By Ann | July 27, 2015
Oh, hi! I know, I disappeared there for while. Was I on vacation? Nope. I’ve been here in New York, sweating it out on streets that smell like garbage, locked in a routine of métro-boulot-dodo that allowed me to make a great leap forward with my new novel… but offered no time for blogging. But even though I haven’t been able to document my kitchen activity, I have been cooking and discovering some wonderful recipes from ye olde internets. I’ve been wanting share my new favorite recipe links for a while, if only to gather them all in one place so that I can stop Googling every time I want to cook. Ready? Here we go:
Ever since I discovered how to cook this Roman classic (pictured above), our Saturday family lunches have become so successful. My friend Mike from the blog, Squared Meals, says “this is the first dish that got [his] kids really excited about food” — and if you ever meet his adorable, corkscrew-curled, three-year-old, identical twin girls, they will tell you that their favorite thing to eat is “bucatini.” My method combines Mike’s recipe with the one found in Elizabeth Minchilli’s fantastic book that I keep banging on about, Eating Rome. In complete defiance of Mike and Elizabeth, who both sternly call for guanciale, I use bacon (sorry, guys); once it’s rendered I add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan to sauté the onions. The sauce requires a long simmer until the tomatoes and onions disintegrate, but from there the dish is a snap. I usually serve half the sauce right away, mixed with half a pound of bucatini, and save the rest for a midweek dinner.
These savory pancakes are kind of like a cross between falafel and socca, made from a base of chickpeas and tahini. The recipe comes from the lovely Dorie Greenspan, who suggests serving them as a festive first course, drizzled with tahini mayonnaise and topped with a simple salad. I liked them that way, but I absolutely loved the leftovers as a brown bag lunch. I warmed a couple of pancakes in the office microwave and slid them into a toasted pita with sliced avocado and cheddar. You could make a batch of these for the freezer, and keep them on hand for lunch or dinner emergencies.
DIY Shake Shack burger
It depends on your preferences, but me, I’m a thin-patty, salty, smushy, American cheeseburger kind of girl. Honestly, my heart belongs to In-N-Out, but here in New York, Shake Shack fills the void. Alas, our outpost is slightly too far for convenient takeout. Well, praise be to the burger gods, this recipe from Smitten Kitchen gives precise steps to make your own “smash-style” burger at home. Friends, I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best burger that I have ever cooked: savory, with a chewy, rough-textured crust, and a juicy medium-rare center that soaks the bun. It’s so good, I don’t even care that my stove ended up covered in greasy spatter, or that my forearms are still healing from hot oil burns.
IF your almost-two-year-old finally gives up the bottle, only to go on a milk strike, and IF you decide, in all your parenting wisdom, to entice her back to the cow juice by making chocolate milk. But IF you don’t want to give her high-fructose corn syrup — because you’re already feeling plenty guilty about starting her day with chocolate — THEN you MIGHT like Food52’s recipe for homemade chocolate syrup, which is rich and chocolatey, easy to make, calls for ingredients that are probably already in your pantry, and stores well in the fridge. This is all completely hypothetical, of course.
Ancho [insert bean here] tacos
This recipe turns cooked lentils into taco filling, with the addition of a sautéed onion, some hot sauce, and the Post Punk Kitchen’s homemade taco seasoning (which is just a mix of spices you probably have in your cupboard). But the true secret is, you can use any type of bean—I regularly substitute a can of black beans, which I crush in the pan with a potato masher. I also skip the tomato paste, because I never seem to have any on hand. Here’s how I make a fast, healthy, taco dinner: 1) Prepare the beans. 2) Cut up an avocado. Crumble some fresh goat cheese. I don’t even use a serving plate—I simply “arrange” these latter two items on a cutting board. 3) Warm two corn tortillas directly on the gas flame. 4) Dollop 1-2 tablespoons of the bean mixture on the tortillas, add a slice of avocado, some goat cheese, a splash of Cholula hot sauce. 5) Fold and eat. Repeat.
