Jun 25, 2010

End of the A'Fare

I received emails this week from our local Dinner A'Fare advising their customers that this week would be their last week; after Sunday they will be no more.   I was saddened by the news, but not really surprised. The economy has taken its toll on many small businesses.  The convenience of quickly assembling gourmet dinners with all your ingredients pre-measured and lined up for you is a luxury.  When money is tight, it's an extravagance that can be eliminated.

Last fall was my first venture to The Dinner A'Fare and I credit that with getting me out of a deep culinary rut.  Choosing some dishes I had never cooked before sparked a renewed interest in cooking (and ultimately in starting this blog as well.)  So for that, I owe a debt of gratitude to them.  I never became a regular patron: I'd checked their menu most months, but some months just didn't appeal to me and others were too busy for me to commit to a scheduled time.  I am thankful we live in a country where entrepreneurs can dream up (and start up) businesses like this.  I hope the local franchise owners are successful with whatever the future holds for them.  If you live in an area that still has a Dinner A'Fare, it's worth looking them up and giving it a try.

The last time my  cooking "genie" was unleashed from the bottle was about 11 or 12 years ago, when I discovered the Once-A-Month Cooking book by Mimi Wilson and Beth Lagerborg.  It's kind of like a humble do-it-yourself version of the same concept.  You create a massive shopping list and follow the steps to prep, chop, dice and pre-cook, then put together meals in an assembly-line fashion.  It takes a couple hours to shop for everything, and 4-5 hours to assemble everything.  But when you're done, you have a freezer stocked with enough dinners to get a family through a month (a little longer if you stretch them out with a few nights of whipped-together spaghetti or take-out pizza.)  When our kids were in their heyday of activities and we were both working long hours, those meals were a godsend.  (Except for the "raw egg soup" incident, which my children can all tell from memory - let's just say I should have left more specific cooking instructions for their daddy since I was out of town that night.)

For busy families who want to save money on their food budget and have home-cooked family dinners more nights than not, I HIGHLY recommend giving this concept a try (now there are many OAMC cookbooks and websites that provide a wide array of recipes and hints and tips.  Once you understand the concept, you'll find many of the things you cook can be adapted.)  Not all the recipes were huge hits with my family (see note above), but the crockpot brisket, chicken packets and homemade sloppy joes were all-stars.  I still use those recipes even though the days of needing to stock my freezer with huge pans of casseroles is a thing of the past.

We grilled out steaks last night to celebrate oldest son's job offer.  I whipped up some feta-walnut butter (where's the gorgonzola when you need it???) to top the steaks.  It's pretty yummy stuff, but needs to go on top of a sizzling hot steak to fully melt and blend in.  Just saying.  I also tried Southern Living's Best Brownie recipe (from their August 2009 issue.) It's a keeper, but personally I think it needs some nuts.

Tonight it's time for a Low Country boil, something I have not made in several years.  That may mean braving a visit to the shed to look for the turkey fryer (yes we have one; no we've never fried a turkey in it.  Yes, we've eaten fried turkey - and turducken, too.  We do live in the south, after all.) Or maybe I'll just use the super-big stock pot for the boil.  It depends on how hot it gets this afternoon.