Chronicling an attempt by a middle-class ponce (who likes the idea of being able to cook but has never done it) to learn how, and eat nice things, by following Jamie Oliver’s advice in "15 Minute Meals" and then upgrading to Gousto's recipe boxes.

Chicken & Parsnip Risotto (Gousto recipe link)

Another rather bland dinner. Insanely filling, mind; this one’s definitely absolutely for two people!

The recipe specifically says to cook the balsamic-marinaded chicken in a hot pan without oil. (Well, it doesn’t say to put oil in the pan, and it always does otherwise.) So, that’s what I did. And you know what? The balsamic burns instantly on the pan. Nightmare. I am not at all sure that that was right.

Also, I don’t have a griddle pan. Which might have had something to do with it.

This one, basically, didn’t taste of much. Risotto’s nice enough, I suppose, but nothing very exciting, and balsamic isn’t a particularly interesting flavour to me because I put it in everything.

Cumin is not as impressive as other people think it is.

Chorizo & Giant Couscous (Gousto recipe link)

That was… hm. Not as impressively nice as I was anticipating.

I was really looking forward to this while cooking. Chorizo smells lovely. And the olive oil was a lovely tan orange colour from the frying chorizo, and it was all good. But after actually putting this together and eating, it’s not as pleasant as I thought it would be. Giant couscous is a bit weird (and it sticks to the bottom of your pan like the clappers, too: be told) and that combined with lentils means that there’s a pretty good quantity of relatlvely unflavoured stodge in this dinner. It’s like the sensation of having eaten a ten-pin-bowling ball. Putting yoghurt on the top doesn’t help.

Actually, the yoghurt does help cut down the intensity a bit. It’s all not very strongly flavoured, but it is quite oppressive to eat, and the yoghurt cuts through that somewhat; however, yoghurt’s natural acid sort of edge to the taste means that this is a weird combination.

Admittedly I chopped the coriander with the onions (yay, food processor!) rather than garnishing the dinner with it, but if that’s the thing that made the difference then I’m Pope Francis.

One not to try again, I feel.

Mexican Pork Tacos (Gousto recipe link)

The recipe here was pretty nice. Good pork mince and it made a tasty, although slightly stodgy by virtue of the rice, dinner. I also mixed the salsa in with the pork and rice, rather than putting it on top as the recipe suggested, and I think that was massively the right decision.

Obvious flaw: the box comes with only four smallish tortillas. There is no way on earth that you can get a quarter of the made quantity into one of these tortillas. You could just ladle that much on, of course, but at that point it’s not a taco: it’s a plate of pork mince with a tortilla underlay, which would be rather like describing the Taj Mahal as a brick taco because there are foundations underneath it. So you end up with a pretty reasonable bowlful of the mince/rice/salsa mixture after you’ve used all your tortillas. On the other hand, if nobody can see you then it’s perfectly fine to just eat it with a spoon. I imagine.

Makes two pretty filling dinners, this.

Obvious flaw number 2: tacos are stupid. Does anyone alive know how to eat one without all the fillings just falling out of the end? You could, of course, fold the end up like a wrap, but at that point you can only put about half as much filling in and so you’ll need about sixteen tortillas, which you haven’t got.

All tasted OK, though.

Rosemary & King Prawn Linguine (Gousto recipe link)

This is delightful, although stodgy. The sauce is a faff to do: cooking the onions and garlic and oil down takes longer than you’d expect, crushing anchovies until they become a paste is harder than it looks, cooking with the king prawns in takes way longer than the two minutes that the recipe specifies, and for all that it’s worth it because what you get at the end is lovely.

One of the great mysteries of the world is how anchovies, which are basically fish made entirely out of salt, go really well into sauces which at the end taste of anchovy hardly at all. They’re a catalyst. A foundation on which greater things are built. Take advantage of this.

This is very much definitely a meal for two people. Myself and darling daughter split it and were both well satisfied at the end of it. You wouldn’t eat this one on your own, unless it took you two days to do it.

Surprisingly simple recipe, too; I mean, it’s basically pasta with a garlic and rosemary sauce on. Sticks to your ribs, my grandma would say. It’s not the most flavoursome meal; if you’re looking for something which will wow your guests with its blend of exotic flavours, then look elsewhere. But it’s a perfectly servicable, filling, and tasty dinner.

Sticky hoisin pork (Gousto recipe link)

That was delightful. And delicious. And de-love-er-ly.

I note from the picture that you’re supposed to peel the cucumber first, which I didn’t because the recipe doesn’t mention it and I didn’t look at the picture closely enough. But, oh well. No problem. I’m not sure that the cucumber was hugely pickled — there are a lot of half-moon pieces in half a cucumber and not a lot of rice vinegar in the little pot — but it was nonetheless great. Potatoes were not too bad either, and the pork was excellent. Tip: when it says a medium heat, it means it; the pork steaks were fantastically tender and delightful precisely because they were cooked slowly. Low and slow, as our American barbecue friends tell us. However, this does mean that the recipe’s guidance of 3-4 minutes per side bears about as much resemblance to the truth as do an NSA director’s protestations of innocence. You’ll probably have to double that figure; I did.

