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Confident Caterers' 'Gourmet to Go'

Take-and-bake meals traditionally come in two flavors — pizza and frozen. However, chef Wayne Whitescorn has added a third to the mix — gourmet.

Nearly five years ago, Whitescorn expanded his Medford-based Confident Caterers to include "Gourmet to Go." The service is different from takeout because entrees and side dishes require some home prep and reheating.

But busy people and families can enjoy wholesome, affordable meals from the comfort of their homes without having to fall back on fast food or last-minute grocery runs. Entrees can be prepared and served in their pressboard containers, which means no dishes, or transferred to your own tableware, which means you can take credit for the fare.

Whitescorn opened the service in June 2006, after being pressed by catering clients to make his food available for everyday eats. Not wanting to commit to a full-time restaurant, Whitescorn compromised and began "Gourmet to Go."

After hearing about the service from a fellow foodie, I was obliged to try it and, foreseeing a busy night of errands and such, I placed my order. When I called Confident Caterers (541-535-2002), Whitescorn's mom, Verdean, presented me with the day's entrees: beef stroganoff, eggplant Parmesan, chicken cacciatore, herb-crusted pork tenderloin, Mediterranean chicken and flat-iron steak.

A menu is posted online at www.confidentcaterers.com and shows 16 entrees. However, fewer than 10 items are featured daily in the deli case.

Entrees feed four and can be purchased in a package, which also includes veggies, a starch and a salad for $29 to $36, prices rivaling most restaurants. Entrees also are available a la carte for $12 less than the package price. Side dishes a la carte are $6 for a salad, $6 for vegetables and $5 for starches.

I deliberated between beef stroganoff and Mediterranean chicken but, in the end, settled on the chicken.

My food was ready to go upon arrival. Whitescorn touted his clam chowder ($11 for a quart), but I resisted when I saw the portions of food awaiting me.

At home, each container was conveniently labeled with instructions for reheating. While the Mediterranean chicken warmed in the oven (400 degrees for 30 minutes), my husband and I, impatient to eat, sat down to enjoy the Oregon salad.

Light but flavorful, the salad was a mixture of spring greens dressed in balsamic vinaigrette and topped with pears, crumbled blue cheese and a handful of crushed walnuts. The dressing had a savory edge that was complemented by the neutral-flavored pears and walnuts.

The vegetable and pasta only required a few minutes in the microwave. Asparagus spears, which we drizzled with Whitescorn's olive oil, butter and tarragon potion, were not mushy from reheating as I had expected. Those opposed to microwaving could steam the vegetables if they preferred.

While refrigerated pasta tends to be chewy, the penne was tender enough. Whitescorn says he adds a tablespoon of water to each portion of pasta to retain moisture in the container. Noodles had been coated in herb butter, and a small container of Parmesan cheese was provided on the side. On its own, the pasta seemed slightly bland and might better accompany a more typical Italian entree, such as chicken cacciatore or prosciutto chicken, served with marinara and Alfredo sauces, respectively.

Rice would have been a better fit for my summery dish. The Mediterranean chicken was encased in a thick blanket of artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives and mushrooms, with a light sprinkling of feta. The vegetables and meat were sitting in a bath of a white wine-lemon sauce. The meat was not dry but lacked the ambrosial flavor of freshly-cooked meat.

Whitescorn sees to it that none of the entrees sit more than a week in the deli case. Salads and vegetables are prepared daily.

The helpings were accurate, leaving both Sean and I enough for another meal. However, I wished I had not passed up dessert when Whitescorn offered. I'm sure his marionberry delight ($11 for four servings) or espresso mousse ($11) would fill the bill.

Orders must be placed by 6:30 p.m. Friday to guarantee pick-up the following week.

— Teresa Thomas