Hello Fresh vs. Blue Apron [Real-life Review]

Blue Apron Chickpea Curry Bowl Meal Kit Cristina Nogueras

Chickpea Coconut Curry with Sweet Peppers & Rice from Blue Apron

Unless you are living under a rock without your phone and with no mail access, you’ve likely been served an ad by Hello Fresh and/or Blue Apron. They’ve been around for a while and while I was curious to try them from the start, I never felt like I would have time to actually cook all the meals before the ingredients went bad. I overcame that hurdle last September when I finally came to terms with the fact I could not give all my paycheck to Seamless anymore.

I wanted to try a meal kit service but with so many options out there I had no idea which one to start with. I decided I was going to go with the most popular one to start, but even that did not narrow it down too much. I ended up doing research on what I perceived to be the top three: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated. I read LOTS of reviews online and narrowed it down to Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. So many reviews had one of these two options as their top choice and from looking online both offered similar experiences, so I decided to try each service out for myself and draw my own conclusions.

Before we dive in, here are some notes and disclaimers I would like to make:

  • There are a lot of details here, this is an actual breakdown of my experience. I find it helpful to have all the details when making decisions so you can decide what aspects of a service or product you value the most in order to make your own call.
  • I did not receive any sort of compensation or gifts for this post, I paid for both services from my own little pocket.
  • We used Blue Apron in both Atlanta and Hoboken, but we did not try Hello Fresh until we were in Atlanta. Not sure that matters but just in case!
  • Both services are top notch and always making updates, so for the latest and greatest on their offerings, do check their websites.
  • After you are finished reading, if you are interested in trying either service and would like me to send you a free box hit me up! I have a few boxes to give on each account so happy to share what I can!
Hello Fresh Enchiladas Cristina Nogueras Meal Kit Cooking

Salsa Verde Enchiladas with Poblano Peppers, Black Beans, and Monterey Jack Cheese from Hello Fresh

Menu Choices: Let’s start with the menu! From a purely mathematical standpoint, Hello Fresh has more menu options each week. It also offers gourmet and dinner 2 lunch options for additional fees. Hello Fresh also offers an option to add a side of garlic bread or other treats such as Baci chocolate truffles, all for an additional price. I did feel, however, that Blue Apron had more unique choices each week in terms of the plate and ingredients.

Pricing: If you are considering trying either service, please make sure you use a discount! They are EVERYWHERE so please take advantage of that. Overall, the more you order the cheaper it will be. I found my sweet spot was 3 meals a week for 2 people. Less than that would increase the price too much and more than that was cheaper but tougher to stay on track with cooking as there are days that you just want to be lazy.

  • Hello Fresh
    • Standard starter discount= Directly on their website you can claim $80 (usually spread out across first few boxes) or get $40 from a friend using the service.
    • Standard cost per plate= $10.15 (when you order 3 meals for 2 people in one week)
  • Blue Apron
    • Standard starter discount= Directly on their website you can claim $50 (usually spread out across first few boxes) or get a free box from a friend using the service.
    • Standard cost per plate= $9.99 (when you order 3 meals for 2 people in one week)

Delivery: I used to get my Blue Apron on Sundays but Hello Fresh did not offer that option (at least in Atlanta) so I chose Monday delivery. At first, it actually worked out ok because I did Sunday night meal prep for my lunches and didn’t feel obligated to cook twice but there were weeks that I wanted to have the cooking experience on a Sunday night so I do appreciate that Blue Apron offers delivery every day of the week. I did not have any issues with late deliveries or damaged boxes with either service.

Sustainability: I must say I am NO expert on sustainability but there are simple things that anyone can notice and Hello Fresh is definitely winning in this category, starting with the little package they’ve created to protect your ingredients. It could vary, but they tried to use recyclable or biodegradable materials to keep ingredients safe and cool inside the box. Both services have interesting ways of “saving” for example Blue Apron always sends me a whole garlic head even when I only need one or two cloves for the recipe. Hello Fresh sends me the exact number of cloves I need but it’s wrapped up in plastic so… which one is better? Blue Apron tends to individually wrap each ingredient in plastic whereas Hello Fresh gives you all the ingredients for a specific recipe in one paper bag (not individually wrapped). Big picture though, I like that they give you the exact ingredients you need so you avoid waste but with all the plastic and cartons you use each week to even get these ingredients delivered, is that really much of a difference?

