Tag Archives: cooking

To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron – Conclusion

If you’re new to the party, let me briefly explain that Blue Apron is one of several companies that delivers pre-measured ingredients and step-by-step recipe directions in a kit delivered to your home for easy meal preparation. I’ve been writing about a one-week trial period where I’d try out three meals and decide whether to choose Blue Apron, or not. Here’s my conclusion:

The quick answer is Not to Blue Apron. If you’d like to know why, read on.

I finally cooked the last supper (no religious comparisons, if you please) on Tuesday night, Roasted Pork & Mustard Pan Sauce. It was the least successful instructions-wise, I’d say.

Blue Apron browning pork

First you brown the little boneless pork roast in a frying pan.

To make the meals super-quick and easy, Blue Apron likes to bake meats at excessively high temperatures for a short period of time. I followed the directions, browning the little pork roast in a frying pan for some color, and to capture the drippings to make the mustard sauce later.

I put the roast into the 475 degree oven and set the timer for sixteen minutes. Directions said fourteen to sixteen, but I found that hard to believe. And I was right. Blue Apron said the roast should register 145 degrees with an instant-read thermometer, and mine had just reached 120. I plopped it back in the oven for another five minutes and soon I had smoke alarms going off (and sweat dripping down my face) even though there wasn’t any smoke – just way too much heat in my tiny kitchen. It didn’t help that the day I finally decided to cook this, the outside temperature soared to 88 degrees (most unusual in Northeastern Ohio in May).

The little chunk of pork finally reached the right temperature (total twenty-one minutes) and I set it aside to rest for five minutes, as directed, while finishing up the rest of the meal (well, kind of – there wasn’t much to do because I was on schedule to be finished by then).

Blue Apron cooking veg

Sliced fingerling potatoes (so cute!), green beans, and shallots are stir-fried to golden perfection!

I mentioned in an earlier post that I hate asparagus. Strong words, yes. But I really do hate it. Yuck. I tried to palm it off on my mother, but she wasn’t enthused enough to take me up on the offer. Anyway, I bought some beautiful, fresh green beans to substitute and have to say, the veggie part of this meal with the sliced fingerling potatoes, my beans, and sliced shallots, was delicious. I’ll make that again for myself in the future (just slice the little potatoes into about quarter inch slices and stir fry with salt and pepper in a little olive oil for maybe five minutes; add the beans and thinly sliced shallots and a little more oil and salt and pepper and cook for another maybe four minutes until the beans are just cooked. That’s it!).

The pork, on the other hand, was overcooked and tough. Maybe my thermometer is off? It’s possible. It might not be Blue Apron’s fault. But I’m not a fan of the fast, super-high heat cooking method (although it worked very nicely for the chicken, I must admit). The mustard sauce was quite good – a very grainy mustard mixed with the pork pan drippings, a little water, butter, and fresh, chopped tarragon.

Blue Apron pork dinner

Kinda sorta like the photo?

I’d say, overall, the meal was pretty good. Pork would have been much better if I hadn’t overcooked it (no matter whose fault it is).

To wrap up the meal evaluations – I liked the catfish dinner best of all, but it needed a starch; a little skimpy for two people. The Indian tandoori-style chicken was okay, but I’m still not a convert to Indian spices. And the French-inspired pork roast with mustard sauce and potatoes and asparagus (or beans) would have been lovely if the meat hadn’t been overcooked.

I think that for people who are really busy, but don’t mind doing a little food prep for dinner, Blue Apron is a great option. The price is reasonable. The ingredients I received were fresh and of very good quality. Preparation takes at least twenty minutes or so. It’s more involved than I expected. I have two friends, Christine and Cindy, who do this with their families and enjoy sharing the prep and spending a little time in the kitchen together before sitting down to dinner. I can see that and think that’s nice! But being alone? It’s not really all that much easier or faster than starting from scratch.

The time it took to prepare the food was one of the negatives for me. As I’ve said before, I really am tired of cooking. It was fun having meals that were totally different from anything I usually cook, but it was still time screwing around, cleaning, chopping, cooking food. I just don’t want to do that anymore. Or not as often as Blue Apron shows up.

Which brings me to the next negative – the minimum I could order would be meals for two people, three times a week. That worked out fine with the catfish, which I loved. I had it for dinner one night, then heated up the second filet and put it on a bun for a fish sandwich for lunch the next day. The chicken and the pork I just threw out because I didn’t like either one enough to eat them again.

Unfortunately, with Blue Apron you have very little say over what your meal choices will be. I did try to change one of the nights before I got that first order and it gave me an alternative – and that was it. No multiple choices. Having said that, perhaps I wasn’t approaching it correctly on the website? It seemed odd. But, that was my experience – too few choices. I’m not the most adventurous eater, so I can see it becoming an issue down the road.

