Most of us have heard of Julie & Julia, the book-turned-film about a young woman cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. It’s a lovely idea, in theory. But as a working professional and a brand-new mom on her own, I have no time for such a thing.
However, a girl’s gotta eat. So I’ve got another idea. I am going to eat my way through the single-serving frozen meal section of my local grocery store and write about it here.
For some time, I’ve been known around the office to be a significant consumer of frozen meals, but until now I’ve stuck to only a few brands and – when considering the vast choices available – only a few meal choices. But at my most recent visit the grocery store I noticed all kinds of red tags in the frozen meal section; quite a number of brands were on sale. So I bought a much wider variety, and I bought *a lot* (hooray for the basement deep freeze).
On Thursday, while enjoying the first of the new-to-me meals, it dawned on me that I don’t have to look upon my consumption of frozen meals with culinary and nutritional shame. It isn’t 1985. A frozen meal isn’t necessarily a slab of turkey meat with separate compartments for some dried peas and even drier mashed potatoes. There are healthy, lean options and “cooking technology” that enables vegetables to taste exponentially better than rubber. It is my hope to identify the better options available and share my findings with anyone interested.
The meal that started it all
The meal I enjoyed on Thursday was Marie Callender’s Pasta Al Dente Penne Garlic Chicken. In addition to the pasta and chicken, the dish included spinach, Roma tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. I must say I was quite impressed by the presence of artichoke hearts – not exactly a staple ingredient of frozen meals – though it should be noted that there were only *two* in my meal.
The chicken was tender and bite-sized, and unlike the artichoke hearts, there was a decent amount of it in this single-serving meal. The penne pasta was of a good consistency, another memorable aspect of this particular meal. I believe the reason for the al dente consistency of the pasta was the fascinating cooking technology utilized in the package. The vegetables, pasta, and chicken were in a colander-like plastic bowl that was nested inside of the actual bowl, with some space between the bottom of the colander and the bowl. In that space was the meal’s sauce, and space for the sauce to steam up through the holes of the colander to appropriately steam the vegetables, pasta, and chicken. Unlike other microwave meal technology I have experienced, this process worked impressively well to create a tasty meal.
It should be noted that the sauce for this meal, while quite tasty, was indeed quite garlicky. Perhaps this makes it not the best choice meal for the afternoon of an important meeting, performance evaluation, or anything involving face-to-face contact.