To some, the mincing, measuring and sauteing aspects of a home-cooked meal serve as a form of therapy. To others, nothing brings peace of mind like speed-dialing for Chinese takeout. Somewhere in the middle falls a new group of ready-to-make meals prepped by local chefs and ardent foodies. For busy households with refined tastes or rookie gourmands still learning their way around the kitchen, these bundles of pre-prepared ingredients are like a sous-chef in a bag. The more hands-on meals give customers a role in the cooking process, while others require nothing more than a simple reheating in a pan or the oven. All have been put to the test and they turned out so professional, we were tempted to leave a tip on our dining room table. Kat Lucero (For Express); Photos by Jason Hornick (For Express)

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Scratch D.C.

The only way Ryan Hansan could make enjoying a home-cooked meal any easier is if he hand-fed you your dinner. The D.C.-area native and serial entrepreneur launched Scratch D.C. in August 2012 as a means for busy professionals to whip up a healthy, gourmet dinner every night (scratchdc.com). “I thought there had to be a much better and more efficient way to make food easy,” says Hansan, a foodie who learned to cook from his stay-at-home mom.

Here’s how it works: Every Friday on the website, Hansan posts the next week’s list of gourmet meals-for-two (hazelnut-crusted tilapia, flank steak with roasted portabellas) made from organic and locally sourced ingredients. Customers select a dish and schedule a delivery, and a team member of Scratch D.C. will drop off a bundle of chopped, measured and marinated ingredients packaged in biodegradable containers. The dish comes with clear cooking instructions and is ready to serve in 30 minutes or less.

Hansan says his meals — which range from $25 to $35 — are cost-effective primarily because you’re not paying for more ingredients than you need. “Why am I buying a quart of cream if I only need a teaspoon?” he says. In fact, a recent cost analysis he conducted found that customers paid 50 percent less when they purchased one of his meals — a Thai green curry chicken — than when they bought comparable ingredients at Whole Foods. And that’s not including the purchase of essentials like olive oil, salt and pepper.

Red Apron Butchery’s Burger Bundles
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With the introduction of Burger Bundles in late spring, chef-butcher Nathan Anda of Red Apron Butchery (redapronbutchery.com) bestowed apron-duty to customers who want to prepare his all-beef burgers on their own grill.

Each bundle contains the following: four 5-ounce patties made from Red Apron’s coarsely ground blend of brisket, short rib and sirloin; four uncut brioche potato rolls baked by pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac; a small container of Gordy’s Pickles chips; a ripe tomato grown in Pennsylvania; and 4 ounces of artisanal cheese from fromager Carolyn Stromberg’s Righteous Cheese (the cheese selection rotates every Friday between traditional options like cheddar to more unique varieties).

“It’s pretty much choose your own adventure,” Anda says. “The burgers are already pattied out. The cheese is portioned per burger. You’re going to cook the burgers however you want and put as much of the accompaniments as you want.” The bundles ($25) are available for pickup at Red Apron’s Union Market (1309 Fifth St. NE) and Merrifield (8298 Glass Alley, Fairfax) locations. Preordering
is encouraged, as a limited number of buns and patties are made each day.

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Society Fair’s Bags to Go

When Meshelle Armstrong opened Society Fair in January 2012, she noticed customers did all their grocery shopping at her cafe and market (277 S. Washington St., Alexandria; societyfair.net). In response, her team added packaged dinner bags to make dinner prep more convenient.

Society Fair offers two types of prepared meals: the Friday Date Night Bag for two ($48) and the Sunday Supper Bag for two or four ($48 and $85). Cuisines, which change weekly, have included Mexican, Indian and American Southern.

“You can put the dish in the oven, warm it up, post it on [social media] and it looks like you made it,” says Armstrong, who also co-owns Restaurant Eve in Alexandria. “It’s the convenience of having a great dinner. Easy and homey.”

Each bag comes with a bottle of wine and a dessert, such as tres leches trifle, basmati rice pudding or lemon Bundt cake. The bags are available for pickup at the Old Town eatery. Armstrong is also experimenting with other themes: Expect dinner bags for the vegetarian and the new mother, one containing popular dishes from Restaurant Eve and a Wednesday special that involves more cooking.