As a subscriber to a multitude of dining magazines and an online purchaser of the latest kitchen gewgaws, my inbox and mailbox are inundated with food-related material. One such emailing caught my attention a couple of months ago, as I was entering the frenzied holiday season, a time that lies between the hectic pre-holiday season and the frantic post-holiday season. If, like me, you’re nearly always harried in some way, and you believe in the sanctity of the family dinner table, I’ll bet the sales pitch for Home Bistro would appeal to you too.
According to their mail-order catalog, Home Bistro makes chef-prepared meals that go from the freezer to your table in just 10 minutes. The mechanics of such magic lies in a process called sous vide
—under vacuum—developed by a French chef and food scientist in the early 1970s as a method for improving the cooking of foie gras. Their experiment involved hermetically sealing the foie gras in a specially designed pouch, then cooking slowly at a lower than usual temperature, which results in less shrinkage and enhanced flavor. In the last couple of decades, sous vide has caught on for all kinds of professional cooks. Locally, Capitol Grille executive chef Sean Brock is a proponent; nearly everything served at the Capitol Grille is prepared sous vide, which—according to Brock’s from-the-kitchen blog—allows the staff to cook a variety of foods at exact temperatures for long periods of time, without having to juggle dozens of sauté pans.
Of course, Capitol Grille’s fabulous sous vide dishes come to the table ready to eat and exquisitely presented, while Home Bistro’s extensive repertoire of appetizers, entrées and desserts are all frozen. But then again, Chef Brock isn’t knocking on my front door at 6 p.m. with dinner.
Home Bistro’s website, www.homebistro.com, is extensive but easy to navigate. Dinner choices are listed by beef, pork, lamb, poultry, seafood, pasta and low-carb, each described in short paragraphs. There are sampler packages, as well as gift programs. Appetizers, soups and desserts are listed separately.
On Nov. 4, I placed my order for Poultry Sampler One, which contained two each of four dishes: Cranberry Stuffed Chicken Breast, Grilled Chicken Breast in Peach & Melon Salsa, Chicken Stir Fry and Blackened Chicken Breast in Champagne Sauce. About five days later, my order of frozen dinners arrived, each sealed in individual bags and packed in a Styrofoam cooler with wrapped dry ice. Within each bag was a 5-by-7 card that included a photo of the finished product, a list of ingredients, nutrition information and directions for putting the meal together.
The process is pretty simple: bring a large pot of water to a boil, drop pouches in, reduce heat to simmer. (The instructions offer such helpful tips as, “Water is simmering when small bubbles are rising from bottom of pot.”) Everything stays in the pot for 9 to 11 minutes, or 11 to 13 minutes, which means that Home Bistro’s promise of chef-prepared meals from the freezer to the table in 10 minutes isn’t exactly accurate. Including assembly—cutting all those bags open, draining juices, squeezing out the sauces—it was closer to 20 minutes.
Home Bistro’s catalog introduces two executive chefs and a sous chef who are alleged to be European-trained, but after sampling the chicken dishes, I’m thinking that whatever they learned in Europe didn’t translate to Plattsburgh, N.Y., where the company is headquartered. The final step on the “How to Serve” instructions reads, “When serving: add salt and pepper to taste.” These meals needed lots more than salt and pepper to gain any taste.
Including shipping, the tab was $88.90 for a total of four dinners for two, which is $22.22 for a dinner for two. For my family, at least, the convenience just isn’t worth the expense. But according to testimonials from people I know who’ve tried it, Home Bistro makes a fine service for elderly parents and the homebound, who frequently require a bland diet.
Closer to home, Plumgood Food, Nashville’s grocery home delivery service, recently added prepared meals to its extensive roster of services. Entrées, soups, salads, sides and desserts are cooked fresh daily from scratch by chef Chrisi Harper and her staff; customers order online, and the meals are delivered to your door the next day (along with any groceries, if you’ve ordered them). Nothing is frozen, and nothing I ordered came in a vacuum-sealed bag or had to be dropped into a pot of boiling water. Packed in microwave- and oven-proof containers, the foods are simply heated in whichever one you prefer.
Unlike Home Bistro’s lengthy list of ingredients, which included tongue-twisters like disodium inosinate, sodium benzoate and thiamine mononitrate, Plumgood’s compositions are pretty simple, and restricted to actual food. Both the meat loaf and the meat lasagna with Italian sausage, beef, spinach and three types of cheese were posted as a single serving and seemed a little pricy for $7.99 and $6.99 respectively. But as it turned out, each dish served two teenagers, supplemented by a couple of side dishes or salad and bread, making the meal a true cheap eat, with priceless convenience for Mom and exceedingly generous flavor. Through the end of January, www.plumgoodfood.com
is offering free delivery to customers, and 10 percent off the first order for new customers; use code GROOVE when checking out.