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I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday.  I picked up a couple of things that I hadn’t seen before and so far like.

Tastes like taste no. 5 umami Bomba paste. I approve.

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But much more affordable than buying Taste No. 5 Bomba paste… since that gets imported from England.  I’m tempted to stock up on this out of fear.  I hope TJs never stops making this!

 

Also from TJs

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It’s a smidge sweeter than I like.  Not really a surprise, since sugar is the first ingredient, but it’s much tastier than buying hot cocoa packets.

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So, the story starts like this:  I had an idea for a friend’s bachelorette party in which we have a cocktail making class.

Originally, we thought we could hire a bartender we already knew but that never got off the ground.  Then I thought that maybe I could do a private event through a cocktail making school.  I could only find two in the area, but one was difficult to plan with, and the other lacked any customer response.

So, then I reached out to Boston Shaker.  Boston Shaker is a cocktail provisions store in Davis Square, Somerville that has received fairly glowing reviews ever since they opened.  Alas, the store did not do any private events… however, they did have a recommendation

And that’s when Booze Époque came in.

Over a month’s worth of emails, Meaghan and Harmony of Booze Époque, were wonderful and easy to deal with.  They offer cocktail catering and cocktail classes in the area.  For classes, you can go to their work space in Union Square, Somerville or they can also come out to your location if you have the space.

For the bachlorette, Meaghan and Harmony came out to our chosen location in Boston.  And they were armed with more than we were imagining.

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They even provided some awesome eggplant spread, bread, and goat cheese that they picked up from a local shop.

If there are ingredients in particular that you want to work with, or have an end goal drink in mind, Booze Époque try their best to accommodate.  For example, one friend wanted to experiment with a boozy version of a mango lassi, while another friend want to try to re-create a ginger fig martini she had once.

The ladies of Booze Époque are very chill, friendly, and awesome in person.  The class deviated a bit halfway through, but Booze Époque were ok with it and had no problems shifting their presentations.

If I ever get a chance to coordinate an event with a liquor budget again, I’m contacting Booze Époque.  There’s no question about that.

 

Reference link:

http://www.boozeepoque.com/
(Their blog has some recipes, so I recommend taking a look!)

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Bonus pictures!

I have a new favorite place.

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and

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came home with me.

The maple one is HOLY COW delicious.  It’s really maple-y.  I tasted this vinegar a couple of weeks ago, and tried to fake it with maple syrup and balsamic vinegar.  It’s not the same.  So, I made my sister come with me so that I could buy a bottle.

And the pumpkin spice one is not like pie in a bottle.  It’s much lighter with hints of pumpkin friendly spices.  It works better as an everyday vinegar for vinaigrettes and, as recommended, for baking with squash.  So, I’m definitely going to try that when September rolls in.  (I couldn’t resist buying it; the bottle was on sale.)

My sister also became a fan of the store.  She walked away with a mild extra virgin olive oil and the jalapeño balsamic vinegar.  The jalapeño balsamic vinegar?  I’m a fan of that one too.  It’s not spicy but there is a sort of kick to it and a very mild flavor.

The store also has some awesome flavored olive oils, and everyone who works there has been very friendly.

Not all of their products are listed on their website, so I highly recommend making a trip to the store if you’re in the neighborhood!

I really love this place right now.  (^_^)

Reference link:

http://bostonoliveoilcompany.com/

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… And totally unrelated, but at my cousin’s request.  Pictures of sushi from our favorite sushi place (which I’m still not naming!)…

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Note: I purchased the product out of my own pocket. No one paid me or asked me to write this.

I’m a fan of the Blue Apron food/recipe delivery service. Out of curiosity, I decided to try out another similar service called HelloFresh.

Pros: Prices are tailored a bit more to what you need. For a classic box of three meals which includes meat, a two person box is $69, a four person box is $129, and a six person box is $179. The vegetarian boxes are a little cheaper; a two person box is $59, a four person is $109, and a six person box is $149.

There’s also more flexibility in your food choices. One week, the classic box came with Moroccan-Style Chicken with Cumin Chickpea Pilaf, Beef Bulgogi with Brown Rice, and Grilled Shrimp Panzanella with Basil. However, if one or two of those meals were not to your liking, you could swap them for either Pork Burger with Caramelized Onions or Virtuous Vegetarian Curry with Zucchini and Cashews.

In comparison, Blue Apron is the same price with or without meat, and everything is based on feeding two people.

Cons: HelloFresh uses more packaging than Blue Apron… like way more.  All of the seasonings I got from HelloFresh were in disposable packets. Blue Apron uses bottles and plastic cups that can be recycled. Then, HelloFresh also packs all the ingredients for a dish into a clear plastic bag for easy grab. That’s nice but I don’t need the double packaging.  I really don’t need all those plastic bags.*

I also like the the format of the HelloFresh recipe cards less than Blue Apron. They’re a little smaller which means the font and pictures are smaller.  As for the recipes themselves, I feel conflicted.

