Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Can ready meals ever be healthy?


If there's one word that sends a chill up my spine it is this: 


Not a fan of the ready meal (full of crap with hardly any beneficial goodness whatsoever), when I first heard that a 'healthy' ready meal outlet was opening in the West End of Glasgow I was skeptical. Ready meals are not something you ever find in my flat. I know they serve a purpose. I understand there are people who neither have the desire nor time to cook and rely on ready meals just to make sure they get some dinner, but I would much prefer to spend a day in the kitchen making batches of food to be frozen than to buy a cheap ready made lasagne containing 60% horse meat. When I hear the word 'ready meal', my automatic reaction is to think 'bad for you'.

However, newly opened COOK Glasgow (they have outlets all over the UK) is trying to change that. Founded in 1997 by Dale Penfold and Edward Perry, the emphasis from COOK is to sell frozen ready meals that aren’t full of all the usual nasty additives and that don’t use unnatural procedures to improve shelf life. Ready meals that taste exactly like the food you would cook at home. For those who don’t have time to cook at home.  They use the exact same techniques and ingredients you would use in your own kitchen and the result is a ready meal that is not only good for you but that tastes homemade.  From main meals to puddings, Oriental dishes to pizza, these guys are changing the concept of the ‘ready meal’ right before our very eyes.
I popped into Cook on a soggy Friday afternoon for a chat with David about their products and to check out the shop. Which is amazing - think the freezer section in Whole Foods but posher. Everything is clearly marked in each freezer cabinet meaning you can go straight to what you are looking for (pizza, vegetarian, desserts, etc). They even cook up batches of food and hand out free samples so you can try before you buy. Despite the shop looking great, there was something inside me still screaming that ready meals and healthy eating just did not go together and so I took some of their products home to try.....

I started with the Slow Cooked Rump of Beef with Brandy and I was genuinely impressed. For a start the portion sizes were huge (this will always make me happy) and the sauce was restaurant worthy. The beef was tender and there was no fat. I cooked this in the oven from frozen (the instructions say the products are best cooked from frozen although you can defrost first if you like). I wasn't crazy over the mash. Given it used cream and butter I thought it would taste a little more decadent. However it just tasted like a run of the mill supermarket ready made mash. 

And see this is my problem with ready meals. It's not just the fact they are full of rubbish that puts me off but the fact that they are usually bland and tasteless to boot. But this beef was not. It genuinely tasted homemade. I was impressed....

 If you know me then you will know that I love a curry. It's my go-to take out of choice (the wheat in pizza and the MSG in Chinese kill me). I have a high tolerance for spice and a low tolerance for bad take away so I am pretty discerning when it comes to curry. Especially a curry ready meal. It sort of pains me to say it but this was really good. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, a freshly cooked on the premises restaurant Dopiaza accompanied by a cold pint of Kingfisher is always going to take the crown, but for a ready made meal I was super impressed. There was loads of lamb, it was tender and once again, not an ounce of fat could be found. The sauce was a good consistency and it was actually spicy. So sick of supermarkets who constantly err on the side of caution and keep the chilli to a minimum in what should be hot dishes. I microwaved this time just out of pure nosiness. But I doubt the curry would have come out any better from the oven. It just tasted good. 

So here's the thing. I don't bang on about the bad stuff. If I don't like something then I will usually just quickly mention it then skim over it (looking at you BAD Skinny's burger). It's not that I sell out - it's more that I am not a food or restaurant critic. I will never say something is good if it isn't. That's wrong. But likewise I won't labour a point if I don't like something. I will just put it out there and move on. And usually I will refrain from doing a lengthy post on it. But I genuinely liked these 'ready meals' and I never thought I would ever hear myself say such a sentence.

Personally I love to cook and we all know that at about 7.30pm any given evening I can be found in my happy place (the kitchen) dancing about to one of my favourite albums with a glass of wine in one hand and a kitchen knife and new recipe to try in the other. So I am never going to be living off ready meals. 

But there are two occasions when I don't like to cook - when I have been working all day and I'm super tired or when I am hungover. And so I will most definitely be popping back in the next time I hit up the West End to stock up on some meals for the freezer for times such as those. And some of the kiddies range for the days when Ava has run me ragged and all I want to do is collapse on the sofa with a giant bag of kettle chips. Because maybe ready meals ain't so bad after all?

Oh there was also cheesecake. Amazing cheesecake actually. But I scoffed that before I got a photo. 

Because: me.

Products were received free for the purposes of a review. You can read more about my Disclosure Policy here.


Kim Carberry said...

They do look and sound very tasty!!

duck in a dress said...

Ooh we have one of those shops about 10 miles away in Wells! I've walked past it so many times and never been in - I'll have to pop inside next time I'm there :-) x