Expanding Our Culinary Horizons

(Note: this is not a sponsored post, as you’ll see when I tell you we hated something… haha. I will, however, always take free food!)

Recently, like every other mom with a blog, I decided to try out a recipe/ingredient delivery service. I thought this would be a good idea because: 1) with my crazy life, I don’t have the time or mental processing available to meal plan and then shop for healthy ingredients, 2) we live in The Middle of Nowhere/a fancypants area (the mountains in the middle of the Napa Valley area) (well, up on the side of the valley really) so the nearby grocery stores are expensive and the affordable grocery stores are 45 minutes plus away, meaning the price point isn’t all that different, 3) I’d love for my family (and for myself) to try some new things, especially my Picky As All Get Out husband (who, to his credit, eats a lot more things now than he did when we first got married.) We’ve stayed subscribed for three weeks now for all of those reasons, plus as it turns out, 4) I really enjoy cooking (!!!) and look forward to my box of ingredients coming in the mail. Weird, right? However, that’s not to say that I love everything about this service, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I decided to go with the company Blue Apron for my experiment for three reasons: 1) coupon (I had one), 2) they deliver to our middle-o-nowhere location (many of the other ingredient delivery services don’t), and 3) they have vegetarian menu options every week. I’m not a vegetarian but Dan is, so this was important. That said, sometimes the non-veggie options look reaaaallly good and I’d love to try them and just use a meat substitute on Dan’s portion (we have pretty good meat substitutes for nearly all meats), but Blue Apron is really picky about your meal combinations so that’s a big downside. So far we’ve had to stick to the all-veggie menu, meaning there’s at least one meal each week that when it comes down to it, I’m the only one eating it, and that sucks/is a waste of money (especially since it tends to be a salad which doesn’t save well.) So that’s Problem #1 with this particular company.

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Ingredients for the Baked Fontina Pasta

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This is what was inside the knick knacks bag… plus a shallot

As for the benefits, I love how the food comes right to my door and is fresh and definitely not stuff I usually buy (especially since most of the produce we buy is frozen…) Like I said earlier, I enjoy making the meals, but there’s definitely a learning curve; most of the meals claim to take 45 minutes or less to make but for the first two weeks it always took me an hour (ALL THAT CHOPPING OF THE VEGGIES). I’m not a very experienced cook and I’ve found most of the recipes challenging but doable (a few of the recipes are easy, and one or two I really struggled with, but in the end everything turned out.) Oh, and one more thing: we decided to go with the two person plan versus the four person plan, which turned out to be a good idea because 90% of the meals have more than enough for three or even four people, and if they don’t you can supplement (adding a side salad/veggie/bread/whatever.)

Here are the recipes we’ve tried so far and what we thought of them:

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My dad gave me this big cast iron pan the week before we started Blue Apron and now I use it all the time (even though BA literally says in every recipe “In a nonstick pan…”)

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Looking at this makes me want to eat it again! Also, the bread wasn’t part of the recipe but we decided we needed it.

Week 1: Baked Fontina Pasta, Salvadoran Black Bean & Cheese Pupusas, Smoky Beluga Lentils

The Baked Fontina Pasta was the first thing we tried and everyone LOVED it! It has brussel sprouts in it which I didn’t think anyone would like, but we all nommed them right up. The lentils were a little TOO smoky for our tastes; if I made them again I’d use half the seasoning. The pupusas were delicious but difficult to make; that said, Damien and I made that whole meal together (Dan doesn’t like beans so it was kind of pointless for him) and it was a really fun experience. He actually chopped some veggies and helped with every step in the process that didn’t involve the stove. The cabbage and radish curtido that came with the pupusas was AMAZING and I will totally make it again. (Note: every meal comes with a full color, step-by-step recipe guide with pictures, which is great to keep and use again, EXCEPT some of the ingredients are super rare or just a collection of spices it would be difficult to track down, so not all of them are reproducible without Blue Apron. Also, as I demonstrated via link, the recipes are all online as well.)

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Everything that went into the lentils. Except that oven mitt. I generally try not to serve my family oven mitts.

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Rowen duel wielding some carrots

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As you can see here, the major difference between their lentils and my lentils is mine were chock full of greens that refused to shrivel up like good greens should, and instead left me chewing and chewing forever… and I didn’t even put all of them in!

Week 2: Mushroom & Vegetable Pot Pie, Warm Golden Beet & Freekah Salad, Whole Wheat Spaghetti Carbonara

Well, there was no crust on the pot pie which was disappointing for me. (There were, however, delicious biscuits on top.) Also, I like mushrooms but there were just too many mushrooms in the pie for me. I would have preferred more vegetables or maybe some potatoes in there, and if I made it again I’d substitute maybe 2/3rds of the mushrooms for something else. The beet salad was surprisingly yummy. I’m not into beets nor am I into warm salad and I still really, really liked it… unfortunately, no one else in my family would go near it, so there’s $8 down the drain (the leftovers weren’t nearly as good.) (Hint for this one: use ALL THE GOAT CHEESE IT IS SUPER DELICIOUS.) The spaghetti, unsurprisingly, was tasty and a hit – it’s hard to go wrong with pasta.

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This really doesn’t look all that tasty or professional, but it’s my only photo from this week. Also I don’t have a pie dish. Does that mean I’m not a real grown-up?

Week 3: Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Broccoli & Fregola Salad, Spiced Chickpea Burgers

The first food I made was the chickpea burgers with a side of roasted sweet potato and chickpeas, and holy crap I cannot overstate how delicious and yummy and amazing this meal was. I want to make it once a week for the rest of my life. I also found this recipe more challenging (getting the burger to stick together mainly) so I’ll have to make it on my own and see if I can perfect that. (For the record, Dan really liked this one too, Rowen LOVED the sweet potatoes, and Damien refused to eat so we can’t really take his opinion into consideration since he doesn’t have one.) The Japanese sweet potatoes were also surprisingly good, albeit no match for the burgers. I kept thinking “I don’t know about this” while making the Japanese meal but maybe that’s because I’m unfamiliar with (an American take on) Japanese food; in the end it all turned out good (despite me almost dumping a pan of sweet potatoes on the floor. Oops.) Initially I thought no one would like the pasta salad but me, so I ended up making it for my parents when they were in town, but actually Dan liked it – and no wonder; it was super delicious! This was definitely my favorite week thus far.

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Damien’s plate versus my plate, haha – this was Japanese sweet potato night

Week 4: Brown Butter Spaetzle, Potato & Leek Chowder, Baby Fennel, Grapefruit, and Almond SaladΒ 

This week was rather disappointing. I actually didn’t like the spaetzle at all, which may be a betrayal to my German heritage but it was just boring, and the apple was not a good addition. I didn’t even save the paper version of the recipe this time because there was just no rescuing it. The chowder was good, although we all added cheese and I found it much better that way. Finally, the salad was fine but not all that exciting – it was my least favorite salad thus far. This week was especially sad considering how good last week was…

Next week our menu is Spring Bucatini Pasta (which looks amazing and will probably be a whole house hit, because pasta), Oven Braised Tandoori Cauliflower (I’m ehh on cauliflower but I know it’s good in recipes so I’ll give it a chance), and Miso Tofu Shirataki Noodles (looks fun and also yum). I’m really excited about it, especially after this past week which was kind of a dud.

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