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Breaking Bad Marriage Habits with Blue Apron

For those "I don't know, what do YOU want?" nights

Last summer I had the opportunity to try out Blue Apron, a service that delivers fresh, seasonal recipes to your door so that you can make home-cooked meals even if you’re a novice in the kitchen. I was excited to try out the service, because as I wrote, Michael and I are both terribly inexperienced cooks. (To give you an idea: I finally mastered my egg scrambling technique this past year and I was so impressed with myself, that I kept insisting Michael describe just how delicious they were out loud while we’d eat them. Seasoning, it turns out, is… a thing you should be doing.) And as we get older, it’s becoming more apparent that our frozen pizza and ramen diet of yesteryear is not going to cut it if either of us ever plans to make it to forty.

Since Blue Apron (who, by the way, is giving away free meals to 100 APW readers today—keep reading to find out more) takes out all the guesswork from cooking (they send you recipe cards, and everything you need from seasoning to sauces in order to make a complete meal for two), I figured that we’d use these deliveries as a way to teach ourselves how to be better cooks. We’d learn basic techniques, try out some new ingredients, and then we’d graduate from the school of Blue Apron, and go back to grocery shopping, using the knowledge we gained to help us make better decisions.

Except it didn’t happen like that at all. When our Blue Apron trial was up, we figured we probably didn’t need it anymore. (We were experts after just a few weeks, obviously.) And all our bad habits came back with a vengeance. Only worse. Armed with false confidence, I went back to grocery shopping without a list, except now I was coming home with overcomplicated dinner plans that we didn’t have all the ingredients for, which involved throwing out a lot of expensive meat that went bad waiting for us to figure out what to do with it. Michael made a meal plan spreadsheet we never used. And we were still eating frozen pizza once or twice a week. Each night the process would repeat itself, and we’d loft sighs at each other while asking weightily, “What should we have tonight?”

Dinner, it would appear, is the Achilles heel of our marriage.

One of my goals of the past few years has been learning to ask for help when I need it, and outsourcing things that I’m just no good at (accounting; that pile of laundry that sat in our bedroom forever; bathing the dog). But whether because of principle or ego, I have yet to extend this kindness to myself in the kitchen, and I’ve therefore been more or less trying to beat this dinner thing into submission by brute force. Maybe it’s because at this age, in our fifth year of marriage, I feel like we should be able to at least take care of the basics. Michael is an engineer for God’s sake. I’m a smart business lady. We’re problem solvers. We should be able to feed ourselves.

But at a certain point, I have to stop punishing myself for what I should be good at, and start examining what I am good at. The truth is, I only really care about dinner insomuch as I’d like it if Michael and I were eating relatively healthy meals for the better part of the week. And while I enjoy being in charge of our household grocery shopping, I really want Michael to be more involved in the process of feeding us on weeknights, and I don’t want to have to be in charge of choosing the menu each night. I’d also like for these things to happen without fighting, if at all possible. Because hangry fights are the worst. But otherwise? I’ve been making dinner impossibly hard on myself out of a stubborn determination to be good at All The Things. Also, because Pinterest keeps telling me it could be so easy, if only I’d just try a little harder.

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So starting again this month, we’re problem solving with Blue Apron. It turns out, getting recipes delivered is not only saving us time, it’s also saving us money (because I tend to get less… creative… in the grocery store when I’m not trying to conceptualize the world’s most interesting dinner pairings). If you’re new to Blue Apron, here’s how it works:

  • Sign up for an account, and choose whether you’d like to receive family-sized meals or meals portioned for two people. Two person meals are priced at $9.99 per person per meal (or around $60 per week.)
  • Set your preferences (Blue Apron offers vegetarian options, as well as accommodations for other dietary restrictions.) You can change up your preferences from week to week, and also pause your deliveries any time without penalty.
  • Wait for your delivery to arrive. Blue Apron delivers to 80 percent of the country (including my house at the pony farm, which Domino’s won’t even deliver to). If you’re not home when your delivery arrives, Blue Apron’s refrigerated packaging will keep things cool until you get back. For a complete list of Blue Apron delivery areas, click here.
  • Cook, eat, enjoy!

