Tried and Tested – Recipe boxes


Simply Cook

simplycook.com

£8.99 for four recipe kits for two people

We chose:

Penne alla Rustica (800 cals per serving)

Nyonya (595 cals per serving)

Lebanese Lamb with Aubergine Pilaf (595 cals per serving)

Grilled Halloumi Salad (700 cals per serving)

Ordering process

A little clunky to start, as all first time users are directed to the taster box, which doesn’t have as many options on offer – but the starter price is just £3. We contacted the site to explain we wanted to pick recipes from the full range and this was arranged for us. Great customer service.

Delivery

Simple – on one of three delivery dates each week via Royal Mail and boxes are designed to go through letter boxes. There are no fresh ingredients to go off and all spices, stocks etc, are well packaged, so no leaks.

Ingredient quality

As there aren’t fresh ingredients to sort through, unpacking is not a chore! Each kit includes culinary pastes, infused oils, garnishes, rubs, stocks and/or spice blends. There are handy tear-off shopping lists for each recipe card so you can take them with you as you need to shop. We shopped for everything in one go assuming no store cupboard items and the ingredients bill came to just over £33. So, with the recipe kit cost added on top, that would make each dish £10.49 at full price, or £9 at the discounted rate.

The recipes

We chose two quick and easy dishes (Penne alla Rustica and the site’s bestselling Nyonya – a sort of medium-spiced Malay curry), one vegetarian dish (Grilled Halloumi Salad) and one more fancy dish (Lebanese Lamb with Aubergine Pilaf). Each recipe was very easy to follow and the finished results looked fantastic. Even better, the flavours were out of this world. The penne got an extra thumbs up as it was so quick and easy to do after work. The chicken curry was a hit with pretty much everyone – one tester found it a bit too spicy but she was in the minority. And the grilled halloumi and courgette salad was appreciated by meat eaters and veggies alike. The lamb dish was stand out with the wow factor. It looked good enough for a dinner party – there was one down side though. The rice took much longer and much more liquid to cook than in the recipe. Inexperienced chefs might panic or not notice and risk burning the rice, but with patience and about double the water, the rice comes right. And the wait is worth it.

Portion size

Generous. We found you could feed three comfortably with the quantities listed and could also add more sauce, veg etc, to stretch to feed four. Happy diners all round.

Conclusion

We were impressed with pretty much everything. We worried at first that having to shop for ingredients would be less attractive than having everything delivered to your door. But the opposite was true. There are lots of advantages to this – you can select ingredients to suit your budget and/or beliefs, eg you can buy from a supermarket basic range up to organic. You can opt for lower fat versions or swap out a veggie for one you like better. Plus, if you’re in a household where who’s in or out for dinner changes at the drop of a hat, there is enough flexibility to only eat a dish when you want to prepare it – nothing provided by Simply Cook will go off for months.


Weight Watchers® Smart Kitchen

wwsmartkitchen.co.uk

£35 for a Classic box for three meals for two people

We chose:

Moroccan-style Veggie Shepherd’s Pie

Creamy Mushroom and Courgette Lasagne

Sweet Potato and Lentil Fritters

Ordering process

Quite straight forward as you just choose a classic or vegetarian box and then select the number of people to feed and three or five meals. The recipes are pre-selected, however you have an option to swap one meal out for another pre-selected recipe. The SmartPoints value has been calculated for each meal making it easy to stick within the Weight Watchers® plan. Various offers are available, including your first box for half price.

Delivery

Tuesday to Saturday, and you can ask for it to be left in a safe place if you are not around to accept it. All the ingredients were well packaged, chilled products were stored in cool bags with ice packs to keep them fresh. All the ingredients for all three recipes were packaged together, so it did take a bit of sorting through to get the ingredients for each recipe.

Ingredient quality

Good and all lasted at least five days.

Recipes

Quite complicated, and there was a lot of preparation involved. You had to pay a lot of attention to quantities of ingredients, as some of them were to be used in several of the recipes – one tester used a full tin of lentils in the Shepherd’s Pie when only half was needed, leaving no lentils to use in the fritters. The amount of ingredients provided wasn’t quite correct – our tester used an entire butternut squash for the topping of the Shepherd’s Pie as instructed, but it only covered half the dish, so although the dishes tasted lovely, they looked a bit of a mess! A couple of the ingredients were also missing – one recipe called for ground cumin but cumin seeds were supplied. On the other hand, some of the ingredients supplied were very generous – a 500g bag of couscous was supplied but only 100g was needed.

