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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Blue Apron

A real chef writing about Blue Apron and Co:

My deepest problem with meal kits, however, is that I worry they’re not teaching people how to cook, but are instead teaching them how to prepare meal kits. The recipe cards that came with some meal kit boxes sounded like word problems, full of measurements, times and temperatures, and if there’s anything I hate it’s this insistence on turning cooking into math.

Hear, hear! I love making long, complex dishes that have a million ingredients but this format just kills the joy for me.

And also this:

Chefs sample their dishes multiple times as they cook because cooking happens by taste and by eye, not by time and temperature.

YES! You can’t cook well by disengaging from the process and placing a wall of numbers between you and what’s supposed to be a sensuous experience. Psychoanalysts recommend that very brainy people pick up cooking as a hobby to awaken the beaten-down intuitive, sensuous part of their psyche.

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20 thoughts on “Blue Apron

  1. I got a free sample of Blue Apron and I agree. Note also it has a bunch-o-packaging that is very unfriendly environmentally.

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    • The care with which every ingredient is packaged separately is almost medical. And yes, it creates a ton of needless packaging.

      God, how I hate the trend to overpackage stuff that is growing out of all proportion.

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  2. P.S. It is like the kind of assignment we write now. I am not for paper topics as vague and flat as “El modernismo” (an actual topic I got at the U of Barcelona once), but I notice that these super-explicit instructions that can hold stumbling students up seem only to save them on THAT assignment, and not to transfer over to the next.

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  3. Pingback: A good idea in any case | basil.CA

  4. Dreidel on said:

    “Chefs sample their dishes multiple times as they cook because cooking happens by taste and by eye, not by time and temperature.”

    Well, some of us are just “cooks” and not “chefs,” and consider preparing our own meals to be a daily chore equivalent to brushing your teeth or combing your hair. Anything that makes that task easier, or makes it more likely that the special recipe I cooked a week ago will taste the same when I cook it again tonight, is fine by me.

    Time x temperature is how food gets cooked — that’s simple physics. The “sensuous experience” comes when the food reaches my tongue, not when I’m grudgingly laboring to prepare it.

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    • Shakti on said:

      Yes, I can imagine you’d not be interested in cooking anything since plastic has been melting outside in Arizona this week.

      As for cooking, that really takes more time than brushing your teeth or combing your hair (depending). Since I don’t really use an oven to bake, I really don’t use numbers and measurements when I cook but go by eyeballing and yes, approximate taste. Having a recipe helps when you can’t taste the food while it’s cooking.
      When I made eggplant this evening, I just eyeballed the amounts of potatoes, onions, chilis, turmeric, chili powder, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and leftover spice blend for the dish.

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      • Dreidel on said:

        Hey, Shakti —

        THIS REPLY WAS DELAYED BY A SUDDENLY DYING $800 TEN-YEAR-OLD PROFESSIONAL VIDEO GRAPHICS CARD BLANKING OUT MY WHOLE SYSTEM BEFORE I COULD REPLY! NOW THAT I HAVE AT LEAST ONE MONITOR AGAIN DISPLAYING IMAGES, HERE’S MY BELATED RESPONSE:

        Cooking is a science, not an art. A couple examples:

        You want a perfect whole baked potato? Put it in the microwave for 5 minutes (to reduce oven baking time by half), then bake it in the conventional oven for exactly 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Add salt, pepper, butter, and chives, and you’ve got a feast.

        Perfect filet mignon? Use the original George Foreman grill that cooks at exactly one temperature and doesn’t even have an off/on switch. Ignore the instructions to thaw the meat and preheat the grill first. Just place the frozen steak on the stone-cold grill, and plug the grill in. (Put the steak in an aluminum foil pouch first, and you don’t even have to clean the grill.) If the meat is 1-inch thick, cook it for exactly 10 minutes; if it’s 1-and-a-quarter-inch thick, for 15 minutes; and if 1-and-a-half-inch thick, increase cooking time to exactly 21 minutes. Add condiments and A-1 Sauce, and you’re ready to eat.

        Baked chicken needs to go in the conventional oven, 450 degrees at 15 minutes on each side, with seasoning added in turn as you flip the chicken over. But it’s still just a matter of time and temperature.

        Eggplant? Never tried it at home, but I might since you mentioned it.

        The optimal air temperature here in Arizona is 120 degrees. Prefect temperature for paddling around the pool while you watch the floating eggs poaching in the water around you, what can I say?

        Come visit sometime when all the airlines aren’t grounded, and you’ll see what I mean.

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      • This sounds like a great eggplant dish.

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  5. I usually fllow recipes closely only the first time I make a dish. If there’s a second time I don’t meaure so much and feel free to make substitutions that better suit my tastes.

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  6. Okay, I’d never heard of this before, but I did a google image check and realized immediately: This is not about cooking as cooking, these are toys packaged so that adults can play at being cooks. It’s Suzy Homemaker* aimed at adults (and presumably both sexes).
    In other words, it’s more infantilization (and children need precise instructions).

