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Engineer the perfect, giftable tv dinner!
January 17, 2011 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Fun tv dinners as a gift. I'm an experienced cook, you have some good ideas. Let's hear it!

As a thank you for my sister who does favors for me, I've decided that it'd be nice to make some tv dinners for her pretty busy lifestyle. I'm a good cook, and she's enjoyed eating at my house before, and as a special twist, I'd like to make them gourmet and fun.

I've already started browsing freezer cooking websites for recipes, and skimmed a couple previous askmefis, so I'm not as much looking for a specific recipe, but how you'd engineer the perfect tv dinner. Think presentation, not just convenience.

Some considerations:
1. Multiple courses together would be fun, but I don't really want to mess around with making her cook too many things in multiple ways.

2. I've thought of adding single size gourmet ice cream bars/half-pints or little chocolate bars into a wrapped dinner as a surprise. Any other surprises or treats you'd want to find in your mystery dinner? Presumably it'd have to freeze well, so that probably nixes things like little cheeses.

3. Any ideas on storage other than a set of throwaway tupperware?

4. I usually buy/stock interesting ingredients and shop at ethnic groceries, so the sky's the limit.

5. I could make this a bigger present to include specialty dishware or reuseable containers, if they added to the presentation.

Thanks!
posted by artifarce to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maki at JustBento has a few recipes/articles that might be helpful.

Frozen Shepherds Pie
Miso soup balls
Vegan rice burger (can be frozen, then assembled whenever you're ready to eat)
How to freeze pre-portioned rice

Any/all of those would be awesome packed inside a cute bento box.
posted by specialagentwebb at 1:07 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Riffing off the old foil package technique (and off of "en papillotte" too, honestly), why not make her little packages of meat, veg and seasonings wrapped in foil? You could then experiment with loads of different combinations. Label which foil packets are which, and when she comes home, she sticks one in the oven for x minutes and has a hot meal.
posted by LN at 1:20 PM on January 17, 2011


I love Indian food, myself, and it would be easy to make a few courses that could actually be packed, frozen, and reheated together, making for a simple meal.

Fun additions would be drink mixes, exotic chocolates (they freeze well, don't they?) and/or little note cards with instructions for a very simple fresh side dish (like a raita recipe to go with spicy Indian food?)
posted by goblinbox at 1:25 PM on January 17, 2011


The preparation may be flawless, but the refrigeration and reheating might leave your dishes worse for the wear. Consider things like soups and stews. Beef vegetable, chicken noodle, beef stew, perhaps even pot roast. Alternately, you might try a basic meat & 2 with something like a fried pork chop or ham steak (beef steak won't reheat, as much as I've tried). Mashed potatoes reheat just fine, as do Southern style greens. Cornbread stuffing also reheats. Heck, you could probably pull off a turkey dinner.
posted by Gilbert at 1:26 PM on January 17, 2011


Indian rice dishes, like the spectacular Navratan Pulao, freeze and nuke quite well. Add a little homemade garam masala and a yogurt-mint chutney and thats something that can survive in the fridge for a week (or the rice in the freezer for much longer).

The recipe linked above is an example. Many others to be found with a quick search. Same with garam masala. Chutney is a simple concoction of yogurt, fresh ground roasted cumin, and finely chopped garlic, mint and seeded serrano chiles all to taste.
posted by elendil71 at 1:32 PM on January 17, 2011


It might seem redundant but put reheating instructions on each dinner, and be sure to give instructions for all the little pieces. Inevitably there will be some little pieces because one of the downfalls of TV dinners is that bread, meat, starch, and dessert fourish with different thawing and reheating methods. If you're going to the trouble of making her some fantastic dinners, it takes just a little bit of advice on what the best method is. And you know what she's got - a microwave, a toaster oven, a regular oven, a broken broiler, etc.

For example:

Saag Paneer: Indian spinach and cheese over basmati rice with samosa, garlic naan, and kulfi dessert. Open the gladware, remove foil packets.
Remove foil from packet 1, vegetable samosa, and microwave 3 minutes.
Place packet 2, foil wrapped naan, in oven at 350 for 10 minutes, then open the foil, and put the warm samosa and the naan back in to crisp for another 10 minutes.
Return packet 3, kulfi ice pop, to freezer, to be enjoyed after dinner.
Microwave main container (rice and saag) on high for 5 minutes, stir gently, then microwave another 5 minutes.

But go with things that reheat well, like Gilbert was suggesting. In short, yes, go with the tv-dinner classics like pot roast, beef stew, chicken pie, lasagna, shepherd's pie, mac & cheese, etc, but put your own spin on it. The best part of this isn't the dish itself but the fact that *your* lasagna is better than Stouffer's lasagna and has lots of yummy vegetables in the sauce but doesn't include mushrooms which she hates. And, you can add a piece of garlic toast for the toaster oven, and a frozen creme brulee or chocolate lava cake to heat up while she's eating (as sold at trader joe's for example).
posted by aimedwander at 2:21 PM on January 17, 2011


I have some divided, covered plates like these for taking leftovers to work for lunch. They'll go in the dishwasher, so you could make her some dinners, she could return the clean plates and you could make her some more.
posted by zinfandel at 2:27 PM on January 17, 2011


If you can find a restaurant supply store you can find much nicer, "restaurant-y" containers that would spiff it up a fair bit. (Or at least for me; I am easily deluded into thinking "restaurant" = "better.")

If somebody made me ice cream sandwiches from homemade cookies and homemade ice cream I would be very excited.

Do not overlook the blah side dishes -- if you do Indian, make sure to include plain basmati rice, a pappadum. I would also try to freeze better condiments. Lately I've been very excited by 30% fat sour cream, and that freezes fine.

I freeze a lot of little piles of Indian and Ethiopian stews for myself and use rice to separate them -- just make a little rice triskelion and dump the various dishes in its own little rice divider. This holds up surprisingly well when nuked later on.

You should be able to freeze grated piles of parmigiano reggiano to top cheese-toppable anything you make...

Pizza freezes well and comes out fantastic with posh toppings -- lay on the artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms, balls of buffalo mozzarella, blobs of pesto. Looks reasonably pretty. Maybe throw in some stuff to sprinkle on top, a spicy oil, a dipping sauce?
posted by kmennie at 2:28 PM on January 17, 2011


I have delivered frozen but homemade (not dried) pasta and a few jars of sauces or pestos that I also made. It's not exactly tv dinner but it makes a nice basket and is almost as fast to heat up. Freeze the pasta in small bundle that are a single serving, then she just has to plop one in to boiling water and add your sauces.
posted by Saminal at 3:55 PM on January 17, 2011


These are great ideas! Thank you. She and I both love Indian food and I already have some ingredients on hand. Please keep the ideas coming--I'll mark best answers in a bit.

For those reading this later, I also decided one of meals should be a soup & bread bowl, with the bread a blob of dough to bake fresh.

Good thing it's still winter for all these hearty & delicious sounding ideas.
posted by artifarce at 8:34 AM on January 18, 2011


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