You may have noticed, too, that I’m promiscuous, spreading my affections around. I started just checking out different programs to see how they worked, if i liked them, if I could afford them. And taking advantage of first order discounts. I like discounts. Discounts are good. Discounts are my friend and Free is my soul-mate.
On the first few boxes, the estimate for “time to prepare” was a big fat lie. The first meal took me almost two hours -- but that’s because I almost never cook, and I had crappy tools, and I was really slow. Probably took me half an hour to peel and dice an onion. All that endless veggie washing and peeling and chopping. The prep is what takes the time, not the cooking. The first two recipes made me a little nervous, because for the first time in my life I had to “zest” a lemon, and then a lime. (I had to buy a zesting tool, of course; I could have used my grater, I suppose, but I was worried about ruining the whole thing by not zesting correctly.)
In the beginning, I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe, almost afraid to start for fear of mucking it up. But it's been a lot easier than I thought it would be, and with practice, I've gotten faster. The most recent meal took about an hour from prep to plate, and was ridiculously easy.
I've been impressed with how clear the instructions have been, because this has always been a stumbling block for me: recipes that assume everybody knows what “zesting” or “blanching” is, or how to make “creme fraiche.” If I, as a charter member of the Society for the Domestically Challenged, can say a recipe was simple, you can believe it really is.
I'm also finding that having the right tools helps enormously. I did not actually own a decent knife or frying pan when I started. Now I do, and the difference is amazing. Of course, I spent $200 at a kitchen store in Opry Mills, but that’s beside the point. I was suddenly compelled to buy a bunch of little prep bowls. And a salad spinner. And special kitchen scissors. A $60 ceramic frying pan. Two new knives that will take my fingers off. And a Keurig coffee maker. Which had nothing to do with my cooking projects, but it was there, you know? I wanted it for my desk at work.
I will overlook the $10 bucks I spent on a really crappy slap chopper. I’ll go old school and chop by hand. It’s just that possibly of losing a fingertip that has me concerned.
The benefits to this experiment are even more numerous that I anticipated:
- Fresh, not packaged and processed. I mean, now I am cooking meals without Campbell’s soup, canned sauces or box mixes full of sodium and additives! I’m eating less fast food. That’s healthier. I really need healthier.
- Limited portions. I only cook two servings, so there’s no chance for overeating. Like, you know, eating the whole skillet of Hamburger Helper by myself. I suppose I could eat both servings, but so far haven’t felt the need. And just in case, I immediately make a plate of the leftovers for the next day and put it in the fridge.
- Limited leftovers. Before, if I made a pan of lasagna, I had to eat lasagna all week. Unless I ate half of it in one sitting. (And don’t tell me to freeze portions. I hate the way it tastes once it’s been frozen.)
- More balanced meals. I’m terrible about skipping the vegetables just because I don’t know how to cook them well, or don’t want to take the time. This makes me include vegetables and they tell me how to cook them some way other than just opening a can.
- Less waste. I also skipped a lot of the veg because when you are buying for one person, you end up throwing out at least half of what the store forces you to buy. You have no idea how many carrots I have thrown out, how many moldy onions I have found in the back of the refrigerator. Hell, I have to fight to get Kroger to sell me just one steak. (Not two. Not ten. Just one. Why can they not grasp this concept? And no, I don’t want to freeze the others. See above.) These boxes send me exactly what I need, no more and no less.
- An easy antidote to boredom. I would often say to myself, “Self, we should find a recipe for something different.” But then I’d go looking online, and get overwhelmed by all the choices, and not knowing if the recipe was actually any good, or being hesitant to try something too far outside my comfort zone. Usually I just gave up went to Sonic for a chili cheese Coney.
- New recipes almost always call for some ingredient you don’t have, and will probably never use again. I still have a 90% of a bottle of Marsala wine I bought two years ago to get one cup for a recipe. And that recipe turned out to suck.
- I hate grocery shopping. Now I shop a little less, without stalking the aisles for unfamiliar ingredients.
- I’m cooking things I never tried to cook before, like chicken thighs and pork tenderloin. Now I know how to cook a cut of meat besides a chicken breast, steak and a pork chop. (Unless you count hot dogs.) Advice from the meat guys at the grocery store is annoyingly vague about cooking times and seasoning, and usually boils down to: “Just throw it on the grill! It’s easy!”
- Spice girl. I’m learning about spices I never even heard of before. Smoked paprika. Amazing....
- I’m getting past my terrible phobia about under-cooked chicken. If I follow the times in the recipe exactly, with a timer, my chicken comes out perfectly done and not dried out. IT’S A MIRACLE!
