For most of my twenties, dinner was more often than not either cheese and crackers (and alcohol) or carrots and hummus (and alcohol). I saw nothing wrong with this. Once TG and I started spending most nights together (I mean before he says goodnight and then leaves to sleep in his own apartment, right Dad?), I felt I probably should break myself of this habit. Not because I thought it would be healthier for both of us to have actual nutrients, but because I didn’t want him to know about my bachelorette lifestyle. Because the foundation of all healthy relationships is changing who you are and lying about who you were.
For a time, this was an easy habit to break because we went out to dinner every night. Like, every single night. Eventually, though, I realized that wasn’t sustainable in the long term. (By “realized” I mean “opened my retirement account statement”). So we started going to the grocery store.
This was not successful. We roamed around the aisles, changing our minds 30 times about what it is we were going to prepare, until I was so starving and hangry that we had to order dinner anyway.
This continued apace while simultaneously, my girlfriends began The Social Diet, and suddenly my cheese-and-cracker habit wasn’t just apparent to myself and my boyfriend, but my girlfriends as well. Girlfriends who also have busy lives, many of whom have husbands, a child even! Girlfriends who manage to prepare legitimate, healthful dinners from ingredients that cannot be found in Duane Reade (related: TG hates when I buy groceries from Duane Reade, but I think if I can get hummus and shampoo at the same time, why wouldn’t I?!). And so, in deference to health awareness and also fear of being shamed and judged by my peers, I formally and publicly committed to cooking more.
In the spirit of the Social Diet, my friend Liza immediately offered a show of support for this goal. She explained that she and her fiancé had tried Blue Apron and had a free trial they’d be happy to give me. With nothing to lose, I snapped it right up.
I had heard of Blue Apron from a couple of friends and colleagues, and one of TG’s siblings had even tried it before. The gist is this: once a week, Blue Apron sends you fresh ingredients and recipes for 3 meals, for 2, 4, or 6 people. The service costs $9.99 per person per meal, or about $60 per order for the two of us. You choose a delivery window (we do Thursdays between 6pm and 10pm, though the box typically arrives before 8pm), and your food (every ingredient required except, salt, pepper, and olive oil) and recipes are delivered in an insulated box. Fair warning: the box weighs about 15 lbs, so maybe if you live on a fifth floor walk up, this isn’t for you. Everything within the box is labeled, which is handy if you don’t necessarily visually know the difference between cilantro and parsley and think one tastes like ass and belongs in the garbage can… You can specify if you’re vegetarian, or don’t want to receive a specific type of meat (say, seafood). So far as I can tell, however, other dietary restrictions aren’t accommodated. I am allergic to garlic (yes, it does suck), which as you probably know is a very common ingredient in recipes, but I just leave it out when I’m cooking. And I was serious about throwing out the cilantro. Otherwise, though, part of what I’ve liked about Blue Apron thus far is that you’re given recipes and ingredients you might not otherwise try. I don’t like olives, for example, but included them in an awesome tilapia recipe last week and gobbled them up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
|The "knick knacks" are all the little ingredients for each recipe, like spices|
The week of our free trial, TG and I first decided to make turkey burger sliders with arugula salad with toasted hazelnuts. This seemed both tasty and most important, simple enough for our first foray. I discovered quickly, however, that my apartment, in which my kitchen, living room, dining room, and foyer are in fact all the same space, is not really designed for tandem cooking. I banished TG to the couch and started chopping and mincing and mixing and pan frying. I’ll be honest – it was a bit overwhelming. The sink filled up with dirty dishes rapidly, and with very limited counter space, I wasn’t sure where to put what I had prepped while still having room to prep the remaining ingredients. Panko breadcrumbs ended up all over the floor, and shallot peels clogged the drain. Considering my distaste for disorder, this was a lot for me to handle.
But once the dinner made it to the plates, it tasted good! While we might have made burgers for ourselves, we probably wouldn’t have thought to use ground turkey, nor made them sliders, and we definitely wouldn’t have added minced shallots and Dijon to the patties. Plus, I loved that the recipe included both a protein and a side, and included in the directions when to prepare what parts of each. So often, my problem and hesitation in cooking is that I can make a main dish, and pick a side to go with it, but don’t know how to time them so they’re both done and hot and edible at the same time. Granted, this side was a salad, which is raw and generally takes 11 seconds to prepare, but there was some hazelnut toasting required. So while nothing revolutionary, our first Blue Apron meal was a success!
