My favourite Christmas dinner is one that someone else cooks.
Failing that, a Christmas dinner where someone else does all the menu planning, recipe research and food shopping, sounds ideal.
So when I saw Muscle Food* was doing a Christmas recipe box, I leapt at the chance to review it. Someone would deliver all the ingredients needed, with all the instructions, straight to my door? I’m sold. If you haven’t heard of Muscle Food before, they’re an online healthy food company that started out supplying lean meat to body builders.
Just think: no agonising over the correct way to cook Brussel sprouts. No face off between Nigella, Delia or Mary Berry versions. No hours slaving over a shopping list, fighting round the shops and still finding you’ve forgotten an essential item. All you need to do is choose whether you want beef or turkey, then get cooking.
Not just any recipe box, but a Christmas dinner recipe box
So the Muscle Food EasyCook 3 Course Christmas Recipe Box* is designed to feed four to six people ‘easily’. (Spoiler alert: it does. Although it’s a bit stingy with the pigs in blankets, but woah there was more than enough other meat and veg).
Deep breath, please, because the recipe box contains everything you need to cook:
- Starter: carrot and sweet potato soup
- Whole British roast turkey (or topside beef joint if you’re flying in the face of tradition and prefer beef. Not that I’m biased or anything)
- Hasselback potatoes
- Sauteed brussel sprouts, bacon and onions
- Honey roasted parsnips and carrots
- Red cabbage and apples
- 10 x pigs in blankets
- 12 x sage and onion stuffing balls
- Ready-made gravy
- Pudding: White chocolate lemon mousse
Phew. That’s some menu.
Basically, add some booze and a jar of cranberry sauce, and you’re good to go.
I was a bit surprised not to see any Christmas pudding in a ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner box, but as I don’t like it, I was glad to get the ingredients for mousse instead. I was also a bit daunted at 6 (count ’em) side dishes to go with the turkey. On normal days my lot are lucky to get meat and two veg, ideally cooked in single pan.
But hey, it’s Christmas, I was willing to roll my sleeves up and give it a go.
The delivery was pretty smooth. I was given a specific date the day before, told a two-hour slot in the morning, and it arrived only a tad later than expected.
I realised we wouldn’t go hungry when the delivery man staggered in with two large cardboard boxes. One included gel ice packs, to keep all the meat and dairy products cool. The other contained veg, dry ingredients and the recipe cards. Pretty much all the packing and wrapping was plastic which can’t be recycled, rather than paper.
What we got
So here’s everything I got inside my recipe box. I should point out that because I was sent a box early, Muscle Food could only source a butterflied turkey. However, if you’re getting one for Christmas it will include a whole British turkey instead (or beef instead, if you’re so inclined).
One of the great things about the Muscle Food Christmas Recipe Box was that it included all the food needed apart from salt, pepper, oil and water. There was no expectation that you’d have random quantities of Pink Himalayan arrowroot knocking around in your kitchen. The box even included sachets of sugar and vinegar to make the red cabbage.
Nothing was missing, and we certainly had loads of very large size veg, although it seemed a bit weird for something serving six to include only 10 pigs in blankets (who gets less?) and only 4, albeit large, potatoes (can I help you to half a potato, Aunt Agatha?).
The recipe cards
I’ll be honest. Seeing 7 recipe cards spread out for a single meal, plus juggling the ready-made pigs in blankets, sage and onion stuffing balls and gravy, was a bit overwhelming. I made an executive decision to save the soup for another day, as we already had plenty of food without a starter.
The A5 size recipe cards clearly listed the expected prep time and cooking time on the front. On the back, the cards had pictures of the ingredients needed, a nice list of any extra food and equipment required, cooking instructions and a table with nutritional info.
A big plus for the recipe cards was that they only used a few ingredients – only two, three or four, plus oil and seasoning. The red cabbage had the longest ingredient list, but even that only used five items from the box. The final result tasted great too.
My criticism is that the recipe cards were a bit haphazard.