Ingredients: Both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron have always included good quality ingredients. They both assume you already have some basic ingredients such as salt, pepper and olive oil. With Hello Fresh, however, they also assume you have other ingredients such as butter and vegetable oil. I tend to always have butter but I did not have your standard vegetable oil when the recipe called for it, so I ended up just using what I had (olive oil or avocado oil). Still, I personally prefer when Blue Apron sends you butter because they are usually nicer quality than your average butter that may or may not be close to expiring in your fridge. 🙂  Perhaps it was the choices I made but I felt like Hello Fresh repeated a lot of ingredients. I swear I was zesting lemons and mixing sour cream almost every time. With Blue Apron I thought it was nice that they integrated different types of cheeses, spices and cream to keep things different and interesting. Bonus for Hello Fresh though, I once did get one free sample of a waffle mix, decent sample size and all. Blue Apron, however, introduced a cool new line of products called Knick Knacks. The line features a combination of pre-portioned ingredients from Blue Apron’s premium suppliers and their own proprietary blends which you can buy through Jet.com and then get the rest of the ingredients for the recipe as you wish. It’s not available where I live yet, but I like the idea of being able to obtain a set of harder-to-find ingredients to create a special recipe without having to buy three meals from the service.

Recipe Difficulty: Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are both fairly easy. If my husband and I can do it, you all can do it too! I swear the first 3 Hello Fresh recipes all asked me to zest a lemon and I had never done that before. Not only did I not have the special tool (Update: I later Googled and learned you zest a lemon with a cheese grater which we did have), I was also confused by the ask. Blue Apron has cool, short videos that show you how to master simple cooking skills like dicing, for example. I’ve found those helpful and would have appreciated one on zesting lemons, for easy access. I found it interesting that both services organize steps and instructions a little differently. Blue Apron has been very clear at stating all the “prep” right at the beginning while I found some “prep” steps mixed in later steps for Hello Fresh. Blue Apron also tends to organize steps or sections depending on what you are making (a section for the rice vs. a section for the baking of certain ingredients) whereas it seems like Hello Fresh predicts a more normal flow and alternates between different parts of the recipe based on how it recommends you approach it. Honestly, they are both FINE, I think psychologically we just got used to the Blue Apron way and then were thrown a bit off by Hello Fresh but nothing ridiculous.

Taste: I did not try one recipe in either service that I could not eat. Sure, there were some favorites but everything was really good! Both services were good at keeping you honest on spice levels and how to make it your own with seasoning to taste. Brian loves all things spicy so I’ve been allowing myself to try a bit more spice every single time.

Gourmet Level: Again, no culinary professional here but I do feel like Blue Apron is a bit more elevated when compared with Hello Fresh at their standard price. We’ve done interesting Blue Apron recipes that mix more than one culture together, providing us with unique ingredients that would be a bit harder for us to get at our local grocery store. Hello Fresh does offer two plates every week as a choice for “gourmet” but you have to pay extra. Personally, at that point, I would rather just go to a restaurant to get a meal served for me but to be fair the recipes do look good!

Portions & Leftovers: I think overall, the portions are fine. As someone who likes to eat a lot, I’ve found it nice that they do portion control for you so you don’t end up going crazy. With Blue Apron I did end up having leftovers on some recipes, not a lot, but some. With Hello Fresh there were some instances where I felt I was still hungry after finishing a meal. Nothing devastating though. There were times when Brian had to cook Blue Apron without me because I was working late and the ingredients were going to go bad. In those instances, he prepped me a plate and I saved it for my lunch the next day. Most plates, however, do not do well reheated. For that reason, I’ve never done any of the plans that offer leftovers for lunch. That’s just my personal take though! I love prepping lunches but I like to think carefully about the menu to make sure it is something that will still taste delicious reheated.

Customer Service: Unfortunately, there were 3 occasions in which I was missing one or more ingredients in my Blue Apron order. At all times, I reported the missing ingredients through the app and received a credit for the amount of the plates affected (usually around $20). Not terrible, but obviously disappointing when you were already planning on having something for dinner and maybe did not have other easy options available. In 2 of the cases, I unfortunately lost most of the other ingredients by not being able to make the recipe due to what was missing. I did, however, attempt to make ramen without various key ingredients. It was… interesting. Let’s just say I made soy sauce soup. Oy. In the weeks with Hello Fresh not once were we missing an ingredient. I almost thought about faking that I was missing an ingredient just to compare the customer service experience but that seemed wrong. 🙂

There you have it. All the ins and out of my experience. If you made it this far, thank you! If you just scrolled down here to see which one I picked, that’s ok too!