Also, who puts the sauce in a little jug? Pour it on the pork, you know you want to.

Presentation still needs work, although this dinner is more suited to the Egyptian Pharaoh “just put everything in a pile” technique than others are.

Go easy on the chilli. A little goes a long way, here.

Also, the cucumber might be even better if you do this with it.

Parmesan crusted pork (Gousto recipe link)

The Gousto people appear to have supplied me with about fifteen times as much of this black kale stuff as I actually need. On the other hand, it’s pretty nice when cooked. The recipe suggests that you should put 200ml of water in the pan and cook it that way, but I just wilted it in the frying pan directly with no water at all and it comes out pretty nicely. Good quality pork, too, and I am now a big fan of parsnip and mustard mash. Mash is way easier if you chop up the mashable thing into little 1 inch cubes before you boil it, and if you have a food processor, and I did both. Very nice idea. I’m not too sure about the parmesan crust, mind; it didn’t really come across much in the final article. However, I think I might have had the oil too hot; the outside cooked pretty well before the inside of the pork was done.

Also, must work on presentation.

Also also, observe that you have to tear a hole in your recipe to put it in the little Gousto folder. No, I don’t have a hole punch, because I’m not at school. Sort it out, Gousto.

Chermoula Chicken (Gousto recipe link)

That was excellent. Nice one, Gousto. It’s easy to prepare and nice when you cook it. Lots of lemon in it, which always cheers me up — I love lemon. It’s got a little spicy edge, but only a little; don’t fear any heat from this dinner, but it does have a strong flavour. The mint yoghurt cuts it rather nicely, though, and the coriander adds decent flavour to the rice. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten lentils before, and they work rather nicely with the coriander rice. A toothsome flavoursome dinner. One to repeat, I think!

Also: you can eat all this in one go. But it’s a pretty heavy dinner if you do. Oof.

Bavarian Fleischpflanzerl (Gousto recipe link)

German is such a good language. I mean, how often do you see a word with six consecutive consonants in lesser tongues?

"Fleisch" is "meat". ("Flesh", right?) "Pflanzerl" actually means "little plant", bizarrely. The whole thing is the Bavarian word for basically a fried meat patty. Essentially, it’s a burger, or a meatball. Pretty nice, too, I have to say. Relatively easy to cook — you just throw all the ingredients (meat, herbs, onions, etc) into a bowl and mix them up, then make burgers from it and fry them. I made the schoolboy error of thinking that I could cook all of the meatballs and the fried potatoes in the same saute pan, which was not even close to true. This also goes some way to answering the "how big is a Gousto meal" question: the ingredients contained about the right amount of potatoes for one, but made six of the pflanzerls. I cooked three (because that’s all I had room for in the pan!) and it was a lovely filling dinner; I’ve still got three left. So, the meals are definitely too big for one person. I’m still not completely convinced that they’re enough for two hearty eaters, but certainly I’m going to be eating the same thing twice on the bounce a lot in the future.

Also, the Dijon mustard they supplied with this was pretty urgent. Nice stuff, though. Again, good quality ingredients as far as I could tell, and the recipe card was easy to follow. The experiment continues to be a success.

Creamy pork tagliatelle (Gousto recipe link)

So, first Gousto recipe! And it turned out pretty well, all props to the chef (me). I mean, for actual cooks this is nothing all that special — tagliatelle in a mushroom cream sauce, with pork on top — but it’s tasty and filling and a good start to this little adventure.

The ingredients seem good quality, too; nice mushrooms, good pork, decent parmesan cheese. I ended up having the pasta and sauce done a bit late (or the pork done a bit early, depending on your point of view), but that really wasn’t a problem.

One of the things I’m testing here is how big a Gousto recipe is. It says that each recipe is good for two people (or you can buy big enough for four, if you want). Historically, what chefs think that two people eat and what I think two people eat are not the same thing. This particular dinner… does not help the argument. I’m reasonably convinced that if two of you shared this, you’d both want dessert and you’d wish you had a starter, unless you eat like a hummingbird. But equally I now feel like the Hindenburg, so it’s a bit much for one. I morosely suspect that that means the worst of all possible worlds: that each recipe does a person-and-a-half by my definition of a decent dinner, which has the unhappy consequence that it’s too much for one evening but not enough for one and the next. We shall see with future recipes.

Nonetheless, petty whining about portion sizes aside, this was pretty nice. Slightly on the bland side, if I’m honest, but there’s only so much you can do with mushrooms and cream, and it was tasty enough besides that. The Gousto experiment starts well. Onward!

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OK. After having done this for eighteen months or so, perhaps I should hat up a bit. I’ve subscribed to Gousto, who are a company who do what they call “recipe boxes”. Every week they offer you a choice of ten recipes, you choose three, and then the following Wednesday they deliver you a box by courier which has everything you need to make each of those three recipes — meat, vegetables, spices, pasta, rice, dressings, stock cubes, the works. This seems like a jolly good idea to me. You can watch a video of me opening the first box I received and going through the contents to get a sense of how it works. If you decide you like it, use code STUAR13126 at sign up time and you and I both get a discount.