Brrrr – it’s FREEZING out + Giveaway!

Brrrrrr! Are we cold yet?

It’s times like these I wonder what possessed Bryan (who’s from sunny Southern California) to leave what he calls “the happiest place on earth” to this freezing place we call home now.

It’s times like this I start to really miss the sunshine. In the dead of winter, the sun sets around 4:30PM here in Boston, which means it’s pretty much pitch black by the time I leave work. On a freezing cold winter’s night like today, it’s sooooo hard to get myself psyched up to open that door and brave the cold winds that come blasting inside. I’ve been listening to podcasts to distract myself so I can get lost in my thoughts, not my environment!

I find that this cold weather makes me quite lazy. I lose all motivation for spending tons of time chopping, cutting, and stir frying after a long day at work (plus a loooong cold walk home!). I yearn for warm, simple, and healthy meals.
With Chinese New Year coming up, my thoughts have turned towards dumplings. Sure, ideally I would make these from scratch, filling them with my favorite ingredients – Chinese chives and ground pork. But I must confess, frozen Chinese dumplings is one of my favorite “emergency” staples to keep in the freezer.

I think of dumplings as a complete food. They encompass virtually all the “food groups” (yes, I’m a child of the 80’s pre-food pyramid days!) – a nice balance of meat, vegetables, and carbohydrates (OK, so we’re missing the diary food group). This glorious little all-in-one package is easy to portion out (you just cook the number you feel like eating), and you can easily pan-fry them straight from the freezer.

I almost always have a few packages of  frozen dumplings in my freezer, usually purchased from a local dumpling restaurant or from a Chinese supermarket. I’ve never bought them from any Western supermarket. So when Whole Foods contacted me telling me about their new healthy frozen line of  foods (many of which were international), I was immediately dubious about the Chinese food.

Nevertheless, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try their new line. After all, frozen food comes in handy quite often during the winter, especially on those freezing nights (like today!) when you really just rather not even step foot outside.

Whole Foods gave me a $25 gift card to pick up various frozen foods from their new line. I thought Italian food would be the safest, so I picked up a couple of those. I also got some Chinese dumplings. I figured if they could make a good dumpling, I’d be completely sold.

Their dumplings come in a pack of eight for $3.99. This is a far cry from the bag of thirty that I’m used to getting in Chinatown for $2.99 or the bag of fifty frozen handmade dumplings I can get at MulanGolden Garden, or Qingdao for about $15.
They are pre-shaped in a way that facilitates pan-frying. I found it easy to follow the directions to get a nice, crispy bottom, just like a restaurant “gyoza.”

But how did it taste?
It was . . . . OK. Frankly, I didn’t love it. Sure, the skin texture was decent and the bottom fries up beautifully. I just didn’t love the flavors inside. The pork + vegetable one had a very strong essence of celery inside, which I wasn’t used to at all. I strongly prefer the flavor of pork + Chinese chives or maybe napa, a classic combination you’ll see everywhere in Chinatown. I think this dumpling has been tweaked for the Western palate, which is not bad, but doesn’t taste completely authentic.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the vegetarian one a bit more, maybe because I had less pre-conceived notions about what I was expecting. It was reasonably tasty, though quite expensive at 50 cents a pop.
We enjoyed the Italian food much more. The frozen Italian meals come with the tomato sauce frozen in coin-sized chunks. This obviously speeds up the rate at which everything melts, which makes preparation quick and easy.
The Gnocchi di Polenta with Peas & Kale was not bad! The gnocchi itself was unusual in that it was made of cornmeal and thus had a slightly unusual texture. The vegetables had lost their bright green color, but overall the flavors were enjoyable. I appreciated how, unlike most prepared foods, the dish was not too salty. It came off tasting balanced and healthy, which was a nice refreshing change.
The Gnocchi alla Sorrentina was Bryan’s favorite out of all the frozen dishes we tried. Of course, the texture of the gnocchi is nothing like fresh gnocchi, but it’s acceptable and again, the sauce was bright and flavorful yet not too salty.
We also tried a Margarita Pizza. Although it had healthier ingredients and decent toppings, it most definitely tasted like frozen pizza. I haven’t had frozen pizza in years, so this really stood out as being quite different from any pizza you’d get at a restaurant.