Hello Fresh Couscous Bowl Cristina Nogueras Meal Kit Cooking

Mediterranean Baked Veggie with Couscous, Almonds, and Feta from Hello Fresh

And the winner is…

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh Beaches and Brie Cristina Nogueras Comparison

Blue Apron!

At the end of the day, they are both great services and you will likely be fine with either one. For me, however, Blue Apron offers more variety of ingredients and recipes which makes it all more interesting to explore and try new things. I consider myself an average cook so if I am going to use a meal service kit, I want to be able to get something different and more exciting than my usual go-to recipes.

Have you tried Hello Fresh or Blue Apron? What are your thoughts? Do you use another meal kit and love it? Let me know in the comments below!

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Crispy Chicken Tenders & Mashed Potatoes with Butter Lettuce Salad & Ranch Dressing from Blue Apron

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How I fell in love with canned fish and other Portuguese tales [Vol. I: Porto]

I want to start this post by apologizing to Portugal.

I must admit, Portugal was our second choice for a trip that for months we had been envisioning as a Greek adventure. I’m pretty sure Brian and I were talking about doing our one year anniversary in Greece when we were still in Thailand for our honeymoon. Disgusting, I know. Timing, flights and curiosity slowly led us to consider Portugal more and more. First it was going to be a second stop in our trip but as we uncovered all the potential we decided we were going to dive in completely and we are so glad we did. (Don’t worry Greece, I’m still coming for you!)

I will be doing a series for every stop we made in Portugal in order to truly make it justice. I will be sharing what we did but also, a lot of recommendations I collected before the trip (and during it) that we were not able to discover.

Let’s start with the wonder that is Porto. Jetlagged as we were and with some time before we could check into our Airbnb, we did not miss a beat and found ourselves having breakfast by theriver. We had no set plans, just a list of choices. What did we do? We propped ourselves outside a local restaurant, drank wine and watched the people walk by. To be fair, we did walk in the church of Saõ Francisco on the way and explored some of its barroque beauty.

Let me tell you, Portuguse wines are so underrated. Maybe it’s because I am not a sommelier but when I hear people rave about European wines, it’s always French, Italian and Spanish wines… but Portugal? Not so much or at all. Sure, we hear all about the wonder that is Porto (the wine) but I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) all the different varieties they have to offer.

For our first dinner in Portugal, we went to Wine Quay Bar. This was a place we had seen mentioned in various lists and I really liked that it brought together a lot of Portugal delicacies in a “tapas” style menu. The cheese, meats and olives were superb but oh my goodness… the bacalhau. Not sure how you feel about cod (bacalhau) but I grew up with my grandma’s Puerto Rican “bacalaitos” (cod fritters) and to me cod has always been associated with fried greatness that you should not have too often. Well, Portuguese have been doing it right all these years (sorry, grandma!). The cod we had here was soft and full of so much rich, yet delicate flavor. I don’t think my description can do it justice. 

I knew canned fish was a delicacy in Portugal and I was excited to try it but to be honest, I never expected to fall in love with it like I did. There are currently about 12 cans of different fish varieties in my kitchen. No day feels special enough for us to dig in just yet. Brian wants me to add that he was not a huge fan of the cod but was obsessed with the spicy tuna that they serve (also in a can). The saddest part is that I could not buy the exact cod they had at the restaurant because they ran out. The waitress was telling us about how cod is not as abundant as it used to be. There are issues with over fishing and people respecting sea borders. Really a shame since a lot of people, like them, have grounded their business around cod.

You really can’t go to Porto and not experience a Porto wine tasting. Like I said, we did not have set plans but for this, I recommend you do a little research and look to reserve beforehand. We were lucky to be able to walk in and just get a spot in Cockburn’s Port and had a great experience. First of all, I didn’t know port came in whites! Refreshing to start the tour with a port and tonic, even though I realized once more that I just don’t like tonic.

