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Earlier this year we discovered Blake's All Natural Foods at our local Whole Foods. Their Shepherd's Pie and Chicken Pot Pie, both gluten-free, resulted in a split decision: a bland Shepherd's Pie and a rich and creamy Chicken Pot Pie.
This week we tried two of their Macaroni and Cheese varieties: one with chicken and broccoli and one plain. Contrary to the Shepherd's Pie and the Chicken Pot Pie, these offered us microwave directions in addition to the conventional oven directions, so as is our usual practice, we used the microwave directions for both.
Certainly the numbers look really good for these meals. The Mac & Cheese with Chicken has 360 calories and a surprisingly low 320 milligrams of sodium. We've tried macaroni and cheese dishes with twice (Lean Cuisine) and three times (Stouffer's) that amount!
These dishes from Blake's come in a paper bowl with a plastic overwrap. After three minutes the kitchen was filled with that delicious cheesy scent that comes from home made mac and cheese. Encouraging! Our tasting panel found that the cheese sauce (which, by the way, is the first ingredient listed) doesn't disappoint - rich, creamy, only slightly grainy from the microwaving, and just salty enough. The bow tie pasta yields only 3 grams of fiber but is cooked just a little more than necessary. As always, switching to whole wheat pasta would add a significant amount of fiber to the dish.
The box states that the chicken in this meal is "white meat chicken," and that certainly seems to be the case with the three chunks of chicken we could find in the bowl. Unfortunately, after only three minutes in the microwave these chunks are dry, tough and stringy. The two tiny florets of broccoli are only worth mentioning because they are shown on the box. 'Nuff said. All in all, a disappointing offering from Blake's All Natural Foods.
Leave the Mac & Cheese with Chicken on the shelf and grab the Farmhouse Mac & Cheese instead. Here, the rich, creamy sauce is unadulterated by additions and you are free to enjoy the excellent moderately salty cheesiness over slightly overdone macaroni noodles. This comes with a breadcrumb topping which added nothing to the dish for our tasting, but I would imagine that if you were making this in a conventional oven it would indeed add a bit of welcome crunch. No matter, because this is truly one of the best macaroni and cheese meals we've had that we did not make from scratch. (Bear in mind that this dish also contains 18 grams of total fat, while my Creamy Mac and Cheese recipe has only 6 grams of fat.) The numbers are also pretty good for a frozen macaroni and cheese, with 370 calories, a little more sodium at 480 milligrams, and much more fiber than the Mac & Cheese with Chicken at 4 grams. If you must have mac and cheese and you can't make it yourself, buy this one.
Reviewed: April 27, 2012