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Pretending to cook: "Dinner Kits"

The NY TImes had an article today about "dinner kits"; they arrived chilled in a box with just enough of each ingredient to make one dinner. What an unconscionable waste of packaging and money. So you keep buying cumin at a rate of a teaspoon at a time.

"The box — or bag, or crate — includes a recipe, usually with photos showing each step. Inside, ingredients are already portioned and measured: if a chili recipe calls for a teaspoon of cumin, there it is, neatly labeled, in its own little cup. Two tablespoons of olive oil arrive in a tiny screw-top jar; six sprigs of cilantro, in a zipped plastic bag. "

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/13/din...

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  1. What a great thing for people that can't cook.

    1 Reply
    1. Ah, I'm not bothered by this trend. I have quite a few friends who don't cook much at home, and who don't really know how to plan/shop/prep a tasty/balanced/inspired meal. I'm actually looking at a local organic/fresh food delivery service (greenling.com, they are fab) for a 5-meal kit as a gift for a friend's birthday.

      I think many Chowhounders aren't the intended audience for this. But when I was still learning to cook, I recall buying dry soup mixes that included beans, noodles, seasonings, everything but protein and fresh veggies, and feeling like I'd made something good.

      Cooking and feeding are fundamentally expressive, caring behaviors. Most of us can relate to watching their loved ones enjoying a meal we made; if these kits give that pleasure to someone who doesn't cook much, then all the better. Maybe it will stimulate further interest in home cooking.

      18 Replies
      1. re: DuchessNukem

        I would just hope that after buying a couple of these they realize spending $$$ for the priviledge of getting your olive oil in 2 tablespoon increments is pretty darn silly, and that they could do it themselves for a tenth the cost.

        1. re: DGresh

          As someone who cooks regularly for myself - I agree, however when tackling a new "ethnic" cuisine there are often a lot of ingredients needed to give it the first plunge. Particularly cuisines that use a lot of different spices, oils, vinegars, condiments, etc - personally that would be of interest to me to try once or twice.

          Every time I have tried to make Indian food, the results have been "meh" at best. And the process becomes increasingly more frustrating because I buy all the spices, give it a try, and underwhelmed maybe try once again - but then give up, eventually throw out the spices, and then a year or so later am inspired to try again and the cycle repeats. For me an "Indian kit" would be a great way for me to see if I could find any kind of recipe that I can feel happy about - and then from there commit to the full set of ingredients. Really, for any cuisine I'd be new to - that would be an appealing item for me - but as a teaching tool and not a regular use item.

          1. re: cresyd

            Cresyd - totally off topic - but what I did to get the hang of Indian food was to make the same dish over and over again until I really understood what each spice did to the final product. I grew up eating Indian food but never cooked at home. I made channa masala every week for a month or so, and then after that could make other dishes pretty well, too. Also, do you have any friends that make Indian food? I always buy in bulk from the Indian store, far cheaper than buying individual jars, and I am happy to share with people who are interested but don't want to spend all that money.

            1. re: pamelak52

              At the moment I live in Jerusalem - which essentially has all the spices available (and in fairness far cheaper to buy than in the US). However, Jerusalem specifically and Israel in general is a bit of a black hole for Indian food - so getting inspired to give it a go happens far less often.

              In general, I have found that living outside of the US (and the foods I'm accustomed to being able to access), I've either become very resourceful in recreating what I like (i.e. Mexican) or sadly just given up (sigh.....Indian). That being said, the last time I tried it was just really poor.

            2. re: cresyd

              Meet my pantry. When I've tackled new cuisines I stocked my pantry with all the primary ingredients need to improvise with in the cuisine.

              One more positive is with a well stocked pantry you can go in many ethnic directions and have a lot of the ingredients at hand.

              To me the pantry is part of the soul of the kitchen.

              With Indian, if it's meh then there isn't enough spice :)

              1. re: scubadoo97

                This is where I start to feel sympathy for the greater idea of the dinner kits - because , I do not have the world's biggest kitchen and so I don't really have the space for a "well stocked" pantry to really cover global cuisines beyond what I make frequently (and well). Which I guess leaves me with a tiny souled kitchen? :)

                However, one of the great charms of living in Jerusalem is that fresh produce is rather inexpensive and I currently work near one of the larger open markets in Jerusalem. This allows me to really shop for one or two meals at a time because I can make multiple small trips throughout the week. Ultimately I gather it's all about adapting to the space we have.

