Blue Apron — How I went from completely avoiding my kitchen to cooking 3 times a week and loving it.

After I graduated from college and briefly lived on my own, I really only got as far as the “make stir fry with frozen chicken” stage of cooking before I met Laura, and then I basically never cooked again. Unless there was a problem with your WiFi while you tried to look up recipes, I was essentially useless during prep at dinner parties. Though to make up for Laura cooking, I definitely got pretty good and doing the dishes. I’ve always wanted to improve my skills a bit (and by improve, I mean learn for the first time), but I’ve never really had time, and honestly, it was never that much of a priority.

Around seven months ago when Laura and I both started working at Yahoo, we ended up with a bit of a problem because our commute was an hour and a half each way, which meant not getting home until 7:30 or even 8 on average. That didn’t leave a lot of time for grocery shopping or cooking, and we essentially started eating out a lot more, using awesome services like Sprig, and staying late at the office to grab dinner there — but basically never cooking at home. A few weeks ago, that all changed when I saw a neighbor attempting to balance a large box and hit the elevator call button. It had photos of food on it with the words Fresh Ingredients and Great Recipes. I asked her what it was — she said Blue Apron.

The Blue Apron delivery box

Before I tell you about what this company is, and what’s in the box, I think it’s important to understand why I’ve been so afraid of cooking anything and why I always felt like making a full meal was simply beyond my abilities.

  1. I’m not a foodie. At the extreme, I kind of wish I had the option to just swallow a pill with some essential nutrients and not worry about having to eat at all so I’d have more time for other things. I appreciate good food and good cooking, and I certainly have foods that I love, but food just isn’t anywhere near the top of things I care about on a regular basis. Cue grinning and complete incomprehension from basically every woman I’ve ever met.
  2. Lack of Time. Laura and I both get home from work on average about 7:30, but sometimes even later. There’s little time to cook or go shopping, and we usually don’t have enough advance notice on our schedules to try and shop in advance of the week. We don’t use our car in the city, and the market is a good 20 minute walk away. When you add it all up, it’s just very hard to do with our schedule.
  3. Supermarkets are confusing and overwhelming. There are so many different things to get, and so many different versions of each item. Even with a list, I find myself calling Laura every couple minutes and sending photos of what I’ve found hoping it’s the item she wanted. I know you eventually figure it out, but even with a recipe and a shopping list, I find supermarkets daunting and I constantly worry if I’ve gotten the right item, and the right amount of it. And don’t even get me started on trying to pick out the fresh/ripe fruits and vegetables.
  4. Menu Planning takes too much effort, and I just don’t care enough — I don’t really get cravings all that often, and while I definitely used to be extremely picky with food, I’m actually fairly easy to please these days, save for a remnant of my Jewish upbringing causing me to still avoid shellfish. But, to sit down and make a list of things I might want to eat and find the ingredients and everything… it’s too much. I just want a few choices... given a range of at least 3 options, I’m going to find something that I’ll be completely satisfied with.
  5. Raw meat. Ew. Up until a few weeks ago, I had literally never touched raw meat of any kind (including chicken). I’ve always been pretty scarred by an incident when was in 5th grade and was in the hospital for a few days due to e-coli poisoning. I had the worst stomach pain imaginable for multiple days. They thought it was appendicitis, ended up removing my appendix, but that actually wasn’t it at all and it ended up being another semi-useless, but non-removable organ that was inflamed. I also had pneumonia at the time. A friend of mine who visited said I looked like a ghost. I used to tell this story and say I was in the hospital for 2 weeks — which I genuinely believed to be true, but apparently it was only a few days. Anyway, it kept me away from raw anything up until a few years ago when I finally made the plunge and started ordering steaks medium instead of medium-well. Blue Apron doesn’t actually solve this issue — you definitely get raw meats, but I’m finally getting over it.

So, what is Blue Apron?

Someone told me the other day that the name actually comes from a French tradition of having young chefs, or chefs-in-training wear blue aprons. That seems to be confirmed by this FAQ post on Blue Apron’s web site.

Shipping, packaging, and what’s in the box

Essentially, they send you a box, once a week. Inside is the raw materials for 3 meals, with enough for 2 people per meal. Nothing is pre-cooked or pre-made — this isn’t the frozen food isle at the grocery store. It’s pretty heavily packaged with ice packs along the outside to keep everything cold. There’s fruits, vegetables, lots of green plant-looking things, and then base proteins like various meats and pastas.

Big veggies and fruits come as-is, and then some of the other leafy produce tends to come in little baggies. For fruits that might be squished easily like Tomatoes, they come in a little container that I can only describe as a Big-Mac box.

Everything is heavily labeled — like your clothes after your mom has packed you for summer camp. It’s pretty idiot proof… and I’m an idiot. So — perfect.

They put some of the smaller items associated with each meal in a little “Knick-Knacks” bag. The Milk did not come as part of this, but the beef cut on the right did.

