Its a battle being hashed out on your Facebook as we speak. Endless ads for subscription cooking boxes featuring bright, crisp vegetables and happy home cooks enticing you to CIY (Cook It Yourself, get it?). I gave the top two contenders a try and a winner emerged.
The Rationale: I really do enjoy cooking and regularly look up recipes for kicks but at the end of the day, I’m lazy. If a recipe calls for chervil, it aint gonna have chervil. If a recipe only needs one teaspon of baking soda, it aint gonna have baking soda (this is why I don’t bake). I hate buying ingredients I won’t use a lot of, like fresh herbs, so I just leave them out. This is why cooking subscription boxes are awesome. Everything you need to create a fantastic dish is sent basically right into your kitchen and its already measured out, ready for you. Even a caveman could do it. Yes, you could go out and buy all this stuff on your own, but will you?
The Winner: Plated
Plated was the first box I tried. To start, you choose exactly which meals you want from a menu that changes weekly. The box arrives at your door, generally well insulated (except a few times when salad was on the menu, in which case they quickly credited my account, no questions asked) with each ingredient perfectly portioned out. A full-color recipe card (pdf) is included that guides you through the steps to make dishes like salmon tacos, stuffed tilapia and steak with potato salad. I found the recipes usually easy to follow though the the timing seemed off which would lead to over or undercooked food if you actually followed the directions to the letter.
I paid about $5 per meal using an intro-price coupon and shipping was included. Normally, meals come in at $12 each. It’s not bad for a steak dinner but can feel steep if you’re opting for vegetarian plates. The options are increasingly innovative and tasty (like this week’s Quinoa and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chard Rolls or Beef Negimaki with Broccolini and Miso Mushroom Rice) and I’ve definitely found some new standards to add to my recipe arsenal like crispy Hassleblad Potatoes (pdf).
The Close-Second: Blue Apron
Soon after my discovery of Plated, along came Blue Apron with a slightly different take on the same concept. With Blue Apron, instead of hand-picking your dishes, you are sent them randomly. You can fill out a survey to request vegetarian or exclude certain types of meat but you cannot specify taste preferences beyond that. For this reason, Blue Apron came in as the runner-up even though the meals I got ended up actually being tastier than those I selected with Plated! At one point, borsht was on the menu and, I have to say, I would have been super disappointed if that showed up in my box. Luckily, I received comforting Tex-Mex Stuffed Poblano Peppers and eye-opening Salmon with a Shaved Leek Salad that totally changed my opinion on leeks.
I paid $5 per plate to try out Blue Apron and meals come in at $10 each, normally.
The Honorable Mention: HelloFresh is another box that I’ve yet to try. They don’t let you rule out anything so there’s a chance I’d get sent pork chops, which is a no-go. They have a vegetarian option but, for me, the value isn’t there. Also, I there’s a chance I’d also end up with something objectionable… like borsht.
The Downside: The huge downside to all of these services is the amount of waste created. I think there is definitely space in this genre for local boxes featuring ethically sourced ingredients in re-usable containers. No doubt the price would be much higher but, especially in a place like Portland, I think it would be wildly popular. Someone get on that. Or Kickstart me and I’ll do it.