Thursday, February 19, 2015

Orange Beef Lo Mein

Pregnancy + morning sickness throughout the pregnancy = not much cooking. First because the energy required to cook was nonexistent, second because I wasn't much in the mood for eating, third because I didn't want to get sick on it.

Then: baby came out, my appetite returned, and Blue Apron finally had a menu in which all 3 meals looked good. So this week we got Blue Apron again, the first since November. Tonight I made the first meal: Orange Beef Lo Mein. Sounds good, right? Too bad for the husband and I. We've had better. Both when dining out and from my own kitchen. Sigh.

Started by prepping all the ingredients when Doug and Roland were at swim lessons. Asher (the new baby) was happily asleep in his swing so I took the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen all by myself. Notice the sippy cups drying, the glass of beer (my very own homebrew), and the Nalgene bottle (Mama's gotta stay hydrated). It was quite nice to cut everything up and then put each ingredient it its own place. Finally, some cut and dry order to something (we haven't had that since we brought the new baby home). Plus, it's nice to start with all simple, easily identifiable ingredients and finish with a meal.

There were a few things during cooking that I thought could have been skipped. First - putting oil in the pan to cook the ground beef. Unless this was super lean (the package did not indicate), I really don't see a reason to oil a non-stick pan to cook ground beef. Pretty sure it has enough fat on its own. Second - wiping out the pan that I did put oil in, just to add new oil to cook the veggies. Maybe you're trying to avoid meat fat in favor of plant fat, but all I saw was a paper towel with a bunch of flavor on it. Should have read the directions closer, I definitely would have skipped that step. And third - using salt and pepper to season the finished dish. It was already cooked with soy sauce, why not use more in lieu of salt? Both are salty, but as the dish already contains soy a little more will probably be okay if you want salt. As it is, I rarely cook with extra salt, so I did skip the salt in this case, and we added soy sauce to taste when we sat down to eat.

Some additives might have been good here too: red or yellow bell pepper or thinly sliced carrot would have been an improvement both in flavor and appearance. And neither would have interfered with the flavors already in the dish.

And the finished meal. A little blurry, and boring to look at. Don't worry. It's not just boring because it's blurry. It's actually a boring looking meal. Did I do something wrong? Are my plating skills total junk? Do I need better dishes? Maybe. Or maybe it was a boring dish to look at. All the veggies were green or white. There was an orange when I started, but since only some zest and the juice are used there is no color. But it still smelled decent, we were hungry, and it was what I made for dinner.

Sadly, I won't be making this again. I will be looking for the main seasoning, or attempting to make it myself. It smelled awesome, and could have used more than came in the box. The ground beef was nice. But overall, this isn't something worth making again.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meatball Subs and Salad

Tonight we tried our second meal from the Blue Apron box. Meatball Sub and Salad. The recipe is here if you're interested.

Again all the ingredients needed came in the box, except for the olive oil and salt. There was a ton of salad, we didn't finish that. The subs were HUGE. Hard to see with the pic I took, but each one took up an entire plate. I couldn't finish mine, and that was sharing with a toddler who thinks it's his job to eat as much as possible off of my plate.

While salad was pretty good (basic salad but with homemade dressing) the subs were not great. Doug finished his, but we both agreed that there could have been more seasoning. And the meatballs were plenty big enough, even though I made the mixture into 10 meatballs instead of 8.

I think if I were to make meatball subs again I would use my own recipe for meatballs - even though this had Italian seasoning in it, it pretty much just tasted like beef. And the tomato sauce could have used a little more seasoning - garlic and onions were a great start, but it needed a little more. Maybe some basil or something. I suppose I had that in the cupboard, but just as when I was making the salad, I thought it would be good just to try the recipe as it was sent - otherwise the salad would have had feta cheese and tomatoes added to it as well (especially since I already had both in the fridge).

So, this recipe sounded good, and the ingredients looked good, but it seemed to need a little more than it came with.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Orange Shrimp

A few weeks ago Doug came home from school with the name of a company he heard advertised in one of the podcasts he likes. The company is called Blue Apron and they put together meals for you complete with recipes and then ship everything to your door. The podcast advertisement included a promo code to get you to try it out. After looking at the website we decided to give it a try. Our first box was about the equivalent to eating out for a meal, but would include enough for 3 meals. I usually try to prepare meals with leftovers so Doug has lunch for the next day or two, but this might be a good option for the days I don't have a dinner idea or I only care enough to throw a pizza in the oven.

Yesterday that first box arrived so last night I gave it a try.  Nearly all the ingredients came in the box.  The only thing I needed for this meal that wasn't included was olive oil (any cooking oil probably would have worked, I prefer olive oil) and salt (the recipe also called for pepper, but I almost never cook with the stuff - personal preference).

All the ingredients for the meal from the box. One ingredient I had never heard of before - Ponzu sauce. According to the recipe it is a soy sauce with vinegar for a kick. The recipe needed a tablespoon of sauce so the ingredients came with a tablespoon. Kinda wish it had come with more so we could try it again without buying a big bottle. Especially since I've never seen it in the store before and Medford is a little small for finding things unusual.

The ingredients have been prepped and are ready to go. Lots of chopping for this recipe.

The end result. The recipe made just enough for two servings. They weren't skimpy servings - we both felt full at the end - but Doug would have liked a bit more rice. Mostly because if there is rice he will eat a scoop plain after he has finished his main meal.  Pretty good once it all came together.  The orange sauce was good soaked into the rice. The shrimp were alright. Not my favorite protein, but Doug loves them and this was a good way to put them into a meal. They aren't something I would buy normally, so getting them as part of a box meant trying something I wouldn't usually cook. If flipping through a magazine I probably would have passed over a recipe like this altogether, so this was a good way to cook something I usually avoid and to try a recipe I probably would have overlooked. In which case the cost of the meal turned out to be a good deal.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wool Sweater - Delicious

So, I've been drinking (and sharing) Wool Sweater. Pretty good winter warmer.

