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Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

Martha Stewart Kitchen

Chicken Cacciatore and Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Chicken Cacciatore from Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart is in the frozen food business.

We first heard about this from a reader who wrote us from The Woodlands, Texas, telling us that she'd seen them in her local Kroger, and hoped that we could review them.

We checked the Martha Stewart website to see if we could find them here in the Washington, DC area, and at first it seemed we would be out of luck. But a chance visit to our local Balducci's (owned by Safeway) yielded two entree options. The line also includes side dishes, appetizers, and desserts. We don't review frozen sides or appetizers: we limit our reviews to frozen main course dishes and only occasionally review desserts or ingredients, such as chicken stock.

Today we have Martha's Chicken Cacciatore and her Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs. Both dishes have fairly reasonable numbers: the Cacciatore has 170 calories, 660mg sodium, and 1g fiber.

the Chicken Cacciatore from Martha Stewart, after cooking

Wait.

Only 170 calories?

Here's the problem: on the back of the Cacciatore frozen meal package it says, "A Tip From Martha: Serve with crusty bread or atop fettuccini or creamy polenta. Accent with a sprinkle of fresh basil."

Oh. These aren't intended to be complete meals.

Other than the "hand pies" and the pot pies, only 1 entree, the Braised Chicken, includes a carbohydrate (fingerling potatoes). (It leaves out a vegetable, however, and suggests that you serve it with side salad.)

Nevertheless, we reviewed them.

These give both conventional oven and microwave oven cooking directions, and as is our practice we used our microwave. It's a bit disconcerting to put an aluminum tray in the microwave - it's a tenet of our age that you never put anything metal in the microwave - but everything turned out ok (at least, as far as the microwave is concerned).

Despite its lack of a carbohydrate - and unsalted pasta or polenta is a good choice - the Cacciatore is as good as you might expect from Martha Stewart. The developers used chicken thighs instead of chicken breast, then processed it minimally, which means you end up with thick, tender chunks of chicken thigh.

The Cacciatore's sauce has tons of mushrooms and enough green and black olives that the briny flavor of classic Cacciatore comes through nicely, and for once you can't taste every single milligram of salt. Overall, "excellent flavor and a very gentle Cacciatore".

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs from Martha Stewart

The Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs were a bit of problem.

The Cacciatore's instructions have you place the dish on a microwaveable plate while cooking. We did the same with the Short Ribs, and unfortunately after the first round of cooking (both of these have you cook, stir, then cook some more) the dish was largely still frozen. We ended up cooking the dish a good 2 minutes longer than recommended (which is practically unheard of) before we looked more closely at the instructions and realized that we weren't supposed to put the aluminum dish on a plate at all.

the Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs from Martha Stewart, after cooking

How embarrassing.

The Short Ribs are much more substantial than the Cacciatore in that they have 370 calories - and the "A Tip From Martha" reads, "Rich enough to eat on its own, or serve over egg noodles for extra hearty comfort. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves."

With only 460 milligrams of sodium (but only 1g fiber), eating this by itself might not be a bad idea, although we'd rather it were also served over brown rice or even polenta.

This is a generous serving of tender, juicy short ribs cooked in a thick, rich red wine sauce, with chunks of white onion, potatoes, and carrots. On the one hand, the sauce and the beef are excellent, but the vegetables in our dish barely got warm and thus were a little undercooked. Chances are that's our fault for not reading the instructions: if you try this one, follow the instructions closely and let us know your results.

A caveat: both dishes have the longest list of ingredients we have ever seen for a frozen meal, and after 15 years of near-weekly reviews, that's saying something. Surprisingly, neither are gluten-free although it's not necessary to add flour to Chicken Cacciatore or Beef Short Ribs. The added wheat flour was clearly used to thicken the sauce. Too bad.

Do they taste good? Yes. Are they worth the about $7.00 we paid per meal, considering that they're only main course dishes and the package recommends that you make additional sides to go with them? We have to say no.

Posted: November 5, 2021