Get it Plated

By Joseph Winters ’20

Personally, one of the most jarring things about the transition from high school to college was in the impersonalized food scene. No longer was I cooking my own breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, but loading up my tray at the dining hall. I recognize this isn’t the case for many college students. Some look at vegetables as they would an alien invader. “I have never eaten kale,” a Wigglesworth resident grimaced as he gingerly poked a pile of greens I was about to chop. In fact, he had apparently never cooked anything more complex than a piece of toast. Nationally, according to a survey by the DailyMail, one in three college students can’t even boil an egg. This is just sad.

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But, having grown up in a family where I was an active participant in the dinner-making process, mealtime at Annenberg was less fulfilling. There’s some degree of creativity you can employ in the dining hall—for example, making brown butter in the microwave—but it couldn’t quite replicate the joy I used to get from cooking.

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Enter Plated. I had seen their ads on Facebook describing a meal kit delivery service to make cooking easier, and was intrigued. After contacting Plated’s marketing team, I found myself with a big box of temperature-controlled food that they’d sent me for free in exchange for a review. I picked it up at the Science Center and walked it back to my dorm, drawing attention from some of the tourists in front of the John Harvard statue. Inside the box I got not one, but two different meals: salmon poke bowls and shakshuka. Each meal came with pre-wrapped ingredients and a big recipe card with step-by-step instructions and photos.

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Before ordering on the Plated website, I had gotten to choose from a surprisingly thorough array of meal options, ranging from butternut squash pizza to Asian-style noodles, with options for every kind of diet, including gluten-free, vegetarian, low calorie, and “quick”. I had picked based on perceived difficulty; particularly, there was no way I’d ever think to make a salmon poke bowl from scratch in my dorm kitchen, so I was curious to see how Plated would make the task feasible. I unpacked the box to find every ingredient in its own conveniently-portioned container. Plated had accidentally sent me the wrong recipe card, but they sent the right PDF via email.

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Based on the card, my salmon poke bowl would be done within forty minutes. Just to fact-check. I looked at the clock as I started cooking. 5:45. First of all, something to know about Plated is that they provide the ingredients, not the tools; it’s assumed that you already have things like a knife, sauté pan, cookie sheet, etc. This is a fair assumption, but you should note that if you want to use Plated, you’ll have to rent this kind of equipment from the FDO (if you’re a freshman), which is precisely what I did.

 

As the rice was cooking in my improvised rice maker (a shallow sauté pan with a lid), I unwrapped this tiny bag with a single clove of garlic and got to work, cutting it on my improvised cutting board (a paper towel). I diced some garlic, scallions, and chopped a cucumber mixing them in a bowl with some conveniently prepackaged soy sauce, and combined some prepackaged mayo and sriracha in a different bowl.

I seared the salmon very quickly on both sides with a little package of sesame oil, crumbled it, and added it to the veggie/soy sauce mix with some furikake (Asian spice mix). After I made do with draining the rice by slowly pouring off the water, all I had left to do was “plate” the salmon poke bowl: half the brown rice, salmon/veggie mix, conveniently pre-made seaweed salad, and sliced avocado made for a beautiful and delicious-looking bowl! Plus, after all that, the time was only 6:45! A little longer than the recipe card had said, but I’d put the blame on myself; I was taking a lot of pictures, after all.

The shakshuka went well, too. It was probably a little easier than than the salmon poke bowls, but I did have to procure my own eggs and oil. Since I didn’t want to buy a big bottle of oil, I just substituted an equal amount of butter that happened to be in the fridge (sorry to that butter’s owner!). This time, I got a friend to help. We sprinkled a spice mix over the can of chickpeas and put them to bake while she tore kale and I chopped garlic, an onion, and a bell pepper. I sautéed everything for a few minutes, then added the canned tomato, tomato paste, and kale, sautéing until the kale was wilted.

It would have been better if we had had a cast iron skillet so we could put the pan from the stovetop into the microwave without being afraid of the handle melting, but due to a lack of foresight, this wasn’t the case. I broke two eggs into little nests that I dug into our make-do pan and cautiously set it on the top rack of the oven, watching it carefully to check for melting. I set the naan bread in the oven to warm up as well. The recipe suggested that I wrap the bread in foil, which would have prevented it from drying out, but there was no tin foil in the dorm kitchen, so we made do.

