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Frozen Dinners – Not Your Mom's TV Dinner Anymore


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#1 weinoo

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 06:31 AM

Now, now - I know what you're thinking. Weinoo eats frozen dinners?!

Well, not really - but my wife, who spends part of every week in Washington, D.C., has them occasionally for dinner. Let's face it - they're easy and ready in minutes (I sound like an ad).

Of course, I do most of the shopping in D.C., which means I'm usually the one who buys these various frozen dinners. And by various, I mean the choices are endless. From Healthy Choice to Amy's, from Lean Cuisine to Organic Bistro to Saffron Road, a walk down the frozen dinner aisle in Harris-Teeter or Whole Foods makes my head spin.

And yesterday, in the interest of science, I decided to give one a try for lunch. I picked Saffron Road's Chicken Biryani, described as "tender chunks of chicken baked in basmati rice, topped with caramelized onions in the classic Hyderabadi style."

For those who don't know (e.g. me), Hyderabadi cuisine is cuisine that:

emphasises the use of ingredients that are carefully chosen and cooked to the right degree and time. Utmost attention is given to picking the right kind of spices, meat, rice, etc. Therefore, an addition of a certain herb, spice, condiment, or combination of all these add a distinct taste and aroma

.

Okay...whatever. It (the frozen entree) was actually pretty decent. I mean sure, it has a lot of sodium in it (590 mg), but it was tasty and the rice and chicken had some flavor and weren't egregiously overcooked.

So, my question is this:

Do you ever have frozen dinners for, ummm, dinner?

And - what are your favorites?
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#2 rotuts

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 07:48 AM

Trader Joe's has a decent selection. they have an Indian assortment, and I thought they were decent, but not the lamb where the meat was barely edible. The Butter Chicken was good in the past, but someone in Canada forgot to wash their hands so these were sent back! :blink:

They have various pasta 'dishes' for one that are good enough.

Edited by rotuts, 06 December 2012 - 07:49 AM.


#3 rlibkind

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 10:07 AM

Funny, I'm not a frozen dinner guy, since my wife is fond of Stouffers and I find what I've tried of the brand slightly better than unpalatable.

But I did take one of her Saffron Road chicken tikka masalas out of the freezer last week and found it pretty much as you described the biranyi. There was actually a pleasant flavor, the texture was more than mush, and the spicing aggressive. Even the ingredient list was not off-putting.
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#4 weinoo

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 10:28 AM

Funny, I'm not a frozen dinner guy, since my wife is fond of Stouffers and I find what I've tried of the brand slightly better than unpalatable.

But I did take one of her Saffron Road chicken tikka masalas out of the freezer last week and found it pretty much as you described the biranyi. There was actually a pleasant flavor, the texture was more than mush, and the spicing aggressive. Even the ingredient list was not off-putting.

I know - this is what I found strange. Stouffer's is kinda from that same era as Swanson's. But the newer generation of stuff has actually gotten better.
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#5 gfweb

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 10:47 AM

I've had Stouffer's lasagna (the stuff in the big pan) which was surprisingly OK.

#6 HungryC

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 12:34 PM

I fall back on the Amy's tamale verde and the cheese enchiladas (cheap @ WalMart) when inclement weather (or overwork) traps me in my office, and I'll spring for the more expensive Ethnic Gourmet frozen entrees (saag paneer, usually) if I know I'll be pressed for time. These are about the only ones I've tried that I'd care to repeat. My mother claims that the Lean Cuisine panini are passable, but I haven't tried 'em myself.

#7 naguere

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 05:46 AM

There is a shop just down the road from me in Cheltenham England that specialises in frozen meals (Award Winning Frozen Meals). All the dishes look wonderful and are delicious my wife tells me, but they are rather expensive. Take a look: http://www.cookfood....hops/cheltenham
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#8 David Ross

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 07:34 PM

I've had Stouffer's lasagna (the stuff in the big pan) which was surprisingly OK.

I buy Stouffer's lasagna regularly in the cold months. It's really quite good and far better and less time consuming over any lasagna I've ever made. Whenever I vary and go with another brand, I always go back to Stouffer's lasagna.

#9 David Ross

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 07:36 PM

Well, this topic has given me an opportunity. I'm having knee surgery on Tuesday and for the past week I've bought tons of frozen stuff to chew on while I'm unable to cook. I'm probably not going to even put a pan on the stove for at least 10 days. I'll give everyone a sort of running commentary of the different items I try.

