Review: Blue Apron

Cooking is not my favorite thing in the world to do. I enjoy cooking special meals at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but those day-in, day-out meals drive me absolutely insane. It literally makes me angry having to cook because I don’t want to figure out what I want to make,  have to shop for (and then not find) all the ingredients I need, clean up prior to cooking, go to the effort of cooking, and then clean up after cooking. It’s just not fun. But, we are trying to eat healthier and eat at home more often. So talking to a friend that I was thinking about trying Blue Apron out, I discovered that she did it and had a free week for me to try. So I did. I was hooked. We’ve now been doing Blue Apron for a few months and I am LOVING it. The meals feel fancy as I’m cooking, but don’t take so long that I feel I can’t get it done on a week night.

muffalatta grilled cheese
Muffuletta Grilled Cheese. I don’t like olives, but I LOVED this dish.

All the food is pre-measured for you. Each meal is perfectly proportioned and sized for what you need. The only thing they don’t provide is the olive oil, salt/pepper, and pan to cook it in. If a meal requires you to bread chicken in flour, they include a little baggy full of flour for you to bread the chicken. The instructions have lovely pictures and easy to follow steps. BBQ sauce comes in a cute little bottle that the frugal person in me wanted to wash out and bring to daycare for the kids to play with. (Mike said they would not want a used BBQ bottle, no matter how clean, but it was so cute). Vinegar comes in even tinier little bottles that would be great for art projects. I love how I don’t have to go to the store when I want to make something and look for ingredients, realizing that I have to get enough to make a meal for five people because that’s the smallest size I can buy and then have a ton of left overs that I end up just throwing away a week later, or worse, Mike and I eat portions that are way too huge.

 

Even how the food is packed and sent through the mail is impressive to me. We started this journey at the beginning of summer. Since we don’t get home from work until late, the box would sometimes be sitting in the sun on our front porch for four to five hours before we could bring it inside. Only once, when the temperature reached into the high 90s and I didn’t get home until after 6p.m. did I feel that the food had gotten almost-too warm. The meat is sandwiched between reusable freezer bags that are made from a water-based solution. Once you’re done reusing them, (or have gotten so many you don’t need more), just cut it open with scissors and put it down the drain. Everything is recycleable. The insulation packaging around the food looks a lot like a car’s sunshield. It has come in handy as a way to block sun in the catio.

chicken burger
The burgers have been GREAT. Not a fan of baked fries, though. Next time, I’ll make potato salad with them instead.

Finally, the taste. Every single dish we’ve tried has been high quality food. In the months since we’ve started trying these new dishes, we’ve not had a single repeat. Only two of the dishes have been instances where I felt that I wouldn’t want to eat them again. Both times, it was things that were good quality, just not really my cup of tea.

 

fresh lettuce
This lettuce literally came with the roots in a pot.

I’ve also found out that my friend and I are not the only ones at work who are hooked. I’ve spoken to 11 women at work about this; six of us are using Blue Apron almost weekly. And that’s the other nice thing. If you don’t need the food one week because of vacations or travel, or you’re just not really interested in the menu that week, you can cancel. That right there is the reason I gave up on Dinner A’faire. I hated having to spend a couple hundred dollars per month on frozen meals that I might not end up having time to make. With Blue Apron, everything is fresh, not frozen. I am able to plan my month out and cancel when I know I won’t have time to fix anything. The fish is sustainable, the meat doesn’t have a bunch of hormones. It’s good quality.

 

I really do love Blue Apron. On those weeks where we don’t get it, I find myself missing it.

Cooking adventures with The Boy

apronOur son is 3.5 years old. He’s at the age where he wants to learn and do things “all by myself!” but still needs help. There’s one thing I love to have him help with and that’s cooking dinner. I want him to know that boys can cook. I want him to know how to make food for himself and be independent, and I want him to know what it takes to get his food prepared. He’s been helping me a lot lately and I realized something early on that makes me really encourage him to help me cook. He loves to eat the food he’s made himself. He’s willing to try new things. He loves going out with me to the container garden and picking a tomato and then (if it lasts that long and isn’t eaten first) seeing that tomato end up on the table in a dinner he’s helped to make.

One of our favorite things to make together is pancakes. He does everything once and then “lets” me take over. We talk about how much Bisquick mix we need. He gets to stir, pour it out on the pan and flip the pancakes when done. If we’re in the mood, he sprinkles chocolate chips on some of them.  I even let him flip the bacon the first time (before it starts to really sizzle and pop).

