When I pulled this out of the box from Home Chef, I thought it was some kind of particularly ugly ginger, but turns out that it's something they called a "sunchoke." Googling it, I found they are more commonly known as Jerusalem artichokes. If a potato and a raw almond had a baby, it would probably taste like this. Supposedly they are very good for diabetics because of something about fructose. They are also reported to be very gas producing, which is such a relief because I haven't been farting nearly enough lately. I won't be able to confirm this until later, but I can already attest that these babies are a pain in the butt to clean and dice.
But here you see the finished meal: Pecan and brown sugar crusted pork medallions with carrots and Jerusalem artichokes, roasted with sun dried tomatoes and red pepper flakes.
I still can't make my plates look as spectacular as the recipe cards, but then again, I'm not a professional photographer using glue and varnish to stage the perfect plate. I did, however, cook a pretty damn fine plate of pork tenderloin medallions. I take that as a big step forward in my culinary development, because I've never cooked any kind of pork tenderloin, in any way, form or fashion, before. Following the times in the recipe precisely, they were perfectly done.
Verdict: the Jerusalem artichokes and carrots were okay for something different, but probably not something I'll try again. Combining the sun dried tomatoes with roasted veg, though, is a definite keeper for my own repertoire.
The pork however... man, oh, man that was delicious! The sauce made from the pan drippings with the brown sugar/egg mixture from the top of the medallions, with a 1/4 cup or so of sherry and then a veal demi-glace -- made my eyes roll back in my head. I must have made a little moan of some kind because Doolittle, my cat, looked at me funny.
I licked the plate, seriously. I've been told that I can buy that demi all by itself either online or at Whole Paycheck… I mean, Whole Foods. But if you've read my writing for a while you know what I think about Whole Foods. Any store with a $7 loaf of whole wheat bread scares the crap out of me.
P.S. Reports of the flatulency potential for the Jerusalem artichokes were not exaggerated. At the risk of sharing too much information, I will just say that, at one point, Doolittle left the room.
May 17, 2016. I tried one week of Freshly, a service that sends -- supposedly -- high quality, healthy gourmet meals already prepared, all you do is heat them up!
What is it they say? If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is? Well, Freshly gets less appealing with every meal... It tastes okay enough to swallow but it is not particularly enjoyable. Sigh. I had such high hopes for never cooking again. And I have four more of these to eat.
The entree is supposed to be roasted turkey, but I swear it had a weird texture, like some faux fowl. And the side veg? I don't even know what the hell that is. I think it was supposed to be kale and squash and… something.
I mean, look at this. Would you want to eat it? I gave up, and stopped at Sonic on the way home. I needed a chili dog, onion rings and an lavender milkshake to get the taste of this mush out of my mouth.
Quiche me, you fool!
May 1, 2016. Today's luncheon (and tomorrow's) from Blue Apron: zucchini and spinach quiche. I think the crust got a little over done. I need a decent oven.
I think I may have goofed up the recipe. They sent a big cluster of garlic, and I was enthusiastically dicing it all up, tossing it into the pot, and then I glanced at the recipe card again and realized: OMG I WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO USE TWO CLOVES, NOT THE WHOLE DAMNED THING!
I tried to get most of it out, but in the end, it was just too garlicky. Not bad, but probably not as good as it should have been.
Still one of the prettiest things I've ever cooked!
April 29, 2016. My first meal from Blue Apron, one of those new food services that sends you a certain number of meals in a big box. They send you everything except salt, pepper and olive oil. I mean, they even sent me a tablespoon of butter! It's cute how everything comes in little packages.
I really like the lack of waste. I had kale in this but I didn't have to buy a huge bundle of it, just to have most of it rot in the fridge before I got around to eating it. I didn't have to buy a whole jar of Dijon mustard grain just to get two tablespoons for this recipe. It's hard cooking for one person, even with the occasional dinner guest.
This serving had about 700 calories. True, skin was on the chicken -- but my serving was kept to one chicken breast. And you only make enough for two meals at a time, so overeating would be limited if you actually had two people eating together. Me, I suppose I could have eaten both servings, but one made me really full.
One tablespoon of butter in whole thing, 4 teaspoons of olive oil. Everything was fresh, not frozen, not processed. And that's a huge difference for me, because I so often fall back on quick convenience foods.
The "intro special" for Blue Apron cost $30, for six individual meals. $5 a meal isn't bad at all, not when it's fresh and mostly healthy -- certainly healthier than I normally eat. The normal price is $50 for the package; that's a little over $8 a meal, which wouldn't be too bad if i could do it maybe once a month, instead of this every week deal.
While cooking, though, I had my doubts. How do you know when a purple potato is done, anyway? The veggie medley was certainly not a combination of things I'd ever tried: purple potatoes, onion, kale, one Granny Smith apple, almond slivers and Dijon mustard grain. It doesn't look good here, but it was surprisingly tasty. And it was an adventure, because I would never have come up with this on my own. (I could have done without the apple in it; for me, it was just one flavor too many.)
I'm not sure how the leftovers will reheat, though. This was really yummy because of the crispy seared skin. I'm so proud it came out well because I have this slight, uh, phobia about cooking chicken. I'm always afraid it's not done, and I'm sure it's due to a past brush with death brought on by bad chicken salad. Which actually came from a respectable restaurant in town, not something I'd cooked. But still, you only have to spend 24 hours puking your guts out and praying for death to be marked for life.
I just don't know if I can afford to stay with the program. This is probably very cost effective for people who are used to cooking. But I'm not. I'm cheap and lazy when I shop for groceries, and I fall into that trap that so many of us po' folk do, which is choosing cheap but filling crap instead of healthy. It's expensive to eat fresh and healthy. Corporate American wants us fat, depressed and dying.
Sigh. I hate money. Probably because I don't have it, but it just gets in the way of doing what you'd really like.
April 30, 2016. Tonight's dinner from Blue Apron: Grains of Paradise Crusted Steak with mashed plantain, collard greens and ginger peanuts.
I was really impressed with the collards -- i may be cooking them like this again - though I'll end up with a huge mess of greens that I can't possibly eat. Anybody want to split a mess of collards with me? The ginger peanuts, well, I had my doubts, but they were really good! The steak was a little fatty -- excellent flavor, but I've not eaten any kind of steak except for filet mignon in over a year -- I just got tired of crappy cuts of meat, and would rather go for three months without steak at all, so that when I did splurge, I could go for something that I really liked.
The "sauce" of olive oil, lime juice and parsley was a waste, though. Really had no use for it.
May 14, 2016. My first Home Chef meal. Onion and mushroom smothered flat iron steak with mashed sweet potatoes and salt crusted green beans. Tasty but nothing mind-blowing or different for me. We'll see about tomorrow's dinner.
Home Chef, May 15, 2016. The potatoes are fab! The chicken came out a little dry but the sauce of Demi glacé with shallots and butter is really good. I'm talking, drinkable. The potatoes are cream, shallots and Parmesan. OMG.
Food Box Services and Culinary Exploration for the Domestically Challenged: A New Frontier
If you have noticed my postings recently on Facebook, you are aware of my current love affair with the plethora of food box services. They ship you fresh ingredients for meal recipes, you cook it. (And then you clean it up. Sigh.)
You may have noticed, too, that I’m promiscuous, spreading my affections around. I started just checking out different programs to see how they worked, if i liked them, if I could afford them. And taking advantage of first order discounts. I like discounts. Discounts are good. Discounts are my friend and Free is my soul-mate.
On the first few boxes, the estimate for “time to prepare” was a big fat lie. The first meal took me almost two hours -- but that’s because I almost never cook, and I had crappy tools, and I was really slow. Probably took me half an hour to peel and dice an onion. All that endless veggie washing and peeling and chopping. The prep is what takes the time, not the cooking. The first two recipes made me a little nervous, because for the first time in my life I had to “zest” a lemon, and then a lime. (I had to buy a zesting tool, of course; I could have used my grater, I suppose, but I was worried about ruining the whole thing by not zesting correctly.)
In the beginning, I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe, almost afraid to start for fear of mucking it up. But it's been a lot easier than I thought it would be, and with practice, I've gotten faster. The most recent meal took about an hour from prep to plate, and was ridiculously easy.
