On something of a whim I took advantage of an offer from this site called Plated. Buy 2 plates, get 4 free! My initial order I had to cancel, which resulted in an account credit of $70-80 after paying around $20. Not a bad deal in my book. A little later, I took advantage of that “free” money to try out the service.
I ordered two different meals/4 plates. When you’re ordering, one recipe usually makes 2 “plates” (some might make 4). The actual amount of plates would depend on how much you and/or the other people that enjoy the dish want to eat, of course. I would mostly classify the recipes as gourmet homestyle, occasionally ethnic or fusion. They send you a recipe card–more like a recipe poster–and most of the ingredients to cook it. You will probably have to supplement it with things like olive oil, butter, pepper, or other basic cooking ingredients that most people have available in their kitchen.
Although many things sounded delicious, the price was important to me (not all plates cost the same), so my final decision was tomato-braised chicken with fennel and steak gyros. Once the order shipped, it got to me overnight. Considering that some of the food they send is perishable, that’s a very good thing. I thought everything was very well-packaged and everything from my order was present and accounted for. I actually decided to do an unboxing and first impression video, which you can watch if you’re interested in this part of the process:
But I made it before I’d fully experienced my meals, so I wanted to go a little more in-depth here.
Steak Gyros: This was pretty easy to make and turned out to be delicious! I did overcook the steak just a tiny bit, as they recommend having it rare and mine was closer to medium-well, but that didn’t hurt it. It was good-quality steak and the seasonings they provided gave it a great flavor. The naans that came with the order were so tasty, I wished I had more of them. I did alter some of the side/sauce aspects of the recipe (I explain this a little in the video). Overall I was very happy with this one.
Tomato-braised Chicken with Fennel: First I should say that I HATE black licorice, and so I don’t like strong fennel flavors that much, but I love chicken, and I’ve had recipes with fennel that I did like, so I decided to try it out. This one was slightly more interesting to cook because I’ve never made fennel before. This used the leafy part as a garnish, but also the root as one of the main ingredients. Cooked in oil and tomato with a rather interesting mix of spices, I actually really liked the end result. I would have liked there to be more chicken, and I must admit I was a little disappointed by the cuts I was provided because there was a lot of fat on them. So it wasn’t perfect, but I liked the flavor of the dish. It also came with couscous, which I had never made before. That part turned out to be incredibly easy and although couscous doesn’t have much flavor on its own, I like it. Also, between the fennel bulb, a yellow onion, and the chicken, the yield for this recipe was HUGE. I’d say it could feed four people, maybe adding another side dish.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed my first experience with plated despite one or two things that weren’t perfect. (And expecting perfection is silly, really.) Promotional deal aside, this is not exactly a budget-friendly service. For the amount of food I got for the money, I probably would have been better off just getting a similar recipe and getting the ingredients myself. BUT, you’re not just paying for the food. You’re paying to have it bundled and ready to cook, as well, and for the convenience of having it delivered right to you. They also make efforts to send sustainable and ethical ingredients, which are worth paying a little extra for if you can afford it. Also, if you can’t afford to order frequently, you can always skip a few weeks to save up for your next order, but make sure you keep an eye on your account so you don’t accidentally get one when you didn’t want it. The default is every one or two weeks, depending on what you select. I’m not in a position to afford this very often right now, but I’d be interested in doing this regularly in the future, after my income grows.
Why you should try it: I think the best reason to give Plated a try (other than the great first-time deal they offer!) is to experiment with a recipe you might never have tried otherwise. I doubt I ever would have made gyros if left entirely to my own devices, and now I know I might like to use fennel in cooking other dishes. I might have done that eventually, but without this incentive I doubt it. I made the recipes on my own, but this could also be fun to do with friends and family, if you like to cook together.
If after all that you’re intrigued, and you want some free plates, use my referral link below:
Well then, two weeks later, I still have not done any of that blog-fixin’ I was talking about! The perfectionist in me is shying away from the task. She doesn’t want to put in all this work and then have the world respond with “So what?” So I guess I’ve been biding my time until I have a good chunk of time to deal with rearranging the blog. I can tell it’s going to take quite a lot of work to get things the way I want, and I’m so behind on other life things that I can’t give it the attention it deserves right now.
My chicken tikka masala post continues to get views constantly. I honestly don’t know how this has happened. I liked the post just fine, but it’s hardly a masterpiece. Is adding a can of coconut milk to a jar of tikka masala sauce really so interesting to people that it’s almost the only post that is ever viewed? It’s kind of disheartening to me otherwise… While I’m glad people have enjoyed this post, it sort of makes me think that any seeming success I’ll ever have in my life will be a fluke.
