Thursday, September 29, 2016

Eating Freshly

I tend not to do reviews here - that's why I have a review blog. But in this case, I'm writing about nearly a full week of food that I received from a company called Freshly, so it I decided to post here. because it's food.


Freshly is yet another service that sends you meals. (and if you want to order, there's a discount offered at the very bottom of this post) The difference between Freshly and some (most?) of the others is that Freshly dinners are completely cooked. No chopping, slicing, or cooking needed. You just poke holes in the plastic film on top, pop it in the microwave for one or two minutes to heat it, and serve.

It's like ... um ... TV dinners? Except that this food is fresh rather than frozen.

I'll have to say that the food doesn't look all that fancy when you first open the package. This is the Chicken Rustica, before I cooked it. It was a chicken breast with sauce and a cauliflower mash.


It looks much prettier when it's plated.


For size, that's not a dinner plate. It's a chicken breast, not a turkey breast. I like eating off of small plates, so that's what I usually use for photos. While it's still not the most stunning plate of food I'd ever seen, the flavor was really good, and the chicken breast was really tender and not at all dry. If you wanted to make it more fancy, some parsley, chopped chives, or even a sprinkle of cheese would do a good job dressing it up.

My one quibble here is that my usual meals have a much larger portion of vegetables compared to the protein portion. On a normal day, I'd probably eat half of that chicken and three times as much vegetable. But that's just me.

This was actually one of my favorite meals of the bunch. I was impressed with the chicken, I liked the sauce, and I'll probably make cauliflower mash really soon. It was quite tasty.

Next came the garlic shrimp dinner. I always feel like if something's going to go bad, it's going to be the seafood. So I wanted to eat that quickly and leave the more robust foods for later.


This was good, but I had an urge to serve it with rice or noodles. Even zucchini noodles. For a meat-eater, I really really like my vegetables. With rice, I could have easily made this two full meals or more, but I ate it as-is for one meal. It had good flavor and plenty of shrimp. They weren't the super-giant shrimp, but they were a nice size.

I chose just one of the many breakfast options from Freshly. The green chili and sausage frittata was the only meal that actually looked good in its original packaging. It's warmed up here, but they only difference between heated and unheated was that the cheese was melted after it was heated.


But that didn't stop me from serving it on a plate. You totally don't need plates for these meals because the containers they come in are sturdy, but I prefer eating off of a plate.


This was a nice breakfast, but I'll be honest and say that I ate it for lunch. It made a really nice light lunch.

Next up was the grilled flatiron steak.


I loved the spinach. Yeah, here's me talking about vegetables again. The potato hash was good and had both sweet potatoes and white. I thought the steak was a bit overcooked, but it was still pretty tender. Still, I would have preferred it cooked a bit less. It reminded me more of pot roast than steak, but the flavor was good.

I loved that this came with a large portion of the spinach along with a petite portion of the potatoes. Yeah, I like my vegetables a lot. I'm going to keep saying that. Get used to it.

I didn't mention this before, but all of the packages for the different foods have a nutrition label along with a list of ingredients, so you know what you're getting.


The steak dinner was 510 calories, which seems pretty reasonable, considering you've got creamed spinach. With, you know, cream. Plus a hunk o' beef. I didn't check all the other dinners for their calorie counts, but this one seemed to be one of the heartiest.

Next up was the Chicken Livorno.


This was another one that I thought was a bit light on the vegetables. It had beans with some greens and tomatoes, but I would have loved some broccoli or green beans or something else that had more of a fresh, light flavor. But, that's just me. I'm sure some of you are shaking your heads and saying that you don't really want more vegetables than what you see on that plate.

I had this for lunch and didn't finish it. Actually, I ate about half of it. And then I had a brilliant idea. I cut the remaining chicken into small pieces, then cooked some noodles in a pot with some Better than Bouillon chicken flavored stock mix. I added the leftover chicken and beans and greens to the pot with the noodles just long enough to warm them. Yup, it was soup. And it was pretty good.

So, what does this tell us? You can adapt these meals if you don't want to eat them completely as-is. And you can stretch them, too, but adding more vegetables or a salad. Or, you know, a promise of dessert.

Last was the meatloaf. I was a little skeptical, because meatloaf can be pretty personal. Everyone loves their own meatloaf or their mom's meatloaf, and other meatloaves never measure up.


That said, this meatloaf dinner was my other favorite. The meatloaf was good, and it came with peas and potatoes, so it was a nice balance.

Overall, I liked what I ordered, and I'd be happy to eat any of them again. I think if I was eating these on a regular basis, and if I wasn't someone who liked to cook, I'd stock up on bagged salads and maybe some frozen vegetables. That way I could eat half of the protein with all the vegetables for one meal and then have the rest of the protein with my frozen vegetables on another day. And probably a salad on both days.

Yeah, I like my salads as much as I like my vegetables.

For people who don't like vegetables as much as I do, these would probably be absolutely perfect as-is.

