The gas is on! The gas is on! I’m so excited to use my oven tonight that I can barely contain myself. But instead of roasting a chicken, I’ll be making some sweet potato fries, caramelizing onions and grilling burgers because I have to use the pretzel rolls I got from the food subscription service, Blue Apron, before they get stale.
Mystery boxes are all the rage these days. From cosmetics to pet treats, you can have a surprise in the mail on a monthly or weekly basis, depending on the type of subscription. It’s not shocking that the food industry has been cashing in on this trend. Options are available for vegans, gluten free diets, bacon-lovers and locavores. Or if you prefer to imbibe, wine, whiskey, bitters and cocktail concoctions can arrive on a monthly basis.
This concept is not novel. Delivery of planned meals or “seasonal” ingredients has been around for some time. Diet companies and Fresh Direct began offering such services years ago, with many meal options arriving pre-cooked. For those who hate shopping, planning or decision-making but like to cook, having the ingredients for dinner at your front door can make life easier. But I happen to enjoy going to the market, seeing what’s on sale, what looks good or what strikes my fancy. I don’t need or want someone else to decide what I’m eating for a week. Of course, I’m always in favor of anything that will get people cooking.
So when my friend gave me a free trial of Blue Apron, I agreed to give it a shot — at least for a couple weeks.
You can opt out of categories of food you don’t want (meat, fish or shellfish). You set up a window of time for delivery and then the three meals arrives with detailed recipes, laying out every step of the process with pictures. The large box contains the neatly packaged ingredients — the proteins are vacuum sealed, sugar is in a plastic pouch, vinegar is in a plastic container, vegetables are in plastic bags (not so great for the environment). Simply unpack the box, decide which recipe you want to make for dinner and get started. Then 35 minutes later, you have dinner. Yes, 35 minutes later.
Blue Apron is not for the faint of heart. It requires serious prep time, multiple pans and ingredients. But it can be fun, if you’re in the right frame of mind. I was not.
Admittedly, making chicken potstickers with one induction burner at 9pm was probably not the best idea. I’d rather order Chinese or make the Trader Joe’s shrimp gyoza in my freezer. Having to wash vegetables, cut up lemongrass, mix everything together, then boil the dumplings before frying them was a little too time intensive for me. But they did taste good, even if I ended up overfilling the wrappers and the insides came out.
Willing to give it another shot, we tried the recipe for caramelized onion pork chops with blue-cheese grits and greens. The escarole that arrived was very dirty, going bad already and had a dead bug on it. So that was tossed. We substituted some bok choy instead. This dish didn’t take as long to prep as the potstickers, but it did require more than one burner. Making do with our cooking-challenged situation, we were satisfied with the end result.
The last of the meals for the week was supposed to be a lime-kumquat glazed tilapia (which normally I would’ve cooked first) with some freekeh-brussels sprouts concoction that did not seem appealing. It’s the middle of winter, and I wasn’t in the mood for this at all. So the fish is now in the freezer to be turned into tacos when the weather is warmer. The rest of the ingredients can be used up whenever.
But for almost $60, I think that the quality of the ingredients is lacking, and the vegetable portions are quite small for two people. Tilapia is only $5/lb (likely $5 for these two pieces) and the pork chops weren’t as thick as I’d buy. Ground chicken and dumpling wrappers certainly are not expensive. This week, besides the short rib burgers, there’s turkey cutlets with mashed potatoes and broccoli and spicy shrimp in lettuce cups. Again, fairly inexpensive ingredients, but these are a little more to my liking (except the turkey).
If you’re willing to pay for the supposed convenience, then fine. But if I’m paying, then I’d at least want my vegetables pre-washed and preferably pre-chopped. I’ve heard good things about Sweet Roots, a Brooklyn company that provides you with ingredients ready for cooking, but it’s even pricier than Blue Apron. Of course, if you want to avoid the hassle of Sunday afternoon trips to the grocery store to shop for the week’s food, then maybe this type of service suits you.
So I’ll stick with my almost daily treks to the market. There’s something satisfying about shopping for your ingredients that opening a box left at the front door can’t provide. Maybe it’s the fresh air and exercise that I get when I’m shopping. And had I not received these pre-packaged ingredients, I’d be having my long-awaited roast chicken. But I can always have that tomorrow night — unless I change my mind. There’s something to be said for the flexibility of deciding what you want to cook and when you want to cook it.
For now, I’m just thrilled to have a working stove again! Let me know if you need to borrow an induction burner. I happen to have an extra one that is not going to be used any time soon….