Yesterday, he got his first “burn.” We’d been talking about not touching hot pans. I’d just turned the pan on and it was beginning to warm up. I warned him several times to not touch. But, I also decided to step back a bit and see what he’d do. As I suspected, he reached out and lightly brushed the end of the pan with his finger. He jumped back to show me his “burn” and we dealt with it. The pan was just barely warm and the “burn” was not even a red spot. (By the time we turned around to the sink to run cool water over it and get the medicinal Mama kiss, neither of us could remember which finger was actually “burned.” We finally settled on the right since that had been closest to the pan). I hope it was enough for him to understand not to touch, though. He could tell that the pans continued to heat up. Considering they are talking about the five senses this week in daycare, I’m wondering if he’ll mention this incident for “touch.”

Yes, having my helper makes it harder to get dinner on the table. But it is so much fun. We are learning about hand-washing before food prep and washing after touching raw meat and eggs. We’re learning what food looks like cooked and un-cooked. He’s learning that there are ways to measure things and how to be careful so we don’t make too big of a mess – though some mess is required and the cooks definitely get to sample the chocolate chips. But he’s also learning that he’s part of the family and has responsibilities to help. All this and the memories are priceless.

Easy Homemade Donuts

chocolate covered donut
Chocolate frosted

My mother used to make us donuts at home. They were delicious. She’d mix the dough and spend the time to deep fry them. Then, we’d all choose our toppings from an array that she’d mix up from a base powdered sugar mixture. It’s one of my favorite memories from childhood. I decided this would be one of the memories The Boy would have of his childhood. But I don’t have the time or inclination to mix up donut dough from scratch. Thankfully, cans of Pillsbury Grands Homestyle Biscuits exist.

To make easy homemade (and delicious) donuts at home, you’ll need

  • The biscuit dough
  • Frying oil (I usually use the leftover peanut oil after I’ve made eggrolls)
  • Flavorings (like: maple, almond, vanilla)
  • Other toppings (like: cake frosting, cocoa powder, crushed nuts, sprinkles, etc.)
  • Milk (if you don’t have milk, you can use water, but the glaze tastes like it’s missing a little something)
  • Powdered Sugar

Making the Donuts

maple frosted donut
Maple frosted
  1. Open the can of Pillsbury Homestyle Biscuits
  2. Use a cap from a bottle, or a 1/4 cup measuring cup to pop a hole out of the center
  3. In a pan of hot oil, drop the donuts and donut holes a few at a time. Flip after they are golden brown on the bottom.
  4. After frying on both sides, remove from the oil and drain.
  5. While the donuts are still warm, dip them in your favorite toppings.

Making the Donut Toppings

array of donut toppings
From top to bottom: maple, powdered sugar, plain glaze, melted chocolate frosting

 

  1. Get a large bag of powdered sugar
  2. Split off a small bowl for just plain powdered sugar
  3. Mix the rest of the powdered sugar with milk to make a plain glaze. (This is what your Krispy Kreme donut is covered in)
  4. Split the plain glaze into several bowls,  depending on what flavors you like.
  5. Here is what we usually do:
  • Leave one bowl plane
  • On the second bowl, add a small amount of maple flavoring (or syrup if that’s all you have)
  • On the third, add cocoa powder (if you’re out of cocoa powder, a chocolate can of cake frosting microwaved for a few seconds until it’s melted makes an AMAZING chocolate frosting for donuts. That is what the chocolate donut above is covered in).
  • Line the bowls up into an assembly line and let everyone choose their own toppings.

Black and White Brownie Pops

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I needed something easy to make but interesting for our Memorial Day picnic at church recently. I had eaten some brownie pops that my best friend sent me from  Shari’s Berries for Valentine’s Day and was craving them again. The brownie pops they created were adorably cute (and extremely delicious) lady bugs where the head was a dipped cherry. browniebitesMy brownie pops were very simple since I didn’t have a lot of time to make anything complicated, but it would be fairly easy to do more with these. If you are looking for a place to order from though, I can tell you the quality from these and the chocolate covered strawberries she sent me were great.

Ingredients:

  • Brownies (I just made a box mix) – make sure you bake them for the bare minimum time so they are still gooey.
  • Powdered sugar
  • Dipping chocolate – there are many brands, follow the instructions for melting the pieces. I used Marzetti’s chocolate fruit dipping pieces because that was what I had at home.
  • Cookie sheet covered in wax paper

Instructions:

Cut off the edges and scrape the brownie out of the pan immediately after removing it from the oven. Put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool it off, enough so you can handle it, but take it out while still warm.

imagePull off pieces of the brownie and roll them in your hands to make large gumball sized balls. (about 1 inch in diameter)

Refrigerate or freeze the balls when done to firm them up.