One missed off the fan oven temperature, another had a typo with the wrong, and very high, fan oven temperature.
Sometimes the quantities were maddeningly unspecific: mix ‘oil’ with 2 tbsp honey to make the honey roasted parsnips and carrots (I guessed at 2tbsp), warm ‘butter’ to spread under the turkey skin (I guessed at using half a pack not needed for the Hasselback potatoes) and ‘bacon’ with the Brussels sprouts (I started chopping up the entire 350g pack included, then figured it would overwhelm the 450g sprouts and ended up using half).
Sometimes the cards specified the weight of veg, but sometimes the number. This wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t been sent such enormous parsnips! The recipe said 4 parsnips and 4 carrots, but the parsnips in box were so mahoosive they actually weighed twice as much as the still pretty sturdy sized carrots. I figured adding over 1.1kg parsnips to 560g carrots might be overkill, so I just used the same weight.
I did query the hefty size of the carrots, potatoes and parsnips with Muscle Food. They reassured me that the review boxes were picked by the Muscle Food team, who perhaps thought biggest is best, whereas the boxes sent out just before Christmas will come from a different supplier.
It was also frustrating that the ready made options – the stuffing balls and pigs in blankets – didn’t come with any cooking instructions, nor could I find any on the Muscle Food website, so I ended up googling.
Now, I’ve bought recipe boxes elsewhere in the past. One of the major advantages is convenience. You can pretty much disengage brain and just do what the recipes tell you. So I wasn’t expecting to spend so much time googling oven temperatures, cooking instructions and quantities used in other recipes. The net result was that the food took longer to make than I expected.
Add up the prep time on the recipe cards I used, and it comes to 70 minutes, plus maybe allow another few minutes to put the stuffing balls and pigs in blankets on trays and decant the gravy into a pan.
Now, I do expect prep times to be optimistic, but with the extra checking and googling, I spent more than twice as much time, a solid two and a half hours, working out timings, then frantically peeling, chopping, slicing, massaging thyme and garlic butter under turkey skin and everything else. I ended up co-opting my husband to do the white chocolate and lemon mousse – which by the way turned out to be a super easy melt/whisk/decant/chill recipe. (Top tip: remember to weigh out a single egg yolk, rather than upending the entire carton of 15 included in the box. Aim for 35g. You’re welcome.)
I raised my issues with the recipe cards with Muscle Food, who said “my feedback had been taken on board”, acknowledged there might be teething problems as it was the first time they’d developed something like this. They said they were “going to check the cards and try to amend any issues before the deliveries start on the 19th. The cooking times/labels will also be looked at”.
Top tip to save your sanity
If you’re buying a recipe box for convenience and to cut stress (and let’s face it, that’s what you pay extra for), my top tip is to work out your turkey timings beforehand.
This is my equivalent of the ‘never, ever feed a gremlin after midnight’ instruction.
Don’t be fooled by recipe card prep timing that says 15 mins prep and 35 to 40 minutes per kg cooking time. Don’t just leave it until 2pm on the day itself to sit down and read the rest of the recipe card (who me? yes).
TL;DR: IT TAKES A LONG TIME
Based on the card and a 3.4kg turkey:
Take your turkey out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it (60 minutes). Probably worth putting your oven on at the same time, so you can’t forget in the blizzard of peeling and chopping everything else (who me? yes), and then realise you’ve got to wait ages for it to heat up.
Then get busy with all the crushed garlic, chopped thyme and butter mix, getting closer to a turkey breast than you ever thought necessary (15 minutes, being optimistic)
Allow 35 to 40 minutes per kilo cooking time (120 to 150 minutes)
Then add on the hour the turkey needs to rest (60 minutes).
Total: 4 and a quarter to 4 and a half hours, starting from taking the turkey out of the fridge.
Once your turkey is underway, and you’ve done the prep for everything else, then basically the potatoes need to go into the oven at the same time the turkey comes out.Half an hour later add all the stuff that takes 30 minutes to cook (sage & onion stuffing balls, pigs in blankets, red cabbage) leaving the brussel sprouts to finish and the gravy to heat up right at the end.