While I’m not going to continue with Blue Apron, I have begun exploring other ways to find healthy meals that I don’t have to cook. I’m as sick of eating fast good and stupid things like popcorn or cereal for supper as I am of cooking! Many might say I could do with skipping a few meals – and they’d be right. But that ain’t gonna happen.

I was talking to an old acquaintance who asked me if I’d tried a local caterer that has individual meals to go in their shop, not that far from where I live. What?! I checked their website and sure enough, this place offers all kinds of meals for take-out every day but Sunday. I’ll definitely give them a try. Then I thought, what about just plain, old family style restaurants? I’m thinking Italian, in particular. Usually the portions are so big, one meal can split into two; add a salad and there’s two nights taken care of!

This will certainly be more expensive than fast food or even Blue Apron, but if the alternative is eating junk . . . I think my health is worth it.

I sincerely hope I will not be writing any more blog series about food, but if you want to know how my new approach unfolds, let me know. In the meantime, thanks for joining me on my Blue Apron adventure and bon appetit!

To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron – update

It’s Monday evening. I was going to make the last Blue Apron entree for lunch, but I wasn’t hungry.

Then I was going to make it for dinner, but now I don’t feel like cooking.

Blue Apron may be great, but what I really want is a delivery service of homemade food – already prepared and ready to eat. Not pizza. Not Chinese. Not subs or burgers or buckets of chicken. Real food, with veggies and and the whole shebang, ready to eat.

enchiladas

When it’s my turn, sometimes I will make my brother-in-law’s awesome enchiladas and add a salad and maybe a serving of Spanish rice on the side.

I’ve thought about trying to start a kind of dinner co-op. Get maybe four people together and each of us would cook once a week with enough entrees for four. On the night you cook, you deliver dinner to the other three people. On the next three nights, dinner is dropped off for you.

I would so do this. Anybody around here interested?

To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron – Part Three

It’s time to talk about my second (of three) Blue Apron dinners, and what I’ve learned about this business of having meal ingredients shipped to my house. This is a purely personal account of my own experience and should not influence your choice To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron, in any significant manner. I don’t know why I suddenly feel the need for a disclaimer, but there you go.

I received my trial box of dinners (three for the week) on Wednesday and immediately made the Nashville-Style Hot Catfish that evening. Score! I really loved that meal and recommend it with great enthusiasm if you like fish as much as I do.

But I found myself dragging my feet about preparing dinner number two:  Tandoori-Style Chicken & Rice. As I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t had great luck with Indian cuisine (though I was willing to believe that I’d visited less-than-stellar restaurants where the food did not fairly represent what Indian cooking could be).

Blue Apron Tandoori ingredients

Tandoori chicken fixin’s

The other issue is that I am admittedly lazy, and am pretty much sick of cooking. Period. I’ve been cooking for many years and live alone. So now, with no one to whine about what’s for supper and when I’m serving it, I frequently find myself saying, “Eh, screw it!” and resorting to fast food or microwave popcorn or whatever is around and requiring little or no preparation.

I realize that this is a very unhealthy way to live and thus, a shot at Blue Apron.

But did I rush to cook another meal after the resounding success of the catfish? Um, no. So, I finally forced my lazy-ass self to make the Tandoori chicken for lunch today.

Here’s a very, very important thing I learned:  not only is the protein nicely shrink-wrapped in heavy plastic to keep it fresh longer, but each serving also tells you exactly how long it keeps in the fridge before it should be put in the freezer (or tossed). The chicken was good for five days (this is day four) and the pork roast is safe for nine, so I can make that meal on Monday or Tuesday (hey – tomorrow is Mother’s Day! I’m sure as hell not cooking THEN!).

The only ingredient with the pork that may not fare well for nine days is the asparagus and I hate asparagus, anyway. I’ll cook some beans to go along with the pork and fingerling potatoes and take the asparagus to my mother tomorrow. I’m not going to try to pass it off as a Mother’s Day gift – don’t worry.

Blue Apron Tandoori dinner

Pretty darn close to the Blue Apron picture, right?

The other very, very important thing I learned is that I am more likely to be successful with this Blue Apron thing if I cook at lunch time. I’m still pretty energetic and positive-thinking at noon, and since I’m only working part time now, why not, right? Then I can have the leftovers for dinner, if the meal is any good. This is sounding better and better to me.

