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Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Rice Mac and Cheese, Thin Crisp Pizza Are Crowd Pleasers

Amy’s Rice Mac and Cheese took the The Frozen Food Guy’s unofficial “Best of Show” award at the Taste of Excellence opening night reception Sunday evening at the annual frozen food convention being held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Rice Mac and Cheese was just one of a number of tasty new products showcased by the frozen food manufacturers at the Taste of Excellence event, the official kickoff of the annual frozen food industry gathering, Oct. 18-20.

Rice Mac and Cheese hits all the right buttons. It has the taste and consistency of regular pasta-based macaroni and cheese, yet it’s made with an organic gluten-free rice pasta. The cheese sauce looks and tastes cheesy, which is a testament to the good folks who create the recipes at Amy’s Kitchen of Petaluma, Calif. Rice Mac and Cheese also scores points for being all-natural (as are all Amy’s products). Amy’s gets extra props for offering a tasty option to food shoppers who are gluten intolerant.

Other highlights from Taste of Excellence:

* “Buffalo-style” looks to be an emerging trend as two companies--Rosina and Kahiki--both made a good showing with new Buffalo-style items. Rosina, a frozen pasta company actually based in Buffalo, N.Y., the birthplace of the popular “Buffalo chicken wings,” showed off its Buffalo Style Chicken Meatballs, a tasty and tangy treat that will be sure to wow party guests. It’s a great item to share with fans as they gather around the TV this fall to root on their favorite baseball team during the playoffs or their favorite college and pro football team on the weekends.

Bill Barsotelli, Rosina’s sales manager, tells TFFG that Buffalo Style Chicken Wings “are made with all-white chicken breast and just the right amount of hot sauce.” TFFG says the result is a nice burst of spices on the top of the palate that nicely enhances the chicken.

Kahiki, a Columbus, Ohio, company that takes its name from the longtime popular Kahiki restaurant in that city, earns high marks for its Buffalo Style Tiki Stix, which Kahiki’s chef Jeff Tsao says is “an all-time favorite snack flavor packed into a convenient and fun, hand-held wheat based Tiki Stix wrapper.”

Similar to Rosina’s Chicken Meatballs, these Tiki Stix offer a nice taste tingle that lingers pleasantly after the last bite.

* Thin crust pizza continues to make inroads in the frozen convenience sector. Kashi has a hit with its new Mexicali Black Bean Pizza. Palermo’s Pizza of Milwaukee scores big with its Primo Thin Garden Pizza, which features fire roasted red, yellow and green peppers along with red onions and black olives, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and a zesty marinara sauce on a multi-grain crust.

Kashi’s Mexicali Black Bean offers a South of the Border pizza taste and the crust may be “thin,” but it offers what TFFG calls “crunchability”-- the aspect of getting a big bite of flavor combined with the experience of eating something crunchy, like a snack cracker or a heavy chip. It’s a winner.

* Kraft proves that with Bagel-fuls you can put a bagel and cream cheese and a fruit filling all into one product and make it edible. This convenient grab-and-go product has been a real success for Kraft since they rolled it out last year with six bagel-and-cream cheese combinations. New to the Bagel-fuls line this year are three flavors that add fruit fillings along with the bagel-and-cream cheese combo: strawberry, apple cinnamon, and cherry.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


TFFG Rates Morningstar Farms “Meatless” Meat Products

The Frozen Food Guy recently assembled an unbiased taste test panel to answer the burning question, “can Italian sausage, hickory barbecue ribs, and maple-flavored sausage patties ever be meatless?”

Our intrepid TFFG panel took on the “meaty” task--or in this case, non-meaty--of taste-testing three new meatless products from Morningstar Farms: Italian Sausages, Maple Flavored Sausage Patties, and Hickory BBQ Riblets.

Each of the three products was prepared by following the cooking directions printed on their respective packages. The patties were prepared in the oven; the sausages on the stove top; and the barbecue ribs in the microwave. Prep times ranged from 7 minutes for the ribs to 12 minutes for the patties.