Top tip for Hasselback potatoes: melt the butter before trying to brush it over the cut potatoes. Also, don’t worry about the butter going between the thin slits when you first put the potatoes in the oven. When you take them out after 30 minutes, the layers will have started separating, making it much easier to pour melted butter into the spaces between slices.
As it got closer to the end, I was shuffling through the recipes like a sheaf of playing cards, trying to spot what needed basting, turning over or heating up.
The meal itself
Here’s the really good news. The finished Christmas dinner tasted fab. I may have had some frustrations with the recipe cards, but the end result was great.
We all had masses to eat, lots of turkey, loads of veg.
Really enjoyed the brussel sprouts with bacon, and it’s something I’ll be trying again, though perhaps without the onion. The honey glazed carrots and parsnips were good. The gravy tasted great, and heating up a pouch was so much easier than slaving over a hot stove at the last minute. I’d never attempted Hasselback potatoes before, concerned they were a lot of faff to produce lard on a stick. In reality, the crispy edges and melting middle were delicious, although I may retreat to trad roasties on Christmas Day. I’m still a fan of red cabbage even if my children aren’t – my son refers to it as ‘devil’s cabbage’.
I don’t normally like white chocolate, but adding lemon made all the difference in creating an amazingly rich mousse. After all the food for the main course, three of us couldn’t finish our mousses. But – news flash – it tasted even better the next day, after a night in the fridge.
Afterwards, we had a load of leftovers, and will be living off turkey sandwiches for weeks. Send turkey recipe ideas now!
Always a killer question. What would you pay for the food for a three course Christmas dinner, delivered to your door, including all the recipes?
Muscle Food are selling their Easy Cook Turkey or Beef Recipe Boxes* for £74 each. That’s £12.33 a head when feeding six people.
I had a look at MySupermarket, and added up the cost of all ingredients apart from the turkey or beef. When you have to buy a whole pack rather than just the amount needed (eg including a whole bulb of garlic, bottle of vinegar, bag of sugar, pack of lemons etc), the cost was around £29 to £32 at the big supermarkets.
Turkey prices vary enormously though. Muscle Food charge £35 if you just want to buy the 3kg to 3.4kg turkey included in the recipe box. So turkey plus all the other ingredients adds up to not far shy of the £74 recipe box cost.
However, you can buy turkeys for a lot less – from around £13 for a standard small fresh turkey, to £18 for a frozen free range turkey, to £24 for a supermarket premium brand fresh turkey.
If you’re clamouring for a recipe box, then elsewhere Hello Fresh charges more for more complicated recipes (think star anise, truffle powder, pecans and making your gravy from scratch).
For six people, you’re looking at £16.66 a head just for the main course and £16.66 a head if you add Christmas pudding for dessert. That’s a total cost of just under £90 for Christmas dinner, or just under £100 plus pudding.
Overall, the Muscle Food Christmas recipe box* made life much easier, despite any issues with the recipe cards, and we certainly ended up with a delicious result. Fingers crossed they sort out any vegetable sourcing issues by the time the boxes are delivered between 19 and 23 December!
But if you don’t fancy a recipe box, Muscle Food has lots of other Christmas deals* too, from meat hampers to festive side dishes, all delivered direct to your door.
Check out the Luxury Christmas Turkey + free trimmings* for just £30, when using the code LUXTURKEY30 before 21 December.
Now – over to you. Would you consider buying a Christmas recipe box? Do you cook it all from scratch? Or do you go for easier options every time? Do share in the comments. With second Christmas dinner to look forward to, I’d love to hear!
DISCLAIMER: I was given a free Muscle Food Christmas Recipe Box to review for this post. However, all views are my own.
*indicates an affiliate link, so anything you buy through it will help support the blog, as I will get a small commission at no cost to you. Many thanks!
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