 

Take 1/2 of the balls for dipping in chocolate and the other 1/2 for dipping in powdered sugar.

image imageUsing tooth picks, roll the balls in your chocolate dipping sauce.
Put them on the waxed paper covered cookie sheet to drip. After you are finished dipping all the chocolate balls, put this pan in the refrigerator to firm up the chocolate completely.

Take the rest of the balls and roll them in the powdered sugar.

imageimage

 

 

 

After the chocolate balls are firmed up, place all of them on the plate and enjoy!image

Tip: The chocolate covered balls did eventually start to get a bit sticky in our summer heat, though the powdered sugar ones did fine. But this would probably be better for an indoor party.

American Egg Rolls

I don’t cook often, but I do enjoy it every once in a while. When I do, I tend to go for odd meals. They don’t always follow the meat and two veggies, plus starch that my mom always made. The other day, I decided to make egg rolls. These are my take on egg rolls. I call them American egg rolls because you can really put anything you want in these. This particular recipe is the Asian inspired flavor for egg rolls. I’ve also done a Mexican inspired flavor for these where I take seasoned ground beef, corn, beans, and a bit of cheese and make a Tex-Mex variation. Play with the ingredients however you wish.

egg rolls

Frying Ingredients:

  • Use a fairly large stainless steel frying pan for these. Don’t use a non-stick pan. At the temperatures you’re going to have your oil at, there is a risk that some of the chemicals in a Teflon covered pan might leach out.
  • Peanut Oil. This is not a healthy dish. Don’t ruin it by trying to make it healthy using some other oil. Go for the stuff they use in the restaurants – it tastes better. (you can find this in the baking aisle of your grocery store)
  • Tongs
  • Paper towel covered cake pan (when removing egg rolls, stand them on end leaning on the sides of the pan to better drain)
  • An apron. Or else wear a shirt you don’t care about, but you will get oil stains on it.

Egg Roll Ingredients:

Tip: I use the TupperWare Chop ‘N Prep Chef chopper to shred the cabbage, carrots and chicken. This is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Definitely makes shredding the ingredients really easy and quick.

  • Egg Roll wrappers (I buy Nasoya brand, available in the organic section of the regular grocery store)
  • 1 head red cabbage (shredded)
  • 1 cup carrots (shredded)
  • 1 package shredded pre-cooked chicken. (I buy either Perdue Short Cuts or Tyson Grilled and Ready in the 10 oz package, whichever is on sale)

Assembly:

Mix the shredded cabbage and shredded carrots in a bowl.

Tip: You will not be using all the cabbage/carrot mixture. Think about splitting this in half and using the reserved 1/2 to make homemade coleslaw.

Create an assembly line. Put the wraps first, then, the cabbage/carrot mix in a bowl. Next, Put the shredded chicken in another bowl. Get a bowl of WARM water at the end.

Tip: Make sure you keep the water of the assembly process away from your pile of wraps.

Remove one wrap from the pile and lay it in front of you as if it were a diamond shape with the bottom pointing at you. Add a heaping tablespoon full of cabbage/carrot mixture to the middle of the wrap. Add a heaping teaspoon of chicken to the pile. Dip your fingers into the warm water and moisten the bottom edges of the diamond. Take the two side points, and connect them together. Take the bottom point and press into the folds of the side points. You have now created what should look like an open envelope.

LlubNek-Open-Envelope

Lift this up and gently shake to get all the ingredients below the fold. Then, as tightly (and gently) as you can, roll from the bottom and use a bit of water to seal the top of the envelope. Don’t worry if you rip it. One thing you can do, is seal most rips by moistening the tear and squishing them back together. If you have a really bad tear, you can sacrifice one wrapper to become the “tape” to hold others. Just moisten a strip off of a wrapper and plaster it on top of the tear.

Don’t pile assembled egg rolls tightly. They’ll stick together.

Frying:

Fill your frying pan with peanut oil about one inch deep. Try to have a pan large enough that you can fit four to five egg rolls at a time with plenty of room for them to move around. Otherwise, you’ll be frying all night. Heat the oil to the point where a TINY drop of water will fizzle away quickly. Be careful! If you flick too much water in very hot oil, you will hurt yourself. Just drop a bit of water off the tip of your finger to test. If you see smoke on your oil, turn the heat off immediately. Once the oil is hot enough, begin placing your egg rolls. Do this part slowly. Don’t drop them in. You do not want to splash hot oil on yourself.

Watch the first batch very carefully. Turn them over when the fried side looks to be getting close to golden brown. Use your tongs to flip the egg rolls and cook the opposite side.

