Back in August, one of my best friends invited me to a rather unique birthday party. She invited four of us to a Dream Taste event she was hosting through Dream Dinners.
For a couple of years I’ve heard her talk about Dream Dinners. Often when I’d stop by her husband’s classroom to get my lunchbox out of his fridge (unlike the rest of us, science teachers get to have fridges in their prep rooms), I’d see him eating some of their leftovers and they always looked great. A part of me was interested in finding out just what Dream Diners was all about. However, a larger part of me poo-pooed the idea as I consider myself a pretty good cook and I love garnering the praise my family heaps on me after a successful meal. Even if it means I sometimes spend an hour (or more) putting dinner together after a 10 hour day at work (including my commute).
But when she invited me as part of her birthday celebration, how could I turn it down? Ok, I could have turned it down and still not been a total jerk of a friend. Since attending the Dream Taste required me to purchase at least three meals to prepare while I was there, my friend made it very clear that I was under no obligation to come. She knew I’d been interested in the past and thought the Taste might be an easy way for me to try it. She had a feeling I would love it as much as she does, but she didn’t tell me that at the time.
I was not quite sure what to expect when I got there. I arrived with a cooler in tow, just like she’d told me to. I found the birthday girl and three of my other friends ready and willing to experiment with something new. Since we’d had about 8 different meals to pick from, we had some overlap in what we were preparing, but each of us had at least one dinner no one else in the group was making. My friend, in true hostess style, showed us all how to get our order forms, our cooking instruction cards, our aprons and gave us a brief tour of the facility and outlined the rules.
Thankfully the “rules” are pretty simple. Find an empty station with the recipe card for the meal you want to prepare. Get the proper sized plastic bags to store meal contents in. Using the very handy, very clearly labelled recipe cards, follow all the steps exactly. Then, pop the cooking instruction card in the large bag (with all the smaller bags inside), put the meal in the fridge (on the shelf with your name on it), wash your hands and start over.
At first I was a little nervous. Although I am a good cook and someone who has done make ahead meals before, I’ve never done it in an industrial kitchen with all my recipe items already chopped and waiting for me. Plus, there were other people outside of our party there and they all knew exactly what they were doing, which was also a bit intimidating. However, after my first meal was measured, bagged and stored, I had the hang of it.
It was so simple and so fun! On several of my stations I got to work right next to my friends, so we had the chance to chat while we assembled our meals. Then, when we finished, there were samples from next month’s menu ready for us to try (along with candy and soda), so we all pulled up chairs, sampled, talked and looked at next month’s offerings. At that point, an employee came over and told us how it would all work if we wanted to come back for another round. It was a very low pressure sales pitch and two of us decided we liked it enough to try again (one lived in another state so it was never an option for her).
When I signed up, I only put $20 down on my next order, making sure to double check that I could cancel if my family tried the meals and did not like them. Thankfully, that did not happen. My family LOVED the meals I’d prepared. And they were so EASY! I thawed each one in the fridge two days before I planned to cook them. Since all the cutting and measuring was done, I came home, pulled the back out of my fridge, spent a few minutes mixing ingredients and cooking and before I knew it, dinner was on the table. Seriously, one of the meals took me less than 15 minutes to cook. And, it was delicious. Everyone in my family raved about it.
Since my initial order of 3 dinners, I have gone back three times. I actually just finished up my fourth order on Monday. I now have a freezer full of delicious dinners to try. I have chicken bruschetta skewers, oven baked chicken chimichangas, coconut shrimp with Thai chili sauce, pesto ravioli with chicken & walnuts, and rosemary smokehouse turkey burgers on pretzel buns to name a few. Of the 15 meals I’ve made, only one hasn’t been fantastic. Perfectly fine, but not fantastic. However, since I get to rate each meal and make comments on them, each time when I get the next month’s printed menus, if that item is on it again, I’ll get to see what I rated it so I’ll know to order a larger portion or to avoid it. In the four months I’ve been making meals there has yet to be a repeat offer.
Last month I discovered their mini chicken pot pies. We’d gotten to sample them at my first official Dream Dinners session and I knew my kids would go gaga over them. When I put together all of the ingredients at the store, I was a bit worried that they’d be complicated, but they were amazingly simple to prepare, ready in about 30 minutes and my family raved about them. The only way this dinner could have been easier to make was if I’d bought frozen processed pot pies from the grocery store and then they would have had all those extra preservatives, salt and who knows what else. However, with these pot pies, I knew exactly what was going into them and could even tweak the spices if needed. My husband told me I had to order them every time I can.
While Dream Dinners isn’t cheap, it’s run me about $200 for 12 meals (we get 4 portions out of each meal, so it’s about $5 a portion), considering the time I save on nightly food prep and cooking time plus the food waste I’ve managed to cut down on for recipes that only call for a few tablespoons of an ingredient, I think it is completely worth it. I know I will be going back for many months and maybe years to come.