A Week with Blue Apron

Last week I tried out CookSmarts meal planning. This week I’m going more full service with Blue Apron, a meal-in-a-box service that provides ready-to-cook recipes and ingredients. We go the 2-meals-4-servings option, which retails for $69.92. We used a coupon for a free trial week.

Thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign there are literally hundreds of Blue Apron “unboxing” posts and videos, so we can skip past most of that (google it if you’re interested). One thing that did drive me nuts was pulling out items that I already have in my kitchen. Garlic, baby spinach, oranges, honey, red wine vinegar… all those things are already in my fridge/pantry threatening to rot.  The real kicker was the recipe that came with a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, since I have a TON of those leftover from last week’s meals.

On the flip side I was excited to try out the samosa recipe, because searching the entire city for samosa wrappers would have taken me the better part of a day and probably still failed. Last time I tried to find an Indian grocery store I ended up at a bodega that sold mostly cigarettes (thanks, Google).

Meal 1: English Pea and Potato Samosas

I made this recipe on Monday, and things got off to a rocky start.

"Shell the peas," they said. "It'll be fun," they said.
“Shell the peas,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Look, I’m not saying that freshly shelled peas aren’t better than frozen peas, I’m sure they are. So I bristled at the instruction, cursed when peas escaped and went flying across the room, but ultimately ended up with a thing of nice plump peas. I made the chutney, cooked the spinach, prepared the samosa filling, and by this point over an hour had passed. I’d told my 3 year old she could help with the samosas, and she kept very impatiently asking “why is it taking so long?” I also managed to dirty approximately every single bowl and utensil in the kitchen during the prep process.

Every step seemed to take longer than the last, and when the samosas / cauliflower were finally in the oven I thought “why did I make the chutney first? I could have just made it while everything baked.” But then I looked at the giant pile of dishes in the sink and spent the 15 minutes cleaning up instead.

An hour and forty-five minutes after I started we were finally ready to sit down and eat.

Cauliflower, samosas, and chutney
Cauliflower, samosas, and chutney

The samosas look pretty good, but were pretty bland. I should have added more salt/pepper.  The chutney was great, the cauliflower was OK. What really bugs me though is how little protein is in this meal. You get a little from the peas, and some more in the cauliflower, but not much. The serving sizes are small and about half and hour after dinner I was raiding the fridge because I was still hungry.

After dinner I was exhausted from nearly two hours of cooking and cleaning. I collapsed into a heap with the baby (who of course was hungry by this point) while Chris did the rest of the dishes.

Meal 2: Oven-Roasted Chicken and Mixed Mushrooms

Thankfully this meal went a lot more smoothly than the first. From start to finish it took one hour and 10 minutes, which includes 10 minutes of downtime while things roasted (used to clean the prep dishes and utensils).

The chicken came out crispy and the orange “salad” paired well with it. The collards were OK.  Our local grocery store doesn’t have much in the way of “fancy” mushrooms so it was nice to try some varieties besides white button.  I’m not sure it’s a recipe I’d make again though. Once again I left the table feeling a little hungry. Mostly I was relieved that cooking Tuesday’s dinner wasn’t another 2 hour marathon.


The rest of the week will be filled with leftovers and an ad-hoc meal made by throwing all of last week’s leftover ingredients on some chicken.

For the Blue Apron part of this week we’re at 2 hours 50 minutes and $70 for 2 meals, versus last week’s 5 hours and $60 for 3 meals. I knew Blue Apron would come out more expensive, since most of what they’re selling is convenience, but I didn’t expect the two to come so close in time-per-meal. I also felt like the CookSmarts recipes were much better.

Originally I’d planned to try a bunch of different meal-kit services, but this week was irritating enough that I might just skip the others. I know many people love Blue Apron, friends of mine swear by it, and maybe this was just an off week for them. But based on this week I just don’t think Blue Apron is a good fit for us. I am willing to exchange the convenience of delivered food for more flexibility in my meals. One of the biggest headaches of Blue Apron is the week lead time needed to change or cancel your meals. I don’t always know what I’m doing a week in advance. Mostly though I was just really frustrated with the time-to-deliciousness ratio. It wasn’t any cheaper than ordering takeout, but it was considerably more labor intensive. Not only that but I left both meals feeling hungry.



A Week of Meals with CookSmarts

I have been cooking the same 5 or so recipes for literally years now. As a result I am very tired of them. And as a mother to a new baby, I am very tired in general. As such, we’ve been eating a lot of takeout. It’s incredibly delicious, but also starting to seriously get in the way of my efforts to get back into shape. So I’m rededicating myself to cooking on the regular.

This week I tried out CookSmarts, a weekly meal planning service which provides you with up to 4 recipes per week and automatically generates a shopping list based on the number of people you’re cooking for. The service is $8/month, but they offer a free trial (no credit card required, thankfully).

The free trial gives you unlimited-time access to 3 different weekly menus.

A Week of Meals

Each week you mark which recipes you’d like to cook. Any dependencies (sauces or sides from one recipe that are reused in another) are noted. I only have time to cook 3 nights a week, so I chose the Maple Dijon Crusted SalmonAdobo Honey Chicken Kebabs, and Turkey Meatball Lettuce Cups this week.

Each recipe gives you dietary options such as gluten free, paleo, and vegan. Although we eat most anything, I often need to cook gluten-free for friends or family so I chose the gluten-free options.

