Friday, May 9, 2014

Rudi Learns to Cook

I do not eat well.  Between long weekend workouts, late nights at work, and not having a car, I have never really gotten into the habit of meal planning and grocery shopping since moving back to D.C.  As I get closer to my 30s, you'd think I'd start developing these habits but in actuality, it has gotten worse. In the past month, I have eaten cereal for dinner more times than not.  And there was that one time that dinner was goldfish crackers and wine (don't tell mom!).   Suffice to say, I have what you might call a poor diet.

I was swimming with my teammates one weekend when they told me about Blue Apron, a meal planning and food delivery service that sends you three recipes each week, plus ingredients, to cook yourself.  One teammate had a free week she could gift me, so she sent it along.  This was about two months ago.  Cue the goldfish dinner and I realized I needed a better solution for eating healthier, so last week I finally signed up.

The website provides you six possible recipes for the week and based on your dietary preferences, you receive three.  Each recipe contains enough ingredients for two servings, so it was perfect to solve both my dinner conundrum plus what to bring for lunch everyday that wasn't frozen and containing enough sodium to swell my fingers up.  The first week, my three recipes included spaghetti and meatballs, spring root vegetable casserole, and black bean and chicken enchiladas.

This brings us to benefit number 2.  I am what you might call a "selective eater".  Sure, some people may just say I am downright picky, but I like to think of it as having a simple taste pallet.  I am eager to have new things forced upon me to try and I am doing my best not to just leave ingredients out of each meal (except for onions.  I will never like onions).

So Wednesday evening, my first shipment arrived.  I got home late from dinner out with friends, but eagerly went to the package area to collect my swag.  I put it up on my counter and it was a little like opening a present.
The boxes are meant to keep everything cold for at least 12 hours and were nicely organized for new chefs such as me, who may not easily know the difference between parsley and cilantro, just by sight.  I cleaned out my fridge of everything that was expired (so, nearly everything) and quickly filled all of my drawers and shelves with the various ingredients.  It was probably the fullest my fridge has ever been.

After careful deliberation, I decided to start with the spaghetti and meatballs.  It was basically a fancier version of a recipe I can already make on my own and didn't seem overly complicated.

My first step was to prep the ingredients.  Chopping, dicing, peeling; things that are generally not associated with my normal cooking.  Thankfully, my best friend Lauren and my dad are both wonderful chefs and I already new a few tricks of the trade. For the garlic cloves, I knew to press down on the flat edge of my knife to make them easier to cut.  For the parsley, I knew to keep the tip of my knife on the cutting board and just move the back of it up and down (carefully avoiding my finger tips!).

I don't normally eat celery (I don't like or dislike it) but I dutifully chopped it up.  While the recipe did call for onions, I used Lauren's trick of just cutting it in half and simmering it in the red sauce - enough to get the flavor without actually needing to eat it!  It also seriously cut down on my chopping time (sans tears!).

Over the course of cooking the pasta, sauce, and meatballs, I used almost all of the pots and pans that I own.  I also used the neat measuring/prep bowls and olive oil pourer-thingie that Lauren gave me for my housewarming, as well as the nice knives and cutting boards I got from my family at Christmas.  I thought how generally ill-equipped I would be for cooking without the people around me!  The stove got the most action it has seen since I moved in.  But a mere 45 minutes later, I had a respectable looking meal!

I think I could get faster at this as I learn to chop a bit more.  A few lessons learned, for sure.  Before simmering the sauce, I was supposed to lightly cook the chopped garlic.  Very quickly the garlic looked as though I may have burned it; the gas burners and I are still learning to get along. But overall the meal was delicious - a fresher version of something I would have made with garlic powder and other spices instead of fresh cloves and parsley.  What impressed me the most was the amount of food it made. While Blue Apron says each recipe has two meals, this one yielded three full servings as well as extra sauce that I can use next week.  Overall, I was really impressed by both the amount of pots and pans I used as well as the meal.  It wasn't overly cumbersome for a week night (although I didn't eat until 9 pm) and clean up was actually pretty quick and easy.  My back hurt a little from standing in the kitchen so long, which made me feel a little sad and old, but I will definitely continue to order from Blue Apron and hope to expand both my palette and culinary expertise!  Bon Appetit!