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Taste panel gives frozen Contessa, Bertolli meals thumbs up

New England Chef Ina "Barefoot Contessa" Garten, known for her hearty meals with fresh ingredients, recently started selling frozen varieties of her most popular dishes. Since we rarely have time to prepare her meals from scratch, we had high hopes for her grocery store versions. We sampled one of her most popular comfort foods, along with the frozen meals from a few other well-known kitchens.

Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent


Contessa Beef Stew Bourguignon
Bertolli Premium Meal Chicken Minestrone Soup Kashi Chicken and Chipotle BBQ P.F. Chang's Mongolian Style Chicken

Tender chunks of beef gave this stew a satisfying texture. The dish had crisp carrots and loads of tiny onions. Garten is known for using frozen pearl onions because of the difficulty of peeling the tiny, fresh ones. Our judges said she must have used an entire bag in the package of stew they tasted. "The onions are a bit overbearing," said one panelist. "The dish has a nice wine aroma and would be delicious over a bed of jasmine rice." Another said, "For processed food, it's not bad but there are too many onions and not enough beef."One panelist, who said he could live on soup, said he loved this recipe. "It has bold tomato, ample pasta and a bright medley of spices," he said. Another said his bowl of soup looked fantastic. "The greens look great contrasted with the tomato broth, and the pasta is nice and firm," he said. Judges said the soup looked homemade. "It has a nice fragrance and good bits of spinach, zucchini that was firm, not soggy, and carrots and pasta," said one.Kashi's barbecued chicken dish was the least favorite among our panelists. They complained that the green beans looked overcooked and the chicken was too chewy. "It's gently spiced but looks a little gummy — and tastes that way as well," said one judge who thought the chicken pieces were too big. "It looks like something I would find in a Tupperware bowl in the fridge," said another taster. "It's got mushy pineapple, 'canned' green beans and pretty sparse chicken," added another, saying the dish lacked flavor. "A background heat source is the 'BBQ' in this."One judge described this restaurant's frozen food as "a step up from typical food-court fare, with crispy green beans and generous slabs of white meat." He enjoyed "the sweet and tangy sauce that holds this winner together." Another liked the bold, Asian flavors in the dish and the snap of the veggies. "Give me some chopsticks," he said. "It's very flavorful and nicely seasoned," said another. "This would be perfect to spoon over some brown rice or some hearty field greens," he said.

they buy?
Three of the five judges said yes.Four of the five judges said yes.One of the five judges said yes.All five judges said yes.
Shopping information$7.99 for a 22-ounce bag from Publix.$6.39 for a 24-ounce bag from Publix.$5 for a 20-ounce bag from Publix.$7.59 for a 22-ounce bag from Publix.

Panelists: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian; Wayne Conery, manager of the R-Bar on Treasure Island; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; John Hehn, owner of All Brite Lighting & Power Design Inc.; and Jeff Jensen, public information officer for the city of Treasure Island.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to

Serving sizeHalf packageHalf packageHalf bagHalf bag
Fat/Fiber10g / 3g18g / 8g6g / 6g9g / 2g
Sugars/Sodium4g / 1,560mg9g / 870mg13g / 620mg23g / 960mg
Carbs/Protein21g / 15g32g / 20g50g / 15g43g / 17g

Taste panel gives frozen Contessa, Bertolli meals thumbs up 08/05/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 5, 2013 4:46pm]
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