sugar and I don’t know about you, but strawberries are probably the most beautiful fruit with that rich, red color and sugar always brings it out even more.

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Finally when they are pulled out of the oven, you get this rich and syrupy version of the strawberry that produces an aroma sweet enough to give you a cavity without a single bite.

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The cake recipe itself, was quite simple and definitely made sure it stood out alongside the superstar frosting.  The cake also contains fresh strawberries in the form of a puree and produced a really moist texture.  I did slightly overmix the batter so it did not turn out making the final product slightly more dense than it should have been.

This cake was so delicious and I love that, as emphasized in the recipe prep, the strawberry pieces were visible through the frosting.  I am telling you this had to be the best tasting cake I have made so far.  I ate more than I care to admit, but most importantly my son was so excited despite likely not appreciating the quality and sophistication of the frosting, but the smile on his face when he saw his cake was more than any praise I could ever get from even the most experienced of bakers.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 8 – The Unbreakable Cinnamon Roll

Once again, I am late with my post, but I have decided as long as I bake in real time I have fulfilled my challenge.  Being a working, who relentlessly takes on more than I can handle pretty much sets me up to constantly have something fall by the wayside.  I must say, though, I have been baking away come hell or high water or just plain crying…I have been baking!

This particular week, I sneaked over to my “Breakfast Breakfast Brunch” board to find a delicious addition to my son’s birthday breakfast which I will post later.  I landed on this handy dandy recipe and let me tell you I did not regret it.  The funny thing about making cinnamon rolls is it is very intimidating.  Then, mid-way through preparation, you realize it is not that bad.  I think it is the yeast that gets you.  I mean some weird creature that you have to feed or keep a certain temperature or you baked good will not turn out right seems pretty creepy.

Well this time was no exception.  I was pretty much worn out from party preparations when it was time to prep.  I  almost almost decided not to bake so you can imagine that when I chose to push forward, I was dragging.

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In preparing the dough, as the recipe notes, it was really sticky and and took longer to rise than I am used to.  It also requires you to come back and forth to your dough mound and flip it and flop it in a 2 hour time period.  Fortunately it is a two day process so Thursday evening while on my last leg, I was pretty happy when I got to the point of putting it in the fridge for the overnight rise.

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Day 2, I was more energetic, but who would I be if I was having to rush due to the fact that people would be over shortly to taste whatever it is that was going to come out of the oven.  First thing is I must watch a master roll out the dough.  I never obtain this mythical, measured rectangle that recipes so often tell me to make in order to get a particular size and amount of cinnamon rolls and this time was no exception.  Actually it was an exception, an exceptionally far deviation from the measurements as I was really really rushing at this point.  It was so funny when I rolled my dough and found more of a cone rather than a perfectly symmetrical cylinder.  Needless to say, I got several rolls and tossed them in the oven.

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I almost overcooked them since I was chasing 7  year old boys around and also preparing many other dishes, but they made it out with what I would just call an elevated browning.

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The frosting took seconds to make and I just slapped it on and threw the dish on the table.  Once things settled down and I had finished my hosting duties, I snagged a bite and holy bleep, they were amazing.  You have absolutely got to try this recipe.  Even with my half-step, one eye open, delirious baking they turned out so good.  The rolls were moist and the cream cheese topping melted in my mouth.  I think the main difference with this roll that contributed to its amazing flavor was the honey.  Most cinnamon roll recipes do not have this and I often find them tasting quite yeasty.  Now that may be my fault and my strange husband says he likes that taste, but I am not a fan.  If you are looking for a recipe where you can go wrong, look no further, I have found it for you.  Enjoy!

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 4 – Mini Bananas Foster Cheesecakes

O.k., I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this challenge.  Between my work schedule, my kids, and still needing to cook regular meals, throwing in a weekly baking session has proved to be…well a bit daunting.  Nevertheless I shall move forward, power through, and fight the good fight.

I had been eyeballing this particular treat for quite some time now.  It was a newer “pin” and it is at the top of my board.  Aside from the recipe’s image staring right at me every time I open my board, cheesecake just so happens to be my favorite dessert.  The banana part wasn’t as appealing, but seeing as how I end up having a constant need to Google “what to do with your over ripe bananas”, it fit the bill.

Cheesecake recipes are usually pretty standard. Crush Graham crackers and mix with melted butter to create your crust.  A food processor is absolutely best for this especially if you add nuts.  It should look like beautiful, delicious, sweet smelling sand when you are finished.

