Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Dish on Let's Dish

A few days back I went to Let's Dish with some of the mother's from my mommy and baby yoga class, one of whom is a regular at the Columbia store. We wanted to have a moms sans babies outing for the group and dishing at Let's Dish seemed like a fun yet guilt free way of doing it. There was also the added incentive of a free chocolate cake for each member of a five party group.

I signed up online and choose the dish I wanted to make. I would have chosen to make some more dishes but the only available online options were 1, 4, 8 and 12 meals, which was sort of silly. Since I did not have a lot of freezer space to spare, I chose to make only one dish. Besides I was doing this more for reasons of solidarity than for the express purpose of stocking my freezer with ready made dinners. More on that later. Once we had finalized our orders online, all we had to do on the set date was show up at the store with our coolers at the appointed time, all ready to dish. There are a bunch of different workstations and a wall of coolers. Each station is set up for a different dish. The utensils are color coded for measurements. Aprons and bandanas are provided. Gloves are also provided but not essential. You go to the station that is set up for your dish. Since I chose to make pork chops with black bean salsa, I went to the station set up for this recipe. Each recipe is for a family of six; you have the option of splitting the recipe into two. I decided to go that way and in less than 10 minutes, I had assembled two freezer bags of marinated pork chops and two freezer bags of black bean salsa. Then, I took one of each and packaged it into a meal and stuck a label on them (helpfully provided at the labelling station). It does not get more idiot proof than this. After sticking my dishes into freezer, I hung around enjoying samples and chatting with others in my group.

They had a promotional offer of buy one get one free on all the ready made sides. So I picked up two whole grain salads for six dollars, there are usually six dollars each. I also picked up that chocolate cake and was pleasantly surprised. I got a package of six individual lava cakes. To be honest, I was expecting only one. I paid a grand total of thirty three dollars for this expedition, each dish costs about twenty seven dollars.

Now comes the dishing about the Lets Dish experience part. First, the taste. We just ate the pork chops, salsa and the grain salad for dinner. The food tasted fresh and healthy. The spicing was just right. I had my reservations about the salsa, but it thawed beautifully. At this point, I need to declare that I did chop up some fresh cilantro and garnished the salsa, just to freshen it up. It was not really needed, the salsa was great as is. I had dinner on the table in 25 minutes, that does not include the time needed to thaw the packages.

Will I go again? Probably not, unless it is another show of group solidarity. People new to cooking or those with harried schedules might find a service like Let's Dish helpful. They do the prep work, the taste testing (all their recipes freeze well) and the post prep cleaning for you. In an hour or so, you go home with about 12 generously portioned meals all neatly packed in your cooler. And they have deals and promotions to sweeten the deal too.

On the other hand, if you love cooking then you might find the menu choices restrictive. All the menu items do hew to the same template of a marinated meat with a salsa/relish. We do groceries over the weekend. After finishing our grocery run, I usually take the meat out, clean and put them into little baggies with simple marinades etc. That way during the week, all I have to do is let it thaw during the day in the fridge and throw it into the oven at night. I steam a few veggies and cook boil two kinds of lentils and store in the fridge. So come dinner time, all I have to is a little stir frying and maybe chopping up a salad. Going to Let's Dish and marinading a few pork chops seems sort of silly to me. Also they only let you halve a recipe. So I came home with two bags of three chops each and had to repackage them into three bags of two chops each. The Gherkin is still not into pork chops and thawing three would leave us with an extra, unwanted porkie bit. I know I am being picky, but however minor, it is still an irritation. Another little nit that I could pick was the use of bottled diced garlic and lime cordial instead of fresh garlic and lime juice. But that is just me.

And finally, comes the cost. For thirty three dollars I could have bought a week's worth of vegetables and maybe some chicken. That would translate to fourteen full meals for two people. Instead I got three meals for two people with dessert, granted that those three meals will be restaurant quality, as compared to my home cooked goodness. But still, I like my home cooked goodness on a daily basis.

The Verdict: Does not work for me. However if it does work for you, here is a piece of advice. Go earlier in the day. By the time our group made it to Columbia after battling the evening rush hour, a lot of the chopped vegetables were starting to look a little sad and wilty.

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