we tried hello fresh and blue apron. the winner is?

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

I mentioned a while back that we were considering trying some meal delivery services so Jon could cook dinner once a week or so. He’s a good cook, but busy ER docs don’t have a ton of time to research recipes, grocery shop, and prep. Services that send all the ingredients and recipe all ready to go sounded really ideal. I got a Hello Fresh coupon included in a box of stuff I ordered from Zulily, and a friend sent me a code for a free box of Blue Apron, so we decided to give them each a shot and see which one we preferred. I should note that this is not a sponsored post– Zulily frequently includes coupons and samples when they ship orders, and both services let users send friends discounts and free meals to try the services.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh was up first. One thing I didn’t like right off the bat was there was no plan that fit our diet preferences perfectly. We’re mostly vegetarian, but not entirely– we eat meat about once a week, and also enjoy eating seafood. Hello Fresh offers a Classic Box, a Veggie Box, and a Family Box. My ideal box would have a pescatarian option to get vegetarian and seafood recipes, but that’s not an option. So we did one week with a Family Box and one week with a Veggie Box. With a Veggie Box, you HAVE to get 3 meals per week, but the Family Box lets you choose 2 or 3 meals a week.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

Things we liked about Hello Fresh:

  • The recipes were delicious, easy to execute, and full of variety. Out of six meals, there was only one dish I didn’t care for, a portobello and orechiette primavera that kind of had a muddy flavor to this not-exactly-a-mushroom lover (I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them either).
  • The organization of the boxes. Each meal’s ingredients, minus meat or seafood, comes in its own individual box within the shipping box. It’s super easy to just stash the meal boxes in the fridge, and pull one out at mealtime. This prevents having to hunt for the various ingredients and gather them together. You just pull out the box and get cooking.
  • Jamie Oliver contributes some of the recipes. One of his recipes, a Brazillian black bean and rice bowl, was one of my favorites out of the six meals we tried.
  • All of the meals were balanced, healthy, fresh, and about 550-800 calories per plate. Every meal was enough for our family of 4, plus leftovers.
  • They sent us locally-raised meat!

Things we didn’t like about Hello Fresh:

  • Lack of a great option for our family’s diet, which is somewhere in between Veggie Box and Family Box. The Family Box was too meat-heavy for us, and we’d like to get vegetarian and seafood recipes.
  • Lack of a 2-meals-per-week option on the Veggie Box. I am a proficient cook, read a lot of food blogs and cookbooks, and enjoy cooking. I would prefer to just get 2 meals per week, one for Jon to cook, and one for me to cook, and leave me to my own devices the rest of the week.
  • Most of the recipes seemed to dirty a lot more dishes than our average meals. Multiple pans and bowls were often required, which makes cleanup a bummer.
  • Most meals take longer to cook than the estimated time.

Overall, our experience with Hello Fresh was super positive, and we enjoyed the meals we got from them.

Blue Apron

Next we tried Blue Apron. Blue Apron offers 2 basic plans, the Two Person Plan and the Family Plan. With each plan, you can choose 2 or 4 meals per week. Pricing is the same as Hello Fresh. Hello Fresh’s Family Box meals are $8.75 per serving, Blue Apron’s are $8.74. Also: we had leftovers with both services, lowering the actual price per serving further. One major perk to both of Blue Apron’s plans is the ability to choose your actual meals from a set of options. Another perk is the ability to input dietary preferences. I was able to select no beef, pork, or lamb, so our default options are vegetarian, seafood, or poultry, and I am able to further choose from among a few of those options for the 2 we are delivered. This way, we’ve managed to get entirely vegetarian or seafood meals, with no poultry.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

If I were basing my opinion solely on the first meal we cooked from Blue Apron, it would have been a total failure. We were sent a Teriyaki-Glazed Salmon with Brown Rice, Bell Pepper, and Cucumber. How was it? I don’t know, because we ended up getting fast food after a failure. To start with, a small bottle of sesame oil had leaked all over our box, and I was missing the bell pepper somehow. Then, they expected me to somehow cook brown rice on the stovetop in 30 minutes. After that allotted time, the rice was still crunchy and I was wishing I had thrown it into my Instant Pot instead of dutifully following the recipe. Finally, I was cooking the salmon in a skillet at medium-high heat as directed, added the teriyaki sauce as directed, and immediately the sauce smoked up to the point that my smoke alarm went off. And that’s when we decided to give up on that meal. I emailed customer service about the leaky sesame oil and missing pepper, and they gave me $10 off my next box to make up for it.

