Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Product Review...Barefoot Contessa's Frozen Meals

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 When my daughter is away on a business trip I take the opportunity to either cook something I love that she doesn't like, defrost something I have saved, or buy a frozen food dinner.  Yes dear readers, people like me sometimes want a break from the pots and pans! My favorites in the latter category are Stouffer's Macaroni And Cheese, and P. F Chang' s frozen meals particularly their General Chang's Chicken and their spring rolls. They are as close as you are ever going to get to Chinese takeout.

Last week, just as I was reaching out for a bag,  I noticed the new Barefoot Contessa line of frozen meals.  Eureka! something new to try out.  I must say the choices were not too inspiring, particularly at $8.99 a bag which serves two. Among the meals available were Barefoot Contessa Penne Pasta with 5 Cheeses, Sesame Chicken & Noodles, Beef Stew Bourguignon, Tequila Lime Chicken, Shrimp Scampi & Linguine, Creamy Chicken Stew, Pasta Carbonara with Pancetta, Garlic Ginger Chicken, and Jambalaya.   Ok,  no problem, I can do this. Since I had been salivating for Chinese the choice was easy...Sesame Chicken and Noodles, how easy was that?!
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 I arrived home all excited, poured myself a hefty vodka on the rocks took out the wok and in no time dinner was cooking on the stove.  This is how it comes out of the bag. Pretty..so far so good!






I remembered I still had some  Wonton Strip's from Archer Farms at Target which I keep in the pantry for my Chinese Chicken Salad .





The meal comes together in no time and at first glance it looks quite good!




Ready to rock and roll, Mad Men on the screen and I am salivating...!!!




Won ton strips for a personal touch!




And I take a bite,then another and yet another.  I want to like this, seeing Ina is not only my hero but everyone's favorite chef. Every single recipe of hers that I have ever made has been a keeper and she has never let me down.  She is so nice and so reliable and so is Jeffrey.  They deserve a larger apartment in Paris and a bigger house in East Hampton.   Truly they do.

Needless to say I was thoroughly disappointed.  The whole thing was bland and dull, the chicken pieces although quite plentiful, tasted rubbery.  I ended up eating half of what was on my plate and throwing out the rest.  Maybe my expectations were too high but then again it is Ina.  She never disappoints. I am sure I could have rescued it by adding soy sauce or something else.  But not for $8.99 a bag.  Maybe some of the other choices are better but my first impression left such a bad taste I don't think I care to try again.  If I am going to eat frozen food it better be good and as far as I am concerned, there are other brands out there that deliver a better product, even for frozen food.  Sorry Ina, though I still love you!




I was not asked to review this product.  The opinions on this post are my own and are based solely on my purchase of one frozen bag of Barefoot Contessa's Sesame Chicken & Noodles

Top photo Google the rest Lindaraxa

45 comments:

  1. Barefoot Contessas frozen was Mouth Watering I Tried this one.Really Good

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  2. I too have been disappointed by the false lure of frozen food. Perhaps the problem is that they try to present meals that must be prepared fresh, so their efforts are doomed to failure. When I lived in Ohio, my mother often gave me frozen home-made food that was delicious when reheated, so I know the task is possible.

    The only frozen food that found favor was Stouffer's Welsh Rabbit, but now my favorite is Welsh Rabbit Lindaraxa, which incidentally I am getting ready to make again.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. I loooove their Welsh Rabbit! Another winner.

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  3. I am so proud of you for trying her new frozen dinners and posting about them. How disappointing too. I had a bad feeling about them when I found out which grocery stores they were using for the roll out campaign. At least in my part of the world, Save a lot is considered to be a discount warehouse chain and not the top-notch kind of store I would have thought would carry Ina's latest creations. Just my two cents...
    Sam

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    Replies
    1. Agree with that. They have a joint venture with Contessa foods which is an average brand. Click on the link for more info.

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  4. I think it is a real art putting flavors like that into a bag and making them sing. You would think a perfectionist like Ina would not have let something sub-standard have her stamp of approval, no matter how much she may make on the deal. Bummer. I do wonder if the other spicy dishes are bland too.

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    1. It is an art. I often wonder why it is that the homemade stuff I freeze keeps so much better than any of these frozen meals.

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  5. Love this honest post as I am always disappointed with frozen entrees. Good to know about PF Chang. I always kept the large size Stouffer's Mac and Cheese for our kids, but have noticed the flavor has changed. Our neighbor, a VP there (Nestle) confirmed it-higher food costs have led to lower quality ingredients in all their products to maintain the same price.
    Thanks for the review, still a fan of Ina's, just not her frozen food!

