Dinner Conversation: Foodie Gifts

It’s Friday afternoon, and so we’re rounding up posts, videos, and even playlists from across the web, to entertain you while you cook, and provide conversation fodder for tonight’s Blue Apron dinner. This week, since Christmas is seriously almost here, we’re talking about gifts for foodies, from every angle.

Want to make something homemade? Food52 has healthful alternatives to gift-wrapped cookies, like homemade nut butter.

TheKitchn rounded up 5 Unique Gift Guides for Food Lovers, if you need inspiration for what to ask for this year.

Did you know you can give Blue Apron boxes as gifts? Here’s how.

If you’ve made homemade gifts and want to spruce them up with some seriously well-designed cards and labels, look no further than new app Makr

Last, if it’s cooking equipment you’re after, our Chef Matthew Wadiak is presenting the twenty essential cooking tools you need to make any meal. Add ’em to your list!

Kitchen Toolbox: Everything You Need to Cook a Meal

What do you need to cook a great meal? The truth is, not all that much!

Chef Matthew Wadiak takes apart his kitchen cabinets in our latest video, to show off exactly what equipment you need to cook all of our meals–really, to cook any meals. Two pans, a pot with a lid, some essential utensils, and a handful of ingredients (like salt and olive oil), and you can make any dinner under the sun. Watch to find out the only things you really need in your kitchen.

Stay tuned to our Kitchen Toolbox series for recommendations on our favorite brands for each piece of equipment!

Like watching cooking videos? Subscribe to our channel on YouTube!

The Blue Apron Gift Guide

If you’re a food lover, chances are you’ve got other food lovers in your life. With the holidays here, it’s time to go shopping for those who prefer truffles to sweaters and chocolate to earrings.

It may not come as a surprise that we’ve got a really good suggestion of what to give your food-loving loved ones. The gift of home cooking with Blue Apron!

You’ll introduce food pros and newbies alike to our convenient and delicious service, show both vegetarians and carnivores that they can make Top Chef-level food like acorn squash tempura tacos at home (for instance), and also give them tons of actual quality food, delivered right to their doors.

Instead of a bag of homemade cookies, another cookbook to squeeze onto the shelf, or a fifteenth high-tech meat thermometer, your recipient will get step-by-step chef-designed recipe cards, exactly the pre-measured ingredients needed for each dish, and the mythic ability to make Black Bean & Quinoa Enchiladas with Salsa Verde or Hangar Steak with Salsa Verde and Smashed Plantains on a busy weeknight. It’s exciting!

You can choose to give one week, two weeks, or a full month of meals. Simply pick the notification date, and we’ll send the lucky, lucky eater all the information needed to get cooking–they can start getting meals whenever they want! Go here to get gifting.

In all seriousness, this could be you:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at Blue Apron!

We hope you’re busy cooking with family and friends and can’t wait to hear what you thought of our Thanksgiving box

At Blue Apron, we’re grateful for a whole lot of things, so we thought we’d share a few of them with you, below. What are you thankful for? Tell us in the comments.

Homemade Pickles

Desserts with Five Ingredients

 Za’atar

The #BAChef Hashtag

Mexican Food

Your Feedback on Our Facebook Wall

Foodie GIFs

Avocado Toast

Bacon

Salad Spinners

Peanut Sauce

and Our Fans, Followers, Family, Friends, & Fellow Foodies

Kitchen Toolbox: The Microplane

At its most basic, a kitchen does not need fancy appliances and shelves full of gadgets. In fact, there are only a few dozen essential pieces of equipment you need to cook great food at home. Follow along in our new series, Kitchen Toolbox, to find out what tools you should own and grab recommendations for our chef’s favorite brands, when applicable. 

A citrus provides more than just juice. The zest is too often overlooked as a way to provide tremendous flavor to your dishes, from Chicken with Cherry Salsa (pictured) to Eggplant Rollatini with Lemony Ricotta. As we wrote about here, zest adds an amazingly fresh touch to whatever it is you’re cooking, without the sourness of citrus juice.

But it’s kind of a pain to zest a lemon or an orange without the right tool. You have to use a knife to peel off the outer skin (the inner skin is bitter), then mince that peel as finely as humanly possible. To make this whole process way easier, get your hands on a Microplane brand zester. Then just run the fruit down the zester, letting the little metal blades do the work.

Host a Blue Apron Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is the best eating holiday of the year. We took to the Blue Apron Test Kitchen to create a menu that could be cooked in one of two ways–either as three separate, balanced meals for two, or as a single feast for six. All you need are some festive table settings and a bunch of friends to give thanks for.