I guess my little home oven just can’t come close to producing the quality of crust that comes out of a commercial wood or brick oven!
Finally, we tried a few of their new “Six Not-So-Secret Ingredients” ice creams.  These ice creams come  in a few simple flavors (I tried vanilla and coffee), and consist of cream, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, and a thickening agent, carob bean gum.
The ice cream was alright but not nearly as good as other premium brands. It lacked a depth of flavor and richness associated with the most premium ice creams. Priced at $3.69, the quality is in line with the price. It’s not as good as the top premium/artisanal ice creams (which can cost anywhere from $5 to $12 a pint), but it’s a step up from the national brands that typically cost about $4 for a quart.

Frankly, as someone who really loves her ice cream, I’ll probably stick with making ice cream at home or buying them from my favorite local ice cream shops.

So it was a fun experiment. It’s been so long since I’ve bought frozen prepared foods (with the exception of my Chinese dumplings) that it was interesting to consider this third alternative to food. I’m usually either cooking completely from scratch or eating out at a restaurant, so this in-between option was interesting to me. I sometimes forget that I can eat at home without it being a huge affair.

I guess I’ve been food blogging for so long that this third option doesn’t even enter my mind anymore.

In any event, I doubt I’ll be stocking up on these particular frozen foods, mostly because it’s part of my “job” on this blog to continue to cook and try out new recipes. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that Whole Foods is trying to create healthy and tasty frozen prepared foods for those that don’t have that much time. It’s nice not to have to worry about crazy sodium or fat levels in your “fast food.”

If I were to stock up on “emergency” food from this batch, I’d probably pick the gnocchi dishes, which I found to be hearty, flavorful, and quite enjoyable to eat.

Whole Foods has kindly agreed to give one Tiny Urban Kitchen reader a $25 Whole Foods Gift Card. You’re welcome to try out the frozen dishes mentioned above, or you can buy whatever you want from Whole Foods. The store carries tons of fantastic produce, which I buy all the time.

To enter the Giveaway, please comment below telling me your thoughts about frozen prepared foods and how you use them. Do you eat it often? Are there some you hate and others you love?

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Giveaway ends this Friday, January 25th, 2013 at midnight EST. Winner will be chosen by a random generator and will be contacted via email and also announced on this blog. If I do not hear back from the winner within 24 hours, I will pick a new winner.

Good luck!

Disclaimer: The above products as well as the $25 gift card are provided by Whole Foods Market. All opinions expressed are my own.

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All Rights Reserved

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  1. attgig says

    I used to love frozen prepared foods… It was the first thing I ate after I got home from school back in high school. my favorites were the marie calendar chicken pot pies and mama celeste pizzas.

    now, I can’t remember the last frozen prepared food I had…. it’s been a long, long time.

  2. Dee says

    I don’t normally spring for frozen foods but I do love frozen pizzas especially organic ones. Sometimes you just need a quick and easy meal. I don’t think that they are the healthiest and I prefer to cook but some aren’t too bad! :)

  3. John says

    Fresh made items are obviously the best, but when you’re tired after a long day at work – nothing beats frozen items that are well-made and packaged. Looking forward to some dumplings!

  4. says

    I usually go for frozen veggies (peas and spinach), and like you, I always keep frozen potstickers in my freezer for the exact same reason you do, it’s a meal all in one! Meat, veggies with a bit of carbs. Gotta love that. My other go to would usually be Trader Joe’s frozen italian meals.

  5. Kristen says

    We don’t make much frozen foods either- some peas and green beans are staples, along with frozen fish and shrimp, but outside of that the only items are Trader Joe’s orange chicken and their beer-battered fish sticks (for fish tacos).

  6. beantown2006 says

    In our freezer at home:
    – frozen dumplings (usually from Chinese groceries, gotta love pork+chive)
    – frozen peas/carrots (for fried rice)
    – frozen Thai/Japanese/Indian curries (they reheat well)
    – frozen rice (wrap it fresh from the ricecooker while it’s still moist into individual-size servings)
    For heating up frozen pizza (or reheating day-old pizza), we find that using a cast-iron skillet + covering will create a nice, crisp, cracker-like crust while melting the cheese.

  7. swag5997 says

    Our freezer only has a few functions: storage of CSA meats, storage of frozen peas, storage of homemade stocks and sauces, and storage of ice cubes for cocktails. The only prepared frozen item that sometimes finds its way into this bastion of needs is the occasional bag of Chinese dumplings. It’s a matter of convenience.

  8. Eva @ Eva Bakes says

    I also buy prepared, frozen dumplings from our local Asian grocery store. Homemade ones are best, but they are so time-consuming to make. We try our best to not eat too many frozen items since they’re usually so high in sodium.