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    1. We play around a little with the Mac & Cheese and only have it when one of us is sick. That;s probably why I haven't tasted the difference.

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  6. Oh no......! And to think of the testing and focus groups and market research they must have gone through to even put this product on the shelf! wow. So where were these? The local Harris Teeter or more "upscale" Whole Foods? I'll be a guinea pig and try another kind, ok?

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    Replies
    1. No, they are at Walmart, Kroger etc. I bought mine at Publix. Would love for you to try and write a review.

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  7. I don't do frozen foods, but appreciate the honest and candid review. Isn't it crazy what we'll do when we cook for someone else and what we won't do for ourselves when we are alone? I swear food tastes differently when my husband is away! I tease him that if I go first, he'll give a whole new meaning to whole foods since he hates knives. I, on the other hand, with enough tools to equip a restaurant will probably die of starvation with an overstuffed fridge because nothing interested me.

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    1. I am of the same mind as you and usually cook for myself when I am alone. Sometimes though when I'm tired from working in the garden or whatever, it's so much easier to grab something like this. I do have a couple of favorites though and it is not often.

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  8. Like you I am a big fan of Ina Garten and I have bought one of her frozen entrees. Haven't tried it yet and now after reading your post not sure that I will. I think the one I bought was the Orange Chicken and I think it is a stir fry???? Thats so disappointing because I was hoping for a break from cooking every now and then and I just knew that Ina's new product would be fabulous, apparently NOT. Glad you shared this honest post and I'll do the same if I get up the nerve to try the one I bought.

    Carolyn/A Southerner's Notebook

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    1. Please do try it and let us know. Maybe I picked the wrong one. A stir fry would have a better chance but I didn't see any of those.

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  9. Disappointed, however, not surprised. The added yuk ingredients added to frozen foods to extend shelf life kills an otherwise enticing meal. On a rainy day, I make enough, as hubby says, 'to feed an army', split n' store into the freezer for later. Always tasty. :)

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  10. So right. Those yuk ingredients are the culprits and take so much away from the flavor of any commercial frozen food. Some, though, seem to get around it and come out tasting ok. The stir frys in particular.

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  11. You should have stayed with the Stouffer's Mac n Cheese. It is always delicious and the only frozen food I will eat.
    I like Ina...but it is no surprise the entree was weak...she certainly has less than nothing to do with the ingredients of production.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Andrew,

      Well what really surprised me is the fact that they say she has tasted each and everyone of them! That M& C is good though, particularly when you are sick. Try Stouffer's Welsh Rarebit on PepFarm Thin bread.

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    2. Just saw this re. the Mac n Cheese...well, there is now one to beat the Stouffers! Try the one from Trader Joe's: it is superb!! Really, it almost, truly tastes like home made. Try it, you'll like it!

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    3. Problem is I don't have one nearby but I will when Im next in Atlanta.

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    4. I would never Buy Stouffer's again, nor most of the Changs. Both fit the bill of processed industrial foods from the cafeteria chowline IMO. I am biased, because I zero in on the sodium (=salt) content. They are overloaded, like the worst Chinese fast foods. I stick to Contessa Green Cuisine, Newman's Own, and on occasion, some of the lower salt Voila's if I want to eat garbage. I don't like them (except chicken pot pie) but at 2x1 you can get them under $4 each and I wouldn't categorize these Barefoot Contessas as much better, and definitely the fault is in the recipe because as in the case of the scampi above, individually the ingredients are really the best possible frozen out there.

      Now, thumbs down on this Barefoot Contessa Product Line. They, to pick up on the above thought, they are over saturated with salt. What a hoot, my Shrimp Scampi instructions tell us to add salt to taste LOL! Already a the two servings have about 2500 mg, more salt than the recommendation (that's in two servings, as the package comes)

      So really the best thing to do with the scampi and beef is to use part of the sauce. 2 of 3 separate nutrition labeling between sauce and the rest. In the case of the scampi, one third the sauce brings it into the reasonable range, still high, but at least you don't want to down 2 liters of coke when you are done getting high blood pressure. So, 1/3 the sauce (1/6 per serving), and for the rest, substitute two tablespoons of XV olive oil and a couple spoons of Ricotta. The calories and texture come out the same and then add red pepper to taste. The second serving was actually far better this way and since I counted the shrimp it turned out ok (another disadvantage of multiserving frozen meals prepared for one is either you need to divide the ingredients roughly in half for a decent meal, or settle for leftover refrigerated frozen food meals. Gross

      But it turned out well. Sorry for going on and on, but a week ago Publix had a 2X1 sale so I got 5 deals and like Linda was excited to try something new. Unfortunately I assumed the salt was low since Contessa Frozen Foods (no relation to Barefoot Contessa until she made the deal with them, already premium producers of Contessa Green Cuisine meals, and it was a match of two Contessas who previously had nothing in common).