(By the way–customers: if you already have Thanksgiving plans, you can donate your box to a family in need to provide them with all the fixings for their Thanksgiving table. Blue Apron will match the proceeds from your donation to our partner organizations City Harvest and Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.  Click here to donate your box by noon (EST) on Friday, November 22nd.)

We are making such a feast!

We started with the turkey, the centerpoint of any non-vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. We’ve got Maple-Glazed Turkey Breast with Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans & Maitake Mushrooms. The turkey is roasted until crispy on the outside and stays nice and juicy within. Traditional, and delicious!

After that–or really, before–there’s a soup. This Lamb Merguez Sausage and Butternut Squash Soup with Barley & Spinach is one of the heartiest, most soul-satisfying soups we think you’ll ever have. There’s squash in it, plus barley and a flavorful lamb sausage. Here’s what it’ll look like when you serve it up.

After soup, we figure you’ll load up your plates with turkey, stuffing, and our third dish–an amazing salmon served with cranberry-walnut stuffing. Look how festive this will all be:

And, we didn’t make you a pie, but we did head to the bakery to pick one up. We highly recommend dolloping a huge amount of whipped cream on top. You know, for garnish.

Happy Thanksgiving! We’ll be talking about the vegetarian box in a few days, but of course we’ve got you covered.

4 Links to Read Before Snapping Your Next Food Photo

We can’t help it, we love to snap pictures of our food. This obsession means our photo archives allow us to relive dinner whenever we’re hungry, and our friends and family know everything we’re eating, thanks to our insatiably hungry Instagram feed. Since look can be as important as taste when enjoying a vicarious dinner by means of an iPhone pic, we rounded up four handy links filled with tips for making food appear as delicious on camera as it tastes in your mouth. 

Read on to go behind the scenes with some seriously smart food photographers:

Pretty patterns, tips on garnishing, and a recommendation for natural light from A Beautiful Mess

Telling a story, using props, finding a food-photography idol, and other professional-grade tricks from V. K. Rees

Aerial views, looking for color, and being confident in your food photographing from Sonyayu via the Instagram blog

Explore light, find the beauty in every food, and how shadows add depth with The New York Times’ Andrew Scrivani on Foodista

 

The First Technique a New Chef Should Master: Mise en Place

Mise en place – literally, “setting in place,” or the act of preparing each ingredient you’ll need for a dish – is a crucial step toward becoming a better cook.

Let’s say you have all your ingredients. You have your recipe. You’re ready to go. Right? Not so fast. If you’re simply looking at the cooking directions, you might wind up without the right ingredients prepared. If you’re making a stir fry, and the instructions say to add the sliced beef but the pan is hot and your beef isn’t sliced yet, you’re going to be in a bind. And by bind, we mean a smoky kitchen covered in oil splatters.

Professional chefs always do mise en place so that each ingredient, whether soy sauce or sliced beef, is measured and ready to go when needed. No panic, no splatters, no inefficiencies. Though it may seem like an extra, time-consuming step at the beginning of cooking–especially if you’re hungry–in fact it usually saves mistakes and time as you cook. So if you’re looking for an easy way to improve your kitchen skills, we’ve got it right here. Do your mise en place, every time, no matter how simple the dish appears to be. You’ll become a calm and organized cook, speeding around the kitchen, cooking dinner in no time.

What do you think? Do you always do your mise, or do you skip forward in a rush to get to the finished artichoke?

The Trouble with Ovens

Today, we confront the cooking monster known as your oven. Believe it or not, most ovens are not actually at the temperature they claim to be!

In fact, the heat inside is often as much as 45 degrees higher or lower than the thermometer reads, according to Cook’s Illustrated. In addition, ovens actually turn on and off while cooking, so even an accurate one will range by a few degrees during the cooking time. The result?  Roast beef that’s over-cooked or undercooked, meatball subs with cheese that’s less than perfectly melty, or crostatas, like the one pictured above, that look, well, just not as good as that picture.

We all want our food to taste delicious and the directions on our recipes to yield dinner perfection, not frustration. To make sure you’re not being conned by your oven, we’ve got two solutions.

Buy an oven thermometer. An off-the-shelf dial oven thermometer costs about $12 and will reveal the true temperature of your oven. Like the oven’s own thermometer, these can become less reliable over time, but they’re easier to replace than your whole oven. (Ovens can be recalibrated by a professional.) When you start using it, you can compare what the new thermometer reads, versus what your oven asserts. Then, adjust the temperature up or down accordingly.

Use cues. To become a better chef, you have to tune into the smells, tastes, and textures of the food that you’re cooking, no matter what. (That’s also why we tell you to salt as you go.) In every recipe, we provide not just temperatures and times, but also clues about how your food should look, smell, and taste. For example, “Bake the crostata in the oven 12 to 15 minutes, or until the dough is cooked through.” That bolded clue is just as important to a good result as the more prescriptive direction that precedes it. See what we mean?

