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Dinner-in-a-Box is Not at All What I Thought!

Over the past year or so I’ve been hearing a lot about a new way to get dinner on the table. Every month or so another one of these meal kit delivery services would contact me to give it a try.

Seriously? Who in their right mind would trust seafood, meat and produce from some unknown assembly plant, piled onto a loading dock then moved into the back of an unrefrigerated FedEx truck for who knows how long and until some delivery guy leaves on the porch?

The whole idea sounded ridiculously expensive, if not just plain gross. I didn’t need to test the obvious so I did what comes all too naturally for me: I jumped to conclusions. Turns out I was way off base and so wrong. Today I’m here to come clean and set the record straight.

Several weeks ago I casually mentioned the meal kit option for super busy households. I had just started testing one of these meal kit services. I determined that Home Chef is the least expensive and invited two other families to help me test. I was determined to get a true, unbiased picture of how this works and what it’s all about. I needed honest, real-life feedback.

One of my testers was a young bachelor in California—a very picky eater with very limited cooking skills. The other, a local family of four with two children ages 7 and 2.

We have been preparing and eating Home Chef dinners now for about six weeks—each of us receiving the minimum order of two dinners (2-servings each) delivered once weekly. None of us came into this with any  meal kit experience. We had no idea what to expect.

By the way, Home Chef is not aware that we’ve been testing. I set up our accounts and have covered the cost of all the meals and delivery during the testing period.

I could write chapters about every detail of our Home Chef experiences, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll cut to the chase: Home Chef has greatly improved our lives—as varied as our lifestyles and situations are. It is an amazing service. Nothing about it is gross (I’m so sorry I even thought of that as a possibility). In fact, the food arrives fresher than meat, fish, seafood and produce at my local supermarket. It is high quality and did I say fresh?

Home Chef uses some kind of space age gel packs that are still frozen hard upon arrival. Even if that box sits on the porch all day, those packs remain frozen, but the food is never frozen arriving at exactly the right temperature to maintain flavor and safety.

Home Chef does a terrific job of delivering amazingly fresh ingredients and offering a variety of dishes with easy-to-read recipes. All of us have loved the meals—even the picky bachelor and equally picky 7-year old.

Each meal requires about 30 minutes of preparation. We can change our delivery day, adjust our meals, skip a week or pause our accounts whenever we need to. And there are no contracts involved, which means  we can cancel anytime. The food is amazingly delicious, too. In six weeks, not one regret was reported.

Here’s how it works: You join (cancel anytime if you want). You sign up for the number of meals you want in the week and the number of servings. Then you choose your meals from 13 different options (they change weekly). You can tailor meals to your dietary needs including low-calorie and low-carb and more.

The cost for Home Chef is $9.95 per serving. Shipping is free for orders over $45; $10 for orders less than $45. I have done my best to compare Home Chef costs against the cost to buy the exact same ingredients at my local supermarket. While it’s not easy to quantify the cost of say one tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar (at least with Home Chef I don’t have to buy the entire bottle to get the bit I need), I’m surprised that Home Chef does not cost more than what I would spend for the same exact ingredients locally. This investigation comes to a very similar conclusion.

Based on what our test group experienced collectively, here is what you can expect from Home Chef:

  • You will most certainly improve your culinary skills and repertoire. The food is amazing.
  • It is SO much fun, and never gets old opening the box to see what’s for dinner.
  • You will surprise yourself as you prepare recipes you might otherwise skip over in a magazine or cookbook.
  • Your kids and other family members will surprise you when they are willing to try new things and then end up enjoying food items they’ve never tried before or were certain they hated!
  • The ingredients are, for the most part, fresher, higher-quality and generally better than you might find at your average chain grocery store. The meals are amazingly delicious.
  • You will notice your refrigerator has more room because it’s not a repository for leftovers (that sit there until they turn green).
  • Home Chef serving sizes are surprisingly generous (2-servings were adequate for the testing family with two kids who are light eaters).
  • Your children will get engaged with the process. Because every ingredient is perfectly portioned, labeled and ready to go, older kids and teens can get involved in making dinner. The instructions are super easy to follow.

All of us are impressed with Home Chef, so much so that none of us will be cancelling the service anytime soon. Home Chef has changed our lives in different ways, and all without increasing our food costs. In fact, Harold and I have spent less for food since joining Home Chef.

You can check it out HERE. And when you get to that page, you’ll see that I’ve arranged for you to get a $30 coupon should you wish to give Home Chef a test run. I can’t wait to hear about your experiences!

Super Quick and Easy Valentine Sweets and Treats

Let me break this to you gently: Valentine’s Day is next Tuesday. This is Friday. Get the picture?

Thankfully, there’s a big beautiful weekend between now and then—plenty of time to make a few of these fabulous treats and sweets!

Mini pies in a jar.  Could there be a better gift for co-workers, neighbors, friends, teachers and any number of other people than a single-serving, mini pie in a small jar? I think not! I have detailed written detailed instructions including recipes here:  The Perfect Small Gift: Pie in a Jar. It really is quite easy and the results are fabulous! I’ve been making these adorable single-serving pies for some time now, and it really is so much fun. Who can resist a small pie in a jar, right?

Quick and Easy Designer Muffins

Tired of high-fat, high-cost fast-food breakfasts? I’ve got a fantastic solution: Quick and easy designer muffins.

With a little improvising, you can make and serve scrumptious muffins in a variety of flavors to make use of (and use up) ingredients you have on hand. Use this basic muffin recipe to get started then refer to the options that follow.