After I got a waffle iron for Christmas, I futzed around with a few recipes but once I discovered this one from The Kitchn, I abandoned all others. These crisp waffles have a lovely, round, malty flavor. They’re made from a yeast batter, which rises overnight, so you have to plan in advance, but they’re are worth the extra effort. If you follow the recipe in the link, the waffles will have a chewy, crunchy, dense texture. But one Friday night — after a lively happy hour with friends — I threw this batter together… and accidentally left out an entire cup of flour. The next morning, the batter looked strange and thin, but my dad convinced me to make the waffles anyway. Lo and behold, they turned out remarkably crisp and light — even better than the original recipe! To make the waffles MY way, follow the recipe but use: 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar.
Spicy cilantro-mint chicken kebabs
I’m always looking for recipes that use a great quantity of herbs at once because I buy delicate bunches for one recipe and they turn black and slimy before I can use them for another. This recipe from Mallika Basu blends cilantro, mint, onion, ginger, garlic, and some other stuff into a spicy pesto-like marinade that she slathers on chicken thighs and drumsticks before baking. But I don’t like dark meat, so I made chicken kebabs. I plunged cubes of chicken breast into the marinade and left them in the fridge all day. That evening, I threaded the cubes onto skewers and cooked them in my grill pan. I’m not sure if it was the high heat, or the long marinade, but it was some of the tenderest, tastiest chicken I’ve eaten in a long time.
What are you cooking this summer?
By Ann | July 20, 2015
A couple of years ago, my handbag was stolen at an autoroute rest stop in the Ardèche. It happened in an instant: I got up from the table to fetch a napkin, a woman tapped my friend on the shoulder, distracted her with a few scattered dollar bills—poof!—the bag was gone. I lost my passport, cell phone, camera, the keys to the rental car. My pride. The things were quickly replaced. But it took a while for my confidence to return.
Ever since that incident, I’ve been curious about travel scams. Recently, I spoke to Christophe Gadenne (pictured above), a former Paris policeman and the founder of Safety Scouts, a free web series of short videos aimed at preventing tourist crime and fraud. “Working at a precinct in Paris, I met so many victims,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help them.” He began producing short videos, each one focusing on a specific crime, as a way to educate travelers. “Most tourist scams are surprisingly simple and relatively easy to avoid,” he says. “The best way to detect and avoid them is to be informed about them before someone tries one on you.” Today, he reveals the top five tourist scams in Paris and how to avoid them.
By Ann | June 25, 2015
The other day I made these cheese pastries and Lucy, aged 22 months, actually broke into applause!
I first saw the recipe on my friend Esther’s Instagram feed, and I couldn’t rest until I’d made a batch for myself. They are wickedly delicious and, because they use packaged puff pastry, a snap to whip together.
I used Dufour Classic Puff Pastry dough, purchased at Whole Foods. It’s made with pure butter, astonishingly delicious, and better than any packaged pâte feuilletée I’ve found in France. I found the hardest part of this recipe was cutting the dough into even squares. Make sure everything is well-chilled, and use a piece of trimmed parchment paper as a guide.
You can experiment with the filling, using the cheeses you like, or whatever you have on hand. Esthy’s mixture combines grated mozzarella, parmesan, and American muenster cheese, which is mild, salty, soft and insanely melty (and not to be confused with Alsatian munster, so stinky it sometimes gets its own knife on the cheese board). Combine the cheeses with a beaten egg and top each square of dough with a spoonful of filling. Fold, crimp, brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds and salt flakes, et voilà! After 25 minutes in the oven—during which time the scent of butter will fill your home—you might also burst into applause.
I like to accompany these bourekas with a green salad (to stave off guilt) for a quick and delicious lunch. But if you’re almost two, and you don’t have the molars/palate for lettuce, cherry tomatoes (“may-toes”) are another lovely counterpoint. By the way, leftover cheese pastries make a terrific, celebratory breakfast—just warm them for a few minutes in the oven so that the filling softens and the pastry turns hilariously flaky.
In the family meal trenches, there aren’t a lot of unequivocal hits, but this one is a complete and total WIN.
Adapted from Esther Abramowicz of Cumin, Beet, & Chocolate
Makes 12 small pastries
1 14-oz package puff pastry dough, defrosted overnight in the fridge (look for 100% all-butter pastry)
1/2 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Muenster cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Sesame seeds and/or fleur de sel for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, add the cheeses and one egg, mix until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Cut the dough into even squares. I used a piece of parchment paper as a guide to make 12 small squares.
