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More on ready meals, and eating well on a budget…

Posted Jan 30 2013 11:59am

Having been, for the most part, deeply unimpressed by Wiltshire Farm Foods meals, I decided, rather than order any more from online companies, I’d go back to basics, and order from Sainsbury’s.

I was a bit critical about them in the past, mainly due to their habit of using wine-marinated meat where it was totally wrong to do so, resulting in some very odd flavours, and the inedibility of their carrots (a common failing throughout the industry – carrots and freezers just don’t get along).

Still, they were cheap, and at least as filling as WFF so, last week, I ordered some to test the water, as it’s some years since I’ve eaten them:-

1 x Sainsbury’s British Classic Braised Steak 450g – Total Price £2.40

1 x Sainsbury’s Beef Stew & dumplings 450g – Total Price £2.30

1 x Sainsbury’s Classic Minced Beef Cobbler 450g – Total Price £2.30

1 x Sainsbury’s Classic Liver & Bacon With Mash 450g – Total Price £2.30

1 x Sainsbury’s Classic Cottage Pie Meal 450g – Total Price £2.60

1 x Sainsbury’s British Classic Shepherds Pie 450g – Total Price £2.30

1 x Sainsbury’s British Classic Minced Beef Hotpot 450g – Total Price £2.30

The Cottage Pie Meal came with cauliflower cheese, peas, and carrots, the rest are self-explanatory.

I also got some Birds Eye fish and several pies to round things off.

If you look at the weights and the prices, there’s a decent cost saving compared to WFF . For example, the WFF Braised Beef in Rich Sauce – i.e. thick gravy – (410g, £4.65), in which the meat was mostly uneatable, came with broccoli, mashed carrot and swede, and mash, while Sainsbury’s Classic Braised Steak just came with mash but was excellent and only slightly more than half the price.

It’s fair to say that WFF presentation is better, but you can’t eat appearance.

I have to confess to being far more satisfied with them than I used to be, and more so than with WFF. A few years ago, when I was eating ready meals, it was just to fill a hole during a bad spell, this time it’s long-term, so I need to get it right, and I have. I’ve stuck to the basics, as you can see, mainly because if I want anything more ambitious, I’ll wait and make it myself when I’m able, but also because it’s unchallenging and hard to bugger up!

I’ve been washing and keeping the compartmented trays (for some reason, you can’t buy them or, if you can, I can’t find them), and I plan to make my own ready meals. Simple ones, like mince, with spuds and peas, for example, for openers.

Frozen peas don’t like being microwaved any more than carrots do (it dries them out), so I intend to cook them first then freeze them in a basic béchamel sauce to keep them moist.

The spuds will be Pink Fir Apple, cut into chunks, parboiled then deep fried, just to enhance the flavour. Any spud will do, PFA just happens to be what’s in the fridge.

Making a simple stew, like mince and veg, it takes only a little more effort to cook six portions than it does to cook one, especially using pre-prepped veg, so in terms of spoons it’s very cost-effective.

I also have a bag of Waitrose Gourmet** sausages in the freezer, so I think I’ll fry those off, thickly slice and pack them in a ketchup-heavy instant curry sauce (German currywurst!), and freeze them with mash and baked beans.

**Not sure what’s supposed to be Gourmet about them, but they’re very good sausages, with an appropriate amount of fat in them. In the reviews this has dismayed some customers, which makes me wonder why they bought them as the website makes it perfectly clear they’re 23% fat (most of which cooks out, lubricating the meat in the process, and can be reclaimed and re-used).

So, in terms of ready meals, I’m a happy bunny, as I know that what I’m getting will be pleasant to eat, sufficiently filling (though, perversely, I’m getting my appetite back), and, barring cock-ups, won’t disappoint. Oh, and a bonus – they pack the meals all the same way up (i.e., flat), whereas Tesco deem it appropriate to lay them on their side. Er, that’s only OK with frozen meals, guys, for obvious reasons!

Tesco meals, while basically good in conception, were often ruined in the execution, with too many being improperly sealed (about half), and the Tesco Finest Ham Hock Leek And Potato Gratin, which had great potential, was trashed by chunks of raw leek. Meals like those from Sainsbury’s, especially the Aberdeen Angus cottage pie, were excellent (when properly sealed!). Failure to seal properly, though, is a major crime against food, and could so easily result in food poisoning.

While the Sainsbury’s meals I’m working through had a good spread of dates, it’s worth bearing in mind that any too short-dated can be frozen to extend their life. I’ve also tried the Taste The Difference range, too, but am unconvinced that they’re worth the extra. The mid-range stuff, neither TTD or Basics, for me, at least represent very good value from pretty much every aspect (and the Basics meals aren’t just cheaper, they’re about 25% smaller).

As I said many posts ago (see links below), while writing about eating well on a budget, avoiding the extremes of pricing and buying mid-range products represents the best value. It’s as true now as it was then.

If you’re interested in saving money on food, here are a couple of posts that might repay a look:-

http://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/the-poor-can-eat-well-just-dont-tell-jay-rayner/

http://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2008/11/06/meat-on-a-budget/


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