In or Out of the Box?

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Enclosure for our first batch of Blue Apron meals

While I’m peering into a box of Blue Apron meals, Andy is focused on thinking inside AND outside of the box in Andy’s Corner.

There’s been lots of discussion amongst family and friends about the merits of food delivery services such as Blue Apron. Because Andy and I are always ready to have a few nights without thinking about meal-planning, we jumped at the chance to have three nights of Blue Apron meals. Not only is it fun to see how others are eating, but we really wanted to test it. How delicious are the meals? How clever and compact is the packaging? How time consuming are they to prepare? How appropriate for just one person? How healthy?

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Travis & Hannah’s Blue Apron meal in Brooklyn

Between our Brooklyn kiddos, Travis and Hannah, and us we can report on about 9 Blue Apron meals, and our experiences have been pretty positive – almost everything was tasty; the packaging, though still big and heavy is not as environmentally unfriendly as it originally was; everything looks beautiful and fresh; and I would guess the meals, which include ample vegetarian options, are healthier than what many folks eat.

Travis, our son, who did all the Blue Apron meal-fixing at their place, found that their explicit instructions, including videos, made the meal prep do-able for a even a novice cook.  Now Travis is ready to branch out on his own.  I liked having new meals to try – a pleasant change from our normal dining routine (or shall I say rut? Remember to visit Andy’s Corner).  Plus, the cost seems relatively reasonable; as of November 2017 it was about $10 per meal per person.

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Another Blue Apron meal from Travis & Hannah

As we piled bags from the grocery store into our car the other day, knowing that a high percent would go to waste before we used it up (think wilted parsley, floppy carrots, moldy cheese, stale bread), not having extra seemed like maybe a bright idea.  Plus, without grocery-shopping, we’d have had an extra hour or two to garden or read or bicycle or be annoyed with our two cats or play with Oakley, our Aussie.

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Not only do we get annoyed with our two cats, OnoMoore (on the right) doesn’t tolerate much from ChocoLatte (on the left) .  Oakley, the Aussie, puts up with both of them.

Speaking of Oakley, when Andy was at the dog park with Oakley, he met a Blue Apron fan who says it’s perfect for a single person, because each meal will be enough for two dinners (a footnote: the smallest Blue Apron order you can make will be for 3 different meals, each enough for 2 people – all delivered in one box).

WAIT – am I trying to talk you out of doing it all yourself?  Am I going over to the dark side? Am I being two-faced (no political commentary intended)?   Am I getting paid by Blue Apron for my kind remarks? (Dream on!)

Here’s the downside to BA, as we see it: an ordering system that can result in unexpected meals, if you didn’t “cancel” for a given week; a heavy delivery box with components that need to be cleaned and returned, if you want to really recycle; an occasional missed delivery or missed ingredient; no left-overs – unless you’re cooking for one, and a prep time that might be longer than you want for the easiest of meals.

We still plan to enjoy Blue Apron’s meal delivery now and then – we’ve got another go-around scheduled for this week, but on a regular basis, we generally aim to SIMPLIFY our own meals.  Simple ingredients, simple prep, simple meal, simple clean-up, and simply wonderful left-overs.

Here are a few recipes that I’d would like to propose as an alternative to Blue Apron. There’s not lots of chopping and dicing, not lots of pans or bowls to clean, not lots of shopping for rarely-used ingredients and the meals are quickly prepared.   Plus, you can enjoy the leftovers.  Speaking of leftovers, this very week The Washington Post published an article on how fewer leftovers are being consumed – and why that’s a bad situation.  Read it in Food for Thought.

My grandmother, Mom Hill, fixed a breaded chicken breast recipe that all of her grandchildren loved.  But I’m really finding chicken breasts flavorless these days, so I wanted to try something similar with a pork chop.  I don’t believe panko crumbs were readily available back then or I’m sure my grandmother would have used them.

