frozen

Frozen Food Test: Trader Joe’s “Reduced Guilt” Baked Ziti

Posted on March 28, 2012. Filed under: frozen, review | Tags: , , , , |

It’s been quite some time since I’ve conducted a Frozen Food Test. I suppose that sometimes a bright idea falls by the wayside in the midst of trying to complete graduate school. Well, as Thesis Madness comes to a head, I figured it would be an opportune time to test a convenience food–hopefully the result would be a palatable and nutritious meal. Trader Joe’s has had a pretty solid track record in my previous tests, so off I went to try their baked ziti.

PROS:

  • The pasta has a surprisingly enjoyable texture; good mouthfeel, and cooked al dente. I was surprised a frozen pasta could reheat so nicely.
  • Chemical free–all of the ingredients listed were actual food!
  • Only 320 calories. 12g protein.

CONS:

  • Almost no cheese. What’s the point of baked ziti if there is no cheese? Also, if you microwave it, the cheese doesn’t get toasty. Fail.
  • Small serving size. This is more of a snack or side dish than a meal.
  • High in sodium.
  • Not an immense time saver if you cook it in the oven.

OVERALL:

This was OK. It wasn’t terrible for a microwaved side dish, but serving it as a side means I     have to either cook or reheat something else, so I doubt it would save a ton of time (I had mine with leftover grilled chicken). The flavor is decent, but it pales in comparison to my own baked ziti (that’s a link to me cooking the ziti–check it out!). Would I have it again? Doubtful, only because it’s a sin to call something “baked ziti” and not have a layer of golden, melty cheese on top. It’s a good thing cooking is my favorite form of procrastinating.

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Frozen Food Test: Elio’s Pizza

Posted on November 18, 2010. Filed under: frozen, hodgepodge, review, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Ah, sweet youth. Elio’s brings back memories. It was my go-to frozen pizza option when I was a boy. And I thought it was pretty special. But how does it hold up as an adult? Will it be a horrible revelation, as my re-visit to Mama Celeste was? I was curious. And I was not sober. So I tried it.

Elio’s pizza was founded in 1963 in New Jersey. but it wasn’t until 1967 that the rectangular slices were introduced. In 1988, Elio’s was bought by Canadian frozen food company McCain Foods. It can be found in the freezer section nationwide.

PROS:

  • Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, especially when it doesn’t disappoint you. 
  • The sauce, when you can taste it, is quite good. Strong tomato flavor, nice herb & spice kick.
  • 290 calories per two-slice serving is pretty good for a frozen pizza snack.
  • Made with real cheese. No preservatives.
  • 10 minutes freezer to plate.

CONS:

  • You’re not actually going to have a 2 slice serving. The pizza is frozen into blocks of 3 slices. You can, of course, break them up. But you probably won’t. The one extra slice looks so sad & small by itself. So assume 435 calories per serving. Oh!
  • Bread/sauce/cheese ratio is rather imbalanced, favoring the bread part way too much. More sauce, please.
  • Conventionally grown ingredients. Conventional milk to make the cheese.

OVERALL:

Elio’s isn’t the best frozen pizza on the market, but it hits the spot from time to time. There are improvements they could make, sure. A better balance of flavor would be nice. McCain should work toward using more sustainable ingredients. They should be more honest about the serving size. (The website blames the government for this!)

 

Would I have it again? Of course. Not very often, but I’ll be eating Elio’s as long as they make it.

 

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Frozen Food Test: Tandoor Chef Chicken Tikka Masala

Posted on August 19, 2010. Filed under: easy, frozen, review |

Trip to Pittsburgh was a success, except I’m living like a transient till the moving van arrives on Tuesday. So while I dream of spending quality time in my shiny new kitchen, I awake to the reality of a microwave, a barley humming electric stove, and the cheap tin pans of the Residence Inn. Fully jet lagged and with such limited resources, it seemed like the right time for a frozen foods test. Friends, meet Tandoor Chef Chicken Tikka Massala.

Tandor Chef is a subset of Deep Foods Inc, which as been family owned and operated since 1977. The company’s website relates the story of how Mrs. Bhagwati Amin’s passion for food from her homeland steadily developed into a business into a larger family affair. Son Deepak graduated Cornell with a degree in food science, and went on to create the product line Tandoor Chef, which is home to our Chicken Tikka Masala.

Deep Food’s small beginnings have grown to a company with 1,800 employees in 7 locations. In the spirit of generosity, Mr. and Mrs. Amin have founded a charity in India that helps children have greater access to education. While the website is rather tough to get through, the mission is clear. Kids need brains. And not just so the zombies can eat them.

