Restaurant Review: Want to eat in on a budget? Easy, just think inside the box
Flavourfirst.com: Tel: 07801 479 980, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The food sector is riven with rivalry. Restaurants want you to eat out more, supermarkets want you to buy ingredients and eat in more, take-away distribution services want you to do neither and instead convert your kitchen into a gaming den (Eat! Don't Cook!) and farmers' markets want you to adopt a more conscious way of buying food (keep it local).
We have never had so much choice. Either way, eating in or out is more affordable than ever, thanks to the rise of new fast-food outlets, which can be wholesome and nutritious and the relative decrease in food prices promoted by the discount stores.
The time-poor are relying increasingly on the likes of Boojum, Slums, countless vegetarian take-aways and an array of Vietnamese, Taiwanese and other cool restaurants for cheap, exciting eats.
During the summer months, our house is populated by young people visiting the teens and I've noticed an increase in the use of the dishwasher as more pots and pans are used for rustling up lunches and brunches. When I get home from work, the evidence is strewn all around.
I'm not sure if I hate the sight of this more than a living-room littered with boxes from KFC, McDonalds and Burger King. But it is, nonetheless, an encouraging indicator of changing habits.
Much of this is down to the excellence of Buzz Feed Tasty websites, which feature 60-second, speeded-up films to show you exactly how to cook a particular dish (they have hundreds of them) and what ingredients you will need.
Another new phenomenon of recent years has been the delivery box. Mourne Fishboxes are shipped from Kilkeel and you can go online to choose from a vast list of freshly caught fish and crustaceans which are then delivered in chilled containers to your door within a day or two. In the box you will find recipes suited to the contents you ordered.
Now a new, ready-to-cook service from Donaghadee has gone one step further. If you want to order a vegetarian paella and want to make it from scratch, Leanne and William over at FlavourFirst.com will deliver a box with everything you need. And I mean everything. No need to go to the shops, or anything, it's all there.
I know what you're thinking: homemade vegetarian dishes are the closest thing you can imagine to student days, when lentils and rice were the only things many of us could afford.
There is no hint of penury here, however. I tried three boxes, including the paella, a rainbow chilli and a North Indian curry.
All three included a well-designed, reader-friendly, idiot-proof, step-by step set of instructions even I could understand. Better still, so could the teens. We set about using the three boxes one after another and although at first sight they appeared very similar (bell peppers, onions, spinach featured in each) the dishes which resulted from them were distinctive, very good quality and hugely enjoyable.
My secret fear was that the dishes would amount to a return to those student days of veggie slops. How wrong I was.
What's more, the inclusion of advice as to when to add meat, fish, or seafood should you want to supplement the protein intake, worked very well indeed.
The paella was the house favourite. Easy preparation (share the prepping among the family and watch peace descend on restless youth) and cooking were enhanced by the quality of the ingredients. But it was the balance of flavours through the carefully administered spices and herbs which rocked the thing and made it a gourmet experience.
That Spanish paella flavour is not easy to replicate, especially when you have no seafood, or chicken, to add (and if anyone says anything about chorizo, chorizo does not belong in a paella - every self-respecting, bull-fighting, flamenco-dancing Spaniard knows this), yet this had all the authentic, deep aromas of saffron and smoked paprika. The rice was proper arborio, too.
Similarly, the curry (the additional dahl is better than any I've had in a restaurant) and the chilli dishes were buzzing with rich flavours, the kind you rely on a professional chef to conjure up and not always something you can do at home.
Each box will make enough for a dinner for three, four if your friends or family are not big grubbers.
It's an economic way of eating brilliantly: very cheffy with none of the complications, no waste and a happy house.
flavourfirst.com Tel: 07801 479 980, or