There’s an interesting new trend in the world of food: services that provide everything you need to cook meals from scratch (except salt, pepper, and olive oil), including detailed recipes, portioned for your family.
I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to these services, though I was peripherally aware of them: Hello Fresh was a sponsor at BlogHer Food ’15, and I’d been hearing the name Blue Apron a lot. I have time to shop for ingredients, and I enjoy picking out my own produce – to the extent that I pretty much quit my local CSA when it went to a home-delivery model. I’ll select my own cabbage, thank you very much.
However, when my friend Brie-Anne offered me a free promotional box from Blue Apron (free boxes of food to give to friends are a combination of clever advertising and perk for loyal subscribers), I could hardly say no to a box of free food – six full meals. And I was curious about the quality of the ingredients and recipes, and the experience as a whole. Plus, I thought it would be a lot of fun to share with you. So I signed up.
The website is attractive and signing up is easy – as you would expect. After all, any frustrations in the signup process lead to fewer customers. The process includes queries about whether you eat meat or fish, though not about other food restrictions. Once the site has the answers to these few questions, it shows you your menu for the upcoming week. If you say you eat meat and fish, you don’t see any vegetarian options – though if you select “Change My Menu,” you see all six menu selections for the week, of which three are vegetarian.
I stuck with the three meals I was originally offered: Roast Pork with Sauteed Spinach & Olive Smashed Potatoes, Cod & Potato Brandade with Watermelon Salad & Garlic Toasts, and Chicken Meatballs & Creamy Polenta with Tomato Sugo & Lacinato Kale. Scrolling through the offerings for the next few weeks, I was impressed with the variety: from vegetarian shiitake dumplings to grilled cheese with preserved lemon to Lebanese Arayes (toasted pita stuffed with lamb and beef, a dish I’d never heard of before). It struck me that it would be quite a challenge to create these menus: balanced meals unique enough to intrigue, but not strange enough to scare people off.
My box of food actually arrived a day early – it was due on Friday, but arrived on Thursday. Not a problem, but it could have been. Anyway, it was a medium-large cardboard box, not too heavy. I brought it in and opened it up. On the very top were three bright 8×11 cards with the week’s recipes, as well as one with a brief primer on olives. They were stuck to the box’s cold-retaining foil liner – a slight problem, since peeling them off left a bit of the instructions for the cod brandade behind.
When I opened the liner, the produce items were in the first layer – greens, potatoes, herbs. They were all in great condition, with the very minor exception of a few yellowed leaves in the big bag of spinach. Also in that layer: a baguette for the garlic toasts, a can of tomatoes, and three small paper bags labeled “Knick Knacks” for the various recipes. These contained small but important flavoring elements like an adorable tiny bottle of red-wine vinegar and a container of four large green Castelvetrano olives.
Once all those things were out of the box, a cardboard divider was revealed that proclaimed “A Great Recipe Is Composed Of Incredible Ingredients.” Under that was the secret to shipping all this fresh food: a nearly inch thick, solidly frozen Nordic Ice gel pack of the exact same width and length as the box. Another pack nestled underneath the highly perishable packages of pork, ground chicken, and still slightly frozen cod.
I put everything away and looked over the recipe cards. They looked good at a glance. I’d never had a brandade before, and since I believe in cooking fish immediately, I decided to make that recipe first.