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June 20, 2019

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Restaurant review: The Dough Hook offers the answer...

When staring into the refrigerator yields no inspiration for dinner

Icon Restaurant Review:
The Dough Hook
117 Main St., Bluffton
Reviewer: Liz Gordon-Hancock

Why is meal-planning such a headache? Now that school is back in session, everyone's schedule is getting busier. I decided to take the hassle out of my meal-planning and get a Fresh Meal box from The Dough Hook.

Marlena Ballinger, owner of The Dough Hook, has come up with a brilliant way to simplify your week. Her Fresh Meal boxes supply everything - the meat, cheese, pasta or rice, and vegetables et cetera -  to make a complete meal.  Each box comes with all the ingredients needed to make three meals. You pick and choose when you cook them, using the enclosed recipes.

I meandered into The Dough Hook on the Tuesday school run, to pick up my first-ever meal box. (See picture) Inside was everything I needed to prepare three meals, with a recipe sheet. Each recipe is color-coded and all the ingredients are stored in that color bag. The raw meat is stored in a separate bag. The individual bags are clearly labelled. Ingredients are measured, chopped, and ready to cook.

I have a confession - I have trouble following a recipe. Not because I don't understand it, but because I don't like being told how to do things; I like to figure them out for myself (i.e. I'm stubborn and independent).  I'm also an inveterate recipe-adulterator, which means on my first attempt at making a recipe, I'm already switching ingredients (e.g. what happens if we swap Swiss cheese for colby?). 

My husband often opines this habit of mine, because if he really likes what I created, it's been cobbled together and that means I cannot easily reproduce the same dish.

So when I Iooked over the recipes for this week, I already started making mental adjustments to the Italian Sausage Rigatoni meal. Over the past year, I've cut out most bread, rice and pasta from my diet. But the rest of my family are still pasta lovers. Looking over Marlena's meals for the week, I realised the pasta in the rigatoni could easily be replaced with spaghetti squash.

Meal 1:
Italian Sausage Rigatoni with garlic bread

Actually, I couldn't help adding some vegetables from my garden (did I mention I don't follow recipes?) - I added a red onion, green bell pepper and roma tomatoes to the Italian sausage. But I resisted the temptation to add Italian seasoning, as I wanted the original flavor of the tomato sauce provided to come through.  The meal came together really quickly. In fact, I had so much extra time, I whipped up the first apple crumble of the season, so we had dessert as well.

My only criticism of the rigatoni meal is that it did not come with a vegetable side. But it was easy enough to toss a salad together, five minutes before ringing the dinner bell.

You know everyone loves the dish when they go back for second helpings, right? Well, some had third helpings of this tasty rigatoni.  

Meal 2:
One Pan Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli

This recipe was so easy, I cooked it one-handed while holding my 16th-month-old on my hip. You cook the chicken, then add uncooked rice, then pour water and stock over it and let it simmer, covered, before adding the broccoli. I love that this recipe is the throw-everything-into-one-pot method, which could also be called only-dirty-one-pan method. Another confession, I did almost burn the rice; when the recipe says "simmer", they really mean it. Plus I was busy writing up my notes, instead of watching the pot boil. (Ironic, I know.)

Meal 3:
Pineapple, Bacon-wrapped Cheese Burgers with Fries and Fruit cocktail

I saved this meal for Friday night, because it's always nice to have something yummy to welcome the start of a weekend. (Plus, calories don't count on a Friday night, right?) This particular recipe had you mix BBQ sauce with the ground beef to form your own burger, and top it with pineapple and cheese, then wrap it with bacon. The cooking time worked out well, as you just threw the formed burgers and frozen fries in the oven to cook at the same time. The hamburgers were very tender, and the buns were nice and thick. There was not much need for ketchup or other condiments because the burgers were so flavorful.  

When I asked my semi-picky four-year-old what she thought of it, she said, "Good! I ate it all up." 

Portions were huge - we chose the 4-person meal box, because there are six of us around the table (not counting the baby), but we actually had leftovers from everything except the burgers.

Three home-cooked meals for two people costs $35. That's $5.83 per person per meal. Meals for four costs $55 or $4.85 per person per meal. Just eating out for one meal would cost over $55 for our family of seven, so I found it good value for money.

The Dough Hook's Fresh Meals gets two thumbs up from me and my family. It's convenient, tasty and takes the hassle out of meal planning. The beauty of this is if you have guests coming or you're trying to cut back on carbs, you still have the flexibility to just trade out one of the enclosed ingredients for something else. Or if you like less garlic, then you use as much or as little as your tastebuds prefer.  The meals are amazingly flexible.

These meals will appeal to the tired cook - they're dead easy! Or the busy cook - that's three less meals you have to plan and shop for. Frankly, figuring out what is for dinner is sometimes more stressful than actually cooking the dinner. Or even the uninspired cook - if cooking is not your forte, but you're still in charge of cooking most of the time, then these Fresh Meal boxes are for you; the inspiration comes, supplied with all the ingredients.  Actually, I'm struggling to think of any cook who wouldn't enjoy a Fresh Meal box every once in awhile.

To sign up for your own Fresh Meal box, check out the coming week's menu. You can order at the store, over the phone or online at www.doughhook.com. Then you go to the Dough Hook, anytime after Tuesday noon, and pick up your meal box. If you don't have time to pick it up, delivery can be arranged. You can opt in or out each week, with no obligation.

The Dough Hook is open Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon.