A Guide to the Joys of Frozen Foods
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Microwave
It's not that I don't know how to cook. No, I occasionally bust out the pots and pans and make enough ziti or latkes to feed a small army. It's not that I can't — it's just that I don't want to. And over the past three years at MIT, I've learned how to avoid it very well. A bit too well some might say.
Now you might be asking yourself, "Isn't frozen food disgusting?" And you'd be half right. But, the world of frozen food has come a long way. They're not your mother's TV dinners. They're not even your childhood's TV dinners. I well remember the nights of "Ooo, do I go with the kinda funky tasting Szechuan chicken or the kinda funky tasting sesame chicken?" that plagued my youth. The funky tasting ones are still out there, believe you me, but there are also, surprisingly, options which leave you with the feeling of "I've just had real food!" That is, if you can manage to sift through all the other stuff out there. Now, this being a major part of my lifestyle, I've done this sifting, but most people just pick one up from time to time, and don't want that one to suck. So for them, I pass on my leg work.
But first, two disclaimers. First, there are wonderful frozen foods out there which are lovely when heated up in an oven. However, by and large, I know nothing of them, because if I'm going to wait on an oven, I might as well not eat something frozen. Secondly, and far more important, I'm far from a nutritionist. I'm not even going to try to advise on the healthiness or unhealthiness of any of these options. Eat at your own risk.
Now, I have so much knowledge on frozen food that I'm passing it on in installments. Today's topic is pizza and things made for the general purpose of resembling pizza in some incarnation. Involving grain, some sort of vegetable/fruit (blast you tomatoes and your category escaping ways!), and dairy, pizza's a classic way to pretend that you've had a balanced meal out of only one dish. But sometimes you're too lazy to wait for the delivery guy.
My fall back for pizza is always Mama Celeste's personal pizzas. They're not very good, but they're not bad either; the prep is simple, they taste OK, and they somehow avoid that "gets old fast" taste which tends to plague frozen foods. Probably my favorite pizza option is Stouffer's French Bread Pizzas, but they require using the oven, so I don't really use them that often, as that's against the whole spirit of the thing (although the fact that I do sometimes makes them a testament to their quality). I'll be honest — I haven't tried Elio's in the past five years or so because they tasted so much like cardboard when I was younger that I just can't bring myself to do that. Perhaps they've learned and grown. Looking at the pictures on the box, I doubt it.
The Pepperoni Pizza Hot Pockets are my favorite Hot Pockets — they're pretty good as that kind of thing goes, but be careful not to leave them in the freezer too long, because then the crust dries out. The issue of letting the crust dry out also holds with Tostino's pizza rolls, which, by the way, are better than the Hot Pocket Pizza Minis. I recently tried Smart One's personal pizzas — they're okay, but somewhat unsuccessfully try to be more high class than they actually are, with fancy concepts such as "cheese blends." When it comes down to it, Mama Celeste's are cheaper and taste better. Up until a few years ago, Bagel Bites only really came out right in the oven, but they recently added crisper trays to their packaging, and so now they come out crispy even from the microwave (or, you know, reasonably so).
I've found two general rules about microwave pizza. One is that toppings don't seem to matter — within a brand, the cheese will be just as good as the pepperoni will be just as good as the sausage will be just as good as the supreme. The second is that the silver crisper tray is key. They're slowly all starting to have it, but I've never had something turn out really good that didn't have one.
That's it for pizza — tune in next week for the ever ambiguous category of full-meals-in-trays!