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Next you usually mix cream cheese and sugar (and you’ll usually find cheesecake recipes use a smaller amount of sugar than typical desserts) and then add eggs.  It’s pretty simple and basic, but for the first time I used brown sugar as the recipe requires and man oh man did it ever make a beautiful color.  I could have just used it  as a spread right then and there.  The next unique aspect of this recipe was adding mashed bananas at the end.

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For the entire recipe, I used generic store bought products.  I actually had some cream cheese in the fridge awaiting their transformation.  Since I do consider myself a cheesecake veteran, I did decide to do a tiny bit of freestyling.  Since I am a crustinista (oh yes, yes I did go there), I wanted to add a little more flavor to the Graham cracker crust by adding about a tablespoon of brown sugar and 1/2 tsp of vanilla.

It is so critical when baking cheesecake, that you have either a springform pan or this cute mini cheesecake pan (like the one seen below).  I used to make them in muffin pans and it added so much work, but it is manageable if you do not have the actual pan.  If you plan to make mini cheesecakes often, it is well worth the investment.

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One little poke of the finger and you have a super cutesy dessert.  It also shapes better than out of the muffin tin.

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To prepare the pan for it’s special task of creating this rich dessert, is the spray each well with cooking spray.  You then, scoop the sand-like crust into each well.  I must say, I had to add more than the 2 T of butter which the recipe required.  The crust should start sticking together when compressed otherwise you would not have a formed crust, but rather a Graham cracker crumble sloughing off when you take out your cheesecake.  To add the filling, I like to use a container with a spout for pouring.  This time around I chose a measure cup, worked like a charm.  I actually ended up making 16 mini cheesecakes instead of the 12 the recipe noted.

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Some of my cakes cooked a little bit long or my oven was too hot. Also, some of the cakes sunk in due to uneven baking.  The only way I have ever learned to have cheesecake cook evenly is to submerge part of the baking container in water while in the oven.  Yesterday was not the day for that so I just placed the pans directly on the oven rack.

For the sauce, well that begin very interestingly.  The butter melting went perfectly according to plan.  I mean, it’s melting butter in a pan.  I then added the brown sugar and started to wonder after a minute why it did not look smooth like the recipe had indicated.  At this point I am cursing silently in my head as my kids were nearby.

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It looked anything but smooth.  I started looking grainy and when I mixed it, well it was just strange so I decided adding the liquid now might help.

I did not have rum and I was going to give some to my kids so I added 1 T of vanilla instead.  Steam, hiss, splat….I had a boiling science experiment on my hands.

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At this point, there was no turning back, I was not about to start over so I just threw in the sliced bananas.  It didn’t seem very clear in the recipe but for this part you can use a regular banana as it will be cooked to perfection.

After a few whirls, my sauce finally looked thin and glassy like the picture from the original recipe blog.  The take home here is that it takes a while to get to that thin, smooth, glossy texture.  I always feel like recipes frequently fail to mention how long some foods take to transition to its new elevated state.

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Like caramelizing onions!  OMG it takes like hours or something crazy and recipe wording, to me, seems to indicate it happens just like that.  Anyway, by the end of what seemed to be an episode from Bill Nye the Science Guy, my “Foster” turned out beautiful…and so did the cheesecakes.

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Ooh, they looked so cute!  My favorite part was the light mocha-like coloring of the cheesecake.  I have only made white cheesecake in the past so that was a treat.  It was quite good and got rave reviews from my neighbor and her family, but as I mentioned before, I am not the biggest banana dessert fan.  I will say, if you are a fan of banana flavored desserts, this will knock your socks off!  You will want to herald in the streets about this wonderful treat you discovered.  It is rich and creamy and the brown sugary banana on top is icing on the….cheesecake.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 3 – The Deceptively Not So Simple Soft Lofthouse Style Frosted Cookies

O.k., you can totally call me on it.  I made these ones earlier in the week for the sole purpose of making sure I get the post out on time and, well, life happened.  So  here I am in Week 4, writing about my Week 3 conquest.

On  Thursday I was in the store scrolling through my board on the phone.  I was extra exhausted from work  and not in the mood to tackle anything major.  A few swipes in and I found them, simple copy cat Lofthouse sugar cookies.  These are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures of my husband and I.  They are so soft and the frosting is so rich and the recipe (ingredients) seemed so easy….seemed is the operative word here.

I got home later in the evening and went over the steps of the recipe and wanted to cry.  There was dough rolling and chilling overnight and more dough rolling and cutting. Ugh, I was so mad.  But if anyone knows me, I am committed.  I followed that recipe in my zombie state, threw them in the fridge and fell out.

