Those of you who read my weekly Menu Plans know that I have been recently testing the gourmet meal delivery service offered by Plated. Thanks to a "Klout Perk", I was able to sign up for a free month of membership (usually $10 per month), as well as four free plates (usually $10-$15 per plate). This is our second week using the service, and, as of last night, Stephen and I have prepared three of their meals. I think it's time I share some of my thoughts about the service and about the meals themselves.
Once you select the meals you want from the available menu (you must order a minimum of four plates per week), you just sit back and wait for your delivery to show up on your doorstep. If nothing appeals to you on a particular menu or if you've decided that you don't need meal assistance one week, you can postpone delivery until the following week.
When you open your Plated box, you'll find most of the ingredients you'll need to prepare the meals you've chosen. Certain items, such as olive oil and salt and pepper, are not included in your order under the assumption that you already have those staples in your kitchen. You'll also find your recipe cards featuring gorgeously photographed final plates along with step-by-step instructions. Given my established cooking habits and preferences, I questioned the order of some of the steps, but, for the most part, the recipes are pretty easy to follow.
I appreciated that the proteins were thoughtfully vacuum-sealed and that the individual ingredients were grouped together and bagged based on which recipe they went with.
Unfortunately, some of the produce suffered during shipping and came out of their bags bruised or squished. With that being said, the compromised quality of the produce really only affected one of the Plated meals we made, so I wasn't too disappointed. I had a suitable substitute in the refrigerator to take care of that problem.
So, ordering meals was a snap and unpacking the ingredients from the box upon delivery was easy, too. What about the cooking and the flavor of the final meals?
Southwestern Shrimp and Grits with Leeks and Asparagus
The first Plated meal I prepared was the Southwestern Shrimp and Grits with Leeks and Asparagus. I love ordering shrimp and grits when I see it on a restaurant menu because it's not a dish I would think to make at home. So, I was pretty excited to get started on dinner when our first Plated delivery arrived. While the food looked great on the plate, Stephen and I were disappointed in its overall flavor, especially given that I was using a spice mix containing ancho chile powder and cumin.
- The grits were cooked in water that was mixed with a chicken base. After the grits finished cooking, they were seasoned with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. The flavor was flat and left us wanting more. I would have swapped the water and chicken base for chicken stock and used butter rather than olive oil at the end.
- Since the recipe called for leeks, a vegetable grown in sandy soil, I liked that the recipe included a cooking tip describing the proper way to clean them. A beginner in the kitchen might have completely skipped the detailed cleaning process and wound up with a gritty mess.
- The shrimp was seasoned on both sides with the spice mix before being placed in the skillet for cooking. Unfortunately, seasoning the shrimp this way didn't leave much time for any of the flavor to sink in. I would have combined the spice mix with some olive oil and then coated the shrimp with the mixture before letting it marinade for a few minutes before cooking.
- A grill pan was listed among the pieces of equipment necessary to prepare this dish. Unfortunately, no mention of a grill pan was made in the recipe itself. (For the record, the vegetables and shrimp were cooked in a large skillet.)
Pomegranate-Yogurt Chicken with Basmati Rice and Cucumber Relish
Since he didn't have a preference for something else, I prepared our second Plated meal as Stephen's birthday dinner. Which made the disappointment about the overall flavor that much deeper. I should have gone with my gut and made him one of his favorite meals, but I wanted to believe that the Pomegranate-Yogurt Chicken with Basmati Rice and Cucumber Relish was going to be a winner.
- The marinade for the chicken called for pomegranate molasses and Greek yogurt. We were expecting the pomegranate flavor to shine through, but it was overpowered by the tangy nature of the yogurt. Had I to make this dish again, I'd create a glaze with the pomegranate molasses and completely omit the Greek yogurt.
- Due to a processing error, the basmati rice wasn't shipped with the rest of the ingredients. Thankfully, we always have basmati rice on hand, so it wasn't a huge issue for me to go into the pantry and continue cooking as if nothing had happened. To make up for the inconvenience, Plated sent me a promo code for a free plate in a future order within minutes of learning of the problem. Great customer service there!
- After baking the chicken per the instructions, it looked nothing like the chicken in the photograph. It was an unappealing pale pink color and hadn't crisped up as I expected it to. To fix that, I turned the broiler on and put the chicken back in the oven for a few minutes. Unfortunately, while it helped the texture of the chicken a good deal, it didn't do much to rescue the flat flavor.
Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Stir-Fried Rice Noodles
Stephen and I were extremely excited about last night's Plated meal -- the Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Stir-Fried Noodles. We're huge fans of Asian-inspired dishes, and I was sure that we'd devour the lettuce wraps in no time. But this meal was plagued by the same issues as the other two and suffered from an overall bland flavor. At this point, Stephen and I started wondering whether something was wrong with our taste buds.
- I learned not to take the provided amount of each ingredient for granted while creating the sauce for the rice noodles. The sauce called for 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1/2 tablespoon (which probably should have been written as 1 1/2 teaspoons given conventional measuring spoons) of fish sauce. The packet of soy sauce I was given yielded just about 1 1/2 teaspoons, while I had twice as much fish sauce as I needed. Had I just thrown in the ingredients "as is", the fish sauce would have completely overwhelmed everything else. Then again, Stephen and I wound up putting Sriracha on the noodles to give it something, so maybe I shouldn't have been so concerned about the measurements.
- And this comes down to personal taste, but I would have used more hoisin sauce for the chicken. Just having a hint of that flavor wasn't enough for us.
- The lettuce wraps should have been served in leaves of Bibb lettuce. Unfortunately, the lettuce we received in the box was crushed and browning and, in some spots, slimy. We wound up throwing out that lettuce and using some green leaf lettuce that I already had in the refrigerator. Good thing I had lettuce on hand...
- We expected more -- I'm a broken record here -- from the stir-fried rice noodles. The sesame oil used to cook the bell peppers and noodles was fragrant but it didn't contribute any deep flavor. I would have whisked some peanut butter into the mixture of soy sauce, fish sauce, and rice wine vinegar to boost things a little bit, especially since the noodles also have chopped peanuts.
I made a lot of suggestions about how I'd changed each of the meals we tried, a lot of them based on our personal preferences. Had I kept in line with the theme of my blog -- to taste as you go -- we probably would have enjoyed the meals a lot more. But, at face value, I feel like Plated fell short.
We have one more Plated meal to cook this week. Stephen's in charge of making the Pork Chops with Glazed Peaches for dinner tonight, so we'll see how it goes. I'm an optimist, so I want to believe that we'll enjoy the meal and it will convince us to keep our membership open. But I'm not sure I'm willing to sacrifice the enjoyment we usually experience while eating our meals for the convenience of having recipes and most of the required ingredients delivered to our doorstep.
Would a meal delivery service like Plated be of value to you? If you're a beginner in the kitchen, would this type of service help you gain more confidence while cooking? Let me know in the comments below!