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For our last review of 2018 we have what one of our panelists called "a return to an old new company." Caesar's Kitchen is a branch of Caesar's Pasta, LLC - it appears that Caesar's Pasta spun off their organic and gluten-free frozen meals to its own line. In the process, of course, there was rebranding and repackaging, and even a completely separate website, which explains why at first we were a bit confused as to whether this was in fact the same company that created the meals we've already reviewed from Caesar's.
It's been a while since we've reviewed anything from Caesar's. Our last review, of their Chicken Cacciatore Lasagna, was in 2014, and at the time it was a big disappointment: the lasagna was "oddly bland" and we gave it a thumbs down, the first we'd ever given that company. I see from their website that the product's been renamed "Chicken Lasagna" - if we run across it we'll have to try it again to see if the change of brand meant a change in product.
The good news is that this doesn't seem to have been the case for their Vegetarian Lasagna (500 calories, 340 mg sodium, 2g fiber). We last reviewed this product back in 2009 and noted that the noodles were made from rice flour and were "not as gummy or gelatinous as many gluten free meals." Almost ten years later it would seem that they've only changed their recipe for gluten-free pastas, now using a mix of rice and corn flour to yield a pasta that's "almost-but-not-quite al dente" (as one panelist put it). That certainly shows how far gluten-free products have come in the intervening period: our standards are much higher than they used to be when it comes to gluten-free pasta.
The filling of the Vegetable Lasagna is a rich blend of spinach, broccoli, and onions with a bright, herbaceous marinara sauce. There's enough ricotta to keep almost any cheese lover happy, and the overall effect is of "a respectable little lasagna." Those with Celiac or gluten sensitivity and those who can tolerate wheat gluten will all enjoy this one - and at 500 calories this would make a great item to keep on hand at home for busy weeknights - just serve with a side salad for a little more fiber.
Our second product to review is new to us: their 3 Cheese Herb Rigatoni & Meat Sauce has a more lunch-friendly 380 calories with 410 milligrams of sodium and the same 2 grams of fiber as the lasagna. As it came out of the microwave, a panelist remarked, "they didn't stint on the cheese, did they?" and another pointed out, "It does say '3 cheese'."
Indeed it does, and no, they didn't: there's enough cheese here to cheer any cheese-lover with its savory, strudle-y (pronounced STREW-dul-ee, a panelist insists that this is the word that describes the string-like extrusion of cheese from the food to the fork) goodness.
The rigatoni (a tube of pasta about an inch long and perhaps 2/3 inch in diameter) is clearly the same pasta recipe as the lasagna, but as it's not quite as thick as the lasagna noodles, so it is a bit less al dente. (None of the panelists cared.) What's impressive about this dish is the beef, which is clearly of very good quality. It says on the package that the beef is "raised without hormones," and indeed the beef has almost a wild flavor - like that of grass-fed cattle. Its umami flavor complements the bright tomato sauce and savory cheese, but it's not overwhelming: clearly the emphasis here is on the 3 cheeses. Every thumb at the table: up. Tasty, hearty... perfect for a cold snap. Check their website at www.CaesarsKitchen.com for a product finder: we got ours at our local Winn-Dixie for $5.79 apiece.
Review posted: December 28, 2018