Stuck in a Food Rut? Try Easy Experimentation

I like to think I have always been a reasonable cook. Sure, I’ve had the odd disaster.

My family take great delight in recounting the tale when I had part cooked a basic sponge cake, minus the eggs – so added the missing eggs and finished cooking.  I then left the house to hang-out with mates leaving my family to sample the ‘delights’! yes, it was rank. I messed up.  But my older sister refuses to let the story die, like a ball and chain around my culinary neck.

I also need to take joint responsibility and apologise to my mum for making her suffer through the trauma of eating rock solid, microwaved sausages on Mother’s Day. My sister and I were young and had a fear of the hob and frying anything, so decided to nuke everything that went on the plate. Sorry Mum!

But I have grown up and learnt a lot along the way.

However, being a grown-up and cooking brings with it a whole new set of challenges. If I go back three and a half years ago, where I was single, living with a mate but shopping independently I became disillusioned with the concept of cooking.

Cooking for one is incredibly tedious. I still believe that. I became a fan of single cuisine weeks – I would batch cook my own curry from scratch, but that would last me all week. Then the following week I would batch cook a con cane and so the cycles continued.

Hell, as part of a costing cutting, carb reducing lifestyle change I ate A LOT of stir fry’s.  no rice, no noodles, just a £1 pack of stir fry veg, a chicken breast (or pack of prawns if I was hankering for a change), a splash of soy sauce, some lazy ginger and lazy garlic and that was it.

Until about a year ago, the food I cooked lacked imagination, lacked love and lacked any form of joy. Meals I made just for me never put a smile on my face, were never memorable and probably used far too much gravy granules (to thicken sauces) to be considered ‘genius’.

Nearly two years ago to this day (I’m only a few days off now) I met my girlfriend. Now I was no longer cooking just for one.  My cooking had to mean something, had to say who I was as a person, had to impress her and most importantly not give her food poisoning!

Needless to say, my repertoire was both rusty and limited, but I didn’t kill her and we’re still together, so it couldn’t have been that bad!

As a couple, we brought 3 or 4 solid dishes to the relationship. For me, I knew she was the one when she made me her lasagne – I am not sure my cooking had as much of a profound effect on her.  But we both wanted to be able to try new dishes without wasting a ton of money on ingredients.

Grocery shopping in supermarkets doesn’t really allow for this.  All the wares on offer do not lend themselves to single dish experiments.  Undoubtable you will have leftover stuff that will either grow mouldy in the fridge or out of date hidden in the back of the cupboard.

However, there was a new trend forming.  Online retailers selling boxes of meals to consumers to cook at home.  Taking all the hassle out of having to do all of it yourself.  Some say it’s lazy. I say it’s incredibly easy to get into a rut with cooking that’s difficult to escape without something like this on hand.

In the year or so we’ve used them, as a couple we have made use of three such cuisine providers: Gousto, Hello Fresh and Simply Cook.  Let me give you the lowdown on my experiences using these services:

Gousto

The idea behind Gousto is relatively simple.  Pick X number of dishes you fancy having a go at cooking (or if you’re me – which ones you would like to eat the most), decide if you’re cooking 2 or 4 servings and click order.  A box then arrives in the post full of all the ingredients you will need to create the dish as well as a recipe card to guide you through the cooking process.

Best Dish

There have been a few winning dishes amongst the collection of Gousto recipe cards, there is no doubt.  But there have been two absolute stand out dishes.

Firstly, the Goan King Prawn Curry. This was one of the very first recipes delivered, at the time to my girlfriend’s parents place – we had started this culinary journey before moving in together.

As a curry it has everything you could ever want, packed full of flavour and with a decent heat level it was spicy enough for me and probably about top end on the heat spectrum for my girlfriend. But what really sets this alight is the contrast between sweet and savoury.  The rice is cinnamon flavoured and the initial frying of the red onion is with a strong pinch of sugar but it works.

Goancurry01
The Goan King Prawn Curry – Simply Gorgeous!

Now in the box was Goan curry powder. Our local Tesco doesn’t do Goan curry powder, but it does sell a paste, so we’ve been easily able to recreate this dish without the need for another box by using the paste and limiting the amount of water required to dilute the coconut and it is just as good.