Just one thing:  don’t make me order any more Indian food. I’m not saying the Tandoori chicken was bad, but it just wasn’t my favorite, okay? I liked the rice with stir-fried zucchini, a little lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Did not like the little bits of mint leaves the recipe said to throw in with it. I will keep my mint consumption to Pepperidge Farm Mint Milanos, thank you. Peppermint Patties? Yeah. Not rice.

Pepperidge Farm cookies

I usually go for a plump, soft cookie, but these are really, really good!

Speaking of Pepperidge Farm, they were giving away samples of these new thin chocolate chip cookies at Giant Eagle yesterday and that little bite was so tasty, I bought a package. I think Blue Apron should include some with their dinners.

Anyway, so the rice – minus mint – was good. The chicken was spicy and strange. I could smell ginger. Maybe geraniums. Oak. I don’t know what the hell else was in that spice packet, but it was strong. I had to mix the whole packet (maybe half would be better?) with half the Greek yogurt included in the ingredients, then slather it all over the chicken breasts. What I did discover, and like, is that if you have very slim (maybe pounded?) chicken breasts, you can bake them in a 475 degree oven for just 18 minutes and they are PERFECTLY cooked.

Just leave off the yogurt and mystery spices. In my opinion.

By the way, Blue Apron forgot to include the “Persian cucumber” that was supposed to be shredded and combined with the rest of the Greek yogurt to make a cool sauce to accompany the chicken. I’m guessing whoever was packing saw the little green zucchini, mistook it for a cucumber, and passed on by without adding the cuke. The finished sauce probably would have been a lot like tzatziki (which I love with gyros), so that was a little disappointing, but not game-changing.

So here’s where we stand:  I have one more dinner to make before I decide if Blue Apron is To Be. For me. However . . . my friend Pat said that her niece and her roommate LOVE Hello Fresh, and that company offers three free meals to try, too!

I hate to break it to you, but not only will there be a To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron – Part Four, but if I decide that maybe I’m not too lazy to cook when ingredients show up on my doorstep, there may also be a follow up called something like, To Blue Apron, or to Hello Fresh!

Stay tuned. And happy Mother’s Day to mothers of every stripe.

To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron – Part Two

Wondering about having meal fixin’s delivered to your home? You’ve come to the right place to learn more about it. Or, at least you’ve come to A place where a woman who is tired of cooking is looking for ways to exert as little effort as possible to eat a tasty, healthy dinner – as opposed to settling for popcorn or a couple of bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios for supper.

I’m trying out Blue Apron, as suggested by my good friend Cindy who LOVES this service. I have one week of free (FREE!) dinners to see if Blue Apron and I are a fit. In my last post, I explained that the minimum order I could place would be three meals for two people. Also, all three meals arrive together in one box on whatever day of the week you choose.

That seems like a lot of pressure to me. But, here’s where we are at the beginning of day three (the box arrived on Wednesday).

Blue Apron scaryWednesday evening I decided to cook what I believed might be the most perishable item in the box, the Nashville-Style Hot Catfish. I put the ingredients for the other two meals in the refrigerator to prepare on successive days.

First, let me briefly describe the box. It was smaller than I expected, first of all, but the ingredients for all three meals were carefully blanketed inside a silver, quilted, insulated pouch with two layers of frozen slabs to keep the cold stuff nice and chilly. In fact, my fish was still frozen when I pulled it out to make dinner, so you might want to check on your protein before you’re ready to toss it in a pan. Screwed up my timing a little bit. Anyhoo . . . .

Blue Apron ingredients 1

All the main ingredients for Nashville-Style Hot Catfish

In addition to the proteins – I have catfish, chicken breasts, and pork tenderloin – there are cunning little containers with JUST the right amount of Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, etc. Veggies and fresh herbs come in small plastic baggies, ready to be rinsed and chopped, as directed. And small brown paper bags sealed with a sticker that says “Nashville-Style Hot Catfish knick knacks” (for example) have teensy bags of spices measured out perfectly for that particular dish.

A colorful and very easy-to-follow work sheet shows how the dish should look when finished, what ingredients are included, and step-by-step (idiot-proof) instructions on how and when to create each element of the meal. I would recommend reading the directions through once before jumping in. Blue Apron recommends that, too, which I ignored. But I thought, damn — I know how to make coleslaw! So I dumped everything together, rather than prettily sprinkling the chopped pecans on top at the end. No biggie, but it was kind of hard to find them.

Blue Apron ingredients 2

All those adorable little bags and containers of spices and stuff!

I also used the olive oil mixed with spices to grill the fish, instead of starting out with plain olive oil in the pan, then adding the spicy oil on top later. That worked out fine, too, but – I should have paid attention. It could have been a mess, I suppose.

