Monday, February 06, 2017

Innovasian Meal Kits

Most of the time that I write in this blog, I'm reviewing food prepared by someone else, generally a restaurant or cafe, or sometimes packaged snacks.  I never review the food cooked by friends or family, or, gasp, by myself (unless we are talking about waffling leftovers of course).

But sometimes I'm given the opportunity to review meal kits, like Fresh Express Salad Kits, although most I often fail to actually write up.  This time, I took care to take photos and notes.

Innovasian is a company that makes frozen Asian meal kits, including appetizers (egg rolls, potstickers), sides (white rice, veggie or chicken fried rice, lo mein), and entrees, like beef & broccoli or chicken in about a zillion forms (General Tso's chicken, sweet & sour chicken, orange chicken, garlic chicken, chicken & broccoli, sesame chicken, kung pao chicken, sriracha chicken, asian style bbq chicken, lemon chicken).

The used to have a Thai product line, called "Lemongrass Kitchen", that seems to have vanished from the market (although I was able to pick up some pad thai before it vanished).

The products are all frozen and require very little prep besides unthawing, opening of packets, and stirring.  The hardest part is picking a cooking method.  Each product includes instructions for oven, pan fry, and microwave, with recommended options highlighted for each product.  Interestingly, pan fry is not always the recommended prep, and microwave even wins from time to time.

I tried one item from the regular product line (General Tso's Chicken), and one from the now unavailable Lemongrass Kitchen line (Shrimp Pad Thai).  Both were simple to prepare, but, about the quality you'd expect from a frozen meal.  You would never mistake this for freshly prepared food, but, if you are a frozen meal sort, I think they are a step up from a zero-prep frozen meal.
General Tso's Chicken Kit.
"Lightly battered tempura chicken breast and a spicy Asian style BBQ sauce with sesame seeds and chili pepper flakes."

We decided to pick one of the many chicken options, and went with General Tso's.  It was one of many chicken options that looked nearly identical, all battered chicken with a sauce package on the side.  The chicken and sauce came separately.

For this dish, oven was the "preferred method" on the box, so I went with it, even though pan frying sounded more sensible.

The first step, after preheating the oven, was the place my frozen sauce bag in a bowl of warm water to thaw it.  I think this was the hardest step.
Step 2: Frozen chicken in baking dish.
"Open bag of chicken and empty into an oven safe container."

Uh, done?
Step 3: Bake Chick.
"Bake uncovered for 15 - 17 minutes."

Easy peasy.   I didn't even need to stir or flip it?

The chicken was nice and crispy at this point, not necessarily fresh out of the fryer, but, decently crispy.
Step 4: Sauce Chicken.
"Open bag of sauce. Stir in sauce with chicken and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until hot."

And ... that was it.  I did lament that the crispy chicken was now a bit soggy.
Plated!
I plated it up with fried rice and sautéed asian greens, and, I'll admit, it looked pretty good.

It was ... ok.  The chicken pieces were processed chicken, like chicken nuggets, but if you like that sort of thing, these seemed fine.  The sauce was sweet and sticky, but not really spicy as I hoped.  Really, I got this for Ojan, and he seemed to enjoy it enough.  I only tried a bite of chicken and mostly lapped up some sauce, since I'm a sauce girl.
Shrimp Pad Thai Kit.
"Succulent shrimp with rice noodles stir fried in an authentic sweet and sour thamarind sauce.  Mildly Spicy."

I had my eyes more on the pad thai kit, as I used to make pad thai all the time in grad school.

This kit came with 3 bags, one for sauce, one for veggies and shrimp, and one for noodles.  Interestingly, this preferred cooking method was ... microwave.  Microwave?   Really?  I was very, very tempted to go for the pan frying instructions, but trusted that they knew how to make it come out best.

Again, my first step was to put my sauce packet in a bowl of water to thaw.  I was getting the hang of this.

Step 2 was to put the bag of noodles, yes, the entire bag, no venting or anything, in the microwave for 45 seconds.  Uh, ok?
Frozen Veggies & Shrimp.
After 45 seconds, I was supposed to dump the noodles into a casserole dish, dump the now-thawed sauce on top, and then dump the totally frozen shrimp and vegetables on top of that.

This process was ... strange.  The noodles, after 45 seconds in the microwave in their bag, were still frozen clumps in some places, and actually hot in others.  The sauce was now lukewarm and completely thawed.  But the shrimp and veggies were rock solid.  I did my best to break it all up, even though the instructions didn't tell me to.
Completed Product.
Once all in the casserole, I was to cover with plastic wrap, poke holes in the plastic, microwave for 4-5 minutes, let stand one minute, and then ... eat.

This was the completed product, after I stirred it up.  The photo is hazy because steam was escaping from it.

I meant to take a picture of the final, plated product, garnished with chopped peanuts (the instructions did suggest that you could add crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, or lime wedges), but alas, this is the best you have.

It was ... again, about what you'd expect.

The noodles were fine, I guess frozen rice noodles really do mircowave ok.  They didn't clump together or overcook once I stirred them.  The noodle portion did seem a bit skimpy though, for a product with 3 servings according to the package.  But so far, so good.

The veggies were decent size chunks of broccoli that did also microwave fine, a few bits of onion, and lots of batons of carrots that were incredibly generic "frozen dinner" tasting carrots.  These items, particularly the carrots, get a bit "meh" rating.

The shrimp portion was more generous than I expected, although they were fairly small size shrimp.  They actually didn't get rubbery from microwaving, which surprised me.  They were cleaned.  But ... they were pretty fishy.  "Meh".

The yellow bits at first glance looked like corn kernels, which I'll admit confused me greatly.  Once I tasted them though, I realized these were bits of egg.  They were pretty gross.  Protip: don't freeze and then mircowave egg?  Minus one point for sure.

But you know me, I'm in it for the sauce.  The sauce ... was very, very sweet.  I know pad thai can be pretty sweet, and I love sweet, but this was a bit much.  It wasn't a very complex sweet, and certainly lacked any of the promised "mildly spicy".  The sauce was also fairly thin and watery, and didn't stick to the noodles or coat the veggies in any real way.

Overall, this was ok actually, although not great, and I don't understand why the mircowave was listed as the preferred heating technique.  Do they really not trust me to toss this around in a wok?
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