Blue Apron – meal 1

My cousin had a free week of Blue Apron meals and gifted them to us to try.  I have not tried any of these pre-set at-home cooking services yet but thought “why not?”  The wife wasn’t all that excited about any of the recipes.  I settled on the Albondigas, catfish, and chicken biscuit sandwiches.

I scheduled the arrival on a day I was off (I know they say you can let it sit out most of the day without issues).  Nevertheless it is good I did schedule it this way because we’ve had triple digit temperatures all week (108 yesterday, 106 today).

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The package came in a deceptively hefty cardboard box.  Upon opening the box, I found what looked like space age saran wrap with reflective coating.

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The 3 separate meals came all jumbled up.  The protein was nice sandwiched at the very bottom between 2 very large ice packs.  Above that (as seen in the photo below) was a mixture of the produce as well as grains.  There was a “knick knacks” bag for each meal that housed smaller things like bread crumbs, soy sauce, etc depending on the meal.

I know that many people praise these types of services for their fresh food and quality.  I was a bit disappointed by the  two squashes that were in the box.  The zucchini was markedly bruised and slightly soft to the touch (the ones we are growing in our produce boxes are definitely better).  The yellow squash also was bruised up and softer than I would have expected.

I elected to try making the Albondigas for dinner.  Normally when I think of Albondigas, I think of a meatball soup of Mexican origin.  However, this “Albondigas” recipe wasn’t what we expected.

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Individual recipe sheets

I liked that the recipe directions are printed on one side of the cardboard recipe sheet.  I wasn’t a huge fan that they basically have you do all the mise en place before starting any cooking.

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Mise en place

I feel like as someone who has a decent amount of experience cooking, it made me feel less efficient.  Usually I’m doing multiple things at once.  It was nice however that once I was done with that, you can just grab what you need and toss it in.  This was a fairly straightforward recipe.  You saute some onions with garlic and pre-packaged seasoning and use this to mix with the ground beef, bread crumbs, and raisins to create the meatballs.  The seasoning felt more like a middle-eastern taste than Mexican.  While creating the meatballs you also then saute the yellow squash.  I had to find a way to keep the squash warm while I was cooking the meatballs and the sauce (I ended up pre-heating my oven to 170 F as a warming area).

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Meatballs in tomato sauce

The sauce was created with diced tomatoes and tomato paste and then adding in the browned meatballs.  To go along with the meatballs and squash, they provided a small baguette that was halved and toasted.  Then, following the Castilian tapas, rubbed garlic and tomato on the toasted bread.

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Voila

Overall I felt the meal wasn’t too bad.  Was it my favorite? No.  Would I make it again?  I don’t know.  But it was decent.  I liked dipping the toasted tomato/garlic bread into the tomato sauce with the meatballs.

We shall have to see how the 2 other meals go.  Currently I don’t have plans to continue Blue Apron after these 3 meals but we shall see.

-StewsCat

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Portland Vacation – Day 3 and 4

Saturday (Day 3) started with brunch at Imperial located inside the Hotel Lucia.  They’re known for their fried chicken so I ordered it again.  This time it came with a biscuit on the side.

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Yum!

So after we were fed and well-caffeinated, we walked over to the Portland Saturday Market.  We had visited the Market in 2012 but it was fun to walk through again.  When we arrived, there were some street performers doing a combination of acrobatics but showing off their flexibility (and double jointed-ness).  We then walked through looking at the various stalls and the trinkets and the like.  We then jumped onto the public transit (train) and headed over to the Portland Art Museum.  The museum had some interesting exhibits going on, in particular they had Native American fashion and how it intertwined with today’s modern fashion.  We walked through the entire museum and spent a good few hours there.

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Since we were further south in the downtown area, Deborah wanted to see the Portlandia Statue so I set about trying to find it.

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We stopped in at Potbelly Sandwich Shop for lunch.  This was nostalgic for me because I used to go to Potbelly a bunch when I visited/lived in Chicago.  I was introduced to it when I was in undergrad and would eat it regularly when I visited while living in Michigan.  The wife appreciated the tasty sandwich.  After lunch we hung out at the hotel for a little bit then headed out for a drink before dinner.