Speaking of eating! Let’s talk about the chicken tikka massala. It’s one of my favorite dishes. Would it be enough to brighten my belly after a long day of travel:

PROS:

  • Family business model. Way too much jibber-jabber today about how America is built on SMALL FAMILY BUSINESSES. In reality, it’s most built of massive corporations who occasionally buy a small(family) business. Mrs. Amin has done something worth praising. She is what the politicians should really be talking about- someone who takes a passion for the cuisine of her home, and figures out a way to make $$$ for a number of people, while sharing that passion with many new customers. (And then convincing them to try more products…)
  • The sauce is excellent. Perfectly balanced with enough heat to pack a punch. Nice blend of ingredients. Better than some masala sauces I’ve had at restaurants.
  • Rice is tasty. Buttery flavor, good texture.
  • Price is right at $4.49
  • Only 400 calories.

CONS:

  • Just four tiny pieces of processed chicken. Four! Man. This was more a snack than a meal.
  • Fairly high in saturated fat. I suppose the delicious buttery flavor has to come from somewhere…
  • 710 mg sodium. Oh boy. That’s a lot of sodium. Too much.

OVERALL:

The sauce and the rice were very good. But the chicken, which should be the main focus of the dish, was pretty mediocre. Not that it really mattered, because there was hardly any of it.

Would I get it again? Probably not. I might try another option from Deep Foods, perhaps something vegetarian.

Time to buy some fancy pans for my new fancy-pants kitchen.

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Frozen Food Test: Celeste Pizza

Posted on April 29, 2010. Filed under: frozen, hodgepodge | Tags: , , , , |

I was not sober when I decided this would be a good idea.

If you’re new to the blog, I’ve been occasionally testing frozen foods (mostly pizza) to see if there are good options on the market for those rare nights you can’t cook for yourself. Criteria is flavor, quality and sustainability of the ingredients, and convenience. However, this time it seems my criteria was a healthy combination of intoxication and nostalgia.

Strange as it seems, Mama Celeste’s frozen pizza was one of my first forays into “cooking”. When I was in college, I’d doctor up a plain pizza with fresh garlic and herbs, and call it a meal. Although it was only cooking in the silly “semi-homemade” sense of the word, it really did provide a launching point for future endeavors like doctoring up pasta sauce, which lead eventually to making my own pasta sauce. And I thought the pizza was pretty decent, too. Oh boy.

But Mama Celeste is no more. The pizza was once made by an actual Mama- Celeste Lizio. Lizio sold the recipe to Quaker Oats, it was then sold several more times, and is now owned by Pinnacle Food Group. Pinnacle has a proud history of taking once great brands (Duncan Hines, Swanson, Lender’s, Vlasic) and turning them into industrial food byproducts. They also own nutritional powerhouses Armour & Mrs. Butterworth’s. You see where this is going.

The pizza sells for $1.49 at Albertson’s in Los Angeles.

PROS:

  • It’s a pretty quick trip from freezer to plate. One minute in the microwave, five minutes in the oven.
  • You get 20% of your recommended Vitamin C. I’m not sure how that happens, but it does.

CONS:

  • There are 39 ingredients listed. 39! The only ingredients that I understood were tomato puree, water, salt, sugar, and spices. The vast array of chemicals was impressive. Impressive in a very very scary way. Please pass the L-Cysteine Monohydrochloride?
  • The imitation cheese made me want to punch myself. It tasted like…ah….like I wanted to punch myself. Who made this stuff? Bad scientist. Bad bad scientist!
  • 1020mg of sodium. Wow. I generally don’t watch my salt intake, but that is ridiculous. 45% of your RDA intake in one horrible little disk. I guess they needed all that extra salt to cover up the horrible flavor of the imitation cheese. Or the 34324 chemicals.
  • You can microwave it, but I wouldn’t. Even with the crisping tray, it’s not very nice.
  • It is a terrible mockery of pizza.

Overall:

I wonder if my palate has changed, or if this pizza-like thing has changed. I suspect it’s both.

Would I have it again? Never. I didn’t even finish this one. Lesson learned.

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Frozen Food Test: Trader Joe’s Marinated Chicken Breasts

Posted on April 1, 2010. Filed under: frozen, Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

Decided to take a break from trying mediocre frozen pizzas for something more practical. Trader Joe’s frozen food case has several intriguing items, and I chose the chicken breasts “glazed with a sweet & tangy Asian style marinade”.

Pros:

  • It tastes really good. Impressive, actually.
  • Super convenient.  All you have to do it take it out of the freezer, put it in the oven, and in 15 minutes you’re eating.
  • Inexpensive. The price at the Trader Joe’s in Silverlake is $4.99/lb.
  • No preservatives or crappy chemical ingredients. All ingredients listed pronounceable and understandable.

Cons:

  • The bag is not resealable. Come on Trader Joe’s, it’s 2010. Make a resealable bag so we can put what we don’t use back in our freezers.
  • No information on where the ingredients come from. $4.99 is a good price for chicken, but it leads me to believe these are big industrial chicken breasts.
  • Chicken is slightly dry. Not overwhelmingly so, but it could be improved.
  • Wide variety in portion size. Some breasts were giant, some were quite small. Just like life, right Trader Joe’s?