In a small dish, beat the second egg. Divide the cheese mixture between the pastry squares, about one tablespoon per square. Seal each boureka by dipping a finger into the beaten egg, and running it around the edges of the square. Fold the edges to form a triangle and use a fork to crimp the sides. Brush with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds and fleur de sel, if desired.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden, and firm and dry to the touch. Do not under bake.
Note: If I have leftover beaten egg, I make it into a small omelette for a cook’s treat!
Here’s what happens when you make this recipe.
By Ann | June 7, 2015
There are so many, many signs in England, I noticed during a recent visit. From sidewalks, to shop windows, to clifftop trails, to, well, anywhere you can post something, no opportunity to offer information goes unseized. “We like to be told what to do,” says my friend, Steve, who hails from central England. Here are some favorite signs from my four-day trip—yes, only four days! And yet so many signs!
Blatantly ignored by several people eating take-away fish-and-chips.
Points for vocab.
As opposed to other areas? (Steve did not find this sign unusual in any way.)
By Ann | May 27, 2015
With summer off to a roaring start, I thought I’d share some favorite new books of the season. They’re a mix of fiction and nonfiction, some are written by friends, and many are about food. Any of them would be the perfect companion for a lazy afternoon :)
The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
This is a novel about half sisters, family secrets, broken hearts, and second chances. It’s about 16-year-old Willow—beautiful, brilliant and sheltered—her much-older half-sister Taisy, who hasn’t been home for 17 years, and their brilliant, imperious jerk of a father, Wilson, who might be nursing a tender hope for a second (or third) chance. I love Marisa’s quirky, lovable characters—and I was completely charmed by this witty, intelligent book, which features (oddly enough) Middlemarch as an apt metaphor!
Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner
I was completely hooked by this novel, which portrays the rags-to-riches tale of designer Gabrielle Chanel, a woman who rose to astonishing heights despite her impoverished childhood, gender, and (often) acrid personality. Christopher’s insights into Coco’s psychology helped me understand some of her decisions, even as I sometimes shook my head in disappointment. Coco made hard choices and they weren’t always right or moral. I think this book would provoke a wonderful book club discussion.
The World on a Plate by Mina Holland
I usually travel to eat, but author Mina Holland does the opposite—she eats to travel. In this collection of essays, she examines global cuisine, swooping across five continents, and including anecdotes, trivia, and recipes. Here are a couple of fun facts I learned from the book:
“Darjeeling black tea is known as the ‘Champagne of teas’ for its fine grapy flavors, which enhance the taste of more or less any given food.”
“Suet has a high melting point, which means that, over the course of a long, slow steaming period, it imparts moistness without making the pudding too dense.”
In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis (on sale June 16)
This is a memoir and cookbook all rolled into one, complete with practical tips, delicious recipes, and real stories from real people. Susan’s anecdotes are funny and charming and she offers a wonderful guide for producing honest, simple, and chic meals, à la française. I especially liked her easy-to-digest lists, which are a mixture of sensible tricks and folklore. For example, here are a few of “Mamie’s Rules for Life”:
“Have a fever? Drink thyme tisane and go to bed.”
“Make dessert first.”
“Add butter to vegetables right before you serve them; then you can really taste it.”
That’s Not English by Erin Moore
“A lifelong Anglophile, Erin Moore was born and raised in Florida, where the sun shines and all the tea is iced.” And so begins the tale of my friend Erin, who moved to London and learned an entirely new language. Her hilarious examination of the seemingly superficial differences between British and American vocabulary opens a can of worms wriggling with historic and cultural differences.
Re Jane by Patricia Park
In this retelling of Jane Eyre, the narrator is a young Korean-American woman finding her way in New York City and Seoul. Funny, moving, and—more than anything—a love letter to Queens, I read it in a gulp and laughed out loud several times.
1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die by Mimi Sheraton
“This book is my autobiography, or at least a very big part of it,” says Mimi Sheraton. After 60 years of writing about food, she has assembled this collection of dishes from around the globe: must-eat mouthfuls to seek and/or dream about. With encyclopedic knowledge, recipes, and helpful addresses, this is an excellent book to inspire (or inform) your next vacation.