                1. re: cresyd

                  you're not alone, cresyd -- most kitchens outside the US are too small to maintain a spice and ingredient library that can handle every ethnic cuisine one might want to tackle. (some are barely big enough to be stocked with the *local* cuisine.)

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Yup - but I think part of living with a tiny kitchen has been a mentality of not wanting too much "stuff" just sitting around and appreciating a fresh rotation.

                    While I would not need such a kit for oil or buying fresh ingredients - should someone want to make a version of this for Indian or Thai food where the "specialty" ingredients are sold in this fashion. I don't make either cuisine frequently, and having all of the extra items around at this point just doesn't make sense for me.

                    1. re: cresyd

                      I agree with you 100% -- I have an enormous kitchen by European standards, and I hesitate, too, if I come across a recipe for a bunch of things I don't usually keep in my cupboards -- yes, these kits have a lot of packaging, but no more than the boxes/packets/jars that I end up throwing away because we were "meh" on the result (and I spent a LOT more on the full packages!)

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Yup - and as someone who grew up in the US, most of the "kits" that were sold were usually very high in soduim because the "seasoning blends" came pre-salted. So if there was a kit with all of the original spices and such measured out - and I can salt it to my taste - that would be great.

                        I would prefer to buy my own fresh herbs, vegetables, and protein - but if there was a pad thai box with all of the individually packaged items that serves me far better than having to scour Jerusalem for dried shrimp (that inevitabley are over priced and sold in a bulk size that is ridiculous for my usage).

                        1. re: cresyd

                          If there were a kit here in Paris that allowed me to make *good* Mexican or Tex-Mex, I might jump through a lot of hoops. (Old El Paso is considered good TexMex here, and jalapenos/anchos/chipotle don't exist...pleh)

                          (there has to be a downside to living in a foodie paradise, right?)

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            There's always the downside....I just found a place that sells something that vaguely qualifies as "Mexican Chili powder" which has been an excellent addition to my limited Mexican "pantry". You can get a reasonable collection of the fresh ingredients to make passable Mexican in Jerusalem. And there are limited chilis and canned anchos - but it's definitely been a learning process in creative substitutions.

                            Apparently Tel Aviv has been having a mild increase of interest in Mexican food, so perhaps better ingredients will find their way into markets there.

                            1. re: cresyd

                              yes, it's wonderful to have access to wonderful ingredients of all kinds, but as an expat, yeah, sometimes it's funny how creative you have to get to make something you miss!

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Exactly - I now have a taco and enchilada sauce that takes me hours to make, still isn't exact - but it's very satisfying to think I can get close.

            3. re: DGresh

              I hear ya on that. (Six sprigs of cilantro?! How is that enough? I pick more than that out of my sink drain lol.) No substitute for having the basics in the pantry. Hopefully they can learn, hey I like this, and go shopping for themselves.

              1. re: DGresh

                Yes, think of it as a gateway drug.

                1. re: DGresh

                  OK, DGresh, if it bothers you so much, why even think about it?

                  1. re: Virginian

                    since my last comment on the subject was a year ago, I don't much. I'm happy that people find it cost effective (it wouldn't be for me) so I left the conversation. Not sure why you feel like bringing me back into it.

              2. “I felt completely infantilized when I saw all the ingredients laid out, as if a grown-up had to do it for me,”

                This line in the article really spoke to me. I know the quote was being used as a negative about the process, but I could relate to it in terms of when I was talking a foreign language class after work. I'd show up at class exhausted from a full day at work, and honestly I needed the teacher to treat me like I was 5 and not an adult. I needed to be both spoon fed,coddled, as well as really put on the spot about "where is your homework". And that's what I wanted because mentally being treated 'like an adult' was too difficult for me in that context.

                So if I relate my foreign language class struggles to someone who feels that way about cooking (i.e. treat me like I'm a kid who can't handle anything else), then I can get the appeal a little. But honestly, once you get into that $11-17 per person range - why not just get take out.....

                1. I'm not their target market but I can say my spouse would for sure buy a kit if he saw it while shopping. "What a great idea....."

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tcamp

                    Same here. In fact, my SO asked me to buy some of those "skillet dump" frozen meals so he can "make" his own lunches when there's no leftovers (never mind there's always sandwich fixings, soups, and frozen raviolis). He loves stuff like that.

                  2. As others have said, I like the idea for things that I am not familiar with. I read the recipes for some Thai or Indian foods and think that I'm not buying all that.