It began as a mission for better lunches. Sick of slamming together a turkey sandwich or glumly unwrapping a microwave burrito five days a week, I started going to the grocery store every couple of days. I’d buy salad mix, rotisserie chickens, bags of almonds. Besides making me realize the health benefits of avoiding ramen, my frequent grocery runs alerted me to the often appalling cost of food. Seven dollars for grapes? Eight bucks for a little block of cheddar? Why, I remember when such things were… well, I don’t know, because I wasn’t paying attention until about a month ago. But two bucks seems like a lot for a red pepper. I blame the Mexican cartels, as I do for many things.
Armed with my newfound awareness and indignation, I examined our previous two bank statements and found that we spend $1,500 a month on groceries. I don’t know what a reasonable number is for four people, but $1,500 would seem to leave plenty of room for improvement. So I started bargain shopping. Our fridge was filled with cherry tomatoes, which always seem to be on sale. The Rachael Ray dog food got switched for whatever third-rate horse nuggets were on sale. There was a moment of marital discord when Heather wanted to make fish tacos and I came home with cod instead of tilapia. Hey, it was on special for less than the tilapia, and an upgrade to boot! Now let’s enjoy these meaty cod tacos, just like the Pilgrims would have if they’d landed in Baja.
Given my mission to eat better while reducing our food bill, I was not immediately on board when Heather suggested augmenting our grocery-and-takeout regime with Blue Apron, a service that delivers you three meals a week. It’s $240 a month for two people, but that outlay replaces at least some of the money that you would’ve spent on 12 dinners. Aside from the financial aspect, I was just sort of dubious that I’d want to eat anything that arrives in a cardboard box from FedEx.
When the first Blue Apron box arrived, I opened it to discover what amounted to a cover letter on top, explaining the choices for that week. “Some amateur scholars have called them the rhythm section of the sea,” read the bio for blackened drum. “We call them delicious.” I would’ve gone with, “We’re bongos for this drum!” but I can’t expect chefs to come up with professional-writer lines like that.
Along with the introduction were three recipes printed on thick, glossy paper and annotated with step-by-step photos. Below those was the food, all individually packaged and labeled so that it doesn’t get lost in the jungle of your refrigerator. You can tell this service is aimed at single dudes, because the labels take nothing for granted—a carrot is sealed in a plastic bag labeled “carrot,” looking like evidence in some kind of heinous root vegetable-based crime.
The recipes themselves tend toward the ambitious. Consider Merguez-style brochettes with cauliflower “couscous” and salsa verde, one of my favorites so far. (Blue Apron is big on “foods” impersonating “other foods,” as in the shrimp quinoa “fried rice.”) This is the kind of recipe I’d see on Epicurious and think, “Hey, I should make that!” before realizing that I’d need to spend five months backpacking across Morocco to collect the necessary ingredients. Besides calling for three tablespoons of Marcona almonds and two teaspoons of harissa, this recipe includes a tablespoon of a five-spice blend created by Larry Baldwin, executive chef of Cata in Manhattan. I’ve never even heard of Cata, but I’m still impressed. It’s fun to belittle your friends by telling them that there’s no point in sharing the recipe because it requires Chef Baldwin’s spices from Cata and they’d probably just ruin it by using Mrs. Dash.
We’re now three weeks into the Blue Apron deliveries, and most of the recipes have been great—the chicken and mixed mushroom forager had us both repeatedly proclaiming, “This tastes like something you’d get in a restaurant!” (As opposed to something you’d get dropped on your porch via express mail.) The pork buns, however, were like slabs of undercooked bacon on bad dinner rolls. Banh mi? No, banh you.
Occasional pork belly misfires notwithstanding, I think we’re addicted to Blue Apron. It’s like having an angry personal chef who plans dinner, gathers everything you need and then leaves. Fine, you know what, Raoul? We’ll cook it ourselves! Who does Raoul think he is, anyway? Curse that brilliant bastard, because you know we’ll let him do the same thing again tomorrow.
As for our grocery bill, I haven’t yet calculated whether Blue Apron in fact inflates it. But if it does, I’m willing to cut back in other areas, such as grapes and cheddar and dinners out at Cata. Now pass the harissa.