On the Esquire show Best Bars in America that we watch, the guys go to get Spanish Coffee.  We figured it’d be a nice little drink before dinner.  So off to Huber’s Cafe, which is the originator of this drink that consists of Kahlua, Bacardi 151, Bols Triple Sec & Coffee topped w/ fresh whipped cream & nutmeg, flamed tableside.  The waiters make this drink in front of you and it is fairly impressive.  Because it was warmer out, my wife had it on the rocks and I tried the original.  I must say that it is a tasty beverage and heavy on the alcohol.  It was a good starter as we walked to dinner after having the drink.

 

Dinner was at Little Bird Bistro, which is also one of Gabriel Rucker’s restaurants.  During our previous visit in 2012, we had dined at Le Pigeon on E Burnside.  That meal was delectable so I had no doubt we were in for a good dinner.  I started the meal with the Roasted Bone Marrow and followed it with the Fried chicken “Coq au Vin”.  The Roasted Bone Marrow came with 3 bones (sliced horizontally to allow easy access to the marrow) along with some pastrami, pickles, and toast slices.  It was very buttery as expected.  The “Coq au Vin” also had a nice crisp to the outside and tender juicy meat.

After dinner we had some more drinks and then turned in so we could catch our flight the following morning.  Sunday morning we had breakfast in our hotel’s other restaurant: Urban Farmer.  We then took the train to the airport and hopped on the flight home.

The weather in Portland held up beautifully while we were there.  It was sunny and a little warm and only hinted at some rain when we were getting on the train back to the airport (light sprinkles).

Overall the trip was extremely fun and as you can see there was a lot of eating/drinking involved.  Portland is definitely a fun recommended city to visit.  We look forward to going back up to visit after our friend moves up there.

-StewsCat

 

Portland Vacation -Day 2

Day 2 started a bit slow.  Since we were out late, we slept in.  I woke up first and decided that I should get in some miles before starting the day.  It was July 1st and I like to run on the first of each month to set the tone for the month in running.  Rather than attempting an outdoor run (also because I didn’t bring my running belt nor my GPS watch), I elected to do a treadmill run.  I haven’t run on a treadmill in many years.

The hotel had a very nice fitness room (available 24/7 with your hotel key card).  There was a combination of treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bike, weight machines and free weights.  I hopped on a LifeFitness Treadmill, which was pretty cool because each one had a screen that showed your progress but also doubled as a TV.  The hotel provided free headphones that you could plug in so you had sound.  At first I started my run with no headphones and just watching TV without sound.  After about 1 mile I hopped off and got me some headphones.  I forget how hard it is to run on a treadmill sometime.  I started with a 5 minute warmup at a speed between 4-5 mi/hr.  I then upped my speed to 6 mi/hr and ventured into the 6.5 mi/hr range to try to average out to 10 min/mile pace (6 mi/hr for the entire run).  My run effort level was higher because I had been drinking and eating a ton the day before.  I ended up putting in a little over 4 miles at an overall just under 10:15 min/mile pace.

After I was all cleaned up, we headed on out in search of brunch.  One place that I wanted to try was Tasty n Sons.  We bought another TriMet day pass and hopped on a bus.  We took it 20 minutes north of city center (east of the river) into the Boise neighborhood.  By the time we arrived (around 11 am), the place was packed and the line of people waiting for a table spilled out the door.  We put our names down and had some coffee while we waited.  An opening at the small bar (it sat 7 total) allowed us to get a table a little earlier than normal (we still waited about 50 minutes).  We split one of their Chocolate Potato Doughnuts, which was fairly light.  I had the Fried Egg and Cheddar Biscuit with Fried Chicken.  A big reason we went to this restaurant was that my wife wanted to try Shakshuka (baked eggs n tomato stew with merguez sausage), which came with some grilled bread slices.  Shakshuka is a dish of North African origin and now is popular in many Middle Eastern countries.  It was rather tasty and I’d definitely have it again given a chance.  I had a bourbon cocktail since I already had my coffee and hey I was on vacation!  We chatted briefly with the bartender and got some ideas on places to check out.