At around 4:50 am the next morning, I started phase 2, The Roll Out.  I got my favorite, handy dandy roller and got to work.  Now, I will be the first to confess I have yet to master the art of rolling out anything.  I think I need a ruler because not matter how much my eyes convince my brain I have reached the appropriate thickness, I end up with double the volume once baking is complete.  As far as cutting out my cookies,  I have every cookie cutter possible except for a simple circle so I used my go to back up….a  drinking glass.  It does the trick to perfection and you don’t have to spend any extra money.

I threw those puppies in the oven and got to work on the frosting.  Now, I know I said I would stay away from buttercream frosting (and that is where it is solely butter), but this time I figured it wouldn’t be so bad being on a cookie and I was correct.  I don’t know if it was the heavy cream or what, but I was soooooooo delicious.  Anyway, wham bam thank you ma’am, the cookies were packed up and ready to be hauled off with me to work.  They came out cute, but the flavor was o.k.  I think the frosting saved the cookie as it tasted more dough like than that who-knows-what’s-in-it Lofthouse cookie you get from the store.  It only matched up with the store bought version by appearance and texture to some extent.

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I’m now going to pull a screenwriter move and go back to the beginning.  Imagine a tape playing back at full speed.  The recipe called for low fat sour cream, I opted for full fat.  This is not because I am some fancy baker that wanted a different flavoring, that is just what I had in the fridge.

I also opted to use the extra amount of flour that is directed to use as needed to flour my rolling surface.  I thought I was so fancy and graduating to a real baker coming up with my own plan.  It really didn’t work.  It was so sticky.  I also just did a dab of orange food coloring because food coloring freaks me out and I think I am going to have to suck it up and pay for the natural mixes they offer online.

For some tips:

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  1.  The absolute best rolling pin, in my humble opinion, are the solid wood pieces.  The ones with the handles that are on a type of roller can break under pressure (I promise I’m not heavy handed) and the full wood ones look nicer.IMG_7901
  2. Whenever possible and o.k., use parchment paper.  It allows you to just keep it moving with several batches.  Just pull the paper (with cookie) off the pan and you’re ready to start your next batch.  IMG_7907IMG_7909IMG_7911
  3. A quick way to get a good frosted cookie with the smooth edge is, as always, using a pastry bag.  It made this so much faster for me. (Ugh I just realized this picture is not in focus)
  4. Use an external thermometer in the oven.  I never do this as I do not have one, but I am definitely planning on purchasing one.  The oven definitely become hotter as I continued to bake and cookies were being done way faster than was called for in the recipe.IMG_7882
  5. I know I have said this before, but I don’t think I can stress it enough.  Always crack your eggs in a separate dish.  I use my custard dish because it looks like the cooks/bakers on t.v.  I will not gross you out with the high school Home Ec. class, but let’s just say I was very glad I was in the group that listened and got to eat my chocolate cake.

I guess I can say if I do choose to make this cookie again, I will try another recipe.  I like the look of this cookie and I can imagine doing fun and creative things with it for the holidays, but try it and let me  know if you had better luck.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 2 – Brown Butter Cake with Vanilla Bean Icing and Salted Caramel

The first thing I have to confess is that, due to my relentless cold, I am behind in posting, but I assure you I am baking in real time.  This cake was made this past Sunday.  I was, once again, able to find inspiration for my baking and this time it was my mother in-law’s birthday.  And what would be more appropriate for a birthday than a cake.  Aside from the gorgeous image of the cake, the words “brown butter” will get me every time.  OMG, I just wiped drool from my mouth.  Brown butter is the process of taking butter to an unimaginable level.  Imagine butter, now image having butter in heaven and you will get a glimpse of what it is to have browned butter.  If you think I am being dramatic, try it.  It attacks all of the major senses involved in eating.  The smell is mind numbing.  It is a cross between roasted nuts and caramel, a smoked caramel if you will.  I also, happen to love the look as well.  It is just a beautiful caramel color and it taste so rich.  As you can see, I can write a post on just browned butter alone, but I digress.  Aside from the naming of this delectable dessert, the beautifully crisp image that I chose to “pin” on my “wall” is what grabbed me initially.  I loved the smooth, seamless frosting underneath the glossy caramel drizzle with tiny little vanilla bean speckles can be seen on the sides of this adorable cylindrical masterpiece. The image below is from the original recipe and the one I chose to “pin”.

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The first task at hand was to get the right sized cake pans.  Since I am the absolute worst at visioning size of an object based on a documented measurements, I was shocked when I went to the store and found the four 6″ cake pans.  They were so tiny.  Anyway, I can now I can make cute little cakes so it was all worth it.

