Dumplings: You will eat them and like them

by Brian Clarey

“I don’t like chicken and dumplings.”

“You do like chicken and dumplings. You’ve had it at restaurants before.”

“I don’t think so’….”

“Trust me.”

But really his experience of chicken and dumplings is limited mainly to the monochromatic (albeit highly tasty) version served at the Cracker Barrel and the stuff that comes out of a can. I’ve never made chicken and dumplings at home, not even from one of those boxed dinner kits, let alone attempting a recipe from scratch.

And yet here I am standing before my stove making a variation of it with carrot slivers, corn and peas in the mix. The sauce bubbles nicely in a big pot and I’m spooning the dumpling batter, mixed with a subtle touch of rosemary, into the stew.

The kid wrinkles his nose.

“Trust me,” I say again.

We’re a pretty typical family with two working parents; we have schedules that need daily tweaking and a pace of life that sometimes leaves us half-lidded and drowsy on the couch minutes after we’ve put the kids to bed.

And while we do our share of slacking when it comes to dinner – pizza nights, Chinese take-out and an emergency pack of hot dogs in the freezer – we try to do the right thing a few times a week and actually cook a meal in our own kitchen and then sit down and enjoy it together.

But that involves foresight, both at the grocery store and in the day-planner, and oftentimes a mad, hurried frenzy to get the meal cooked, served and eaten before bedtime.

Not tonight. Tonight I cook chicken and dumplings in about half an hour from start to finish. And it’s because I stopped by Let’s Dish, the new DIY build-a-meal workshop on New Garden Road, for about 20 minutes of prep time.

Owner Holly Calabro greeted me at the door of the brightly lit shop with walls painted varying shades of citrus. She fitted me with an apron and spoke of her impetus for opening the franchise with her business partner Daryl Deitsch, who formerly owned BB’s Compact Discs in Quaker Village.

Calabro was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler, and under the crunch of housework, child-rearing and endless lists of errands she found that she had very little time to plan and prepare meals.

“We really needed it in our lives,” she said.

The concept is straightforward. Each month the parent company sends a menu of dishes prepared by their team of chefs and nutritionists. In the store workers prep the food and set up stations for each dish. Customers come in and inside of an hour or two can assemble enough meals to fill their freezers and then cook as needed at home.

“You can make twelve meals in two hours,” Calabro says. “We assume you’re still going to do pizza night and restaurants. But with the twelve-meal plan you get your freezer stocked for the month and you don’t have to think about it again. Three nights a week you’re going to eat a Let’s Dish meal.

“It has really changed my life,” Calabro continues. “I don’t stress about dinner anymore.”

The menu is broken down into beef dishes like flank steak and sirloin tips in merlot sauce; poultry items like chicken parmigiana and, of course, chicken and rosemary dumplings; pork dishes like chops with apples and honey mustard or Greek pork pita folds; seafood meals like shrimp scampi and pecan-crusted salmon; vegetarian dishes; and dessert.

All the ingredients for chicken and dumplings lay before me at the Let’s Dish work station and I assembled the various components of the meal in freezer bags, like I said, in about 20 minutes, less time than it would take to dice the vegetables and meat if I were doing it myself. At home I mixed it all together in a big pot with some milk from my refrigerator and then helped with homework while it bubbled.

It served up fast, cleaned up easy and there was enough left over – Let’s Dish recipes are portioned to feed six people – for lunch the next day.

Also, my child remembered that he really does like chicken and dumplings.

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