      Get General Paul's Chicken from Newman's Own. For me the nutritional profile and natural ingredients plus taste far better, but just a one shot wonder! (others are good and I suspect that Contessa makes them all including G. Pauls Chicken, but didn't check the package to confirm.

      Regarding Walmart, etc., I think you are all mistaken. Contessa Foods went through Chap 11 Bankruptcy because previously it only catered to the higher end. So a lesson was clearly learned, that if you are selling frozen food, you must get the major chains. After all, this is frozen food, not fine dining, and appropriate expectations must be adjusted.

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  12. Bummer about Ina, but I couldn't agree more with you about the PF Chang frozen entrees. They are exceptional. Our freezer has several bags of Ginger Chicken right now, usually our fave. Put some jasmine rice in the rice cooker, and then give your self approximately 10 minutes to heat up the entree in a skillet. So good, and effortless. Another favorite is Stouffer's Italiano Lasagne; so flavorful! I don't really care for the susage, but my daughter does, so that's ok. Another great stand by is Stouffers Stuffed Peppers. I am chronically ill and am often just too tired to cook, so I try to seek out quality frozen food. Nancy's Quiche Lorraine is very good, but the prices locally have gotten too high for me to stomach. We also like Stouffer's Lean Cuisine Thai Eggrolls. Not exactly authentic, but tasty, however, apparently one is not intended to eat all six for one serving, as we invariably do.

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  13. Thanks for the suggestions. When I try to slim down (not often)I sometimes reach for those lean cuisines. The Thai rolls sound yummy!

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  14. In a perfect world, it would be possible to reach for a frozen dinner as an alternative to the time consuming
    task of preparing the evening meal, and Ina Garten's own recipes would be as tasty as we've come to expect.
    Yet it seems to me that the words "gourmet" and "convenience" are contradictory, at least when it comes
    to packaged meals. Your readers make an excellent point when they say that their own meals, frozen and
    later thawed, are superior to anything made by Stouffer's etc. There was a time when I relied upon Stouffer's
    Macaroni Cheese as an alternative to cooking dinner after a long work day, but these days it tastes like
    cardboard!

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    1. Yes but even I run out of my frozen meals sometimes! I remember when we moved to this house the night before the actual move which was Thanksgiving we had Stouffers mac and cheese on the porch. Talk about a gourmet Thanksgiving. That's when you grab something like that and of course I don't expect gourmet, just good. Ive heard about the quality going down. Haven't had one since my flu and then I couldn't taste a thing as you well know. Have you tried my recipe? it's from Harry's Bar in Venice? Now that is gourmet!

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  15. I've never found the Contessa anything more than an unremarkable cook. I've heard all the usual cooing about her, watched her shows (twice) and even tried a recipe or two when she was with HB but in the end all was average.

    I bought a similar sort of kit recently from WF (thought I might lighten my load now I'm retired) and after trying it out – and admittedly it was easy – decided home-made was best. It was not offensive but for what it was it was expensive and tipped towards the flavorless. In other words, unremarkable.

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    1. Hi Blue!

      She does have some good AMERICAN recipes like her cakes etc but she uses a lot of butter!!!!! It's a certain type of cooking which I would not necessarily call gourmet. I will say though that she has always been reliable. That was what really let me down.

      Where I live now I don't have a Whole Foods or Fresh Market nearby so in a pinch I've got to grab something ready made. The alternative is fast food...yuck!

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  16. I found your post on Harry's Bar Mac Cheese and I want to try the recipe one day, with one alteration--the
    flour wouldn't be added unless it was first cooked briefly as for a light roux. And I'd leave out the mozzarella-
    too stringy and bland for Mac Cheese!

    Am inclined to agree with Blue's comment about Ina Garten. She makes it look easy, and has a pleasantly
    offhand approach to explaining her recipes on her television spots, but most of the time I find myself wondering
    whether those recipes are really tested--the ingredients raise more questions than not. Still, an experienced home
    cook can use them as a basic template with a few personal refinements.

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  17. Toby,

    Do me a favor...try it as is the first time. It is not our Mac & Cheese but Harry's version. I just left a comment at the bottom of the post. The Mozzarella does not make it stringy and bland at all. You don't even know it's there at the end. While I agree with you on the roux, it works great this way. Try it and let me know.

