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We have reviewed Artisan Bistro products before with mixed success (they used to be known as Organic Bistro). Their food seems so promising, because it is lower in calories, usually is higher in sodium, and contains a reasonable amount of fiber. Their "Bakes" seem perfect for lunch, coming in at around 250 calories and less than 500 mg of sodium.
First up was the Turkey Cheddar Bake. After cooking there was a nice scent of turkey and red peppers. There are carrots and peas with strips of red pepper scattered across the of the casserole. This gives a gourmet flair to what is essentially Turkey a la King. Indeed this dish is very much like the casserole that we had from the lunch ladies back in the 60s, when schools still cooked their food. It is better - but not by very much.
The flavor is OK, but the turkey is dry and tough. Surprisingly, the brown rice pasta is well cooked. That's hard to do even on top of your own stove, because it will either be gummy or chewy. This is on the gummy side, but not overly so. There is only the flavor of cheddar.
All in all a mediocre meal, and that's disappointing because they not only use quality ingredients, this is only 240 calories with 270 mg of sodium.
The Cheddar Beef Bake was up next. This was attractive because the package prominently says "Grass-Fed Beef" and that is not something that you see often in convenience meals.
The aroma as it is cooking is decidedly Mexican, so we anticipated that there might be good things in the offing when the microwave dinged. The results were, however, a bit mixed. This is a spicier meal than our tasters have ever had out of the freezer case. Most are generally pretty mild on the heat index, and this is not a scorcher by any means, but there is an unexpected mild burn.
The carrots, peppers and corn look good on top of the dish and are not overly mushy (but they are overcooked). The brown rice and black beans are cooked well, with good texture, but this dish disappoints on the beef. There are three and a half small chunks (we couldn't help but count) that are dry, dry, dry, and the texture lets this meal down. Better to have served this with slow braised beef that has been shredded and folded in with the sauce. It is doubly disappointing because the flavor of the beef is one of the best we have tasted in any convenience meal.
Again, disappointing because this is only 250 calories, and like the Turkey Bake, it would be great for lunch with a piece of fruit.
One note for the folks at Artisan Bistro. The beef dish has almost twice the sodium as the turkey. They did a great job with the flavor on the turkey dish without much salt at all. Yet they add unnecessary salt to the beef dish. In fact, because of the spicy flavors the added sodium is just a waste.
Our verdict? Leave both in the freezer case.