Tag Archives: frozen food

Trader Joe’s Classic Lemon Bars

Lemon-BarsI 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.

Ciao Bella Blood Orange Sorbet

CB_bloodorg_lgI 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.

Soul Indian Wraps – Review

soul_butter_chkn_3dIf 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).

Johnsonville Smoked Brat in a soft baked roll – Product review

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.

Contessa frozen “On the Stove” meals – Product Review

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.


Bellafoglia and California Pizza Kitchen Frozen Pizzas – yuuum

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.


Claim Jumper Frozen Dinners – Review

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.

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares & the curse of pre-made food

I’ve been watching the British version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.  I’ve watched the American version before, but I never really liked it. Every episode seemed the same and Ramsay was just so mean and cruel to the restaurant owners.  The British version (which started in 2004) is much better.  Ramsay swears a lot and sometimes he gets into people’s faces, but it looks like he’s honestly trying to help the restaurants get better.  Now, it’s true that his formula for success is always the same:

-Simplify the menu: offer just a few dishes that the kitchen can manage and do well

-Use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible

-Simplify dishes: let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves

-Have a concept behind the menu: whether it be “new American”, “Irish inspired” or whatever

-Play to the local audience: with dishes they will understand and embrace

-Offer good value and competitive prices

-Have great lines of communications between the kitchen & dining room staff

-The manager/chef must have a firm command of the restaurant/kitchen and not be afraid to demand best performance from workers.

-Chefs must learn to delegate/communicate appropriately with kitchen staff

-Promote the restaurant by going to the people

but it seems like a good formula.

All of this makes sense, of course, but it’s surprisingly hard to do.  I was surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) about how many restaurants serve commercially manufactured food, stuff they buy frozen and then just reheat in the microwave. It’s easy to understand why: reheating things is much easier than cooking it yourself and while it’s not necessarily cheaper ingredient wise, it saves a lot of money labor-wise.  And it’s not a complete surprise that they’re doing this.  I expect all the foods served at chain restaurants, for example, to be manufactured at a central facility and then re-heated.  And I think we can expect any deep fried appetizer at a regular restaurant to be commercially made, plus only top restaurants have pastry chefs, which means most restaurants must be buying their desserts commercially.  But I didn’t realize how extensive this practice was.  In France, for example, the majority of restaurants serve frozen food that they pass as the real thing. The food, filled with flavor enhancers of all types, is tasty enough to fool French gourmets so it must be quite good.  And don’t think it’s any better in America, tens of thousands of restaurants – including top rated ones like Thomas Keller‘s Bouchonserve  manufactured frozen food. Even Gordon Ramsey himself has been caught serving pre-made food at his restaurants – albeit the food is cooked daily and, supposedly, without preservatives or enhancers.  As a restaurant patron, I have to say I’m appalled by the practice. If I want frozen food, I can buy it myself and microwave it.  Indeed, I wish these foods were available at retails here.

Even restaurants that don’t rely on manufactured food, may take short-cuts themselves pre-cooking and then re-heating their food offerings or using less-than-fresh ingredients.  Indeed, the former is probably what’s going on with Ramsey’s restaurants (though he, himself, has decried that practice).  Now, there are a few things out there that can be frozen without any loss of quality (things made with puff pastry, for example) and there are many dishes (stews, braises, soups) that should be made in advance and then refrigerated and reheated before serving (though for things with meats, and in particular chicken, stove-top reheating is preferred).  But in one of the restaurants in Kitchen Nightmares they were pre-cooking the hamburgers.  Now I suspect that if a restaurant won’t serve you a medium-rare burger, it’s not because of safety concerns but because their patties are pre-cooked. My new rule: if I can’t get a burger medium rare, I’m not ordering it.

Given all this, what I think restaurant reviewers should do from now on is take a look at restaurant kitchens, preferably during dinner service, so they can see whether cooks are cooking or re-heating, though even noting the number of freezers and microwaves can give you a clue as to what they’re doing in that kitchen.

Hart Orange Beef – Review

Orange Beef is the latest product from Hart Food Products, a small mom & pop frozen food company that seems to mostly distribute through Grocery Outlet.  I had tried their Orange Chicken before and I had been less that impressed, but it was another kidless night when I didn’t want to cook and, if nothing else, the Hart Orange Beef ($4 for the 2+lb package) seemed like a good value.  So I decided to give it a try.

Like the chicken, this product consists of small pieces of beef heavily battered.  You sauté them on some oil for about 12 minutes, stirring often, heat up the orange sauce in a different sauce pan, and then mix it in with the beef.  It’s not too complicated, but it does use up two cooking pots (not good for those of us without dishwashers).

The results are mediocre. The beef has way too much breading and it was too oily (I’d recommend using a non-stick pan and only minimal oil when cooking them), the sauce wasn’t painfully sweet but I grew sick of it quickly. In all I think I’ll steer clear of Hart products.

Red Baron By The Slice Pepperoni Pizza – Review

With the kids out of town I haven’t been cooking as much as I normally would, which means I’ve been relying on whatever frozen food I find at Grocery Outlet.  That’s very much of a hit and miss, but as far as frozen food goes, Red Baron by the Slice Pepperoni Pizza ($2 at GO) is a hit.  The pizza slices come in their own baking trays, so all you have to do is take them out of the plastic and put them in the microwave for 2 1/2 minutes.  Unlike most other frozen pizzas, these slices actually crisp up.  They have a medium crust, light tomato sauce, enough real cheese and pepperoni.  They are pretty tasty, not pizzeria quality, but quite good for frozen pizza.  At 360 calories and 15 grams of fat they’re not great for you, but they could be worse.  In all, not a bad choice for lunch.

Note: the box offers two ways to cook it, I went for the simple one, it may be even crispier if cooked the other way.