vegan & vegetarian (mis)adventures in food

Between going to the UK last year and marathoning all of The Great British Bake-Off, I’ve developed a serious hankering for a Bakewell tart (not pudding!), and the one bakery that was guaranteed to have them is a) an hour and a half from my house and b) closed.

So I found Mary Berry’s easy Bakewell recipe and was all, hey I could do this, sure I haven’t heard of some of the ingredients but that’s just because I don’t bake enough. Then I went to the grocery and was like oh, I haven’t heard of some of these because they’re not really sold in the US.

I had to pick up blanched slivered instead of flaked almonds (figure that’ll be fine because it’s the topping), decided to make my own caster sugar, and also my own ground almonds.

(Note that at this point I’d basically declared a personal vendetta against the lack of British bakeries in the Chicagoland area.)

Since I needed the food processor twice, I did the ground almonds the night before. Froze the blanched slivered almonds and tossed them into the food processor. (Protip: plastic knives are great for teasing out clumps of fine particles. I don’t know why I know this. I use a food processor <1/year.)

IS THIS WHAT GROUND ALMONDS LOOK LIKE?? I HAVE NO IDEA

So anyway, I then got to it. Fighting every instinct in my body to break from the recipe, I “rubbed” the butter into the flour, which I’m hoping was basically supposed to be a sensual massage, and then forgot that I was making pastry crust rather than a roti….

**SENSUAL**

HA HA DON’T WORRY I’M SURE THIS WILL END WELL (also I ate the bits off the sides and holy crap this is so buttery, why did I keep eating it)

I tried patching it together, but the problem with using a healthy amount of flour on one’s floured surface is that it prevents the sticking together of things you do want to stick.

But, hey, the oven can sort all this, right??

So on to this “blind baking” thing. I obviously don’t own baking beans, so between this website and learning the “melting” (thermal decomposition) point of sugar, I decided to go with 22 minutes at 350F.

The good news is my mom doesn’t use sugar very often, so even if it turns out turbinado has a way lower melting point than regular, she probably won’t notice.

It’s literally in the shadow of the bag, because the bag is gigantic. See? She won’t notice.

Meanwhile, I tossed additional sugar in the food processor for a minute. I’m honestly not sure if this is any more finely granulated than the original.

It’ll melt – thermally decompose – in baking anyway! I think.

Meanwhile, I’m guessing I should have filled it a bit more but maaaanit smells so buttery. And kind of has a flake. I think that’s what having a flake tastes like, anyway. (This is before the additional five minute bake, which did turn the rest of the bottom to the same texture, which I’m assuming is a good sign.)

I added a little salt to the not-frangipane, and I’m really hoping it gets less sweet in baking. Fingers crossed!

Also, I read the “generously” part of spreading the jam and forgot the “1 tbsp” so hopefully this isn’t too much….

That’s probably like one tablespoon? I just know a tablespoon is always a lot more than I expect it to be.

Baking TV says you shouldn’t open the oven repeatedly because that fucks with the temperature, so I’ve been vicariously living through the oven light.

On the other hand, less messy than the time I made a pie without using a tin at all.

Meanwhile, since powdered sugar is infinitely more easy to find in America than icing, I halved this recipe for the icing.

I don’t know why I ate a leftover spoonful of this. ICING IS VERY SWEET.

Baking TV also makes a whole thing about how you let things cool otherwise the icing melts everywhere, so I waited possibly more than an entire minute before getting bored and dumping it on.

I’m not sure it’s a good thing that it seems to have set okay anyway.

So it sunk a bit when I took it out, which might mean I undercooked a little? I dunno, it smelled done. Assuming I have the slightest clue what these things are supposed to smell like (in this case, mainly butter).

I do think the texture’s a bit off because of the sugar, buuut well. Go to the ethnic grocery and see if they have caster sugar? Replace all the sugar with honey? Both of these options sound totally reasonable.

Nom nom nom?

Damn, pretty sure I got a soggy bottom (and definitely a little too much butter in the almond later). So the two extra minutes in the oven probably would’ve been a good idea…and also not rolling the pastry so thin in the middle. Oh well, this is what tossing things in the fridge is for.

Then again, why can’t I put it in for a few minutes on 350F…?

Hahaha I’m sure nothing will go wrong.

Note: nothing went wrong, I tossed it in the fridge which set it up but the aftertaste was basically pure butter which…uck.