I genuinely think we will never bore of this dish, and we both agree, if we were to appear on Masterchef this would be one of our dishes we would cook for the judges.

The other standout recipe we had from Gousto was Moroccan Lamb Lasagne. Now, I know what you’re thinking, Moroccan Lasagne.  I had a similar feeling when I was introduced to the meal but it works.

The ragu is bulked out using Kale and with the good helping of Ras el Hanout, packs a great bunch of flavour. The concept of working this into an Italian style meal by forming a lasagne really works and I think it could have been easy/lazy of Gousto to just through it with couscous.

There are two warnings with this dish.  Firstly the ragu includes a “fruit” element. Chopped dates and sultanas are thrown into the ragu to provide a bit of Moroccan authenticity and balance of flavour.  Now I am pretty steadfast in my dislike for fruit in savoury food, but I will hold my hands up and admit it worked in this dish.  Secondly, the portion size is very generous considering the calorie count.  It’s not a major issue, my girlfriend and I switch between just having our portion of lasagne on its own or halving the portion and throwing some veg on the plate to make it into two meals.

moroccanlasange
Not a flattering photo of the lasagne, especially with the mood lighting, but it is delicious!

Again, like the curry you are able to easily source the ingredients to recreate this dish at home independently of Gousto, which is really useful.

Worst Dish

Hands up time.  I really had to go routing through all the Gousto recipe cards to see if any jumped out at me as bad as I couldn’t really think of any off the top of my head. But looking back through the recipe cards and digging out the ones that I didn’t really enjoy as much as the others I would say that the ‘Crusty Chicken Ciabatta Burger’ was probably my least favourite.

chickenburger01
The Crusty Chicken Burger

I just remember it being a lot of work for what is essentially a cooked, seasoned chicken breast. It wasn’t overly flavoursome and I felt as though I could have achieved this without the need for Gousto.

Overall

I’m a big fan of Gousto.  I think we’ve only had a couple of instances of eggs arrived broken, but generally speaking the ingredients that arrive are normally in good order and of a good standard.

The one thing I have liked about Gousto is that once you’ve tried a recipe you don’t really need to order it again as all the ingredients are available to buy in the shops and you can carry on recreating, tinkering your own gastronomic delights using the one recipe card.

It isn’t the cheapest amongst the three, in fact it potentially may be the more expensive one and isn’t viable for my girlfriend and I to do regularly – a box of 4 meals costs about the same as our normal weekly food shop. But when you do order a box you get real value for it.

Gousto also occasionally throw in a little gift into their boxes which can be quite fun!

 

Hello Fresh

Very similar to Gousto, you pick the number of meals you want to cook and the amount of people you will be cooking for and Hello Fresh will send you a box of meals that contains all the ingredients you require.

Best Dish

From the 4 dishes we had delivered, the best of the lot, for me personally was the ‘Creamy Leek and Mustard Chicken with Stir Fry Green Beans’. All I can say about it is that from the 4 dishes we had delivered it packed the most flavour and was the most appetising.

Worst Dish

I think of the remaining 3 dishes they were all much of a muchness. Lacking in flavour, too much effort for the end result and uninspiring. I won’t name names on this one, but there were no saving graces amongst these remaining dishes that inspired further purchases.

Overall

The concept was very similar to Gousto; however the lack of ability to pick your own recipes to make your own box up would be better.  A bigger problem though, was that nothing about what we created was anywhere near as good.  Whether this was simply down to the dishes we chose, bad luck with the ingredients that were sent or whether the suppliers they use are just not as good I couldn’t honestly tell you.  But it did feel like the ingredients we were provided with were not on a par with those from Gousto and I don’t think we ordered more than one box.

The service is a similar cost to Gousto, but because of the experience we had with the one box ordered I would say Hello Fresh didn’t offer the same value for money as Gousto.

 

Simply Cook

The idea with Simply Cook is a little different from both Hello Fresh and Gousto.  You do not receive a whole box full of ingredients, you get a little box for each meal that contains 3 ‘flavour pots’.  In the main, these flavour pots make up the punch of flavour required to make the dish what it is.  It is then up to you to go out (or order online) and get the rest of the ingredients for each dish.

You then use the instructions provided to cook each meal. Jobs a good’un!