Have you discovered any good books lately? I’m currently reading All the Light We Cannot See.
(Top image from Jackie Clark Mancuso.)
By Ann | May 19, 2015
Artist and author Jackie Clark Mancuso doesn’t fool around in the kitchen. Her recipe for pasta with cherry tomatoes came together so quickly that I actually sat on the couch and read my book before dinner! Today, I’m thrilled to share her delicious, lightening-quick recipe and favorite fast meal ideas.
Jackie is the author and illustrator of two darling children’s books. Paris-Chien tells the tale of her adorable Norwich terrier, Hudson, as he adjusts to life as an “expat dog” in France. She continues his adventures in Hudson in Provence (just released!), which sees the young pup summering in the south of France and inspired by the beauty. Though Jackie currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and Hudson, the books were inspired by her Paris sabbatical. Jackie’s drawings are absolutely charming and Hudson is a winning narrator. (Lucy is a HUGE fan!) Today I’m delighted to welcome Jackie and share her quick cooking tips!
On her weeknight routine:
“We’ll have a glass of wine and snack on carrots / olives / pistachios / pâté while we throw together a simple salad or pasta from ingredients we have on hand. We normally follow with cheese. And maybe some fruit in season.”
On food as art:
“I enjoy making a salade composée with leftovers. It might be roasted radicchio, beets, a spoon of burrata or some cubes of feta, a few anchovies, sliced tomatoes. For me it’s painting with food.”
Three quick salads:
1) Arugula with a can of sardines on top, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
2) Belgian endive with bleu d’auvergne, dressed with olive oil and champagne vinegar I get from Monsieur Marcel French grocery.
3) Arugula, radicchio, endive with homemade mustard vinaigrette.
On ad-libbing with pasta:
“While the water is boiling, we’ll sauté some garlic in olive oil. Add a pint of halved cherry tomatoes, capers, olives if we have them, tinned anchovies if we’re in the mood. We improvise. This also makes a terrific sauce for pan-roasted fish. Even quicker and just as delicious is cooked pasta topped with fresh breadcrumbs that have been sautéed with minced garlic or anchovies.”
Combine, roast, combine:
“Roast vegetables in the oven with olive oil and salt on a large old cookie sheet. My favorites are radicchio, Brussels sprouts, red and yellow peppers, halved roma tomatoes.”
On cooking for one:
“When I’m dining alone, I eat everything out of bowls, usually in front of the TV. A bowl of granola, a bowl of popcorn, a bowl of ice cream, a bowl of herring in sour cream, a bowl of scrambled eggs sprinkled with leftover anchovy breadcrumbs. Not all at the same meal. But sometimes more than one.”
Her foolproof time-saving cooking tip:
“Make enough to have leftovers. Most dishes taste even better the next day anyway.”
Pasta with cherry tomatoes
Adapted from a recipe by Jackie Clark Mancuso
“I first fell in love with this pasta when my friend Mari made it for us in San Francisco,” says Jackie. “Adapted from an Alice Waters recipe, it’s best with homegrown or farmer’s market tomatoes and basil. The crunch of the coarse breadcrumbs is essential. I make them quickly in a food processor then hot skillet with just a little olive oil.”
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, made from a sturdy country loaf
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling (optional)
Slice the tomatoes in half. Cut the basil leaves into a chiffonade. In a large bowl, squish the halved tomatoes with your hands. Stir in the basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Allow this mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes, or up to 2 hours.
Cook the pasta using your usual method, until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Toast the breadcrumbs, stirring until golden.
When the spaghetti is finished cooking, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain and add it to the tomato mixture, tossing together with dashes of the pasta water, if necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the crushed garlic clove. Serve sprinkled with toasted fresh breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, if desired.
(Non-pasta images from Jackie Clark Mancuso.)
By Ann | May 15, 2015
For someone who spends a lot of time in France, I eat an awful lot of Italian food. Even when I’m in France, I’m cooking/eating/researching/dreaming about Italian food. I’ve tried to analyze why—is it the sinuous pleasure of that final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil? Is Parmagiano Reggiano addictive?—but really who has the time for analysis when the carbonara’s calling? Sizzle up some pork fat, I’m hungry.
