Blue Apron: Delicious at Your Door

Written by Nancy Sayles Kaneshiro

A few years back, I had my picture taken with Chef Graham Elliot.  The  caption read, “Master Chef and Just-OK Chef.” Truer words were never spoken.  I’m not a great cook, but I can put together a decent repertoire of family fare, courtesy of Mom and two older sisters. I might not be the next Food Network star, but nobody ever went hungry in my house.

Alas, times change, we get older, the kid leaves home and we’ve adjusted our eating habits drastically. Chicken or fish, 12 different ways, with the occasional steak thrown in for the old man. It’s not that he’s tired of chicken, but I think he’s beginning to cluck.

Enter Blue Apron, the on-line subscription food service that promises to deliver all the ingredients for a wonderful meal right to your door, complete with instructions on how to make dinner an event. Their ads have been showing up all over web sites I’ve visited and even on my Facebook page, so I figured, What the heck, it’ll make good copy.  But you know what it made?  Good food!

Off and Running  

In all honesty, we got off to a bit of a rocky start. I had perused Blue Apron’s menu, carefully selected the meals I wanted to review for DiabeticLifestyle, and awaited delivery on the promised date.  Nothing arrived.  I wasn’t half as disappointed as my husband, who once again settled for leftovers (probably chicken).  Late the next day, the doorbell rang and it was the FedEx driver, schlepping two big boxes to my door in 105-degree heat.  The boxes were actually hot to the touch. “You’re a day late and a dollar short,” I told the very nice driver. “but this is food, these boxes are hot and I’m not eating what’s inside of them.”  He said, “I don’t blame you,” and took them right back. 

To Blue Apron’s credit, they were very apologetic and re-shipped the boxes immediately which arrived the next day, early in the morning and cool as the proverbial cucumber.

Cooking Like a Pro (Almost)

I opened the boxes and found not only recipe cards with beautiful color photos, but every single little ingredient, (teensy bottles of sesame oil, or Dijon mustard, or tiny baggies of red pepper flakes) and nicely packaged protein (we had pork, salmon and, yes, chicken)—everything individually labeled with the contents and the intended dish, just in case there were others like me who never really knew what a shallot looked like.

We started off on the first night with the Sesame-Hoisin Salmon & Rice Bowls, with Fairy Tale Eggplants & Sunny Side-Up Eggs.  A couple of observations right off the bat:  First, you’d better have olive oil in the house because it’s used in many recipes (fortunately, I did). Secondly, I hadn’t heard of Fairy Tale Eggplants, but they must be named that because they are so tiny only Tinkerbell would find them satisfying. My suggestion would be to substitute real-world (ha!) Japanese eggplants and to be a little less stingy with the veggies.  While the salmon portions were generous, we used the vegetables intended for four bowls in the two we made for ourselves. The review?  “You’ll never insult your Japanese husband by serving this dish!” he said, as he attacked it enthusiastically with chopsticks…but not before I snapped a photo of my first Blue Apron attempt.

The next night brought BBQ Pork Burgers & Corn on the Cob with Crispy Onion Rings & Garlic-Herb Butter.  Without hesitation, this dish was proclaimed by the mister, “the absolute best burger I’ve had in years!”  I was a little hurt, truthfully, since I’ve been making him burgers for the past 25 years! A truly delicious dish, though my onion rings didn’t look nearly as good as the ones in the picture.

The following night’s selection was Spicy Chicken & Korean Rice Cakes with Sweet Corn, Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger Cashews. There were so many steps to the preparation, I was exhausted by the time we sat down to dinner.  I was quite certain that this one wouldn’t work out, but I was wrong!  It was savory and spicy and delicious.  But now I know why all the chefs on TV are sweating by the time their creations are ready to eat.

I almost couldn’t wait until the next meal, that is, until I realized it was Chicken Tinga Tacos.  I don’t go out of my way to eat tacos, but I figured it would be a hit at home.  I had no idea it would be a home run out of the ballpark! Flavor, and crunch, and a char on the chicken I hope I can remember how to achieve on my own. And the salsa recipe was absolutely yummy. Not pretty (plating is a talent unto its own), but really, really tasty.

Poor George was disappointed that this food adventure was coming to an end. The last on the list was Spicy Peperonata Pasta with Tinkerbell Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes and Pine Nuts.  Oh boy, did my kitchen smell wonderful! He came home from his karate class ready for a hearty meal. (I have to confess, I added some spicy Italian chicken sausage to the pasta because the vegetables alone, while beautiful, wouldn’t fill up a guy coming in from a major workout.)  I was worried when I saw the term Tinkerbell Peppers, but in this dish, the size worked just right.

Carb Counters Be Advised

One caveat for those of us with diabetes who struggle to eat well and enjoy our meals—these delicious dishes were not created with us in mind, so we still have to be aware of what and how we’re eating and make appropriate accommodations. For example, while the tacos were very tasty, I’ll be substituting the Sonoma Carb-Cutting Tortillas from Trader Joe’s next time. In the Hoisin-Sesame Salmon bowl, I’ll 86 the white Jasmine rice in favor of brown. The chicken with Korean rice cakes honestly won’t suffer without the rice cakes.  And if you want to know the truth, the pork burger was fantastic without the bun and the Peperonata pasta sauce was so scrumptious, nobody would notice a substitution of whole grain spaghetti! One more thing…whenever a sweet sauce is included in the ingredients, I used only a fraction of it…so just lightly coat the food, don’t drown it!

I had the opportunity to chat with Jodi Godfrey, MS,RD, a medical editor and dietitian with a private practice in Montclair, New Jersey, who spent four months preparing Blue Apron recipes for herself and her daughter. 

While Jodi agreed that the meals were delicious, she found the all-white (versus whole grain) ingredients a deal-breaker when it came to endorsing the service for her clients. Rather than replacing the less-than-healthy ingredients (and having to throw away food!), she said Blue Apron’s selections would be healthier if they used whole grains in their recipes.  “That would be beneficial not only for people with diabetes,” Jodi said, “but for anyone who wants to eat more nutritiously.” 

Jodi also noted the website’s lack of nutritional information. “The website gives a calorie range –500 to 800 calories per serving. For people with diabetes, general calorie counts are meaningless since there is no way to get an accurate carb count without knowing the fiber and sugar content.”

As much as I enjoyed the Blue Apron meals, I was very cheered to learn that  another online meal store called Chef’d—which features recipes of well-known chefs—has just teamed up with the American Diabetes Association to offer a selection of easy-to-prepare, well-balanced meals to the millions of Americans living with or at risk for diabetes. I am looking forward to reviewing some of their selections in a future blog, so stay tuned!

So, to sum up our look at Blue Apron, the food is excellent and the price is right (approximately $9 per serving, free delivery). I have new respect for sous-chefs after having used every single little bowl in the house while prepping each dish. It’s a little more work that I’d care to do for a non-occasion, work-night meal, but then nobody ever accused me of being Julia Child. I feel certain, however, that when it comes to a Blue Apron meal, Julia would have approved.

I think that the best review of Blue Apron I received from the Japanese gourmet karate guy I live with is that “they really know what they’re doing.  Every single dish was restaurant quality, and that’s the highest praise I can think to give them.”

Works for me!