After months of toying with the idea, I finally broke down and subscribed to one of those home-delivery grocery meal services. There are plenty to choose from these days: Hello Fresh, Plated, Marley Spoon and Blue Apron. I chose the last one because my Blue Apron friend, Brian Anderson, sent me a code to try a week for free.
Once I was signed up, I got a sneak preview of the three meals heading my way, and not a one of them looked the least bit appetizing.
• Chicken with rhubarb sauce. (I’ve never tasted rhubarb so, no thank you.)
• Mushroom and summer squash tacos. (Seriously?)
• Vietnamese sandwiches with roasted gai lan. (I don’t even know what that is!)
Blue Apron allows subscribers to make substitutions if we don’t like what’s heading our way, but not when we’re getting it for free In that case, you get what you get.
I did scroll through the future offerings available and was pleased to see meals much more in line with my comfort zone. Things like chicken fettuccine and crispy catfish.
The box of (undesired) meals arrived, and it was packaged just as Brian had said it would be. All the ingredients to prepare three meals for two people were pre-measured and neatly encased.
If the recipe calls for two tablespoons of white wine vinegar, there it is in a teeny-tiny bottle. A stalk of celery is packaged in a thin plastic sleeve. There’s no waste and no guesswork, and, best of all, no grocery shopping.
For the first night, we chose the vegetarian tacos. We had eaten a large lunch that day and those tacos sounded like light fare for the evening.
Boy, were we wrong.
Those tacos were huge — so large we ate half and saved the rest for next-day leftovers. We weren’t expecting that to happen. We also weren’t expecting the tacos to be out-of-this-world delicious, but they most certainly were.
Imagine thick flour tortillas topped with white cheddar cheese and baked, then piled with sautéed vegetables and a fresh batch of tomatillo salsa. I had never used tomatillos before, and I had certainly never made salsa from scratch before, but the instructions were a cinch to follow and the results were amazing.
The Vietnamese sandwiches have been my favorite so far, but the chicken in rhubarb sauce was equally delicious. We’ve also enjoyed ricotta cannelloni, shrimp po’boys with sweet potato fries and Greek pitas with cucumber yogurt dressing and orzo feta salad.
I’ve been very pleased with the produce selections, whether it’s leafy lettuce or a Japanese cucumber or a simple yellow onion. They’ve all been near perfect, with no blemishes, the same as I would’ve picked out for myself had I gone shopping.
The same goes for the proteins. Since we don’t eat red meat, we opted to receive only seafood, chicken and vegetarian-based meals. All of the fish comes with a description of how it was caught or raised, without hormones or antibiotics. The chicken is premium quality, too, grain-fed with no added anything.
I have to say this, though. Knowing it would take almost an hour to prepare one of these meals did not endear me to the program and was the main reason I was hesitant to give it a whirl. Who has the time or energy for that?
But here’s the truth — I am having a blast cooking these meals and actually look forward to my time in the kitchen as I experiment with familiar and unfamiliar ingredients. There are spices I can’t even pronounce and different types of cheese I’ve never heard of. I simply chop, mince and sauté my way into a fine dining meal right in my own home.
After that first week, lesson learned. I resist the urge to make any substitutions to Blue Apron’s pre-selected menu choices, no matter how unusual the dish may sound. Although — full disclosure — I fully intend to opt out of anything containing tofu.
I have to draw the line somewhere.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at email@example.com.