I never tire of eating my favorite Italian dishes, so I was thrilled to bits when I received a copy of Elizabeth Minchilli’s new book Eating Rome. I first met Elizabeth in 2011, when my Italian publisher invited me to Rome; we were fellow panelists on several book talks. She was so friendly and warm, so generous about helping to translate in a pinch—so knowledgeable about Roman food—that I immediately purchased her Eat Italy app on iTunes because I wanted to spend the rest of my visit stuffing my face at all her favorite trattorie. Now, she’s published this marvelous volume, a cookbook and guidebook rolled into one, sandwiched together with her personal anecdotes and cheerful advice. If you are planning a trip to Rome, this must-have book will lead you to Elizabeth’s favorite markets, restaurants, cafés, gelato shops, and more. If, like me, you are simply dreaming of planning a trip to Rome, this book is a must-have for her fantastic recipes.
Since receiving the book two weeks ago, I have already made Elizabeth’s carbonara (fantastic), minestrone (fantastic), pasta al forno (fantastic), and cacio e pepe (once I figured out the secret—sublime). “We’ve been eating a lot of rigatoni,” said my husband. “Honey, it’s Elizabeth’s favorite pasta,” I said. I mean, Elizabeth has become my new idol. Guess what? She also hates making fresh pasta. She also loves artichokes—so much that she devotes an entire chapter to them, with recipes. She also struggled with feeding her kids—if, by kid, you actually mean “dog.” Elizabeth has two daughters who eat everything. Her pup’s actually the picky eater of the family.
Because my life’s passion is poking my nose into home kitchens and asking relentless questions about family recipes, I quickly gravitated towards the chapter entitled “Cooking like Mama.” The mama in question is Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, a fantastic cook who lives in Puglia (which sounds like food-lover’s paradise). Like the Italian granny of my dreams, Nonna Minchilli has her own recipe for meatballs, and after reading about her secret ingredient, I had to try them. What can I say? Like everything other recipe in this book, they were spectacular.
Elizabeth Minchilli’s Italian mother-in-law’s meatballs
Adapted from Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli
*Note: Olive oil plays a bigger role in Italian cuisine than I originally suspected. “It’s not just a vehicle for softening the garlic or onion in a dish,” says Elizabeth. “But is one of the main ingredients that give body and texture, not to mention taste.” Here, it’s the secret ingredient that emulsifies the savory mixture.
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 cup grated onion (I just grated half an onion for as long as I could stand it, before it disintegrated and I felt like I needed a chemical burn eye flush)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minched
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for frying the meatballs)
1 28-oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
In a large bowl, combine the pork, beef, turkey, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, egg and 1/4 cup olive oil. Form the mixture into meatballs, about the size of unshelled walnuts.
In a large skillet with high sides, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the skillet, about 8 at a time—don’t overcrowd them. Brown them, using a spoon or chef’s tongs to turn the meatballs until they are golden all over. Remove from the pan, and repeat with the rest of the meatballs, adding more oil if necessary.
Add the tomatoes to the skillet and scrape up any bits of browned meat. Bring the sauce to a simmer and return the meatballs (and any juices) to the skillet. Cover with the lid halfway and simmer until the tomatoes have softened and broken up and the liquid has slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.
By Ann | May 4, 2015
I first met Elizabeth Bard in Paris, when we shared a plate of duck tongues and swapped book publishing experiences. She had just published a food memoir, Lunch in Paris, and given birth to a baby boy, and I remember feeling quite awestruck by her unflappable calm. A few months after our lunch, Elizabeth and her husband, Gwendal, moved to a small village in Provence. I followed their news on Facebook as they opened an artisanal ice cream parlor, but I was curious to learn more about their adjustment to country life, and adventures raising a Franco-American son. Happily, Elizabeth has gifted all who loved her first, romantic book with a second volume. Picnic in Provence is a heartfelt ode to her new home, as well as an honest portrayal of motherhood. I loved it.
