Trying on a Blue Apron: Dinner is Served!
by Christina Valhouli
I have a confession to make. I have been serving pretty much the same dinner all summer long, which tends to be grilled shrimp or chicken, veggie kabobs, and a salad. I knew it was bad when even my 5 year old started to revolt and told me my meals were boring. I was stuck in a dining rut, and to mix things up a bit, I decided to try a new meal subscription service called Blue Apron.
Launched in 2012, Blue Apron delivers the ingredients for a healthy dinner that can be prepared in about 35 minutes. Everything has been pre-measured, packaged, and clearly labeled so all you have to do is open the box and get cooking. Each meal is about 500-700 calories and includes easy to follow recipe cards with plenty of pictures. Prices start at $9.99 per person per meal. Here’s a look at my three day test run.
Day 1: Cod and pattypan squash en papillote with garlic butter and fresh herb salad
This is the kind of recipe that sounds impressive when you text your spouse you’re making “fish en papillote” for dinner. Blue Apron included everything, down to the precut parchment paper. First I boiled tri-color quinoa on the stove and as it cooked, I chopped pattypan squash, almonds, and herbs (chervil, parsley and chives). The recipe called for an herbed butter which was a breeze. I grated a lemon and just stirred it into room temperature butter. Easy! To make the cod parcels, I spooned cooked quinoa onto the parchment paper and topped it with the fish, squash, and herbed butter and sealed the package by folding the edges. As it cooked in the oven, the almonds got toasted in a dry pan. The result? The fish and vegetables were tender and moist while the toasted almonds added texture.
Day 2: Pan seared chicken & sautéed bulgur with tomato salad & creamy lemon-yogurt sauce
I loved that this recipe used a carb that wasn’t pasta or potatoes. This meal reminded me of a Greek tabbouleh salad with the addition of chicken. The most time consuming part was chopping everything (cucumbers, tomatoes, shallots, and parsley). I boiled the bulgur on the stove while sautéing the chicken breasts in a pan, which took about 10 minutes. Once the chicken was done, I set it aside and added olive oil, garlic and shallots to the pan before adding the bulgur, water and lemon. While the bulgur absorbed the water, I made the lemon-yogurt sauce; drizzle of olive oil and grated lemon into a pot of non-fat Greek yogurt. To plate the dish, I thinly slice the chicken and placed it on top of the bulgur, and topped it with the yogurt sauce, tomato and cucumber salad and microgreens. The meal had a nice crunch thanks to the cucumber salad, and microgreens are not something I would normally buy.
Day 3: Filipino-style beef picadillo with chayote squash and jasmine rice
Prior to cooking this meal, I had never made Filipino cuisine or (I confess) ever heard of chayote squash. Like the previous night’s recipe, the most time consuming part was chopping all the ingredients. I did cheat though by throwing the jasmine rice into the rice cooker so I didn’t have to babysit it. Once the chopping was done, the cooking was easy; just soften the potatoes, ginger, and carrots in a pan and then add the ground beef and squash. But what made this recipe far more interesting than a basic stew was the addition of the chayote squash, which has a tart, almost apple-y flavor as well as a splash of coconut vinegar, which gave the dish a sweet and sour tang. It was definitely a hit and about 700 calories per serving.
So my conclusion after my three day experiment? The meals definitely got me out of my rut and scored big points with my husband, who is not used to coming home to anything “en papillote.” The price was reasonable and all of the cooking techniques were basic. If you can chop and sauté, and happen to have olive oil, salt, and pepper on hand, you don’t need anything else apart from what Blue Apron provides. I also learned a few new techniques that I’ll be sure to try again.
About the author: Christina Valhouli writes about travel and lifestyle topics for publications including The New York Times, Fodor’s and The New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @cvalhouli