Thursday, July 27, 2006

Like your own cooking show

My friend C and I went to The Dinner Source which is one of several places where they prep all the ingredients and you go and put them all together. Then you take them home and finish cooking them. Like Mountain Mike's pizza except you put the pizza together.

Anyway, C has been working on weaning herself from being restaurant dependent. She's tried crockpot cooking, that lasted for a few months. I read about the Dinner Source and thought it would be fun to go and try out dishes that I wouldn't normally try. So, we booked an evening with them. You have to order at least 4 of the dishes, so she picked 4 and I picked 4 more so that way we could split them and have the most variety available.

The dishes varied in complexity but several were very easy to make. And I like how you can just put them in the freezer then cook them later. When you go there, they have several stations, like the salad bar carts, with trays with all the ingredients pre-chopped and proper measuring cups assigned. They even have disposable plastic gloves, aprons and various utensils.

After washing our hands, we worked our way to each of the prep stations. They had aluminum trays with covers that we could use either to divvy it up between us or in one bag. When we finished with each one, we stuck a lable on them and put it on a shelf in the fridge.

On the preparation menu:
Apricot Ginger Chicken
Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Mongolian Beef
Mu shu pork wraps
3 cheese Macaroni (which had a pinch of nutmeg)
Tilapia with Rice (their summer sauce was like what my mom makes onions, tomatoes, garlic sauteed)
Hobo Chicken (mild green chilis, parsley, potato, salt, pepper wrapped in foil steam tents)
Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie (which you just freeze, not bake)

It was alot of fun, especially when we got to make the Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie which was way super easy that I'm thinking about making it again. I picked recipes for stuff I wanted to try or probably wouldn't cook on my own anyway like stuffed chicken breasts.

I like cooking, but I don't like unfreezing leftovers. Not everything freezes well. What I like about this is that the entrees are often easy to proportion into servings that can be frozen and cooked later. I got alot of new ideas about the way food can be stored and prepared later.

We went back to my place to cook the Apricot Ginger Chicken which we couldn't divide in half and one of the trays of Macaroni & Cheese. In an hour we had a very delicious meal. The Apricot Ginger Chicken was quite savory. I plan on making this on my own and sticking it in the freezer. Like making your own frozen dinners.

Each entree feeds about 4-6 people and is roughly $20, but you don't have to clean up afterwards and they still let you lick the spoon when you make the pie. While you assemble stuff you can adjust the ingredients to your liking. Like any time there was garlic, we put extra. Yummy!

We figured $80 for 4 entrees was enough food for one person for about 2-3 weeks of dinners. We still had half the chicken and 1 serving of macaroni left after feeding 3 people tonight.

After dinner, C felt satisfied of having a good meal and the satisfaction that we had cooked it. As she transitions out of being restaurant dependent, she said it's been hard to go grocery shopping and knowing what to buy and how much to buy and how long will it last. But this gave her the confidence to be able to try some of these recipes on her own and a way to plan out her food with the freezer portions. Plus it's fun feeling like you're on a cooking show where everything is measured and prepped for you and all you have to do is toss it into a pan or bowl.

Places like the Dinner Source have been popping up mostly in the suburbs for all those career commuting moms, but I could see how they could make money off of single folks who want to meet people rather than cook in your lonely kitchen. I plan on checking their menu once a month to see if there's anything I'd like to learn to make, but would be too intimidated to buy all the ingredients and spices for just one thing. Plus it seemed like a good place to meet folks. There are usually only 12 people scheduled for a night, but they accidentally booked 15. It was a bit crowded, but manageable. Since we had 8 different dishes we were one of the first ones in and one of the last ones out.

Now if you're truly busy or lazy or both you can have them pre-assemble the meals for you AND deliver them to your door, with extra fees of course.

Apricot Ginger Chicken (measurements are going from my memory)
1 whole chicken
salt and pepper
1 cup Apricot preserves
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 T garlic
1/4 tsp cumin
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Put the whole chicken in a 1 gallon ziplock freezer bag with the marinade ingredients. Then freeze or cook for 1.5 hrs at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peanut Butter Chococlate Pie
precooked or no bake pie crust or graham cracker crust
chocolate ganache
3/4 c peanut butter
1/3 c milk
1/2 cup caramel
3-4 c whipped cream (can be non-fat)

coat the pie crust with the chocolate ganache then freeze. Mix peanut butter and milk in the mixer. Add the caramel. When blended, fold in the whipped cream, then pour into the pie crust. Freeze. Pie is served frozen and you can just slice out a piece when you want one.

(we even drizzled some caramel on top and added a dollup of whipped cream for decoration)

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