I was lucky enough to read an early galley of the book for a blurb. Here is what I said: “I was entranced by Picnic in Provence from Elizabeth Bard’s very first encounter with spring asparagus in the French countryside. Her tale of delicious adventure left me drooling—and her sensitive thoughts on marriage and motherhood were like a heartfelt conversation with a true friend. A delightful book, filled with humor, heart, and the heady scent of lavender.”
One of things I loved most about the book is the romantic way Elizabeth and Gwendal discover their new home. While on a pre-baby vacation, they decide to trace the footsteps of one of Gwendal’s heroes, the WWII resistance leader and poet René Char. After bit of delicate (yet dogged) investigation, they discover that Char’s home is actually for sale—and that his heirs hope a young family will buy it and settle in the village. This bit of kismet provides just the impetus Gwendal and Elizabeth need to make a GIGANTIC leap from Parisians to Provençals. They celebrate in the best way: with a picnic! Each chapter ends with a flurry of enticing recipes, including this simple, light and lemony tahini dip, which Elizabeth pairs with the first spring asparagus. It’s a fitting start to her tale of new motherhood, new professional passions (including entrepreneurship!), and new kitchen adventures (many of which involve frozen desserts :) If you love stories about France and food, you’ll love Elizabeth’s new book.
Asparagus with tahini sauce
Adapted from Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard
*Note: Elizabeth says this sauce is “an alternative to hollandaise,” and she pairs it with steamed asparagus and poached salmon. I roasted my asparagus and doctored the sauce so that it’s a bit more fluid. If you prefer a thicker sauce, replace the plain yogurt with the Greek variety and omit the olive oil.
1 1/2 lbs asparagus (look for thin stems)
2 tablespoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (whole milk is best)
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Wash the asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the asparagus stalks in a single layer, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss gently to combine. Roast for 10 minutes, or until stalks are bright green and tender.
Prepare the sauce. In a medium, non-reactive bowl whisk together the tahini and lemon juice. Whisk in both kinds of yogurt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Serve the asparagus warm, or at room temperature, with a generous dollop of sauce.
By Ann | April 28, 2015
First, let’s review the facts:
– I really like to cook.
– But after a full day of work and baby wrangling, I don’t have a lot of energy left.
– I try to create a weekly meal plan and do all the grocery shopping in one fell swoop.
– Creating a weekly meal plan and doing all the grocery shopping in one fell swoop makes me feel like a cranky old fuddy-duddy. Like a MOM.
– Lately I’ve been stuck in a cooking rut, plodding along on well-worn path of chili, soup, pasta with broccoli, and other similar wholesome dishes that I am completely sick of.
After seeing rave reviews on social media, I decided to shake up my kitchen routine by trying out Blue Apron. This is a weekly meal delivery service that sends a refrigerated box containing pre-portioned ingredients, as well as illustrated recipe cards that tell you how to cook everything. My box contained three meals for two people, for $59.99. Please note, this is not a sponsored post—thanks to a friend’s reference, I got the first box free, but I wanted to give the service a fair shot, so I paid for the second week myself.
The first box arrived on Friday night. The ingredients for each meal were precisely measured and wrapped, but the produce was unwashed. I loved the healthy infusion of leafy vegetables, but lordy, there is nothing I hate more than washing and drying sandy greens. For five of the six meals, I faced the tedious task of rinsing and patting spinach, kale, or Bibb lettuce. (Yes, I considered skipping this step—I often buy pre-washed spinach or kale to save time—but an email from Blue Apron instructed me to “wash all fruits and vegetables before cooking.”)
Here’s what I made:
–Chile-blackened cod with epazote, avocado, and red rice salad (stated cooking time: 25-35 minutes; me: 50 minutes).
–Pan-seared chicken verjus with pearled barley and mushrooms à la Grècque (stated cooking time: 35-45 minutes; me: 1 hour, 20 minutes).
–Roasted Japanese sweet potatoes with miso-dressed spinach and candied cashews (pictured above) (stated cooking time: 25-35 minutes; me: 45 minutes).
–Lemon and black pepper shrimp with fresh linguine, and fava leaves (stated cooking time: 15-25 minutes; me: 45 minutes).
–Spiced turkey meatball pitas with sugar snap peas and Bibb lettuce salad (stated cooking time 25-35 minutes; me: 1 hour).