With my first box, one of the recipes was scallops with brussel sprouts, oranges, and quinoa.  It was really good even though I didn’t get a sear of my scallops.

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And in second box, I got a recipe for 1) cod with ramps, tomatoes, and potatoes, and 2) linguini with tomato garlic ragu.  I didn’t make the cod as directed at all.  And I tinkered with the linguini a bit, enough so that it doesn’t really look like the picture on the recipe card.

That’s not to say that I love all of Blue Apron’s recipe.  I feel like with a box that there’s always one recipe that’s more mundane, but so far I haven’t bothered to adjust any of their recipes.

Overall, as someone who likes to cook and experiment, I am less enthusiastic about HelloFresh than Blue Apron.  I think it’s a better service for someone who wants something less exotic.  I could be wrong – I only have two boxes to base my conclusion on.  Unfortunately, you can’t preview their recipes which would be nice to have.  Blue Apron has their cookbook public and free, but Hello Fresh doesn’t seem to electronically publish their recipes.  Or at least, not that I could find.

* = I wrote a note to HelloFresh when I closed my account and mentioned my concern for all the packaging.  Their customer service support is pretty good, and they wrote back to me expressing that they are trying to figure out some sort of recycling program.  I hope they can make it work out.

Reference links:
http://www.hellofresh.com/
http://www.blueapron.com/pages/cookbook

(Sorry for the ill-lit photos.  Food was cooked after sun had set.  And I didn’t take photos of my other meals either because it wasn’t much to look at or because I diverted from the HelloFresh recipe completely.)

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Disclaimer:  I’m not getting anything for this post.  I bought this for myself.

First things first, I had never heard of Graze until a friend of mine sent me an invite code.  (Yes, an invite code is currently required.)  Originally from the UK, Graze is a healthy snacking company.  You get a small box filled with four different goodies.  It’s a subscription service in that way, like Blue Apron.  If you don’t want any boxes, then you have to cancel or hold your shipments.  A nice feature is that you can change the frequency of deliveries.  It’s $5 per box and that’s with USPS shipping included.

The one gripe I have?  USPS can be really slow.  The company FAQs state that it can take up to 10 business days to receive a box, and they weren’t kidding.  I got my first box in exactly ten business days… which felt even longer than normal because February 18th was a national holiday.  So it was shipped on February 15th but I didn’t receive it until the 28th.

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This box is the size a thick graphic novel.  Or, you can say that it’s pretty small since it’s designed to fit in your mailbox with your normal mail.  It’s 9 1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches by 1 inch.  I took a picture of my box opened with a fork inside it just so that it gives a better visual impression of size.

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Short reaction?  I kind of love it.  The snacks are small portions, but they are pretty tasty.   I’ve eaten the el picante, the summer berry compote with shortbread, and the hot cross yum.  The summer berry compote with shortbread felt like it was too small of a portion, but those were some buttery shortbreads!  So, I’m not surprised it’s on the smaller side of things to save calories.  (Note to self – must try all the flavors!)

My box also came with a little card of nutrition facts, which also contains allergy warnings, and “best by” dates.

I’m going to continue with my nibble box for a little bit.  It’s not the cheaper option (you’re better off price-wise buying trail mix from Trader Joe’s, yadda yadda yadda, or making your own), but I’m kind of tired of the snacks that I tend to have on hand.  I’m looking forward to the change of pace.

Here’s a link to the site, and if you want an invite code, drop me a comment.  I only get four invite codes at a time, just to forewarn you.   (Invite codes are also packaged into the box.)  (All gone.  I hope that everyone who got my email gets to enroll.  Graze was giving me conflicting information about the number of invites I had.)

https://www.graze.com/us/

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Reminder – I’m not getting compensated for this post in any manner.  I shelled out the money from my own pocket just to try out the Blue Apron service for fun.

My last Blue Apron meal was Moroccan Beef Tagine with Dates and Honey.

 

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I think, of the three meals, this was my least favorite.  But I’m not trying to say that it tasted bad or anything like that.  If anything, I feel like it could have been better.  It might have been the cooking process.  It’s still a good dish, but the ground beef was really fatty and the fat dulled the flavors some.  On the other hand, the couscous absorbed most of the fat so at least I wasn’t left with a greasy feeling.  Too bad I’m not much of a couscous fan.  (But Israeli couscous is pretty yum.)  If I were to make this dish again, I would cook the ground beef first, then set it aside and tip out the extra fat.  The original instructions also say to add the vegetable stock and 1 cup of water but I made the executive decision to leave out the 1c of water.  It would have made it way too watery, and probably would have only diluted the flavor some more.  (Although, I probably would need the extra moisture if the extra fat were removed.)