- When I cook for Da Boyfriend or some other esteemed personage, they are really impressed.
- I love to post pictures online of my finished, “plated” dinners.
- I’m cooking for someone I love. Damn it, I deserve to sit down to a lovely meal, at a table with a table cloth and a glass of wine.
Because people have asked about my culinary adventures, here is a breakdown of the ones I’ve tried so far:
Overall: the delivery, instructions, food freshness and recipes have all been very good.
- Instruction clarity: Excellent.
- Menu: Used some unusual (for me) things like plantains, purple potatoes/apples/kale (together).
- Special Features: They also have a wine program, and the recipe cards have suggestions. They also have a “market” to order pots, tools, utensils, and even the blue apron.
- Allergy/dietary: vegetarian box available, but aside from that, watch recipe flags for nuts/gluten/dairy, etc. They do say: all meals come from the same facility, so they don’t recommend you use their program if you have “serious” food allergies.
- Cost: $59.95 for three meals for two people. You can skip weeks.
- Discounts: After so many deliveries, you get three free boxes to send to friends. I can’t find a mention of any other discounts for me.
- Sample menus for my next shipment: Enchiladas Suiza, Cavatappi pasta, fried green tomato sandwiches
- Downside: I don’t usually want to cook three meals a week, and their website is not the most user friendly.
- Instruction clarity: Had an issue with one meal, but otherwise good.
- Menu: Some unusual combinations, such as a mango/red onion/lime slaw that was surprisingly good.
- Special Features: some recipes from Jamie Oliver
- Allergy/dietary: vegetarian box; flags for gluten, nuts, dairy
- Cost: $69 for three meals for two people. You can skip weeks.
- Discounts: Refer friends and you both get a discount; four free boxes to send (though I don’t know how many shipments you have to take before you can do that.)
- Downside: I don’t usually want to cook three meals a week
- Instruction clarity: Excellent.
- Menu: Seems to be more "down-to-earth" recipes, not quite as exotic. Been especially impressed with the quality of the meats.
- Special Features: They also offer breakfast and fruit options at lower cost ($4.95 per serving)
- Allergy/dietary: No specific program but very detailed recipe notations for: vegetarian, vegan, gluten, nuts, dairy, soy, no-carb and low calorie.
- Cost: $49 for two people for two meals. You can skip weeks.
- Discounts: Send friends an invitation with a discount of $30, and if they sign up, you get a $30 discount as well. After a certain number of deliveries, you can send free boxes.
- Pluses: I really like being able to do only two meals at a time.
- Delivery issues: one box arrived leaking a little, one of the cold packs had busted, caused the foam packing to disintegrate on a corner. A little messy, but not a deal breaker.
MARLEY SPOON (MARTHA STEWART)
- Instruction clarity: so far so good. (Only cooked one meal so far)
- Menu: Looks good, seen some recipes I haven’t seen in the other programs, such as crepes, and the spicy pork pizza I cooked last night, which really surprised me with how good it was.
- Special Features: it’s Martha.
- Allergy/dietary: Extremely detailed on recipe cards – sulphur dioxide? I don’t even know what that is, let alone if I’m allergic to it. But they also have this caveat: “may contain traces of other allergens” which I suppose may mean the same as Blue Apron’s caution that all meals come from the same facility.
- Cost: $48 for two people for two meals. You can skip weeks.
- Discounts: after my third order I can send a free box. But they had a dirt cheap intro price of two meals for two people for $13. Can’t beat that with a stick.
- Pluses: I can decide what day of the week I want my shipment to arrive.
- Downside: looking at recipes, Martha leaves a little more for you to provide. Things like sugar and an egg, so far. (Home Chef literally sent me a liquid egg in bottle!)
- Delivery issues: Most of these services send everything in a bag of some kind grouping the meals together. But this first box had two the two bags, but there was a single lonely garlic bulb loose in the box. None of the recipes called for garlic. So I suppose it was a gift? And I almost threw away a block of cheese, because it was loose with the meats inside the cold packs at the bottom. Just wasn’t expecting it to be there, because generally other cheeses have not been shipped that way. Lesson: double check your box before throwing it out.
Absolutely AVOID. They do pre-prepared fresh food that you just microwave. I so wanted this to be good, because it sounded perfect for a single person who didn’t like to cook. But the food was barely edible, some downright nasty in taste and appearance. Really disappointing.
I will be following with postings of my dishes and critiques of their worthiness. Stay tuned.