The package indicates that the oven is the preferred method for the patties but they can be prepared in a skillet on the stovetop or in a microwave. The riblets can also be prepared in the oven, but requires 30 minutes for heating and up to 3 minutes for cooling. The sausage offers the most flexibility as it can also be prepared on the grill (just 4 1/2 minutes) or in the microwave (even less time--2 minutes and 45 seconds).

Our four panelists were asked to sample each product and rate them on three key criteria: taste, texture/appeal, and similarity to their meat counterparts. The panelists were asked to rank each category from 1 (excellent) to 5 (bad). Our panelists were Mike, Mercedes, Patty and Massimo.

Let’s break down the results for each product individually:

HICKORY BBQ RIBLETS: MorningStar Farms might have bitten off more than it could chew, so to speak, in trying to replicate ribs and the barbecue sauce. It seems to have gotten the sauce right, but not so much with the ribs. “The meat dish this most closely resembles is meat loaf,” said Mercedes. “It only looks like ribs. The sauce is overwhelming but the after-taste is good.” Mike agreed: “The sauce stands alone as acceptable but the rib texture and taste fails. The smoky flavor is retained, but what is missing is the fatty delicious flavors of ribs.” He added that it was “somewhat mushy,” but said the visual of the ribs--indents on the surface like bone indents--was “nicely accomplished.”

Massimo said the “sauce overwhelmed but it grows on one,” whereas Patty said the “after-taste is delicious,” adding “I would definitely get full on it.”

Not surprisingly, Patty gave BBQ Riblets a solid 2.3 score and Massimo came in right down the middle with a 3. It went downhill from there though, as Mercedes found it no better than a 4.3 and Mike was even less impressed, giving it poor marks across the board for a very low 4.7. TOTAL SCORE AVERAGE: 3.6

MAPLE FLAVORED SAUSAGE PATTIES: The panel gave this one an “almost there but not quite” score. The taste made an impression with all four panelists. Patty found it “very tasty, nice spices. I like the maple taste. But two [a serving size is one patty] is not enough to get full.” Mike also said it was a nice taste but a “bit mushy.” He added that it “needs a firmer texture” For Mercedes, the taste “starts out too bland, then settles into a salty aftertaste. It lingers too long. The texture is too chewy and grainy.”

Mike further waxed poetic about the sausage patties, noting that “maple gives it a flavor aspect, a mirage of what it aspires to... a bittersweet mirage...for once in your mouth, it dissolves and leaves you hungering for the real thing.” Hmmmm. Massimo made note that “it shouldn’t have to be too meat-like in taste.” So, points earned there for being meatless!
A 2.7 was the highest mark given to the Maple Sausage Patties (Patty), while two panelists scored it much lower at 3.7. Our fourth panelist, Massimo, was right in the middle again with a 3 rating. TOTAL SCORE AVERAGE: 3.3

ITALIAN SAUSAGE: This product fared well with the panel overall, but it did lose points for being “chalky” and “mealy.” Mike suggested adding a “moisturizing agent” and further charged that a pepper spice flavor was added to “disguise its phoniness.” Ouch.
Italian Sausage was the only product to receive a coveted “1” rating in any of the three judging categories with the high honor coming from Patty for taste. She scored it at “2” for texture and appeal. She remarked that the sausage looks like its meat counterpart “but doesn’t taste that much like it” and gave it a right-in-the-middle 3 for her third score. Her average score of 2 was the highest for any of the 3 products rated by each of the four judges.

Overall, this product not only got the highest marks, but it spurred the most comments in regard to pairing it with other foods for enhancement. “It would be great with tomato sauce or a Dijon mustard sauce or a balsamic-based vinegar sauce to cover the taste of chalkiness,” said Massimo. “It would work as a pork dish or with a sauce that disguises the mealy texture,” Mercedes suggested.

Mike noted that “on its own, the differences stand out. It might be better on a roll with other foods.” He said it was an “OK substitute” to its meat counterpart “in the taste area but not in the texture.”