Did you know that port wine has about 20 % alcohol volume? You feel it. It’s good.

Porto (technically Gaia) houses all the port wines for aging but the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro Valley region. Just like champagne is not champagne if it’s not from Champagne, France – port wine is also only port wine if it comes from this region. Lucky us, Douro Valley was our next stop! More to come on that in an upcoming post.

So yes, this is a Francesinha (missing the fried egg on top). It’s a signature plate in Porto that I feel I have no authority to criticize. Essentially, this plate is available in almost every restaurant that serves Portuguese food but I was being such a brat that I didn’t want to order it if it wasn’t from the places “the internet” said are the best. The way our day ended up flowing, we were not near the famous Cafe Santiago when it was time to eat so Brian convinced me to let it go and just order it where we were. It was alright. Plot twist, we ended up having the best Francesinha in Lisbon from a restaurant with a chef from Porto. I will share more on that when I write about Lisbon!

The whole thing was so silly and has really got me thinking about the way I want to travel. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff that other people have discovered but I also want to take my own chances and discover for myself  the wonders that are out there. We worry too much about what other’s have lived that sometimes we forget to make adventures of our own.

This was the case for our anniversary dinner. We tried to get reservations in some of the popular places but they were all full. We ended up walking by this small and cozy restaurant that was playing live Fado – exactly what I wanted for such a special evening. I was hesitant to trust our anniversary dinner in a restaurant that was unknown to us but Brian ignited the explorer in me and we went for it. I am so glad he did, as our dinner at Terreirinho Restaurant was the most special dinner of our entire trip. Who would have thought?

And that, my friends, was the view from our AirBnb. It was affordable and with a great location, here’s the link if you are interested!

Here are some other food spots we did not get to try but totally encourage you to consider. If you do end up going to Porto and trying some, let me know what you think!

Any Porto food recommendations you think I should add? Let me know!

You can see more from my Portugal travels on my Instagram. 🙂

[Brunch] Al Vez

Al Vez Enchiladas - Cristina Nogueras

“Let’s have brunch in the financial district!” is not quite what would come out of my mouth any given Sunday. What’s great about New York is that if you look close enough, there will be an amazing spot anywhere you need to be. That’s how I ended at Al Vez on a Saturday morning.

One of my good friends was visiting and he wanted to go up the One World Trade Center. I used my trusty Urban Daddy app to find a brunch place worth taking a tourist, a balance of quality and excitement. Al Vez for the win!I had been to Al Vez in Philadelphia and had a really nice dinner. Sure, their dinner was nice, but oh boy, their brunch I dare say is even better.

Al Vez Brunch Breakfast Quesadilla - Cristina Nogueras The breakfast quesadilla was toasted to perfection, filled with scrambled eggs, black beans, pico de gallo, cheddar & jack cheese.
Platains Al Vez Brunch Cristina NoguerasWe ordered a side of plantains con queso or like we Puerto Ricans like to call it, amarillitos. They hit the spot.
Al Vez Huevos Rancheros Brunch Cristina Nogueras  My friend ordered the huevos rancheros. The combination of the two eggs sunny side up, chorizo, black beans, guacamole and salsa ranchera over a crispy tortilla was the perfect mix. Topping any bite with the plantains was just glorious.

On top of the great food, it had a really nice vibe for a Saturday morning. Looking forward to trying this spot for dinner some day.

What brunch spots do you recommend around the financial district?

[Puerto Rico] Orocovis: Roka Dura & Casa Bavaria

Orocovis Casa Bavaria

As you may have seen earlier this week, I was recently home in Puerto Rico and while I was there I got to do some fun zip-lining. Toro Verde Adventure Park is located in Orocovis, right in the middle of the mountains of Puerto Rico. A lot of people don’t think of mountains when they think of Puerto Rico, they just focus on the beaches but it really is a beautiful area. I mean, we do have amazing beaches, but our mountains offer a very different kind of beauty.

Orocovis Roka Dura

On our way down from Toro Verde we made two nice stops. After a morning filled with adventure and thrill, we were obviously starving. Locals to the area recommended we had lunch at Roka Dura, just a few minutes outside of the park. They said food was delicious and portions were generous.