This particular food box service is geared towards people who don't like to cook, don't want to cook, or don't have time to cook. But who also don't want to bother with all the fuss of going out to dinner. Or people who want a decent lunch at work, as long as there's a microwave to use.

Am I going to order this for myself on an ongoing basis? Probably not. I like to cook, so it's unlikely I'd buy these for all of my meals from now on. But if I knew I had a week coming up where I was going to be crazy busy, this would really work. I mean, seriously, dinner was ready in two minutes. You can't beat that! And it would be great for people who are going through stressful times, people who just moved and haven't unpacked their cooking tools, or people who live in small spaces and don't want to fuss with anything too complicated.

I received this box of food at no cost to me; I've also joined their affiliate program, which means I get a little cash if you order though my link. It won't cost you any extra.

If you're interested in ordering from Freshly, click the link and get yourself a discount:

Chef-prepared, healthy meals delivered weekly. Get 50% Off!

Yum

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Banana Cupcakes with Plum Jam Frosting #OXOGoodCookies

Mmmmm. Cupcakes.

I love when I plan comes together. I had a banana that was past its eating best, and I had a new hand mixer I wanted to test. The mixer came from OXO, along with a decorating tool that's like a cookie press married to a pastry bag.

Oooooh. I love new toys!

This month is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and OXO usually sponsors Cookies for Kids Cancer events on blogs. I missed out on this year's official events, but I shoehorned my way in, got some gear, and decided that cupcakes are sort of like cookies.

Because that's how I am.

The Cookies for Kids Cancer is one of the blogger events I really like. Bloggers don't get anything except product, but OXO donates to charity. Plus, they donate for people who hold bake sales. All the details, straight from OXO, are at the end of this post.

Meanwhile, cupcakes and gadgets.

I had been curious about the kitchen electrics from OXO since they first announced them. My favorite OXO tool is probably my vegetable peeler, but I like a whole lot of other things, too, like their containers, and their mango splitter and their cherry pitter and their cookie press. What I like best about the cookie press is the extra plates you can buy for it. I think I have them all ... but I'm a little afraid to look!

Oh, and I totally LOVE the cold brew coffee maker (reviewed here; buy it on Amazon here). I use that coffee maker pretty exclusively for my everyday coffee.

But those particular gadgets aren't electric. I was curious if the OXOness of the electrics would match the thoughtful way they design their other products.

When the OXO hand mixer arrived, there were a number of things liked about it right off the bat. It stands up very steadily with no threat of tipping. It comes with both normal beaters and swirly beaters that are designed for heavy batters. And it has a headlight.

I wondered if the light was necessary. I mean, I've had plenty of hand beaters, and none of them lit up. It's not like I make cake in the dark, right?

But here's the thing.

I was really able to see what was going on in the bowl. I could see when things were fully mixed without stopping the mixer to look inside the bowl without the mixer casting a shado.

Is it essential? Well, obviously not, because we've lived without lighted mixers for a long time. But it really does make sense. I like it. A lot.

As far as the OXO decorating tool, I was a little confused by it until I put frosting into it and started using it. Then it made perfect sense. And nice cupcakes. I don't think I'd use the tool if I wanted to make one super-long unbroken line of frosting. But that's not something I see myself doing any time soon.

The tool comes with several tips, but the good news is that standard-sized tips fit, so if you've already got a collection of them, you can use them with this tool. Both the small and large tips fit, which is even better. And the whole thing can go in the dishwasher to be cleaned. After you disassemble it, obviously.

These banana cupcakes aren't similar in to a pound cake in consistency. Not as fluffy as a sponge cake, but not as dense as banana bread.

Banana Cupcakes with Plum Jam Frosting

To make the cupcakes:
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 mashed ripe banana

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line one 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt

In another medium mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Beat in the mashed banana

Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternately with two additions of the milk, beating until incorporated after each addition.

Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full (these don't rise spectacularly, so they're fine at 3/4 full, even at high altitude). Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean – about 18-20 minutes.

To make the frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese*
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons plum jam** (or to taste)
Powdered sugar, as needed (about a pound, depending on the thickness you're looking for)

Beat the cream cheese and butter until it's smooth, then add the vanilla extract and salt beat until incorporated.

Beat in the plum jam until it's incorporated.

Add the powdered sugar in increments until the consistency is what you're looking for. You can leave it softer if you're spreading the frosting on, but you'll need it firmer if you want piped designs to hold their shape. If you somehow manage to get it too thick, and more milk or jam.

*The cream cheese you choose does make a difference. I've tried making frosting with fat-free cream cheese, and I thought it tasted terrible. If you like it, go for it. BUT! The brand and type of cream cheese will affect the consistency of the frosting. You might need more or less sugar to get to a nice frosting-like consistency.

**You can use any any jam you like, or leave it out and make a vanilla frosting.

From OXO about Cookies for Kids Cancer:

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and it's a very important time for us here at OXO. Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in the U.S. The reason, sadly, is simple: lack of funding for research specific to children. Even though pediatric cancer claims the lives of more children annually than any other disease, it receives less than 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute's budget.

