Continuing with my outsourcing project, we tried Blue Apron for the first time this week. Blue Apron is a service where the company sends you a chilled box with ingredients, along with three recipes, and you use the recipes to prepare the meals. My experience was not totally positive, as you’ll read in this post. Nevertheless, it wasn’t by any means all bad, either. I recommend you try it for yourself and see if it’s for you. I think for someone with different needs from ours, it could be truly great.
A friend of mine has been using Blue Apron for several months now, and he loves it, so I asked him if he still loved it — he replied that yes, he did, and he gave me a free coupon to use for one week’s delivery for two — thanks, Frederic! Since we’re a family of four, I ordered a delivery for four, which cost $120, but with half off, it was only $60 for three family meals. Not bad. Although I’ve been going mostly veg lately, I eat pretty much everything that’s put in front of me. Sara, nevertheless, does not eat red meat (unless it was hunted by someone she knows, like Caribou shot by my brother-in-law in Alaska), so we decided to go with the vegetarian option. Apparently in the future they’ll offer more options, which might cater to my family’s specific needs.
Fed Ex delivered the box at about 10am yesterday (Saturday) morning, so we were able to try cooking one of them last evening. Getting the boxes was exciting: it was sort of like opening a present on Christmas morning. Nevertheless, I was a little nonplussed by all the packaging. The box contained some kind of styrofoam to insulate it, and then there were several ice packs on the bottom. I immediately felt that I could not in good conscience use that much packaging every week.
When we opened up the box, we found that everything was in its own little plastic baggie, labeled, or in a little bottle, or in a little cup with a lid. I found it enormously wasteful. Blue Apron claims that, “Most cities do recycle,” plastic bags, which sounds like crap to me. I live in San Francisco, which recycles more than any municipality in America, and Recology does not take plastic baggies. “You can take them to Safeway,” Sara mentioned, but who knows what Safeway does with them? Maybe Safeway just chucks them in the trash.
Last night I made Miso & Shiitake Ramen, which is one of those that Sara can eat with no modification — no dairy, or at least no dairy from cows. She can eat sheep cheese. The meals are supposed to take 35 minutes or less. I don’t know if I’m just slow or if this was an extra long one , or what. I started at about 5pm, not really paying attention to the time. By 5:40, I was still washing, chopping, and separating the fresh produce. This was feeling peculiarly like making a meal from regular grocery store ingredients. I suspect that the “35 minutes” time is based on a two person meal, because the preparation of fresh ingredients doesn’t scale. It basically took twice as long to prepare twice as much produce. Chopping the choy sum was rather agonizing, because I had to separate the stems, then chop up the stems. It’s the sort of thing I avoid cooking when I’m choosing a recipe myself.
I think I was done preparing the ingredients by, oh, about 6:20, which is pretty insane. Once that was done, the cooking went pretty quickly. I’m not sure I what I did wrong with the tofu, which I was supposed to cook in a pan on high till it was golden brown. I was supposed to drain it and dry it, which I did, but there was still a lot (maybe a tablespoon or two) of water in the tofu, and that had to be boiled off and poured off. Eventually, it did start sizzling, but all the browned stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan. The instructions recommend a non-stick pan, which we don’t have. Sara suggested in retrospect that I should have used the cast iron skillet, which is close to non-stick.
So, by 7pm, the meal was done, which is certainly not what I had signed up for. But it was good. Even though the tofu didn’t come out exactly right, the whole thing was totally tasty. Lots of flavors from all the fresh produce. I’d love to eat a meal like that three times a week, particularly if the “35 minutes” thing was really true. The broth from the ramen was thicker than I might expect, but that wasn’t bad — just different. Sara thinks it was the effect of the “vegetable demi-glace” that came with the ingredients.
So we’re not continuing our Blue Apron subscription, given that it would be over $500/month, that the recipes don’t really seem to take less than 35 minutes, that Sara can’t eat everything in them, even in the vegetarian version, and that they use too much packaging. I feel as though those issues could be fixed in a future iteration of the service. Who knows — we could be happy subscribers in a few years.