  9. says

    There is no substitute for homemade dumplings! :)

    The only foods in my freezer are korean roasted seaweed, fish balls, and some ice cream. I would love to shop at Whole Foods for some of their delicious lookin fish and meats, not to mention produce.

  10. alaine says

    I like to buy frozen vegetables when I do stir fry, it makes it easy! I don’t eat frozen foods a lot, but they are wonderful when you are in a hurry.
    family74014 at gmail dot com

  11. Jessica F says

    I love Whole Foods! I’m not too into frozen foods since they’re always packed with preservatives and sodium, but lately I’ve been getting into some frozen foods at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods… they at least SEEM healthier!

  12. Kwan says

    I always have frozen berries and frozen spinach on hand for smoothies but as far as frozen prepared foods, I really only have breakfast sausage patties and tater tots! So bad yet so good!

  13. says

    The frozen stuff I use most often is actually frozen fruit- berries or mango, defrosted a bit to enjoy in the winter or thrown into oatmeal, i love fruit so much i can’t give it up in the winter!!

  14. Katya says

    I often purchase frozen ingredients – broccoli, spinach, berries – to add to food, but rarely frozen meals. However, I often try to make a lot of homemade food and freeze it so when I am short on time I can pull it out of the freezer and have a hot homecooked meals in just a few minutes.

  15. Dee says

    I mostly buy frozen vegetables and fruits to use in dishes such as soups and smoothies. I’d like to try the products you reviewed!

  16. alain says

    thanks for holding this wonderful giveaway! frozen prepared foods are tricky for me because while convenient, their sodium content is usually off the charts. I find I have the best luck in terms of taste with frozen indian curries, which i like to stretch into two meals by adding in more fresh or frozen vegetables and therefore cutting the sodium in half!

  17. says

    Here are some frozen items that have worked well for me(all from Trader Joe’s): chocolate croissants, Chinese chicken won tons, cioppino. Like you sometimes I forget that eating at home doesn’t have to be a big deal!

  18. Beki says

    Great review! I used to buy a lot of frozen prepared foods but was so often unimpressed that I stopped and instead started figuring out how to freeze and store my own leftovers. We usually have big batches of lasagna or chili in the freezer now. I do buy a lot of frozen fruit (berries mostly) and fish. Thanks for the giveaway!

  19. says

    Frozen pork ajinomoto Gyoza, beef noodle soup by weichuan, are staples in our freezers for a quick snack or lunch. We also LOVE the frozen croissants from Trader Joes, plain, choc, almond. Set it aside the night before, and bake for a flakey, hot yummy breakfast.

  20. Grace N. says

    I love WF! My favorite frozen items there are 1) bagged frozen kale, 2) the frozen fruit, and 3) Graeter’s ice cream. :)

  21. says

    Yes, I love frozen meals because with my hectic lifestyle, I want to come home to a ready made meal that is healthy and easy. I love frozen spinach, frozen fruits for smoothies and frozen coconut shreds to make curries!

  22. sarah song says

    I like to have a bunch of random frozen fruits that I can use in the blender to make a nice smoothie. Favorites include strawberry-banana and jimmy carters. I also like to keep store-bought dumplings in the freezer – a nice quick meal when I don’t feel like cooking!

  23. Serenity Fung says

    One of my favorite frozen foods that I almost always have in my freezer are frozen meatballs. It is much more convenient than making them from scratch because spaghetti and meatballs is uaully a quick meal for me. I get Costco’s huge Kirkland brand bag.

    As a college student far from home, I always keep some frozen gyoza or dumplings too, for quick meals when I want something that reminds me of home. My favorite brand is Wei-chuan, which I can find even in the Midwest!

  24. scrapper al says

    I keep a mix of convenience and homemade food in my freezer. Homemade foods include home-blanched frozen vegetables (from the garden), bones/veg for stock, and homemade soup (currently split pea), and leftovers to make lunch in the future (rice, one serving of meat, etc.). Convenience foods include frozen vegetables, pizza, burritos, waffles, and ice cream…lots of ice cream, lol.

  25. Mabel says

    I don’t usually eat frozen prepared foods. But if I do, I always buy asian brands or from an asian supermarket. A lot cheaper and better packaging! Have you seen some of the japanese ones? frozen Yaki Udon, mashed potato and sweet corn croquettes, red bean buns and meat buns!

