I'm not the kind of guy who cooks a lot at home.
Well, yes, I eat a lot at home, but “cooking” would be stretching the bounds of credulity. I grill stuff on my gas grill and heat stuff on the stove. Is this really cooking? I say, nay, nay.
Every six weeks or so I whip up a big batch of red sauce for pasta. I use fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, bell pepper and carrots, along with fresh ground beef, assorted spices and some canned sauce. All of this requires preparation and a bit of culinary finesse. I would label this “cooking.” I wind up with enough sauce for about six meals, freezing the overrun in separate containers for future Saturday-night – my Italian Night – dinners. Those I just thaw out and....heat on the stove. It's sort of a culinary circle of life.
Once every two or three years I make Hot Browns for guests. That's an entirely different skill set, which I'll get into at a future date.
Otherwise, I'm grilling chicken breasts on my gas grill and opening cans or frozen bags of side items.
I used to be a little more adventurous as I purchased cook books and followed recipes. I rarely made such concoctions for just myself, but I did throw the occasional dinner party. The issue then was, without some degree of practice, my guests found participating in these gastric experiments more adventure than they wanted in their lives. Can't say as I blame them. I ran the original Hell's Kitchen.
I had a girlfriend once who scheduled a pap smear to avoid brunch at my house.
Thankfully, someone invented Costco, and I was able to buy pre-made snacks for the holiday wine tastings I hosted for my last 10 or so years in Florida.
My house in Greenville is really too small to handle more than four or five guests at a time; so, I thought my Chef Russ days securely in the rear-view mirror. That is until Nissan, at one of its media launches last year, provided each of us with a gift card to an online outfit called “Plated.com.”
Plated's schtick is providing customers with virtually all the ingredients and detailed instructions required to duplicate a recipe created by one of Plated's chefs.
Here's how it works: At Plated's Web site, you choose a specific week and scroll down the list of that week's seven dishes. Clicking on a dish that appeals to you, you find a description of the dish, a list of what Plated sends, whatever few ingredients and cookware you will need to have on hand, estimated prep time, degree of difficulty and calorie information. Oh, and there is also a photo and bio of the chef responsible for it.
You must order two plates of each selection ($15 per plate or $12 for members) and two selections for each shipment. In other words, two dinners for two for a total of $60. Depending on the type of membership, those costs run between $8 and $10 per month. In most cases, shipping is free.
When ordering, you may request either a Wednesday or Saturday delivery. Because of my travel schedule, finding a window for delivery followed by a couple of nights in a row when I could actually prepare these meals was a bit problematic. I decided to schedule for last Saturday, and ordered my meals.
I'm a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. Finding two selections meeting my rather narrow taste boundaries was a bit of a challenge, but I settled on Meatloaf with Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes, and Spicy Soy Poached Pollock with Vermicelli Noodles. Looking at the ingredients list from both recipes, the only thing I wasn't going to eat were the Brussels sprouts, which I could just leave out. So far so good.
My Plated box arrived mid morning on Saturday via FedEx.
Cocooning the box's contents were two layers of insulated bubble wrap. Two large blocks of ice were sealed in plastic to keep things chilled. The ice was still rock solid and probably would have maintained sufficient chilling capacity to keep the contents safely cool for days.
Unwrapping the insulation, I discovered several labeled plastic bags with all the ingredients. Everything that was supposed to be included was, and each bag was clearly marked.
|Lots of stuff in the insulated bag.|
I decided to make the poached fish first. After studying the ingredients of both dishes, I figured most of the stuff for the meatloaf dish could be frozen or otherwise stored better than the fish. I knew I wasn't going to have the time and motivation to do this much cooking two nights in a row.
|Pretty much everything required to make two plates of two different dishes.|
I unpacked all the things needed for my fish dinner. From my kitchen, I only needed to supply salt and water. I don't salt much of anything other than popcorn, so I didn't even need to supply that.
|I decided to attack the poached fish first.|
I'd never poached anything other than an egg before. I was embarking into uncharted waters. I followed the recipe for concocting the poaching sauce that consisted of scallions, a chile pepper, soy sauce, sugar (Yes, I also thought it odd that Plated provided sugar, but not salt.) and water.
|All of the ingredients ready to go.|
I poured the provided sesame seed oil into a pan along with the bell pepper, shredded carrots and snow peas, which I had already chopped. I then dumped in the provided rice wine vinegar.
After bringing the poaching sauce to a boil, I followed the instructions, turned the pan to simmer and tossed in the fish. I turned the fish pieces a couple of times during their 8 minutes on the stove.
|Detailed step-by-step instructions with color photos: Even I couldn't mess this up.|
I boiled water and cooked the white vermicelli noodles, drained them and tossed them into the pan with the vegetables.
Wow, look at me; I was really cooking!
I plated the fish and added some of the poaching sauce to the vegetables, which I tossed together. I then plated that and voila, had a meal.
|Almost looks good enough to eat!|
Yes, I ate all the fish and about half the vegetable-vermicelli side all by myself. So shoot me; I was hungry after all that work. Plated put the calorie count for one plate at 480; my gluttony probably boosted it to 650.
Sometime in the future when I have company visiting, I might order again. But I'm not going to spend $30 on a meal for just myself that I have to cook at home. But, I now have these recipes and will probably poach some fish on my own.
It was pretty damn good.