ORANGE MUFFINS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1/2 cup peeled and chopped fresh orange

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray or with paper liners. (Look HERE to learn how to make your own Tulip muffin papers from parchment paper.) In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, honey, butter and applesauce. Mix well. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, add the oranges and stir to combine. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Yield: 12 muffins.

Optional Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, or as needed

In a small bowl, whisk sugar with orange zest and orange juice until smooth. Spread on muffins while still warm.

Food Cost-Cutting Strategies for Every Lifestyle

Ever wonder why you never have enough money to save? I’m talking about consistent, regular deposits out of every paycheck that go straight into a savings account. Maybe it’s time to consider that you’re handing over your savings to local restaurants, drive-thrus, diners and coffee shops. Think about it.

What if you didn’t eat out so often? What if you were strategic in buying basic ingredients and then cooking great meals at home? What if you had all of that money tucked away in a savings account rather than the coffers of local eating joints?

No matter your lifestyle, I am confident that with the right strategies, you really can reduce the amount of money you’re spending on food.

MORE TIME THAN MONEY

If yours is a single-income household struggling to survive in a two-income world, keeping food on the table and the bills paid can be quite a challenge. The good news is that time is on your side. The one not working outside the home has the time—it takes time to carry out the best strategies—to keep the cost at rock bottom without sacrificing quality.

Full Compliance with Seasonal Law

I am always amazed this time of year to learn how few people are aware of something known as seasonal law, although I can understand it. After all, the period of time over which the law presides is measured in hours. It’s easy to miss.

Today, I need to remind you that the Law of Decadent Treats went into effect at 12:01 this morning and will remain in full force until 12:00 midnight Sunday, Dec. 25.

While it may be tempting to ignore this mandate, I wouldn’t. Law enforcement officers lurk in the most unusual places. Strict adherence is highly advisable, to wit:

During the 72 hours ending at midnight on Christmas Day, delightful decadent treats are to be freely created, consumed and enjoyed without interference or judgmental looks from others.

With this in mind, together with my desire that all of my readers and their families stay legal, I have a bevy of recipes you can whip up in your kitchen starting right now, all of which I guarantee are fully compliant with the law and will keep you out of trouble.

Or something like that.

Frugal Food Shopping 101

As food costs continue to soar, it’s a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Follow these tips and provided you don’t end up buying twice as much, you really will see your food costs plummet.

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GO WITH CASH ONLY. Shopping with cash—only cash—is one of the best ways to make a severe grocery budget work. If you have the discipline of a superhero, good for you. Use your credit card. If you’re like everyone else in the world, take cash out of the ATM and don’t let yourself spend a penny more. If you’re out of cash and you have 10 days of the month to go, it’s time to start raiding your pantry. You might have an odd menu for a few days, and so what? It won’t kill you.

PLAN IT OUT. Find recipes that fit your budget—recipes, as in cooking and preparing meals from ingredients. With very little cooking background, anyone can learn to make great soups and casseroles. Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance will become your financial lifesaver.

SKIP PACKAGED ITEMS. You pay a big premium for packaged items like salad kits, meals in a bag, fruit snacks, pre-sliced produce, chips or vegetables that come in a steam bag. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. Peeling potatoes, slicing apples and chopping lettuce might take extra time, but you will be rewarded well for the effort. And you’ll end up with a fresher, tastier result.

Your Best Thanksgiving Feast Ever—Healthy, Delicious and … Cheap!

If there’s one thing we should be thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s this: Turkey is cheap! And the rest of the Thanksgiving dinner can be, too.

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The secret to enjoying a traditional feast without overspending is to know a few tricks. I sat down with two highly respected professionals—a butcher and a personal chef. What I learned from John Smith, professional butcher and author of Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$ and personal chef, Liz Tarditi, pretty much blew a hole in everything I thought I knew about buying, thawing and preparing a turkey.

TRICK #1: GET THE BEST TURKEY

Choosing the best turkey is easier said than done unless you fully understand the difference between a store brand or name brand bird. Just because a turkey is more expensive does not make it any better, says John. All that means is that it has a lot of advertising built into its price.

What customers don’t know is that one turkey processor will slap many different labels on his crop of birds. The turkeys are all the same, only the labels are different. This is a rule you can count on, according to John the Butcher: “Always go with the cheapest turkey and you’ll never go wrong. I’ve sold tens of thousands of store brand turkeys to very happy customers.”

EC: Fresh or frozen?

JS: First, let me define a “fresh” turkey. According to the people who make the laws, turkeys can be called “fresh” even though the moisture in the bird is frozen! If you press very firmly on the bird the meat is not frozen. The turkey processors have it down to a science. They bring the temperature of the “fresh” birds down to the very legal limit before sending them off to the store two weeks before Thanksgiving.

Frozen turkeys, on the other hand, are quick-frozen immediately upon butchering. So the freshest turkey is really a frozen turkey. The freezing process has no noticeable effect on the quality of the bird.

To Your Stress-Free Holiday

Whether you are invited or doing the inviting this holiday season, throwing a potluck can relieve a lot of stress. When everybody brings something it takes a great deal of pressure off the host and offers guests the joy of contributing to the festivities.

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HOSTING DUTIES

If you’re hosting you need to …

  • Provide the main course (ham, turkey, roast beef for example).
  • Assign each guest a dish to bring like appetizer, side dish or dessert. You can even provide the exact recipe if you have a particular menu in mind.
  • Plan for seating, table settings, tasteful decorations and background music.
  • Clear space in refrigerator for cold dishes and schedule for arriving dishes that will require oven time.
  • Gather plenty of utensils and serving dishes. Buy small containers so guests can take home leftovers, if any.