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I have seen Blake's frozen foods in the store a few times now. They are a small, family owned company out of New Hampshire that started as a turkey farm and has grown. Looking at their packages, the meals looked like a good choice for testing - around 300 calories with reasonable amounts of sodium and no highly processed ingredients, so we chose their Shepherd's Pie and Chicken Pot Pie.
Packaging is something that we notice and appreciate more and more. While our tastings don't have as much impact as someone who might take a frozen meal every day for lunch, having all paper with only a little bit of plastic overwrap like those that Blake's use is reassuring.
The one drawback, however, is that the instructions don't offer a microwave-only option and that could be a drawback for having these at work. They do take a while to cook. The package indicates 35 - 40 minutes but give yourself almost an hour. The Shepherd's Pie cooked faster and was done right at 50 minutes.
The mashed potatoes are quite smooth, and spooning into the pie it is clear that they are about half of the contents of the dish. They are OK but are overly dry and somewhat bland. Underneath is ground beef and corn (the latter having the telltale mushy texture that all frozen corn has). Both are bland. Not awful but just not much to distinguish the meal. As this sort of dish goes, it is tolerably good but dollar for dollar you are better off with Amy's Shepherd's Pie (which is also vegetarian and 5 grams of fiber).
When I was a kid we had Banquet pot pies pretty often (never Morton or Swanson or the house brand). I haven't had one in ages but do have a soft spot for the rich, creamy sauce, chicken, peas and carrots all baked up in a little dish. For the chicken pot pie they use a cornbread crust on top and the instructions call for wrapping in foil, baking 40 minutes or so and then another ten without the foil. When I pulled the foil off at 40 minutes the center was still frozen (using my instant thermometer met with telltale crunchy resistance and a temperature of 45°F). The extra ten minutes turned into almost 20 before the pie was done.
This dish is everything that their Shepherd's Pie is not. The filling is the same rich creamy sauce, with chunks of tender chicken, peas and carrots but so much better than Banquet. The extra 20 minutes are super as the crust crisps up quite nicely and offers great texture and flavor to the dish.
This is, quite simply, a darn good chicken pot pie. The flavor of the sauce is that of a fresh chicken stock, the meat tender and juicy and the crust just right. There's so much flavor it could do with a little less salt but at 540 mg, it isn't outrageous. More veggies would be nice too and add an extra gram or two of fiber.
We will keep our eyes open for more opportunities to test Blake's products. The Shepherd's Pie was so-so but the Chicken Pot Pie was a big hit.
Reviewed: February 17, 2012