Overall:

You got me, Trader Joe’s. You got me good. Your frozen marinated chicken breasts are convenient and cheap, and, more importantly, are quite pleasant to eat. They’re not as good as home cooking, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping a few in my freezer for an occasional lazy Wednesday night.

*That broccoli looks good too, right? That, my friends, was not frozen. It’s easy to make, so you should try it.

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Frozen Food Test: Rising Moon Organics Margherita Pizza

Posted on March 8, 2010. Filed under: frozen, hodgepodge | Tags: , |

Well, well. I’m trying another frozen pizza. Probably a bit too soon, because I’m still thinking about all the pizza I ate in NYC. But, if I’m going to plod my way through frozen food, I have to plunge in.

I chose a Rising Moon Organics margharita from Whole Foods. Rising Moon is a vegetarian cooking line based in Providence, Rhode Island. The company was founded in 1991, and its mission is nothing short of world peace through food. While that might be a bit of a tall order, any company that’s serious about feeding the world in a better way is alright by me. Even if they are vegetarian. I especially enjoyed the organic gardening tips on Rising Moon’s website.

Now on to the pizza.

Pros:

  • Quality, organic ingredients.
  • Well made crust. Had a nice bite to it. Crispy. Very enjoyable.
  • Herb flavor mingled well with the diced tomatoes.
  • Good proportion of cheese.
  • Positive, progressive mission. Thought put into sourcing of ingredients and packaging.

Cons:

  • Cheese was just ok.
  • Long time coming: instructed to defrost for 10 minutes, cook for 10-13 (needs the full 13), and then wait for it to cool.
  • Not enough sauce
  • Unevenly spiced. Some bites were great, some underwhelming.
  • Really bad text on the packaging: refers to pizza several times as “she” and says that “she” will “steal my heart forever”.
  • Imported from Italy. I don’t have a problem with this entirely, but a company that thinks about how it affects the planet might want to produce more locally.

Overall:

Pretty good for a frozen pizza. The crust was a real highlight, one of the best frozen crusts I’ve had. The   tomatoes and herbs could have been a bit more even, but the flavor was right on. It’s a shame the cheese wasn’t that tasty, because when it comes down to it, you can’t have a good pizza with crap cheese.

I appreciate what Rising Moon is trying to do, and would so even more if they didn’t import their pizzas from Italy- that’s not much of a selling point these days.

Would I have it again? Sure, but probably not anytime soon.

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Frozen Food Test: Pacific Natural Fire-Baked Thin Crust Pepperoni Pizza

Posted on February 8, 2010. Filed under: frozen, hodgepodge | Tags: , |

I was wandering through the frozen food isle the other day, thinking about how long it had been since I’d eaten anything from it. So I thought it might be an interesting idea to test the quality of frozen foods these days.

First on the list: Hal B. Klein eats a frozen pizza. I chose the Pacific Natural Fire-Baked Thin Crust, with pepperoni. If I’m going to eat a convenience food, it might as well start with a pizza, right?

Pacific Natural is an organic food company located in Oregon. They are known mostly for their organic soups & broths, and have now expanded into boxes teas/mates/nut drinks, as well as frozen pot pies & pizzas.

Pros:
  • Good Ingredients: Pacific Natural’s pizza is made with better stuff than you’ll find in most frozen pizzas. Crust & sauce contain no high fructose corn syrup. Cheese is made from actual cheese.
  • Pepperoni: Nitrate free pepperoni. Excellent flavor with a hint of spice. Exactly what you want in a pizza topping. (When you want a topping- I’m generally a purist!)
  • Perfect amount of cheese
Cons:
  • Topping to the edge: A pizza needs an edge. How am I going to hold it if you top it all the way?
  • Not actually a thin crust: You can’t call your pizza thin crust, and then not deliver on it. While we’re talking crust- it didn’t have any give. Too soft, for sure. This is the area that needs most improvement.
  • Sauce too sweet.
  • Took longer to cook than advertised: Box instructions suggest cooking for 12-14 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 12, the pizza looked very undercooked. At 14, it seemed edible, but still not perfect. I ended up leaving it in the oven for 16 minutes. That’s a little too long for something meant to be convenient. One could have a pizza delivered in nearly the same amount of time.
Overall:

Not bad, but it didn’t make me feel all giddy inside, either. Pacific Natural is trying to build a reputation for wholesome foods; however, unlike their soups, teas, and pies, the “artisan” pizzas contain no organic or sustainable ingredients. Also, they are factory made, which makes them not artisan at all, and I don’t like cheeseball slogans.

Would I get it again? Too soon too tell. My frozen pizza experience is still too limited. It’s a step up from Mama Celeste, at least. But is there really a frozen pizza that will ever satisfy my pizza obsession?
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