I love cooking; cooking is a hassle.
That's a basic summary of my attitude towards food and eating at the moment.
Modern life is busy, messy and complex. If you're anything like me, you spend most of your time working, then the rest sleeping or worrying about work, or even worrying that you worry to much about work.
You might get a selection of hobbies or a few social events squeezed in there at some point too if you're lucky/not worrying too much about presenting a perfect IG persona in real life.
In between all of this you need to keep on top of mundane chores like paying the council tax, or replacing the broken lightbulb in the hall (it's annoyingly dark in there, but not *quite* annoying enough provoke immediate response), then, after all of this, there's the food shop to do.
You have two* options here
1. Do an online shop and risk receiving random substitutions. (why the hell Tesco do you think Bell's Whiskey is a valid alternative for baby wipes?!)
2. Go to the supermarket on an empty stomach and spend £££ on random crap you definitely did not need. (Hello family sized Cadburys dairy milk and weird random new sauce that will spend its entire life at the back of the fridge.)
*OK so these are apparently my only two options
On top of shopping for the food, you then have to combine it and cook it into coherent, adult worthy meals. I seriously struggle with dinner, as there's the added excuse of being tired/hangry.
No, broken up fish fingers in pasta does not count here. Yes, I know it is delicious - especially with extra mayo... Student throwback meals made you feel like shit at the time for a reason - it turns out you do need a balanced diet after all.
Facebook's super creepy algorithms must have picked up on my food shop dilemma, as I have recently been bombarded with adverts for recipe boxes/meal replacement services. Think HelloFresh, Huel, Mindful Chef and Riverford.
As I like the taste of you know, flavours and real food matter, I ruled Huel out immediately. However when Riverford got in touch and asked if I fancied trying out* a recipe box to review on this here blog, I thought why the hell not. I've been a customer of Riverford in the past and only really stopped getting veg boxes because we didn't manage to get through everything.
Maybe the recipe boxes could be the answer to my evening dilemma of making a tasty, nutritious and not too complicated dinners.
So the basic premise of the Riverford recipe boxes is you are sent pre-measured organic ingredients along with detailed instructions for entire meals.
Every week there is a changing recipe menu to choose from in your local area. To choose your selection, you simply enter your postcode on the Riverford website to see what is available. You can filter the recipes by various parameters: including vegan, vegetarian, meat and prime cuts.
Each recipe costs between £11.20-£15.70 for two and you can save 5% when you buy 2 recipes, or 10% when you buy 3 or more.
Our box arrived with two recipes - hot Thai beef noodle salad and harissa falafels.
I have very strong falafel opinions, so this was going to be a tough evaluation.
Before diving into the nitty gritty food review stuff, I just want to take a second to discuss the packaging. Like most of the population, I am very aware of the plastic crisis which is threatening the world. I am also, like many of us, trying to do my bit in reducing the amount of plastic I use day to day.
The Riverford recipe boxes do indeed come in boxes, the cardboard kind, which are very easy to recycle, and which Riverford will pick up on subsequent deliveries and re-use. The chilled components also come with insulation made from wool and reusable plastic ice bag thingys. There was however still some plastic, which I appreciate is unavoidable, however hats off to Riverford for being very transparent about why and what they are doing to reduce this (read more here.)
Onto the food.
On the first evening we decided to dive straight in with the Thai beef salad, which came with a pleasing array of brightly coloured vegetables and herbs.
The prep was a bit more involved than I had hoped for after long day, with lots of grating and slicing, however the whole thing took under 30 minutes to prepare. It was actually quite nice to switch off my brain and be guided by a recipe which anticipated every sequential move in the process.
The result was excellent, if I say so myself and much better than anything I could have knocked up from a few back of the cupboard staples. The flavours were well balanced and the ingredients combined into two hearty portions.
It was also really nice to be eating something outside of our usual standard list of recipes, without having to go to the effort of researching and planning the whole endeavour (which is hardly brain draining, but does take up valuable Netflix time).
On the second evening we attacked the falafel recipe, with extreme prejudice.
See I am a solid convert to Yotam Ottolenghi's falafel recipe, which has become a go-to staple in our house. Falafels need to be full of tahini IMO, nothing less than tahini-to-the-brim will do.
So yeah, I needed to see great things to be impressed here.
What I actually really liked about this recipe was that everything was weighed out, you simply had to remove the lid and pour away. Even the pitta breads were provided!
The result again was pretty damn decent, though maybe a bit light on the tahini front. The falafels came with a delicious kefir dressing and mounds of beetroot salad. We actually had enough of the beetroot salad left over to use the next day, which is an indication that the portion size was again pretty generous.
So overall, I was impressed.
I enjoyed making the recipes, which were pretty easy to follow, though perhaps slightly daunting for an absolute beginner. The resulting meals were a pleasure to eat and full of flavour. Definitely something a bit different from our normal food routine too, which was really nice.
I guess the downside is really the cost, which let's face it, is a pretty big factor for most people (myself included).
Would I rely on Riverford boxes as my main meal source? No, probably not. Would I get a couple monthly or every fortnight? - hell yes. Especially during busy periods at work.
It's all the convenience of a pre-packaged meal, with all the fun of cooking it yourself from good quality ingredients.
* The recipe box discussed in this post was sent free of charge in exchange for my feedback. I was not required to write a blog post and as always, my opinions here are honest and my own.