Kitchn Synch — or Everything But?

A new kosher meal-kit delivery service provides raw materials, step-by-step instructions… and more stress than you might imagine.

It goes pretty much without saying that I’m comfortable in the kitchen, so I wasn’t sure why I was feeling anxious when I started pulling ingredients out of the package that arrived at my door the other day from , the new kosher-meal delivery service that provides the recipes and raw materials for a variety of dinners.

I had chosen two meals kits: shredded chicken with roasted ramps, ramp vinaigrette and patatas bravas; and cold soba noodles with miso-grilled steak and sesame sugar snap peas.

The ingredients for the first dish looked promising: bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, a big bunch of fresh ramps — I liked the seasonality — four small baking potatoes, a whole lemon and a bunch of little plastic containers that held small quantities of condiments like vinegar and mustard. There was also a pint-size container of canola oil. Hmm. I didn’t know I’d be frying, but it looked like that might be the case.

Each dish came with a colorful sheet listing (and picturing) the ingredients on one side; then laying out the steps, also in both words and images, on the back. The sheets didn’t offer prep time or total time, so I read through them to try to get a sense of how long I’d need.

It was hard to tell. There were a lot of steps.

For the chicken, I’d have to roast the thighs, roast the ramps on a separate baking sheet, make the ramp vinaigrette, make an aioli (not exactly from scratch — I’d just have to mix a few things into the provided container of mayonnaise), and boil and then fry the potatoes.

As I studied the sheet, I saw that the chicken recipe included black pepper, but there was none in the package. No big deal — everyone has pepper. (I noticed that I was provided with two little packets of smoked paprika, and figured one was probably meant to be black pepper.) It wasn’t like a major ingredient was missing… yet.

I cubed my potatoes as instructed, and noticed that it seemed like quite a lot for two people. (You can order for two, four, or eight; I had ordered for two.) Out of curiosity, I put my cubed potatoes on the scale. They weighed a pound and six ounces. That was indeed a lot for two people, but I was confident that extra spicy fried potatoes in a garlicky aioli sauce would not go to waste.

I preheated the oven, seasoned the chicken and put it in to bake; rinsed, trimmed and seasoned the ramps and added them. I boiled and drained the potatoes…

I had been working for what felt like a long time and I still had to fry the potatoes, make the aioli and the ramp vinaigrette, and remove the hot chicken from the bones and shred it. Sigh. This was no weeknight dinner.

The ramp vinaigrette was straightforward, and so was the aioli, though after spooning the provided mayonnaise into a bowl I realized it looked like too much, so I took it out and measured it, and rather than being the ¼ cup called for in the recipe, it was almost ½ cup. I took some out. I was surprised that the recipe had me add ¼ cup of “EVOO” to the aioli. From experience I knew that the only way this mixture would maintain a thick, aioli-like consistency would be to emulsify it in a blender. Aioli is basically just garlic mayonnaise, and the mayonnaise was already the right consistency. As I feared, when I added the oil and mixed it, the whole thing became thin, gloppy and, well, oily.

Another note about that “EVOO”: It came in a clear plastic bottle and it was a strange orange color. I opened it and smelled it and it had no scent whatsoever. I tasted it — I’ve been to my share of olive oil tastings, and I use the stuff (different brands, from different countries) all the time. It wasn’t like any extra-virgin olive oil I’ve ever come across. This oil had absolutely no taste.

To fry the potatoes, the recipe said to heat 1¼ cups of canola oil in a large skillet. I felt it would be better to use a wide, deep pot, so the oil wouldn’t have as much of a chance to spatter all over the stove, so that’s what I did.

The recipe said the potatoes should cook about 5 minutes, but even though my oil was super hot, they took more like 10-12 minutes to become golden and crispy. Dusted with paprika and salt, they turned out to be the best part of the meal. (Confession: I’d made a lemony, garlicky aioli the weekend before for a dinner party and had some left over, so we ended up using that instead of the mixture I’d created from the instructions.)

The finished chicken dish.

Onto the soba and steak meal.

The first thing I noticed as I lay out the ingredients was that the dish called for sugar-snap peas, but there were none in the package. It also called for soy sauce, both in the dressing for the soba noodles and the sauce for the non-existent peas. There was none of that either. Luckily, I had some soy sauce packets left over from the last time we got Chinese. And I had leftover steamed broccoli from the night before, so I figured I could give it the sugar-snap-pea treatment and at least get the general flavor.

I boiled and drained soba noodles (there were 5 cups of cooked noodles — seemingly an awful lot for two servings) and peeled and grated garlic and ginger. The combination of ginger, garlic, miso paste, sesame oil, lime juice and sesame seeds sounded delicious, and I was excited about this one.

Making the sauce for the soba noodles, I came upon another issue, though. The little plastic container of miso paste contained exactly one tablespoon of the stuff, but the sauce called for 2½ tablespoons and the marinade for the meat called for “half a tablespoon.” In any case, I decided to split it up, using 1½ teaspoons for the meat and the other 1½ teaspoons for the noodle sauce. While there was less than the proscribed amount of miso, there was more siracha than the recipe called for, and also more sugar (and more than twice as much brown sugar), sesame oil, rice vinegar and mirin.

I wondered why they wouldn’t offer exact quantities of each ingredient in those little packets and containers. The recipes say things like, “add the mirin” and “add the salt.” A less careful reader might not flip back and forth to the ingredient list each time to see how much of each thing the recipe called for, instead assuming that the little packets were pre-measured, thereby adding too much or too little.

I have had big dinner parties for 6 or 8 guests where I haven’t used as many pots, pans, bowls and utensils as I brought out for each of the two meals. The chicken dish involved two baking sheets, a big pot and a large skillet, a cutting board, measuring cups and spoons, a knife, a mixing bowl for the aioli, a large paper-towel-lined bowl to drain the fried potatoes and a strainer for the potatoes.

The soba-and-steak meal involved a pot to boil the soba noodles and the missing snap peas, a bowl to marinate the meat and a skillet to sear it on, a cutting board, a bowl to toss the noodle dressing, another for the snap pea dressing, another for the ramp vinaigrette, and various measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, and knives.

I suddenly wondered if they had called the company Kitchn Synch because the cooking process required everything but. (At least until cleanup time.)

So how was the food?

I wish I could say it was great, but it was just all right. The chicken by itself was rather bland, but the ramp vinaigrette seemed like a weird sauce for it. It was assertively mustardy and somehow incongruous with the Spanish-style potatoes.

The steak tasted good, though if I had only cooked the thick piece of meat for the recommended five minutes it would have been blue. I cooked it for twice that long and it was still completely rare. The soba noodles were a bit disappointing – I think the correct amount of miso would probably have improved the flavor.

If I had done all that work to impress a date, or tried either of these on a weeknight thinking it would be relatively quick and easy, I would have been frazzled and disappointed. I’d say the first rule of a meal service like this is making sure everything that’s supposed to be in the dish ends up in the package. And I’d suggest that the packets and containers of condiments, sauces and spices be measured precisely, so the cook can confidently add the ingredients without confusion. Lastly, I’d simplify things, paring down the steps, the number of ingredients and the time it takes to cook the meal.

I’ll be eager to try Kitchn Synch again once it’s had a chance to work out the startup kinks. It’s a great concept, the quality of the ingredients was generally very good, and so far it’s the only kosher option in the meal-kit-delivery arena.

But for now, I’m going to continue to cook the old-fashioned way.

Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.

Kitchn Synch — or Everything But?

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