Sunday, October 28, 2007

Let's Dish

I understand that there are busy people out there who have no time to prepare a decent dinner. Really, I do. Rather than resort to fast food or frozen dinners, or worse yet, Sandra Lee, they flock to a new breed of take-out that allows them to prep dishes in advance of cooking and keep them in the freezer until it's time to cook. According to the Web site for one such enterprise, Let's Dish:
Need help with dinner...every night? Then you need Let's Dish! - a totally fresh approach to meal making. It's the fun, easy and affordable way to prepare healthy and delicious, homemade dinners in no time.

I like to cook and find it enjoyable. What I don't find fun is competing for ingredients in a small room with thirty other people who have dubious hygiene. A dear friend gave Mr Minx and I a very generous gift certificate to Let's Dish for Christmas last year. We managed to put off using it for nearly 11 months; realizing that it expired mid-December were finally forced to schedule a session. So we put ice packs in our cooler and made the trip to Timonium.

Mr Minx had envisioned a cooking class, with some knowledgeable chef leading us through the preparation of a meal step-by-step. I envisioned a room full of stations, each laden with ingredients for a particular dish, and people sipping wine while casually chatting and laughing and putting meals together. I was closest. There was no wine, of course, just water and coffee with some amazingly gooey and highly artificial-tasting brownies and still-frozen chocolate chip cookies. Because there were so many people signed up for our session, there also was no casual chatting, just rigid determination to get through one dish and onto the next while receiving the Death Stare and heavy sighing from others waiting for your station.

Upon arrival, we received bandannas and aprons and a cursory "orientation" that involved several admonishments to wash our hands before, during, and after food prep. It's possible that Mr Minx and I were the only people adhering to this cleanliness warning, as the sinks were consistently free and uncrowded, despite 30 busy food assemblers in the room.

Basically, it's like this: Find a station holding ingredients for one of the items you signed up to make. It will have the "recipe" and the ingredients needed, plus plastic crocks for mixing. One takes a gallon-sized plastic bag and places it in the crock as a liner, then tosses in the various ingredients - beef strips, frozen veggies, soy sauce, etc. The bag gets sealed, labeled, and bagged again before going into the freezer. Rinse and Repeat until all items signed up for have been completed. Then pack all of the myriad plastic bags (the hungry landfills of America thank you, Let's Dish) into a cooler and get the hell out of there. We completed our eight dishes (each serves 6 people) in an hour. The woman at the front desk said that none of the folks who had signed up for four dishes were finished yet. Huh? How difficult can it be to measure one tablespoon of oil (with provided tablespoon measure and squirt bottle of oil) and put it in a plastic bag? There were several women at the Jambalaya station who seemed to need remedial reading lessons and/or to better familiarize themselves with chicken chunks, rice, and shrimp because they were sorely confused and took twenty minutes to pack up one bag of ingredients.

So now we have a ton of new food in our freezer, waiting for the day we attempt to cook some of it. Does baking something pre-prepared for 45 minutes really save time? ::shrug::: I guess it depends on the individual. I realize we'll have to season some of the dishes, as salt and pepper were not residents of every station, nor were they on the instruction sheet. Truthfully, I'm looking forward to trying the flank steak with caramelized onions and the curry shrimp. I'll let you know how it goes.