Early Summer Cooking with Blue Apron

Today’s post is sponsored by Blue Apron.

In my household, I do the vast majority of our grocery shopping and meal planning. Most of the time, this makes sense for my husband and me. I work from home. I like cook. I make a podcast about home cooking. And I write about food for a living, for goodness sakes.

However, there are times when I am tired. I run out of ideas and the very thought of coming up with a nutritious, relatively easy to make, and tasty meal feels like a mountain too high to climb. My husband’s answer to these periods is to order take-out. And while that’s an adequate answer in the short term, it’s not a good solution for more than a night or two.

In the last year, I’ve discovered that there is a really good solution to these times when I can’t dream up another hearty, healthy soup, stew, or casserole. Salvation, thy name is Blue Apron.

This is now my third go-round with Blue Apron and this most recent box could not have come at a better moment. Life has been busy. My teaching schedule has ramped up. And I’ve been doing some recipe development for a future project. Finding the mental energy to dream up dinner after spending half the day testing recipes is harder than you might think.

As I unpacked the ingredients for the Crispy Chicken Tenders, the Smoked Trout & Asparagus Salad, and Roast Beef & Farro Salad, I was really impressed by the food I found in the box. The quality of the ingredients was top notch. The portion sizes are perfect for two people. And the flavor combinations were outside my regular wheelhouse, which made the whole thing feel exciting.

Those unfamiliar flavor combinations are one of the things I like most about Blue Apron. I always take away some new culinary tidbit or new-to-me ingredient when I cook my way through a box. This go-round, I discovered that smoked trout is a delicious ingredient and that I always want to eat roasted squash when it is dressed with a couple spoonful of bright gremolata.

I was also impressed by how little packaging there was, particularly compared to my first Blue Apron experience last year. And, if packaging is a concern for you, know that if you can’t find ways to reuse or recycle the materials in your area, it can also be returned through the mail for reuse and recycling.

There’s one other thing that I love about Blue Apron and that’s the fact that the instructions are so approachable that anyone with some basic kitchen sense can tackle the recipe. This means that on nights when I’m simply too spent to cook, I can recruit my husband to handle dinner. Those step-by-step recipe cards give him all the confidence he needs to make a tasty meal.

If you’re intrigued by my experience with Blue Apron, they’ve got an offer for you, too! The first fifty readers to use this link to sign up for the service will get three meals for free on their first Blue Apron order.

Oh, and if you want to take a peek at more of the possible meals you’ll get from Blue Apron, check out their recipe page.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Blue Apron. They sent me a 2-Person box, containing three meals for two people. They’ve also compensated me for my time and attention. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely mine.

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Small Batch Strawberry Plum Jam

Looking for a preserve to bridge spring and summer? This small batch strawberry plum jam is just the thing to marry the seasons in delicious fashion.

Fruit for strawberry plum jam

Last week, I had lunch with a canning friend. After doing a quick check-in about the general state of our lives, we got down to the real business at hand – dishing about our summer preserving plans.

Lucia is planning on focusing on stonefruit this summer since they’re her favorite (and it was a terrible season for peaches and nectarines around these parts last year) and also hopes to do some classic strawberry jam to satisfy a plaintive request made by her partner.

Chopped fruit in the pan for strawberry plum jam

After spending so many seasons working on books and developing new recipes for various partnerships, my plan is to focus on restocking our beloved basics. Simple jams, plenty of fruit sauces (peach! nectarine! apple!), lots of tomatoes, and a triple batch of my beloved roasted corn salsa (the recipe is in the Food in Jars cookbook).

Artfully out of focus fruit for strawberry plum jam

I am also hoping to get my hands on a goodly number of plums in the coming months. The local ones were almost entirely wiped out in the late freeze last year and so I’m totally out of plum jam and chutney (two of my favorites).

We had plum trees in our the backyard of my family’s LA house and so the flavor of plum preserves has the ability to instantly transport me to my early childhood. I need a little of that taste memory in my life.

Finished strawberry plum jam still in the pan

I will confess that I have already dabbled with plums this year. They traveled many miles to reach my grocery store, and while they wouldn’t have been particularly delicious to eat out of hand, in combination with strawberries, sugar, and a little lemon juice, they brought texture and deliciousness to a small batch of strawberry plum jam.

Finished strawberry plum jam in jars

And remember, the best pan for cooking up these small batches of jam isn’t always your beloved dutch oven or copper preserving pan. I like to use a wide pan with low sides because it means that the jam will reduce quickly and evenly. The pan pictured in this post is the Lagostina Martellata Tri-ply Copper 5-Qt. Casserole which they nicely sent me awhile back for review purposes. My review? It’s a lovely pan that’s good for jam making and so much more!

And now, for the recipe.

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Cookbooks: Savory Sweet

When I wrote my three preserving cookbooks, I spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to organize their content. For Food in Jars, we went with type of preserve. In Preserving by the Pint, the recipes are grouped by season. And I opted to group recipes by sweetener type in Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. During all that plotting and planning, it never occurred to me to group recipes by primary ingredient. However, having now spent some time with Savory Sweet by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen, I see how useful and approachable a structure it is.

This book, which focuses on simple, approachable preserving with a northern sensibility (both authors currently live in Minnesota, and Nielsen was raised in Denmark), is a lovely, thoughtful, and useful addition to our collective preservation library. It is guided by a principle the authors call The New Northern Approach, the tenets of which mirror my own approach to preserving. Here they are, in order:

  • Organized by ingredient
  • Small batch
  • No tricky preserving methods, everyday equipment
  • No artificial ingredients
  • Little sugar, big taste
  • Healthy preserved foods
  • Bright, interesting flavors
  • Year round
  • Quick ideas for using them up

When I read that list for the first time, I wanted to hop right up, book a plane ticket for Minnesota, and go off to meet the women who created this book. With such similar approaches to preserving, I believe we’d be quick friends. Plus, look at all the glorious food they make. I have no doubt that we’d eat well!