Tried this again with 7oz almonds vs 2oz cane (instead of turbinado) and 5 instead of 9 tbsp butter…I ate all the leftover filling which is a good sign. I’m not sure the crust went as well though, I picked up pastry flour and somehow 2tbsp water which worked great last time was too much this time. Haha we’ll see.

Alright. The crust actually needed more butter but otherwise…yes, please.

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The food wasn’t bad and it was legitimately filling (note to self, never again eat that much tofu at once). Naturally with the vegetarian meals this can be a challenge when they’re like “uhhh…pasta??” So it’s nice that even their pasta dish goes beyond the basics of sauce and a couple veg (looking at you, Blue Apron – considering how expensive these meal kits are, they’d need to be the world’s fanciest veg to feel like bang for the buck). They’re not the most creative on spices, but honestly at this point the only one I expect that from is HelloFresh, and they seem to have like six vegetarian options total, whereas the HomeChef menu seems to have at least 2/3, things I’d want to eat each week. Which is great, considering that I’m both picky and have certain expectations for the amount of time and money these things consume.

I do like that you can leave things in the fridge for up to 7 days before cooking them, because planning to do all things cooking over the weekend is sort of annoying…but they achieve this by using a bunch of plastic. Not 1 or 2 but like a pile of Ziploc bags. (The outside packaging for the box is comparable to the others I’ve tried, though.)

Seeing that getting things shipped is already terrible, I try to make sure the rest of it is at least not too unsustainable. (My excuse for not going grocery shopping is the amount of food waste resulting when a single person who cannot eat the same thing for a week straight is cooking. It’s honestly pretty bad.)

So arrivederci, Home Chef.

One of the most ridiculous things to come out of a ridiculous White House budget following that giant corporate tax cut (reminder: all individual breaks are temporary) has to be Mulvaney’s idiotic claim that giving poor people boxes filled with a mix of canned and shelf-stable foods is “Blue Apron.”

First of all, Blue Apron is expensive. If you buy those ingredients in-store and adjust for price per equivalent volume I guarantee the store is cheaper. People don’t shop at Blue Apron because it’s cost efficient, people (at least, me) use it because it’s convenient, doesn’t result in leftover ingredients, and the recipes are easy.

Second, Blue Apron is pretentious. This isn’t totally bad – I got to try black garlic and a number of other heirloom varietals – but it absolutely drives a stake in the heart of Mulvaney’s BS about creating quality and saving money.

And, finally, the reason I’m not a regular consumer of Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or any other system that does meal kits: choice. When you have any sort of dietary restriction – even before introducing severe allergies into the mix – it’s unlikely that there are going to be options every week. The one person I knew on food stamps had a severe allergy to most nuts. I can’t see that ending well.

And keep in mind, these boxes do like, three meals a week (multiple servings). That’s not seven days of food for even a single person. Imagine having to plan all of this for every single one of the people on food stamps in this country, pack each box accurately, and deliver it in a timely fashion.

It’s enough to make you wonder if Mulvaney has orchestrated anything besides a government shutdown in his entire life.

HelloFresh part 2

Maybe six months ago I got a call from HelloFresh promising updates to their food selection and a solid discount for rejoining. Hey, why not? I figured – at the very least, they’re easier to cancel than Blue Apron – and as it turns out, this was a good choice.

For starters, the packaging is way cut down from what I recall, and much more recyclable. The vegetarian meals have picked up a bunch more cuisines and flavors (although I do add pinches of chili powder or spices here and there – I simply have to accept that a broad appeal means lots of salt and pepper everywhere). I had a couple of hiccups with minor ingredients missing from the box, but customer service was super responsive on this front. I do think some of the dishes aren’t as filling as I’d like given the price point, but to be honest I also eat a ton of food. Exercising is expensive, damnit.

Really the one thing still missing is local veg, but to be perfectly honest I don’t live in a part of the country that makes that much of its own stuff. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the only way I will cook regularly is if ingredients literally turn up on my doorstep, and I’m getting a reasonable deal here.

Monk fruit tastes like stevia

There’s something similar about the chemistry of these molecules. I can always tell that one or the other is in food, and I hate it. It tastes artificial. Better to not use a sweetener at all.

If you don’t, though, and are legitimately celiac and have eschewed all modern things (except for the Internet), this cookie is for you. I don’t mind the texture but can’t do anything with the flavor as long as it’s being subsumed in artificial sweetener fruit.

