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Just last month we first tested meals from Kraft's Indulgence line of frozen foods. Their Cavatappi Bolognese and Portobello Mushroom Risotto were "two of the best frozen meals we've had in a long time." With such a high entrance threshold, could other meals from the same product line measure up? Only one way to tell.
The two varieties we chose to test today are a bit higher in sodium than those we tested back in October: both have 670 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is near our limit for a frozen meal. With that comes 2 grams of fiber in each dish - about par for the course when we're talking pasta dishes made with white flour pasta - and 310 or 340 calories each.
The Cordon Bleu Orzo looks appetizing on the way into the microwave, with plenty of sauce evident and a generous amount of cheese on top of the smallish piece of breaded chicken in the center. The instructions for these meals are designed for 1100-watt microwave ovens, so we felt justified in cooking this dish exactly per the written instructions of 3 minutes on high, stir, then another 2 minutes on high. Unfortunately we ended up with this:
We could only conclude that we must have overcooked the dish, as the sauce disappeared the moment we stirred the orzo. "Dry and chewy" is the theme of the day: not only is the orzo pasta dry and chewy, but both the diced ham and the chicken are as well. The uncured ham has nice flavor, but it's hard to overlook its sinewy toughness, and the chicken seems gristly when you cut into it, even though a look at its cross section reveals that it's a thoroughly processed piece of compressed chicken protein. The packaging alleges that the chicken is "herb breaded," but we could find no sign of breading other than a microscopically thin light brown layer on the top side of the chicken.
The whole tasting panel was a bit confused: what happened to all that sauce? How could those big pieces of ham turn into stringy bullets? It was so disconcerting that we were tempted to go out and purchase another package of the same meal just to see if simple overcooking was really the problem (we didn't). Our microwave is 1200 watts and the directions are for an 1100 watt microwave. Could a 100-watt difference in power make that big of a difference in a meal?
With the possibility of overcooking firmly in mind, we turned to the Fettuccine alla Carbonara. The package calls for 2 minutes, 30 seconds, stir, then 1 minute, 30 seconds. We cooked it the full 2:30, stirred, then cut the timing of the second cooking back to 1:15.
Cutting back on the cooking time may have prevented overcooking, but it couldn't do anything about the flavor - or the grainy sauce:
This was another disappointment. Not only is the sauce grainy, it smells "weirdly metallic." We really tried, but we just couldn't find much flavor to the sauce at all. "Not very rich, not very garlicky... not very much of anything," a panelist remarked.
We'd expected good flavor from the smoked bacon, but this was continued the disappointment theme. Panelists described the bits of bacon as being "very dry" and having "the texture of thick, wet cardboard." They added, "it leaves a sort of bacony aftertaste, but it doesn't have that BACON flavor that comes out and grabs you."
As if that weren't enough, the peas were reported to be "practically raw" and (unsurprisingly) the fettuccine was overcooked. Overall, a disappointing showing for what we had hoped would be a reliable new brand. We'll pick up more varieties when we can.
Review posted: November 9, 2018