There are so many things in this book that I’ve marked to try. The Roasted Beet and Tomato Relish speaks to me (and I’ve got beets in the crisper as I type). The Danish Pickled Carrots call out my name (perhaps I could even convince my husband to eat them, since he loves both carrots and caraway). Eggplant Chutney! Indian-Spiced Garlic Chutney! Squash and Apricot Chutney! It’s a glorious time to be a chutney lover.

There is one thing to be aware of with this book. They don’t preserve anything for shelf stability. The recipes are designed to be stored in the fridge or freezer. This will be a boon to some preservers who like to skip the boiling water bath step. However, if you’re like me and find yourself really short on cold storage at the best of times, this might make you curse the authors’ names and toss the book across the room.

There are things that COULD be processed for shelf stability (many of the fruit preserves appear to be plenty high in acid), but if that kind of gray zone makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the book for you.

Personally, I really like this book and plan to borrow plenty of inspiration from its pages. The design and the culinary sensibility speak to me. It just makes me wish I had more freezer space!

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Links: Strawberries, Rhubarb, Mulberries, and Winners

Every so often, I forget how to blog. I realize that that might sound like a strange statement from someone who has been writing on the internet on a near-daily basis since 2005, but it’s true. It most often happens when I go out of town, when I go through a really busy period of working on other projects, or when I stop cooking on a regular basis. Recently, it’s been a combination of all three.

But I’m home for at least a month now, the pace of my other work feels manageable, and recent trips to the farmers market have me feeling inspired to cook. My head feels clear and the words are flowing. Let’s read through some links!

Last week, I offered up a copy of Fiery Ferments for giveaway. The winner of this fabulous book is #5/Ryan G. Congratulations Ryan! And for those of you who didn’t win, check back in soon. I have a number of terrific giveaways coming up in the next few weeks.

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Cookbooks: Fiery Ferments

When it comes to cultured pickles and preserved, Fermented Vegetables by Kristen and Christopher Shockey is one of my most-referenced cookbooks. I take a peek at it any time I want guidance on how to put together a new-to-me a batch of fermented veg, and my beloved fermented dilly bean recipe is simply a scaled down version of theirs.

Their second book, called Fiery Ferments, was released a couple weeks ago and it is just as good and useful as their first volume. It opens with an introduction to basic vegetable fermentation and includes a really useful discussion of the many airlocks and fermentation accessories that are out there (as well as advice on how to ferment without investing in any gear beyond a jar and a ziptop bag).

From there, the book shifts to explaining the skills necessary to make the recipes in the book. You get step-by-step guide to building a basic pepper mash, brine-based sauces and pickles, pastes and mustards, and kimchis, relishes, and salads. For those of you looking to build your confidence in these techniques, this part of the book is worth the price of admission alone.

Then, because Fiery Ferments is focused on building pickles, sauces, and condiments that walk on the spicy side, you’ll find an in-depth section on the ingredients that bring the heat. Ginger, galangal, and turmeric get equal billing with peppercorns and chiles.

Then we get to the recipes. They are small batch (smaller than the recipes in Fermented Vegetables, which I appreciate), varied in flavor and construction, and are illustrated with glorious, appealing pictures. Best of all, in addition to lots of ferments, they also included a handful of recipes designed to help you make good use of the things you’ve made (those fermented jalapeno poppers above look darn tasty).

Thanks to the folks at Storey, I have a copy of this book to give away. Follow the instructions below to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me about your fermented food to eat, drink, or share.
  2. Comments will close at 12 noon eastern time on Sunday, June 19, 2017. A winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog later that day.
  3. Giveaway open to US residents only. Void where prohibited.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: Storey sent me sent me a review copy of this book and is providing the giveaway unit, both at no cost to me. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

Quick Pickled Apple Matchsticks & OXO Chef’s Mandoline

I got my first CSA share of the season a week ago, and in addition to the other spring vegetables like snap peas and breakfast radishes, it came with an enormous head of red butter lettuce, an unwieldy bunch of kale, dandelion greens, and bags of spicy arugula and mixed salad greens. You will not be at all surprised to hear that we’ve been eating a lot of salads lately.

Thought I eat salads all year round, I think of this time of year as the true salad season, and as such, I like to outfit my fridge accordingly. I work up a few easy things that can enhance all those greens and make it simple to shake together tasty little batches of vinaigrettes.

This spring, I’m particularly digging these quick pickled apple matchsticks. The are bright, tangy, and crunchy. In combination with a tangle of greens, some soft goat cheese, a few toasted walnuts, and a drizzle of olive oil, they make an incredibly pleasing salad.

The nice folks from OXO recently sent me one of their new Chef’s Mandoline Slicers to try out and it makes slicing apples for this quick pickle such a pleasure. Unlike other mandolines, where you have to manually change out different blades in order to create matchsticks, you simply turn a knob to dial up the julienne blade. What’s more, the guard is designed to wrap around the piece of food that you’re slicing, making the whole slicing act feel safer than any other mandoline I’ve used.

The same knob that allows you to move the julienne tines into place also adjusts the thickness of the cut. This means that you can select thickness settings in 0.5-mm intervals, which is an unusual amount of control for a mandoline that is priced under $100 (this one sells for $79.99). You can also select straight and wavy blades, and a French fry blade. There’s not much in the slicing realm that this mandoline can’t do.

If you’re still making bread and butter pickles with your grandmother’s rusty wavy slicer, consider giving yourself an upgrade this year. Your pickles will be more consistent and will come together in record time!
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