All of the other 5 meals we tried, however, went off without a hitch, so I’m ready to call our first meal-fail a fluke.

Things we liked about Blue Apron:

  • Customization of the plans to suit our family’s diet, as well as to choose recipes from among several choices each week.
  • The option of 2 meals per week on every plan.
  • The meals were all delicious, and with one exception, easy to execute.
  • The meals were all balanced and healthy, mostly in the 500-600 calories per serving range, with one pizza night in the 800 calories per serving range.
  • Every meal was enough food for all four of us with some leftovers.
  • Jon and I enjoyed cooking some of the meals together, which was really fun.
  • All of the seafood they send is certified sustainable by Seafood Watch.
  • Responsive customer service when we had an issue.

Things we didn’t like about Blue Apron:

  • One meal was a total failure, though I’m willing to call it a fluke.
  • The packaging is slightly less convenient than Hello Fresh’s system– you have to hunt for all the ingredients that you’ve put away and gather them together to cook instead of just pulling one box out of the fridge.
  • Most of the time the meals take slightly longer to cook than estimated.

You may be able to guess that Blue Apron was the winner for our family, and we are continuing with their service. It just suits our individual needs the best. However, if you don’t have specific dietary needs, I don’t think you could go wrong with Hello Fresh, either.

Have you tried a meal delivery service, or are you interested in trying one? Is there another one you love that you think I might like better?

menu planning monday

Well, after last week’s big announcement about our upcoming move to Denver, we have worked our butts off to spruce up our house and it is officially on the market! So far we’ve had five showings in two days, so we’re hoping things go smoothly. If you know anyone looking for a great house in one of Little Rock’s cutest neighborhoods, let us know!

Also last week, I made one of our favorite dishes that I first fell in love with on our 5th anniversary trip to Costa Rica, gallo pinto, and I must say it was totally worth ordering Salsa Lizano on the internet, because it totally scratched my pura vida itch.

Also last week, I had a rare dinner flop. The Tandoori Quinoa. I think it turned out fine, I just didn’t like it. I admit I pitched the leftovers because I couldn’t face eating it again. It’s ok to have a cooking flop once in a while– comes with the territory if you’re trying new things.

It’s also nice to diverge from the meal plan once in a while. I had planned on tuna cakes with sides of grits and zucchini, but we ended up having salmon with baked potatoes and zucchini instead, because I had some potatoes I needed to use:

This was supposed to be tuna cakes, grits, and zucchini. Instead it became salmon filets, baked potatoes and zucchini. The tuna will keep in the pantry for another day.
This was supposed to be tuna cakes, grits, and zucchini. Instead it became salmon filets, baked potatoes and zucchini. The tuna will keep in the pantry for another day.

As far as what we’ll be eating this week, here’s what we have planned:

We haven’t had a pizza night in a while, and this one from Annie’s Eats looks particularly veggieriffic:

I have sweet potatoes and tortillas chilling in the pantry, and 3/4 of us are obsessed with fried eggs, so these sweet potato huevos rancheros sound amazing:

I love a one-pot pasta meal, so this one-pot zucchini mushroom pasta sounds great:

My one upgrade to these spinach and bean burritos is to grill them in my panini pan:

And for a seafood meal, this lemony shrimp and couscous sounds good (and is a recipe from the binder of recipes I made for Jon):

What’s cooking with you lately? Got any Easter treats planned? I’m going to be making these little nests for my girls:

 

menu planning monday

Meal Planning Monday | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

I promise eventually my life will slow down enough (more on that eventually) to do more than post menu plans, but today is not that day. We spent the week getting our den ready for new carpet to be installed (thanks, tax refund!), and spring cleaning in general, so not many deep thoughts were thought, which isn’t very conducive to writing. Even when I’m not writing, though, we gotta eat. Thus, Menu Planning Monday.

Meal Planning Monday | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo
Last week’s meals.

While spring cleaning, I found under our guest bed four giant binders of recipes I had torn out of magazines in the pre-Pinterest era. Now that my husband wants to get into cooking, I realized the hardest part for him will be deciding what to cook. He’s not a Pinterest-er, and he doesn’t read food blogs or peruse cookbooks. When I found those binders, though, I realized I could basically make him/us an analog Pinterest binder of vegetarian and seafood recipes that take less than 30 minutes. And since most of the recipes were from my old Real Simple and Rachael Ray subscriptions, they’re all pretty fast/healthy/easy, too. I went through all the binders and pulled out all the best-looking recipes, and now we can flip through them anytime. I can see it being useful to have the girls flip through and pick out some things they would like to eat every now and then, too.

