Mrs. Carla Monti

Mrs. Carla Monti

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hello Fresh Review!


My colleague at work ordered Hello Fresh, a food service very similar to Blue Apron, and sent me a coupon code. For 3 meals for two people, it would cost $29. That was a no-brainer - I put Blue Apron on hold for a week and ordered Hello Fresh, intending to try it once, and then go back to Blue Apron.

What I didn't like was that upon receipt of the box of food, Hello Fresh immediately charged my card $69 (the regular weekly price) for next week's box. I emailed their customer service people to complain, and they promptly refunded the charge. I merely intended to try the service at the much-reduced rate of $29, and certainly harbored no intentions to drop Blue Apron.

Here were the meals:

Pan-Seared Steak With Roasted Butternut Squash and Green Beans Almondine

  • This was absolutely terrible.
  • This was the third and final meal we made, so by the time we got to it (4-6 days after receiving the shipment), the green beans were rotten and had to be thrown away. Luckily, I had just gotten a small bag of quinoa at Whole Foods, so I made that to add to the almonds and roasted butternut squash.
  • I frequently roast cubes of butternut squash in the oven, so when I saw the package of diced butternut squash, I thought easy! WELL after the requisite time in the properly heated oven, they were STILL basically raw. Unfortunately I did not taste them before adding them to the quinoa and almonds, so it ruined the side salad.
  • The steak was a little tough, and the buttery thyme sauce had way too much thyme. 




Chicken Milanese with Crispy Potatoes, Mixed Greens, and Creamy Lemon Chive Dressing
  • This dish was okay. The chicken was nothing special, but I would leave out the creme fraiche coating ... it seems to stick together with the panko breadcrumbs and slide off my chicken while in the pan.
  • The crispy potato wedges were yummy.
  • When I mixed the dairy component with lemon juice to make the dressing, the liquids separated and looked disgusting. I threw away the dressing and dressed the arugula myself, with just olive oil and balsamic. 
  • I expected mixed greens, but it was just arugula which I don't eat, so hubs at the side salad.



Tuscan Sausage Linguine With Zucchini, Chilies, and Parmesan
  • This was my favorite from the bunch. The diced zucchini, small amount of tomato sauce, parmesan, and pasta all tasted great.
  • The pork was seasoned a little too heavily with Italian herbs for my liking (I am really not a fan of licorice-flavor in herbs or anything else), so I ate most of the pasta and veg.


Concluding Thoughts

  • Overall, not a big fan. It was great to try a rival service, out of curiosity, but I am very happy to have gone back to Blue Apron!

Blue Apron: Part 3

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches with Endive & Blue Cheese Salad
  • I don't eat blue cheese, so I put the crumbles aside in a little dish for hubby to scatter over his sandwiches.
  • This could've used more hot sauce - the teeny amount provided was barely enough.
  • I was a little wary of this one because I had never cooked with chicken thighs before, always breasts, but I was pleasantly surprised by how meaty and flavorful this was.




Juicy Lucy Burgers With Frizzled Onion & Romaine Walnut Salad
  • This dish instantly became one of my favorites. Inside the burger is melty cheddar cheese, and the salad looks elegant with its carrot ribbons! 
  • I chose to make the frizzled onion apart and hubs ate it atop his burger.
  • The burger was moist and flavorful, and tasted great with the simple salad as an accompaniment. 



Korean Tteok & Spicy Pork Ragu with Baby Bok Choy
  • Delicious! Another favorite.
  • Those chewy, yummy rice cakes were a new ingredient for us and I really liked them!
  • The ground pork was spicy and very flavorful.
  • Overall a winner!



Seared Salmon & Salsa Verde With Orange, Spinach & Farro Salad
  • This one was disappointing. I did not like the salsa verde at all - the spicy bite of the raw garlic was so overpowering, I scraped mine off my salmon.
  • The spinach and farro were delicious together, but I could've had it without the orange. The orange flavor was confusing, and I would definitely leave it out last time.
  • In my last poll, I was extolling the virtues of quinoa, and now I must add my love for farro. I am really discovering some wonderful new grains!


