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The go-go gourmets
Chefs deliver us from the humdrum
by bringing great meals to our door

By ROSEMARY BLACK
DAILY NEWS FOOD EDITOR
 
It used to be that if you wanted dinner brought to your doorstep, your choices were pizza or Chinese. But home meal delivery has gotten to be so popular - and the options so upscale - that you can order just about anything by phone or online and have it by the next day. Instead of being limited to lo mein vs. Szechuan chicken, or pepperoni vs. sausage, you can choose anything from braised short ribs with French green beans to mashed potatoes and filet mignon. These are meals that require some involvement on the part of the consumer- boiling water, for instance, or operating a microwave- but most are ready in well under half an hour.
"Home meal delivery is a growing trend," says Michael Schiller, spokesman for Decision Point Marketing. "People today have so many demands on their time that they just can't always prepare meals the way they used to. Also, since 9/11, there's been a renewed interest in home and family. People want to be out of the house less, and do more together. Sure, they can stop at the supermarket deli on the way home and get a prepared meal. But more and more they are opting to get a gourmet meal delivered."

Four for dinner

We tried dinner from a four-star chef, calorically controlled entrees that tasted fattening and some intriguing ethnic fare for this report. After sampling our way through four choices, here's what we found.

Chef Connie Cooks! is owned and operated by Connie Rousseau of Fort Lee, N.J., who's been cooking professionally for five years. She prepares the meals herself in your home and leaves everything ready. All you need to do is reheat. You may order everything from Middle Eastern to Middle American, from Korean to Caribbean. Typically, a client hires Connie Cooks! to cook several meals at a time, though some clients also hire her to prepare a dinner party.

"I can do a full service where I serve it all, or I can just prepare the food and then the client takes full credit," Rousseau says.

She travels as far away as Connecticut, though most of her clients are in Manhattan. Sake- and soy-glazed Chilean sea bass, pistachio-crusted baby rack of lamb, pan-seared salmon in banana leaf and rum-glazed sweet plantains were all delicious. A family of four can expect to pay around $24 per serving, though this is flexible, depending on if you order rack of lamb or a casserole. She also prepares kosher meals.

"My typical client is either a time-stressed professional or a stay-at-home soccer mom who is also time-stressed," Rousseau says. Her most popular entree is the Chilean sea bass. She also prepares vegetarian dishes like Garden Patch Baked Pasta, a mixture of broccoli, carrots, celery and pasta in a bechamel sauce. Available in all boroughs.

Fiveleaf, working with a company called Cuisine Solutions, offers meals created by some of the top professional chefs in the U.S. and France - Thomas Keller of the French Laundry, for instance. The frozen meals arrive packed in dry ice. The home cook simply drops the pouches of frozen food into hot water (following package directions) and dinner's ready in roughly 20 minutes. A few items are cooked in a conventional oven.

The meals I sampled were very good: There were beef short ribs braised in red-wine sauce, which came with a little side of cooked celery (a creation of Daniel Boulud), as well as a poached chicken breast accompanied by leeks and carrots in a chive sauce. In both cases, the meat was tender and flavorful, the sides were satisfying and (if you take the time to arrange the meals on the plate as suggested in the instructions) the meal looks especially appealing. The drawback is that you'll need to spend about 20 minutes cooking and you also have to defrost the items, preferably for a day, in the fridge. Prices range from $9.99 to $17.99 for appetizers and up to $29.99 for entrees.

FreshDirect, which began last September and now has 65,000 customers, carries fresh meat, breads, pastries and groceries. Its line of prepared meals includes a very good grilled filet mignon. I also sampled the delicious mashed potatoes, a decent Caesar salad, a thin-crusted pizza and butter-glazed carrots, all of which needed a simple reheating. Prices range from $4.99 for chicken fingers to $14 for grilled filet mignon. The average entree is $6 to $7. Meals are created and prepared by David McInerney (formerly of Bouley and One If by Land) and Michael Stark (formerly of Tribeca Grill). John Boris, vice president of marketing and development, notes that delivery is provided from the Battery up to 125th St. They hope to be in Queens soon.

Finally, for those concerned about weight or health, a meal delivery program called 5 Squares drops off a cooler each night filled with the next day's food. Wheat and sugar-free, the meals are prepared fresh each day. Instead of three meals, you get five different smallish ones for one day. I tried the meals for several days running and was pleasantly surprised that they were fairly satisfying, despite their size. One day's meals might consist of wheat-free banana-nut pancakes, lime-marinated chicken served over spinach salad, zucchini stuffed with ground turkey and served with broccoli rabe, shrimp and scallops with portobellos and filet mignon with kale and garlic-mashed potatoes.

The cost is around $8 per meal, I didn't feel hungry during my three days following this plan, and it really was effortless. For information, visit www.my5squares.com or call 1-866-5wecook. There is a minimum order of three days' worth, and a three-day cancellation policy. Delivery is Monday through Thursday (weekend bags are delivered on Thursday.) Delivery is available in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut. It will be in Queens in six weeks.
 

 

... filet mignon (5 Squares) ...

... poached breast of chicken with leeks (FiveLeaf)...

... and braised short ribs (Fresh Direct).

 

 

 

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5 Squares