After lunch we walked around the Boise neighborhood some but jumped back onto the bus to visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Old Town Chinatown.  I’ve noticed that in almost every city in the US, the Chinatown region is also where a lot of the homeless people live and Portland is no exception.  The Chinese Garden was an interesting experience.  We learned that there is a sister Chinese Garden in China.  There was some other interesting stuff that I learned but have since forgot, I’ll just leave you with some pictures of the place.

From the garden we walked up back towards the Pearl District for a snack.  Back in 2012 when we visited, we made the obligatory stop at Voodoo Donuts.  My friend Tim, who has lived in Portland for a few years now, said that we needed to check out Blue Star Donuts because it was much better than Voodoo.  I will say that Blue Star has some more innovative and intriguing combinations of flavors. We tried two different flavors: 1) Blueberry Bourbon & Basil Donut and 2)  I can’t remember

We finished just in time to walk back to our hotel, The Nines, for happy hour at the rooftop restaurant Departure, helmed by Top Chef Alum Gregory Gourdet.  One of my good friends from San Diego was a college roommate with Gregory and she said he used to cook her awesome food.  Happy Hour is on a few rooftop balconies that overlook the city.

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View from rooftop happy hour

We ordered some cocktails as well as some snack foods (Departure Wings and Vegetarian Maki Roll of the Day).  The Departure Wings were fabulous and even though my wife doesn’t normally eat wings, she loved these.  They were basically like popsicle sticks of tender chicken in a crisp outer shell.

After taking a break in our hotel room we headed off to find some dinner.  Another place that we both wanted to try served chicken rice.  So off we went to Nong’s Khao Man Gai off of E Burnside just across Burnside Bridge via Bus.  I guess Khao Man Gai roughly translates to chicken and rice.  The dish is deceptively simple yet yields some good flavors.  It was a nice little meal to cap off our Friday.

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Khao Man Gai

 

Guess I did have enough to separate out Day 2 from Day 3 and 4.

-StewsCat

 

Portland vacation – Day 1

Portland vacation – Day 1

The wife and I took off to PDX the weekend prior to the 4th.  We visited this great town 4 years ago.  Similar to last time, we decided to stay in the city center.  The difference this time was that I elected not to rent a car.  My wife had done some research and found that the city’s public transit system (TriMet) would be a convenient and cost-effective way of traveling around Portland.  I looked up the cost of daily parking (valet only) at our hotel and added it up with the cost of renting a car and realized it was a significant investment.  Since I grew up in CA and love having a car and driving, it took a little bit of convincing myself but I realized she was right (as usual).  TriMet is in charge of their local train system, streetcars and buses.

We arrived at PDX around lunchtime on the Thursday before July 4th.  My wife pointed out that the design on the carpeting at the airport is famous so I decided to take a picture of it with our shoes.  You can even buy drink coasters with that design on it.

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Famous carpet design

The nice thing about TriMet is that you can buy a day pass (only $5/person) and take any of the previously mentioned forms of transportation.  The other nice thing is that there is a train stop at PDX airport that will take you to the city center in 45 minutes (with no worries about traffic, which we did see on our way into the city center).  We arrived at the City Center and luckily our hotel was steps away from the train stop.  We stayed at The Nines, a Luxury Collection hotel with SPG.  For our wedding in San Diego, we stayed at The US Grant, which is another hotel in the Luxury Collection.  I gotta say it was a nice hotel and great location for our needs.

Luckily our room was ready early and we were able to drop off our bags, use the facilities and then head back out for a day of exploring.  Since it was already past lunchtime and we hadn’t eaten yet, we checked out one of the area food cart blocks (example here).  We literally walked around the entire block looking at each food cart and their menu.  There was a preponderance of middle eastern food (lots of kabobs, schwarmas) along with Thai food.  So after we had made it around the block once, we started going back in reverse to actually order something.  One smart vendor was asking people if they wanted a sample of the chicken.  I said “sure” and after tasting it and enjoying it I ordered a chicken schwarma wrap.  Before I even had a chance to pay, they had made one and handed it to me.  This was my first indication that people in Portland are nice and trusting because I could have just walked away with the food.  The chicken wrap had some spices in it that gave me an indication it was not your typical greek fair, but probably more in the Persian persuasion.  After paying, my wife wanted to try a different place and we found her a chicken gyro.  Hers was more the classical type.  We wandered into one of the many little parks in the city and sat on the concrete planter.  There were tons of other people sitting, some eating, some reading, and a group that was playing some sort of city scavenger hunt.

