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Exploring the World of Ready-to-Eat

It's fast without being fast food.

Last week I wrote a short piece about the Pine Township Giant Eagle's plans to expand to a . I didn't know much then about the difference between the two, but I learned that a lot of the focus in a Market District is on ready-to-eat foods -- both hot foods and foods that are already cooked and can be taken home and heated up quickly.

Supermarkets have come a long way, baby. I remember back in the 1990s writing about the growing trend of what we then called "home meal replacement" foods. At that time, prepared foods in supermarkets consisted pretty much of rotisserie chickens and bagged salads -- two rather new and exotic ideas.

I haven't seen the term "home meal replacement" used in a while. Now they're just called ready-to-eat foods, and smart supermarkets are expanding their offerings to appeal to busy parents and health-conscious eaters.

It's a great idea because it's fast food, but without the connotations of greasy meat on white bread with a fried side dish.

My family's local grocery stores are the and in Gibsonia, which are perfectly adequate stores, but have comparatively small ready-to-eat sections. I've heard from my friends who live in Pine that the Giant Eagle there already has a large prepared foods presence. I wanted to see it before it expanded.

I've always tried to involve my kids in the family food preparation, so I thought it would be fun if I took them on a food adventure to check out what the Pine Township Giant Eagle offers in the way of ready-to-eat and make some recommendations on what's available and what's good. There is a lot available, and a lot of it is very good.

There's something there for every age group and dietary preference, including traditional American foods, Italian foods, Asian and Mexican. Low carb? Ask for a couple of slices of turkey or beef and a side of vegetables. Low fat? What a salad bar it has! Need comfort? Go for the meatloaf or the meatballs. The meatballs are particularly delicious, with a side of macaroni and cheese.

We had decided in advance that our focus was going to be on entrees and side dishes. These are true "home meal replacement" foods, because they're the types of foods that our moms used to cook and we would like to cook more often if we just had the time.

Here is an overview of what we bought:

  • Turkey breast, sliced
  • London broil, sliced
  • Seasoned potato wedges
  • Haluski
  • Garlic green beans
  • Roasted vegetables
  • General Tso's chicken
  • Meatballs
  • Meatloaf
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Country-style coleslaw

A lot of food? Yes, but someone had to do it in the interests of thorough reporting. And it wasn't as much as it seems. Because everything is sold by the pound, we just bought a few dabs of this and a couple of slices of that. Our total was about $30 for everything.  It fed three of us, and there were enough for my lunch the next day.

Our tasting extravaganza also included samples offered to us by Stacy, the lovely counter person. Of those samples, our favorite by far was the Coconut Encrusted Salmon. That home meal is going to replace one of mine in the near future.

We got our food, went through quick check, got in the car, arrived home, dished it out, heated the stuff that needed to be warmed in the microwave for about a minute, and ate. It was fast, and, for the most part, it was as a good as anything I cook.

More importantly, because I don't really have time to cook a lot of these types of food, it was great to know there's  a place I can go and get them if I want or need them. As my busy daughter said, "Wow, this is a real meal. You don't have to sacrifice taste and quality when you're eating on the go." 

Our favorites of the food we took home were the turkey and flank steak, the green beans, roasted vegetables, seasoned potatoes and the haluski, which we decided tasted just like the haluski  I make. I actually wasn't crazy about the country-style coleslaw, but loved it mixed with the haluski. That's the kind of experimenting you can do when you have this many choices. And someone else is doing the cooking.

Recipe:

Haluski is very easy to make, although it is time-consuming. I make it only during cool weather, which is still here, unfortunately. This recipe was given to me orally by a woman selling haluski at a football game years ago and is just one variation. I don't get into arguments about authenticity, I just enjoy eating it. If you don't have time for this, pick up some at the Giant Eagle -- it's just as good.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 head cabbage, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Wide egg noodles, 12 to 16 ounces, prepared according to package directions.

Directions:

While the onions and cabbage are cooking, prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and cover. Cook, stirring every five minutes or so, until the onions are translucent and beginning to caramelize. Add cabbage and cover, cook, stirring occasionally until the cabbage wilts, and then uncover and increase heat to medium-high, cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is translucent and beginning to brown. Add cooked noodles and increase  heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until noodles start to brown. 

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