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    1. Excellent point, Julieta. One should never reject something until it's tried--and as you say, Harry's
      version is a different animal.

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    2. Ah, Toby...that's why I like you so much! A real sport.

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  18. i just tried Ina's Beef Stew Bourguignon. In the pan warming up it looked like the real deal and we decided to boil up a pot of wide, buttered noodles to serve it on. As far as our review of the meal, may I borrow your review just substituting the chinese dish forthe words Beef Bourguignon? It was bad and I feel this is something Ina would never have signed off on if she were given a plate. She really needs to go to the manufacturer and raise hell.

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    1. I agree totally with this reviewer. We just tried the Beef Stew Bourguignon last night for the first time and will never buy it again. It was inedible. My entire family pushed it away. When I checked the package (which I should have done in the grocery store) the salt content was 1,350mg . .. what should be 65% of your entire daily intake of salt. Awful. I'm with you. I can't imagine that she ever tested this one herself.

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    2. Tried it last night - it was awful. It should have been labeled pepper stew since pepper was the overriding flavor. Too bad - it could have been decent if it hadn't been so overseasoned with pepper. My husband wouldn't eat it after two bites.

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  19. As I type I am eating the Shrimp Scampi BC version. Yesterday was the Penne Five Cheese, and the day before Beef Bourg(sp.).

    The manufacturer does a fantastic job on all three. Unfortunately that does not make a good dish. Today is that the broccoli florets were fresh-frozen to perfection, packed separately and this allowed for addition of ingredients in three parts since all cooking was not identical for the contents... Broccoli=perfection.

    But first, we must put the frozen linguini and shrimp. Shrimp: perfection, best I've ever had out of a bag; far better than the fresh ones I buy in Publix that have come in blocks that have been thawed. Tender!

    Pasta: Perfect, the best short of homemade, and at least as good as cooking up some dry, recently manufactured Barilla, IMO, actually, better that that as a slight freshly made flavor comes through.

    Sauce: Somewhat flavorful piping hot, but definitely nothing to write home about. If I put olive oil, parmesan cheese and some red pizza peppers, it is better and that really is more convenient that hunting down frozen foods.

    The problem was the whole scampi meal. It was terrible when it wasn't piping hot. The sauce recipe was bad. Sorry. Perhaps some focus group thought it was good. But after 2 forks, no longer hot, and its true poor meal taste was all that was left.

    Now the Beef was very similar in shortcomings. The Penne with 5 cheeses actually was well done through the meal, a 7 out of 10 when it comes to comparing to other Contessa Green Meals. Pity, it is not one I wound want since just pasta and cheese really -- I can make pasta and cheese nearly a fast, it is a meat dish that justifies buying frozen since that's the extra work savings.

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  20. I just tried - as in tried to eat - the Beef Stew Bourgignon...so disappointed, as I've made the actual Barefoot Contessa recipe numerous times and it was delicious! I should have known better! It tasted of, inexplicably, fish oil supplements?!? I most likely will not be trying any of the others. Fool me once...

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    1. You got that right. We had it tonight and it was awful. Totally tasteless. We filled up on buttered bread. I won't buy anymore of their products.

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  21. I bought what I thought was Barefoot Contessa but is was Contessa. I bought the Beef Mongolian and it was quick and delicious. I had never tried the brand. I don't know if I want to try the Barefoot Contessa's or not. This tasted as good as the PF Chang food I've had. Give it a try.

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  22. Hi..
    i appreciate the ideas and this is very nice article and have great information. Thanks for share,

    Click here:  frozen food products

    ReplyDelete
  23. I tried this today, it was like rubber and glue. I gave a bite to my dog and she ran off rather than beg for more as she usually does.

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  24. I don't understand all the bad reviews, I loved the Beef Bourg, Thai Chix and Im waiting to have the Lime Chix soon, I think they are just great, you tell me who makes it better? I don't see it...I love her show also, woman knows how to cook and Im glad she put together some great frozen meals for me when I don't have time to cook. Thanks Contessa....its a Home Run in My Book and I love great food and Im very hard to please!

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  25. I am addicted to the Pasta Carbonara with Pancetta meal. I think it has crushed crack cocaine in the sauce or something, I find it absolutely delicious, and the freezer is stocked with that one meal. Better than local Italian in my opinion.

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  26. I just prepared and devoured the Penne pasta with 5 cheeses. I have made it from scratch and her frozen meal comes as close to tasting like the scratch meal as I have ever had in a frozen entrée. I for one will be buying this again and trying the others as well.

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Thank you for visiting Lindaraxa. Your comments are much appreciated.

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