REVIEW: The post in which I don't COOK

I've achieved 33 years on the planet without ever having eaten a "ready-meal". I've cooked through student years, motherhood, long working hours and two kitchenless house renovations (with my trusty Pocket Rocket stove). I've cooked two course meals on the top of mountains, camping has never made me resort to tinned beans and sausages and I've served up a formal four course dinner for a party on a canal boat kitchen. I've gone out of my way to avoid convenience food. I've laughed in the face of it. Mwah ha ha... The only appeal ready meals have had on me is the thought of a precisely stacked freezer of square boxes because I'm a bit bonkers for order.

I guess the prepared meal market has had to evolve. They are not just for lazy people anymore - time is increasingly precious with longer working hours and juggling family life and there is sure a demand for good food on the fly. I hovered my finger over the delete button on the email invitation from COOK to try their new range of frozen meals, but curiosity got the better of me and if I'm honest, we have had a ten year, TEN YEAR, campaign to get a microwave in our studio and the boss finally caved in this month. Workmates have been pinging packaged meals and I've felt a bit left out. I've also been eating lighter this month (don't we all) after the festive binge and The COOK OMG (Oh My Goodness) range are lunch or small dinner portions that are less than 400 cals and 14g of fat which is probably helpful for the muffin tops.

The meals came packaged with real wool insulation and frozen gel packs so the meals were still rock hard frozen. The copywriting is playful and I like the tips for reusing the insulation on the package. The brand is nicely crafted giving a feel-good factor to the product.


Ready meals can look a little sad so the packaging itself has to work hard, especially as they have taken the bold step of a visibility panel to the food rather than a full cover sleeve. I think they have been successful in this, the zing of the lime on the OMG range detracts from the unavoidable brown food mass. I also like how they print the name of the cook that prepared my meal on the front (hello there Antony Sheppard) for a bit of provenance and emphasising the fact that the meals are prepared by people, not machines, for a homemade taste.

The OMG Thai Butternut Squash Soup (281 cals) was thick and chunky, exactly how I like my soup. I really liked the soy beans and the level of curry heat was spot on. There were lots of spices and herbs in this which held up flavourwise. I was surprised how home style it tasted and felt like I had brought it in from my kitchen for lunch al desko, which I guess is a really good thing. Although I thought the portion size was smaller than I would normally scoff, amazingly I was full all afternoon on it.

The OMG Tom Yum Soup (231 cals) was also surprisingly filling. I appreciated the vermicelli noodles for sustenance and the tiny aduki beans, vegetable strips and black rice for texture and interest. There was a good heat kick but I thought the sourness of the lime was overpowering and by heck was it salty. There were only 3-4 prawns too.



Finally the OMG Middle Eastern Lamb Koftas (281 cals) were enjoyable. I think I counted three of them. The Koftas were a tad tough but as super lean lamb would have had to be used to keep the fat content down, this is unsurprising. The tomato sauce was sweetened by raisins and the coriander and mint really came through.



I was also sent one of their COOK Classic meals to try at home, a Moroccan Spiced Lamb Tagine with a side of Minted Couscous. My wide-eyed husband had thought I'd gone mad as I whipped the meal out of the cardboard sleeve, and if I'm honest, I did feel a bit of a slutty putting down a meal from the microwave on the table for dinner. But actually, the couscous was vibrant with curls of grated carrot, sundried tomato and green pepper. The tagine had a good balance of savoury, spice and sweetness. I liked the contrasting crunch of the flaked almonds, chickpeas and softness of the lamb. It was quite attractive in the pack and portions were spot on for two people. We really enjoyed it, again because it tasted like a (really good) home cooked meal.

For me, although I'm a busy girl, I just love cooking too much to rely on ready meals. I know some people hate it but cooking is my relaxation, my me-time. My mind-set also can't handle paying the price of a ready vs. what it would cost me in ingredients either. I'm just not used to the cost of prepared food whereas for some it's a weekly normality. There is no denying the convenience of zapping something in the microwave for a few minutes though and if they are cooked in small batches with good ingredients, and you purchase prepared meals anyway then why not try them out. I'm certain you'll like these.  If I do another house renovation, I may even leave the Pocket Rocket packed away in favour of a few of these.

They also do food for entertaining, cakes, kids meals and organic baby food. They even sell perfectly sized ceramicware that fit the packets so you can pull the wool over the eyes of to your dinner party friends.

If you have the money (and not either the time, skill or inclination to cook) then I think these are a great idea and probably more authentic and comforting than supermarket ready meals. I thought they tasted good and as close to a home cooked meal in a packet as you're going to get. I was sure impressed. Commuters, new sleep-deprived parents (seriously, forget the cute toys and babygro gifts, buy new parents a box set of these meals - that or gin), shift workers, sole diners...you may want to consider getting a COOK. I would definitely consider the OMG pots for work though, I have ten years of hot lunches to make up for!

Order online at www.cookfood.net or buy from one of their stores.