Portion size

Good, considering it is part of a diet plan.

Conclusion

We think the concept of this service is brilliant and will offer those following the Weight Watchers® plan an easy way of making healthy and varied meals while also being attractive to non-Weight Watchers® members. We thought the boxes offer good value for money and good quality ingredients. As Weight Watchers® Smart Kitchen was only launched in March this year, it is still early days and, hopefully, with constructive feedback from customers, teething problems can be ironed out.


Mindful Chef

mindfulchef.com

£42 for three meals for two people

We chose:

Seared Duck with Mango, Chilli and Courgetti. Gluten-free (640 calories)

Pulled Free-range Chicken Mole and Salsa-stuffed Avocado. Gluten-free (618 calories)

Thai Chickpea Burgers with Pak Choi. Vegan and gluten-free (500 calories)

Ordering process

Pretty simple, as you choose your box based on how many people you want to feed and choose from eight weekly recipes. All are gluten-free with no refined carbs. Some are vegan. Those that are easier to prepare are marked as such.

Delivery

No problems at all. Ingredients are sourced from a selection of small West Country farms, packed in your box and delivered within 24 hours – on a Sunday (within the M25) or a Monday nationwide.

Ingredient quality

Top notch. Each food type was packed separately and labeled simply. We loved that each recipe’s ingredients came in a labelled brown paper bag, so there wasn’t any sorting to do once it arrived. The meat looked incredibly fresh, as did the vegetables. The herbs and spices smelt amazing. Just unpacking the items actually made testers feel healthier! The only flaw was the ‘ready to eat’ avocado, which remained hard for over a week.

The recipes

Seared duck with mango, chilli and courgetti.

There were seven stages to this, so while the recipe card claimed 30 minutes’ prep time for this dish it took about 45. It was worth it though, as the finished product looked and tasted extremely fresh and flavoursome. The mango really brought the whole dish to life.

Pulled free-range chicken mole and salsa-stuffed avocado

Testers found this one a little complex, having never poached or shredded chicken before and took them about an hour. They found it to be another interesting combination of foods – raw cacao, chicken and peanuts – but they worked well together.

Thai chickpea burgers with pak choi

Our testers favourite! By no means easy to prepare but the simplest dish of the three. The combination of chickpeas, red Thai curry paste, fresh lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime peel and chilli was delicious while the stir fried pak choi was both crispy and fragrant.

Portion size

Very generous – plenty for two with a little left over. Testers felt satisfied and nicely full.

Conclusion

Mindful Chef excels in its quality of ingredients, which are natural, fresh and wholesome. The recipes aren’t the easiest, but they are worth the preparation time as they taste so great. They are more like an experience than a meal – they inspire you to think a little differently about how you’re eating – and testers felt they wanted to eat healthier and use better quality ingredients after trying them. The box for one would probably appeal to working professionals, as would the ‘no commitment’ aspect, which means you can just order as and when you wish.


Gousto

gousto.co.uk

£41.99 for four recipes for two people

We chose:

Lamb Burgers with Minty Mayo and Home-made Chunky Chips (620 cals per serving)

Two Mushroom Risotto (545 cals per serving)

Chinese Chicken Chow Mein (596 cals per serving)

Snappy Asian Fish En Papillote (489 cals per serving)

Ordering process

There is plenty of choice and you can select a two-person box or a family box for two adults and two to three children. There are new recipes each week, with 22 in all, each with different levels of skill and time required. They are divided into categories such as Most Popular, Quick and Easy (take around 20 minutes), Discover (new and exotic recipes such as Curried Paneer and Pineapple Noodles and Sea Bass, Pak Choi and Szechuan Sauce), Vegetarian, Lighter and Family Friendly (less spice or strong flavours but plenty of taste).

Delivery

No hassle and free delivery 8am to 7pm on any day of the week. Their special packaging keeps food cool for 24 hours so you don’t need to be in to receive your box. However, we found the ingredients were loosely packed in one huge box, so you had to spend a fair bit of time sorting out which ingredients were in each recipe from the recipe cards included.

Ingredient quality

Very good. The mince for the lamb burgers, combined with chopped garlic, Henderson’s relish and seasoning was first rate, no fat at all. The chicken for the stir fry was fresh and trim.

The recipes

Making the lamb mince patties was easy, but there wasn’t enough to fill the two ciabatta buns provided. They were very tasty, but at 200g of mince, not enough for larger appetites. The home-made chips went down well, but again there wasn’t enough and it’s a shame they skimp on this when you consider how little a potato costs. The home-made pickled cucumber side is a nice touch and simple to make.

