This Amy’s Bowl smells better than it tastes

I’ve mentioned before that I have a $3 cut-off limit when it comes to boxed lunches, my reasoning being that for anything over 3 bucks I might as well go out to lunch and enjoy myself. But every once in a while I’ll shake things up and “splurge” if something looks out-of-this-world.

The smell got my attention...

The smell got my attention...

This week I noticed a new box from Amy’s (I knew it was new because it had in big bold letters NEW!) and decided it looked interesting. I love Amy’s burritos and Amy’s veggie lasagna, so I reached deep down in my wallet and made the purchase.

Amy’s Bowls Tortilla Casserole and Black Beans has very simple heat up instructions (4-5 minutes on High) and as the timer wore down the smell emanating from the office kitchen had caught the noses of a few coworkers of mine. Since I’m rarely enticed by the smell of frozen entrees, I had very high hopes for this bowl. (Just a note, it’s gluten free, all organic and vegetarian).

The black beans and the casserole were separated nicely and the actual image wasn’t too far off from the box. The tortilla chips in the casserole were surprisingly crunchy for a frozen boxed lunch and the beans were not a huge black bulging mass, but rather looked like beans. Ultimately, this baby needed some salt. And some spice. And some flavor. With 33% of my daily intake of sodium, you would think I’d be able to taste the salt. You would think.

As I ate the crunchy casserole, I noticed small white specks of something, which now as I’m reading the ingredients list I realize was organic tofu (there’s no mention of that on the front of the box, which I find odd). That’s a new one for me. But even with organic vegetables, organic black beans, organic corn, organic tomatoes, organic, organic, organic… this dish really could have been a huge hit if it just had a little more spice to it.

All in all, I will not be splurging on this Amy’s bowl again, unless I want to make some hungry coworkers envious of my meal… But I will continue to splurge on Amy’s Veggie Lasagna.

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Patak’s fails with preservative-heavy blobby brown sludge

Today’s experience was honestly close to traumatizing.

While home at my parents’ house over the weekend, my mom — after learning of my new BOB endeavor — gave me an old box of “Pataks’ Original Vegetable Korma: Creamy Coconut Vegetable Curry” for review. I guess I’ve acquired my food pretentiousness from my parents, as they are not huge boxed food fans either. In fact, this particular box had been sitting in their cupboard for months. Yes, you read that right — cupboard. This specific variety didn’t require the freezer. I guess it was made with enough preservatives to remain edible after an indefinite amount of time on the shelf … scary! All it required was a 1-minute heat up. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the best thing ever, but it looked decent — the “tastes of India” label reminded my of my tasty meal from last week, the box boasted a nice design, and the photo was attractive enough. Post-meal, I can honestly say if I was trapped in a bomb shelter and this was all that was left on the shelf, I would choose to go hungry.

Patak1Gross doesn’t begin to describe it. From those first moments when I peeled off the plastic cover, I should have known I was ill-fated for disaster. As you’ll see in the accompanying photo (at left), the consistency was gelatenous. When I gently moved the bowl from right to left, the whole mess JIGGLED around like one big slimy blob. A semblance of mushy rice peeked out from under said blob, but not a vegetable was in sight.

Patak2

A good idea in theory ... ?

Luckily, so I thought, I had come prepared, with a container of fresh farmer’s market greens from home. The idea I’d envisioned involved pouring the boxed lunch atop the greens, to counter some of the boxed lunch feel with a fresh and wholesome accompaniment. In practice, however, the idea failed, as the gelatenous blob somehow managed to soak all the greens to creamy, slimy oblivion as well! The blob was unstoppable, and I was too repulsed to even notice if there were any real vegetables in it. I don’t think so, though.

The flavor was pretty gnarly … I definitely tasted the coconut they mentioned, it was creamy and sweet-ish but not in a good way. One glance at the Ingredients explains why … the “Cream of Coconut” ingredient, it turns out, consists of (in parenthesis): coconut, sugar, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monosterate, salt, propylene glycol alginate, mono-and diglycerides, citric acid, guar gum, locust bean gum. HOLY BEJESUS. Anything with -ate AND the #60 in it can’t be good. I am feeling sick!!! While on the ingredients list, I can’t help but notice it was made with modified cornstarch, which could help to explain the jelly-ish nature of the thing. It also lists about 10 vegetables including zucchini, green beans, potatoes, chickpeas and corn. HUH?! They must have been pureed together or something. I did notice little cubes of mush… those could have been the potatoes. You’d never know, though, because everything 1) was colored brown by the sauce 2) overtaken with the slimy nastiness of the sauce and 3) tasted like crud.

While I’m back there in the Nutrition Facts, I can’t help but to notice that this thing had 17 grams of fat. SEVENTEEN. 8g of which was saturated — holy ^(%*$(, that’s 40% of my daily value of saturated fat. OK, now I’m just pissed. I already used up all my allotted fat intake of the day on THAT!?!?  … and it’s only 12:53 p.m.?!?!?! UGH. Wait, wait … it also has 990 mg of SODIUM. That’s 41% of the daily value. Is that even legal? This is getting worse by the moment. I’m pretty sure I’ll need to drink about 40 glasses of water the rest of the day.