The only ingredients I had to supply of my own, by the way, were the olive oil and salt and pepper.

Blue Apron dinner

Did I nail it, or what? Looks just like the picture!

The Nashville-Style Hot Catfish was . . . delicious! The fish was fresh and the spicy oil added some heat, but wasn’t overpowering. The apple and red cabbage slaw was, as promised, a cool, crispy accompaniment to the zesty fish. The only thing I’d add would be some sort of starch – either a piece of crusty bread or maybe toss a potato in the oven to bake before you start the Blue Apron dinner prep.

Now, I had mentioned in my previous post that I was concerned about having two servings for every meal while living alone. Well, the catfish was so good, I heated up the second piece for lunch the next day, serving it on a bun to make a spicy catfish sandwich, and ate a little more of the slaw on the side.

Nice!

But, here comes the issue . . . I planned to make the Tandoori Chicken last night, but it was kind of a busy day, and I had a bad case of the I don’t wanna’s. This happens to me regularly. I rarely cook two nights in a row because, as I said earlier, I’m just tired of cooking. I’ve been doing it for a gazillion years now (I’m old, dammit) and living alone, there’s no one around saying, “What’s for dinner, honey/mom/asshole?” I love that about my life. It’s not very healthy, food-wise, but I’d be willing to bet that practically every woman I know who is still feeding a husband and/or family on a regular basis is jealous as hell that no one EVER asks me what’s for dinner.

That shit gets old. Seriously.

So, should I stick with Blue Apron, or not? I have every intention of making the Chicken Tandoori tonight, so stay tuned. By the way, I have never in my life had Indian food that I liked. I am, nevertheless, very excited about trying this meal. It most likely will be a kind of “Indian Lite” and will be fresh, unlike the sad, lukewarm Indian buffet I tried in England that was thoroughly revolting.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll let you know how things are progressing soon in To Blue Apron or not to Blue Apron – Part Three.

To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron – Part One

Have you wondered about those food delivery programs, like HelloFresh and Blue Apron? The ones that give you all the ingredients to make your own fresh meals at home, eliminating the pain-in-the-ass trip to the grocery store, then getting home and cleaning and cutting and measuring. All the work that goes into making a home-cooked meal?

Me, too. Not only am I basically pretty lazy, I’m also tired of cooking the same damned things over and over again. So when my friend Cindy offered to sign me up for a FREE box of food to try out Blue Apron, I said COUNT ME IN, DUDE!

And now I’m here to tell you about the experience. Maybe it will help you decide if you want to sign up, too. Ready? Okay.

I soon received an email from Blue Apron telling me how to arrange for the first, FREE shipment of meals. Yes. Once again, we’re talking FREE. Who doesn’t love free, right? I learned that there are two levels from which to choose:  you must get a minimum of three meals a week if you’re only feeding two people. Or, you can lower that to two meals a week for four people. There may be other options, but to be honest, since I live alone with occasional visits from my son, Chris, I pretty much stopped at the three meals for two people option and . . . got a little worried.

What if Chris is busy (like he already is this week)? What am I supposed to do with six meals all for myself?

But, I approved the first week’s menus, clicked on the “next” tab, and learned that all of the meals arrive together in one box on a day you designate. You can choose any day from Wednesday through Saturday (they must prepare it all on Mondays and Tuesdays), but the point is – all this fresh food comes at one time. I had assumed meals would arrive on different days.

Blue Apron scary

I started panicking, just a little bit. You mean six meals will show up on my doorstep, needing more or less immediate attention, and requiring very timely consumption, on just one day? Would I need to learn how to get by each week eating six meals in three days, then maybe just not eat on the following three days? On the seventh day, perhaps I could leave the house to meet friends at a restaurant, or at the very least, order a pizza or zip through Wendy’s.

I’m leery of the commitment. I admit it.  A long-time “Everybody Loves Raymond” fan, I was immediately reminded of Marie’s concern when Raymond bought her a Fruit of the Month Club subscription for her birthday.

Will Blue Apron be a blessing, or a curse? The first box just arrived!

Join me tomorrow for “To Blue Apron, or not to Blue Apron – Part Two.”

ELR fruit of the month stillPlease click below to watch the scene on

Everybody Loves Raymond

Marie can’t understand a club (cult?!) that mails fruit to unsuspecting households every month.

Damn the DVR and pass the popcorn

A few years ago my son was home for a prolonged visit and convinced me he couldn’t  live without DVR for our TV. I had fought it for quite some time before giving in, not wanting to throw any more cash down the voracious Time Warner pie hole.

I have a hard time saying no to my boy.

So Chris taught me how it worked and for a while, it was just a novelty. Gee. I can fast forward past commercials. Nice.

