Tuesday, January 5

Blue Apron: reflections

back in November, which feels far more distant in timespace than it really is, a conversation began:
I mentioned a while back that Patti and I have been discussing food just for kicks, over in a messy google doc where I have too many distracted half-formed blabberings. it is fun though. we both love food and cooking, in our non-professional yet notably dedicated ways. so this fun idea to test out a meal subscription service fell right in line with the way brain was so increasingly fascinated by the things. they seem to be so popular, so talked-about. what does it mean?

this, "Is Blue Apron the Future of Home Cooking in America?" was one of the slightly more thoughtful, slightly (only slightly) less buzz-wordy pieces I came across. Jamie Weibe asks whether these sorts of mail-order services are "the future of home-cooked food" or simply "a mindless extravagance for wealthy Americans?"

do they have to be one or the other? likely not.

Patti and I scheduled our deliveries to come the same week, so that we could virtually cook together via Skype and talk through the one recipe our boxes had in common. she has a great write-up of her experience here. I have been slow about reporting back on my end, but I did take pictures!

they sent a little card with an apron-shaped bit of seedpaper. it's basil, it says. where shall I plant this thing? in a pot out by the back steps next spring? or in a shoe on my windowsill tomorrow?

the giant box I received had ingredients for three recipes, each one with a longer, fancier title than the one before. they are all in Blue Apron's online cookbook, so I've included direct links in case you are curious.

Tamarind-Glazed Cod with Lime Rice and Cucumber Relish (this is the one Patti also got to cook)
I had not heard of putting lime zest in rice before, but it was pretty delicious. that relish was great, too, but it made Way Too Much for the two pieces of cod and the little bit of rice. easier to precisely portion out fish and grain than whole cucumbers and jicama, I guess. 

it was fun cooking this one simultaneously as Patti did the same in her kitchen. there was a bunch of multitasking involved, and I remember we both did things in different sequences, slightly (I get very scatterbrained when I cook, sometimes, leaving things half-done and disorderly). I recorded our whole Skype conversation, in case I ever want to go back and look at it again for researchy purposes or anything. 

Beet and Barley Risotto with Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese (my favourite of the three)
this stuff was so good. but it took a good three times longer than the recipe told me it would. which knowing a thing or two about risotto, I suspected might be the case. perhaps it tasted so wonderful because I was so hungry by the time it finished cooking. strangely, my box had 3 whole beets instead of the 1 that was listed on the recipe card. not sure what that means, but I love beetroot so I will not complain.
I am determined to gather the ingredients for this one myself sometime, and make it again. perhaps I'll come back and do a price comparison when I do.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onion Pizza with B├ęchamel Sauce, Fontina Cheese and Arugula Salad

I quite enjoyed this pizza, and I could see myself recreating it on my own as well. at the end of it all, I had too much sauce for it--even though I stretched the dough pretty thin. in fact, I think there is still a tupperware thing of extra sauce doing nothing in my fridge. ah well. 
 
overall, I had fun with this. having a box of food to cook just show up on your doorstep is somewhat exciting, and it gives you every excuse to make a dish you've never made before. it is expensive though, as Patti's post mentions. she also pointed out just recently this breakdown comparison of Blue Apron's costs vs. other similar services. there are also the concerns about waste and carbon footprints; you can't not wonder about the environmental costs of shipping and of a thousand tiny plastic bottles, no matter how recyclable they are. 

the existence of Blue Apron and all the rest of these new companies raises plenty of questions besides those of cost, too. what gets me wondering most of all is what doesn't show up in the box, and what kinds of assumptions are being demonstrated by those decisions. how do all these lines get drawn? why is it assumed I will have salt and pepper and oil, but not oregano or ginger or a tablespoon of flour? who figured that out? why do the recipes leave me to chop and peel so many, many vegetables, but send me pre-mixed, plastic-wrapped pizza dough? chopping vegetables is counted more convenient than mixing up dough? maybe most people would agree, but it's still interesting to think about the factors behind that piece of the whole puzzle.

I may try out one more box of Blue Apron eventually, depending on what kinds of recipes show up in rotation this semester. it seems like a special-occasion sort of thing, to me. a reward or an escape from the mundane. new recipes, no need for shopping. no need to decide on which restaurant you want to eat at. an excuse to invite someone over for dinner. too bad Patti lives so far away now, or we could share Blue Apron in real life. that would be awesome.

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