#10 David Ross

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 07:38 PM

There is a shop just down the road from me in Cheltenham England that specialises in frozen meals (Award Winning Frozen Meals). All the dishes look wonderful and are delicious my wife tells me, but they are rather expensive. Take a look: http://www.cookfood....hops/cheltenham

Wow, that's quite a selection and probably better than mass-produced stuff that may sit in the freezer case at Walmart for months.

#11 David Ross

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Posted 07 December 2012 - 07:41 PM

Stouffer's roast turkey dinner isn't bad either, but like a lot of this stuff, it's chuck full of salt. The turkey has decent flavor and the stuffing is pretty good. The mashed potatoes are really creamy. The gravy? Meh. When you sit at a desk in front of a computer and basically don't get up for 9 hours, sometimes a passable frozen dinner really isn't too bad.

#12 weinoo

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 05:15 AM

Well, this topic has given me an opportunity. I'm having knee surgery on Tuesday and for the past week I've bought tons of frozen stuff to chew on while I'm unable to cook. I'm probably not going to even put a pan on the stove for at least 10 days. I'll give everyone a sort of running commentary of the different items I try.


This is awesome, David. I'm very interested in how the different dinners go with vicodin.
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#13 mrsadm

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 10:51 AM

I will admit to having liked Marie Callendar's Lasagne (better than Stouffers) and Bertolli Shrimp Scampi and Linquini. For dog-tired, lazy evenings!
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#14 Mjx

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Posted 08 December 2012 - 11:01 AM

Owing to my parents' careful efforts to shield me from popular culture, frozen dinners have always been kind of off the radar for me, sort of like dentures or chaps; I've always been peripherally aware of them, but could not imagine they would have any relevance to my life.

But I've been curious. And my while my boyfriend is jet-setting around India and the Alps, I'm snowed under with work, and have little inclination and even less time to prepare actual food. After a few days of pinto beans, edamame, and bresaola, this seemed like an excellent time to explore frozen dinners, particulary since there's a line of these things that I've found a bit eye catching: Thai - Cube.

Seriously, how could this possibly go wrong?

ThaiCube1_2012-12-08_18.26.54.png

The instructions say to just remove the plastic outer wrapping and shove the thing in the microwave for 4 to 6 minutes, but I decide to investigate a bit:

ThaiCube2_2012-12-08_18.27.15.png

Hm.

Well, okay. I pack everything back inside, microwave it, and carfully pry open the flaps with chopsticks, to avoid getting scalded:

ThaiCube3_2012-12-08_18.27.36.png

Ah. That shade of orange... At this point, I realize the damn thing is leaking remarkably unappetizing-looking liquid all over the my boyfriend's mouse mat (by his computer is where the lighting is best). I put the whole thing in a bowl, tidy up the mat, tip the top container of mixed chicken and veg stuff onto the rice clump, and mash about with chopsticks.

ThaiCube4_2012-12-08_18.27.56.png

I go to a dimmish corner, and eat this. It's... adequate? Not really gross or anything. Not delicious, either. Some heat, but otherwise bland. The chicken is not remarkably rubbery, and the vegetables could be quite a bit worse.

This was all about half an hour ago. I felt kind of queasy immediately after, but I think that had mostly to do with the really unfortunate colour of this thing. I feel fine now. If I had to eat one of these in the future, I wouldn't kick, but this is definitely not an experience I'd voluntarily seek out.

I should mention that of the frozen offerings at the local supermarket, this line of products struck me as the least unattractive; frankly, I can't see myself trying any of the other options anytime soon.

If the frozen dinners of my parents' era were worse than this, I'm honestly not surprised that they made sure I never went near one!


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#15 teagal

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 09:02 AM

I really like the Amy's brand. Tried a Lean Pocket the other day and was really dissapointed. They have a bunch of relatively new flavors and they sounded good. The rice and bean Smart Ones are pretty good. Once every few weeks I'll have something frozen for lunch when I forget to bring lunch to work and it makes me remember to bring it for a couple weeks! It is handy to have a Bertolli's or some other meal for 2 in the freezer for a quick dinner when the husband has to have a meal with meat in it!
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#16 David Ross

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 10:55 AM

My adventure into days of eating frozen foods started this past week on Monday night--the night before I had knee surgery. I'd been wanting to try these new Safeway brand frozen entrees for sometime. I'm a sucker for decent food photography, so I should have known better. Did I really think that the staged color photo of tender chunks of chicken portrayed on the front of the box was what I'd find inside? Well, yes I did.

