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Champney's Wholewheat Penne with Mediterranean Veg

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1 Review

Type: Pasta

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      08.02.2008 09:37
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      Not as special as the hype would suggest and probably not as healthy

      I was ever so slightly miffed with Sainsburys! The pleasant man who had delivered my grocery order was polite but obviously harassed. As I opened the door he immediately handed me a £10 token as compensation for the order's late arrival. This surprised me as he was only five minutes or so overdue and my delight was the first factor which diverted me from the business in hand! Then, as he carted the carrier bags into my hall, he proceeded to regale me with a few details of his bad day and how late he was running so, being a compassionate sort of soul on my better days, I lent him a hand so that he would not be unduly delayed. Thus the whole scenario distracted me from a proper scrutiny of the substitution list and receipt.

      It was not until I was unpacking my booty that I noticed this "Champneys Wellbeing Wholewheat Penne with Mediterranean-style Roasted Vegetables" nestling amongst my chilled items. I assumed it was a mistake but further investigation revealed that it was a substitute for a similar product from the Sainsbury's Supernaturals range (reviewed elsewhere). However whilst the latter was on special offer at £1.50, this actually cost me £3.49! Indignation hit me full in the face but then I softened a little. There were mitigating factors here: at 450g it was 50g more than the Sainsbury's version, returning it would mean a lengthy journey to the store and, as I had been given the £10 token, I was not really out of pocket! However what really swayed me was the fact that it actually looked very inviting with its colourful array of vegetables visible through the film lid of the container and the whole wrapped in a distinctive black cardboard sleeve with gold lettering. The package was therefore consigned to a temporary home in my fridge.

      Having never heard of Champneys food offerings, I was prompted to do a little surfing to find out more about their pedigree and was quite surprised to learn that this little treat is actually produced by the company better known for its four exclusive (and expensive!) health resort hotels which apparently offer numerous treatments to promote the well-being of the body and the mind. They also produce a Health and Beauty range which includes various gels, balms and lotions. Recently their "very own executive chef" has developed a range of ready-made food "that's good for you and helps you achieve a healthier lifestyle". It would seem this range is expanding but presently only offers thirteen varieties, all of which look rather tempting! Champneys' products can only be obtained from Sainsbury's with whom they have an exclusive deal (although the Health and Beauty range can also be purchased from Champneys' shop online). However, whilst Sainsbury's online includes their skin care products and toiletries, there is no mention of their ready-meals so I assume these are usually only available in-store. More information can be found at http://www.champneys.com/

      My meal was delivered on 27th January with an expiry date on 31st . As it was not suitable for home freezing, I felt there was no time to lose and tucked into it the same evening. I chose to take the 4 minute microwave route but it can be oven cooked in 20. The aroma was mouth wateringly inviting and I have to say that the initial mouthfuls lived up to this promise. The penne pasta was just to my taste being truly "al dente" and the herby crème fraiche sauce (which included garlic, basil and white wine) was a perfect accompaniment. The vegetables were acceptable but I felt there could have been a larger variety on the menu: red onion, red pepper and a seeming preponderance of butternut squash, with a couple of cherry tomatoes thrown in, was the sum total of the varieties on offer: not an over imaginative selection of tastes and textures! The "mozzarella pearls" were the biggest disappointment because instead of melting throughout the dish (presumably) as intended, they fused into one lump and in order to spread the flavour I had to saw it up and this was not the easiest of tasks! Even then its consistency was rather rubbery! Maybe in transit the pearls had somehow settled together and I should have stirred it before cooking but there is nothing to suggest this in the instructions. It's also worth noting that, whilst the majority of the meal was an acceptable temperature, I managed to burn my mouth on one the tomatoes and only avoided a similar fate with the second by exercising extreme caution! This was probably caused by the microwave cooking and might be avoided by oven heating.

      As the meal progressed, my initial enthusiasm rapidly diminished because it was far too sweet for my palette, possibly due to the high proportion of butternut squash and the paucity of mozzarella. It seemed the more I ate, the more this sweetness dominated, overpowering all the other flavours. I really don't wish to be overcritical and maybe it would have more appeal to those with a sweet tooth but I much prefer savoury dishes. However on a positive note I finished every last mouthful, it satisfied my appetite if not my taste-buds and, whilst not wishing to be too indelicate, I did not suffer the ill effects on my digestive system which often occur after the consumption of butternut squash!

      But just how healthy was it? On the plus side it provides two of your five a day but seemingly there are also a number of minuses! For instance, I noticed in the small print that, as well as the mozzarella cheese content, the "crème fraiche sauce" contains 12% single cream and 10% soft cheese. None of these appear to be much of a boost to its healthy credentials. Then the statistics of 424 calories, 11.7g fat and 2.3g salt are all significantly higher proportionately than those for all the meals in the Sainsbury's Supernaturals range. Even the standard, single serving, Sainsbury's Shepherd's Pie (not the healthier version) has over 100 less calories and, although its total fat content is 3g higher, it is 2g lower in saturated fats. It's all quite confusing! For the record, the Champneys' dish also has its share of potential allergens - milk, mustard and wheat gluten - and, due to manufacturing methods it is unsuitable for those with peanut, nut or sesame allergies.

      As I cleared up, recycling the cardboard and trying to work out if the container is recyclable (it's none too clear!), I sadly reflected that I can't really justify my laziness by using the lame excuse that I am motivated by the alleged super healthy qualities of such meals. At £3.49 it's rather overpriced and I am sure I would have been better off roasting my own selection of vegetables in a little olive oil, adding some home cooked pasta and throwing in a few shavings of low fat cheese and dollop or two of crème fraiche. Almost certainly I would have enjoyed it more and, if I stuck to a 450g portion, it would probably have been just as healthy if not more so! The best that I can say is that it is probably a healthier option than some other ready meals on the market (not much of a recommendation!), reasonably tasty for those who have a sweet tooth and very convenient to prepare when really pressed for time! However it's not one which will be on my future shopping lists. As to the well-being of my body and mind, I did not notice any appreciable improvement!

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