If I am being honest, though this was only Week 2, it was already a bit of a flop.  I started off looking good, I promise.

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As you can see, I masterfully browned the butter (I like to leave in the crust if it will not impact the look) as I have made several recipes with browned butter at this point and I even mentally created an updated version of one of my favorite cookies which I plan to make at the end of the month.  Don’t worry even though it is not part of the 35 week baking, I will still post.  After that, things slowly started to go south, from the forgetting to put in the eggs until after the dry ingredients had been mixed in to the, well, you’ll see later.

Despite the major fails, I do have some tips for this one.

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  1.  I am a master at preparing a cake pan.  Though I grew up making boxed cakes with my mom (which is funny because we never ate processed food for meals), I learned how to properly and thoroughly grease a cake pan as if I was making something from scratch.
    • Put shortening on a paper towel and grease the pan ensuring that you cover every inch including the creases
    • Then take a little bit of flour and dump it in the center
    • Work the flour around the cake pan like you are trying to keep a marble from falling off the edge of a tray (I hope that makes sense)
    • Finally rotate the pan like a wheel so that you get the walls of the pan and tap it to remove any excess flour (maybe I will do a video some day).

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Here is the picture of the finished cake out of the pan (above).  Mic drop.

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  1.  I do know if you are making a layered cake, you level off the top with a knife.  The cake should probably be really cooled at this point so you don’t knock off the edges of the cake like I did.  You are also supposed to  do something similar on the sides, but clearly I went too far.IMG_7845IMG_7846
  2. I saw this online and it worked like a charm.  For the filling layer, use a pastry bag and any circular tip to dispense and then lightly spread it with a flat spatula (any smoothing tool).  That made this step a snap.IMG_7875
  3. Do not, I mean do not substitute vanilla extract for vanilla bean but you can substitute it with vanilla bean paste which is also also quite pricey, but the unlike  billion dollars for the actual bean, it’s a much easier pill to swallow.  The little bean speckles add to the visual charm of the dessert and I believe it is more concentrated as well.  I don’t know, it just has a different flavor that is worth trying.  My husband found this one at Harris Teeter for $10.  But he heard that Trader Joe’s has the same one during the holidays for $4 so be on the lookout for a crazy lady collecting every single tube in November.

Now that is all the tips I am giving because I botched the other tips and ended up mutilating the cake.  Yes, a cake was hurt while filming this process.  But none was wasted!  The kids, my hubby and I gobbled up every little crumb that did not make it to the finale.

There were also a couple of steps I skipped as I was in a rush to get the cake to the birthday girl.  When you initially frost a cake, it is called the “crumb layer”.  Apparently this is a thin layer of frosting that is applied to the cake in order to “catch” the crumbs that magically appear.  This recipe went a step further and had you chill the cake after the crumb layer for 30 minutes.  I think this would have really locked in those crumbs.  This is where I almost lost the cake, again likely due to it not being cooled enough.  I actually started breaking off cake.  After a while I just pretended like I was working on dry wall and the frosting was my caulk.  I actually saved it…well at this step.

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Once I added the frosting, it started going south and it took forever just to get this look.  My final thoughts after making this cake are, one, I absolutely do not like butter frosting.  I said butter, not butter cream which has cream cheese in it.  I need more time and practice for making cakes as they are so much work.  I also dare anyone to ever ask me to make a cake because I will karate chop them.  It is so much work and you would have to charge a lot to make it worth it.

It was pretty good, but the most important part is the birthday girl loved it!

 

Here is the image on my Pinterest wall.

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See, just like the original.  I bet you can’t tell which one is mine.

Mail Order Meals?

Before I even get into my evaluation, I have to just say right out of the gate, it is, without question, more expensive than shopping for ingredients yourself.  There, mystery solved.  If that is what is holding you back from trying out one of the slew of food delivery companies trending in the world, then read no further.  Now, for those who still want to make sure or for those who have money to spare I may be able to give you a little tiny bit of insight.

Thanks to some very generous subscribers, I was able to try both Hello Fresh and Blue apron at little to no cost.  And let’s be honest, that would be the only way I would ever try something that I deemed a luxury for the wealthy.

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Let’s start with Hello Fresh since that is the first service I used.  I had a $79.99 coupon and decided to get the Classic Package for a family of 4 for 3 meals for the entire week.  I ended up having to pay an additional $39.99, but for what I was getting that felt almost free.  I opted for a Saturday delivery and when the FedEx truck met me in my garage, I literally squealed and jumped like toddler getting ice cream.  I assume it looked funny because the driver laughed at me.  Once the truck drove off I found I was still holding the box in the driveway checking to see if my neighbors could see me (Note: the box is clearly labeled with the Hello Fresh logo) as I wanted the world to know, I was receiving food from a meal delivery service like the fancy people.