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Oven Roasted Pork Chops with Broccoli (and Beans)

Oven Roasted Pork Chops with Broccoli

  • Servings: 2
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This is so quick and easy to prepare!  If you want leftovers, simply add another pork chop or two.  Roasting the chops for a short time in the oven results in a moister chop than finishing them on the stove top.  If you have Tony’s Seasoning (which, of course, we ALWAYS do), a little sprinkle on the chops would be great. Rewarm leftovers in a 425 degree oven for about 8 minutes (best) or microwave (just okay).

Ingredients

  • olive oil for the broccoli and frying the chops
  • 2  boneless pork chops, about 1″ thick (look for ones that have some fatty streaks)
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1 large bunch of baby broccoli or broccolini or 2 small bunches of broccoli florets
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°.  You’ll be using a sheet pan and an oven-going frying pan.  If both cannot sit side by side in your oven, you’ll need two racks placed in the middle of part of your oven.

If using baby broccoli or broccolini, cut off and discard the tip of the stem, then cut each piece of broccoli in half length-wise.  If using broccoli florets, cut them or separate them so the largest floret is no more than about 2″ x 2″.  Put the broccoli on a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper (that’s just for easy clean-up and isn’t essential). Drizzle ample amounts of olive oil (about 2-3T) over the broccoli and give it all a toss – then spread the broccoli out so that no pieces touch each other (to prevent them from steaming, not roasting). Salt and pepper generously.  Put in the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes.

While the broccoli is roasting, season the pork chops with kosher salt (I use a scant tsp per pound of meat) and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.  Put the egg in one wide bowl and the panko in another.  Dredge the pork chops in the egg and then in the panko crumbs, making sure to coat the meat evenly on both sides.

Choose a skillet that can go in the oven (cast iron works great) and heat 2 tablespoons of oil in it over medium high heat (on top of the stove). Add the pork chops to the skillet and allow them to fry until golden brown and crispy on one side, about 2 minutes.  Turn the chops over and immediately put the pan with the chops into the preheated oven.  Roast for about 6-8 minutes or until the pork is just slightly pink in the center.  Remove the chops from the oven and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

If the chops and broccoli are not ready to serve at exactly the same time, either can be removed from the oven and allowed to sit for a few minutes.

A can of white beans – navy, cannellini, great northern – can be rinsed and briefly warmed as a quick and easy accompaniment to the meal.  A little squeeze of lemon will be good on both the beans and broccoli.  Leftover chops and broccoli will warm up well – better in a hot oven than in a microwave, but either is fine.  Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann

Cold weather (and very much-needed rain) is forecast for the Glen Ellen area, so our cherry tomato crop is about finis.  I wanted to make a dish which helped use them up but also wanted to avoid the labor-intensive halving of each little tomato before cooking, so I was delighted to find this recipe which uses whole cherry tomatoes.  And there’s no onion to cut up either.  Yea!  And you can have the meal on the table in less than half an hour.  The final plus: the pasta may be even better warmed up the next day.

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Angel Hair Pasta and Tomatoes and Basil

Angel Hair Pasta and Tomatoes and Basil

  • Servings: 4
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Do not wince at the amount of garlic and olive oil.  Those make this dish memorable! Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

  • kosher salt for the pasta water
  • 3/4 pound dried angel hair pasta
  • 1/2 c olive oil, plus 1 T to to mix with the cooked pasta
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 pints cherry tomatoes or Sun Gold tomatoes (be sure your tomatoes are tasty or the dish will suffer)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 c loosely-packed basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn (reserve a bit to sprinkle on the dish before serving)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, depending upon your spiciness preference
  • 1-2 tsp salt, to taste
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese (we’re looking at easy here- so buy it grated)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 T salt.   When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.  Drain the pasta, reserving  about 1/2 c of the pasta water.  Add 1 T olive oil to the cooked pasta and mix well in order to keep the pasta from sticking and place in a serving bowl.

Heat 1/3 c olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan.  Add the garlic, tomatoes, basil, thyme, and pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, and sugar and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring now and then.   You want the cherry tomatoes to cook but remain whole and you want the juice from the cut up tomatoes to flavor the oil as they cook.

