Grocery shopping for Thanksgiving dinner might be harder than actually making it. When you're planning a dinner with a bazillion side dishes, it's almost inevitable that you'll forget an ingredient, or run out of something, requiring several back-and-forth trips to the store. And it's entirely possible you'll have to hit not just one but three stores, and maybe a farmers market or two, to get everything you need. And don't forget, you're doing all this with nearly all your neighbors who are also looking for the same things at the same time, which means no parking, low stock, long lines, and an overload of frustration.
But what if you could have all of that shopping done for you, not to mention all the planning and portioning? Just open a box and start cooking a from-scratch holiday meal? That's the premise of HelloFresh's new Thanksgiving Box, which launches today.
Buy: Thanksgiving Box, $14.90 per person at HelloFresh
The meal-kit delivery service aims to de-stress the holiday by doing the hard stuff for you (planning, shopping, and schlepping), thereby giving you more time for the fun stuff (read: the cooking). For those planning a collaborative Friendsgiving this year, or maybe making the holiday meal at a vacation house, or even just dreading the grocery store, the Thanksgiving Box could be your salvation. Ditto if you're a first-time Thanksgiving host.
Is a meal kit worthy of your most important food holiday? Does it really result in a "Drama-Free Dinner" as the tagline says? I put one through its paces to find out.
We Tried HelloFresh's Thanksgiving Meal Kit
My meal kit came with a 14-pound brined Cargill Honeysuckle frozen turkey, which needed a couple of days to defrost, plus almost all of the ingredients for three sides, cranberry sauce, gravy, and an apple crisp for dessert — all for a total of $14.90 per person (for eight to 10 people). If you'd rather get your turkey from somewhere else, order just the sides and dessert box for $8.90 per person. The kits must be ordered by November 8 (don't worry, you won't have to subscribe) and will be delivered between November 13 and 19.
Buy: Thanksgiving Box, $14.90 per person at HelloFresh
A sturdy fold-out recipe card listed all the tools, equipment, and pantry staples (butter, flour, sugar, and olive oil) that I'd need to have on hand to get started. It also broke down the recipes into a Four-Hour Game Day Plan, so I'd know what order to tackle the dishes to get everything on the table at the same time. Seasoned cooks can intuit the schedule, but a game plan like this is absolutely essential for Turkey Day newbies. The kit even has pictures of the ingredients (in case you don't know what a shallot is), so it's definitely made with new cooks in mind.
I'll cut to the chase and say the dinner was delicious, tasted perfectly homemade, and was basic but not boring, thanks to a few simple twists. For the most part, all the dishes were easy to make, and the meal really was finished in a cumulative time of about four hours (about one hour in the morning to make the crisp and cranberry sauce, and toast the bread for stuffing, then about three nonstop hours to pull off the rest of the dinner.
However, there were a few times when I was glad that I've made many Thanksgiving dinners before, because I had to use my previous experience to keep a dish on track. Also, I could have used a bit more of some ingredients — like shallots, garlic, sage, and lemon (luckily I had extra of those on hand).
Here's how each recipe turned out.
The Recipe Rundown
Cranberry Sauce with Orange, Ginger, and Cinnamon
This is simply canned whole cranberry sauce doctored up with chopped oranges and spices. It was delicious and ready in minutes.
Cranberry and Sausage Stuffing with Celery, Thyme, and Sage
After cutting eight ciabatta rolls into 1/2-inch cubes, I had way more than would fit on two baking sheets, as specified. I used three sheets to toast them all, but suspected I might not want to use them all in the end. I was right. Thankfully I've made stuffing many, many times before, and could tell I wouldn't have enough liquid to moisten everything; plus it probably wouldn't have fit in the baking dish, so I used my best judgment and eyeballed it. The stuffing turned out delicious, although a bit more dry than I normally make, even though I didn't use all the bread. I did appreciate that the sausage was made from chicken, since many of my friends don't eat pork. However, the sausage came in links, and the recipe didn't specify if the casings should be removed. I knew to do it, but wondered what a beginner would do.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Fried Sage
The recipe gives the option of peeling the Yukon Gold potatoes, but they were golf ball-sized and I couldn't bear the drudgery. After boiling I simply smashed them into a rustic mash with three tablespoons of butter and three ounces of sour cream as directed. The recipe wanted me to add 1 1/4 cups of milk, but I had only added half before the mash seemed almost too wet, so I didn't add the rest. I also skipped the extra three tablespoons of melted butter for a garnish, as the potatoes were definitely rich enough already. The addition of sour cream, a few cloves of minced garlic, plus a crumble of fried sage, made them taste a little more special, although my 12-year-old did not like the "sour" flavor.
Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots and a Crispy Breadcrumb Topping
Although this recipe was easy enough — just blanched whole green beans tossed with caramelized shallots and seasoned panko — there weren't enough shallots to really make a dent in the flavor. After letting them caramelize for the full 15 minutes, they shrunk to maybe a tablespoon — way too little to flavor almost two pounds of green beans. The seasoned breadcrumbs, however, did a good job of making up for them.
Roasted Turkey with a Garlic Herb Rub
According to the package, the turkey was brined in a solution of broth, saving me that (in my opinion) crucial and time-consuming step. After stuffing the cavity with lemon, shallot, garlic, and herbs, I was supposed to rub two packets of garlic-herb butter over the skin. Even though the turkey and butter had already sat out for more than an hour to come to room temp, the cool skin of the chicken and cool butter did not work well together. The butter just kept clumping. So I melted it and brushed it on, which worked like a charm.
The turkey cooked to a beautiful golden-brown in exactly 1 3/4 hours, as the recipe stated. The breast was definitely done (although not dry, thanks to the brine), however the thighs could have used a bit more time. Or maybe it would have been better to turn the turkey over halfway through to better expose the thighs to heat (their skin was rather pale). Also, after 45 minutes at 425°F the turkey hadn't released much juice, and the drippings that hit the pan immediately burned, so I poured in a few cups of broth. All the broth evaporated by the end, but at least the flavorful drippings weren't burned to charcoal.
No need to make stock from scratch, as the kit includes two packets of chicken demi-glace, plus concentrated chicken stock. Those packets, with water, pan drippings, aromatics, and a simple butter-flour roux, made a very rich, classic gravy in just minutes.
Apple Ginger Crisp with Cinnamon Pecan Crumble
I liked how the recipe reassured me I could make this well ahead and reheat it in the oven when it was time for dessert. However, I was a little put off by the use of white sugar in the topping (I always use brown) and the resulting crumble looked a bit paler than I like. I had to use the full lemon to get the requisite amount of juice, which meant I needed to use one of my own lemons to stuff the turkey. Overall the recipe worked well, although it skewed a bit too sweet for me (which is saying a lot since I have a serious sweet tooth).
Would you try a holiday meal kit? Discuss in the comments below!