This post is sponsored by Blue Apron.
(Tomato, watermelon & farro salad with seared halloumi)
In the comments on my last post for Blue Apron, a few of you cried foul on the claim that all the recipes can all be made in under 45 minutes, and wanted to know if I was some kind of knife skills wizard, or if I was just straight up lying like a dirty lying liar, a fraud, a cog in the Blue Apron Misinformation Machine.
To which I say, calm your tin foiled butts, I don't cook with a stopwatch running, maybe sometimes it takes 50 minutes, also it's really all about practice and prepping tools.
My knife skills are DEFINITELY nothing spectacular -- I've always wanted to take a class, because right now if I were to go on Next Food Network Star I'd totally be that contestant that I shout at every season, like you got cast on Next Food Network Star! Take a damn knife skills class before you get on the plane, idiot!
(Does no one else do that? No? Okay.)
I will absolutely admit that the very first meal I cooked with Blue Apron -- while undeniably delicious -- was a bit of a disaster, in terms of the mess I made along the way, and keeping pace with the steps and what to add and when and having two or three different things I was doing at the same time. You know, kind of the way I ALWAYS cooked.
We have since GREATLY improved, since there's a definite rhythm to BA recipes and familiar patterns that make it easier to keep multiple cooking processes from descending into pot-boiling-over chaos. The pre-portioned ingredients obviously help, too.
(We've also learned that before you do a thing, READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE CARD. Make note of what ingredient is going where, and say stuff like "RESERVE SOME PASTA WATER" out loud to increase your odds of remembering to reserve some pasta water BEFORE two seconds after you've drained it all down the sink.)
(Come on. I KNOW other people do that one.)
Anyway, I thought it might also be helpful to list a few of the tools we use to speed up the prepping process, which depending on how much produce is involved, can absolutely be the most time consuming part of cooking. I don't think any of these are anything earth-shattering or unusual -- we're not big fans of the single-use tools around here, so not hot-dog-bun toasters or weird peelers intended for one specific vegetable and nothing else. These are just our go-to kitchen items, dependable workhorses that speed things up while also reducing the chance that I will Ruin Everything and we'll end up ordering a pizza.
1) Microplane Zester Grater
You're gonna cook with a LOT of lemons and limes with Blue Apron. And you're gonna use a LOT of zest. The recipe card will always say something like "using a small knife, peel the top layer of skin until you get such-and-such amount of zest, avoiding the pith." And then immediately, in parentheses "(or use a zester)." Listen to the parentheses. Use a freaking zester.
2) Citrus Juicer
So all those lemons and limes? You're also going to be told to quarter and deseed them, and then add juice from the wedges along the way. And you can totally do it that way! Or you can do it our way, which is totally faster and better and at least 35% less rouge-lemon-seedier.
(Also the juicer kind of looks like someone is wearing a hat with a lemon hat on top of the regular hat, and so now I sometimes call lemon halves lemon hats, to the great entertainment of No One.)
3) Food Chopper
The only thing you will use more of than lemons and limes with Blue Apron is garlic. You will peel and chop and mince and paste-ify approximately 700 cloves of garlic a month. (NOTE TO SELF CHECK MATH MAYBE.) And raw onions too, which I personally can no longer touch with my bare hands or spend any extended amount of time breathing in around without triggering an allergic reaction.
There are many food choppers available, most of which are probably better than the dinosaur we have. It's about 15 years old and was originally white and the pieces don't really fit together as well as they used to. But it still chops up garlic gloves super fast and super evenly, and if I am stuck in a position where I have no one to outsource the raw onion to, this is the ONLY way I can get the task done with minimal pain and suffering.
4) Architec Recipe Card Holder
Okay, so I guess this is technically a little single use, but man do I love this thing*. Takes up zero room, holds recipe cards upright in place and makes them MUCH easier to refer back to when you're suddenly like, "wait was I supposed to add all the parsley or just half?" or "wait am I supposed to reserve any pasta water?" I bought these as a gift for just about every friend or family member who also uses Blue Apron because it's just so handy. The kids use it for homework sometimes, or to display their latest artistic masterpieces.