Orocovis Roka Dura

They were not lying. This mouthwatering “mofongo” filled with chicken was even more delicious than it looks. The plate below is chicken with garlic cassava, better known as “yuca al mojo”. The chicken was nothing special, but the “yuca” was on point. I love “yuca” but have never ventured to cook it myself, I’m not even sure if I would be able to buy some around here so it’s always one of those special plates I treat myself with when I’m visiting home.

Orocovis Roka Dura

This spot had really nice views. It was early Friday afternoon and you could see the little bars around or “chinchorros” starting to get busy with people celebrating the weekend’s arrival. Although I was on vacation, I also joined the celebration admiring the killer view.

Orocovis Roka Dura Medalla

Second stop was Casa Bavaria. This one holds special memories for me. With a fusion of Caribbean and German traditions, Casa Bavaria was founded by a German couple who fell in love with the island and decided to make a life here. Its claim to fame has been their great Oktoberfest celebrations, that’s how I first got there. It is (or was?) tradition to organize “party” buses to take groups of people up the mountains and bring Oktoberfest to life in Puerto Rico. Each bus had different t-shirts and unique stories, often captured and plastered on Facebook. It was, well, a hot mess. Ahh, memories.

Stopping by this time with a fresh (and sober) pair of eyes, I was able to find so much more beauty in this place. People are so nice and the views are to die for. We only had drinks here, but a lot of people were enjoying a full meal around us. Oktoberfest or not, definitely worth the stop.

Un Poquito de Sazón

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Puerto Rican food is amazing.

I grew up eating rice and beans with almost every single meal. All my meals were full of flavor and color (although I probably did not add green into the mix until I was older). I grew up expecting some sort of plantain as a side and wondered how people could ever eat anything else. Nothing said comfort like the smell of delicious food coming from my kitchen, whether it was my mom’s doing, my grandma’s creation, or a whole family effort for a special occasion.

I love all sorts of food, serve me a plate of pasta and I’m sold. Put a sushi boat in front of me and watch it sink into my belly. Living in New York City, you get spoiled with food. You are able to tour the whole world, one plate at a time and that, my friends, is the dream.

Still, Puerto Rican food is at my core. It’s the bite that makes me feel at home even when I’m a thousand miles away, that’s where the inspiration for this piece came from. I have a brand new kitchen (which I’m loving, by the way) and I wanted to bring in a little bit of home into the mix. I looked at some cool prints from Etsy but then I realized I could easily do this myself. So I bought a frame, made a list, printed it out and done.

Here’s a little bit of background into what each of these mean…

Sofrito – This is the essence behind pretty much every single Puerto Rican plate. I’ve always thought about sofrito as that weird green paste that my grandma made. Mix some garlic, peppers, onnions and God knows what else and you get sofrito!

Adobo – People make fun of Puerto Ricans because apparently we use a lot of adobo (as seen on this Vine, which I actually love). But hey, adobo is awesome so no shame there. This special seasoning is used on anything from chicken to scrambled eggs. It’s better than your average salt and pepper, but that’s just my humble opinion.

Mamposteao – If rice and beans is not a wonder on its own, this takes it to the next level. Take your average rice and beans, mix it with your choice of anything from onions to sweet plantains, do some magic and you’ve got yourself a nice mix.

Pegao – Pegao is that crunchy, almost burned rice that’s stuck to the bottom of the pan when you’re making rice. Not exactly what the dentist ordered, but oh my, it’s good. Some people may see it as a mistake to burn the rice, but in my house people actually fight for that special bottom.

Sazón – What helps make yellow rice yellow? Sazón. This special seasoning brings a lot of flavor to the plate. It’s also used for non-food references when you want to state that something needs that extra little something, or sazón.

Bacalaito – Bacalaitos are hard to describe, my first attempt sounded too gross, but trust me, they are awesome. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can now better describe them as salt cod pancake like fritters. Think less pancake and more fried, way more fried. Still a little gross, but give it a try.

Pastelón – Imagine a lasagna but instead of pasta, you use sweet plantains and then you add all that ground beef in between (no salsa). This is, of course, served with rice and beans. Again, not so sexy when I write it, but so delicious.

So, one thing is clear. I’m definitely not fit for writing a Puerto Rican cuisine dictionary but I can attempt to make words look pretty in a piece of paper. To strangers, it looks exotic and that’s cool, right? To me, it looks like home and that’s all I need.