I love to cook, and I’m somewhat adventurous about it, so meal kit delivery services aren’t for me — or so I thought.
When Martha & Marley Spoon offered to send a couple meals for me to try, I was a little excited. These meal kits are for people who don’t like to cook or don’t want to spend time doing it, two categories where I don’t fit. However, I get home late from work after a long commute. And I’m not a fast cook. I’d been stressing lately about not having dinner ready until sometimes after 9 p.m. I share the dinner duties, so I’m not doing this every night, but it’s still a stresser.
My favorite aspect of Martha & Marley Spoon (and possibly all comparable meal kit delivery services) is fact that I don’t have to make more decisions. I have a set amount of decision-making ability in a day before I end up staring for 15 minutes at the Greek yogurt in the dairy aisle, weighing the pros and cons of the sugar-fat ratio compared to price, volume, and taste. True, I love being creative, impulsive, and experimental in the kitchen, but sometimes, well, sometimes I’m tired and stressed too. It’s a relief to not have to research and pick a recipe, shop for it, and then start the actual preparations.
My other favorite aspect was how much I learned. The dishes looked familiar so I didn’t think I could learn anything, but I did. For one, they taught me I don’t hate olives all the time. You don’t choose your exact meals, so it’s like a surprise every time. That feels impulsive too. It gets you out of your rut, that rotation of the same meals you always cook.
The packaging was nifty, inciting the curiosity of not only me, but my cat, Cheddar. After unfolding the flaps and digging in, I found big brown paper bags labeled by meal, like a larger version of a school sack lunch. Then there were the clear, attractive recipe sheets with step-by-step instructions and photos at each step. Being a visual learner, I appreciate that.
Dinner No. 1: Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce with Shrimp and Olives
I’ve always found estimated recipe times grossly unrealistic, and Martha & Marley Spoon was no different. This spaghetti meal sheet said it should take 25 minutes to make. Ha! Took me 50 minutes. Part of what takes me awhile is all the washing and chopping, and while the ingredients are cleaned up and portioned out, you still have to slice, mince, and chop.
This was my first puttanesca, and it was amazing — even without cheese. Yes, I said it. Fresh garlic, salty capers, and olives made the sauce formed with baby Roma tomatoes such a layered, flavorful dish, I was shocked. It didn’t seem like it would taste as wonderful as it did.
However, my boyfriend thought the olives tasted like soap. Taste is subjective. I often add more garlic to a dish than the recipe calls for, but for the sake of accurate reporting, I stuck to the listed amount. I’m glad I did. That way, the garlic didn’t overpower the other flavors.
The shrimp were perfect, and I don’t use that adjective lightly. These shrimp didn’t end up rubbery or tough. I was impressed with the quality of ingredients and the top-shelf brands of the prepared foods, like the dried pasta and canned tomatoes. I was also pleased by the quantity of food. This meal was for two adults and two children, yet it felt like even more than that. My boyfriend and I have quite hearty appetites, yet there was enough for work lunch the next day for both us, plus one more meal. That would’ve been my complaint with these meal kits: no leftovers. I truly appreciate leftovers, especially as free lunches the following day.
The recipe directions were easy, and I loved the way the flavors came together. Skeptical that I could be satisfied with a Parmesan/Pecorino/Romano-less red-sauce pasta, my second bite won me over. I was convinced. There was enough flavor already without the cheese. And it takes a lot for me to say that.
Dinner No. 2: Crispy Chicken Sandwiches with Carrot and Parsnip Fries
I love healthy substitutes for standby comfort food, like fries. So I was excited to have these carrot and parsnip fries. However, they turned out a little too soggy. They were more like roasted vegetables that tasted a little sweet and salty.
It took me more than 20 minutes to arrange and cut the ingredients, so that set me back on time immediately. Minced fresh dill was a nice leading flavor in the mayonnaise-based dip, which would have been at least part Greek yogurt if I was doing the dish my way.
What I don’t love (but I really do) is frying my food, like what’s required for this chicken sandwich. I bake, grill, sauté, and roast, but I try not to fry. First, the recipe calls for triple dredging the chicken breasts in flour and egg three times to achieve optimal crispiness. It worked. I really appreciated the tip on the recipe page suggesting I use only one hand to dredge. Oooh, no wonder it was so delicious and crispy, with soft potato buns lightly toasted, and pickle chips for some contrasting tang.
Although I prefer to bake my poultry, I was reminded of the gluttonous glory of fried food. Estimated time: 30 to 40 minutes. Actual time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. Leftovers: Check.
I would do this again.
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