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Flavors: Convenience Cooking


In our busy lives, getting dinner on the table can be challenging. Making sure your family receives nourishment not only involves the act of cooking, but also planning and shopping even before pans can be pulled out, and the stove and oven turned on. But these days, fresh food for dinner can be easily secured. Pre-packaged ingredients for cooking dinner are one click away on your smart phone or tablet. Then at the grocery store, a wide selection of ready to cook and eat food is available.

Inside the HelloFresh box with packaged and premeasured ingredients.

Companies such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh deliver the ingredients for making dinner right to your doorstep. This means all the tasks involved in preparing to cook a meal have been eliminated. In many cases, there is no need to measure out many of the components for making the dish.

Inside a cardboard box, the makings for a meal are packaged together in the right proportions for cooking. Ingredients such as herbs and condiments are placed in pre-labeled bags and containers. Small amounts of vinegar and special oils are also supplied. The vacuumed bags of meat and fish are placed between large frozen ice packs. All you need to supply is the oil, salt and pepper.

The ingredients are designed to stay fresh for up to a week. The recipe cards not only include the ingredient amounts and techniques, but also feature photographs of how food should be prepared for cooking – the cut size of vegetables for instance, and how a filet of fish should be coated with breadcrumbs.

Sign up for a subscription or individual meals takes place online.  Vegetarian, meat and fish options can be proportioned for two people or a family of four with costs starting around $10 per person.

Kathleen Benoit of Skinner-Benoit Public Relations of Billings, Montana first learned of Blue Apron, a New York based startup from her sister who lives in Los Angeles. She received four meals to sample and was hooked.

“I really love to cook,” Benoit shares enthusiastically.  She enjoys cooking but does not like to shop. For Benoit, the once a week arrival of the Blue Apron box is   described as “a culinary Christmas.” Blue Apron has helped supplement the meals she plans on Sunday for the week.  The delivered goods help ease the research for recipes in magazines and cookbooks.

Benoit has learned to appreciate new ingredients included in the Blue Apron recipes, even more so as unusual items are limited in Montana. Becoming acquainted with new items has given Benoit a different perspective when she goes shopping, noticing some foods she may have not seen before.

The deli at Lucky’s Market offer a variety of ready made foods.

John Hobart, store director of the Lucky’s Market in Billings, shared how prepared foods are becoming the trend. With a deli, salad and soup bar, sushi and pizza stations, and bakery, the store has many avenues for takeout food. From kale salad to roast chicken to sushi, a completely prepared dinner can be taken home for dinner.

In the Produce section, already cut vegetables are available in packages for easy fresh cooking.

At another level, fresh fish and meat can be purchased from a counter - a butcher shop with seafood, beef, pork, and poultry. Then in the produce section, packages including sliced mushrooms, julienned zucchini, cubed butternut squash, and diced onions saves preparation time. The ease helps in better being able to create a fresh home cooked meal to the table.

With stints cooking in San Sebastian, Spain, where gastronomy reigns with more Michelin stars per square meter than any other place in the world and his origins in Chicago, Hobart has a sense of food. He understands and appreciates Montana’s love of steak and potatoes but he is hoping to open up palates. Through Lucky’s Market, he will continue to bring in new products and possibilities.

Even with the advent of pre-prepared foods and the pre-packaged makings for dinner, Executive Chef Nick Steen of the Northern Hotel still loves cooking a homemade meal for son, Declan, when he can.  Often his son comes into the kitchen that oversees the food created for TEN and Bernie’s Diner, the hotel’s two restaurants.

Executive Chef Nick Steen and his son Declan spend time in the Northern Hotel’s kitchen.

Steen says of his five-year-old son, “He is pretty spoiled when he eats salmon and foie gras and sushi.” Declan has had the rare opportunity of seeing where his food comes from. Not many children his age have seen an octopus or a whole fish up close.

Steen’s wife, Ashley, prepares the daily meals. “My wife cooks very fresh, she considers herself to be a bistro child,” which means charcuterie and cheeses are often offerings for dinner along with vegetables and leafy greens. Steen admits to having “emergency meals of chicken nuggets” but there always something “made from scratch” in his home.

Steen has a passion for food. His love of cooking makes his work not feel like a job.  “I love to play with my food. It is therapeutic,” he professes.  He finds therapy in peeling carrots and filleting fish.

With the many convenience options in bringing food to the table, perhaps we will discover some of the passion Chef Steen has for cooking. Whether it is prepared foods or ingredients delivered in a box, fresh food can be served for dinner tonight.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.