After Patty, the second highest score came from Massimo with a 2.3. The other two panelist had identical 3.3 ratings. TOTAL SCORE AVERAGE: 2.7.

TFFG SAYS: These three products were served with both red and white wine, and the kitchen and dining room were rich in pleasant aromas and wonderful food-related conversation. The panelists provided some very thoughtful commentary and we hope the folks at Morningstar Farms and Kellogg will take that to heart as they fine-tune these three products and explore other new endeavors in the line. Overall, of the four panelists, Patty has become a real Morningstar Farms product fan and has further inquired about these and other products under the brand.

Morningstar Farms suggested retail price for each product is $4.29. The riblets come two to a package while the sausages are four to a package. Each package of sausage patties contains six patties. For more information, go to

Saturday, October 3, 2009

‘Peachy Paterno’ At Penn State

During last Saturday night’s prime time college football telecast of Iowa vs. Penn State on ABC-TV, the network ran a little feature filler of the Penn State dairy. Animal husbandry, veterinary medicine and agronomy are common to many State U’s (Kansas State, Iowa State, Michigan State, etc.) across the country in states with large agricultural areas, in this case, Pennsylvania, so it was a neat little look behind the scenes at the less-than-glorious State U universe.

The footage showed packages of ice cream rolling off the dairy’s assembly line and a close-up of a popular flavor, “Peachy Paterno,” named in honor of the Nittany Lions’ longtime and legendary football coach, Joe Paterno.

Unfortunately for Penn State and Coach “Jo Pa,” the game against Iowa was not at all “peachy,” as the home town crowd of 109,000 screaming fans in “Happy Valley” (a.k.a. Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.) were not enough to overcome the visiting Hawkeyes (who knocked Penn State from a lofty high-ranked perch last season in Iowa City).

Iowa whipped the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions 21-10, pushing them out of the Associated Press Top 10 rankings and leaving them with an ignominious 0-1 record to start the Big 10 Conference season.

At least they’ve still got “Peachy Paterno” to help “lick” their wounds.

Friday, October 2, 2009

‘Hearty, Healthy’ Breakfast Options From Cedarlane Natural Foods

Cedarlane Natural Foods is helping Americans get their day off to the right start with a new line of all-natural frozen breakfast items. The line includes three flavors of breakfast omelettes and two flavors of breakfast burritos.

Cedarlane says its egg white omelettes are gluten-free, high in protein and low glycemic. The flavors are Spinach & Mushroom; Green Chile, Cheese & Ranchero Sauce; and Vegetable & Cheese with Turkey Bacon. The breakfast burritos are available in Vegetable & Cheese and Vegetable & Cheese with Turkey Bacon flavors. The company touts them as a “hearty, healthy and high protein breakfast.”

Cedarlane says its egg white breakfast items are the first such products in the frozen food sector and are on trend with the 5% growth in frozen breakfast foods as tracked by Packaged Facts.

“We are thrilled to bring to market our new, first-of-its kind egg white breakfast items,” says Robert Atallah, founder and president of Carson, Calif.-based Cedarlane Natural Foods. “In keeping with our legacy of providing great-tasting natural food products, we created this breakfast line with our customers’ health in mind.” For more information, go to

TFFG SAYS: These breakfast burritos and omelettes make for a good meal any time of the day. Of the two burritos, the Scrambled Egg, Vegetable and Cheese is a hands-down winner. The turkey bacon and egg white flavor is a bit bland at first, but is OK overall. The ends of the burritos tend to come out hardened after heating in the microwave, but that could just be an issue with TFFG’s microwave oven. The consistency of the scrambled egg in each was quite good.

The omelettes delivered on both taste and aesthetics. After being heated in the microwave, they came out looking very much like the photography on their packages (boxes; the burritos are sealed in a plastic wrap). The cheese in the omelettes had good texture and a nice color.

Each of the omelettes could suffice as an entree--paired with a vegetable and possibly another side dish-- for any meal, and the burritos make for a great on-the-go snack. The omelettes are filling and hearty. At 8 oz. each, they pack a nice punch. So do the 6 oz.-burritos.