Once the eggs were set, I took the pan out of the oven and divided the shakshuka between the two of us. We were going to use bowls, but we only could find one bowl in the dorm kitchen, so we ended up using these small skillets. Sort of artsy, we thought as we dug in. The shakshuka was a delicious success, and with a whole piece of naan for each of us, it was a surprisingly large amount of food. I had heard reviewers of other meal kit services say the portions were meager, but with Plated, the portions were on the generous side. My friend and I finished the meal feeling very satisfyingly full.

Overall, I’d say the improvisational nature of my cooking experience is more of a testament to the effectiveness of Plated’s service rather than a detriment. Plated made it possible for me to put together an incredible meal under the horrible conditions of a dorm kitchen. The lack of kitchenware was just part of the initial struggle. If I had had to scour the web to find a recipe and then go all the way to Whole Foods and back to get the ingredients, this amazing salmon poke bowl probably never would have been made. Plated is about saving time and effort so you can continue being frenetically busy the entire day and then still cook a gourmet meal for dinner.

Would I recommend Plated to college students? Maybe not to students with an unlimited swipes meal plan, but for anyone who’s planning to fend for themselves for at least a couple of meals per week, I think Plated is an excellent option.  Whether it rekindles or introduces you to the joy of cooking, Plated is healthy, easy, fresh, tasty, and—I’d say—fun!

 

*I’d like to thank the Plated team for offering these two meals free of charge in exchange for a review!

Boston Bites: A Harvard Freshman’s Foodie Instagram

by Caroline Gentile ’17

What do foodies love more than actually eating food? Looking at pictures of food, of course. Accordingly, food-centric Instagram accounts have become all the rage. One in particular stands out, with its mouth-watering images and clever captions: Boston Bites (@Boston_Bites).

“Biting our way through Beantown,” boasts Boston Bites’ Instagram profile. Founded by Harvard freshman, Alana Steinberg and a friend from home who went to Boston University, the Boston Bites instagram account was originally a way to keep in touch with each other and ensure the two friends actually went out to explore Boston. “We started collecting photos when we got to college, and started posting in October,” Alana explains. Over time, however, it evolved into Alana taking charge of the account, although, she notes, “I still keep in touch with my friend, and sometimes she will send me pictures to post.”

Alana herself has a background in photography, although she usually focuses on portraiture instead of food. She also does multimedia for the Harvard Crimson. In terms of her food background, “I love to bake”, she says with a smile. “At home, I’m known for my popovers and snickerdoodles.” Like many other students (read: the entire staff of the Crimson Crave), she wishes she had more time at school to bake. Luckily, managing Boston Bites serves as her outlet for satisfying her love of food.

Armed with a book of Zagat-rated restaurants in Boston and inspiration from other Boston foodie Instagram accounts, Alana sets out into Boston on average once a week to try a new place and take pictures for Boston Bites. Finding the time to get into Boston can be challenging; “sometimes I go three times in one week and then not at all,” she admits. However, for weeks when she is too busy to make the trip and post new pictures, Alana is able to rely on and repost the five to ten daily submissions she receives from some of her 1659 followers.

Having tried at least one place every week since she first started at Harvard, Alana has eaten a lot of food at a lot of different restaurants. Of all these meals, her favorite has been the avocado toast with burrata and pecorino cheese at Met Back Bay. “I highly recommend Met Back Bay for brunch in Boston,” she says, “but in the square, I really like Bagelsaurus and Russell House.”

Avocado toast from MET Back Bay
Avocado toast from MET Back Bay

As for dinner, she recommends Theolonius Monkfish, a sushi/Asian fusion restaurant in Central Square, a mere 10 minute walk from campus. In Boston, Joe’s American Bar has “really good American food, like spinach dip.” Sounds good to us!

Chicken stuffed lychee from Theolonius Monkfish
Chicken stuffed lychee from Theolonius Monkfish
Spinach Dip from Joe's American Bar
Spinach Dip from Joe’s American Bar

In the near future, Alana hopes to make it to the Union Square Donuts store, and also to a sushi place called Oishii. Be sure to follow Boston Bites on Instagram to see not only these pictures of donuts and sushi, but also the many other mouth-watering pictures of foods that can be found in the Boston area.