When it comes to frozen dinners, shoppers from Ridgewood and neighboring towns have some options that aren't available elsewhere—locally produced, gourmet entrees.
To complete the final segment in this series on frozen dinners, I turned family and friends into taste testers for meals that I picked up at Super Cellars, purveyors of food from Joel's Malibu Kitchen.
But before we get to Joel Scheinzeit's entrees, prepared at the Ridgewood Culinary Studio on Chestnut Street, I should explain why Super Cellars on Broad Street has become something of a regular stop on my grocery rounds.
Super Cellars was always my husband's favorite wine store because it has a great selection and very competitive prices, which, at party time, save me a trip down to Bottle King.
Since owners Patrick and son John Gray moved from Godwin Avenue to the bigger space on Broad Street, it has also become a place to shop for, among other things, cheese (former Cheese Shop owner Rick Breitstein is now housed there), deli meats, breads, milk juice, sandwiches, crackers, dips, high-end olive oil, interesting relishes, and, now, Joel's Malibu Kitchen entrees.
There are tables and chairs, indoors and out, for people who come for lunch. It's just a fun place when you have an urge to splurge a bit. The deli prices are competitive, but some of the gourmet delicacies are priced for bigger spenders.
And the prices for Joel's dinners have fluctuated while he and the Grays work out portion sizes. John Gray said it looks like Super Cellars will be offering single serving entrees for $12.95.
But they are usually the kind of dishes that would be much more costly in a restaurant.
For our taste test, we started with Joel's tortellini Alfredo with shrimp, which had been packaged for two and cost $23.95. The label told us it was "fresh tortellini embraced in a smooth Alfredo sauce with fresh Romano cheese, seared shrimp and garnished with a caramelized brunoise of vegetables."
It's the kind of label you expect to see on a restaurant menu, and I think you have to evaluate the dish as "fine food takeout," not as a convenience food from the supermarket.
The label also advises you to completely defrost the dinner before reheating it. You have to plan ahead or have a good microwave defroster setting. We followed the directions carefully, and the result was a very rich, creamy dish that would have fed three or four people, not two. We had leftovers. The shrimp, however, were disappointing. They did not reheat well in this particular dish.
Next we tried single servings of Joel's famous Malibu chicken and salmon with champagne dill sauce. These labels also resembled menu descriptions. The listing for the salmon, for example, read, "Alaska king salmon filet poached to perfection in a champagne dill sauce, julienne of vegetables, and rice." And instructions were given for reheating in a conventional oven, so we transferred them to pie plates and heated them at 350 degrees.
Both the chicken and the salmon were very good. The vegetables in all the meals were tasty but a bit on the soggy side after reheating. And except for the veggies in the chicken entrée, all of the portions were quite small. In the tortellini Alfredo, for example, there was about an ice cream scoop's worth of vegetables cut into small cubes, the "brunoise" of the label. (Small vegetable portions are the only trait these dinners have in common with the mass-produced ones you find at the supermarket.)
Our last sample was Joel's famous fettuccini and tiger shrimp in "silly sauce," a creamy tomato sauce with a sharper flavor than regular vodka sauce. The liqueur Grand Marnier was listed as an ingredient. And this time, the shrimp reheated well—though my husband complained there were not enough of them to match the plentiful fettuccini.
The labels on these dinners carry no nutritional information, and I suspect that all of them were very high in calories. But as an occasional treat, they are great. They are for nights when you are too tired to cook and are in the mood for a good restaurant meal you can have in the privacy of your home.
And for couples with young children, Joel's Malibu Kitchen entrees could provide a romantic dinner for two when you can't find a sitter.