  26. says

    I haven’t tried the Whole Foods brand of frozen dumplings but I have tried other brands and love them. Otherwise, I think frozen foods are really convenient. We buy organic burritos that have all sorts of goodies in them.

  27. luosha says

    frozen veggies (e.g. broccoli, string beans, cauliflower), and frozen fruit for smoothies. i feel like vegetables are the hardest things to get enough of if you’re short on time and also relatively labor intensive to wash, chop, etc, so i like having these on hand to round out otherwise less healthy meals.

  28. says

    It is truly freezing isn’t it? We came from S.Cali too, and I know very well how it feels (in fact I am feeling the frustration right up to my bones at this moment). I am not too much into frozen prepared food, but I would love some today.

    I do love the stuff Whole Foods sells though. I get a few things on and off.


  29. says

    I enjoy frozen prepared foods on occasion. I like frozen pastas, veggies and pizzas the most. The low fat meals even help me when I am on a diet.

  30. Jennifer says

    I buy frozen veggies pretty frequently, and definitely prefer them to canned veggies. They make it so easy to throw together a quick, healthy dinner. Every so often I do get a frozen pizza or some other frozen meal.

  31. Barb K says

    I like to use frozen food. It saves time and still makes a great meal. The best frozen food is mixed veggies. The worst is I have found is the meat loaf and mash potatoes.

  32. Megan says

    I don’t eat frozen prepared foods a lot. Sometimes when I don’t have leftovers to bring to work for lunch, I’ll bring something frozen but I don’t prefer it. Perhaps I just don’t know what to buy in that area.

  33. says

    Prepared meals are usually high in sodium and full of artificial ingredients, but I’d be interested in trying out the new ones at Whole Foods! I always purchase a few prepared foods to keep when I’m tight on time or run low on fresh ingredients.

  34. Carolsue says

    I use frozen foods fairly often, usually as a supplement to regular dinners. Like frozen egg rolls. But the Frozen Sausage Lasagna at Costco is better than I can make. I love that stuff!

  35. Christine says

    I generally don’t like frozen food that’s store-bought. The flavors are muddied in the freezing process, especially for vegetables. But I do like frozen raw seafood. They keep fresher this way, less handling damage on the way to my freezer. Shrimp are the best: you don’t have to think ahead and defrost them.

  36. CharlesR57 says

    I hear you about the cold and no motivation!
    I suffer also from SAD so that makes it even harder.
    I would love to live where there is heat all year round!

    Have a Joyful Day :~D

  37. Shewanna says

    I always have frozen peas and corn on hand and add them to almost everything. I also buy broccoli florets in bulk and freeze them. Other than that I try to only buy fresh veggies to force me to use them before they go bad!

  38. theshizzles says

    I love frozen Indian meals especially naan. So easy to just pop in the microwave or pan and have a great side

  39. Yidi Wang says

    My parents buys these frozen chinese scallion pancakes at 99 ranch and they’re delicious! If you cook them right, they’re crispy and chewy and pretty darn good :)

  40. Julia says

    I don’t buy many frozen prepared meals, but tend toward frozen fruits and vegetables to add into a quick smoothie or add to a dish when I don’t have the fresh option available!

  41. Lily says

    frozen prepared foods are good if they taste good, there are so many misses when it comes to entrees. But I use a lot of frozen veggies, fruits, ice cream!

  42. Nelson says

    Frozen peas and corn with butter and salt work well as a quick snack (or even a weekend breakfast – I’m weird like that). Frozen blueberries are a staple of my weekday breakfast and help to cool it down so that I can start eating immediately: Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain cereal, Bob’s Red Mill ground flaxseed, Penzey’s ground cinnamon and ginger, local Massachusetts unfiltered honey, sliced almonds, raisins, and frozen blueberries.

  43. Wehaf says

    I love frozen prepared foods, as long as they are really well-made with good ingredients. I especially love hi-quality frozen ravioli and tortelloni.

  44. Vivian says

    Although we rarely eat frozen prepared foods, it’s nice to have some mozzarella sticks or chicken dinosaurs from Costco handy for those afternoon snacks. I don’t buy frozen dumplings as I prefer to make a large batch and freeze them. Healthier and more delicious :)

  45. Sarah Maggard says

    Frozen foods are for emergency meals only. They tend to lack flavor and the serving sizes seem small for the price. In a pinch, I will pick up a Bertolli frozen meal.

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