A while back I was interested in meal/recipe subscription boxes sent in the mail, but was put off by the extra charges that businesses charged for delivery to the Highlands and Islands (I’m looking at you Hello Fresh and Gousto, and this was while we were living in the city of Inverness – hardly the back of beyond!). 2015 was apparently my year to try out novelty subscription boxes as I contributed towards the Cheese Posties kickstarter campaign, and bought a three month subscription for Bakes Box. However last month I was invited by the Seasoned Pioneers to road-test their Spice Pioneer spice kits!
The Spice Pioneer experience has been introduced by Seasoned Pioneers, who are highly commended by some of the most popular UK food writers and personalities, including Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith, Ghillie Basan and Rick Stein.
The Seasoned Pioneers explain in their own words what they hope to offer through their subscription service:
In sharing The Spice Pioneer’s experience, Seasoned Pioneers is giving you the opportunity to expand your culinary repertoire. Discover the smells and tastes of worldwide cuisine and ‘go that extra mile’ enhancing the mood and atmosphere with postcards and music from far flung places. In creating a spice subscription club for like-minded people seeking fresh culinary experiences from the four corners of the earth, Seasoned Pioneers offers a guiding hand to nudge you in the right direction. At Seasoned Pioneers we wish to encourage the accomplished as well as the more modest, less adventurous, cook to achieve the rewards and satisfaction of creating a meal which would never have been attempted without the know-how and support of professional chefs.
So, how does it work and what do you get in the box?
HOW IT WORKS
It’s quite a simple process – an easy online sign up process, wait for your monthly Spice Pioneer delivery, and once it arrives, get shopping for your ingredients!
WHAT DO YOU GET?
The box is small enough to fit through a standard letterbox, and the boxes I received contained all the spices needed to create a main meal with two side dishes of a particular world cuisine, for 4 people. The spices come from trusted suppliers across the globe and Seasoned Pioneers themselves dry-roast and blend their own spice mixes. The box also contains the recipe card which lists all of the ingredients for each recipe (it also lists them on a separate side in a shopping list format so it’s easy to see what you might need to buy at a quick glance, which I found really helpful). The method for creating the dishes is also well constructed, as the Spice Pioneer basically gets you to make one dish at a time, leaving the first dish to keep simmering away while you make the other two.
Also included is a postcard which is a nice personal touch because it gave us a insight into the culture and lifestyle of the Galle area of Sri Lanka, , and members area log in details, where you can re-purchase your favourite boxes, and access the Spotify playlist for any of the subscription boxes. We loved this, cooking to Sri Lankan music was fun, gave us an authentic feeling as we were cooking up a storm, and introduced us to some new tunes!
SO, WHAT WAS IT LIKE USING THE BOXES?
We really enjoyed it (I say we, as Mr B did do the majority of the cooking of the first box while I took photos)! We did all the chopping together first, and allocated all the different ingredients to different areas of the kitchen). Herbs and spices are often some of the items on our shopping list, and our cupboard is crammed with them, so often we forget if we’ve run out of a particular one, and it’s really frustrating if we’ve planned a meal around it. The Spice Pioneers box eliminated that by having all the spices in separate sealed and labelled tubs. I meant to keep a record of how long we were cooking for, but I forgot – however I think the total prep and cooking time didn’t come to more than 1hr 15 mins.
None of the fresh/store cupboard ingredients were hard to get hold of – as long as you have access to a reasonably large supermarket,or a collection of butcher/fishmonger/grocers, you’ll get all of the supplies with no problem.
WHAT DID YOU COOK?
In the first box which had a GalleSri Lankan theme, we cooked a Sri Lankan monkfish curry with basmati rice, a beetroot curry, and spicy green beans with black mustard seeds. We cooked it all and then had leftovers to enjoy another day!
My favourite dish was the beetroot curry which was surprising, given that I’m not the biggest fan of beetroot as it comes or in salads. Something about the combination of spices, including cinnamon, made this dish incredible – I just couldn’t get enough! We both really liked the monkfish curry which was complimented by the accompanying spinach and perfectly steamed basmati rice. Our least favourite element of the meal were the green beans – while it was a good dish, it didn’t get our tastebuds going as much as the other two dishes and was a good bit spicier than the monkfish and beetroot ! We can handle our spices reasonably, but if we had dinner guests I wouldn’t be sure that they would enjoy it without a very tall glass of cold water!
For our second Spice Pioneer box, we were off to Marrakesh, Morocco and I was really looking forward to this as I love the flavours of Moroccan food, and would love to visit Marrakesh in the future. The dishes were:
Chicken tagine with apricots, ginger and ras el-hanout
Orange and date salad with preserved lemon and pomegranate molasses
served with Couscous with roasted fennel butter
This combination of dishes was mind-blowing. I wasn’t expecting the salad to be all that good, but the combination of sweet oranges and dates, hot chilli, cool mint and pomegranate molasses was a taste sensation. Coupled with the warming tagine and couscous, this was my favourite box of the two in terms of flavours.
THE FINAL VERDICT
I love the concept of the Spice Pioneer boxes, and I will definitely consider buying a subscription or buying my spices direct from Seasoned Pioneers (if you choose to join as a member, Seasoned Pioneers offer a rolling 3 months subscription, billed quarterly at £24.99, working out at £8.33 per month. They also offer gift vouchers for 3 months, 6 and 12 months). Of course there is the additional cost of fresh ingredients, which includes meat/fish for 4 people (plus herbs for the Moroccan box), but we had most of the other ingredients in our cupboards, so the cost and effort of creating an impressive dinner party menu wasn’t overly expensive. Coupled with the fact that you get an insight into some of the world’s cuisines and music that I wouldn’t have had the inclination to explore myself, I thoroughly enjoyed being a Spice Pioneer!
I was invited by Seasoned Pioneers to cook with two meal boxes to cook with in exchange for an impartial review. All opinions and words are our own.