It was a sweeter recipe than I expected it to be.  With the prunes and dates, I’m not really sure the honey was needed but I guess that’s more of a preference.  I tend to think tagines should be highly spiced in flavor.  I took a little longer cooking this dish because I wanted my carrots to be soft-ish.

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Anyway, my overall impression of Blue Apron is quite favorable.

Pros:  It’s a great way to experiment with cooking different dishes.  You can select a “meat/seafood” account or a “vegetarian” account.  Every dish is pre-measured to be two servings.  It’s not cheap, but it’s the cheapest food delivery service I’ve seen so far at $9.99 per serving.  Every week, there are three different dishes to make.  The recipe card is very easy to read and easy to follow along.  The packaging tries to be environmentally friendly.  The insulation in the box are ThermoKeeper liners which are biodegradable.  The ice packs are Nordic Ice packs, which are reusable and also biodegradable.  Plus, Blue Apron tried it’s best to give you quality products that are locally sourced.  (Well, locally sourced to them.  I don’t live in NYC.)

Cons:  If you don’t live in Manhattan, then your box is shipped to you via FedEx.  You are at the mercy of FedEx.  As sad cat macro from an earlier post indicates, I was not having fun with this.  Unfortunately, Blue Apron doesn’t automatically notify you of your FedEx tracking number.  Fortunately, Blue Apron does respond to their emails and we were able to track my shipment pretty easily.  The only other thing that I don’t like about Blue Apron is that, technically, it’s a subscription service.  It will automatically charge and ship me boxes if I don’t opt out of that week.  You can cancel your account at any time, but, as a general rule, I don’t think you should have to opt out.  I think it’s a better practice to have customers to opt in.  And for picky eaters (which is me sometimes), Blue Apron notifies you a week ahead what the next menu is.  So, if you don’t like it, you have some wiggle room to opt out (or opt back in if you do like it and you had already scheduled to skip a delivery).

So, I’m going to keep my account for now.  It’s not something I’m going to do every week, but maybe once a month?  We’ll see.  I’m also wondering if I should change my delivery date from Wednesday to Friday, but I’m not sure if that’s any better for my schedule if there’s a late delivery again.

 

Reference Links:

http://www.blueapron.com/
http://www.blueapron.com/recipes/moroccan-beef-tagine-with-dates-and-honey
http://www.thermopod.net/thermokeeper.php
http://temperatsure.com/nordicice.php

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I forgot to add this photo into the previous post.  This is how I’ll determine two servings of cod fillets in the future: the overall area should be about the size of my hand.  (^_^)

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Moving on!  The recipe I decided to make on Friday night was Korean Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Pickled Daikon Radish.  Not pictured were two nice free range chicken cutlets supplied by Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors.  This recipe, like the last one, took me about 35 minutes to make.  It probably could have taken me less time, but I had no need to rush.

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The minor changes I made were to 1) salt the chicken beforehand, 2) use shio koji instead of salt for the daikon radish, and 3) thinly slice the daikon with a mandoline.  The original recipes tells you to cut the daikon into chunks, but pickled daikon in Korean restaurants is usually cut in julienne strips (I’m not referring to radish kimchi which is cut into chunks).  So, chunks didn’t feel right to me.  Plus, I just couldn’t imagine that the daikon would get enough flavor in half an hour from its marinade.

What else?  Ah, the unusual ingredient in this recipe was dried garlic chutney.  It really had me confused at first.  There’s no such thing as dried garlic chutney in Korean cooking.  Sure, there’s a lot of garlic and red pepper flakes but no spice mix referred to as dried garlic chutney.  After some researching and an quick confirmation from Blue Apron, dry garlic chutney is spice mix found in Indian cooking.  It’s spicy enough and familiar enough, I think, for Korean approval but the flavor is still ever-so-slightly foreign.  So, this dish is more Asian fusion and not traditional Korean.

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Reactions?  I really liked this one, especially the glass noodles.  The noodles reminded me of a Chinese vermicelli dish my mom makes.  I’m not totally sure what kind of glass noodles they were though.  They’re too thin to be chapchae noodles.  It’s probably just a Korean version of the vermicelli I’m familiar with, but I’ll have to start looking for them.  It’s hard for me to find Chinese vermicelli that I like.  The past few years, I’ve been buying a Taiwanese brand, but it’s getting harder and harder to find it.  I can only find mainland Chinese brands.  I like the Taiwanese brand better because it’s generally softer and chewier. I wonder what it is that creates the texture difference.  Technically, they are supposed to be the same product.

The radish was good too.  Not as sour as I normally expect, but it was a nice foil to the spiciness of the chicken.  And yes, the chicken was fairly spicy hot even though I did not use the full amount of chutney provided.

I must admit – I’m a little sad that I’ve only got one meal left to cook.

http://www.blueapron.com/
http://www.blueapron.com/recipes/korean-chicken-lettuce-wraps-with-pickled-daikon-radish
http://www.lafrieda.com/Default.asp

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