Here’s what we’ll be making this week (reminder: if you’re reading via an RSS feed, you may need to click through to see the embedded pins):

The first recipe Jon picked out of the recipe binder:

One pot always wins me over:

Will likely serve these tuna cakes with cheesy grits and sautéed zucchini:

I have a bunch of kale that needs to be used before it disintegrates, so this tried-and-true recipe will take care of it, and it’s another one pot recipe:

And because I have a craving for some Costa Rican deliciousness, gallo pinto:

What about you? What’s on your menu this week? Made anything tasty lately?

menu planning monday

Back by popular demand, our next few dinners on deck. My favorite thing we ate last week? The spinach and mushroom lasagna. I even made my own noodles with the pasta maker I got for my birthday, and they turned out amazing. The spring vegetable paella also turned out fabulous, even though I didn’t remember to get pimientos and threw in some saffron for extra flavor. We ate it with fried eggs, and Claire had like 3 helpings! We still haven’t eaten all the meals I planned last week, so we’ll be having the cauliflower and chickpea tacos this week for sure.

Other things we’ll be eating this week (note, if you’re viewing this in an RSS reader, you may need to click through to see embedded images and be able to click through to recipes):

We’ll likely have this potato tortilla with a side of salad and some olives and cheese, pretend we’re in Spain:

Recently our girls have been liking roasted brussels sprouts, so I think this is worth a try:

Might make a bean and corn salad to serve on the side with these tostadas:

We’re also hosting a Friday Night Meatballs this week (with eggplant based “meatballs” since we gave up meat for Lent–I may even try to write up my recipe for these, so look for it next week) and planning to go to our friends’ house for dinner another night, so that’s it for this week’s plans!

In other food news, my love for Michael Pollan is well-documented, so you won’t be shocked to learn that I love his docu-series “Cooked” on Netflix. On the night we watched the third episode, I immediately got up and mixed up some bread dough because I was so inspired! Check it out, for sure!

9k=-54.jpg

menu planning now that we’re mostly vegetarian

#bigdinnerlittledinner

Since I’m home alone on a rainy day luxuriously planning meals and making my grocery list while my husband has the kids at the science museum, I thought I’d follow up my post about our recent diet change with a post about how this has affected our meal planning and eating.

Spoiler alert: it actually hasn’t affected it all that much. You may remember from my “meal planning for the easily bored” post that I rely heavily on hyper-organized Pinterest boards to plan our meals. When we decided to commit to being mostly vegetarian (really, we’re pescatarian), I went through my pinboards and micro-organized them further. Instead of just a pasta board, I now have a vegetarian pasta board, and it’s up top. I did the same with soups and stews, Tex/Mex/Tacos, and veg+grain meals. Now all the boards that are compliant with how we’re eating are right up top and easy to find.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.01.40 AM

Today, I checked out what we already have on hand and what’s on sale at our local store and then opened up Pinterest. I picked out one vegetarian pasta, one vegetarian soup, one vegetarian tacos, one veggie+grain, and one seafood recipe. I mostly eat leftovers for lunch, and the kids eat sandwiches/soups/cheese and crackers/fruit, so I really only plan dinner recipes and keep basics on hand for breakfasts and lunches: bread, yogurt, eggs, fruit, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, etc. Planning dinners is really the bulk of my menu-planning.

If you’re curious about what we’re having for dinner this week, here’s what’s on deck:

In other family food news, Jon and I went on a marriage retreat over the weekend, and one thing we discussed was having him cook more. I happily do most of the cooking because, if you haven’t guessed, I love cooking and see it as a creative outlet. He usually takes the kids to the park in the afternoons, so I really enjoy my me-time in the kitchen, listening to podcasts and making good food. However. we’ve realized that our girls may not realize that I cook because I love it, and might get the idea that cooking is a woman’s job. Since he has a flexible schedule that often has him home in the evenings, he could totally cook– I just haven’t offered him the opportunity. We want the girls to see that their dad is also competent in the kitchen, and that it is reasonable for them to expect a partner who shares cooking duties. Since I kind of usurped the kitchen years ago, I will likely at first set him up for success by doing some of the prep work, almost like a Blue Apron sort of thing, but I am going to try to stay out of his hair and let him do his thing.

You can often check out our meals on Instagram, where I often use the hashtag #bigdinnerlittledinner to document what we’re eating. I’ll let you know when a meal was prepared by my better half, too!