After being surrounded by Blue Apron ads on the CTA, I couldn’t take it anymore so I caved in and decided to try it once.

Now, these ads are fancy as shit. They are all about heirloom products or fresh noodles or local sourcing, so I figured I should be ready to Google half their instructions. This wasn’t helped by an email I got explaining that they were sending snow peas instead of English peas this week, because who the hell knows the difference?

When I finally got the box, I felt a lot better, because this was on top:

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It’s arugula! That shit is everywhere!

And then I read the actual instructions and realized that the target demographic for this kind of stuff is people who feel morally obligated to cook once in a while, but not to a) find recipes online or b) go to the grocery store themselves, and who were also probably raised in a household where potatoes or broccoli are the daily vegetable.

So, anyway, I’m pretty sure this pasta thing is going to be delicious although it could use about seventy more cloves of garlic, but the one thing you guys should know is there’s a much easier way to zest a lemon than the thing says. 

Step 1: find your grater. This is going to be tricky because you probably haven’t used it in weeks.

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This is not a grater.

Step 2: wash your citrus fruit with soap and water.

Step 3: grate gently on the small side. Pith is rumored to taste like ass, so I err on less, ending with something like this:

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Hello Fresh

At first glance, Hello Fresh (hellofresh.com) looks like a totally ridiculous idea: get a box of groceries to make a recipe (or multiple recipes) on a day of your choice? Why not just download the recipes and go to the store, if you’ve got enough time to cook anyway?!

As a single person living alone, however, I frequently find that the portions grocery stores sell are way outsize to what I want. So from that end, Hello Fresh has the potential to reduce a lot of food waste, because you’re getting only the ingredients you need (you do have to supply things like butter/oil/salt/pepper, but not broth, toppings or other spices) in the quantity needed to make that one recipe—and there are options to get deliveries for two or four people. So far I have found that the soup which said it would provide two meals did in fact provide two meals, we’ll see if the same holds true with the risotto and Tuscan bolognese.

The price point is a bit high for home-cooked food, although not at all for dining out. For the money, I would like more freedom of choice with the recipes, and to be honest if I’m going to be cooking, I can damn well get over to the grocery store. Although it was nice to, for once, not have half a thing of unused sour cream that is going to sit there and mold because I can’t give it to the compost worms. (The little assholes seem to enjoy eating newspaper more than the table scraps, anyway.)

For the busy person who wants to make the time to cook, but not to shop and figure out all the right quantities, it’s not the worst idea, although I was dismayed to find my chives were from Colombia as I’m pretty sure we can grow chives within the States. I usually get once-a-month recipe box deliveries from Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks, but that service is regionally limited since they supply local goods, so if you don’t have a local co-op which does this kind of thing, you’re slightly fucked—or if you don’t want to eat whatever produce is currently in season, aka I am so very done with leeks. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of soup, either (it’s not filling!), but it tasted good, and had a better variety of spices than I’ve generally seen from Fresh Picks.

The recipes are very easy to follow and, if you do have other ingredients at home, customize. I was gratified to note that the soup recipe doesn’t even assume you have a blender. (The first time I made butternut squash soup, I had to run out and go buy one halfway through the recipe because trying to mash everything manually sucks.)

In general, like any personalized delivery service, Hello Fresh isn’t the most environmentally friendly option out there. They use disposable packaging, and of course there’s a fair amount of it, to keep the vegetables from getting bruised et al. in transit. I can’t remember how unfriendly dry ice is, but I didn’t notice any. Granted it was shipped two days prior, but I’d still expect there to be more of a frozen texture than there was.

One note about the packaging, if a Hello Fresh representative comes across this: please separate any items that need immediate refrigeration, or at least put them on the top of the box. I thought I’d caught everything but ran into a tube of sour cream that had been out for twenty hours. I’m assuming it’s good until proven otherwise, but not everyone has an iron stomach.

Anyway, this is the one week a year during which I could try this out, so the Groupon deal was serendipitous; in general, this isn’t a good option for me because a) I don’t have the time M-Th and b) if I’m home, I would rather play videogames F-Sun, which granted is exactly what I did while I was waiting for the vegetables.

Between the lack of time and the eco-guilt, I did unsubscribe, but judging by the list of questions, it looks like they are interested in improving this service with regards to a number of points I mentioned above, so hopefully it will be a viable option in the future.