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Saturday 14 March 2015

Experiments with Gousto #1: Introduction & Mushroom Bolognese

A few weeks ago, I started seeing ads on the Tube for a couple websites which offered a service potentially very useful to those of a culinary persuasion. The idea is that you sign up and receive boxes of produce and recipes explaining what to do with said produce. Now, obviously, there's no shortage of recipe books available already, and myriad websites out there with a grand selection of recipes... but they don't supply the required ingredients in the precise quantities the recipe needs. These options basically take out all the legwork and let one concentrate on the cooking.

Because it's been absolutely ages since I did any significant cooking at home, and this blog has been languishing in deplorable neglect while I do other stuff, I figured these websites offer me the ideal opportunity to get back into cooking slowly and so, with my girlfriend out of town for a few days this last week, I thought I'd try doing myself some fully home-cooked meals.

Gousto was my first port of call - a site where one must select three meals, indicate whether they are meals for two or four, and then select a delivery date from those available (typically Wednesdays or Fridays). Of course, the very fact of the need to have ingredients delivered almost scuppered everything: I wouldn't be around to received them, so delivery had to be scheduled for a date after my girlfriend's return anyway... Consequently, we agreed that, this weekend, I'd be doing most of the cooking. For a change.

Of course, things are never that simple. While Gousto have an excellent selection of recipes, each meal is tailored either to vegetarians or omnivores. My girlfriend is vegetarian, but I'm not... and, frankly, some of their meat/fish dishes were far too tempting to pass up. I selected only one fully vegetarian dish for this experiment, then one of the others looked as though it could be adapted for a veggie (Gasp! Deviating from a recipe? Creativity?!), while the other was something I - selfishly - just had to try, so she'll have to figure something out for herself.


Gousto's produce comes very well packaged and insulated, with each component separately bagged or in small plastic tubs, all labelled as appropriate and a with detailed inventory offering 'Enjoy By' dates for each dish. This makes for very easy storage, as ingredients for each recipe can be collated and stored together, should you so desire, and organised so each recipe can be used while the produce is good and fresh. My first box came complete with a set of the three relevant recipe cards and a binder in which to store them, along with a 'Welcome' booket, a flyer showing next week's recipes (available before midnight tomorrow!) and a couple of offers from other companies.

The first recipe I tried, shortly after getting home from work yesterday, was the Mushroom Bolognese. I shan't reproduce the recipe here, just launch into how it all went...

Firstly, since it had been so long since I last did anything 'big' in the kitchen, I was feeling pretty cautious about everything. I tried to read through the whole instruction set before even starting, but misunderstood a couple of points and made a couple of mistakes - largely because I'm not at my best of a Friday evening. One side of each recipe card has a large photo of the finished dish and a full, photographic list of the ingredients required from the inventory supplied. Details on the front also include an estimated preparation time (40 minutes in this case), the origin of the recipe (Italian), its calorific, fat and protein content (completely over my head) and a rough guide to how far it fulfills one's 'Five-A-Day' (2/5, apparently).

On the reverse is a step-by-step guide to preparation, each step accompanied by a photograph of the relevant ingredients at some point in the procedure. It's written as if you complete one step before moving on to the next, though whether that's actually the intention seems doubtful considering some of the directions given. For example, preparing the linguine is a single isolated step but, in the time between completing that step and reaching the next step in which the linguine featured, it had quite successfully gummed itself together and into the colander I'd used to drain it. In practice, it may be more efficient to deal with any and all chopping before making a start on the cooking steps.

Some of the photos also left me feeling a little inadequate (quelle surprise!) due to their neat arrangements of neatly sliced and chopped and diced veg and fungi. My fingers are well trained for the use of a mouse and a keyboard... my skills with a kitchen knife are dubious at best.

One step pretty much required at least half a dozen hands as the contents of the pan had to be stirred constantly while also crumbling in a stock cube, adding tomato paste from a plastic tub, adding soy sauce from two plastic sachets, then adding a teaspoon of sugar and black pepper 'to taste'. Those last two ingredients are not supplied as, I guess, they're common enough kitchen staples... but having to grab them from their storage space while also dealing with the contents of the pan was a little tricky for me... Then again, perhaps all that means is that I need to invest a bit of time beforehand in clearing more of my worktop so everything can be placed closer to hand...

The final instruction is also a little unclear, in that it says to "stir the drained linguine through the mushroom sauce, adding the basil and cheese", while I suspect the cheese should probably only be added separately, to each portion, once served (even though the photo on the front depicts the cheese sitting on top of a large amount of the finished bolognese in what looks like a large ceramic dish). Adding it in while stirring the linguine into the bolognese meant that the cheese melted into the mixture and, inevitably, some glued itself to the pan.

One other significant problem with the instructions was the step detailed on the upper righthand side, as the hole punched through for the binder obliterates the time stated for stirring in the mushroom and garlic. I guessed five minutes (assuming a single-digit number going by the space) and that certainly had no detrimental effect on the end result.

...Which was absolutely delicious. I was glad to see the linguine loosening up as I stirred it into the sauce, and it warmed up nicely in the few final minutes of preparation. The mixture of 'grated' (thank you, Pampered Chef food chopper, though I ain't looking forward to cleaning it!) and chunkily-sliced mushroom worked nicely, the carrot and onion still had some bite to them, the basil added its subtle flavour and the cheese increased the overall richness of the dish. My girlfriend went so far as to say it was "better" than the bolognese she'd put together for a Quorn-based spaghetti thing we had last week, though that was of the more usual tomato and red wine variety, so I said there was no real comparison.

The dish takes about 40 minutes according to the recipe card but, what with one thing or another, I think it took at least an extra five minutes, despite trying to get through some of the later grating/chopping while the pasta was on the go. I still managed to serve it up piping hot, though, and it's a nice, easy recipe to start me off. Definitely something we'll try again at a later date, so these Experiments with Gousto are off to a good start.

I am, however, a little confused by the fact that the supplied balsamic vinegar is referenced on the front of the recipe card, but isn't mentioned anywhere in the instruction set, though I'm not sure where or why balsamic vinegar might be used anyway.
Sadly only one rather blurry photo of this, as I rather wanted to eat it
while it was still hot.
If you think you might fancy giving Gousto a try (and are within the UK mainland), please feel free to use my referral code GORDO45552 for an introductory discount. Yes, that also gets me a discount on my next order, but further deliveries are currently on hold while I complete this first set of recipes and consider how this system fits in with my current... erm... 'lifestyle'.

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