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Tastefully Plated has a unique approach to frozen food packaging: their meals are presented on a square plastic plate that is individually shrink-wrapped and then frozen. Unlike other frozen meals, when you look at the packaging you see exactly what you're going to get, as that's no picture on the front of the package: that's the meal itself under its shrinkwrap.
The instructions are the same for both of the meals we reviewed for today: 3 minutes on "defrost" (with no definition of what that might mean if your microwave doesn't have such a setting), then 3 1/2 minutes on high. We were interested to note that there are instructions for cooking from thawed (3 minutes on high), but the panel could only surmise that this was in case the meal was defrosted by accident - why would you intentionally defrost something overnight in the refrigerator (to do it safely) then microwave it when an additional three minutes in the microwave would do the job?
I'll leave out the 15 minutes of off-topic discussion regarding thawed food, cooking during hurricane season (on the team's mind since it starts at the end of May) and various theories as to why you might intentionally thaw a frozen meal.
Thawing instructions aside, we microwaved these at 50% power for three minutes then at full power for a little less than 3 minutes, as the packaging states that the instructions are for a 1000-watt microwave and our tasting microwave is 1200 watts. In both cases this yielded a properly cooked meal: evenly hot throughout.
The Braised Beef (250 calories, 580mg sodium, 5g fiber) comes "with mole sauce, chipotle sweet potatoes & broccoli." Initially we were a little dismayed, as the broccoli emerges swimming in excess water. Nor is the rest of the meal particularly impressive at first sight: the mashed sweet potatoes appear to have no texture whatsoever, and the braised beef looks like the beef was "braised into mush" (or as another panelist put it: "like dog food").
Looks can be deceiving, however, as we know well. Despite the excess liquid, the broccoli is all florets - there's not a stem on the plate and the vegetable is perfectly cooked, with a soft crunch. The sweet potatoes might have been pureed within an inch of their lives, but the spicy chipotle flavor is a nice counterpoint to their sweetness. There were, in fact, chunks of beef hiding on the plate, and to be fair, "braised beef is going to break down," as a panelist observed. That beef is only moderately chewy (to be expected in braised beef) but has a fine beefy flavor that's not overwhelmed by the chocolate/coffee/chipotle flavor of the mole. This has a higher calorie to sodium ratio than we like to see, but the panel gave it a surprised thumbs up.
The Braised Pork ("with roasted potatoes, mango chutney & salsa verde") has better numbers in terms of calorie to sodium ratio (280 calories, 540mg sodium, 4g fiber). Once again, the pork's appearance suffers from its cooking method, but the pork itself is tender and flavorful, reflecting the dish's scent of tomatillo and lime. The potato side, of both regular and sweet potatoes, is a little more mushy than we'd like to see, but the chunks retain their skin and that skin has a bit of crunch to add texture. This is presented with a mango chutney ("basically warm salsa") that contrasts the sweetness of the mango with red bell pepper and spicy jalapenos. Put a bit of that chutney with the braised pork and taste "a flavor sensation... of sweet, savory, and umami." Opined a panelist, "very Caribbean."
Despite the "Paleo" labeling on the packages, both meals received a firm two thumbs up from the Dr. Gourmet tasting panel on the basis of flavor alone. Note, however, that each meal is $5.98 each at Walmart, making them easily double (or more) the price of other frozen meals. Can you really afford to spend $6 per serving, when the same amount of money could yield you far more in terms of volume and at least as much in flavor?
Reviewed: April 28, 2017