vegan & vegetarian (mis)adventures in food

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.

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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.

The particular flavor I have out is the Curry Bliss. I sampled like all their flavors at last year’s Green Festival (they’re skipping Chicago this year so if Veganmania hasn’t completely morphed into an animal rights psycho party I will be there instead) and this was either a recommendation or a personal preference, maybe a little of both.

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Anyway they’re not capsaicin-spicy but they definitely have a good hint of turmeric and other delicious spices that are hella familiar to me. There’s a tiny bit of a greasy undercurrent but compared to regular chips it’s nothing. Also, the texture is light and airy, so these aren’t sitting in my stomach like potato chips would.

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The pieces are optimally bite-sized.

And the best part is, these are made right out of the SW suburbs, minimizing the travel footprint for anyone else who lives out there.

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Because of the amount of kale chips in my life, I’ve been assuming this product is called “Ocean Kalo”… which doesn’t make sense since it’s actually seaweed based. So I’m assuming “Halo” henceforth.

Anyway, these are mildly flavored (in a good way, for reasons I will explain shortly) dried/dehydrated/something seaweed chips. The texture is unique; I’d almost call them the accidentally delicious love child of rice cakes and baked chips, because they’re about medium crispy and have a fairly noticeable grain.

The nice thing about not having a strong flavor profile is it lets the seaweed aftertaste through. Obviously, if you don’t like seaweed, you will not enjoy this experience, but I’ll take any victory over kelp I can get, and the fact that these come in a good range of simple but enjoyable flavors is just a bonus.