I Threw A Dinner Party In A Box — & Now I Feel Like Martha Stewart

Photo: Carl Timpone/BFA/REX/Shutterstock.
Martha Stewart does it all. A pioneer in the lifestyle space, she has a magazine and plenty of cookbooks to her name; she even has a hit cooking show with hip-hop artist, Snoop Dogg. Perhaps most impressively, Stewart recently figured out a way to box and sell her essence. Her latest venture, Martha & Marley Spoon, is a weekly meal subscription service that blesses us mere mortals with recipes and prepackaged ingredients straight from the entertaining goddess herself. Recently, Stewart took things to the next level with the debut of her Dinner Party Box. This new meal kit delivery concept is available for one-off purchase, with no prior subscription membership necessary, and promises to deliver just as its title suggests: a pre-prepped, boxed, and shipped Martha Stewart-quality dinner party spread that's ready in just two hours time.
As someone who's tried out meal subscriptions in the past — and ended up deviating from recipe cards, excluding ingredients, and skipping ahead on steps to get it over with — a dinner party in a box originally sounded like more trouble than it was worth. But admittedly, the concept felt different enough from the usual meal services that it still intrigued me. I tend to wing my solo weeknight cooking, so planning for a well-executed group dining occasion was unchartered territory. Not to mention the all-inclusive, upfront price-tag could conceivably save me from not buying enough ingredients or going over budget. (The boxes cost $78 for a party of four or $148 for a party of eight.) I chose Martha's Fiesta Box for four and invited a few guests (a.k.a. my roommates) for a Wednesday evening affair. Ahead, find out if the work (and price) is worth the reward — and if it's actually possible to pack Martha Stewart's cooking prowess into a box.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Box

I scooted out of the office earlier than usual to get a head start on my prep, anticipating a stressful and lengthy evening ahead of me in the kitchen. I entered my apartment building to find that the box arrived safe and sound while I was at the office, and a wave of relief washed over me. Coming home to all the necessary dinner party makings already purchased, pre-packaged, and waiting for me in one place was a calming and reassuring start. I suddenly felt like I had this.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Packaging

Then, I actually opened the box. For some senseless reason, I pictured the it containing one fancy recipe that I would cook for four people instead of a three course meal (as dinner party menus are wont to include). But there they were, three individually packaged brown bags with accompanying recipe cards for an appetizer, main, and dessert. My confidence from 30 seconds ago faded and the panic started to sink back in...
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Ingredients

My anxiety continued to heighten as I spread the bags' many contents across my counter. There was no mistaking it anymore, this was in fact an intense dinner party menu that I would have to execute at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. Despite the daunting task ahead of me, I was pleased to find that the goods were cleanly packaged, clearly labeled, and all looked incredibly fresh. So I swallowed my stress, took a deep breath, and enlisted the help of one of my dinner party guests (a.k.a. my roommate) by making her my sous chef.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Appetizer

Chipotle Shrimp Tortilla Soup With Corn & Cilantro
The first course was a shrimp soup. The entire process was straightforward with clearly pictured steps and written out instructions, and it surprisingly took very little time to throw together. I even toasted my own tortilla strips in the oven for a final crispy topping!

The soup was simple but tasty, and above all looked very impressive as a homemade starter to the evening's fiesta-themed menu. It took me about 25 minutes, from start to finish, to complete. The shrimp were already de-veined and only minor chopping of garlic, onions, and cilantro stems was necessary. There was more than enough to feed myself and my two roomies with a couple additional servings left over.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Main

Chile-Spiced Tacos With Corn, Bean, & Poblano Sauté
From marinating the steaks to pickling radishes and sautéing a poblano pepper mix, there was a lot going on in the main course recipe. Even though there were more moving parts than I would normally feel comfortable completing on a weeknight, each of the taco components turned out to be easy to execute. The instructions on the recipe card were organized in a time efficient manner (e.g. while the steaks marinated and radishes pickled, the poblano peppers started to sauté) which helped keep things movings.

Upon tasting, the steak was delicious with its spicy marinade (made from a mixture of olive oil and spiced chili powder) and and the sautéed veggies and beans added texture to the overall dish. The pickling process, although initially bothersome, paid off: The radishes (after sitting in their vinegar, salt, and sugar bath) were a zesty, sweet addition to the tacos. I was also happy to discover that the large flour tortillas were able to contain all of the hefty toppings. The main took a bit more prep work to pull together than the appetizer (about 35 minutes), but it resulted in more than enough food for four (very hungry) to five people.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Dessert

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies With Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling
The appetizer and the main course had gone off without a hitch so, at this point, I was feeling marvelously Martha-like. I was on a roll towards swift weeknight dinner party in a box success, until I realized that I was going to have to actually bake something...from scratch, on a weeknight. You would Stewart, you would. I bit my tongue, broke out my seldom-used standing mixer, and embraced my non-existent inner baker.

Spoiler alert: It was worth it. Honestly, these cookies were damn good. If anyone can make a baker out of a hater, it's Martha. The one caveat was that dessert took a good hour with prep work and baking included. However, the resulting creations looked like they were straight out of Martha Stewart Living and tasted like a bakery treat. Ultimately, I was happy that the box pushed me outside of my dessert comfort zone — and I have leftover, spicy-sweet cookie sandwiches as a reminder.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.

The Dinner Party

If a week ago someone asked me to throw together a three course meal on a week night for four people in two hours, I'd have said, "puh-lease." The time it would take to plan a menu, grocery shop, and cook alone would be far too overwhelming for a Wednesday night — especially with accurate ingredient portioning and grocery budgeting risks. (How the hell does anyone just know how much meat and shrimp will feed four hungry friends?) My past attempts at cooking for large groups either resulted in spending too much money on ingredients that never got used or skimping out on the important stuff, leaving me with not enough nosh to go around.

But with Martha's box, it was an easily achievable hit. Each course made it to the table in a timely manner, in full Martha & Marley Spoon-style, and there was more than enough food to go around for my party guests (a.k.a. roommates). If you split the cost of the box with friends, it comes out to about $19.50 per person — which, although more than I'd typically shell out for a usual weeknight meal, is worth the splurge for a special dinner party occasion. Especially when you consider what the cost of a real Martha dinner party might run — and pre-measured makings for fancy sandwich cookies come included.

An already pre-planned, portioned, and packaged three course dinner for four people shipped to your doorstep costs $78. But unleashing your inner Martha on a Wednesday night? Well that's priceless.