We did a major Trader Joe’s shopping trip yesterday, and I got quite a lot of frozen items to try. I haven’t been into cooking for months now, and I don’t see the muse hitting me any time soon. So frozen food it is. I thought I’d share my opinions of what I’ve gotten. I’ll be adding them here as they go.
Mushroom & Black Truffle Flatbread with Mozarella Cheese
This had a real truffle flavor. If you like truffles, this is the flatbread for you. I do, so I’ll be buying more. I think it was $3.
Vegetable Pad Thai
Mika complained that it was spicy and didn’t taste like pad-thai, but she did eat it.
My 12-yo vegetarian child has been pretty reluctant to try vegetarian frozen entrees. She’s particularly offended by fake meats. She’s a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and she doesn’t see the point in eating fake animals. But she probably was tired of eating pasta, so she gave this entree a try. She was underwhelmed. She said the chik’n nuggets tasted mostly of potato, but they lacked flavor altogether. They were edible but not enjoyable. She wouldn’t have them again, but she’d eat them if there was nothing else around.
I’m once again in a funk about cooking, so I’m back at eating frozen meals from time to time. Grocery Outlet is now carrying the Jimmy Dean Delights brand, which I hadn’t seen before. It’s pretty much just like every other frozen food brand – forgettable.
I had their pulled pork sandwiches in chipotle bbq sauce. An acceptable snack for $1.50, but with too much bread to meat ratio. The pork is pretty much a paste (not chunks as in the promotional photo), and the sauce tastes like your generic tangy/sweet bbq sauce.
My vegetarian oldest was OK with the three cheese pasta bowl, but she’s not that demanding. The grilled steak bowl was edible but unmemorable. The photos on the boxes definitely look better than the real thing tastes.
I got these to serve as the last course of my 13-course Xmas Eve dinner and they were perfect. Indeed, these were very good lemon bars overall. They come frozen, and the curd is perhaps more cream-like and less sticky than that of a regular lemon bar, but it had the right degree of balance between sweetness and sourness, and they were the perfect size for an after dinner bite. All in all very satisfying for anyone who likes lemon bars.
I have a pretty nasty cold, so I only want to eat things which are smooth going down my throat and so flavorful that I can taste them despite my stuffed nose. Ciao Bella blood orange sorbet fit the bill perfectly.
Of course, I can’t tell you how someone that has their 5 senses would experience it, but to me it was delicious. The sorbet had a strong orange flavor, with some welcome bitter undertones. It was very creamy and smooth.
They have these at Grocery Outlet here in San Leandro for $2 now, and I think I’ll stock up.
If you’re tired of having the same old frozen burrito for lunch, Soul’s Indian wraps provide a reasonable alternative. They have four flavors, butter chicken, chicken vindaloo, chicken tikka masala and vegetable curry. I’ve tasted the three chicken ones, and I can’t say I could really distinguish their flavor. They all tasted like mildly spicy generic chicken curries, acceptable but not exciting. Of the four choices, the tikka masala has slightly less calories/fat (370 c/11 g. fat) than the others, so that may be your best choice. The vegetable curry, which I haven’t tried, has the greatest fat content.
The wraps were about $1.50 at Grocery Outlet and they cook in the microwave in about 3 minutes (you have to turn it half way).
This is yet another frozen product that no business tasting as good as it does. I’m not the biggest fan of hotdogs in the first place, but these smoked bratwursts are quite good. The smoked flavor really comes through, and the bun is soft and tasty. And they’re cheap (85c. each at Grocery Outlet) and microwaveable – ready in 90-seconds.
Now, for the bad part. The brats-in-the-bun are actually quite small, each sausage only weighs 2.67 oz (5 oz when you include the bun). And they are *very* fattening and salty. Each sandwich has 420 calories and 23! grams of fat. Moreover, each sandwich has 41% of your daily allowance of sodium.
In all, these are a tasty snack to have once in a while, but too dangerous to keep at home.
For the last month or so, Grocery Outlet has been carrying three of Contessa’s frozen “On the Stove” meals ($4), out of the 20 or so that Contessa makes: Orange Beef, Crispy Pork with Tangerine Sauce and Crispy Chicken with General Tsao Sauce. I’ve finally tried them all and while I really like the Orange Beef, the other two are not nearly as good.
These meals consist of a package with four different components: a bag of white rice, a small bag of meat, another bag of sauce, and frozen vegetables . To prepare, you stir fry the meat for 5 minutes or so, add the veggies for another 3-4 minutes and then the sauce for 30 seconds. You microwave the rice for 3 minutes, put it all altogether and you are done. Note that there is too much rice for the amount of meat/vegetables/sauce included – I ended up discarding about 1/3 of it.
One package is supposed to have two and a half 1-cup servings. Now, if you are a child or on your deathbed maybe 1 cup of food (mostly rice) may satisfy your hunger. Personally, I’d say it serves one adult – maybe you could share it with a younger child, but not more.