Best Dish

This was a tough one! There were many delicious meals to choose from, but really it came down to ‘Chicken Katsu Curry’ or ‘Moqueca de Peixe’. Both dishes were absolutely delicious, packed full of flavour and great to eat.

Of the 2 though, the Katsu probably had the edge for me.  If I’m being honest I do prefer chicken over fish, so if I were to pick one of the 2 dishes to make in the future it would probably be the chicken. I loved how close to Wagamama’s Katsu curry it tasted like, which is the only benchmark I have for flavour. Sticky rice, chicken and punchy Katsu sauce, it was a warming plate of joy!  My single gripe is that I am unable to recreate the dish without buying this Simply Cook dish again, or finding a Katsu sauce or paste to make my own from – I would like to know how to make my own Katsu from scratch.

fishcurry
Apologies, this is clearly not the Katsu Curry, but the Moqueca de Peixe was also good!

 

Worst Dish

Having a read through the Simply Cook recipe cards I think the one that I enjoyed the least was the ‘Thai Red Prawn Curry’.  I just found that for a curry it lacked any sort of punch or heat.  The sauce, following the recipe was really watery and didn’t enhance the dish at all.  To me, a sauce should be packed full of flavour and stick to anything cooking in that sauce – this didn’t do that.

Overall

We have had some very tasty dishes with Simply Cook. We’ve also had a fair few “meh” meals with them as well.  My overall bugbear with Simply Cook is that they make it very difficult for consumers to recreate the dishes away from the flavour pots forcing you to have to re-order that box again, or go hunting for alternative recipes for making up what’s in the flavour pots.

This service is considerably cheaper than both Gousto and Hello Fresh, but for what you get – essentially just the spice/flavour element of a dish, I think it’s relatively expensive.  Sure if I went to the shop and bought all the ingredients required to make the flavour for each dish it would be expensive, but I would probably have enough to make those meals a few times over making a LOT more cost friendly.

We also found they did a fair bit of double carbing on recipes.  We must have had at least 3 curry based dishes that had both rice and potato – which are terrible plate companions.

Conclusion

I think overall, if you struggle to be adventurous and can afford to spend a little more on your weekly shop then these are a great solution. Whilst they do not necessarily focus on “healthy eating” they do provide consumers with the tools to pick recipes that can assist in creating a healthy lifestyle.  All providers offer balanced, nutritious meals, yes some are more “treats” than others (a paneer curry we had was about 1100 calories per serving!), but they can offer surprising volume per serving, making them filling.

Only through trying will you find what works for you and what doesn’t.  There have been recipes that really require the use of two people simply because there are numerous aspects to juggle. It seems as though some recipes were written for television, where they have all the ingredients pre-chopped in their required quantities in separate dishes just ready to be tipped in when needed.

Also, you do not need to blindly commit to a recipe, if there is an ingredient included that you’re not fond of, substitute it for one that you will like. Make it work for you, anything to get you interested and excited by it.

Admittedly, if you’re single and looking to experiment no recipes are for one.  But do what me and my girlfriend do, we often buy a recipe to serve 4 and use it to take in as lunch to work the following day! You could either make enough to serve 2, take it for lunch, or have it for dinner the following evening.

Basically, if you’re up for it, give it a go! You’re not committed to having to re-order a certain number of deliveries once you’ve signed up.  Plus, with sign-up offers for all three, your first deliveries from each provider are usually dirt cheap, so very much worth taking advantage of.  Also, if you know of any friends or family that have used them, get them to refer you as a new customer, it could give them a little billy bonus as well – so everyone wins!

Now I’m happy to report things are a lot better with cooking. My girlfriend and I have a much wider range of dishes we can and want to cook and our weeks are varied and interesting in terms of our food choices. Meat, fish and vegetarian, we try to have weeks that combine these types of dishes and we often now find ourselves hunting for recipes online in search of another crowd pleaser.

There is just one problem, my wait for another one of my girlfriend’s lasagnes just keeps growing and growing the larger our range of dishes grows! (Emoticon sad face)

Happy cooking, and happy discovery! For anyone wanting to try any of the above services, please find discount vouchers below for your first purchases.

 

Gousto – CHARL125640

Hello Fresh – www.hellofresh.co.uk/?c=9REBWM

Simply Cook –  https://simplycook.mention-me.com/m/ol/ai7cn-charlotte-jones

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