We didn’t have a strict itinerary for this trip but had a list of things we wanted to do and places to eat/drink so after finishing, we started to check stuff off the list.  We wandered into the Pearl District and our first stop was Powell’s Bookstore.  I didn’t realize how extremely large this store was.  It reminded me more of a library because there were also a lot of people loitering around reading books and such.  I liked that the store was organized into specific topics and we perused the various offerings.  Of course we had to stop in the cooking/eating/drinking section.

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Powell’s Books

My wife, who is a huge fan of reading and books, bought me some Library Card socks. We also purchased a Zinester’s guide to Portland for our friend KP who is shortly moving to Portland.  My wife schooled me on the term Zinester.

With Powell’s checked off the list, we next headed further into the Pearl and to the Rogue Distillery and Public House.  We’ve always been a fan of Rogue so stopped in for some brews.  They had a fairly extensive list of their beers along with their spirits (I knew they did dairy products like ice cream and cheese but didn’t realize they also distilled liquor).  Even though we had just eaten, I wanted something to snack on and the wife indulged me and we ordered their charcuterie platter with cheese.  The charcuterie was from Olympia Provisions (known for their cured meats).  Because Olympia Provisions is located a good distance outside the city center area I doubted we would be visiting the actual location because we were car-less.  This was a compromise to try their offerings.  So we ordered each ordered the beer sampler (since we have different tastes in beer) and shared the charcuterie platter.

Apparently they have partnered with Chef Morimoto to create some beers with him, which I thought was interesting.  So now that we were truly and fully stuffed, we made our way back to the hotel on foot.  After taking a nap and chilling, we decided to head over to Division street (Southeast neighborhood).  This street houses a ton of hot restaurants.  We landed at Nuestra Cocina.  They were definitely hopping and we grabbed a seat at the bar while waiting for the table.  Of course we had to order some margaritas.  I ordered their house margarita, which at first kinda shocked me but the more I had, the more I enjoyed it.  It was extremely simple with tequila and fresh lemon and lime juice.  I liked the simplicity of it.  My wife had the Margarita De Granada (Ginger infused silver tequila, pomegranate & lime), which was all right.  I enjoyed that their food was old peasant style Mexican cooking.

We ordered:

  • Sopes de Chorizo, Frijoles Y Chile Arbol Con Queso
  • Chile Relleno Con Picadillo
  • Elote Asada Con Chile Limon Y Queso (grilled corn on the cob)
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Nuestra Cocina

Everything was very tasty and I liked that the Chile Relleno was not battered and fried.  This was just enough food since we had already had two lunches within a short amount of time prior to this.  After dinner we hopped back on the bus back to the hotel.  I saw another generous act as the bus driver let a homeless person ride for free so he could get back to the city center (this was repeated in other bus rides).

After arriving back in the city center we weren’t ready to call it a night so headed out to check off more from our list of food/drinking establishments.  We walked back towards the Pearl and hit up Clyde Common.  We luckily managed to snag 2 chairs at the bar and to  our surprise the barman tending us was none other than Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a well-known bartender.  We watch the show “Best Bars in America” on Esquire and saw Jeffrey as the hosts visited Clyde Common.  I had the Cabin Fever and the Bourbon Renewal, while the wife had the Sound + Vision.  These drinks were quite tasty.  In the basement of this place was also a speakeasy called Pépé le Moko.  We weren’t sure if we’d be able to get in but stopped at their hostess station around the corner from Clyde Common.  The host took our name and said she’d have a seat about 20 minutes from when we showed up.  We took this opportunity to walk around the neighborhood and see what it was like at night (~10:30 pm).  Eventually we were texted and made our way back and into this tiny basement space.  It was dimly lit and a bit of a tight squeeze.