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When I tell you they spare no expense with their packaging, I mean I would have been sold without tasting a bite.  It seemed so elaborate and organized, I felt like I was on Life Styles of The Rich And Famous for a moment.  I mean really it was like I had been transported to The Real Housewives.  Before you laugh and judge me, there is something to be said about how a product makes you feel.  I genuinely felt special and glamorous handling the Hello Fresh items.  Not to mention, the packaging fits perfectly and neatly in the refrigerator.

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Now, before I tell you about the taste of the meals, let me get rid of a few more curiosities…if you are not one that enjoys cooking, move along.  This product is not for you.  And I will tell you, making grilled cheese, boiling a hot dog or even making basic spaghetti would not qualify you.  These meals force you to really cook, I mean making and working with foods you may have never even heard of before.  I think it would even challenge the culinary gifted.  Let me be clear before everyone runs for the hills.  It is not too challenging for one that cooks often and cooks a variety of different types food.  Another point to take into consideration is that you also need a lot of supplies (cutting, chopping, and dicing required), but they do cover you on all of the ingredients.

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HF3Now for the results…drum roll please…holy shamoly everything was amazing!  Even my picky monsters loved 2 out of 3.  When I plated the meals I remember thinking, “Oh snap, when did we hire a gourmet chef” and the best part was I didn’t have to spend hours searching for new recipes, listing the ingredients, and then shopping for them.  Another big feature for my tendency to be messy when cooking is it is so much easier to keep the food organized and neat due to the smart packaging.

The one final aspect for which I must prepare you, are the portions.  If you need a diet and still want variety, look no further than a mail order meal.  There are no leftovers and depending on how deeply imbedded into America’s new cultural food portions, you may find yourself snacking before bed as you will be sure to not overeat without stealing a family member’s portion.

Overall, Hello Fresh received two thumbs up on quality, presentation, variety, and user friendliness of their website.

 

Now on to Blue Apron which I wish I tried first so I would not have had such a high standard and ultimately end up with a skewed view.  I mean, I already wanted a user friendly website, many food options and pretty packaging.   Unfortunately that was not exactly the case.  I had to ask for help on how to convey we could neither have seafood nor peanuts.  I also couldn’t figure out the food options.  Eventually I was able to order and, I was once again excited.

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The food arrived in a nice box, but upon opening the package, I was not greeted with perfectly organized and sorted boxes.  The produce were all jumbled together with the exception of the seasonings and extras which were in clearly labeled brown paper sacks.

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It did also come with the very picturesque recipes similar to Hello Fresh.   I did like how their seasoning and liquids packaging was premeasured which added major value.  You would just open a container and pour it all in.

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Now for the review, the first two meals were delicious and my husband made one, sticking directly to the recipe (trust that was a smart move on his part) and it still came out fantastic.    When we got the 2nd set of meals arriving, it was very similar to the previous meal as it had the same meats.  One of two of those were really really really delicious, but the other was just o.k.

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Blue Apron is $70 for a family of four for 2 nights or $140 for 4 nights, but there is no 3 night option.  Hello Fresh has dropped their price to $119 for 3 nights of meals.  So overall, it is not that much cheaper than Hello Fresh.

Before I go on and on, because you know I love talking about food, I will leave you with my final overall review of this new craze.  I think this is an amazing concept and clearly developed by someone or some people who found a way to capitalize on a need that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.  This is not for a family on a tight budget.  It is not for a family that has a culture of making one pot meals and it is not for a family who barely has time to eat let alone cook.  Who then, is it for you ask.  I think it is for those families that have a significant grocery budget.  I think it is for power couples without kids and I think it is for financially sound singles that have a distinguished palette, a love for cooking and little time to go out to eat or plan fancy meals.  The best utilization of these mail to order meals would be a power couple getting the 2 to 3 days of meals for a family of four package and using that extra two meals for leftovers and then eating out for the rest of the week or doing  a simple salad or grilling a non-MTO meal (oh yes, I did create my own acronym) days.

I must say, I did get a phone call from Hello Fresh and got reeled in for a bi-weekly family of four meal package.  I am excited and ready with an Excel table for comparison (Hello Fresh v. Grocery store).  I know that it is more, but it is delicious, healthy, and gives me back my time to bury myself in other work.  Whether you call it a splurge, a necessity, a working mom’s savior, it is definitely a something worth a conversation.