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It's unusual for us (the tasting panel at Dr. Gourmet) to discover a wholly new brand name in frozen meals. We (okay, my wife) spotted the meals reviewed in today's tasting session at our local Rouse's (locals: the one on Tchoupitoulas) on a recent trip for groceries: they're $2.99 each. Of the six varieties on offer, she brought home for tasting the two that are lowest in sodium.
Our tasting panel described the packaging as: "Oddly anonymous." It's true: there's the "Indulgence" brand on the package, but there's little indication of the identity of the parent company unless you read the fine print on one of the end panels of the package. Those indicate that these are Kraft products, but we couldn't find any sort of reference to the Indulgence frozen meal products anywhere at kraftfoods.com, and so far as we could find, the Indulgence brand has no website of its own.
When products don't appear on the company's website I'm always concerned: are these intended to be short-term products? Maybe they're testing the market to see how the products are received before adding them to the website? Who knows?
And this is something to be concerned about.
We started our tasting with the Cavatappi Bolognese (280 calories, 500mg sodium, 3g fiber), which boasts "al dente cavatappi pasta in a rich savory meat sauce with shredded pork & turkey sausage." We had to read the ingredients listing to understand that the sauce does not contain sausage made from both shredded pork and shredded turkey, but rather that the sausage is made from turkey and there is also shredded pork in the sauce. "Chalk that up to having an English Major on staff," my wife quipped. The portion size "isn't skimpy" and "there's a fair amount of cheese" on top of the dish as we put it into the microwave.
While the packaging declares that the pasta is "al dente," our panel was skeptical: "Frozen food pasta is NEVER al dente," they declared.
Wrong! Or at least mostly wrong: the pasta might not be perfectly al dente, "it isn't very far beyond" al dente, according to our panel. Even more surprising, the sauce is savory with the sausage and has notes of basil and oregano, with just a touch of "some sort of spice like cayenne or chili powder." We were surprised to note that it wasn't too sweet (so many pasta sauces have altother too much added sugars), nor was it too salty. "May well be the best SpagBol [spaghetti or other pasta with bolognese sauce] we've ever had," said the panel. Two thumbs way up.
After such a positive start, the second dish couldn't possibly be as good. But again we were proved wrong: The Portobello Mushroom Risotto from Indulgence by Kraft Foods is another winner (310 calories, 560mg sodium, 2g fiber). Cooking risotto in a microwave is pretty iffy, but somehow Kraft pulls it off: the rice might be a little overdone, but it still has a fair amount of bite for frozen rice. This might not be perfect, al dente, risotto, but it's darn close for frozen food and is nothing like mushy.
Vegetarians should note that while this meal might appear to be at least lacto-ovo vegetarian (a vegetarian who consumes dairy products as well as eggs from chickens), this is not in fact vegetarian: the ingredients list mentions chicken meat as well as chicken broth. While neither are immediately obvious while tasting the dish (that is, we didn't run across any pieces of chicken in the meal), the panel didn't doubt that the chicken meat or broth added to the "impressively savory" overall flavor.
Half and half, neufchatel (basically reduced-fat cream cheese), romano, and parmesan cheeses contribute to the dish's creaminess as well as the overall mouthwatering flavor. The panel wished that there were more mushrooms in the meal - what we could see were perhaps a dozen 1/2-inch pieces of thinly sliced mushrooms that looked more like button mushrooms than portobellos - but again, there's plenty of umami flavor and the mushroom bits do indeed add some texture to what could easily have been flavorful mush.
Overall verdict? "Nine out of ten: would definitely eat again," said the panel. Two of the best frozen meals we've had in a long time.
Reviewed: October 12, 2018