The grocery store run

The grocery list provided by CookSmarts is well organized. Thankfully I had a lot of the stuff needed on hand, apparently I am the type of person who has 5 different varieties of vinegar lying around. I had to go to two different grocery stores for the rest of it. Perhaps “had to” is an exaggeration. A lot of the less common ingredients like almond meal are way more expensive at my local grocery store. Going to Trader Joe’s on a Monday afternoon was a somewhat harrowing experience, but I survived. There was a whole incident wherein I thought I needed ghee, but Trader Joe’s was out, but then I realized I didn’t really need it (that was for the Paleo version of the recipe), and then I was lazy-shamed by my friends for not making my own ghee. In the end my mom got me some ghee from a different Trader Joe’s. Cool story, I know.

My grocery bill for these 3 meals was $57.25, excluding the stuff I already had, and it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to gather everything. The most expensive item on the list was the salmon, and my costs were a little lower than they might have been because I had a bunch of ground turkey in the freezer already.

Meal 1: Honey Dijon Crusted Salmon

I made this meal first because fish smells kinda weird to me even when it’s fresh, and I didn’t want it hanging around my fridge any longer than necessary. The recipe includes videos with tips on preparing food, and I learned that you are supposed to wash and dry fish before cooking. Now I know. Sorry, anyone who’s ever had salmon at my house in the past.

The salmon was pretty easy, and gets slathered with a tasty mixture of honey, dijon mustard, and almond meal (or breadcrumbs if you’re glutenous, which is different than gluttonous). It was paired with a baby spinach / apple / mandarin / pecan salad. Please note that it is not possible to buy mandarin oranges in quantities of less than 1,000, and everyone in my house will be enjoying tiny oranges for the rest of the month.

Also my husband is not that into salad (though he will eat it if I serve it because he’s not an asshole). So I packed up half the salad into a jar (yeah, Pinterest!) for lunch. What I did not realize at the time was that salad was about to become a major theme in my life.

Maple dijon salmon and spinach / apple / mandarin salad
Maple dijon salmon and spinach / apple / mandarin salad. Next time I’ll use a real camera, I promise.

The whole meal was delicious. A+ would eat again. It took me about 45 minutes to prep and cook, start to finish.

Meal #2: Turkey Meatballs

Turkey meatballs with quinoa and salad
Turkey meatballs with quinoa and salad

This meal I made for six people, and took over to my sister-in-law’s so I could earn brownie points while drinking her wine. I cooked the quinoa in the rice cooker, made the meatballs in the morning, and then made the salad while the meatballs were cooking. I greatly overestimated how much salad would be consumed, and thus will be eating leftover salad for the rest of the week.

The big time suck with this recipe was the adobo sauce (seen in the little dish on the left). It’s used for both this recipe and the chicken kebabs, and they suggest you make it the weekend before. Since I didn’t go grocery shopping until Monday I got to make it Tuesday afternoon. It’s one of those irritating things where you only need a few teaspoons of adobo, but you can only buy it in a 8 oz can with some chipotle peppers. So after making the sauce I had spend time packaging the leftover peppers into ice cube trays for freezing / later use. Which is to say I’ll probably throw them out in 6 months when I’ve completely forgotten about them.

All the recipes have you make salad dressing from scratch, which is great and easy, but I’ll probably skip it next time. I have approximately 20 bottles of store bought salad dressing already. They go well with my 5 kinds of vinegar.

The sauce and the meatballs were delicious, my 3 year old even ate the salad (or at least she was willing to pick out and eat the apples / celery), and I got some great sister-in-law points from it. I spent a total of 1 and a half hours cooking on Tuesday, not counting the time it took to pack everything up to travel.


Meal #3: Chicken Kebabs

I swear next time I cook something Ill get out an actual camera.
I swear next time I cook something I’ll get out an actual camera.

This meal was really easy and straightforward, mostly because I’d already made the quinoa and adobo sauce on Tuesday. It took 10 minutes in the morning to start the marinade. Grilling the chicken was quick, once Chris spent 2 hours cleaning the grill from its winter sadness. Rather than make a new salad I just ate some of the salad leftover from Meal 2.

Total time, including the morning marinating, was 30 minutes.

Sixty bucks and 5 hours is not terrible for 3 meals / 14 servings. I’m sure over time I’ll get a lot faster at grocery shopping (Chris usually does it), and not all weeks will require a trip to the minor circle of hell that is Trader Joe’s in the suburbs. It’s still a pretty significant time commitment. Out of curiosity I priced out what the same or similar ingredients would have cost on AmazonFresh. It came to $69.43, or $12.18 more (not including the $300 annual Amazon Prime Fresh membership). FreshDirect would have been around $78.

One of the advertised benefits of box-of-food services like Blue Apron or Plated is that there’s no unused food to go bad, and I can see the appeal. Dry goods like almond meal or shelf stable ingredients like maple syrup are no big deal leftover. But I’ve got a bunch of green onions, half a head of lettuce, half-bags of both baby spinach and spring mix, a giant pile of mandarin oranges, and some celery all waiting to rot if I don’t think of something to do with them soon.

Overall though I’m really happy with the meal plan, and signed up for the paid version (which unlocks the entire archives as well as new plans each week). Next week I’m giving Blue Apron a try, and I’m interested to see how it stacks up in terms of time, cost, and taste.