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Blue Apron: Part 2

In my last post, I reviewed the Blue Apron service after receiving our first week's worth of meals. Since then, we've had two more weeks and there were some definite winners in those boxes.

Since Blue Apron deliveries won't last forever in my household, I am going to start keeping track of what I did not like about the recipes, and suggested modifications for my future grocery shopping and meal planning.

Spiced Catfish & Poblano-Cheddar Grits with Stewed Collard Greens


Notes & Modifications:
  • The poblano pepper didn't do anything for me - I would not include it in the future.
  • The grits were great, and it was the first time either of us had cooked them. The only issue was the tiny chunk of cheddar cheese and butter that was included to add to the grits - the grits had zero flavor! Next time, I will add massive quantities of butter, cheese, and milk - I know they will be delicious!
  • I had not eaten collard greens prior to Blue Apron, and I think we've had them come as part of three separate meals by now! Mike has discovered that he really enjoys them, so I will be sure to add them to our veggie repertoire. 

Ribeye Steak with Mushroom & Potato Hash


Notes & Modifications:
  • This was another meal which worried me in terms of portion sizing, once I looked at the (raw) ingredients. ONE russet potato?! But somehow it worked! The potato hash, with sauteed mushrooms and rosemary, was delicious! 
  • The steak was good too, but a bit chewy. I think Mike and I generally go for a better cut of steak anyways.

Chicken & Garlic Chive Meatballs with Quick Apple & Brussels Sprout Kimchi

Notes & Modifications:
  • I was so intrigued about this one. I know that kimchi is a spicy Korean type of coleslaw from extensive Food Network watching - I have certainly never tried it before. I was blown away by how much I liked the granny smith apple, marinated in sesame oil and kimchi spicy blend. I didn't care for the Brussels sprouts, but I would absolutely make this again, with the same tart granny smith apple, and substituting butter or romaine lettuce for the Brussels sprouts.
  • The meatballs were very hard to make, shape-wise. Ground chicken is SO sticky! These were good, although I don't think I would make them again.
Chicken & Udon Noodle Soup with Napa Cabbage & Dried Lime


Notes & Modifications:
  • This one became one of my favorites! I definitely prefer the soups/stews side to Blue Apron, mainly because portion-wise, they work out pretty great and provide 4-6 portions.
  • The soup is very flavorful - but I did substitute a can of chicken broth for some of the water called for to make the soup.
  • The fresh udon noodles were thick and delicious! I can't speak for how much flavor the dried lime (such an odd looking thing) imparted on the soup, but perhaps it lent a more subtle flavor. 

Seared Cod & Date Vinaigrette with Browned Butter, Quinoa & Spinach Salad


Notes & Modifications:
  • After one bite, Mike professed this dish to be his favorite thus far. I was less than convinced.
  • The cod was absolutely delicious - I inhaled my portion in a few bites. The quality of the fish was perfect!
  • I enjoyed the red quinoa, baby spinach, almond, and date salad under the cod - but I did not like the diced radish or minced shallot. I would leave both out next time, and make a more simpler vinaigrette of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and the diced dates. 
  • It was so interesting to cook the radish and almonds in brown butter - I had never made brown butter before but it was very easy, and the house was perfumed with it's sweet, nutty scent for hours after. I would definitely make that again, to sautee almonds and possibly the spinach next time. 
  • As a side note, I am learning about so many other types of grains through this program. With the kale/meatball stew from the first box, we ate faro, and now red quinoa. I really like learning about these healthy grains that are so packed with protein. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Blue Apron: Part 1

Ever since I went back to work after maternity leave, it has been tricky trying to find my groove in terms of food shopping and making dinner during the week. My mom and my mother-in-law watch our daughter during the week, and we've fallen into the very easy habit of eating dinner at their respective houses during the week. Although easy, and incredibly kind of both moms to cook dinner the days that they also watch the baby, it was not fair on them, and quite frankly, I think Mike and I both missed spending any sort of real time at home.



So after weeks (and weeks) of trying to get into a habit of weekly grocery shopping and making dinner at home (and failing), my husband came up with a great idea: Blue Apron.

