Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh

A number of months ago, a friend gave me a code for a free box with Blue Apron food delivery service. Since then, we have been getting Blue Apron boxes every once in a great while. Mostly, I will order it when there are some interesting menus with new ingredients or approaches I want to experiment with like different seasonings or ethnic ingredients (like Korean gochujang).

My account has us getting three vegetarian recipes per week per week for two people. The price is pretty reasonable when you calculate the per meal average compared to a dinner out.

Recently, I followed an ad on Facebook for a competing service, Hello Fresh. They too had a free week promotional code so I signed up to get the free box and then disabled the account. I cancelled not just to get free food but it seemed that you could not preview the menus until you had selected a date for your first paid delivery. I didn't like that so I just cancelled.

Then, one day, we came home to find both a Blue Apron and Hello Fresh (my free one) box on our front porch. So I decided to look at the glass as half full and have the opportunity to have a side-by-side competition. A food delivery smackdown! Here we go...


Hello Fresh wins on this one right out of the box, so to speak. All of the ingredients for each dinner are in a shoe box sized box. Unpacking is quite easy as you just transfer the three boxes to the fridge.

With Blue Apron all ingredients for all three meals are packaged together in one big box and you transfer all of the labeled individually wrapped ingredients to the fridge. Also, with Blue Apron, each meal has a small paper bag that contain the "knick knacks." This is usually for small items like a small bag of seasoning, or a small vial of vinegar, and so on. I've had two experiences where an ingredient was missing (Last time, I got online and found that you can report missing ingredients and get a few dollars refunded). But I have to give credit to Blue Apron on including recycling directions on the first delivery. With both services, pretty much everything is recyclable.

Both services offer a card stock paper with step-by-step directions and high quality photos. The Blue Apron gives a more detailed description of the meal. Blue Apron also gives a wine pairing and with both services you can purchase wine from them. We have not tried that, however.

Dinner 1: Hello Fresh: Mediterranean Tomato and Asparagus Bake
This was our first experience with a Hello Fresh dinner. Overall, prep and cook time was less than Blue Apron but the servings seemed a little smaller. When I first got invited to Blue Apron through a friend, I was assured that there would be leftovers for lunch the next day. Generally, that has been true. Not the case with this first Hello Fresh dinner.

The preparation process was a bit mixed. The roasted veggies took half the time as advertised. For the browning of the couscous in butter, I took more time than directed so that more browning could occur. Start of prep to serving was about 40 minutes.

The dinner was overall a positive experience. A satisfying meal that consisted of a base of roasted Israeli couscous covered by a layer of roasted baby asparagus, grape tomatoes, scallions, roasted walnuts, and feta cheese. There were no leftovers, however.

Dinner 2: Blue Apron: Calzones with Sweet and Spicy Peppers
This was the first Blue Apron dinner of this week. Prep was about the same as Hello Fresh (not counting the time that the pizza dough sat out to get to room temperature). Calzones were stuffed ricotta cheese, chopped olives (could have been more) with chopped and sautéed sweet peppers and sliced peperoncinis in a tomato sauce. A green salad on the side that also had sliced cucumber and feta cheese. The dressing was quite bland. But during the week you can get online and read what other are saying, so I was able to make the suggestion to others think about adding some ingredients to the dressing. My calzone creating experience is limited so I ended up with oddly-shaped calzones which perhaps affected the competition.

Between these two dinners Hello Fresh had the edge.

Dinner 3: Hello Fresh: Garden Quesadillas
Tonight's dinner featured roasted zucchini, strips of red bell pepper, and sliced red onions all grilled and the added to a quesadilla with chipotle mayonnaise and mozzarella cheese topped with a freshly made pico de gallo. A plain arugula side salad was on the menu but I decided to try to amp up the dressing given the experience of the night before.

Prep was a little longer than the first Hello Fresh dinner. I would say it was more like an hour from start of prep to serving. The recipe was for two quesadillas but six tortillas were provided and there was enough roasted vegetables to spread it across three quesadillas. So we had a satisfying dinner and there was a quesadilla for lunch the next day.

As I prepped this meal, I noticed that Hello Fresh tends to use the oven, where I think, it should be done in a skillet. Here, for example, once the quesadillas were assembled they went back into the oven the melt the cheese and brown the tortillas. Normally, I would have done it in a lightly oiled skillet. With the Hello Fresh method, I found that the oven dried out the tortillas a bit

Hello Fresh nice touch: They threw in a full 2 ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce. It wasn't directly called for but just listed as an extra option if you wanted to add some heat. I, of course, had some open in the fridge so I stuck this one in the pantry for future use.