–Pan seared steaks with green peppercorn sauce, creamed spinach, and roasted fingerling potatoes (stated cooking time 25-35 minutes; me: 35 minutes — and only because I didn’t wash the spinach).
What I liked:
I enjoyed using new ingredients like white miso paste, red rice, epazote (a strong herb), fresh fava leaves, pickled green peppercorns, and the greatest flavor boost of all time, chicken or beef demi-glace (where can I buy this stuff, I want to mainline it).
I learned a few new techniques, like quick-candying cashews to add sweet crunch to salad. I also learned that two teaspoons of olive oil is enough to sauté almost anything.
I appreciated the partial break from meal planning and grocery shopping. I say “partial” because I try to cook at least five dinners a week, so I still had two nights to fill.
What I didn’t like:
The meals took way too much time to cook—especially for only two portions. I missed having leftovers for lunch the next day.
Sometimes the portions were too small. For example, the shrimp linguine meal offered only 3 oz of fresh pasta per person—we had to supplement with bread. After the turkey meatballs, my husband woke up hungry in middle of the night.
Though ingredients came pre-measured, I still had to wash the veg, peel and mince garlic and/or ginger, pluck herbs—e.g. all my least favorite kitchen tasks
Because the meals are designed for “quick” preparation, they’re limited to certain techniques. While the flavors and cuisines varied, every meal seemed to feature similar basic building blocks of sautéed fish or meat, boiled grain, roasted or sautéed veg. Also, the recipe instructions specify an awful lot of washing and reusing of the same sauté pan. I’m not sure if Blue Apron thinks its customers only own one pan? But if speed is the goal, it’s certainly faster to cook several items simultaneously.
To cancel the service, you have to send an email request and wait. Once I received Blue Apron’s response, the instructions were easy to follow, but the process could (should?) be more straightforward and easier to find on the website.
Would I sign up again?
Honestly, no. The meals took too long to prepare and produced too little food for the amount of time and money invested. This could be a good service for people who really don’t like (or know how) to cook, but for me it missed the mark. I may dislike meal planning, but it turns out I like my kitchen independence.
By Ann | April 13, 2015
Two sweet things happened this weekend. First, I made baked these blueberry banana muffins—my third batch since the new year. I’m not sure why I’ve been keeping these muffins a secret because they’re lovely, lightly sweet with a crumb that manages to be tender and nutty at the same time. They’re not health muffins—the recipe contains butter, eggs, sugar, and gluten—but they use these ingredients in moderation. Let’s be honest, muffins are cake, but these taste wholesome.
The nutty bite comes from whole wheat flour and a scoop of that wheat germ that’s been hanging out in my cupboard since this post. The rest of the recipe is pretty typically cake/muffin-like: beaten butter, sugar, eggs, milk, mashed bananas, and a cup of frozen blueberries to keep things moist. By the way, if your brown sugar dries to an impenetrable rock like mine does, here’s a kitchen tip: store it in the freezer! It defrosts in a minute to a perfectly moist, packable texture.
I like to keep these muffins in the freezer, and pull them out on mornings that seem otherwise grim. Thirty seconds in the microwave softens both their crumb and my mood—every day starts better with a muffin! And aside from the fact that they are like a cakey Prozac equivalent, my other favorite part about these muffins is that they come together so quickly. An hour of baking left me plenty of time for the second sweet event of the weekend: A trip to Brooklyn with the baby to visit some of my best friends and their babies.
There were swings, bouncy bridges, a long interlude moving sticks and pebbles around a hollow tree, and a little girl who couldn’t get enough of the big, twisty slide. “Again! Again!”
Blueberry banana muffins
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Note: Overripe bananas and my desire to make muffins never seem to coincide. So, when a banana turns black, I peel it and pop it in the freezer. It defrosts and mashes beautifully.
Makes 16 muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. In a bowl, combine the flours, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. In a separate bowl, use a potato masher to crush the bananas. Stir in the milk and vanilla.
Using a wooden spoon, alternately add the flour mixture and banana mixture to the butter mixture. Fold in the frozen blueberries.
Divide batter among the muffins cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a chopstick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean. Repeat with the remaining batter (I usually get 16 muffins from one batch).