Saturday, January 31, 2015

What I Learned from Blue Apron {review}



Note: I was not compensated for this review. I spent my own money to try Blue Apron for three weeks (minus a $20 coupon I found on Facebook, which was available to anyone on Facebook). 

When I first heard about Blue Apron, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea.  What it is, for those you who haven’t heard of it yet, is an online subscription service that delivers you a box all the ingredients you need to prepare three meals each week.  It comes with step-by-step instructions, complete with photos on how to cook each meal.  They have two plans to choose from – a two-person plan and a family plan.  It works out to cost about $9.99 per person, per meal. 

My initial thought was that it was a service for people who didn’t know how to cook, and I believed I already did.  So why would I pay for a service to learn how to cook?  And I can cook a decent meal at home for less than $9.99 per person.

It was actually at the tasting for our wedding reception, when the venue manager, who has a culinary degree, mentioned that he and his wife used Blue Apron.  (Oh, btw, J. and I got married last October! That’s why the blog has been on a hiatus for awhile – but more on that later.)

Now, I have no formal training in cooking. I have learned to cook mostly from watching the Food Network (back when they actually had cooking shows on it), reading a lot of food blogs and cookbooks, and a lot of trial and error. So if this guy with a culinary degree used Blue Apron, I could give it a try too.  Plus, once I went on the Blue Apron website, I saw the recipes they were offering looked really cool! There was an interesting variety of cuisines, ones that caught my eye were Indian, African, Cajun Creole, cuisines that I would never bothered to make on my own because the spices would be too hard to find. 

So with the start of the new year, and in turn, the new year’s resolutions, I found a coupon for my first two meals free on Facebook, and signed up.

I have to admit, I was actually really looking forward to the delivery. On the first night, when the delivery man rang the doorbell, I ran down the stairs to get the package.  It felt like Christmas all over again as I tore the package open.  The package was very well packed with layers of cardboard and ice packs to keep the perishable meats and vegetables fresh. I had picked the recipes that I wanted to make online, but I didn’t  look too carefully at the ingredients, so I only had a vague idea of what I was getting.   The first package had some vegetables that I didn’t even recognize at first, like jicama and lemongrass. Fortunately, all the vegetables came in a little plastic baggie with a label identifying what it was.  (Though I did feel labeling  the “carrot” might have been unnecessary.)  Since the first package had come around 7 pm, I hadn’t starting making that evening’s dinner yet.  I so intrigued by the new ingredients, I scratched whatever I had planned to make that night, so I could get started right away on the first recipe, Thai Shrimp Soup.

I found the recipe instructions to be easy really easy to follow.  Each recipe breaks down every step, right down to washing and cutting the vegetables.  It was actually a handy reminder for me to cut all the vegetables ahead of time for me, since I have a tendency to miss something, and find myself chopping a vegetable when I am already in the thick of the cooking process.  And it was great to have all the ingredients pre-measured for me, so there was no guesswork (I tend to eyeball spices and condiments rather than measure). 

Here’s what the finished product of the Thai Shrimp Soup.


Looks pretty close to the picture, right? This was the first time I had ever used lemongrass, which added a nice bright flavor.  I loved the silky smooth texture of the soup, and the bright perfectly cooked shrimp.  When I cook shrimp, I sometimes overcook it, but this time, following the directions, they came out just right.

Here’s another one that I was particularly excited to try, Chicken Mulligatawny Soup. 


I had never made Indian food before because I was always intimidated by the spices.  But having the spices shipped right to my door definitely made it more accessible.  While I liked this soup, I did find it to be a lot milder than I expected.  I guess I’ve been spoiled by all the great Indian restaurants we have here in Jersey City!

Here is another one that surprised me, Pulled Chicken Tacos.


Unlike the Chicken Mulligatawny, the tacos turned out to be a lot spicier than I expected! This recipe had a new-to-me ingredient – jicama! It was sliced and made into a salad with red onions, and brought cool crunchy contrast to the spicy tacos.

This is another one that I was really looking forward to making – “Korean-style Tteok” – what Blue Apron calls a pork “ragu” with Korean rice cakes.  What caught my eye with this recipe was like the Mulligatawny, that it was something totally different that I had never had eaten before, so it was an adventure to make it.


But one thing I did notice was like the Mulligatawny, it was spicy, but not nearly as spicy as I expected it to be, and I had used all of the gochujang, Korean chili sauce, that came in the package.

So here’s my takeaway from Blue Apron…

The pros:

  • it makes new-to-me recipes more accessible.  I never would have made Indian food or Korean food on my own because I never would have gone through the trouble to find all the ingredients.  It really got me out of my cooking rut, where it felt like I was making stir-fry every night.
  • It’s convenient – can’t get more convenient than having groceries brought to your door!
  • The meals are relatively healthy.  Plus, when you know what you’re going to cook that night, you are less likely to eat out or order in.
  • It’s cheaper than eating out or ordering in.
  • The meals are fun to make.  For me, at least, because I like to cook. Believe it or not, while I was driving home, I actually looked forward to what I was going to make that night, because each meal was a recipe I never made before.
  • I learned to cook new foods and even picked up a few pointers.  Cooking is always a learning process, and no matter how much you know, you can always learn more!

The cons:

  • The courier service they use in my area was inconsistent. When you sign up, they give you certain blocks of times that you have to choose for delivery.  The first week, we chose Wednesday from 6pm to 10pm, and it worked out fine.  For the two weeks after that we switched to Tuesday nights and had some issues with delivery.  Maybe their Tuesday night driver was different?
  • You could buy your own ingredients and make your own meals for less than $9.99 per person. (But you would probably have to buy the spices and things in much larger containers, and have a lot of obscure spices that you don’t know what to do with left)
  • You might end up with duplicates of things you already have.  Since I already have a pretty well-stocked fridge and pantry, I found that that I wouldn’t be using up things I already had. For example, limes, garlic and onion were common ingredients in the delivery boxes, which I almost always have on hand.  So I found that I was using the Blue Apron garlic and onion, but then my own lime, garlic and onion would go bad.  It’s a minor problem, but I hate to waste food, so it irked me.

Minor issues notwithstanding, I actually had a lot of fun using the service and it was a treat for me to try new recipes.  Because of the cost $60 per week, though, it would get pricey to do every single week.  Plus, I like having flexibility to cook whatever I want.  That said, going forward, I would probably order a box once a month, whenever I see an interesting recipe I want to try on the menu, or when I am in a bit of a cooking rut and want to mix things up.  Fortunately, it’s easy to skip deliveries, but you have to remember to do it at least six days advance.  What I would like to see is an option to subscribe to a once a month plan, which would fit more for my schedule and budget.

How about you?  Have you tried Blue Apron?  Would you subscribe if they had a once a month option?

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