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Earlier this year we reviewed two items, Butter Chicken Meatballs and Coconut Chicken Curry, from Cafe Spice, whose products are sold in the grab-and-go refrigerator case, not the frozen aisle.
As I noted at the time, these are products that realistically speaking, are single servings, while they are labeled as two servings. We did the appropriate math to find that even if you ate the entire tray (which anyone would), these particular dishes are still acceptable in terms of calories and sodium - and they're more than acceptable in terms of flavor. That said, other varieties from Cafe Spice should be avoided, and we gave a list.
I'm seeing more and more of these convenience meals appearing in the refrigerator case, and as I do at almost any grocery store I visit, I looked at the Nutrition Information for today's meals when I saw them at a local Balducci's (a grocery chain located primarily in the Northeast).
Like the meals from Cafe Spice, these are also labeled as two servings, while the reality is that these are single serving meals. But the numbers are truly impressive: the Vegetarian Moussaka, our first item up for review, has 170 calories, 250 milligrams of sodium, and 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Realistically that's 340 calories, 500 mg sodium, and 6g fiber, which is more than acceptable.
The instructions say to microwave each meal for 2 minutes "until hot." After 2 minutes in our 1100-watt microwave, the middle of the underside of the plastic tray didn't feel more than room temperature, so we blasted them for an additional 30 seconds, which made them hot throughout.
The cooked dish might look unremarkable, but it's not.
Not by a long shot.
My wife and I tasted these (as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic), and she insisted on documenting and sharing with you my initial reaction: "This is f***in' delicious."
Very thin slices of eggplant are cooked until soft under a layer of lentil sauce that's so umami I had to look at the ingredients list to see if they had included porcini dust (they did not). The mashed potatoes on top are as smooth as any Brit would like and the whole is a comfort food extravaganza. It's a little high in fat at 22 grams total (only 6 grams saturated fat), but I could eat this regularly. This is fantastic.
The Chicken Stifado is labeled as having 140 calories, 310 milligrams sodium, and 2 grams of fiber per serving, thus 280 calories, 620mg sodium, and 4g fiber per tray. That still compares favorably with the vast majority of meals we've reviewed already, but this, like the Vegetarian Moussaka, is far, far better in terms of flavor.
Another case of what my wife called "real food!"
Stifado is a Greek recipe that seems to be most often made with beef or lamb. It's a stew that includes onions, tomatoes, and peppers in a red wine or red wine vinegar sauce.
The Greek Table has chosen to use chicken thighs instead of beef. If you're a long-term Dr. Gourmet reader, you may have noticed that I love to use chicken thighs in chicken dishes. They have only a little more fat than chicken breasts, but they're less likely to dry out in cooking and have tons more umami flavor.
Thighs are a good choice for this dish: big chunks of tender, savory thighs have been braised in red wine with green and red bell peppers and onions. The peppers are soft and sweet but still have a bit of texture, and the onions add pops of bright crunch. Sweet, savory, and delicious, this is impressive.
It's a bit higher in sodium than I'd like, but if you served this over some brown rice made without salt it would be fantastic.
The biggest drawback to these meals, apart from being labeled as serving two when in reality they are single servings, is that they are $11.99 apiece. Yes, eleven dollars and ninety-nine cents: easily 3 to 4 times the cost of most frozen meals and much, much closer to the cost of takeout from a local restaurant. We'll give them a thumbs up for flavor and nutrition (based on consuming both servings), but $11.99 each is a lot more than we think people should be spending on a single-serving meal more than perhaps once a week.
You could certainly make your own Lentil Moussaka for less per serving - and I plan to look at creating a Chicken Stifado recipe for the Dr. Gourmet website in the near future.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Review posted: July 31, 2020