The risotto recipe was easy to follow and worth the effort. Mushroom were fresh and full of texture and the creamy taste was divine, partly due to adding 40g of Cornish Clotted Cream with tasty cheddar cheese before serving. Again, not huge portions, so could be served with a green salad but the taste was gorgeous.

Testers enjoyed cooking the chow mein from scratch rather than using stir fry veg packs, a ready-made sauce and dried noodles from the supermarket. There was a lot of prep and chopping, so it’s best to allow time or cook this one when you’ve more energy and aren’t too hungry. The 250g of chicken supplied is plenty because of the added ingredients to complete the dish, such as noodles and lots of fresh vegetables. Sprinkling with the toasted sesame seeds before serving gave the dish an authentic look and it smelled wonderful. A non-cook could follow this recipe and achieve an impressive result.

For a basic cook, the fish dish is dinner party-level impressive! The fish is cooked in a home-made marinade, which is delicious and a real achievement for an amateur cook. It’s a bit fiddly but worth the trouble as the fish is light and tasty and the wholegrain rice with chopped garlic and mange tout is novel and plentiful. However, the pieces of fish are tiny – really only enough for one portion.

Conclusion

If you aren’t a natural cook and struggle for inspiration to make mid-week meals a more exciting affair, then this could be for you. You need to have a few basics in the cupboard, such as cooking oil, salt and pepper, and for some recipes you need to do a bit of baking, but otherwise everything is provided and there’s no waste. Dividing the ingredients into separate meal recipes is a nuisance, but the meat, vegetables, sauces etc, are packed together for ease. A convenient and foolproof way for the less-than-average chef to achieve culinary greatness!


Abel & Cole

abelandcole.co.uk/recipe-boxes

From £36 for the three-meal veggie box up to £42 for a three-meal foodie box, both for two people

We chose

Asparagus, fresh garlic and potato galette (veggie) (985 cals per serving)

Gremolata Steaks with Courgette Salad (simple) (551 cals per serving)

Vietnamese Chicken Pho (light) (498 cals per serving)

Tamarind and Coconut Beef Curry (foodie) (871 cals per serving)

Ordering process

From the website above, you need to click on Recipe Boxes tab. Scroll down and you opt for one type of box – simple, veggie, light, foodie – to move on to swapping out recipes you don’t like for ones you do. The process is mix and match and relatively straightforward.

Delivery

The date depends on where you live, but you will be informed at the time of booking. Delivery is charged at £1.25 and the boxes will keep food fresh for a good 24 hours. We liked that the packaging is almost 100 per cent reusable – just leave out for the delivery driver to pick up next time.

Ingredient quality

Absolutely top notch. Packaged so well – extremely orderly with cute pots for honey, clotted cream. The one free range egg we had came in its own protective box and the potatoes in little paper bags. Meat and veg was all in date with generous use by dates and nothing went off in the week we received it. In general, supply of dried goods was more than the recipes required, so there was an extra bundle of rice noodles and lots of mixed sprouts left over.

Recipes

The Vietnamese pho was extremely easy to prepare and cook – we loved its clean and spicy taste and the fact it looked like the photo on the recipe card. Some however said it wasn’t as filling as it looked. The veggie galette was a bit trickier, as you have to make your own cheesy pastry. This is quite a faff, but it is worth the effort. Ideal for a weekend meal or make it the night before, as it’s a bit too fiddly to do after work. However, the flavour combinations worked well, the fresh garlic added a wonderful element and there was plenty for three people. The gremolata for the steaks was a bit fiddly to prepare but again was worth the effort. The steaks themselves were not the most tender we’ve had, which was a little disappointing. However, the courgette salad was a real winner – as were the simply prepared new potatoes. Gorgeous. Our testers had high hopes for the tamarind and beef curry, but were sadly disappointed. The fresh tomatoes made the mild curry way too acidic, which ruined the flavour – a real shame.

Conclusion

We loved the fresh, organic and recyclable ethos of Abel & Cole and can see that a lot of thought goes into the whole delivery process. The quality of the ingredients and the packaging can’t be beaten. However, on balance, we think the recipes could do with a bit of a tweak to ensure they are slightly simplified and tweaked for flavour, and prep times for each one were longer than stated. We didn’t mind having extra ingredients left over as we would use them for other meals, but some may find this inconvenient.

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