I've been impressed with how clear the instructions have been, because this has always been a stumbling block for me: recipes that assume everybody knows what “zesting” or “blanching” is, or how to make “creme fraiche.” If I, as a charter member of the Society for the Domestically Challenged, can say a recipe was simple, you can believe it really is.
I'm also finding that having the right tools helps enormously. I did not actually own a decent knife or frying pan when I started. Now I do, and the difference is amazing. Of course, I spent $200 at a kitchen store in Opry Mills, but that’s beside the point. I was suddenly compelled to buy a bunch of little prep bowls. And a salad spinner. And special kitchen scissors. A $60 ceramic frying pan. Two new knives that will take my fingers off. And a Keurig coffee maker. Which had nothing to do with my cooking projects, but it was there, you know? I wanted it for my desk at work.
I will overlook the $10 bucks I spent on a really crappy slap chopper. I’ll go old school and chop by hand. It’s just that possibly of losing a fingertip that has me concerned.
The benefits to this experiment are even more numerous that I anticipated:
Because people have asked about my culinary adventures, here is a breakdown of the ones I’ve tried so far:
Overall: the delivery, instructions, food freshness and recipes have all been very good.
MARLEY SPOON (MARTHA STEWART)
Absolutely AVOID. They do pre-prepared fresh food that you just microwave. I so wanted this to be good, because it sounded perfect for a single person who didn’t like to cook. But the food was barely edible, some downright nasty in taste and appearance. Really disappointing.
I will be following with postings of my dishes and critiques of their worthiness. Stay tuned.
Cookie Monster, that's me
Today I once again made what one of my coworkers has dubbed "crackies" instead of cookies, due to their highly addictive nature. Yes, these are the to-die-for Double Chocolate Expresso Toffee cookies.
And this photo shows off my newest culinary purchase: a cookie scoop. I thought it sounded stupid at first, but then I had such a hard time with that last batch of cookies trying to convince a nice consistent amount of dough to get its ass off of the spoon/spatula/knife and onto the cookie sheet.
The cookie scoop -- amazingly available at Kroger -- works very well, and made that step of the process go so much faster. No, I don't have a Cuisinart or food processor or dutch oven or meat thermometer or any of the popular toys of culinary divas, but I do have a cookie scoop.
That should tell you something about me.
Stand back, everybody. I am cooking today.
No, it's NOT a sign of the Apocalypse. Stop laughing.
If you've known me for a while, you know that cooking is not something I do much of. It's not that I can't, it's that I don't want to. If Fate/Karma/God/the Flying Spaghetti Monster intended me to cook, then why did it/he/she create so many fine restaurants?
Cooking is so much work. You gotta shop for the ingredients, then do all the prep -- washing, chopping, slicing, grating, etc. -- and then the cooking, and then the worst part - the cleanup!
When I cook, somehow cake batter winds up on the inside of the kitchen cabinets I haven't even opened since I moved into this condo, and Hollandaise sauce ends up on the ceiling. I don't know how it happens, it just does. I'll find a desiccated stalk of asparagus under the Hoosier cabinet three weeks after trying to "get it to a tender-crisp state, at which it is soft enough to chew but not yet soggy."
Which is another reason I don't cook much: confusing recipes with terms like 'tender-crisp.' Those cornmeal cookies I made a while back? The recipe called for "all-purpose fine yellow cornmeal." But I couldn't find any yellow cornmeal that also had "all-purpose" on the label, let alone "fine." The all-purpose was white cornmeal, not yellow. WTF was I supposed to do?
This kind of thing happens to me all the time. The recipe says use ABC and there is no ABC on the shelf, only BCA and CAB, and I have to toss a coin and take a chance on buying the exact wrong thing. I learned the difference between self-rising and all-purpose flour the hard way.
When I first started dating the Boyfriend some thirteen years ago, I was all dizzy in love and wanted to serve him all these amazing gourmet meals prepared with my own two hands….
After six months or so, I realized that when he said he didn't care what I cooked, or even if I cooked at all, he really meant it. Yeah, he likes my meatloaf, and my roast, or lasagna, but he is also completely and utterly satisfied with a hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich.
When he kept dragging me back to certain restaurants that I find loathsome, I realized that -- bless his heart, I love the man dearly -- he has only the most basic of palates. If I put a plate of, say, ravioli from a five-star Italian restaurant, and ravioli by Chef Boyardee, in front of him, I don't honestly think he'd have a preference.