You unpack it all and stick everything in the fridge when it comes. It’s delivered practically same-day and they have what looks like a few distribution centers on each of the coasts (Blue Apron isn’t available in the middle of the country yet). For me, the box is shipped from Richmond just across the bay.

Everything is perfectly portioned with exactly what you’ll need. The packaging is a bit much, but I’m not sure how else they could really do it. The little bottles of various liquids you’ll need are pretty cute.

In addition to all the food, you also get 3 printed recipe cards. They are 8.5 x 11 glossy pages that are super easy to read and pin up on the fridge while you cook. One side has a picture of the completed dish, along with the ingredient list (and photos of each individual item!). The other side has 5 or 6 steps, each with clear instructions and a photo.

This was the 2nd meal I made — Delicious!

Now, the recipes are not simple. They are simple to follow, but I guess what I really mean is — they are not boring. There’s a ton of variety, and they taste amazing. We essentially won’t be repeating a meal for months.

The best part — they send you everything. Literally, the only food substances you’ll need that aren’t included in the box are olive oil, salt, and pepper. That means everything from the meat itself, to soy sauce, to even butter comes in the box.

Peanut Butter and Wooden Skewers included for this dish

Food Selection & Scheduling

The food they give you is of really high quality — it isn’t the top of the line fully organic stuff you’ll hand over your entire paycheck for at Whole Foods, but it’s pretty good and should fit most people’s requirements, even Laura’s.

You’re also able to specify what types of food you eat, and what kinds you don’t. Blue Apron essentially has six available meals each week, and then based on your food preferences, they select 3 that match your requirements. I kind of wish you could just choose the 3 you wanted, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. A lot of people, myself included, just kind of mess around with the food preferences each week to include or exclude things that I’m not as excited about.

You basically have to get all your preferences and selection in by the Tuesday before the week your box ships (you can choose what day you want it to come — anytime from Tuesday — Saturday). They give you a cool schedule system so that you can disable delivery for weeks where you know you won’t be around.

As far the actual time it takes to cook, my experience has been that I’ve finished every recipe within 45–60 minutes, though if you have any cooking experience at all, you’ll likely go a little faster. I’m still getting the hang of cutting veggies properly ;-)

Sharing & Bragging

I’ve found that I can’t stop talking about this with friends — it’s part of the reason why I wrote this whole thing (That, and I’ve always wanted an excuse to try out Medium). I actually keep texting photos of what I’ve cooked each night to my mom. She’s really into the idea too and would love to try it, but alas no Kosher option (Blue Apron, if you’re listening, there might be a market here!)

So, here’s some of my favorite things I’ve made over the past few weeks of using the service. I’ve also put links to the recipes on Blue Apron’s site so you can take a peek.

Chicken Sate with Peanut Sauce & Marinated Green Tomatoes
My first dish — I even made the peanut sauce myself, and the wooden skewers were included!
Rice & Beef-Stuffed Poblano Peppers
with Lime-Crema Sauce
Fresh Gnocchi & Maitake Mushrooms
with Sweet Corn & Thyme Brown Butter

This one was actually my favorite so far!
Spice-Rubbed Pork Medallions with Peach Salsa
& Cilantro-Green Bean Rice
Vietnamese-Style “Shaking” Beef
with Lime-Jasmine Rice & Dressed Plum
Mexican-Style Turkey Burger
with Warm Corn-Tomato Salad
Whole Wheat Gramigna Pasta
with Roasted Corn & Baby Greens
Chicken & Snow Pea-Radish Sauté
with Candied Pistachios

Cost

It’s essentially $10 a meal per person. 2 servings x 3 meals a week = $60.

It’s not too bad — you could easily do better shopping on your own at your local supermarket, but you’d come out about the same if you primarily shop at Whole Foods and have high food standards. There’s no shipping or extra fees — it’s just $60 for the weeks you use it, and it’s week-by-week, so you can sign up, pause, skip a week, or cancel whenever you want. If you even eat out one time less each week as a result of using this, it’s pretty much paid for itself.

Final Thoughts

My favorite way of describing Blue Apron so far: It sets you up for success. I know going into a cooking session that I have all the materials I need, and that everything I have is the right kind and amount for the recipe that I’m working on. If I’m able to follow the instructions, I’ll be good to go.

Blue Apron provided the support and confidence I needed to finally start cooking.

I’m learning a ton, stumbling upon all kinds of tricks, and having fun finally figuring out what all the neat tools Laura has in the kitchen are actually used for. In fact, my favorite discovery so far? A lime zester. Many of the recipes have you use it on a lime and use the zest in various ways. Try putting some zest in the rice cooker or pot as you cook rice — it makes a huge difference and I’m pretty sure it’s how Chipotle makes their rice taste so good.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little piece. If any of this seems appealing to you, feel free to reach out to ask me more. I also have 3 invites I can send to people that will let them try Blue Apron free for a week. Let me know if you’d like one.

Blue Apron didn’t pay me to write this, and unfortunately, I don’t seem to get any referral bonus for signing up others — I just really, really like this product. It’s changed my life in a small, but significant way, and I wanted you to know about it.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Jacob Knobel’s story.