Subscription Addiction: Hello Fresh Revisted
A few months back, I tried the food subscription service Hello Fresh, and deemed it far superior than its infuriating rival, Blue Apron. Since then, I’ve used Hello Fresh nearly every week and loved it. But since taking a break from it, I’ve learned a new virtue of this service.
How It Worked
The variety of recipes and their great flavor re-ignited my enthusiasm for cooking. So we were getting less take-out, and eating better. Not only because Hello Fresh meals are more nutritional than the greasy slices from our local pizza joint or cheap Chinese, but also because I was so looking forward to my planned dinners with their kicky salsas and unique recipes that I stopped snacking during the day. (I wasn’t starving. I just cut out my unofficial 2pm ice cream break.)
As Christmas approached, I skipped a few weeks of deliveries, as we’d be out of town. And when we returned, I skipped a few more, realizing I had frozen food and various boxes of pasta and rice that’d gone untouched since October. I decided to pause my subscription until I tore through both. But that doesn’t mean I gave up Hello Fresh.
Ahead of planning my grocery trip, I pulled out the stack of Hello Fresh recipe cards. Flipping through them, I selected three meals I wanted to make for the week. It was sort of like using their app, actually. “This looks good. I like these ingredients. Select!” From there, I perused the recipe, and made a list of what I needed/wanted. I shopped, and over the course of the week recreated three of my favorite Hello Fresh meals without training wheels.
How It Went
First up was the Pronto Pasta Amatriciana with pancetta, tagliatelle noodles, and asparagus. Because I was grocery shopping for several meals, I made some substitutions. Instead of a can of whole, peeled tomatoes, I bought fresh ones. I swapped the unflavored cream cheese from some Onion and Chive flavor I had on hand, and the tagliatelle noodles for some pappardelle I already had in my cupboard. But I didn’t buy peas. Peas are gross. I didn’t include them when Hello Fresh sent me a bag, and I sure as hell wouldn’t do it now.
I haven’t done a price estimate to compare costs between their version and mine, because it’d be impossible. Some stuff I had, others I bought enough to use in other recipes. But I will say I was a bit stunned that the pancetta I bought (the same brand and size as Hello Fresh sent) was $10.99 on its own! All of a sudden, their prices didn’t seem so lavish.
Because the Hello Fresh deliveries come with everything measured per recipe, I didn’t have measurements beyond “a yellow onion” or “all the cream cheese.” When shopping, I guestimated based on what I remembered from the Hello Fresh delivery portions. When cooking, I eye-balled the recipe card to determine how many asparagus stalks or tomatoes to include, and relied on my cooking instincts for the rest.
The result was a dish that tasted divine, though its colors weren’t as vibrant as the official Hello Fresh one. I suspect that’s because of the tomato swap. But I was thrilled. The basics of this meal (noodles, tomatoes, asparagus, onion) are things I tend to buy anyway. So to make something just a bit more fancy and fun, all I needed to do was splurge on some pancetta.
Next, I made the Pineapple Poblano Tacos with lime crema, cilantro, and warm spices. This recipe was from the first batch I got from Hello Fresh, but has been a clear favorite for its mix of savory and sweet. Plus, we love tacos. Hello Fresh offers them often, and I don’t think we’ve ever opted out.
This recipe was delightfully easy to recreate. The only thing I had to buy that was a bit out of the ordinary for my habits was canned pineapple and soft flour tortillas. (I tend to get hard shell.) I swapped out the ground beef for pork, because I felt like it. And I had to substitute the poblano pepper. I couldn’t find one at my local grocery store. YES, I’m sure I could have it I went to a specialty shop or even the Farmer’s Market further up the block. But it was 27 degrees out and I don’t own a car. So I got lazy—but creative! I bought one Italian pepper, and some jalapeños. I used equal amounts of both to make a blend of peppers that was hardy and a bit spicy, but not blow-your-mouth out hot. Because I no longer had the “taco spice” pack Hello Fresh sent, I used the remainder of the Southwest Mix from a different recipe.
This was a real winner. Easy to recreate, really yummy. And pineapple salsa is so damn good, I could eat it with a spoon. The only issue was the remake turned out wetter/runnier than Hello Fresh’s original. But that—I realized too late—was because I’d skipped the step about “draining” the pineapple. I plucked them out of their container, chopped ‘em up and tossed them in, making for a sloppier taco. But it was still delicious, so who cares?
Lastly, I riffed on Hello Fresh’s Korean Beef Bibimbap with zucchini, mushrooms, and carrot. Because of personal preference, I swapped out zuccini for romano beans, and added in some red onions to the stir-fry, and substituted them for the white scallions in the marinade. This is mainly because they sell scallions in big bunches, and I only needed one or two. To buy more promised they’d rot in my crisper.
The original recipe called for cooking each individual vegetable one at a time, then put it in separate bowls while I cooked the next in the same pan. Yeah, no. I was feeling lazy, so I threw all the veggies in together. It makes for a less pretty picture than Hello Fresh’s, but it was still delicious. But the main highlight of this dish for me is the crispy beef preparation.
You pan fry the ground beef with oil, minced ginger and garlic. Then you turn up the heat and keep cooking it until it starts to crisp on the outside. I’d never done this before Hello Fresh’s coaching. And it makes for a satisfying texture, which is then made more flavorful by cooking it a bit more with soy sauce. Simply put, this one was a big hit, and a perfect dinner for the end of a long day.
Conclusion: A major virtue of Hello Fresh is that its recipes aren’t incredibly difficult and don’t bust out tricky terminology just to seem fancy. They offer delicious meals that weren’t too far afield from what I was used to making, so they felt like an upgrade, yet were rarely stressful. I’ve seen some criticize Hello Fresh for these very reasons though, with the harumph of “I could make that without paying $60 a week, thank you very much.” Well, then this isn’t for you. For me, I could make tacos, or a pasta dish or a stir-fry. But I was using the same steps over and over, and Hello Fresh showed me a new move with each recipe. I’ve been eating better, and looking forward to making dinner instead of feeling like it’s another chore on my to-do list.
I have missed the convenience of being able to pull out the clearly labeled bag of ingredients and just diving into a recipe. But it’s been rewarding to see that even on weeks where I skip, the lessons I’ve learned and the recipes I’ve chosen can still up my home-cooking game. All the same, I’m happy my freezer’s nearly empty and my pasta’s running low. As the time may have come to return to my weekly fix of Hello Fresh.
Special Discount: If you want to try Hello Fresh, use my personalized “add a friend” offer and get $40 off your first shipment at this link. You get the discount, and (full disclosure) I get a discount on my next shipment for the referral. In the past Subscription Addictions, I didn’t share such deals because they seemed more beneficial to me than the user. But in this case, it can be win-win because this is the best coupon I’ve found.
Check out Subscription Addiction reviews for Level Up, Stitch Fix, Try The World, Darby Smart, Treatsie, Chococurb, Loot Crate, Candy Club, Blue Apron, Bright Cellars, Julep, Bright Cellars Cheese, CauseBox, Tasting Board, Box2Bake, and Hello Fresh. In the comments, tell us which subscription service you’d like to see reviewed next.
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