#bigdinnerlittledinner

How do you plan your meals? Would it be helpful if I start sharing our weekly meal plans on a regular basis?

frozen mojito recipe

frozen mojito recipe: a perfect summer drink! | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo
There’s a hip new local restaurant that has been taunting me for weeks with their signature drink, a frozen mojito. We haven’t made it to try the new restaurant yet, because it’s still super busy and super popular, and my toddlers don’t do great with long wait times. Eventually we will get there. But my thirst for a frozen mojito couldn’t wait that long, so I decided to try it at home. Maybe they were extra delicious because I made them on a day when my kids refused to nap, rendering Jon and I extra…thirsty, but they were basically amazing. And now I shall share this amazingness with you.

frozen mojito recipe: a perfect summer drink! | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo
A key to the drink is making mint syrup.  Making flavored syrup might sound intimidating, but it’s super easy, and it prevents you from having to blend actual mint into your drink, which can probably be done but would look like a green smoothie. I swear it’s as easy as heating sugar and water together until dissolved and then pouring over mint leaves until cooled. You’ll make more syrup than one blender of mojitos needs, but I bet you’ll be making another pitcher in a hurry, anyway.

They’re not red, white, and blue, but I bet these would go great with anything you’re making this holiday weekend.

Frozen Mojito Recipe

Ingredients

For the mint syrup (makes about a pint)

1.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
Handful of fresh mint leaves

For the mojitos (serves 4):

3/4 cups white rum
3/4 cups lime juice
1/2 cup mint syrup
5 cups ice
Fresh mint for garnish

Instructions

For the mint syrup: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water, stirring until dissolved. Place mint in heatproof bowl. Pour hot syrup over mint, and allow to cool. Remove mint and pour syrup into a jar. Will keep in the fridge for about a month.

For the mojitos: combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Divide among glasses. Add straws and garnish with fresh mint.

Enjoy!

frozen mojito recipe: a perfect summer drink! | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

tacos de mayo

IMG_2483

When we visited Austin for the first time, I knew I had found my kind of town when I realized they like to eat tacos for breakfast. When I first met my husband, I would have said pasta was my favorite food, but his love of all things salsa, taco, and burrito have changed my ways. We eat tacos all the time, and mostly vegetarian ones. Since tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, I thought I would share some of our favorite taco recipes, and maybe a couple of drinks to go along with them. (Speaking of drinks, if you follow me on Instagram and have ever asked me for a drink recipe, you might check out the #buffloimbibes tag up top under the header.) (Another note: if you’re reading this via a reader like Feedly, you might need to click through to see the embedded recipes.)

Serve those tacos with salsa, guac, and this Mexican rice:

And to drink:

Let me know if you make any of these recipes for your Cinco de Mayo celebrations! As for us, we’ve got tickets to see one of my favorite bands, Hurray for the Riff Raff, so we won’t be partaking on the day of. I’ve got plans for tacos and margaritas at some point this week, though.

Side note: have you liked Ernie Bufflo on Facebook? Lately I’ve been sharing a lot of funny things the girls say, so don’t miss out if you’re a fan of the darnedest things kids say.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.41.40 PM

How I learned to cook

Before I get into how I learned to cook, I thought I’d point out that if you’re reading this somewhere other than on my site, like a reader, you might be missing out on seeing our lovely new family photo in the header. We recently did a mini photo shoot with the talented and lovely Whitney Loibner, and I’m thrilled with how the pictures turned out. I highly recommend a mini shoot if you have toddlers– 15 minutes was about all my kids could handle, and we were outta there and off to get pancakes as a treat in no time. And if you have a talented photographer like Whitney,  you’ll still get plenty of great shots in a short amount of time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog programming:

IMG_1659.JPG

I’ve kind of become notorious among my friends for Instagramming my food. One friend joked that whatever we have on Friday night, they have on Saturday. Others have joked about their dinners being “one-upped by the Orsborns.” Another Instagrammed her dinner last night and said I inspired her to do so. For all the hating posting food pics can get, most of my real-life feedback has been that my friends like my dinner posts and don’t want me to stop. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t planning to! (There’s a reason I joke that my Instagram brand is “all the things you hate:” kids, food, drinks, selfies, pets.)

Another question friends have asked is when I’m going to teach them how to cook. While I would like to occasionally host some kind of cooking party where everyone walks away with a couple freezeable dinners, that’s not really in my plans anytime soon, either. But what I can tell you is how I learned to cook.

