my kitchen

21st century meals-on-wheels: blue apron

February 23, 2013
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A friend I met at a mutual acquaintance’s New year’s Eve party introduced me to Blue Apron this start of 2013.

[I have not been paid or asked to write this review–the opinions expressed here are solely my own.]

So, What’s Blue Apron?

I’ll try to keep this as succinct as possible. Blueapron.com is a new site that ships you three completely unprepared meals a week–vegetarian or a meat option. All of the produce is whole, meat is uncooked and there are very few processed ingredients included. The meals come in an insulated box and are shipped overnight via fed-ex. Each meal comes with a recipe card complete with photos and step-by-step instructions and even some trivia about the dish. The recipes feed two people and the calories per serving size are generally between 500-700 calories. The cost is just under $60 (includes shipping) so… about $20 per meal or $10 a person. Your credit card is kept on file and is automatically billed with each shipment. Their website makes it easy to skip shipments or adjust the schedule/plan and their is no contract.

When my new friend Raj was explaining Blue Apron I have to admit I wasn’t completely keen on the concept–I can’t tell you one thing in particular that gave me this reaction. Being of the adventurous sort, maybe it seemed restrictive to have each meal so planned out? Not sure.

I went ahead and signed up, as Raj had thoughtfully hooked me up with a one week free trial, and this was my experience.

First, the package arrives and it’s shipped in a cardboard box lined with insulation and ice packs. (According to the Blue Apron website the materials are all biodegradable.)

the blue apron box

the blue apron box

OK! Cool, this is exciting… so let’s open it.

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The first thing you are greeted with is three full color recipe cards and a little note about the meals. This is brilliant, I think, as it does make the experience of opening the box exciting. The recipe cards are printed on heavy card stock and are printed on both sides. I can tell you mine got spilled on (due to my own clumsiness) and lived to tell the tale. My thinking is that these could easily be inserted into a three-ring binder (old-school) for future reference; although, all of their recipes are archived on their website. (I am not sure if you need to be a member to view previous month’s recipes.) I think to cut costs Blue Apron could easily include an option at sign-up for a “digital download” or iPad version of the recipe card. iPad app?

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This is the box upon opening. Some produce is wrapped in plastic and some items are not–much like how you would bag groceries.

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Lots of stuff! One impressive feat here is, unlike IKEA, out of the three shipments we have received thus far we’ve never experienced a missing ingredient.

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Knick-Knacks? What could be in there?

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I’ve heard some complaints about the packaging from others that have tried Blue Apron. I don’t know that you would experience any less packaging from take-out. When we order Indian take-out we end up with a bevy of containers of sauces and chutneys. I’m really not sure what the solution would be here? At least it’s recyclable?

I want to talk about the recipes. There are two options–we went with the vegetarian. At this time it’s an either/or proposition; however, you do have the option of switching your plan. There’s just no combining carnivorous and vegetarian for the same week’s shipment.

I think, unfortunately, my first week’s recipes were “just OK”, so I am glad I gave it another shot. Not that they were bad tasting–just a little timid I thought.

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preparing the greek salad with whole wheat toast points

The Greek salad was one of the first recipes. Like I said, meh. Don’t get me wrong, the ingredients were insanely fresh–and I am totally fine with salad for dinner. But this did not wow me.

fennel and zucchini tart with tomato jam and olive oil crust

fennel and zucchini tart with tomato jam and olive oil crust

OK, here we go. The fennel tart was a little more interesting. If you think they send you a pre-made crust think again… this is whole food cooking. They supply you with each ingredient down to the whole wheat flour perfectly measured out. Actually, the only, ONLY, ingredient they never supply is olive oil. (If you don’t have olive oil in your kitchen then something is wrong!)

This dish was pretty good. I think the recipes are illustrated quite well and they definitely take into consideration “timing” which is something that takes years of cooking to master. I do have this complaint… I noticed that the actual cooking times are consistently and highly optimistic. I work for a company that has a commercial test kitchen and so I think I’ve accurately identified the problem. Recipes prepared on a professional grade viking range or convection oven will produce radically disparate results to that of a consumer GE range. One Blue Apron recipe called to roast a spaghetti squash for 25 minutes. Ha! Try 55 minutes.

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preparing coconut jasmine rice with bok choy, cashews and golden raisins

As I’ve mentioned, everything here requires preparation. If there’s toasted coconut… guess what? You’re toasting coconut. This is one thing I love about Blue Apron… discovering new ingredients, preparations and dishes I probably would’ve never thought to make. While the coconut jasmine rice dish was not exactly far-out-there, I’ve since made Mapo Doufu–a Szechuan dish requiring the pulverizing of Szechuan peppercorns. Did you know that Szechuan is not related to any other pepper or peppercorn? It’s completely unique! To experience an ingredient in this way is really cool.

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Is it worth it? I think so. It’s not something I think I could keep up with every single week. Even though each shipment is only three meals there is a modicum of pressure to make the dishes before the produce spoils or the next box arrives. (Which I suppose is good in a way–I can’t tell you how much shit ends up rotting at the bottom of my veggie drawer, awful, I know.)

We also discovered that these meals could easily feed 3 people. Only once did we devour the entire meal (the cauliflower steaks with spinach gratin was ridiculous!). I could see a house of 3 roommates splitting this for $20 a week each taking a turn with a recipe.

This is a perfect fit for people that LOVE to cook but don’t have the time to plan or shop for interesting, healthy and delicious dinners. Parents with toddlers or city dwellers in particular comes to mind. On the flip-side if you don’t like to cook, this is not for you. (But I’d still recommend it!) I think it would also be a great gift for someone that wants to learn how to cook but doesn’t know where to start.

One final recommendation for Blue Apron… I hate throwing away the ice packs. I know the cardboard and insulation is recyclable, but it’s still waste that has to be processed. I would not mind if my Blue Apron shipments came to me in boxes that had been used for previous Blue Apron shipments. What if the box came with a return label to send the box back? Maybe add it as an option? I would pay an extra $5 to know I was doing something good for the Earth.

Last, I have a few free trials to give away. Interested? Hit me up!

 

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5 Comments

  • Reply Rajiv February 26, 2013 at 2:15 am

    Glad it was (mostly) a success! Great play-by-play and pics. We just made our eggplant parm tonight. Mmmm.

    • Reply davidtornado February 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      Yeah, we have really enjoyed it! Thanks again for hooking us up!

  • Reply Samuel Macomber February 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    That actually sounds very interesting… It is always a massive PITA every week trying to come up with the meals for the week and I’d hazard a guess we easily spend $20+ per meal as it is. Only thing I note on the website, they’re not yet ready for dietary restrictions. I’m gluten intolerant… If it weren’t for the lack of a gluten free option I’d definitely give this one a shot.

  • Reply Philip Schaus March 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Hey David, Do you still have any free trials left? I really want to try this–I like to cook and buy my own ingredients usually, but the idea of being introduced to and learning to use new ingredients is really appealing. For example, I saw fennel in one of the pics above, and fennel is something I would never pick up to cook…Thanks!

    • Reply davidtornado March 15, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Unfortunately I am all out! They went fast! I bet if you visited their website and dropped them a line they may offer you a trial. Tell them I sent ya!

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