This post was supposed to be about my cookbook collection. I have a fantastic cookbook collection and I can’t seem to stop acquiring more cookbooks. I love cookbooks with beautiful photography. I love cookbooks that preface a recipe with an essay that teaches you the history of the dish or an important technique. I love old cookbooks and the recipes that are a window into a kitchen and a cook from another lifetime. I love cookbooks that take me to faraway places and introduce to me to flavors I’ve never met.
I like to take a pile of them over to the couch, settle in, and get lost in a kitchen daydream. When a recipe catches my eye, I think about when I will cook it and who would enjoy it. I think about a party that I might have and what time of year it will be and what the table will look like.
Yes, this post was supposed to be about spending more time with my cookbooks. I cherish cookbook time. It’s not about practicality. It’s not about meal planning and grocery shopping and feeding a family. It’s about pleasure. It’s about the time in the kitchen spent creating something delicious and fully enjoying the process. It’s about the joy of feeding people something wonderful or unexpected or comforting. Yes, I love cookbook time and I just don’t get enough of it anymore.
Cooking has become another thing I have to do. I don’t have time to pore over cookbooks and glossy magazines, taking my time crafting menus for the week. I have a picky preschooler who constantly tells me that he will eat asparagus or fish or arugula “when he is a grown-up”. My time is limited. I have a budget. Cooking has become about efficiency and economy. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. Being able to make the most of the food we have is a skill to be sure. But I miss daydreaming about dinner parties and cooking exotic cuisine for appreciative eaters.
I’m two-thirds of the way into this project and while I’ve cracked a cookbook here and there, I haven’t done it with intention. I’m constantly searching for ways to make dinnertime easier and quicker. And I’m a trained cook. I went to culinary school. I’ve cooked professionally. You would think dinner would be a breeze. It’s not. It’s become a burden, which is a huge bummer.
I decided to give the meal kit delivery service a try. Coming around to the idea felt a lot like cheating. Or giving up. Or something in between. But I really needed to unburden myself of the time spent planning, shopping, and cooking. I figured it would save me at least a couple of hours each week meal planning and shopping as I’d just have to run to the store for the essentials. I decided to try out a few different meal kit services using their new customer promo offers and see if it worked for us. For each service we tried, we chose the option to get three meals that feed two adults with each delivery. We are a family of three and our munchkin will only eat some of the food we eat so we are almost always supplementing his plate with fruit, cheese or nuts. I suspect (and hope) we will only be able to get away with this for a little bit longer as he eats more and eats more adventurously.
Each service we tried offered a selection of 6 – 8 recipes to choose from to add to the box for the week. You can choose your delivery date during the week, although some of the services do not deliver on weekends or Mondays. All of the kits came with large recipe cards with straight forward instructions and images outlining how to prepare the dish. All of the services allow you to schedule a delivery and then skip as many weeks as you’d like before your next delivery. All of the services also have assorted options for vegetarians, larger families, and some even have wine pairings. Check out the services we tried and my thoughts on them below.
I ended up getting two shipments from Hello Fresh a few weeks apart mainly because I forgot to skip my shipment. With all of the services, you have to manually edit your calendar so you don’t automatically receive a box. The recipes that we received were:
The Hello Fresh recipes are the most approachable of the three meal kit services we tried. Meaning, if you are feeding someone who doesn’t like unfamiliar flavors, Hello Fresh will probably be in their comfort zone. This is not to say that the food wasn’t good because we enjoyed all of the meals that we received. It just isn’t super adventurous if that’s what you’re looking for.
My favorites were the Lasagna-Baked Fusili with Kale and Mozzarella (flavorful and satisfying and it made way more than 2 portions), the Toasted Rice and Shrimp Bowl (it reminded me that toasting rice is a super easy extra step that yields deep, delicious flavor), and the Chicken Under a Zucchini Blanket (it was a great way to make a boring chicken breast really tasty).
I like the way Hello Fresh packages their food the best of all three services. All of the ingredients for the dish EXCEPT the protein, come in a neat little box. The protein is kept in a bag between ice packs at the bottom of the box. All of the meal kit deliveries arrive with the protein in the bottom of the box in between ice. Don’t be like my husband and unpack the top part of the box and neglect to look under the ice and throw the chicken, shrimp and beef straight into the garbage on trash day. Don’t. Do. It.
I liked that all I had to do is decide which recipe card picture I liked best and then take the box out of the fridge along with it’s accompanying protein. (Or run to the store to replace the protein that went in the trash). The prep work is relatively easy but the times are all a lie. This isn’t just for Hello Fresh. Across the board, I found times to be longer than the ones listed with very few exceptions. I’m no slouch in the kitchen but don’t try to tell me that the average home cook can wash all the produce, peel and cut potatoes, trim green beans, grate zucchini and the squeeze the hell out of it until it’s dry, and pound out some chicken with a mallet in 10 minutes. I found the total time that the recipe listed to usually be about 50% longer. So a 30 minute recipe usually took 45 minutes. I have no issue with spending 45 minutes cooking. I think that recipe producers know that people are turned off by anything that seems like too much work so they just pretend it doesn’t take as long as it actually will.
With all that said, it’s so nice to cook with all the ingredients assembled in one spot and just follow directions without thinking too hard. I will probably order from Hello Fresh again when I need to feed pickier types because there’s nothing scary in these boxes.
We also received two separate shipments of Blue Apron because I neglected to log on and skip a week. It turned out to be great though because my mom was visiting and it was super easy to just look through the cards and either one of us could cook the meal. We cooked the following recipes:
Blue Apron had my favorite dish of them all in the Chicken Meatballs & Fregola Sarda. It was seriously so delicious – I will definitely be making it again. The great thing with the recipe cards is that if you fall in love with something, you can recreate it again on your own. I also loved the Potato & Chickpea Stew which made way more than two portions so we made a breakfast hash out of it a few days later. The Za’atar Spiced Chicken was also tasty with really great texture and flavor. The pastas were fine, but nothing super special. The recipes from Blue Apron are more in line with what I like to cook and a little more adventurous than Hello Fresh. I’ll definitely be ordering from Blue Apron again. One thing I didn’t love was the way the food is packaged. All of the food comes in the box but it isn’t sorted by meal save for a small baggie of “knick-knacks” for each recipe. I like not having to gather up the ingredients for the meal so this was a minor inconvenience.
Our Marley Spoon delivery had three recipes that were all home runs in my book and they included:
The packaging was similar to Hello Fresh where everything you need is in one bag, which I liked. The recipes all had fantastic flavor and were truly satisfying. I picked up a few little tricks and techniques from the recipes too that I will use again. The gruyere croutons in the panzanella will be a regular addition to my salads and the carrot chips were so addictive and tasty, I will definitely be making them again. I already have my next Marley Spoon delivery scheduled.
I’m planning to try a few other services like Sun Basket and Purple Carrot and I will report back. In the meantime, if you want to try out any of the above, shoot me a message and I will send you one of my invitations for a free box. If you have a meal kit service you love, please share it with me!
I’m not replacing my cherished cookbook time, but it’s been a breath of fresh air to not have to think too much about dinner and to not feel like I’m making the same things over and over again. It actually gives me a little more time to daydream about special Sunday dinners and elegant desserts. It may even free me up to do more of the cooking that I love and that’s a win in my book.