The first few I tried were drinkable, but not quite ready, even though it had been the 2-3 week bottle conditioning period. It took about 6-8 weeks for the flavor to develop all the way.

I've also been sharing with a group of friends we made here.  We have "Beer Club Friday" which means we all get together at someone's house, bring food and beer, and hang out.  Nearly everyone in the group has kids, most in the toddler/preschool age group.  A couple are still tiny babies, a few are old enough to be in school.  Kids get to play with kids, grown-ups get to socialize with grown-ups.  For the most part the kids get a room or somewhere outside to play and the adults look on as they chat with each other.

Wool Sweater is nearly gone, so time to get brewing again. Especially now that I have a group to share with.  Of course, it's gotten too warm for me to use the back room as a fermenting room.  But lucky me, for Mother's Day Doug got me a used refrigerator to be stored in the garage, just for brewing!  It's the size of our fridge/freezer combo upstairs, but it is all fridge.  Meaning room for at least two fermenters plus beer storage!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Wool Sweater - Bottling

Nearly 3 weeks after being shut in the bucket and it's time to see what's going on in there. Prying off the lid is an awkward task. I worry if I just try to rip it off things will slosh around too much. So I patiently lift a little, turn the bucket, lift a little more. Bucket probably goes around 3 or 4 times before the lid comes all the way up.

The initial smell was great. Then I noticed all the little bits of hops around the top of the bucket. Things that got stuck during the bubbling. Still a few hops floating too. That might have meant I could have put the lid back on and let it settle a few more days before bottling. But I didn't look it up. I already had everything ready and Daddy was looking after The Boy. Better get to work when I have the kitchen blocked off and all to myself.

Thing I need to remember next time: if the siphon hose has been stored coiled it is important to get it warm with hot water and relax those curls out. It is rather annoying (and difficult towards the end of the brew bucket) to try to keep the siphon end in the brew bucket out of the sediment while keeping the exit end of the siphon hose under the beer already in the bottling bucket. Especially when one is on the counter and the other is on the floor.

One thing that did go better this time: I bought the right sanitizing stuff. So everything only needed a minute rather than 30.

In the end I have 40 bottles (6 of them 22 oz) and a half bottle. Not sure what will happen with the half, but the beer was in there and it was just as easy to cap it as pour it out. So I guess I'll find out. Fewer bottles than my last batch, but more was left behind in the brewing bucket this time for two reasons - more sediment and the sediment wasn't as compact as last time (another reason I think I could have waited a few more days).

Now me and my tastebuds wait. 2 weeks according to the instruction sheet. Eat all the sugars and fart lots little yeasties! I want my beer bubbly and not sweet.

Wool Sweater

It's a winter warmer!

No, not something you wear. But if you drink enough of it you'll feel warm. Maybe. This is my second homebrew. The first was a pale ale. The super friendly guy at my local brew shop recommended the pale ale kit after I made a face at the suggestion I make an amber brew for my first batch. Not that I have anything against amber beers, I just prefer a little more in my glass. I asked then about making a winter ale, but he thought I'd be better off doing something a little more simple for my first time through the mechanics of getting a 5 gallon batch of beer made. He was right, and the beer was good (still is really, I've still got a few left).

Back to this batch. Doug had a great gift idea for Christmas - beer ingredients. I even got them before Christmas because we exchanged gifts early. But the beer making had to wait since we were headed North to the Seattle area for the holidays. After the holidays there were a couple weekends in Portland followed by a couple of weeks helping Roland get over surgery. Which means that finally, in the middle of February, I got to spend an afternoon brewing in the kitchen.

This time, instead of a neat little booklet outlining each step, I had a one-page photo copied recipe laid out in an outline style. Good thing I've done this before.

I started with 2.5 pounds of grain, freshly milled the day before. My 5 gallon brew pot was filled pretty full once I got enough water to steep the grain plus the grain in there. After steeping for about 30 minutes directions told me to increase the water level to 4 gallons. Now it was really full! In went the malt extracts (both liquid and dried). Then some hops. Then more hops. Then more hops again. Hooray for hops! And the combined boiling time was nearly 2 hours. In which we learned a fun thing about our smoke detector: humidity WILL set it off. Repeatedly. Prepare yourself to open windows, flap around kitchen towels, and consider removing the damn battery by the end of the batch. (Good thing this smoke detector wasn't in our apartment in Hawaii. And maybe that's why we didn't have one.)

Then into the bucket to bubble away - hopefully unmolested by the tiny human in the house. Smelled pretty good going in.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

New Kitchen

We've moved. Not recently, but since I last updated sometime in the middle of 2013. New apartment in a new state. And the kitchen? Not so tiny any more, but still not all that big.

Actually, it's still kinda tiny. I can't store all my kitchen stuff in the kitchen. There would be more "kitchen" space in the kitchen if it weren't for the full-size washer and dryer right next to the fridge. But with the cloth diapering I'll happily trade some needed cupboard and counter space for a place for the machines that clean the diapers.

And in the new kitchen? A new hobby! Homebrewing to be exact. Today I brewed my second batch. First was a pale ale. Today was a winter warmer. I'll write more on that later. First I wanted you to know that I am still here - and that 'here' is a new place.