The concept is simple, $60 per week, and you receive three meals (in ingredient form) right to your door. This is very convenient for several reasons. I LOVE to cook, but I do not enjoy trying to figure out what to make, and then figuring out when I will go grocery shopping. Since I struggle mostly with being creative and figuring out what to make (Pinterest never helps!), the idea that someone has ALREADY figured it out, and sent me all the ingredients necessary (even if one of those ingredients is a tablespoon of butter!) is wonderful. For a busy mom like me, this is a dream.

I've read several Blue Apron reviews on other food bloggers, and a common complaint is the cost. My husband and I are used to very high quality food, whether we're talking about fish, meat, or fresh produce, so the idea of paying $60 for three meals for two, which can be broken down to about $10 per person, is absolutely normal. We eat out once a week, and typically go to nice, high-end restaurants where we know the food and wine is of high quality, so this price does work for us.

The recipes come in gorgeous, color-printed cards that I am keeping all together in a binder for future recipe. Easy step-by-step instructions (with further, more detailed instructional videos available on their website if needed) provide ease of mind for those unfamiliar with uncomfortable with food prep or cooking, in general (though not our case).



Another issue many people have with the service is the portion size. I eat like a bird, but my husband, the red-blooded Italian, is used to making four side dishes to accompany two proteins when cooking dinner for just the two of us. Accordingly, he is capable of ordering several appetizers to accompany his one (sometimes two!) entrees when we dine out. So, having said all that, I did have a slight panic attack when I opened the first Blue Apron box and discovered a 10 oz packet of ground beef for a meatball stew. I wouldn't buy less than 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef if I were to make meatballs for the two of us! However, this recipe proved me wrong. Perhaps because it was a stew, but this dish made enough for our dinner (including Mike's second and third helpings) as well as my lunch for work the next day.

Not all meals are the same ... the next night, we had half a roasted chicken served over collard greens. The collard greens cooked down to a laughably tiny portion, better suited for one person only. The half chicken, since it was not a breast, had very little meat, and was absolutely not enough for even one person. I steamed a bag of frozen corn to accompany the meal, because without it, the platter seemed tiny! This recipe was not my favorite, although I was impressed with my cooking of the chicken - this was the one step that made me nervous all week, as I typically only cook chicken breasts. I was terrified of undercooking the meat, but it came out great, with a nice crust from browning the skin in a skillet first.

That's another benefit that I've found by using this service. It pushes (forces me, actually) to make dishes that I never would otherwise. I would never have roasted half a chicken, or made kimchi (this is an upcoming receipt from the box we just received last night). I love that pretty much anything can come in the boxes (the only item I checked to NOT receive was lamb), and I will have to make it. It makes it fun for me, to have the decision-making process removed.

And now for the good part ... the finished products!

First Night - Salmon Bucatini



Second Night - Italian Meatball Soup



Third Night - Spice Roasted Chicken With Collard Greens


Friday, August 7, 2015

Chicken Bacon Ranch Paninis!

I love watching the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, especially since I am home all day with my newborn baby girl. My favorite chefs to watch are Giada and the Barefoot Contessa. I love how Giada makes everything with perfectly (smaller) sized portions, while I enjoy the elegance and finesse of how the Contessa makes her dishes.

One chef that I am not typically a fan of is the Pioneer Woman (Ree). I find that she cooks with way too much fat, and the whole 'far out on the farm' premise isn't really appealing to me.

Having said all that .... I found myself watching an episode of her show the other day and fell in lust with these simple panini she made. I vowed to dust off my parents old panini press and try them out. They came out incredible!

Recipe link: Paninis!

The recipe calls for chicken breasts sliced in half, but I took this step out by purchasing thinly sliced chicken breasts at my local supermarket. I seasoned them simply with salt and pepper and cooked them in a pan with plenty of butter.






Next, I crisped up half a pound of bacon in the microwave. I love this method for cooking bacon, as it is easy and the bacon always comes out super crispy! I lay down two paper towels on a large glass plate, then 4-5 bacon strips, then two more paper towels, and cook on high for 4 minutes. That's all it takes for super crispy, delicious bacon!