    On infantilization:
    https://cliffarroyo.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/watching-scotty-regress/

    *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzy_Homemaker

    Liked by 1 person

  7. But here is the thing about recipes: there are great cookbooks, and great internet sites, all full of recipes. You don’t need the Blue Apron ones. It is actually easier to cook without Blue Apron since you can choose very good, but less complex and picky recipes than they have, and you can have less complex packaging, easier to open if you just shop. However, people I say this to respond that their problem is not cooking itself, or even shopping, it is “meal planning.” As in: they are in a different Lebenswelt from me. I go shopping, see what looks good, buy it, get ideas of what to make with it, buy things to go with it, and have in mind things I might be out of generally like olive oil, buy that. Then I go home and either cook by feel (most of the time) or look up a recipe. So my “meal planning” happens while I shop. Other people suffer more. They first think up 7 dinners they would like to have for the week. Then they look up 7 recipes. Then they make a shopping list and buy the ingredients for these recipes. Then they have to cook each night, following a recipe. A problem is that they have to buy whole packages of things they only plan to use a pinch of once. They end up with a lot of stale ingredients that they spent a fair amount of money on but do not want. So they go to Blue Apron. When they explained their situation to me I understood them a lot better. Me, if I don’t feel like cooking, I don’t go to these Suzy Homemaker-style kits — I cook something super-simple, like Dreidel, and of course for the price of Blue Apron things you can also go out. I think actually that Blue Apron is made for dates: you invite someone and do the kit together while drinking wine.

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    • I’m like you, as well — I see what looks good at the store and do meal planning on the fly. The thing is, you have to be a fairly good/experienced cook to be able to do that, and many (most?) people, especially young ones, simply aren’t or aren’t yet. Once you have cooked a while, you start to see patterns — what goes well with which spices and which vegetables, which ingredients are really key to bring out the essence of the dish, versus the ones that are just food-snob onania and completely fine to omit (you know, where you need 3 micrograms and they sell only 5-pound packages at $1500 per pound) or are easily replaced with something you have on hand. All this is completely possible and routinely doable by good cooks; but I understand there are people who are simply not… I also have quite a few colleagues with control-freak tendencies and the idea of cooking without a recipe makes them (metaphorically) break in hives — they cannot imagine that someone would ever attempt cooking without a recipe or go shopping without a painstakingly created shopping list. (To me, creating shopping lists = hell.)

      As for Dreidel’s comment above, the math and physics of cooking are not mutually exclusive with the art of cooking. Just like a good artist knows exactly how to mix colors to get a specific shade, a good cook knows how different ingredients play off one another; each person can reproduce what they want as many times as they need, they don’t necessarily have to write down the recipe in grams/spoonfuls and times to be able to do it next time.

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    • We do a weekly meal plan and grocery shop and it’s not as tedious as all that. We have several basic meals that we’ve made enough times we don’t really need the recipe any more, or that don’t really require a recipe (chicken and veggies, fish and rice, etc) and we occasionally look for new recipes to add to the rotation (Sundays are good for experimentation)

      We buy bulk of what we use frequently, and when we do the weekly shop it’s mainly for fresh fruits and veggies and dairy, we freeze the meat and have a decent pantry space for dry goods (rice, pasta, flour, sugar) and a large freezer which helps.

      Admittedly, we don’t go for huge variety in types of meat and seafood, but use recipes that bring in a variety of flavors.

      I can’t deal with the grocery store every day after work. I’d be too exhausted to cook anything!

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      • They say this is too much for them. I do understand, I don’t know necessarily on Sunday what I’ll feel like eating exactly on the next Thursday, and I am hard pressed to say what I want if I don’t know what’s available, what it looks like and how much it costs.

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      • I go shopping twice a week, once on the weekend and once midweek. Buying enough for about three meals at a time doesn’t seem too onerous. A couple of days a week we eat something like premade/ready to bake stuff from Costco or takeout, because the kids have activities after school so sometimes I don’t get home till late to cook and it’s good to have something that my teenager can put in the oven ’cause he’s usually the first one home.

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        • I’m spending a lot of time with a small child, and going to the store is a very welcome diversion. I’m there every day. Well, at least we get to eat real fresh.

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    • Shakti on said:

      Blue Apron seems like stunt cooking that was originally aimed at Silicon Valley bros who want to “cook” on date night but don’t want to shop or think ahead with pantry ingredients. It seems like Semi Homemade but more pretentious and more work. $60/for 3 meals for 2 people a week is quite expensive considering that you actually have to cook and clean up and they don’t give you every single ingredient. If I’m paying that much, I don’t want to think about anything, including whether or not I have salt and oil. It’s like Chopped but with directions.
      What’s obnoxious is that to get certain staples I have to go to several stores. Meal and grocery delivery services don’t offer to send me those things. And when it comes down to it, I’m skeptical that someone will really send me the freshest produce.

      Liked by 1 person

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