In our most recent foray into using Blue Apron, Michael and I have been focusing on choosing recipes that are going to be easy to prepare, and that can easily be modified to each of our individual tastes (sometimes I’ll throw meat into a vegetarian dish for Michael, for example). So today I thought I’d share a recent favorite of ours, along with some tips for making the most of your Blue Apron delivery. If you want more, Blue Apron makes all of their recipes available online after they’ve been delivered (browse here). Brown butter gnocchi, anyone?

Whole Wheat Linguine with Kale, Red Walnuts, and Pecorino Cheese 

What You’ll Need:

  • 8 Ounces Whole Wheat Linguine Pasta
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Bunch Lacinato Kale
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • 3 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Walnuts
  • ¼ Cup Grated Pecorino Cheese
  • ¼ Cup Panko Breadcrumbs
  • ¼ Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)

Tools:

  • Large Chef’s Knife
  • Citrus Zester (if you have one, not required)
  • Garlic Press (if you have one, not required)

1. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling on high. Peel and mince the garlic cloves; using the flat side of your knife, smash until they resemble a paste. Remove and discard the kale stems; roughly chop the leaves. Using a peeler, remove the yellow rind of the lemon; mince the rind to get 2 teaspoons of zest (or use a zester). Quarter the lemon and remove the seeds. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Roughly chop the walnuts.

Tip: Blue Apron meals are designed so that the only things you need from your own kitchen are oil, salt, pepper and basic kitchen equipment (pans, knives, etc.). But it’s worth investing in a few small kitchen tools if you’re going to be cooking with them regularly. If you don’t have a zester or a garlic press, invest in one. They’re cheap, and will save you a ton of time in prep. (In addition to home goods stores, you can get these basic tools, plus others, in the Blue Apron marketplace.)

2. Heat a large, dry pan on medium-high until hot. Add the walnuts and toast, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer to a bowl. Wipe out the pan.

Tip: Read through the recipe card the whole way through before you start cooking (I know this seems obvious, but guess who forgets to do it every time? Me, that’s who.) While Blue Apron recipes aren’t necessarily complex, they give you your money’s worth by making the meals interesting; for example, this pasta is topped with chopped walnuts and garlic breadcrumbs for added texture and flavor. But it can be easy to miss a step or misread something in the moment, when you’re juggling all the different components. It goes without saying that the process is much easier with two people in the kitchen (I recommend one on prep work and one on everything else. There’s a lot of chopping and zesting in Blue Apron recipes.)

3. In the same pan used to toast the nuts, heat one-third of the butter and 1 teaspoon of olive oil on medium until hot. Add the garlic paste. Cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until fragrant and golden brown. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown and toasted. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Wipe out the pan.

4. Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until just shy of al dente (still slightly firm to the bite). Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta thoroughly. Set aside.

Tip: Reserved pasta water retains some of the starch from the pasta, and will help your sauce thicken up in the next step. So when recipes call for reserved pasta water, it’s not to be substituted for regular water (ahem, not that I’ve ever tried to make that work).

5. While the pasta cooks, in the same pan used to make the garlic breadcrumbs, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the kale and ¼ cup of water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes, or until the kale has wilted.

Tip: While we were shooting this recipe, Vivian (who was photographing) gave me a life-changing tip for chopping onions: normally when I chop onions, I chop off the top and the bottom, peel and cut it in half. Instead, just cut off one end before you peel and chop your onion. By keeping the onion joined at the top, you’ll have better control over where you’re cutting, and your onion will stay put until you’re done.

6. To the pan of onions and kale, add the lemon zest, remaining butter, pasta, the juice of 2 lemon wedges (you will have extra), ½ cup of the reserved pasta water, two-thirds of the Pecorino cheese and as much of the red pepper flakes as you’d like. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. (If the sauce seems dry, add the remaining pasta water until you achieve your desired consistency.) Divide the pasta between 2 dishes. Top with the garlic breadcrumbs, remaining Pecorino and toasted walnuts. Enjoy!

Are there any household issues that you keep circling and circling without resolve? is dinner this much of a headache for anyone else, or just michael and me?

THIS POST WAS SPONSORED BY BLUE APRON. THE FIRST 100 APW READERS TO SIGN UP WITH BLUE APRON WILL RECEIVE TWO FREE MEALS ON THEIR FIRST BLUE APRON ORDER (CLICK HERE TO REDEEM.) THANKS BLUE APRON FOR HELPING MAKE THE APW MISSION POSSIBLE!

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