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If You're Feeling the Heat...

A Trend in Meal-Making is Sweeping Diabloland


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Until they invent a Crock-Pot that will go to the grocery store, slice and dice, and clean up the kitchen, we’ve all got a problem: how to prepare a delicious, satisfying, healthy dinner every night and also have time for a life. And a family. And a house. And maybe a dog who most days has chewed up one of your black pumps or your irreplaceable cell phone charger by the time you get home from work. And … well, you know how it goes.

Enter Dinner Divas, Dream Dinners, and GourMade Cookery, three new meal-assembly businesses that will help you cook dinner. All you have to do is go online (or phone), pick a date, and choose a number of entrées from a list. When the big day arrives, you head on over—Dinner Divas is in Walnut Creek, the other two are in Pleasanton—and find all of the ingredients for your entrées shopped for, peeled, browned in some cases, and otherwise ready to be thrown together into one-pan meals to be heated in your oven or on the stove at home. It’s like having your own sous chef. You’ll spend an hour or two in the kitchen, chatting with the other “cooks.”

All you do is scoop cut-up veggies, meats, and seasonings from an organized lineup of ingredients—a teaspoon of this and two cups of that—into zip bags and foil tins. Usually, the instructions are so simple that you can go on autopilot, cruising through the preparation of a week’s worth of family-size meals—and popping on labels with instructions for oven or stovetop heating. It’s a social event if you bring your friends, have a glass of wine, and catch up while you’re “cooking.”

At the end of your extravaganza, you pile up your stash of covered foil tins and zip bags and take them home, freezing any you don’t plan to heat up and eat over the next few nights. The average cost per meal, per person is about $5. Unlike grocery store frozen dinners, you see what goes into these meals, and you can adjust how much salt you put in, for instance. Not to mention that the meals are not canned, not processed, and not take-out pizza. Oh, and unlike the frozen food section, the menus at these places change monthly.

Want to give it a try? Here’s our short guide to what’s cookin’ in meal-prep world:

Dinner Divas
at Andronico’s Walnut Creek, 1181 Locust St., (888) 363-4827, www.dinnerdivas.com.

Why you’d choose this one: Top-quality ingredients, such as fresh, seasonal (sometimes organic) produce, free-range chicken, and hormone-free meats.
Fun factor: Dinner Divas serves two or three of the menu items, nicely paired with wines, as you cook, so it’s like a very casual dinner party.
Don’t miss it: The pot-roasted short ribs had the most delectable bass notes of browned bacon and porcini mushrooms.
Buyer beware: Make sure you bag the meat separately for dishes like the lamb Casablanca casserole so you can bring out its flavor by browning or sautéing at home.
Congeniality: Fun-loving and helpful.
Girls’ night out: It’s a gal-pal atmosphere.
Price: $199 for seven meals for four.

Dream Dinners
5676 Stone Ridge Dr., Pleasanton, (925) 737-0448, www.dreamdinners.com.

Why you’d choose this one: If your kids are not adventurous eaters, they would’ve liked the relatively bland kung pao chicken and chicken pot pie on a recent menu.
Don’t miss it: The New England pot roast dinner was just like Mom used to make.
Buyer beware: Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup as an ingredient in the chicken pot pie?
Congeniality: The owner is friendly, but one of the employees was unhelpful.
Ease: There were just a couple of things that were unclear in the recipes.
Girls’ night out: BYOB. The kitchen is open, airy, and pleasant, although there’s no place to relax except for a small round table with a couple of chairs.
Price: $100 for six meals for four to six.

Gourmade Cookery
7060 Koll Center Pkwy., Ste. 320, Pleasanton, (925) 846-4774, www.gourmadecookery.com.

Why you’d choose this one
: Go zone out or socialize; this place is so organized that you don’t have to think. Dishes are generally flavorful and suitable for families, although we would have liked some fresh herbs.
Don’t miss it: Recent pork chops with apples, onions, and carrots was a hit at home.
Buyer beware: The seafood in the seafood stew lost out to an Old Bay packaged seasoning blend and some anemic sausages.
Congeniality: The people at GourMade Cookery were helpful and nice.
Ease: Recipe instructions and setup made “cooking” so easy, it was utterly relaxing.
Girls’ night out: A large table and chairs— plus some appetizers—promotes socializing.
Price: $110 for six meals for four to six.

A fourth meal-assembly business, called the Full Meal, was opening at 1880 N. Broadway in Walnut Creek when this article went to press.

 

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