Finally, it is time to assemble the sandwiches. The other players here are a nice thickly sliced loaf of bread (I went with a garlicky Tuscan loaf, but ciabatta or crusty French bread would work well), slices of sharp cheddar cheese, ranch dressing, and butter.


The first step is to put ranch dressing on each slice of bread, and then place a chicken breast on top.


Next: add the bacon!


Cheese it up:


And finally, butter the remaining sides of the bread (both sides!) so that they get a nice crispy, toasted texture from the panini press.


Last step: press and enjoy!



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pulled Pork Sandwiches!

I've been a fan of pulled pork sandwiches ever since I tried my first one five years ago at a house party in New Jersey. The hostess had used her slow cooker to make the pulled pork, and the tenderness of the meat. combined with the juicy flavor, was something I've always wanted to re-create.

I found a simple recipe online. I bought a 3 3/4 lb pork shoulder, bone in, and prepared a simple spice rub for the meat. The spice rub consisted of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, and paprika. Once the meat was seasoned, I placed it into the slow cooker, and covered it with two bottles of root beer. I set it on the low setting for 6 hours. After it had cooked all the way through, I took the meat out onto a cutting board and shredded it, removing the large chunks of fat that remained. I drained and cleaned the slow cooker pot. Once the meat was shredded, I put it back in the pot, and added half a bottle of barbecue sauce. I put it back on the low setting for one hour, and then prepared the sandwiches. Delicious!








Friday, May 29, 2015

Asparagus: A Love Affair (Part Two)

Last night, I put those remaining asparagus stalks to good use and turned them into a soup. First I sauteed a small yellow onion, roughly chopped, three cloves of garlic, and 1 tsp of finely minced thyme leaves in olive oil. Then I added the diced asparagus (into 1/2 inch chunks) and let it heat up for 5-10 minutes. Next, I added a combination of chicken stock and water, and let it simmer for 30 minutes. I added salt and pepper, and used an immersion blender to puree it in the pot. Final touches included a squeeze of lemon, and a cookie-dough-sized scoop of sour cream with a few sprinkled of grated Gruyere cheese for garnish.

Recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/cream-of-asparagus-soup-creme-dasperges-104746



Thursday, May 28, 2015

Asparagus: A Love Affair (Part One)

Why have I not noticed up until now how lovely asparagus is as a vegetable? A tray of gorgeous asparagus caught my eye in the grocery store yesterday, and I decided to search for a recipe that would suit my impulse purchase. I settled on these gorgeous roasted mushroom and asparagus tarts using puff pastry sheets from Bon Appetit!

My modifications:

  • I cut off the asparagus spears, and put the stalks away in the fridge to use for soup later on (most likely tonight).
  • I could not find creme fraiche anywhere, so I substituted half sour cream and half plain, non-flavoured yoghurt. 
  • I used shiitake mushrooms, and roasted them for ten minutes in hot butter. The smell and nutty, buttery, meaty taste that came off of these was incredible!
  • Puff pastry sheets are super easy to use! I thawed them for 40 minutes on my countertop, and then they were so easy to roll out and cut for the tarts.
  • This recipe is very versatile and open to changes. Besides the veggies and cream, I added in grated Gruyere cheese, lemon zest, fresh thyme (chopped very finely), salt and pepper. Simple, but elegant and delicious!










Stay tuned for Part Two: Asparagus Soup!

Recipe Link: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/asparagus-and-mushroom-tarts

Mini Vanilla Bundt Cakes With Chocolate-Amaretto Glaze!

At some point over the last three years, I purchased this adorable mini Bundt cake pan.

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Wilton-Mini-Cavity-Fluted-Pan/dp/B0045Y17JU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1432822003&sr=8-2&keywords=mini+bundt+cake+pan

I've used it a grand total of once before this past weekend. To make (of all things) cheesy spinache quiche mini Bundts. Why? No idea.

Last weekend, I FINALLY put it to good use, and made mini vanilla Bundt cakes, and topped them with a chocolate Amaretto glaze.



Recipe: http://technicolorkitcheninenglish.blogspot.com/2012/06/amaretto-glazed-chocolate-cake.html