However, a FB friend has mentioned her brisket recipe a couple of times recently, and it reminded me of the brisket I'd had at the house of a friend some twenty years ago. It was amazingly tender and juicy. In fact, I still have the Corning Ware dish in which she cooked it, because she sent it and all the leftovers home with me because I'd loved it so much. (She didn't get the dish back because she stills owes me money, but that's another long story for another time.)
I'm not certain this means anything, but both of these women are Jewish. Is brisket a Jewish thing? Or maybe a Northern thing? Because growing up in the South, the only brisket I ever even heard of was barbecued. Or maybe I was just deprived and isolated as a child. I grew up eating a little "weird" because my father was the ultimate picky eater; if it didn't contain ground beef and/or potatoes, he didn't eat it. My mother cooked what Daddy ate, at least until around 1980, when she stopped trying to be June Cleaver and my house became a fend-for-yourself zone. My sister and I ate a LOT of Banquet chicken pot pies between 1979 and 1981.
I remember quite clearly the first time I ever saw tuna fish, at my friend Mindy's house. I came home and asked Mom to make it for me. She had to call Mindy's mother for the recipe.
I remember, too, the first time I ever ate a salad. We were having dinner in Disney World, and the waitress asked what kind of dressing I wanted with my salad. I blinked at her. Salad? Did she mean, like, macaroni salad? Potato salad? What's all this green wrinkly stuff on the plate?
Mom told the waitress to bring me French dressing, but I think she was just picking one of the three choices (French, Italian and Blue Cheese) at random. I think this was before Ranch had been invented. (Later on, for years, I would think a salad was iceberg lettuce and Ranch dressing.)
Now, the nearly world-famous brisket recipe from my friend, Laura, is the one she uses for Passover meals. (Yes, any of you Southern Baptists from my childhood who have not yet unfriended me, I have learned slightly more about Passover than we ever learned from Charlton Heston, and guess what? Jewish people aren't actually going to hell! How about that! AND she's from New York. How about that!) She kept talking about all the fabulous stuff she was cooking this year, and making me really hungry for things I've never eaten before.
I went about this a little bit backwards, though. I bought the slab of meat yesterday at Kroger on a wild impulse. Only then did I actually read Laura's recipe.
OHMGOD. I could lead the Israelites out of Egypt easier than I could cook according to her recipe. She's a SERIOUS cook, apparently. I glanced half way down the page and saw "On day two, open your pot and remove the layer of fat on top…."
DAY TWO? Worse, the list of ingredients called for (among other things) sun-dried tomatoes, freshly grated horseradish, shallots (I am not even exactly sure what a shallot is), fennel, sherry, and a "dab of anchovy paste."
My heart sank when I realized I didn't even a Dutch oven to cook the damned thing in. And how am I supposed to cook anything without Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup or Crisco?*
But I already had this enormous slab of meat, so off I went to Google, searching for alternative brisket recipes to get an idea of what substitutions might be possible.
The first bright idea was realizing I could cook this in a crock pot. Thanks to my friend, Kristen Sojourner, I have a very nice and roomy crock pot. It also happens to be a very sexy candy-apple red, but that's just a bonus.
So I have taken a number of different recipes and mushed them all together. I skipped the one that basically called for a 24-ounce bottle of ketchup and a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix. That was a little more trailer park than I wanted to go.
I felt better about using Worcestershire sauce when I remembered that it has both horseradish and anchovies in it. The recipe I wound up going with calls for mushrooms as well as onions, and I used Marsala wine instead of sherry.
Honestly, it looks a little suspicious at this point. It will not be ready until tomorrow, but it is beginning to smell pretty damned good. We'll just have to wait and see how it turns out
Maybe one day when I've got more time, and can find a Dutch oven, and figure out what a shallot is, I'll try Laura's recipe verbatim. But in the meantime, this will do. If it turns out badly, I can always feed it to the Boyfriend.
*Ya'll realize that I'm just exaggerating for the sake of humor, right? I can cook without Campbell's Cream of Mushroom. Sometimes I used Cream of Chicken.
I LOVE THE WEB
Because nobody can interrupt me; they can only de-friend me.