In our view, the best solution is to use these two techniques together. First, make sure your oven isn’t lying to you by picking up a new thermometer. Then, get in the habit of observing your food, so that you become a pro at picking up its cues.

Video: How We Find Cooking Inspiration–at the Farmers’ Market

Blue Apron is now on video! Every Thursday, we’re posting a new video on our YouTube channel and over here on the blog. Subscribe for educational how to’s, entertaining cooking adventures, and behind-the-scenes looks at how we create and source our meals.

We’ve already helped you cut down your prep time in the kitchen by finessing your knife skills and making short work of onionsgarlic, and carrots.

Today, we’re going behind the scenes with Chef Matthew Wadiak to share how we get inspired to create incredible original meals every week. For Chef Wadiak, the process often starts at the farmers’ market, where he notices some heirloom tomatoes right at their prime and bunches of basil perfuming the air with their fragrance.

What’ll happen to the tomatoes and herbs once he gets back to the kitchen? Watch to find out.

And don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more cooking inspiration.

Dinner Conversation: Still Grilling and the Rise of the Sandwich

Maple-Chipotle Corn on the Cob from PopSugar Food

Each week, we round up posts, videos, and even playlists to entertain you while you cook, and provide conversation fodder for tonight’s Blue Apron dinner. We hope you had a fun 4th–this list should help you continue the fun and relaxation through the weekend.

Always Grill Your Corn – PopSugar Food
With this recipe for grilled corn with maple and chipotle, you’ll eliminate the potential boredom of always putting butter and salt on this summer’s corn by adding spice, smokiness, and sweet notes.

Frozen Strawberry Limeade – Table For Two Blog
This cool, boozy drink is everything a summer cocktail should be: pink, icy, and sweet.

Really Weird Things to Throw on the Grill – Zagat
From alligator to seitan to pig’s head, these grill-able edibles are many times more creative than ribs, sausages, and chicken, in case your grill needs a taste of adventure.

The Rise of the Sandwich in America – America’s Test Kitchen
A short history of the iconic American handheld meal, the sandwich, which came to prominence during Prohibition. Before that, there were only six kinds of sandwiches available. Can you believe it?

Homemade Soda – Kinfolk
A weekend project to make this old-fashioned lavender-flavored bubbly drink that’s sure to impress any friends and family. The recipe comes with a charming video.

Host a Red, White & Blue {Apron} Cookout

The sun is shining. The office is closed. The barbecue is open. July 4th is coming.

The 4th provides a full day of luxurious free time and a celebration that revolves around food. We’ve fine-tuned the Blue Apron box that week to give you the option of turning your three meals into an all-day barbecue. All you need: a picnic blanket, a grill, and friends to share your cookout with.

(Note that you can also nix the party and the grill and make each meal as usual, indoors and one at a time!)

To meat-eaters, we’re sending out three incredible grillable dinners, each made up of food that can also be enjoyed as finger food, like kebobs and sliders.

First up, we’ve got Beef & Summer Squash Skewers with Blue Cheese Potato Salad, gloriously tender beef and slightly smoky squash with perfectly patriotic BLUE cheese potato salad.

Second on the list are bite-sized Pulled BBQ Chicken Sliders with Mexican Grilled Corn & Homemade Pickles. Have you ever had Mexican grilled corn? Inspired by a street snack, you’ll love the combination of crunchy kernels and creamy cheese.

Finally, throw shrimp on the grill in our outdoor version of a classic finger food–Grilled Shrimp Cocktail with Grilled Asparagus & Eggplant.

 

We love throwing vegetables on the grill, and vegetarians are getting festive BBQ’d dinners, too. We grill both the filling and the tortilla in these Mini Summer Squash Tacos with Guacamole.


Next on the list are these delicate, crunchy Sweet Corn Fritters with Remoulade Sauce and Pea Tendril Salad. These are so gourmet and tasty you won’t believe you made them yourself. (We almost didn’t believe it.) These are actually made inside, on the stove, but you can make them in advance, pack them up, and then head out to the barbecue.


And finally! Mushroom Sliders with Rosemary Garlic Aioli & Dijon Spinach-Potato Salad. We couldn’t resist sticking these adorable red, white & blue flags into the sliders before we served them.

There you have it! We hope you’ll join us in some patriotic cookout fun. Here are a few more pictures of us testing and developing these recipes for you, if you’d like to keep ogling the delicious BBQ fun and planning for your own outdoor cooking adventure…