Getting a meal on the table every night can be a chore. For a lot of folks, it’s not so much the cooking, it’s all the stuff that comes before. Meal planning and shopping can be thankless time-suckers.
A number of online services have sprung up to fix the problem. Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated and Home Chef are a few of the better-known ones. They are all subscription services available in this area and work similarly. Green Chef is another service that has gluten-free and paleo options.
Jody and David Crawford of Mount Airy, first experienced Blue Apron last year when visiting with friends in New York who served them a Blue Apron dinner. Their friends were positive about the service and felt it to be a big money and time saver as well as a convenient way to eat good meals at home.
The Crawfords subscribed in July after their friends recommended them for a free week of meals. When they’re travelling or have a busy evening schedule, they skip the week which is a feature of the subscription. Jody Crawford isn’t sure they’re saving a lot of money. “It’s really about the convenience. That’s the real value.”
The Crawfords have a subscription for two which gets them three meals a week at $9.99 per meal per person. A family subscription is also available which serves four and is two meals a week for a slightly lower per person rate.
Choosing the meals on the Blue Apron website is more like ordering from a restaurant menu than shopping for groceries. There are six choices with photos and descriptions of each from which subscribers choose three. Crawford says that the company claims that selections don’t repeat for a year.
On Blue Apron weeks, the Crawfords have three nights when they don’t need to plan meals, scavenge recipes on the internet or go grocery shopping because FedEX has delivered a box to their house with all the ingredients and recipes for three meals with perishables packed in ice. All they need to have on hand is salt, pepper and olive oil.
Jody Crawford has noticed that you don’t need a lot of equipment to prepare the meals. She feels that maybe the company is sensitive to the needs of city-dwellers living in small apartments who may not have a huge stash of pots and pans. Indeed, the recipes often say to wipe out a pan and continue rather than using another pan.
For the Dukkah-Spiced Cod with warm beet, carrot and arugula salad that was on the menu last Friday night, Crawford estimated that the Blue Apron meal cost about the same as the ingredients would have cost at the grocery store. This does not take into account that most households probably don’t have dukkah spice blend on hand and procuring it would necessitate a drive to Trader Joe’s in Winston-Salem or the forethought to have ordered it on Amazon a few days before. Both options of course would render the DIY version of spiced cod considerably pricier than the Blue Apron version. Trying out new ingredients or spices without having to commit to purchasing an entire bottle or container is another plus.
Cooking took less than an hour. Crawford enlisted the aid of her guest in the preparation. (Full disclosure: the writer of this article was that guest.) Prep and cooking time doubled as cocktail hour. Blue Apron offers wine pairings with all meals and this spiced cod dish did indeed work nicely with the recommended sauvignon blanc.
The recipes are thorough, well-written and illustrated to accommodate all cooking skill levels. The result is a restaurant-quality meal for the price of groceries.
Technology has promised much and often delivered little. If time is an issue for you, a meal service could be one place where it actually delivers.
Dukkah-Spiced Cod with warm beet, carrot and arugula salad
Dukkah is a spice blend consisting of ground coriander, ground fennel, ground cumin, black sesame seeds and za’atar (itself a middle eastern spice blend). It is available locally at Trader Joe’s and online at Amazon.)
2 cod fillets
3 cloves garlic
2 ounces arugula
½ pound red beet
3 tablespoons rice flour
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Dukkah Spice blend
(Za’atar, Ground Coriander, Ground Fennel, Ground Cumin & Black Sesame Seeds)
Makes: 2servings | Calories: about 545 per serving
Prep Time 15 minutes | Cook Time: 25-35 minutes
Prepare the ingredients:
Wash and dry the fresh produce. Heat a small pot of salted water to boiling on high. Peel the carrots; halve lengthwise, then cut into 2-inch long pieces on an angle. Peel and mince the garlic. Using a peeler, remove the lemon rind, avoiding the pith; mince to get 2 teaspoons of zest (or use a zester). Quarter and de-seed the lemon. Peel the shallot; mince to get 2 tablespoons (you may have extra). Place in a medium bowl with the juice of all 4 lemon wedges. Peel the beet; halve lengthwise, then slice into ½-inch-thick pieces.
Cook and marinate the beet:
Add the beet to the pot of boiling water and cook 18 to 20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain thoroughly and transfer to the bowl with the shallot-lemon juice mixture. Toss to coat; season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to marinate for at least 5 minutes.
Cook the carrots:
While the beet cooks, in a medium pan (nonstick, if you have one), heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, 4 to 6 minutes, or until lightly browned and slightly softened. Add ¼ cup of water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes, or until the carrots have softened and the water has cooked off; season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate. Wipe out the pan.
Coat and cook the cod:
While the beet continues to cook, place the flour on a plate. Pat the cod fillets dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper on both sides. Coat 1 side of each seasoned fillet in the flour (tapping off any excess). In the pan used to cook the carrots, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the fillets, coated sides down; cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to a plate; immediately season with salt and pepper. Set aside in a warm place. Wipe out the pan.
Finish the salad:
In the same pan, melt the butter on medium-high until hot. Add the garlic and almonds; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until lightly browned. Add the marinated beet (including the liquid), cooked carrots and lemon zest; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through. Remove from heat and add the arugula; stir until wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Plate your dish:
Divide the finished salad and cooked cod fillets between 2 plates. Garnish with the spice blend.
Creamy Lemon Linguine with caramelized onion, chard and walnuts
½ pound fresh lemon linguine pasta
½ cup Greek yogurt
3 cloves garlic
1 yellow onion
1/2 bunch chard
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons walnuts
½ cup shaved Parmesan cheese
Makes 2 servings
About 700 Calories Per Serving
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 20 to 30 mm
Prepare the ingredients:
Wash and dry the fresh produce. Heat a medium pot of salted water to boiling on high. Peel the onion and cut into large wedges; separate the layers. Peel and mince the garlic. Separate the chard leaves and stems; roughly chop the leaves and thinly slice the stems, keeping them separate. Using a peeler, remove the yellow rind of the lemon, avoiding the white pith; mince the rind to get 2 teaspoons of zest (or use a zester). Quarter and deseed the lemon. Roughly chop the walnuts.
Caramelize the onion:
In a large, high-sided pan, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon of water and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 4 minutes, or until browned and very tender. Stir in an additional tablespoon of water, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan; season with salt and pepper.
Add the chard:
Add the garlic and chard stems to the pan of onion; season with salt and pepper. (If the pan seems dry, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil.) Cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant and the chard stems are slightly tender. Add the chard leaves; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until wilted. Remove from heat.
Cook the pasta:
Using your hands, carefully separate the strands of the pasta; add to the pot of boiling water. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until al dente (still slightly firm to the bite). Reserving 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, thoroughly drain the cooked pasta.
Finish the pasta:
To the pan of vegetables, add the cooked pasta, yogurt, butter, lemon zest, the juice of all 4 lemon wedges and ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water; season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until thoroughly combined and heated through. (If the sauce seems dry, gradually add the remaining pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency.) Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve your dish:
Divide the finished pasta between 2 dishes. Garnish with the cheese and walnuts.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.