Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marie Callender's New Baked Meals: I'll eat that

I have to confess right up front here that I'm not a big fan of frozen meals. The preservatives and artificial ingredients have always scared me - something is just not right if a chicken breast can stay in your freezer longer than that chicken was actually alive.

That said, certain circumstances have made frozen food indispensable over the past year – an increased workload for both my husband and I, busier school schedules, and probably the biggest change - my oldest daughter stopped eating red meat. Since the rest of the family are still enthusiastic carnivores, I very often had to make two separate versions of our dinner (beef and vegetarian chili for example) and as you can imagine that got old really fast. You think I'm cranky when I have to cook one meal at the end of a crazy day – try telling me I have to cook TWO.

What I started doing was buying some frozen options for my daughter to have on those nights that the rest of us were eating meat. I tended to only buy them from stores like Trader Joes or Fresh & Easy, though, since their products tended to be healthier and with less artificial ingredients. My daughter figured out quickly which frozen items she liked best and which ones she'd avoid in the future - the soy cheese enchilada sounded like a bad idea from the start.

So when I was asked to test drive the new multi-serve baked meals from Marie Callender's I thought it'd be a good chance to broaden my frozen food horizons. I'm a big fan of the Marie Callender's restaurant (their chicken pot pie owns me) so the brand already had some clout with me. These new meals are 'family size' meals as opposed to individual serving portions that make up most of their line.

I set out to my friendly neighborhood grocer to pick up some items to sample. Before I left I let my family look over the options and pick out which ones they'd like – we decided on the Vermont White Cheddar Mac & Cheese and the Chicken, Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna. Unfortunately when I got to the store I found that they only carried three varieties – Scalloped Potatoes & Ham, Southwestern Chipotle Chicken Bake and the Three Meat & Four Cheese Lasagna. (And they were very difficult to find, pushed to the very edge of the freezer case.) I picked up one of each, and a pint of coffee ice cream. The ice cream had absolutely nothing to do with this review, but I wanted to make the most out of my frozen aisle experience.

We decided on the Chipotle Chicken Bake and the Meat Lasagna. The meals can be cooked in either the microwave or the oven - I cooked them 3/4 of the way in the microwave and then popped them in the oven to finish off, just to make it seem like I was actually cooking a meal. (While they are intended for multi-servings, the containers are fairly small and fit easily inside a standard microwave.)

Us flesh-eaters started in on the lasagna, and I have to say I was immediately impressed with the 'fresh' taste of it, and how you could really taste the sausage and the ricotta. The sauce had just the right amount of tang to it, and wasn't overly sweet like a lot of prepared sauces are. We gave it a thumbs up, and agreed it was something we'd buy again in the future.

My older daughter wasn't as excited about the Chipotle Chicken. (To be fair, I think she had her heart set on that Mac & Cheese, and you know how it is when you're looking forward to something and then get something else.) I think the mixture of the chicken, the corn and the black beans were fine, but the rice was too soggy and had an odd taste to it. (Then again, I'm pretty picky about my rice - hey I'm Asian, people.) I think that omitting the rice and then serving the rest of the ingredients inside a flour burrito with a little salsa would be FANTASTIC - back to the test kitchen!

(We haven't tried the Scalloped Potatoes yet, but I'm thinking it might be really good in the morning, served with some croissants and coffee. Now I don't have to cook breakfast, either.)

Here's a chance for you to check out these meals for yourself. I've got two coupons good for a free Marie Calender's Baked Meal ($5.69 value) and I'll include a $2 coupon for a Marie Callender's Frozen Pie. Mmmmm - pie.

Just leave a comment here by 11:59pm on Monday, November 29. I'll use random.org to pick a winner.

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I received coupons for free Marie Callender's Meals to purchase my test items, plus extra coupons for purposes of a giveaway. I also received a stipend for my participation in this program, but no restrictions were placed on the content of my review. All opinions are 100% mine. 

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Anonymous said...

Not a fan of frozen food, either, and when I do it's Amy's. But those are expensive, so I'm always looking for supermarket brand alternatives. I checked out the ingredients on the Marie Callender's and they're not too bad - at least they use real cheese and meat! Still a little high on the sodium, but I'm willing to give them a try, especially the lasagna.

Pick me!


janetfaye said...

I would like to try the Chipotle Chicken Bake.

janetfaye (at) gmail (dot) com

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