I'm bombarded by offers from mail-order meal services. You know the ones: They send you a box of "farm fresh" ingredients for the meals, plus the directions, and you cook it. If the food tastes half as good as the photos look, you have one heck of a meal.
"Bring out your inner chef," one service said.
If I have an inner chef, we aren't on speaking terms. I did have an inner bargain hunter, and she screeched like a banshee when she saw the latest offer: three meals for two people for $20. Six dinners for about $6.66 per person. I ignored those ominous sixes, and ordered three dinners for Don and me.
The first night was Smoked Trout Tartines with romaine, cucumber and radish salad. The tartine turned out to be a fancy open-faced sandwich made with half a baguette. My inner chef had never flaked a smoked trout filet, but the ingredients were kind of cool. The pint-sized Persian cucumber was cute. Picking the dill fronds off the stems was a drag, but the trout tartine wasn't bad. Sort of like the world's greatest tuna sandwich. My inner chef and I gave it a B-plus.
The second night we had Chicken and Kale Caesar-Style Salad. That's when my inner chef and I massaged kale. Kale – the devil's lettuce – is supposed to be so healthy it makes you darn near immortal. I needed that extra life span. My chef and I washed the kale, and roughly chopped the leaves. The kale kept multiplying – the more I chopped, the more kale I had. Rubbery, prickly mounds of kale. Next my inner chef and I combined the mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, grated Pecorino cheese and garlic for the dressing. The massage was next. I needed it, but the kale got it. My inner chef and I had to work the dressing into the green mound. "Using your hands, vigorously massage the kale for three or four minutes, or until slightly softened."
My inner chef said, "Oookay," and we settled in for a bout of kale massaging. It wasn't easy. This was a burly breed of kale that refused to show its softer side. I massaged it for hours – at least it felt that way. My inner chef was bored silly. We finally gave up. Next I cut up and fried the chicken thighs. After I added the marinated radishes and chopped almonds, I had enough salad for sixty or seventy people. Don and I chewed the kale. Then chewed some more. I thought we were never going to stop munching that stuff. Fortunately Don didn't notice the kale had a slightly gritty taste. It needed more washing and less massaging. We finally finished the salad. My inner chef and I were underwhelmed.
The third night was spinach and ricotta pizza with cauliflower-and-clementine salad. A clementine is a fancy hybrid between a mandarin and a sweet orange. My inner chef and I had to cut a chunk of cauliflower into florets. Personally, we'd rather buy a bag of precut cauliflower at the grocery. Chopping the scallion, which looked a lot like a green onion, was no big deal, but picking a zillion oregano leaves off the stems was as exciting as cable TV bowling and I'd rather see Kardashian selfies than pull the strings off the clementine. For the pizza, my inner chef and I sauteed the spinach, then squeezed the juice out through a strainer, and chopped the stuff. Then we cooked the seasonings, added the chopped spinach, and mixed it with ricotta and fromage blanc. Next, I had to roll out the premixed pizza dough. I didn't have a rolling pin or a wine bottle, but I found a water bottle and used that. The dough didn't flatten well, and developed some odd holes. I finally transferred it to the bottom of a broiling pan and piled on the spinach. The pizza didn't look like the demonstration. I had no hope for this dinner, but my inner chef and I worked on frying – er, sauteeing – the clementine and cauliflower for the salad.
The pizza was supposed to be "golden brown" in about eighteen minutes. At twenty minutes, the oven gave a sharp beep and died.
My inner chef and I looked inside. The pizza looked like a lumpy loaf of bread with a bad haircut. Or a Chia Pet gone wrong.
But this dinner was the real surprise. The salad was delicious. The non-flat pizza was, too.
And the oven was definitely dead.
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