I have a jar of the same sauce and a plan to try the “recipe” with shrimp. Will that one get anywhere near the same amount of views? My guess is no.
My hope is that I’ll be able to have the new format of the blog figured out by the end of October. I want to say September, but I worry that it will take me much longer than that to get my other stuff in order. Or something resembling it. Until then I am sure I’ll just fret about the many imperfections in this and other aspects of my life.
I have made a number of dishes that I intended to write about soon after, but somehow time just slipped by me. Now it’s been quite a while, probably two months or even more, since I made these things, but I enjoyed them so much that I still want to write about them.
1. Cranberry sauce!
This is actually the first time I’ve made it without a recipe. Previously I made it for Thanksgiving, and if you’re cooking something for a special meal involving other people, you don’t want to take the risk that you’ll screw it up. If I’d ruined the cranberry sauce, there would have been none, and what, WHAT I ask, is Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce? Crap. That’s what. But this time, I found cranberries at $1 per bag at a small produce market, and as I’d been wanting to make cranberry sauce for a while, I decided to get one. Then of course it sat in the fridge for 2-3 weeks until it was a choice of either making the sauce or throwing them away.
I put 1-2 cups of water in the pot with the cranberries and started boiling that. (It was more than 1 cup, but I wasn’t being very precise in measuring so I don’t know exactly how much.) So then, when the cranberries had started bursting their insides out all into the water, I went to add the sugar. It turned out that I had almost no sugar. I’d run out of white sugar ages before, and my brown sugar had almost completely solidified. (I don’t bake much, so I never really worry about stocking these things.) I chipped as much as I could off the sugar block, poured it in the pot, and threw the rest away. I still haven’t bought new sugar yet.
I felt it needed a bit more sweetener than that, so I added a healthy pour of agave nectar. It won’t give your sauce the same flavor as sugar, but it will help to balance out the sourness of the cranberries just as well. I also added a very small amount of ground nutmeg. A minimal sprinkling added a very subtle flavor, but unless you REALLY love nutmeg, I wouldn’t add very much at all.
Feeling experimental, I added 2 teaspoons or so of vanilla extract. I think the kind I have is bourbon vanilla extract, but you can add any kind you have on hand. It made it so delicious. I highly recommend adding vanilla extract to your cranberry sauce.
I actually still have some of the sauce in the fridge. I have no idea if it’s still good.
2. Zucchini chili-mango stir fry with brown rice!
I had bought this seriously enormous zucchini and it had to be used fairly quickly. I decided to stir-fry a large portion of it and eat it with rice. The stir-fry was composed of zucchini and yellow bell pepper, I think. There wasn’t much in it, but that’s ok. For a sauce, I used the remainder of this mango chili marinade that had been in the fridge for at least five months, diluted a little with water so that it would coat the veggies better. I thought it might end up too sweet, but even though it was on the sweet side, it was just perfect.
I’m a jasmine rice kind of lady, so I’ve only made brown rice once or twice before. I forgot how much longer it takes to cook than regular rice, and as a result the veggies were ready way before the rice was. Imagine my surprise, however, when it turned out the brown rice was SO TASTY!! I’ve had brown rice before, of course, and it always tasted kind of bland and boring. Somehow it was really good this time. I don’t think it was the sauce from the stir-fry that did it, either. Unfortunately, I have no idea how I did this or if I’ll be able to replicate it. Maybe I just really like brown rice now.
That sure came out of nowhere.
3. Breadcrumb-fried zucchini slices over linguine!
To use the rest of the zucchini, I decided I wanted to fry it in breadcrumbs. I used a fairly half-assed version of your standard breadcrumb-coating method, with panko breadcrumbs because that was the only kind I had. Italian-style breadcrumbs would have been better. But that’s ok. I placed the slices in my pan of hot oil, flipped them carefully, and then put them on a paper-towel-lined plate when done. The trick is to keep a careful eye on the oil to make sure it doesn’t get too hot, or you’ll end up burning everything.
I decided they’d be delightful over pasta, so I made up some linguine (does anyone else feel like pasta always takes so much longer than you expect it to?), tossed it with olive oil, black pepper, basil, and oregano, and laid several zucchini slices on top. There may have also been tomatoes. I must say, the plating was lovely, but I wasn’t really in a “taking pictures of my food” space when I was cooking any of these things. So there are NO PICTURES. However, I’d be quite happy to make this again if anyone’s interested in a more detailed non-recipe with pictures–I might use eggplant next time, though. Of course, I won’t know you want to see this unless you comment.