I chose these "Greek Brand" chicken skewers because they were different. I assumed they were pre-grilled and might have a bit of decent grill flavor and a bit of lemon and oregano seasoning-
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There were four frozen chicken skewers in the package. It actually looked like frozen chicken popsicles-
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The instructions call for placing the skewers on a cookie sheet and baking in a hot oven-
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After 25 min., all I could see was a compressed mass of chicken meat, no individual "kebabs," no grill marks, nothing close to the photo on the front of the box. I turned on the broiler to get some color on the chicken to at least make it look sort of appealing on my plate.

It's not surprising to report that the chicken was terribly dry and stringy. What may have originally been cubes of white chicken meat had been compressed into one solid mass. There was a whiff of some type of seasoning, I suspect the "Greek" element of dried oregano had at some point brushed up against the chicken. A sprinkle of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper couldn't rescue this mess-
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There should be some consumer protection laws that guarantee the photo on the front of the box must closely mirror what is inside the box. That wasn't the case with this dreadful meal. Safeway should be embarassed. They should serve this stuff at a Board of Directors Meeting and compare what's on their plate to the illustration on the front of the box. This certainly wasn't a case of truth in advertising.

Grade: F for the duping the consumer into thinking this was a chicken "shish kebab." D- for taste.

#17 ambra

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 11:08 AM

Those look horrible. I can't even get over it.

#18 rotuts

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 11:24 AM

the cover idea is a good one. surprised something like this hasnt gotten traction in California.

#19 BeeZee

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 12:14 PM

They think that putting the phrase "serving suggestion" absolves them of any responsibility for the product in the box looking like the representation in the photo.
I call that "sponge chicken" with it having 11% solution added...
The only mainstream "healthy" frozen meals that I find the chicken texture acceptable in (it's in small chunks or strips) are the ones from Kashi. Plus a decent amount of veg.
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#20 rotuts

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 01:47 PM

it does not. the "serving suggestion" tells you to go somewhere else.

the stuff they do in CAlifornia ( native son me ... ) suggests this cover "truth in Covers" would be actually worth while.

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#21 David Ross

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 04:30 PM

Next up was a beef enchilada entree from El Charro. This is the cheapest, of the cheapest of frozen entree's in the case. And if low-quality is associated with low-cost, this is it. The promised rice was missing for the most part and any texture of tortilla had melted into the sauce. The sauce itself was fairly good, but there wasn't much substance to the beef. And in this type of entree, you really don't know what part of the cow they ground. Overall there was a pastey, cardboard/chemical note that lingered on the tongue.
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Obviously a major case of freezer burn. One wonders how many years it took for all those ice crystals to form-
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Plated-
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Grade: C-, only acceptable in the most extreme case of needing a quick snack out of the microwave.

#22 rotuts

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 04:45 PM

Pink Slime in there?

No Trader Joes near you? pity.

#23 David Ross

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 04:56 PM

Pink Slime in there?

No Trader Joes near you? pity.

I ran out of time and didn't get to Trader Joe's. I should have planned better because I know they have some decent frozen foods.

#24 rotuts

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 05:00 PM

they have some mighty fine Fz stuff!

get some help to go there and get some for you.

give up on the SafeWay.

#25 radtek

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 05:21 PM

Haha I love the freezer frostsicles! Might join in with a few picks.

Marie Callenders makes some calorie laden but wonderful meals. The pot-pie is wonderful. I liked the Swedish meatballs. Lean Cuisine puts forth a decent effort. Aware that I can put out better results I usually assemble my own meals from leftovers and eat them at work. Saved me a bunch of money.

#26 weinoo

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 08:02 AM

For Swedish meatballs, I think IKEA's are very good. But that's not necessarily a frozen dinner, unless you're on Atkins :rolleyes: .
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#27 patrickamory

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 10:36 AM

Surely Modernist Cuisine offers a way to create palatable frozen dinners :rolleyes:

#28 rotuts

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 11:23 AM

home-made fz dinners are simply various packets of SV stuff re-heated. so it might be called "Packet-Selective-Dinners"

or "Mix-and-Match"

think back to PedroG's delicious ( looking ) Muti-Pack Sausage/Sauerkraut lunch

#29 radtek

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 12:21 PM

Less than three bucks:

Posted Image
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Needed salt. A lot more salt but otherwise pretty tasty and only a few minutes in the micro. The cheese was surprisingly meaty and satisfying. The Basmati rice was sprinkled with mustard seeds. I might actually try the Chana Masala and the various curries offered.

#30 rotuts

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 01:13 PM

Ah TX. very odd that it needed salt. good for them. most FZ stuff is way over salted, even at the Trader.

Im told that HEB has some SV stuff, my sister says from TX

take a peak if you might.

what other Taste of India does the HEB have?