Then one evening there was a show someone had recommended to me that was on past my bedtime. I know that makes me sound like a seven-year-old, but I like to go to bed early. Oh, well. I decided to record the show and thus began my free fall into . . . DVR HELL.

I quickly surmised that I could record programs 24/7 and watch them later, at will. I could follow “House Hunters International” from Budapest to Dublin, catching up on late night episodes while taking a lunch break. Lean Pocket in one hand and remote in the other, I could scroll through the guide and click “record” on every program of interest, saving them to watch later whenever I felt like it.

I discovered a passion for competition that I didn’t know was in me. I explained to Chris that “Project Runway,” “Next Iron Chef” and “Next HGTV Design Star” are my equivalent of Sunday football. He had a hard time buying that, but my argument is that it’s actually far more varied and interesting than professional sports. Here’s my take on football:  guy throws ball, guy catches ball, guy runs for a few seconds, some other guys jump on top of him. “Play” is stopped, and then they do it all over again. Big whoop.

For a while I watched skinny little girls try to out-pose each other to become “America’s Next Top Model,” and (mostly) skinny little guys lip sync for their lives in “Rue Paul’s Drag Race.” Then I discovered the ultimate in disgustingly mesmerizing and time-sucking reality genres: the REAL HOUSEWIVES.

ramona-singer-real-housewives-of-new-york-city-7-2-bravo

Ramona’s crazy eyes

I started out with “The Real Housewives of New York City.” I was captivated by the whining drama between Bethenny and Jill, by Ramona’s “turtle time” dancing and crazy eyes, by the Countess’s ill-advised disco crooning, and by speculation about Simon’s true sexual orientation. Before I knew it, I also was addicted to the bosomy blondes in Orange County and Beverly Hills, not to mention the political powder puffs prancing and preening through Washington, DC. (New Jersey and Atlanta were too much, however – even for my now-compromised taste in entertainment.)

Eventually I had to go cold turkey with the Housewives. It was like turning my back on a train wreck. But when I found myself occasionally tuning into “The Millionaire Matchmaker” and “Toddlers and Tiaras,” I had to admit I was in deep doodie.

I stopped doing anything in my free time except watching TV. My life was torn between Bravo, TLC and HGTV with occasional forays into programming on Lifetime and the Food Network. And back in the land of drama, I was recording and trying to catch up with every “Grey’s Anatomy” that ever aired (since it came on after 9:00 pm, you understand).

I had become a kind of TV crack whore.

Thank you, son. Thank you very much. Chris knows he created a monster and even begged me to drop the DVR service when he was home over the holidays. I’m too far gone now to even consider it.

I am trying to give up the truly stupid choices and have gone back to reading, but I will never, ever turn my back on “The Next Food Network Star.”

Mary and Matthew finally got married - yay!

Mary and Matthew finally got married – yay!

I will not give up PBS, which I can rationalize since watching a show where the people are speaking with an English accent always makes all Americans feel smarter. I subscribe to that theory 100% and am therefore not only allowed but am encouraging myself to continue with any episode of Masterpiece Theatre (hurray for “Downton Abbey!” hurray for “Call the Midwife!”), “Doc Martin” and “Miranda.” And Rick Steves is on PBS, and Burt Wolfe, and watching travel shows is always educational, right?

I can’t bring myself to give up “Say Yes to the Dress,” either, by the way. I hope Chris will marry one day and I will need to be ready to be the perfect mother-in-law-to-be, sitting sweetly and being supportive, if I am lucky enough to be invited to join the hunt for the perfect gown. What I have learned: don’t venture an opinion until you’ve looked at the bride’s face to see if she loves what she’s wearing. It’s her wedding, not yours. Just smile and tell her she looks beautiful if she’s in love with the dress – even if it makes her look like a gigantic cupcake.

Joan and Miss Piggy talk fashion

Joan and Miss Piggy talk fashion

I will never stop recording and watching “Fashion Police.” Joan Rivers has to be one of the funniest people alive and I may even become a Joan Ranger. I have been a huge fan of “What Not to Wear” since it began years ago and don’t even suggest I forego “Master Chef” or “Next Top Chef.” Not happening.

As I see it, reality television and DVR hasn’t been all bad for me. I’ve learned some new cooking techniques, not to mention understanding why I need to look for structured jackets when I’m clothes shopping. I made a padded headboard for my bed and know where to look for a reasonably priced apartment in Berlin, thanks to HGTV. And now that I have a second TV downstairs facing the treadmill, I can work out while learning how to make restaurant-quality entrees at home, courtesy of Ann Burrell. Yum.