Coming up with interesting, healthy, not-time consuming meals for five people, six or so days a week is the bane of a cooking parent’s existence. I really like to cook, but the high-stress conditions I cook under would make a great Top Chef challenge. But it’s hard to come up with an idea that will please everyone in our household – we have several pickyish eaters whose pickyness does not coincide with others’ pickyness, so the Venn Diagram (remember those?) that represents the area of Mutually Acceptable Food is actually quite narrow.
So there’s the thinking time. There’s the finding recipes, or relying on the very small repertoire of dishes that have been committed to memory. Then there’s the figuring out if you have the appropriate stuff in your kitchen to make the recipe. Then there’s the shopping, because inevitably you don’t have the appropriate stuff. That breaks down into driving, parking, shopping, driving home, hauling the stuff out of the car and putting it away. Then there’s the actual cooking, which involves chopping, slicing, dicing and measuring. This also involves locating the various measuring utensils which always seem to migrate to yet another random drawer. Why can I always find the 1/3 cup measure, but never the 1/2 cup? Then there’s the dreaded cleanup.
So along comes an enterprise like Full Plate, which claims to remove the stress out of making dinner! I was all over it. I’d tried a place like this last year, which was an ecstatic experience for me but less so for my family. The first round of recipes were deemed “very good” and the second round was way too sophisticated (mushroom risotto, various other vegie delights) for them. They asked me to never try pulling anything like this again.
But this new place just opened up a mile from my house. Right next to my bank and my pet-food store. How could I resist? I could not. So this morning I put my mother in the van, along with a huge plastic tub with which to haul home our bounty, and off we went.
The place is immaculate. And very pleasant. They have snacks of their latest goodies (Shanghai Meatballs with Dipping Sauce, which were intensely addictive) along with water and sparkling cider. They gave us nice white aprons, a list of our pre-ordered meals, and we set off to make 9 meals in one hour.
It’s really cool. Each “station” is set up for a different dish. There are boxes of big gallon Ziploc bags, and all the ingredients you need, and clearly marked instructions. We started with Beef Wellington, a dish I would not attempt on my own. We mixed up a bunch of herbs and butter and mushrooms, and placed them on some nice big sheets of puff pastry. Added filet mignon (!) and wrapped up, using beaten egg. Everything is there for you. If it says 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, there is a lovely little 1/4 teaspoon sitting IN the black pepper dispenser. If you need a cup of mushrooms, there is a one cup measure sitting in the lovely pre-sliced mushrooms. It’s heaven. There are endless supplies of mixing bowls and measuring things and spatulas and spoons and baggies. When you finish up, and slap a big sticker with cooking instructions on the final baggie, you leave that station and the FullPlate fairies come along and clean up after you. Whoo-Wheee!!
My mom seemed to enjoy herself. I read the recipes, and together we measured and stirred and combined and put stuff in plastic gallon bags. Then she put each finished baggie into our own shelf in the communal refrigerator. We had our rythmn down. We made Chicken Marsala, Coconut Shrimp, Chicken Satay, Asian Marinated Steak and Sesame Crusted Salmon. Then I had to buy a premade baggie of the Shanghai Meatballs because they were SO addictive.
I was positively giddy at finding the little bins of prechopped veggies, the beautifully marked ingredients, and the whisking away of anything that we used, within seconds. It took a little over an hour, and we had nine full meals. I threw in some redskinned mashed potatoes and sweet-potato fries as side dishes.
We came home. What to make? What to freeze? We decided we’d try the Coconut Shrimp with Tamarind Dipping Sauce. I followed the directions on the bag and it was easy-peasy.
The verdict: Four thumbs up out of five. The youngest persnickety eater did not like the coconut texture of the breading, nor the dipping sauce. She opted to make her own Popcorn Shrimp.
I’d say that’s not so bad.