*Caveat that the recipe rock will NOT prevent your husband from asking you "how many minutes per side?" after he starts cooking the protein, night after night after night, even though the recipe card is right there, NEXT TO THE STOVE, and you are on the other side of the room The endless, eternal question: how many minutes per side, Amy?
5) Good Freaking Knives, Duh
So the second you decide to be a grown-up human being who is ready to do some SERIOUS goddamn adulting, treat yo self to a really good chef's knife, like first thing. You will never regret it. We have two, because 1) we cook together most of the time, and 2) because we have different sized hands and different opinions about what knife grip shape we prefer. Jason's is on the left, mine is the santoku knife on the bottom and it is obviously like, sooooo much better than his.
Neither of these knives were crazy balls expensive, by the way. They weren't cheap, but I've since seen knives that cost way, way more. But "really good" necessarily has to mean the most expensive knife in the store. You want something sharp that feels good in your hand, that you feel immediately in control of. Then take care of it -- wash it by hand and sharpen it every once in awhile -- and it'll be a great investment that you'll use for ages.
6) Mandoline Slicer
This is one of those gadgets that seems to scare people -- or NOT scare them enough, in Jason's case, since he managed to slice off the tip of his finger the very first time he used one -- but I personally consider it to be pretty essential. Even with a good knife, slicing a ton of vegetables (and slicing them thinly and EVENLY) is super time-consuming. Especially if you aren't super skilled or speedy, or need to reference YouTube demonstrations of the matchstick cut every single time until your husband reminds you that the mandoline has a blade for that, oh. Right.
7) Bowls, Bowls, All Types of Bowls
Good lord, do I ever own and use a lot of bowls. Mixing bowls! Prep bowls! Mini bowls! Metal bowls, glass bowls, batter bowls, serving bowls, a bowl on the counter as a dedicated place to toss produce scraps for trash or compost. They keep me organized and prepared for the next recipe step.You cannot achieve true mise en place without bowls, and without true mise en place, your cooking will be messy, disorganized and likely plagued by mistakes. Therefore, bowls.
BOWLS FOR PRESIDENT 2016
So I feel like I could keep going on and on here, singing the praises of even the most obvious kitchen essentials (wooden spoons! more than one cutting board! TONGS!) or veer past prep and right into cooking (nonstick vs. cast iron vs. enamelware! the world's best sheet pan! probe thermometers FTW!) but I've likely prattled on enough.
Plus it's almost time to start dinner. Tonight it's Southern Style Chicken Cacciatore with grits and basil, which, yeah, I'm gonna serve that in a really nice big bowl.
(FINAL COMPLETELY UNRELATED PARENTHESES: Wait! Wait! I just remembered another question I get asked all the time about Blue Apron and forget to post about. Which plan do we use to feed a family of five? Blue Apron currently offers two, a 2-Person Plan and a Family Plan.
2-Person plan is one delivery a week, with three complete meals you pick from a selection of six. [Note that now every combination of meals is available.] That one is $9.99 a meal.
The Family Plan is either one or two deliveries a week, two family-style meals per box, designed to feed four people. That one is $8.74 a meal.
Both plans have free shipping, and all the meals across have the same 40-minutes-or-less cooking time and are between 500-700 calories. You can switch between the plans your Account Info page on the Blue Apron website, and of course you can pause, skip, cancel any time and all that.
We bounce back and forth, depending on the week's menu and how many meals we expect to cook at home that week. MOST of the time, we get two boxes of the 2-Person Plan, then cook the recipes doubled up. Three meals a week is typically the perfect number for us, plus there's usually at least one recipe on that plan that we simply HAVE to try. But really, either option delivers more than enough food for two adults and three children of various-sized appetites. And yes, we usually have enough leftovers for lunches from at least one or two of the meals [that can vary].
ARGH. DINNER TIME. STOP TALKING, AMY. GO CHOP SOME TOMATOES.)
Thanks again to Blue Apron for their continued sponsorship of these posts. If you'd like to give the service a try, use this link and get two free meals added to your first order. (Limited to first 100 readers.)