Now, as for the food itself. The meats were generally good, tasty and tender, and they brown nicely. The rice is as what you could expect from something that comes from a bag. The sauces were generally good; I particularly liked the orange sauce that came with the beef, it was dark and intense and not overly sweet. The General Tsao sauce was a bit too spicy for me, but it was still pretty good.
Where the problems come are with the vegetables. The orange beef came with onions, leeks and red peppers and these were all very nice, they kept their flavor and went well with the sauce. The tangerine pork, OTOH, came with onions, water chestnuts, carrots and scallions and these were less than tasty. I actually disliked the bell peppers, carrots and water chestnuts that came with the chicken, they had such an “off” taste that I couldn’t make myself eat them.
In all, I’d say that the orange beef is restaurant quality (well, Chinese restaurant quality) and I would definitely buy it again (and have). I wouldn’t say the same about the other two meals. If GO offered other flavors, I would probably try them as well.
I hadn’t been able to figure out how much these meals sell in regular supermarkets – perhaps they don’t have much distribution yet -, but I definitely wouldn’t pay more than $4.
Tuesdays are a hard dinner day for me. The kids have classes until late, so we don’t get home until 5:30, and then Mike has to go and rush to make it to his School Board meetings. While I love cooking, I don’t like cooking when I’m rushed and I don’t particularly want to cook just for the kids and I (if I make what they want, I won’t be happy, if I make what I want, they won’t be). So often times, if we have no leftovers, we rely on take out or frozen food. Last night was one of those nights, so I headed to Grocery Outlet for some frozen pizza.
Generally, Grocery Outlet has tons of choices, but this time they were more limited. The kids only like cheese pizza, so I went for this California Pizza Kitchen version. I’d had the CPK frozen pizzas before, and I’d liked them. Well, so did the kids. While they still prefer take out pizza, they were perfectly happy to eat this one. We got the version that comes with the flat bread appetizer, and the kids pronounced the bread the “best bread ever”. It’s pretty good, and it tasted garlicky to me, but I didn’t tell them that :-). I didn’t try the spinach artichoke dip as that’s not my thing. This pizza was available at GO for $4. It’s think crust, so it pretty much only fed my two hungry kids.
For me, I got a Bellafoglia pizza with a bunch of toppings ($4). I’d never heard of the brand, but I’m glad I gave it a try. This was by far the best frozen pizza I’ve ever had. The cornmeal crust had a lot to do with it, it was just crunchy enough, just salty enough and just very good. The cheese and toppings were good quality and were well balanced. I did some research when I came home, and found out that Bellafoglia is a product of Hayward’s Pacific Cheese Co. a cheese supplier. Sizewise, this pizza may be enough for two adults, but probably if they eat a salad or something else as well. I ate half of one, and was hungry later in the evening.
In all, I think I’ll keep a few of these pizzas in my freezer for nights just like last’s.
I’m not a frozen food fan, but sometimes I want something that is quick and easy and cheap and frozen food is /it/. Today, for example, my original plan for dinner was to make Cajun jambalaya, but we went to the movies, and then to the supermarket, and then it was too late to cook (really, I can’t really make anything in less than an hour). So it was mac & cheese for the girls and a trip to Grocery Outlet for me, to see what was in the frozen food aisle. Alas, there weren’t too many choices that fit my palate.
I had already tried Claim Jumper lasagna before – I’d found it edible. There was too much sweet sauce, too little cheese and meat, but while it’d never be my first choice, I could eat it again. Today I decided to try something else, the meatloaf. My expectations were low so I was pleasantly surprised to find the dish not just edible but satisfying. Now, I think that was because the food was super hot and I was very hungry, but I only eat frozen food when I’m really hungry :-). The meatloaf itself had a mild taste and a non-offensive texture, it smelled of liquid smoke but it didn’t have any overwhelming flavor. The mashed potatoes were light and the gravy non-offensive. The portion is definitely much smaller than the picture implies, but it was enough for dinner – and a reasonable 540 calories (though mostly coming from fat, some of that is probably in the gravy and you don’t need much of it). I’d this dinner again over the lasagna.
Update: Today I tried the Claim Jumper fried chicken. Once again it looked like it wouldn’t be enough food for dinner, and once again I was wrong. The meal consisted of a breaded/fried boneless chicken patty, mashed potatoes & gravy & some corn in the cob. The chicken itself wasn’t that great. It had a weird flavor, similar to food fried in really old oil. The texture was fine, though. I did like the mashed potatoes, the fact that they were very hot helped. I didn’t try the gravy or the corn. I don’t think I’d buy this meal again.
My biggest gripe with these meals is that they take too much work. If I’m going to have to eat frozen food, what I want to do is put the damn thing in the microwave, set the time and come back when it’s done. For the meatloaf, I had to remove the cover, add water to the green beans, recover, cook, come back, remove the cover, remove the meatloaves, stir the mashed potatoes, return the meatloaves, recover, cook some more, remove, pierce the gravy package, put it on a plate, microwave, open the package and pour it on the food. It may not sound like much, but if I have to do multiple things I might as well cook some pasta.
Claim Jumper dinners are $3 a Grocery Outlet, they’re about $4 at the supermarket.