In a nutshell, this was really horrendous. — Jessica Weiss

Tandoor Chef brings Northern India to my desk, via a box

Greetings from the newest addition to the BOB writers team. Happy to be here, dishing out insight on the best of the box (pun intended). Before I get going, I must divulge something: I’m not the biggest fan of boxed lunches. Call me snobbish, but the concept of eating out of a box that’s been microwaved just strikes me as totally sad and quintessential cube culture-ish. I prefer freshly prepared foods, lower in sodium and freer of wrapping and preservatives than foods prepared and boxed in faraway lands (like New Jersey). So just to warn all of you – I’m going to be a tough judge. I’m taking the plunge but that doesn’t mean I’m going to lower my standards!

Dal1THAT SAID, today I ate a deliciously tasty meal from Tandoor Chef: Dal Rajastani. Rajasthan, in Northern India, is the largest state in India, and its cuisine is world renowned. Dal (lentils, split peas) is widely used in Rajasthani cooking, along with delicious spices, including ginger, turmeric, cumin, asafoetida, etc. I must say, I LOVE Indian food and eat it quite often, and this Tandoor Chef meal could compete with the best of em. Right out of the microwave, the aroma tickled the senses, and that much anticipated first bite hit the spot! The taste was sensational and bold, incredibly well- (and heavily-) spiced without being overbearing.

Can't wait to tear the plastic wrapping off this baby!

Jessica's initiation into the BOB team

I ate it right up with nary a break. As the story goes, it wasn’t that good looking (“sludge-like,” I’d say) and it wasn’t nearly enough to suffice as a full and complete meal, but it was good. The meal was a product of “Deep Foods,” a company from … wait for it … Jersey. After doing a little bit of research, I learned that Deep Foods consolidated their Curry Classics and Green Guru frozen meal lines into the Tandoor Chef brand in 2006. Prior to the consolidation, apparently all meals contained rice. Now they don’t. The lack of rice with my meal (or some variety of carb) was its glaring deficiency. It was too watery and saucy by itself, kind of like soup. Heck, half the fun of eating Indian food is mixing the rice with all the delicious, warming sauces for perfectly saturated bites of rice. SO next time I’ll have to bring my own on the side. (A bit annoying for the $4+ price tag.)

For the meat, gluten or dairy weary, this meal left out all 3! (P.S. I am a vegetarian.) Bonus! And it promises to be “all natural,” though I still don’t know what that means.

So there you have it, my first review. Overall, a great experience. I’d give it a 3.7 out of 5. — Jessica

Mmmmmmmmm Miso!

Wow… 2 lunch reviews in one day? Can you believe it?!  Best of the Box readers, hold on to your seats.  We’re giving you our recommendations so that you can make that all important trip to the grocery store and stock up on desk-worthy eats next week.

I’ll admit that, on this particular lunch, I was skeptical.  Annie Chun’s Miso soup seemed to be a little to good to be true.  I didn’t have to walk in the rain to my favorite sushi place downtown – I could just have a fresh bowl of Miso soup in 2 minutes or less? Would it fill me up? I even told Dawn that we might need to make a snack run later in the day for more sustenance.  She agreed, even though she loved her Moosewood delicacy.

Mmmmmm good

Annie’s soup is very easy to make and I was surprised by the packaging.  Everything was packaged individually: noodles, soup base, and tofu.  All of it was sitting in a microwaveable bowl made from cornstarch.  Plus one for Annie.

It does take a bit to mix up all the ingredients.  The directions recommended that I add hot water to the noodles and drain the water before adding the tofu and soup base, but I skipped that step and went straight for the microwave.  I honestly think it didn’t add or take away from the experience – it was fine just as it was prepared.

It was SO GOOD! And, for those of you who are watching the calories, only 220 calories for one bowl.  (Granted, there was a lot of sodium in the bowl, but we all knew that would happen, didn’t we?)  The noodles were fresh, soup was tasty.  The only that I should have done differently was to heat up the soup a little more because the tofu wasn’t as soft as I’d like.

All in all, a wonderful meal choice.  Dawn and I will definitely grabbing a snack later, though.  I have a feeling I’ll be hungry in an hour.  I would recommend bringing some fruit, yogurt, granola, or something else to munch about two hours after devouring this delicious meal.  Yet another good Trader Joes buy.

One more reason why I love the Annie Chun line so much: they are very committed to fight world hunger.  You can buy a child a meal at their website www.1bowl.org.  They will take your donation and send bowls of Annie Chun goods to kids who need meals around the world.  A great product and an incredible cause – something I can definitely support!

Moosewood’s Vegetarian Farfalle & Spinach Pesto Sauce

The meal does pretty closely resemble the image on the box. Of course you wouldn't know that b/c I took this picture after scraping the tray clean! hehe!

The meal does pretty closely resemble the image on the box. Of course you wouldn't know that b/c I took this picture after scraping the tray clean! hehe!