In 2007, Liam Witt, the son of longtime OXOnians Gretchen and Larry Witt, was diagnosed cancer at the age of 2. OXOnians regard each other as family, and news of Liam's diagnosis hit all of
us hard. Motivated to help, Gretchen and Larry had the "crazy" idea to host a larger-than-life cookie
sale, gathering more than 250 volunteers (many of whom were fellow OXOnians,) to bake and sell
96,000 cookies. The larger-than-life cookie project raised more than $420,000 to fund childhood
cancer research.

Nine months later, Gretchen and Larry launched Cookies for Kids' Cancer as a national non-profit organization, inspiring grassroots bake sales and other events with the ultimate goal of funding research for new, improved, and less toxic treatments for children. Since then, the organization has granted more than $10 million, funding 80 research projects, 32 of which are therapies that children have access to today.

Everyone at OXO was profoundly impacted when Liam lost his 4-year battle. For years, Liam was a fixture in our office. He would visit frequently, riding his orange scooter, providing unsolicited (but always helpful) product feedback and sharing his vivacious energy with everyone. From a very young age he had a clear vision of what he wanted to do when he grew up: Become a chef and run OXO. We have no doubt he would have achieved both of his goals.


Through the years, OXOnians have devoted their personal time, energy and money to support Cookies, but the company wanted to play a larger role. In 2011, the year Liam lost his battle, OXO formalized its partnership with the organization, pledging to donate up to $100,000 per year through bake sale matches and other activities. Since then, we've helped inspire other "good cookies" to raise over $1 million and host more than 1,600 events in over 170 cities globally.

Awareness is one of the most important ways to create change, and we hope you'll support us in raising awareness around this very important cause. For more information and other ways to contribute - including hosting a bake sale of your own - visit Cookies For Kids' Cancer. If you register your bake sale and select "OXO" in the drop-down menu marked "How did you hear about Cookies for Kids' Cancer?", we'll match your proceeds for events held, before December 31st, 2016.

Thanks to OXO for sending the hand mixer and decorating tool for my use. The hashtag for this promotion is #OXOGoodCookies. Look for it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Yum

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg

I love soup, particularly when the cooler weather comes calling. From early fall though late spring, it seems like I've always got some kind of soup simmering on the stove or tucked away in the refrigerator for a quick meal.

Much of the time, soup is a spur-of-the moment creation, based on what leftovers are available and what vegetables aren't reserved for other uses.

It's not that often that I make deliberate soup, where I start with a recipe and end up with exactly what I had planned. Nope. Most soups here are pretty haphazard.

Which is why I was interested in the book Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst. With book in hand, I could shop for ingredients and make purposeful soups.

The one I chose for the online book tour I'm participating in was an asparagus and leek soup. It intrigued me. I love potato leek soup, and I adore asparagus. It seemed like the perfect transitional soup, with asparagus still very available while the weather was just starting to turn cooler.

This recipe uses asparagus in three different ways. And then, to add some richness, it's served with a poached egg on top.

I'll admit that I didn't make this recipe exactly as written. I didn't weigh the asparagus, for example. And I used fried egg rather than the poached egg that was called for. I think fried eggs are easier, and it was my dinner, so I was fine with that.

This was a lovely light soup that is also rich because of the addition of the egg. Quite tasty. And although the instructions seem long, it's pretty simple. Now that I've made it once, I could make it again with barely a glance at the instructions. Or just wing it.

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg
Adapted from Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst

2 1/2 pounds asparagus (I had 2 bunches, unweighed)
1 large leek
7 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 scallions, trimmed, white and greed sections very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (I used lemon juice)
1 egg per serving

Cut the tips off the asparagus and set aside. Snap the stalks where they naturally break, or cut off the tough ends. Put the tough ends in a saucepan and set the tender part aside.

Cut off the tough green part of the leek and chop it roughly. Rinse off any dirt or grit. Put the dark green parts of the leek in the saucepan with the tough asparagus ends. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes.

Halve the tender remaining leek lengthwise - this should be just the tender pale green section and the white. Rinse it under cold water to get rid of any dirt or grit. Slice the leek crosswise into thin pieces.

Cut the middle part of the asparagus into pieces about an inch long.

Put 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the tender leek slices and the chives along with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces (those middle parts you cut; not the tips) and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a boil.

Strain the stock from the saucepan into the stockpot. Discard the tough leek pieces and asparagus ends and bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes before blending it in batches in a blender. You could also use a stick blender or food processor. Blend until you have a smooth puree, then return the soup to the pot.

Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) of olive oil in a skillet. Add the scallions and cook for 4 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Add the asparagus tips and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the asparagus tips are almost tender.

Poach or fry one egg per serving of soup.

Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the egg, and garnish with some of the asparagus tips and scallions. Serve hot.


As part of the book tour, I received a copy of the book, a Chef's Choice Pronto Pro Diamond Hone knife sharpener, a Zeroll ladle, and a Zeroll slotted spoon.

Yum