I’m a terrible cook. Or at least that’s what I told people up until a few weeks ago.
As a kid, my mother tried to make my sister and I learn how to cook a few things by helping her out in the kitchen, but we didn’t get much further than baking brownies and discovering what would become a family favorite called cookie pizza. In college, I relied heavily on the dining hall, and even years later I never grew far beyond dorm-room cooking. I didn’t eat out all the time — though I spent nearly all my disposable income doing so whenever possible — but what I did at home using a freezer and a microwave never exactly impressed anyone.
Cooking felt like a chore, and beyond a small stable of recipes, I avoided preparing food on my own. I’m the guy who brings beer to the potluck. I’d throw a Fourth of July party and supply the grill but bank on someone else running it. I doubted my abilities, hated doing dishes and never got around to trying any of the dinners outlined in the binder my mom gave me or a recipe book next to it on my kitchen counter.
And neither did my girlfriend. Her skills outranked mine, but in large part due to her work hours, she rarely put them to use. When we moved in together, we both considered it an opportunity to change, to better ourselves, but we knew we’d need a new approach to jumpstart the cooking process.
That’s why we signed up for Blue Apron, one of those shipped-to-your-doorstep programs that portions out the food you’ll need for several meals and includes a basic recipe. With the ingredients sitting in our refrigerator and each other for accountability, we figured we could make progress.
And, unremarkably, we did.
The gigantic cardboard box arrived on my neighbor’s porch — none of the weekly deliveries have made it to our door yet, despite explicit instructions — filled with three meals with two portions each (though there is a family option with more). First up: a crispy catfish with yuzu-kosho udon and snow peas.
When I say that I didn’t really know how to cook, I mean that I’d never prepared fish before at all, and the catfish intimidated me. It didn’t help that I had no idea what “yuzu-kosho” meant, though I figured the udon noodles would be easy enough. But we followed the directions carefully, using the apportioned flour to pat the fish before cooking.
Not only did we avoid burning down the apartment, but the catfish and noodles actually came out fantastically. I didn’t feel ready to open a restaurant or anything, but the experience immediately boosted my self-confidence.
The next two dishes didn’t go quite as well — the gnocchi stuck to the pan, where I tried browning it after boiling, and the steam buns fell apart almost immediately. The “pesto” we made for the spinach pesto gnocchi reeked of amateur hour, and the “kimchi” we created for the chicken steam-buns with radish and cucumber kimchi would never be found in Korea. But the steam bun entrée still tasted stellar, and things improved a little the following week.
Yes, I botched the lemon-butter salmon a little bit, which tasted excellent despite burning a little on the pan (see top photo). And the spiced lamb and beef tagine with couscous could’ve used some more kick. But we were cooking, and not just safe pasta dishes but meals with barley, a Middle Eastern sort of cream cheese called “labneh” that perfectly complemented the tagine and a healthy portion of vegetables.
The best yet: chicken piccata with long fusili noodles and garlic chives and parsley.
Today the next round arrived. You can pick the delivery day, between a couple options, and there’s some leeway in terms of which meals you receive. This week we opted for the seared pork chops with fig compote and sautéed kale with farro salad, spicy miso-glazed chicken wings with purple rice and zucchini salad and steakhouse salmon with thyme-sautéed potatoes, green beans and mushrooms.
We’re skipping next week and the following, as well as another in July, due to travel. It’s really easy and there’s no charge to pass, making it all the more appealing, but I kind of hate that we’re going to miss the next delivery, which includes beef arepas, Peruvian roast chicken with a creamy jalapeño sauce and Maryland-style cod cake sandwiches.
Blue Apron, and likely other services like it, is ideal, at least for right now. But that’s because I’m clueless and timid in the kitchen, living with a partner and hate grocery shopping.
There are downsides, of course. It’s expensive — $10 each per meal, which is almost as much as eating out around here. And there’s some waste, even though most everything Blue Apron sends can be recycled; does anyone want a bunch of oversized ice packs?
We figure we’ll cancel the service after a while, once we improve our chops and are firmly in the practice of cooking dinner at least three times a week. But until then, I love that it forces us to eat in and try things we wouldn’t otherwise.