Dinner 4: Blue Apron: Pickled Beet and Hard-Boiled Egg Sandwiches with Smoky Mayonnaise
This was billed as an Eastern European sandwich. I hard-boiled the eggs over the weekend to save some time in the work week. The beets are cooked in a red wine vinegar and this took longer than advertised. The smoky mayonnaise was made by adding smoked paprika to the provided mayo to taste. Also part of the sandwich was fresh dill and capers. Once assembled, sandwiches were put into a skillet with a dab of oil and the pressed down to combine the ingredients and lightly toast the outside.

The bag a baby kale that was sent for the side accidentally got frozen in the back of the fridge so I just made a mixed greens salad and some leftover dressing from another dinner.

We thought the sandwiches ended up tasting better than we expected. We both felt that pickled beets wouldn't be something we would like in a sandwich, but everything ended up blending nicely and we were pleasantly surprised.

I had some leftover beets and I was able to take a small bit of leftover sandwich in my lunch the next day.

Pitting these two against each other, the advantage went to Blue Apron.

Dinner 5: Hello Fresh: Crunchy Veggie and Lentil Salad 

This was a simple salad that took about 40 minutes to prepare. As French lentils cooked, I chopped radishes, carrots, and cucumbers. The dressing was a mix of sour cream, fresh dill, olive oil, lemon juice, along with salt and pepper. Whole wheat pitas were stuffed with feta cheese and then, once again, warmed in the oven where I would have though the skillet would be the better choice.

The salad ended up as a base of cooked lentils covered with dressed arugula and then a variety of fresh veggies. Finally, the salad was drizzled with the creamy dressing. The first bites were pretty underwhelming. But as the ingredients mixed and married it suddenly went to a whole new level. After mixing up the salad, it went from uninspiring to interesting and tasty.

Dinner 6: Blue Apron: Sugar Snap Pea Risotto with Mascarpone Cheese and Mint

This one actually went pretty fast for a risotto. I would say it was about 30 minutes from start to finish. Most of the time was on the front end, prepping the veggies that would be in the risotto. Instead of the usual Arborio rice they provided Carnaroli rice for the risotto which seemed to cook faster and was more forgiving than Arborio. In researching risotto rice online, I have learned that many chefs prefer Carnaroli rice over Arborio. Good to know!

Shocked snap peas and freshly chopped mint leaves were added to the risotto along with cheese, scallions, and garlic.

In the end, it was fine and satisfying but was bit generic. Nothing jumped out. No interesting ingredients or tastes.

Between these last two, Hello Fresh gets the nod.

So, for the three meal matchup it ended up with Hello Fresh - 2, Blue Apron - 1.

So you might think that this will cause me to reinstate the Hello Fresh account. Not just yet. For now, we will stick with Blue Apron despite the results of my smackdown. I'm sure the results could have been different on another week.

Partly, we'll stick with Blue Apron because we're used to it. Also, we find that Blue Apron offers a more interesting selections and have some unique and unusual ingredients (next week we will be making a pizza that features juice and zest from a pink lemon). We also don't get Blue Apron each week. We pick and choose and on the off weeks we still rely on our CSA box.

But I can say that both of these services offer high quality meals and either one will provide some new meal ideas.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Busy Week

What a week! Now that the foundation company is back on the job, things are moving quickly. On Monday, they were here to literally jack up the house on the new piers in order to correct the gradual slide that has been going on. Despite being told that there could be minor damage, so far we have only noticed a few things that are totally fixable.

Once the house was level, they installed shoring in the downstairs room and then proceeded to jackhammer out the foundation and stem wall. We came home on Wednesday to find one corner of our house literally floating over the ground.

By Friday they were building the forms to pour the new foundation. The door is already gone and the security screen door is also now removed. A piece of plywood now covers the former door frame.

Both contractors were here today to go over next steps. We may be done with the foundation work by the end of next week. Then it's time to focus on remodeling the inside of the room.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Piers Completed: Work Resumes

After four months of rain delay, work quickly resumed on the house. The foundation work ceased in January as they were working to establish five deep piers to attach the foundation to. Three piers were drilled and completed. The fourth was drilled and as they were drilling the fifth, it was determined that the ground was too wet.

Last week, we got the call saying work would resume. Quickly, the fifth bore was drilled and both piers four and five were filled with rebar and concrete. Friday we came home to find the concrete next to the house was jackhammered and they dug to expose the existing foundation.

Pier #2 on southern wall
 The next few days will be interesting. On Monday, they will put heavy duty jacks on each of the piers and they will lift the house up. I need to be here to communicate when I think that the house is level. I'm told there could be minor damage. Once in place, they will install some shoring to hold up the house.

Piers 3 & 4. La Cantina bifold door to replace the window.
Then, our inside contractor will come in to install a triple joist above the future door and indicated where the new door will go. Simpson Strong Walls will be installed on either side of the door. The southwestern portion of the foundation will then be removed and replaced. Then the outside concrete re-poured.  

Once the foundation company is done, then work on the inside can proceed at a faster pace.
Southwest corner of the house.