media center 2014

It has been four years since I first installed the media center and I have gone through a few iterations since its inception so I thought I’d write an update on what has evolved.

The latest additions in 2014 are as follows:

The usual equipment:

The component backbones:

  • Samsung 46″ LCD television
  • Sony 7:1 Receiver
  • Mac Mini (HDMI)

Sound (other than Sonos):

  • 2 Bose small speakers – front channel
  • 2 Bose medium speakers – back channel
  • 1 Bose center speaker – center channel
  • 1 Bose subwoofer

I also switched out my Internet service from Comcast home to Comcast Business.  It is more expensive, but I wanted a static IP address for the Synology and they also don’t throttle your speed.  My hope someday is to actually cut my cable, but that has not happened yet out of pure fear.

Anything I’m missing in my setup?!?

mobile-hero-1-variant-23707b709b6875c674d1a0b9569556d1

There has been a recent influx of meal delivery services popping up on the webs. When I say meal delivery, I don’t mean the pre-cooked / ready meals like Sprig or Munchery (of which I should review as well), I am talking about services that deliver the ingredients for one to actually prep and cook their own meals at home. It appears that the top contenders in this market currently are Blue Apron, Plated, HelloFresh and Forage (coming soon).

I recently tried out Blue Apron to see what it was like and I turned out to be pleasantly surprised!

Background

Blue Apron is a subscription service where you can pick a day of the week (Tue-Sat) to deliver ingredients to make 3 meals for 2-4 people.  The meals are pre-determined each week, so there is no flexibility if you don’t like the menu other than to cancel that week’s delivery.  You do have the option to select vegetarian or opt out of certain types of meat/seafood.

Pricing is $9.99 per meal / per person which is pretty reasonable.

My_account_-_Blue_Apron

Plan Options

Delivery

Delivery went seamlessly.  I’m lucky because I can buzz people into my apartment lobby remotely, so the delivery guy just left the box next to my front door.

I do have to say that the packaging is very professional looking, but the box is HUGE.  Ridiculously big.  Plus there is a shit ton of insulation and ice packs inside.  Whilst I do appreciate keeping my food cold and fresh, the effort to clear out and recycle all of this material is way too much.

I was so shocked at how much extra packaging was in the box that I had to google how to recycle it and print the instructions to make sure I got it right.  Blue Apron do say that “packaging is made from post-consumer waste and much of it is recyclable”.  I feel like there has to be some way to optimize this packaging so I don’t have to break everything down every single time and feel like an asshole to the environment every week.

The Meals – Prepping, Cooking, Eating

I love cooking.  I hate shopping for ingredients.  The reason I hate trying out new recipes is because I hate having to purchase every single ingredient to make a meal.  Like buying an entire 5lb bag of rice and a bottle of rice vinegar to make sushi rice and then it sits there forever wasting away until I throw it out.  Or when I prep for a new recipe and then realize halfway through that I forgot some obscure key ingredient and either run out to shop to get it or do without and potentially ruin my meal.

Blue Apron solves all of these issues.

No longer do I need to worry about the ingredients.  Or ending up with too much of something that I will never use again.  The waste on the food front is cut significantly.  I don’t have to worry about forgetting something key.  I don’t have to worry about buying a bag of celery when I only needed one celery stick.  And as an added bonus, everything is pre-measured so I’m not sitting there figuring out exact quantities.

I love it!  I can finally focus on what I love doing and that is cooking.

Recipes

Recipe Cards

The recipes have actually been interesting.  At first I thought that some of them were a bit simple and stupid, but after reflecting I realize that I would never have thought to make some of them.  It literally would never occur to me to whip up a BLT.  I also kind of like that I don’t have an option and I have to cook what they send me.  It has given me the opportunity to try things out that I wouldn’t have picked out from my typical recipe repertoire.

The recipe sheets that Blue Apron includes are really great.  They are printed on high-quality glossy paper that allows you to get spill stuff on them without getting damaged. The images are clear and beautiful with some nice tips. They are easy to follow and one thing I really appreciate is Blue Apron goes out of their way to optimize the clean up.  Whenever possible they try to utilize a one pan approach and tell you to wipe out the pan and reuse it.

My wishlist on the recipe sheet is that I wish it would have an estimated prep / cooking time, nutritional values and recommended equipment. And I wish they made the left margin a little big wider so I could holepunch and put them into a three-ring binder to save.

Prepping

The prep work is pretty simple.  I like that everything is done mise en place with the recipe so once you start cooking it is smooth sailing like a cooking show.  I would recommend that one have some ramekins on hand to feel like a professional.  There hasn’t been anything that requires any special equipment other than a pan, mixing bowls, a knife and a baking sheet so most home cooks (even bachelors) should be covered.

The little knick-knacks bag is nicely packaged in a brown paper bag with all the extras that you need during cooking.

Cooking

Once you are done with the prep it is time to move onto the cooking portion of the program.  The fun!  The website says that each meal should take about 35 minutes to complete.  This has pretty much been true.  Following the recipes is simple enough for anyone with a tiny bit of cooking ability.  I’d suggest reading through the entire card before embarking to get some timings correct, but for the most part you’ll be ok if you simply follow along.

Eating

Blue Apron says that they source the best seasonal ingredients directly from farms, importers and family-run purveyors.  I like that.  So far the quality of the ingredients has been really fresh and tasty.

The meals that I have cooked have turned out fantastically.  Even plating has looked amazing.  And the taste has been outstanding.  I know that I am a good cook, but this has made me feel pretty proud of myself every time.  I’ve served a few of these meals for other people and they were equally impressed.  Win!

Oh and the portions sizes are darned big.  I have made a few things that were for 2 people that could have easily fed 4 people.

Examples of What I Made

farro

Scallops on farro (I modified this from original recipe)

IMG_20140909_180423

BLT with tomato avocado salad

IMG_20140904_184938

Chicken & Snow Pea-Radish Sauté

Wishlist

There are a few things that I wish Blue Apron had:

  • More economical packaging – less waste!
  • Meals for 1 – poor little me ends up cooking a lot of food.  I do my best to eat the leftovers for lunch, but I wish sometimes I could cook just one meal.

Overall

As if you couldn’t tell, I love Blue Apron.  I am shocked at how much I love them actually.  At first I had this notion in my head that these kits were somehow cheating the complexity of being a real cook.  I have since gotten over that because you still have to prep and cook these recipes, you just don’t have to deal with all the extract bullshit to source the ingredients.  I have made every meal that has been sent to me (6 so far) and I have enjoyed cooking and eating every single one.

Side note: I have tried out Plated (review coming soon), but I have gone back to Blue Apron.