The kitchen table in Alia Kalicinsky's condo is set for four. But instead of plates and cutlery, the table is littered with recipes and rows of ingredients. The table is not set for dining – it's set for cooking.
Monday night dinner club is a weekly tradition for Ms. Kalicinksy and three of her girlfriends. This week the group is minus one, so I've been invited to take her spot.
This week's menu is salmon burgers with tarragon mayonnaise, couscous and feta stuffed red pepper, carrot salad with mint and harissa, and banana chocolate chip loaf. Each person is in charge of one of these dishes. I snag the baking station, a safe spot for an inexperienced cook.
I would likely spend more time in the kitchen if I had others to regularly make and share meals with. If you live on your own and have little experience in the kitchen, then cooking can be a challenge. Making meals for one often leaves you with leftover ingredients that will eventually go bad in your fridge. Plus, the dishes I love to make, like turkey lasagna and blueberry pie, aren't ideal for one. Divvied up between friends though, they're perfect.
The dinner club works like this: Each girlfriend hosts one night a month. On average, they spend $150 to $200 on ingredients. They make it a rule to scan the pantry before picking each dish, and try to stick with common ingredients so they can reuse them in the coming weeks. This week Ms. Kalicinsky raids her pantry for most ingredients and spends less than $120.
Each of the women say that having meals ready to go at the start of each week saves them $100 or more on groceries and eating out. Some money is spent through the week to compliment the prepared meals, like adding a salad to the salmon burgers, but for the most part the women try to make enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinners throughout the week. These nights also provide four busy friends with a chance to socialize, at home, once a week.
"We still go out, but now going for dinner is a treat," says Ms. Kalicinsky. When they spend money on lunches or dinners, it's because they want to and not because they don't have food in the fridge or time to prepare it, she adds.
The women joke that they usually spend about 20 per cent of dinner club talking about just how awesome dinner club is.
"I find these nights therapeutic," says Alyssa Richard. Since starting the dinner club, Ms. Richard says she goes days without pulling out her credit card to spend mindlessly on restaurant meals.
Saving time throughout the week is what Lauren Haw, a busy franchise owner and entrepreneur, appreciates most. Thinking about what to make and how long it would take was often enough to lure her to the ready-made meals section at her grocery store, a convenience that isn't cheap.
Ms. Haw says they've come a long way from their early days when they would cook until midnight and come home exhausted. Today, it only takes three to four hours of prep and cooking and they're set for most of the week. "The other perk is we look really put together and we're prepared when we have company over or are whipping something up for our boyfriends. I think they love the dinner club more than we do," she jokes.