Sorry folks for the long lapse in BOB entries. It’s been a busy few weeks marked by extremely forgettable boxed meals. Today, however was  different. It was the first time I’d tried a Moosewood meal. I’m a huge fan of Moosewood – and have been for years.Plus, Moosewood’s Moosewood Cooks at Home is the only cookbook I really use. Their vegetable soup and handbaked bread are family favorites. The first time I met my (now) brother-in-law he secured our relationship by giving me a Moosewood t-shirt (he was currently living in Ithaca, lucky guy). The t-shirt is still in my rotation of top t-shirts now, more than 10 years later!! So you can tell, I was extremely biased going in to today’s boxed delight: Vegetarian Farfelle & Spinach Pesto Sauce.

The box says to microwave for four minutes than let cool for 1-2. I trust those folks, so I even let the baby cool down. However, it wasn’t enough time in our microwave, so I had to nuke it for an extra minute for all the pasta to be hot.

The pasta was firm (which is tough to do with frozen pasta) there were nice chunks of portabello mushroom and plenty of pesto sauce to go around. but … and here’s the clincher … there really wasn’t enough flavor. I’m not typically the kind of person to add salt to my food, but this meal was screamin for it. Perhaps my expectations were too high (and I’ll admit they were) but it didn’t have nearly the kick you want in a great pesto sauce.

Plus, like most boxed meals, it didn’t come close to filling me up, so I’ll have to find some snacks later to supplement my disappointed boxed meal from Moosewood.

Don’t get me wrong, now that I know that Moosewood does these, I’m going to keep trying them until I find one that I like. You’ll hear about it, don’t worry!

Amy knows how to do Indian

The real thing even decently holds up to the image on the front of the box

The real thing even decently holds up to the image on the front of the box

After my last disappointing run-in with Amy’s Kitchen, I wasn’t exactly racing to the freezer today to try today’s meal: Amy’s Indian Mattar Paneer. Opening the box, I was heartened to see a fair share of veggies, chickpeas and rice. It actually looked decent. The smell from the microwave wafting into my office was average, so I nervously took the first bite.

Folks: this meal is actually TASTY! Yes, it happened! A meal with vegetables, tofu, chickpeas and rice and a delicious sauce. It’s the moment this blogger has been waiting for with bated breath since her first entry so many months ago. You’ll recall it was inspired by the president complaining “There’s an odor coming from your office.” Well, today, if there’s an odor, I don’t care, because I’m eating an actually tasty, warm, healthy and mostly organic meal!

One thumb and one licked-clean platter up from this BOB reviewer

One thumb and one licked-clean platter up from this BOB reviewer

The peas are succulent, the sauce has as great kick and the rice is firm and tasty. Even the tofu has a good consistency. This is also one of the few tasty boxed meals I’ve had that didn’t include cheese as its main ingredient. In fact, there is no cheese in this meal at all!

To top it off the price is right — well if you get a sale, this one was on sale for $3. Otherwise I think it’s slightly more.

Nothing says Easter Monday like Amy’s Enchilada … or not…

Just two blocks away the Obama’s are encouraging physical fitness at the Easter Egg Roll. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at my desk eating a cheese and salsa DRENCHED enchilada.

How do these people sleep at night? I mean, really, there is NO resemblance between the two!

How do these people sleep at night? I mean, really, there is NO resemblance between the two!

Amy’s Enchilada advertises its natural ingredients and was on sale for $3 at Harris Teeter when I did my shopping this week. Sounds good, right? The box — complete with deceptively fabulous photo of two hearty enchiladas stuffed with veggie goodness like black beans and corn — sealed the sale.

Alas, it’s another case of box advertising gone awry. The enchiladas are not stuffed at all, or at least as far as this boxed lunch connoisseur could make out. I couldn’t find a single black bean or corn kernel. I’m pretty sure the ingredients only included: corn tortilla, cheese, sauce, cheese, sauce and oh yeah, more cheese and sauce.

That said, the sauce had a nice kick to it — not too much, but so much so that I can still taste it now 5 minutes after devouring the box. The tortillas were thick and chewy and the cheese was … well… what you would expect: gooey gooey gooey!

The preparation was fairly involved – cut a ONE INCH slit in the plastic packaging, cook for five minutes on 50 percent heat, remove packaging and cook for another minute 45. The ingredients on the back of the box look great – 0 trans fat, no MSG, no preservatives, all organic ingredients. But honestly, folks, can you really claim to have such delicious ingredients as: tomatoes, olives, chiles, bell peppers, without a single CHUNK of said ingredient? Also note that in the ingredients list there is no mention of  black beans, while they are CLEARLY pictured on the package. Scandalous!

I mentioned it was cheesy, right?

I mentioned it was cheesy, right?

All said, I’ll give it a 5 out of 10. The flavor was good (I did mention it was basically just a box of melted cheese). But it really wasn’t filling. And even though the box makes it look all wholesome and organic, I don’t feel like I had a very healthy lunch. Also, the environmental impact of the package wasn’t outstanding…the plastic wrapper takes away at least a couple points.