Add the tomato mixture and the parmesan to the pasta and mix gently but well.  If moisture is needed, add the reserved pasta water.  Garnish with a few bits of chopped basil.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann

No dicing onions and garlic.  No pan frying, greasy stove-top, turning over in the oven. Nothing tricky and everything delicious.  In fact, I just ate more of those potatoes than a reasonable person would and loved every bite!  So much has been written in food circles about getting chicken to brown, if you’re not pan-frying it:  you must dry it really really well with paper towels; you must air dry it in the fridge for 8 hours; you must add no oil; you must roast it on a rack.  Well, I’m here to tell you that mayonnaise is the answer.  Look at how beautifully browned those thighs are.  And so simple.

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Roasted Chicken Thighs with New Potatoes

Roasted Chicken Thighs with New Potatoes

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Print
Remember that chicken thighs seem to vary tremendously in size.  If yours are really big or really small, adjust the roasting time accordingly.

Ingredients

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (mine weighed 1 1/2 pounds total and roasted for about 35 minutes)
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, divided
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder or garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1 T lime juice
  • 1-2 pounds of new potatoes, cut into chunks about 1″ in size (not peeled)
  • 2 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Sprinkle the chicken thighs with about 1 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat and a little pepper.

Mix together the mayonnaise, 1 tsp of the paprika, curry powder, pepper, cayenne, and lime juice in a little bowl.  Slather this mixture over the thighs and allow to sit for about 1/2 hr at room temperature.

While the thighs are sitting in their mayo marinade, cut up the new potatoes, then pour 2T of olive oil over them and mix all together.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper, if you’re wanting to avoid pan clean-up. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet, trying to leave a little room between them so that they’ll roast and not steam (I pushed them together for the above photo).  Sprinkle the potatoes with a generous amount of salt (I used 1 tsp for 2 pounds of potatoes and I think they could have been saltier) and 1/2 tsp of pepper and a 1/2 tsp of hot paprika.

Place the chicken thighs skin side up on top of the potatoes and place the pan in the oven.  Roast for 30-45 minutes, checking after 30 minutes to see if the chicken is cooked in the middle and is nicely browned and the potatoes are very soft.

Remove from the oven and stir the potatoes so that they’re covered with the delicious juice from the mayonnaise-roasted chicken.  Serve with a little bit of arugula dressed with lemon and oil, if you need greens.

If you’re re-heating leftovers, pop them into a 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann

 

4 Comments

  1. Joanne says:

    I have almost given up on pork chops. I will try this. Perhaps I’m overcooking them. Seems like I’ve tried everything! The chicken looks good too – thanks. I love your directions – very clear and mostly simple.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ROBERT CARLETON says:

    Sorry, but I don’t have a “social media” account, and what I thought worked for the other one didn’t click this morning.

    Gonna try the chix with new spuds soon. Sounds great. Nice to hear about the Blue Apron alternative… but it still sounds like a lot of fixin’, and a lot of ‘acceptance’ of three days of pre-planned food. Have some ‘senior’ friends for whom this would be a perfect diet solution.

    For tonight: gonna grill some “country ribs” from the local butcher (thicker than usual chops, and contain both bone and a little fat, but plenty of meat – 2 chops cost about 4 bucks). Will serve left-over brown rice liberally doused with salsa and a salad of “heavy duty” veggies. The brown rice is made using a Tupperware rice cooker; works in the microwave and takes about 45 untended minutes to reach perfection every time. We don’t often use the oven for meat, as our outdoor grill is connected to natural gas and we use it year-round – perfect chix, fish, beef, and pork. Bison needs the crock pot.

    Bob

    ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

  3. theRaggedys says:

    Thanks for your input, Bob. Blue Apron gives you quite a selection of meals to choose from each week, which is nice, so you can figure out what sounds good among 8 or so menus. But the prep and clean-up isn’t always as quick as we’d like. The Tupperware rice cooker sounds interesting. Fixing the perfect rice seems to be our nemesis.

    Like

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