Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dream Dinners

I was talking about food with a friend a few months ago and she suggested something new that she was trying out. It was with a company called Dream Dinners. Basically you purchase from them the ingredients for a meal, then take it home and cook it yourself. I remember seeing a segment on the Food Network tv channel about this, and the women that started it. It sounded interesting when I first saw it, but didn’t go any further.

Always (well, almost always) willing to try something new food wise I figured it might be something to test out. The basic premise is that you go on line to their web site, browse through their menu selections for the month, select what you want, enter your credit card and make an appointment, then go by and pick the stuff up.

Back in August I went on line and looked at what they had. There are usually about a dozen items, a half dozen chicken based, some beef, pork, veggie and a fish item. For new people they have a ‘select three’ special, but otherwise it’s ‘pick six’ or ‘pick twelve’. Their meals are listed as the main course servings for six. That means it includes six chicken breasts, or six pork chops, or a roast big enough to feed six. I selected six different meals, made an appointment, and paid. It’s a franchise, and here in Vegas there are four locations. I picked the one near my house for a Saturday morning. They have locations around the country.

Saturday came and we drove over there. This location was a storefront in a small corner shopping mall.

There was one big room, with setup stations out front and freezers and a prep area in back. The size of this location limits them to a max of eight people at a session. You take your menu off of the front of a freezer, then walk around to the work stations and follow the instructions.

Each menu selection and work station is different. This one was for a chicken dish. You can see the bins of spices, with the correct size measuring spoons, on top, and the bulkier items in bigger bins in the middle You get a bag with six frozen chicken breasts. Then you take a big zip lock bag and follow directions – one spoon of this, a quarter cup of that, two tablespoons of this – that kind of stuff. You then take this bag of spices and stuff, seal it up, and put on a sticker with cooking instructions. It goes into the freezer with the chicken breasts, and you move on to the next station. For things like the chicken you can split the spices into two bags, so that when you go to cook the food you can do three breasts instead of all six. Some of the items are larger roasts, which cannot be split.

Since some of the recipes call for a teaspoon of this or a half teaspoon of that it's not really practical to split it down into more than two. But if you're single that means you are cooking a main dish for three, which gives you one fresh hot meal and enough for two leftover meals for the next few days. That's why we have microwave ovens, to reheat the leftovers.

We ended up with three items with chicken breasts, a beef roast, a chicken stir fry, and pork chops. All of the items, except for the roast, we made up into half servings. The end result was a pile of plastic freezer bags that would result in eleven cooking sessions at home. You can see all the bags with the cooking instruction stickers on them in my cooler waiting to go in the freezer.

These all went into the freezer back at our house. The meat items were already frozen when we picked them up. As the days went on we slowly started cooking them. Most of them were pretty quick – three minutes in the microwave to thaw out the chicken, throw the frozen sauce and spices into a fry pan, put in the chicken, and cook for twenty minutes, or in the oven for a half hour. So it was a rather quickly made meal, that we could pick out and make when we got home. For most of the items it was just the meat portion, you had to supply veggies and potatoes or whatever. The stir fry came with a bag of rice. The strip steak roast did take 20 minutes to cook, plus thawing the day before and putting into the bag with marinade. Then covering with a spice rub before putting into the broiler.

It was all pretty good. Very convenient in that I didn’t have to find a recipe, then buy all the spices and parts, put them together and cook it. Here the recipe was already selected, all of the required parts were on the setup station with instructions on how much to take, and even instructions for quick cooking. We were both rather impressed.

The price ended up being around $4.25 or so per portion, with us adding veggies and starch items. That seemed reasonable, especially compared to take out or restaurant prices. The chicken breasts were reasonably sized. The strip steak produced enough meat for three meals for the two of us and was really great.

I would recommend this food. You fill your freezer up, and when you feel like eating or get home from work it’s quick to pick out something and cook it. The only advanced thinking was for the roasts, which took a while to thaw and marinate. If you have kids at home this provides quick meals that take little preparation. Just keep some bags of frozen veggies in there along with the meats, some potatoes or instant mashed, and it would all go together very quickly. If you’re single, or just two, you split the stuff in half and end up with either a lot to eat or an extra portion for leftovers. You don’t have to be a good cook, or even an average cook. You follow the instructions to put it together, then you follow the label you stick on the bag to cook it. Very simple to do, even a klutz should be able to do it Well, I guess you could still burn things or undercook, but follow the instructions and you’ll end up OK.

After finishing up that pile I went back the end of October. The strip steak was so good last time I got two this time, along with two pork roasts, a chicken and a pork chop item. The pork chops came with an apple/ginger mixture that cooked with the chops, and also was really good.

The menu changes every month, with November pretty heavily aimed at Thanksgiving, with them providing all the side dishes and gravy and you doing the turkey. But the other meal items looked pretty good.

So, I would highly recommend a try. Go on the web site and see if there is a location nearby, and if so try it out. Most sites have the lower cost ‘try it the first time’ option, but I would say to go right ahead and get the half dozen selections. I highly recommend the spice rub strip steak and the apple ginger boneless pork chops when they roll around again on the rotation.

Wish I was getting paid for this – so far I’ve sent three others over and they all like it enough to go back again.

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