An Apron by Any Color…

This week, we received a free shipment from Blue Apron, courtesy of one of my wife’s coworkers. For those not familiar, they essentially pack and ship two complete meals, with nearly all the ingredients you need (including meats, packed in ice for shipping), neatly bagged and labeled, along with a recipe for each. All I needed to do was a little slicing and dicing, and provide my own olive oil.

Tonight, I tackled the first recipe; Salisbury Steak with roasted potato wedges and asparagus. I pulled all the ingredients together and skimmed through the instructions. I needed to dice an onion, mince some garlic, slice some cremini mushrooms, wedge-cut the russet potatoes, and cut the “woody” ends off the asparagus stalks. Overall start to finish time was estimated at 35-45 minutes, but it took me a little over an hour from oven preheating to serving up the finished product. So, my first bit of advice is, unless you’re a wiz with a kitchen knife, add about a quarter longer to the overall time estimate.

The instructions were clear and left little to chance. The attached pictures were a bit helpful, but almost unnecessary. It was easy to work with most of the items, and the quality and freshness of the ingredients was noticeable. I did have to move to a bigger pan at one point, but that’s probably because I ignored my initial instinct. The only step I felt less than confident that I completed well was when I had to gently blend the sautéed “aromatics” with the ground beef and bread crumbs. The finished “steak” patties were more fragile than I had hoped.

When I was all done, the dish presented very well. The sauce for the steaks had a chunkiness I’d never seen before for this dish, but I think that’s because I’d only ever had Salisbury Steaks in cafeterias, or as a tv dinner. The dish wasn’t gluten free, but as long as the all-purpose flour substitute can successfully thicken the sauce, it should be easy enough to alter. The flavors of the steaks, potato wedges, and roasted asparagus paired very well. The asparagus may have been our favorite part of the meal.

Overall, from a culinary perspective, I think the Blue Apron is great. The food was quite good, and I felt confident preparing this meal. I’m not sure if I learned anything significant, but I think looking at the portioning would help me be more aware when I wing it in the kitchen in the future. As far as the value of the program, I think it would depend on one’s lifestyle. If you’re home cooking dinner several nights a week, this could potentially be a great fit. They do all the thinking for you, while letting you focus on the joy of cooking a home-cooked meal. Compared to eating out, it’s a good deal, but only if you eat out frequently. I also think this would appeal most to people who don’t mind making some time to enjoy the process from start to finish. If you’re on a time crunch, this may not be a good fit. So, if you’re passionate about learning to cook, you enjoy the process, and you haven’t mastered ingredient selection/shopping and meal planning, this could be a great way to make your own great food for a change. Enjoy!

A Great First Impression

I finally got a chance to try Seasons 52 in Oak Brook. Their gimmick is a new menu every week of the year, with locally-sourced, healthy, lower calorie dishes. Cathy and I came in for a late lunch, early dinner.

We started out by splitting a tasty watercress salad with pine nuts and aged balsamic drizzle. Great taste, but the watercress could have been a bit more chopped. She had red mole braised beef lettuce wraps, a nice gluten free option that packed tons of flavor. I had their signature burger. They blend beef with druxelle mushrooms. It had a nice char and was served with housemade sweet pickles. The standout surprise for me was the side of tamale tots, served with two different dips. Basically they were deep fried balls of cornmeal. So good! I enjoyed a handmade ginger agave soda that was perfectly refreshing. Dessert was a small bite tasty lemon custard with blueberries.

I asked the server to what degree the menu changes. From what he told me, they have about two-thirds changing four times a year and one third changing weekly. I imagine that keeps regulars coming back, while catering to the adventurous. I plan to come back as soon as I can and explore some more. If anyone has tried this place already, let me know what you thought. In the meantime, watch for my second impression, coming soon. Enjoy!