Continue reading “How I learned to cook”

a moment of truth: how I cook all those dinners

A friend asked me a good question the other day. She’s just had her second baby, and she wanted to know, with two toddlers, how in the heck I’m managing to make all those dinners I’m Instagramming all the time.

Here’s the truth: my husband works unusual hours in the ER, so he’s usually home between the hours of 3 and 7. If he works the morning shift, he’s off by 2:30, and if he works in the evening or at night, he goes in at 10 or 7. Of several possible shifts, only one keeps him out of the house at dinner time. It’s one reason I *love* his specialty. So: if he’s home, and he usually is, my hour of dinner-making (and usually, while things cook, kitchen cleanup) is mine all mine because he’s playing with/caring for the kids. He even often takes them to a nearby playground at that time. It works out great for both of us, because I get to actually enjoy my dinner making time since I’m not trying to multitask with toddlers and can just exercise my culinary creativity, and he brings home two very happy kids and we all sit down to a lovely dinner.

If he’s not home? We eat leftovers or I choose a quick recipe that can be put together in the time it takes the girls to watch a Daniel Tiger episode in the den, behind a baby gate, where they can’t be underfoot.

So, there ya have it. I figured I should come clean, lest anyone think I think an hour-long dinner prep time works for most people. I know we have a weird lifestyle made possible by my staying home with the kids and my husband’s unusual work hours.

All that said, I thought I might share a few recipes that we’ve enjoyed lately. All three are from the Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman, which I use more than any other cookbook, and which I highly recommend, but, for you, I found each of the recipes online, so you can make them too!

IMG_1299.JPG

 

This Pasta with Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Bacon was delicious. I used one fewer sweet potato than the recipe called for and still had enough for the dish. I also think this recipe would work great with roasted winter squash like butternut instead.

IMG_0976.JPG

 

This Red Bean Paella is a dish I’ve made several times. I usually use canned tomatoes instead of fresh because it makes it a true pantry staple dish. We ate it with an arugula salad and brie on toast.

 

IMG_1482.JPG

This Arroz con Pollo is another I make frequently. I like that it’s a one-pot meal. The recipe in my cookbook called for chicken thighs, but I used legs because that’s what I had, and because Etta loves eating chicken legs. I also only used one package of chicken legs, added pinto beans and tomatoes and served it with avocado on the side.

 

A little thing changing my life: cold brew coffee

cold brew tutorial
I love watching the almond milk swirl into my afternoon iced coffee.

I take a really high dose of a heart med that at even 1/4 of what I take, makes people feel really really fatigued and lethargic. And I have two toddlers. Thank GOD no one has ever told me to cut out caffeine, because I need it to live and care for two toddlers. I usually have a cup of hot coffee in the morning and a big ass iced coffee in the late afternoon to help me survive til bedtime. This summer, I have picked up a new coffee habit that has changed my life, no lie.

I started cold brewing coffee.

I realize this sounds like fancy hipster crap, and you’re already thinking I’m about to bombard you with some new, difficult, pretentious coffee thing. But this is like, the lazy passive way to get delicious coffee-shop-esque iced lattes. You literally do it in your sleep.

What you need:

  • a French Press, ideally, but otherwise, a large jar or pitcher would work
  • If you don’t have a French Press, you’re going to need a fine mesh strainer
  • Coarse ground coffee, but if you don’t have a grinder, you can use ground coffee, just make sure you REALLY have a fine mesh strainer
  • cold water
  • time

Method: in your press or jar, put half a cup of ground coffee, and then fill with cold water. (If your press is a different size than mine, your ratio might differ– mine holds about 32 oz. of liquid.) Stir. Leave on your counter overnight. In the morning press it and pour it into a jar, through a strainer if necessary to catch any grounds. Keep the jar of fresh cold-brewed coffee concentrate in your fridge.

The resulting brew is going to be super concentrated. I like to dilute it 50/50 with either almond or coconut milk, over ice. If you use vanilla almond milk, you will want to kiss yourself. A note: because you’re likely going to want to mix this with some sort of milk-substance, it’s not super crucial to have super high quality beans, since you’ll not be noticing many subtle nuances of flavor. HOWEVER, I would like to plug our favorite coffee source, Leiva’s Coffee, which is a Little Rock company selling delicious Guatemalan coffee and committed to reinvesting in the community where the beans are grown. Hot or cold, I promise you’ll like their coffee. And they’re not paying me to say that, I’m just a fan. They will even ship it right to your door– that’s how we get our 2 lbs. a month.

Bam. Coffee shop worthy iced coffee, at home. It just might change your life.