Since then, we’ve received two more deliveries (these we paid for), and have made a number of other meals, including pan seared cod with roasted potatoes, the aforementioned tilapia with a Mediterranean sauce, chickpea fritters with ratatouille, and chicken, artichoke, and spinach casserole. Unlike the turkey burger sliders, we never in a million years would have made anything close to any of these meals, and were very pleasantly surprised with each of them (or at least I was. TG is too polite to tell me if he thinks this all tastes like shit. Just last night, for example, he ate an artichoke that definitely could have stood to have a few more of the outer layers peeled off before human consumption. Sorry about that…). The recipes also allow for substitutions – the casserole we made last night could easily be made with basically any other vegetables. The recipes are portioned for two, and with rare exception, there haven’t been leftovers, which could be a plus or a minus, depending on how willing you are to reheat tilapia in your office microwave for lunch. Since we started, I’ve definitely gotten better at managing the mess that cooking makes, which is an efficiency I think only comes with practice. I’ve also gotten better at not stressing out about the mess when it happens (the sauce accompanying the tilapia ended up splattered all over the white walls of the kitchen/living room/dining room). Remembering to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm before getting started also helped reduce my mid-cooking anxiety. But in just a few shorts weeks of cooking once or twice a week and I already feel like “hey! I can totally do this!”
|Directions with pictures AND order of operations hints|
There are, of course, a few draw backs. I already mentioned that there isn’t much in the way of accommodating for food allergies. Also, Blue Apron isn’t cheap. Granted, $9.99 per person per meal is drastically less expensive than going out to dinner every night, but if you’ve grocery store savvy, you can probably buy these same ingredients on the cheap (my local grocery store is Whole Foods, so it’s probably a wash for me). I like that Blue Apron provides the tablespoon of Hungarian paprika required for a recipe, rather than a whole bottle I’d have to get at the grocery store, but that obviously comes at a price. If you live in a place where you have separate rooms for the kitchen, living room, dining room, and foyer, maybe you would rather buy in bulk, store left overs, and save money. Also, if you live in a place where you have separate rooms for the kitchen, living room, dining room, and foyer, aren’t you fancy? Asshole…
Blue Apron also thinks I’m going to cook much more often than I am. Once a week was my goal, and thus far I’ve achieved it, but between my schedule and TG’s, we aren’t home three nights a week to cook and eat, ever, but 3 meals is the minimum you can order. I did eventually discover that you can change your Blue Apron delivery schedule, and now we’re slated to receive a box about once a month, rather than once a week, which means I can spread those three meals out over more than 7 days. If I know we’re not going to cook immediately, I toss the meat in the freezer. I've also discovered it’s kind of difficult to cancel once you sign up for the free delivery, which is sort of a dick move on their part, since you have to provide your credit card information to register for the free trial. But apparently all it takes is an email to end your subscription. Still, that information is kind of hidden on their website, and requires more than just “click here to make it stop.”
Lastly, while the website indicates the recipes take 35 minutes on average, my experience has been more like 45 minutes to an hour, but that could be because I’m still getting my feet wet in the food preparation department. I find listening to This American Life is a nice way to make the time pass, and I happen to have plenty of time on my hands, since my longest run in this, the last week of my taper, is a whopping 4 miles...
As a whole, though, I recommend Blue Apron. The recipes are easy to follow but without being overly simple - they still make me feel like more of a chef than I would otherwise. I’m given exposure to ingredients I wouldn’t ordinarily use/eat. At 500-700 calories a pop with a good dose of vegetables in each, these are on the healthy side. And they allow for practice at preparing ingredients and cooking, and I can’t overstate how much this has improved my confidence and in turn, my desire to cook, in just a few weeks.
Blue Apron hasn’t reached out to me (nor I to them), sponsored this, or compensated me in any way. I’m just sharing because I’d like to think I’m not the only 30 year old in a tiny apartment who hasn’t mastered feeding herself, and Blue Apron helps rectify that. And if you would like help rectifying that, you can get a free trial too! Leave a comment with a funny story about a cooking mishap and I’ll choose someone to receive a free trial of Blue Apron*
*To receive Blue Apron, you have to live somewhere in here. Also, based on the website/my experience, you do have to enter a credit card in order to register for the free trial, but I promise they don’t charge you for the trial. If you don’t want to keep paying for it after the trial, email email@example.com before the weekly cutoff, which will be 6 days before the next automatically scheduled delivery (aka the day after you receive your trial box).