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Will Recipes-In-A-Box Turn A Non-Cook Into a Cook?

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I am on the record as someone who doesn't enjoy cooking. That's partially because I can't cook, and partially because I am lazy. Also, I hate, hate, hate shopping for groceries. But in this brave new world of our blessed Internet existence, it's never been easier for someone like me to make a home-cooked meal.

The rise of boxed meal delivery services changes the game. Rather than having to figure out a meal, and then purchase groceries for said meal, you just plug a few preferences into a website, and in a few days the food will be delivered to your door.

To see how big of a challenge it would be for my negative cooking skill set, I gave five services a try. Here are my reviews.

Luke's Local
Not to be confused with Luke's Organic variety of chips, this service is different from the rest of the options. Rather than giving you ingreidents for meals, they deliver pre-made meals you just heat up. (You can also order groceries by the pound or half-pound, bakery items, coffee beans, wraps, salads, or chef's bundles.)

We ordered a dish that included rockfish, chard, and potatoes ($13 per meal). It came in a cooler pack and, twenty-two minutes later, was ready. The fish was tasty, the potatoes were perfect, but the chard was a bit too small of a portion. But, seeing as we didn't have to actually do anything other than heat the sucker up, it was well worth it. Now, that's what I call cooking!

Hello Fresh 
This is a standard meal box delivery offering, where they supply you the recipe and the items to make that recipe. The Veggie Food Box option costs $39 (after a price-cut from their normal $59), and included three meals for two people.

We received a Greek Salad Flatbread (which I, somehow, messed up by burning the bread), a Butternut Squash Agnolotti with apples, spinach, and butter sauce (which was delicious, and super-easy to make), and a lentil soup (which was easy, but needed extra flavor). Overall the recipes were easy to follow, with the Butternut Squash being one I'd return to.

Purple Carrot
Famed food writer Mark Bittman's Purple Carrot service specializes in vegan recipes using non-GMO ingredients, so you're paying a bit extra. The current price is $68 for three two-person meals, but there's a $74 option if you want two four-person meals.

Our three were a super easy and delicious chilaquiles dish, a disappointing offering that consisted of pasta and fennel (it needed some kind of sauce), and a quite fantastic Indian Aloo dish. This last one took quite a bit longer than expected to make -- told you, I'm not great in the kitchen -- but was actually quite a fun process.

Blue Apron 
Blue Apron gives you three two-person meals at nearly $60, or you can do the four-person "family" plan at $70 (for two recipes) or $140 (for four recipes).

Our choices ran the gamut from great to terrible. The first, a shrimp and pineapple fried rice dish, was probably the most flavorful dish we received during this experiment. It was easy to make, and I recommend giving the recipe a whirl. But the Tuscan Ribollita Soup was bland, too hot when done (it took an extra twenty minutes to cool), and one of the eggs broke in transit. 

This one lets you pick one meal -- for two, or four, or six, or eight, or twelve people -- at a time. Two servings of any meal are $25 and three meals will run you $75.

Ours were a Potato and Chickpea Curry with Lime Basmati Rice, which was fine, but weirdly a lot of fun to make. It's a recipe I'll delve back into, with my own additions. We also had a Kale, Feta and Sun-Dried Tomato Tartlette, which turned out flavorful, but was difficult to make. (The whole rolling-dough and carefully-pouring-egg-in parts got me.) Overall, a second attempt at each recipe would've certainly made for a better meal.

So am I now "one who likes to cook"? Being forced into the kitchen for extended periods of time with knives and ingredients can only make one better. And there were certainly a handful of dishes that made me excited as I was putting them together.

But. One of the biggest issues I had is all the packaging came with every box. It seemed as though I had to spend an extra 20 minutes dismantling each package when it arrived on my doorstep. Will that complaint somehow change how they package the items? Probably not, as I don't know how else they would package what they're putting together. But the excessive packaging keeps me from recommending the boxed food delivery services as a regular thing.

On a taste level, each service was about the same as the next. Each delivery contained only one really great dish I'd make again and one or two lackluster ones I could do without. I would recommend checking in with their recipes on a weekly basis.

If you're someone who wants to know their way around the kitchen, it's worth giving one of these a short-term shot. At the very least, by the end, you'll know how to mince garlic really, really well.

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