Tip: if you see a thin side to the egg rolls, cook that side first, that will help cut down on giant bubbles forming that will make them want to not stay flipped over. If you get an egg roll that keeps trying to flip over, hold it with a fork in the position you need for a few seconds until the air has had a chance to move around and the egg roll no longer tries to flip back over.

Once the other half has been fried, use the tongs to remove the egg rolls from the oil. Give it a few seconds above the oil to drain off the oil (turn the egg roll different ways to ensure you’ve gotten most of the oil off) then move to your paper towel covered cake pan. Use the sides of the cake pan so that you can drain the egg rolls by standing them up on end. This helps get most of the oil out.

Egg rolls should be golden brown. Apologies on the picture above, I kept getting interrupted on this batch so they got a bit more done than they normally would be – but they were still delicious.

Tip: Watch the temperature of your oil. If your egg rolls begin cooking too fast, turn the heat down. Don’t leave these unattended. They can burn very quickly.

Serving Suggestions:

We like using hot mustard and soy sauce. You can try sweet and sour sauce as well.

Makes about 25

One last note about the peanut oil. You can re-use this a time or two if you’re going to be frying in the near future (refrigerated biscuits dough make yummy fried donuts). Once you have let the oil cool for a couple hours, you can put it in a container. I suggest taking a large container and using a paper towel to create a sieve. Don’t put the towel on top tightly, let it sag a bit like a bowl so oil can drip through. SLOWLY pour some of the cooled oil into the paper towel sieve. Let that drip down into your container. Seal it tightly and re-use it. If your oil has changed color or overheated, you may not want to do this. Make sure you’re wearing your apron when you do this.

 

Easy Toy Story Little Green Alien Cupcakes

alien1

I admit it. I look at Pinterest and feel like I should be able to throw together this awesomely amazing birthday party for The Boy in my spare time. Then, I remember I work and don’t have spare time. I do try to do something cute for his birthdays though. We don’t go all out. We only have family over to celebrate. He’ll have a big party with friends in a few years, but right now, we are keeping it small.

And it all starts with Halloween.

Tip: Think about Halloween

Coordinate decorations between holidays to save time and money.

Wait – you say. Why are we mixing Halloween and birthdays? Here’s why. Our church does a Trunk or Treat every year where you decorate your car for the kids to come along and get candy. What I did this past year was use the decorations that I planned on using for The Boy’s birthday in February for the Trunk or Treat car in October. Meaning, I got to re-use this stuff and I only had to make one trip to the party store. Score! How does this work with a toddler’s attention span? By using the same decorations and allowing him to continue playing with them in between Halloween and his birthday, we’ve been lucky enough that he continued to like the idea of having his birthday be the same thing he was for Halloween.  We didn’t do this the first two years and it might not be possible this next year, but it’s something to consider if you have an obsessed kid.

This past year, we also had our first trip to Walt Disney World with The Boy planned. We knew we’d be there during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, so we decided to coordinate Toy Story inspired costumes for the Party, the Trunk or Treat at church, and his birthday. Getting to use some of this stuff three times made my frugal self happy and it made decorating and planning a LOT easier.

Now for the Cupcakes

This is not so much a recipe as an assembly guide. I don’t have time to bake things from scratch. If you’re honest, you probably don’t either.

Tip: Invest in two cupcake pans

Why? They’re cheap and that means you can fit the entire batch of batter in two pans and not have to bake for twice as long.

What you need:

  • 1 box cake mix (plus all the ingredients to mix it up)
  • 2 cans of butter cream frosting
  • 1 tube neon green gel coloring dye
  • green gummies
  • black jelly beans
  • 1 package candy eyes (make sure the package contains at least 72 eyes)
  • green toothpicks

Preparing the cupcakes

  • Bake the cupcakes.

Tip: Measure

24 cupcakes takes just slightly under a 1/4 cup batter each for a typical boxed cake.

  • Refrigerate or freeze the cupcakes while you mix the frosting to make them easier to frost.
  • In a mixer, mix the green dye with your butter cream frosting until you get the color desired. This took about 1/2 tube of the neon green gel for two cans of frosting.
  • Frost the cupcakes.
  • Cut the green gummies into triangular pieces. My gummies were Easter gummies, so they were not very easy to make triangles. I eventually was able to make rectangles and then cut those for the triangle.
  • Cut the black jelly beans into quarters to get as close to a “smile” as possible.

alien2

  • Put a bit of gummy on top of the green toothpick. Bonus: this helps keep the top of your container from getting frosting on it.

Presentation

I bought one of those Toy Story cup cake stands, but I think these would have been just as cute lined up in rows. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with how sturdy this stand was for being only a few dollars. I think it might be worth it, though, to invest in a real cupcake stand for the future.

alien3

Now that your army is complete, you can take over the world.