Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blue Apron: A Review

5-Spice Pork Buns with Red Cabbage, Carrot & Thai Basil Salad (4/4 stars)
A friend was kind enough to send me a free trial of Blue Apron, a subscription cook-it-yourself service. I was skeptical at first, based on some of the  criticisms I have below, but after three weeks,  I'm quite hooked. It has been perfect for this busy end of the semester as it removes the parts I hate most: planning and shopping.  I don't plan on using it much this summer when I have access to farmer's markets, and time to think about something other than my career, but since many have asked, I thought I'd do a little review here.

Orange-glazed Chicken Drumsticks with Mashed Yucca and Arugula Salad (4/4 stars)

  • not having to plan the meals (which I like to do occasionally, but not for the entire week)

  • no food waste, as they send you only the amount that you need for the recipe

  • no food shopping other than to pick up staples (breakfast stuff, etc) for the week

  • geared toward people who don't know how to cook a whole lot, so, for example, a recipe will direct you to "peel a lemon, avoiding the pith, then cut the peel into zest with a sharp knife."  Glory hallelujah was I ever excited to have my Microplane zester. (I have this under "pros" though because they really are serious when they say you just need salt, pepper, and olive oil). 

  • there's no minimum commitment, so with 6 days notice, you can do it, or not do it, for the week. Cancelling the service involves writing an e-mail.

  • The price runs $55-$65 for three meals a week for 2 people. That's very reasonable considering how much money I spend eating out at restaurants and paying for food that is sustainable and organic.

  • packaging.  Supposedly it is all recyclable and/or biodegradable, but there is A LOT of it, as you might imagine. It comes with these huge monstrous ice packs which can be re-used (by you), or defrosted and emptied of their gel. This is a pain. And my freezer can hold maybe one or two of these if I'm getting one every week...

  • not knowing where the food came from.  I will say this---the produce is quite beautiful, actually.  The meat seemed to be high quality, but I have no idea about its sustainability. Their website says "emphasis on sustainable practices" but that doesn't really tell me anything.  I appreciated the organic soba noodles, but my primary concern is not the soba noodles.
Cod over Linguine with Fresh Peas, Meyer Lemon & Spring Herbs (3.5/4 stars)

In a perfect world, this is what I'd love to see:

  • Less packaging: Have key ingredients for the week and the cook has to be responsible for portioning the parsley or scallions,  for example. This is part of learning how to cook!
  • Packaging Pick-Up: If there was some way to pickup the boxes, liners and ice-packs when the food gets dropped off, that would be fantastic. I'd even be willing to pay a bit extra to have some way to plop a return label on the box, seal it, and send it back with those materials that the company can reuse.
Fennel-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Grapefruit, Mustard Greens & Japonica Black Rice (4/4 STARS)
 I think Blue Apron is really a great service and very well-suited toward:

  • People who are very busy but don't want to eat take out or go out every night.
  • People who want to learn how to cook
  • People living on their own (3 meals = 6 meals, as there is a 2 person minimum)
If you wind up using the service, I do recommend buying a Microplane zester as almost every recipe has some sort of zest in it! That zester is my absolute favorite kitchen tool.

More Info:
This article in from Fortune Magazine (online) reports that Blue Apron is doing quite well. It also mentions how it contrasts with Plated, a similar service.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Leftover Peas: A Triple Threat (Couscous, Purée, Risotto)

Ina Garten's Couscous with Peas and Mint: 3.5 stars

Sometimes you make couscous for 15 people (Ina Garten's "Couscous with Peas and Mint" from her Foolpoof: Recipes You Can Trust) and convince yourself that you need to double the recipe. Then you find that it probably wasn't necessary to buy TWO bags of frozen peas. Now you find yourself staring at a whole lot of leftover defrosted peas. What to do?

Here's one idea! How about lamb sausage (more specifically, lamb-apricot sausage from Savenor's) with a mint-pea purée? (It is winter, so I used this recipe for the purée and left off the pea shoots, etc). Do remember that a little bit of fresh mint goes a long way, so you may want to adjust the amounts depending on your preferred pea-taste to mint-taste ratio.

 Serious Eats' "Lamb Sausage with Pea Purée": 4 stars

But one can only make/eat so much mint-pea purée. I was excited to try Food52's Peas Porridge Hot recipe until I discovered I only had "quick-cooking-but-not-instant" steel cut oats. So, I threw together this simple risotto for lunch, and finally used up the rest of the peas!
Peas Risotto Hot

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large chopped shallots (of course)
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups heated chicken stock (you may need more, depending on your preferred consistency)
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1 to 2 cups frozen peas (defrosted)--yes, fresh are better if they are seasonal
1/8 cup heavy cream
freshly ground pepper
prosciutto (4 slices, shredded)--optional

In a medium saucepan or heavy-bottomed dutch oven, melt the butter and oil over medium heat.
Add the chopped shallots and cook until translucent (3-5 minutes).
Add the arborio rice and coat all the grains with the butter/oil mixture.

Add the heated stock 1/2 cup at a time. Wait for the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. (You may be able to add more at a time, so watch it carefully to gauge the rate of liquid absorption). Be sure to stir from the bottom (I like using a bamboo spatula) to prevent the rice from sticking. The adding-liquid process will probably take about 20-25 minutes.

When you have used all the stock, the rice should have a bit of a bite, but also a creamy consistency.

Add the peas, and remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and cream, and add pepper to taste.  Add the shredded prosciutto at the very last minute, stir and serve.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cookbook Geekiness and Braised Chicken

A friend of mine posted a link to Eat Your Books, and so I thought I'd try it out.  The website indexes cookbooks, blogs, and magazines to create a database of recipes. When you sign up, you add the cookbooks you own to your "shelf" (as well as any blogs and magazines), and this creates a searchable database of ingredients. So, for example, last night I typed in "chicken thighs" and my results returned recipes from Food 52, The Kitchn, Barbara Lynch's Stir, etc...blogs I follow and a book I own.  What follows is a little evaluation of the website thus far:

  • The free trial allows for only 5 shelf items (including books, blogs and magazines)
  • Not everything is indexed (although this is to be expected)
  • They do warn you that basic ingredients (salt, pepper, olive oil, etc) are not indexed, but I found that this can also include fresh herbs (tarragon, thyme), not so useful as a grocery store tool, depending on the recipe.

  • you can request that a book, blog or magazine be indexed
  • there is a forum for communicating with other users and the EYB team
  • the index status of an item is marked
  • You can index items yourself (I have not tried this yet)
 The service is $25 a year. That will be a pro or a con depending on your situation.  For me, I decided it was worth it, and so far I've been pretty happy.  It is a serious time saver as I can access the ingredients of the recipes in my cookbooks (many of them, anyway) and the recipes in my favorite blogs, in about 30 seconds, as opposed to combing through my myriad cookbooks.  I hate dealing with "what's in the fridge and what do I do with it?" but this may help with that.

Last night, my search results returned
 Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatoes and Garlic from Food52. It was easy, and I like things that simmer on the stove in the winter (and allow me to pull the rest of dinner together). I didn't have fresh thyme on hand, but I substituted some dried thyme and basil, and it worked just fine. The salad has a homemade vinaigrette of star date vinegar, Aceto balsamic di Modena, and white wine vinegar (with olive oil), and was mixed with marcona almonds and parmesan. (If you are lucky enough to live near a Vom Fass, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you go splurge on some vinegars and oils...and/or scotch---you can also order online!). The dolmades were bought on a whim and I needed to use them ;-).
(Apologies for the bright red color of the tomato sauce--not that bright in real life!)