Saturday, March 18, 2017

Meal Kits and Lessons Learned


Not long ago, I was utterly sick of cooking and equally sick of eating fast food. Cookbooks don't work for me, and I can't find a cooking class.

So I found a meal kit system to try. After all, I do know a little bit about cooking, but it's all foods from the previous century. I figured right - hand me the recipe and the directions and I can figure it out.

This is what I observed after about four weeks.

The meal kit had me pan frying a lot of meat, something I've never done before, and don't like doing as a rule. I've found stainless steel pans didn't do all that well with it either. I didn't like the way the food burned on the outside and stayed raw in the middle. Now there are ways around that, but they don't work with meal kits. The rest of the food gets cold while you wait for the meat to cook.

It was frustrating. I guessed it was because the copper bottom wasn't really doing it's job - which is to distribute heat and hold it. So it takes a lot longer to fry meat, because it has to be done at a lower temperature.

Also, my stainless steel cookware, with plastic handles, isn't up for going in the oven. And many of the recipes call for putting the food in the oven and under the broiler.

So we needed to get a pan that would survive the broiler, and was heavy enough to pan fry meat faster without burning the heck out of it.

We looked around in the stores, and frankly the price of iodized aluminum cookware is crazy. The cheaper stuff is garbage and the expensive stuff is insane for what you get.

Plus I've been hearing for years that Alzheimer's is caused by aluminum - so why spend big bucks on something that might just rot your brain? So as an experiment, we bought a 10" Lodge cast iron skillet, for $20 at Walmart.

Holy cow! I had no idea what a difference it would make. I could get the meat fried with very little oil, on time. Yes, cast iron is tricky to live with. No dishwasher for that pan! It's hand wash and oven dry. Can't leave tomatoes in the pan, they have to come out before the acid eats the coating.

What I never counted on was the difference in flavor.

The more I cook with it, we are talking just two weeks, the better the food tastes. Part of that is the oil coating - it holds flavors like salt and sweet. So once we cooked a sweetened sauce with thyme, I can still taste the sweet and the thyme. Salt and seasoning seems to linger as well. So there's a complexity of flavor in the pan itself that goes into the meat or sauce, or whatever.

It's weird and it takes some getting used to. But I've talked to someone who's used cast iron cookware for years and that's normal.

So if you decide to go with the meal kit service, consider getting a cast iron pan. Just remember, these puppies are HEAVY and require hand washing.

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