By this time I was needing a little snack since we had been drinking.  I ordered some Spicy Shrimp Chips and they had some complimentary corn nut type treats.  My wife ordered a Blue Hawaii and I had an espresso martini.  I have to say the espresso martini was probably one of my favorite drinks of the whole trip.  The spicy shrimp chips were definitely spicy and I didn’t expect myself to have trouble eating them but they definitely caused a burn in my mouth.  To help quench that burn, we decided to share the Grasshopper, which also was amazingly delicious. This cocktail is made with ice cream and is like a shake with booze.  It also has an awesome green color (no pictures of cocktails since my phone doesn’t do low-light pictures at all).

Finally we called it a night and made our way back to the hotel and rolled into bed around midnight.

It was an epic day 1 in Portland for sure.  The rest of the trip was fun but not as action packed so I will probably wrap up the trip in a 2nd post.

-StewsCat

RUNservations

On today’s warm run, I had some thoughts (whether they’re good and/or interesting is up for debate but I wanted to remember them) I wanted to jot down.

  1. Warm weather running sucks.  I had already known that running in hot weather was not fun.  Today’s run confirmed my previous thoughts further.  I’ve alway said that my favorite temperatures to run in are the high 40s F (for long runs) and 50s F.  Due to a morning work function, I had to push my run back until after this meeting.  I ended up starting my run around 11:30 am and the ambient air temperature was 81 F.  Not too bad you say? Well it isn’t if you’re just walking or standing around.  However, once you start running, your body temperature goes up and your body starts working hard to cool itself.  Luckily for me I had a relatively short run on the schedule (I don’t really have a schedule right now, just running to get in decent miles and hit my 70 miles/month goal for 2016).  One thing I noticed is that my heart rate is consistently higher when putting out less effort (i.e. running slower) when the outside temperature is higher.  As an example, on today’s run I put in 4 miles at a relatively relaxed pace and saw that my HR hovered around 156-158 bpm.  Typically when I run at a casual pace my HR is 144-148 bpm.  This definitely tells me that the warmer weather is more taxing on my body.  I also know not to push it.  Coincidentally this article from Runner’s World showed up on my Facebook feed after I finished my run today:  Warm weather running
  2. Garmin 225 GPS / HR watch:  As I just mentioned I was monitoring my heart rate while on my run.  Earlier this year I purchased the Garmin 225 GPS/HR running watch.  I’ve been running with it regularly since I bought it.  I have been very happy with it thus far and it also frees me up from needing to wear a running belt on a lot of my runs.  Before I had the watch, I would run with my phone in a running belt.  Originally I ran with the HTC Incredible 2 (from around 2011 to 2014).  I’d use the GPS function on the phone tied to Runkeeper to keep track of my distance/time.  I also used it to gauge how far I needed to run.  Naturally I upgraded my phone in the fall of 2014 and after about 1 month  noticed that my times were recorded as a lot slower on Runkeeper and the distances were shorter (for runs that I had been doing and knew the distance).  I read up on GPS in phones and accuracy of running apps and found that there is a lot of variation between GPS readings and actual distance based on the phone and GPS chip in the phones.  I started using web sites to track (geodistance) to look at my distances.  I found that my new phone was under-measuring how far I had actually run.  When I looked at the tracking on Runkeeper, the phone would cut off corners (going through houses) in neighborhoods.  It was relatively accurate if I was doing runs that were just long straight runs.  When I ran in the neighborhood and did a lot of turns winding through various streets, it would leave off a lot more distance.  A big reason I chose to get a GPS watch was to have more accurate ways of measuring my distance.  Also with the information on my wrist, I could more easily look at how far I’d run, my pace (and whether I should speed up or slow down) and also track my heart rate.  Since this is getting long I’ll probably do a post just about the watch and its pros and cons.
  3. Grilling.  I purchased a grill sometime in 2014-2015.  I had used it sparingly over the last few years.  I’ve decided that I need to use it more regularly.  So I’ve been doing some grilling here and there.  Yesterday evening I grilled up some chicken drumsticks (I marinaded it in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, honey, red wine vinegar, fresh garlic, a little sesame oil and olive oil).  I had some freshly made tortillas (well I had made them earlier in the week for lunches) that I put on the grill along with a crooked neck squash my coworker had grown in his garden.  I paired that with a salad for dinner.  Good stuff!

-StewsCat