I’ve made some other fairly standard meals as well, which all turned out delicious, but they’ve been the sort of extremely basic meals that pretty much anyone can make. Literally. I’ve had a lot of egg sandwiches in the last two months or so.
Now, what’s that you say about requests? …is what I’m sure you’re asking.
I think it would be fun to try to make some ideas that come from random people on the internet. Or people I know, too, but if you make the request in real life and not here, I won’t do it.
My one rule* is that it can’t be baked goods. Those can only be successfully made without a recipe if you’re experienced enough to know what you’re doing. I do not know what I’m doing. On the rare occasions when I do actually bake, I follow the recipe. If I were to try it, I would just be wasting all the ingredients on something that will most likely be edible but not worth eating. If it’s something for which I could use pre-made pastry (pie crusts, crescent rolls, etc.), that would be doable.
*I’m also not going to make anything involving brains, tongues, sweetbreads, animal feet, or anything super weird like that. Because ew.
Keep in mind I have very nearly literally NO money right now, so it might be a little while before I can actually afford the ingredients. That’s ok though! I’ll make a list and do whatever I can in this regard.
I should apologize for the lack of a picture, because it is so beautifully orange, but I don’t have a camera that would show it.
Tonight I was preparing chicken so I would have something to make lunches with. I wanted flavor and simplicity of preparation (my two favorite things in a non-recipe) I decided to go with tandoori chicken with garlic and basil. That sounds fancy. How did I do that? Well, actually it’s the opposite of fancy and was very easy.
At some point I acquired a little tin of tandoori seasoning. I think it came from T.J. Maxx. Anyway, it’s a nice thing to have for when I want to make my rice bright corally orange, or add an interesting twist to dinner.
Surya, the best Indian restaurant EVER, which is located in my semi-hometown of Worcester, MA, makes deep red tandoori chicken. No other restaurant has ever made it half as good. So I tend to get something else. At other restaurants, the tandoori chicken just barely has a dusting of orange on it, and I wonder why it doesn’t stick.
I discovered, most likely by accident (but I can’t remember now), that if I stir it in with a little bit of cream (half and half is usually what I have available) the seasoning will stick to the chicken and make it nice and colorful. Raise your hand if you knew this trick. …Yeah, I didn’t think so.
So, anyway, if you’re interested in how I prepared tonight’s no-recipe chicken, it’s very basically like this:
Slice or chop two cloves of garlic and toss into vegetable/canola/olive oil, cook on a low-medium heat. If your stove is anything like mine, watch out for a spitting pan and you should probably wear pants, or you’ll end up with hot oil sprayed on your leg. It wasn’t scalding, so I’m ok.
Prepare boneless chicken meat to your preference. I like to cut it into strips, usually, as it cooks faster that way. Put chicken in oil, watching out for spitting again. I mean, really. Is it that the pan doesn’t like me?
Add cream. You don’t need much. I’d approximate three tablespoons or so. If you’re into the no-measuring style, just pour a small amount in, but enough that it can get around the whole pan.
Add tandoori! This is really don’t measure at all. maybe 1/2 tablespoon? It depends how strong you want it. And you can always add a little more if it’s not orange enough…
So, once you’ve put the cream and seasoning in the pan, mix that stuff up stir-fry style. Make sure all the chicken gets coated. Then let it simmer for a little while.
Last minute addition: if you suddenly get a desire to add a little more flavor, find an herb or something to toss in and mix that around at the end of the cooking. If your extra thing is onions, you might want to cook them a little more first. Just saying… my extra bit was dried basil.
Note: This anti-recipe would probably have best results with fresh basil and garlic that was purchased more recently than six months ago. I’m serious, I think that’s how long it was. Can you tell how often I cook with garlic?
Even though this was a dish I was making for later, I had to try a bite. It turned out great, if I do say so myself.
I’ve been thinking about a food blog for a while. Many different inspirations – Looking at different food-related posts here, the movie Julie & Julia (and really any scene in tv or movies where they show or talk about cooking…), things I make that are just f*&^ing excellent…
Right now, I have to leave work (Yes, I am doing this at the office! I am such a terrible person). Can’t fill you in on things the way I’d like. For now:
I am under construction: check back later for a post about food, blogging, and cooking without recipes.
EDIT: My first post. Such nostalgia… it is interesting to me how such a simple, small idea can sort of expand and become something that I really enjoy–that a blog that was originally just for food has become more of a fun place where I can post whatever I want. (I suppose I could do that on any personal blog, but it is nice to have a focus sometimes, isn’t it?) I would delete this post, since there’s barely anything to it, but I think it’s worth leaving it to remember how this whole project started…