ahhh the TV dinner. the most convenient way to enjoy a full meal, and the reason the microwave was invented. how many countless evenings were saved by opting to nuke one of the many varieties of frozen foodstuffs, rather than consume whatever else was at hand (cats, for example)? yes, truly the best alternative to eating cats were tiny trays of frozen food, preferably presented to you by a penguin and his polar bear chef friend:
…i don’t know exactly what the relationship between those two was, but i’m assuming they were partners in every sense of the term. oh, and of course they were retired at some point and replaced with younger, cooler, more extreme/radical versions of themselves (i think the bear died in a snowboarding accident). alas, my love affair with those kooky anthropomorphic cartoon animals ended the day i entered puberty, and went from being a mere hungry boy to a full-on hungry man.
it went on like that for years, until eventually my tastes became far too refined for the likes of hungry mans and kid cuisines, and i began eating real food. hell, i began cooking! and thus, my transformation into a “grown-up” was complete. surely there is no frozen meal authentic enough, fresh enough, high-quality enough, home-style enough to be fit for mature adult consumption. surely not!
…or is there?
i was contacted by renowned artist and literal (in the literal sense) renaissance man michelangelo, who is credited not only as the sculptor of david, but with the invention of the microwave dinner. his company, michael angelo’s, pioneers the “microwavable meals that may pass for real food” category, priding themselves in using fresh, real ingredients, small batch preparation, and using only recipes written by michelangelo’s mom, sara.
true to their word, quick perusal of their dish’s ingredients reveals really boring stuff, like eggs, onions, garlic, and tomatoes, missing out on family favorites such as delicious high fructose corn syrup and yellow 5. really, what it looks like they’re trying to do is send you leftovers, which you could easily just find in your grandma’s fridge. why microwave something that you already might have available to you, when you could just have THIS??
so michelangelo sent me some coupons to pick up a smattering of his frozen delights, and i did just that. our first sampling (my senior assistant/PR specialist and myself) consisted of the chicken parmesan and the baked ziti with meatballs. pictured above is the frozen chicken parmesan, in all its glory.
now, we were given the option to go with either microwave or conventional oven as our method of heating. being a busy man about town, i clearly have no time for such things as a conventional oven. even the microwave is pushing it, what with their additional 5 minutes standing time. had this not been for review, i would have just tackled the beast frozen, but i am sure that’s not their preferred method of delivery, so i went ahead and…
nuked that bastard back to the hell from whence it came.
this was taken directly after cooking, and i believe it shows. note the signature tiny holes burnt into the sauce and cheese, a hallmark of microwaving technology. mysterious. but after a good stirring, it’s as though it never underwent such treatment, and could even resemble something prepared by a real human!
the baked ziti was cooked the same way, resulting in what you see above.
now, again, michael angelo’s strives to present you with that home cooked feeling in every meal. the preparation is there (well, on their end, at least), so all that’s left is the presentation. with a bit of effort and a few simple touches, VOILÀ!
accompanied by my father’s fine wine, we have ourselves a romantic dinner for two, and a potential date is none the wiser! WHY, YES. OF COURSE I AM AN ACCLAIMED ITALIAN CHEF. I THOUGHT YOU KNEW! *looks at camera, winks*
as for the meals, they were better than your average TV dinner fare. the sauce michael angelo uses is actually quite good, with noticeable effort put in it. there’s a clear, almost fresh tomato taste that somehow survives the harsh barrage of microwaves, which is pretty impressive. the cheese is good, though the mozzarella cubes occasionally don’t cook all the way through. but the meat and pasta is where you realize this is still a microwaved dinner.
the pasta tastes like something you might find in stouffer’s box. the ziti less so, but the spaghetti packaged with the chicken parmesan was not impressive. it was not tough or anything, but it just had that not-quite-real feeling to it. and the meat – the meatballs were lackluster, which i mostly attribute to their being microwaved, but also think that their consistency was not quite meaty enough. too much ball. the chicken parmesan, too, was much as a standard microwave chicken patty might be. there’s no way to prepare anything fried properly in a microwave; it just doesn’t work. the flavors were there, though, which is a plus.
i think perhaps these meals would have turned out better had i bit the bullet and oven cooked them, but i figured this is the most likely way a consumer will make them. i actually have had michael angelo’s lasagna before, cooked in the oven, and it really did turn out quite well. just something to consider.
i also tried the lasagna with sausage the next day. of all the available products i found at publix when purchasing these meals, the lasagna with sausage was the one that had been clearly favored by the public, with a mere four boxes remaining versus the typical endless grocer’s freezer supply. i thought this was a good sign.
as it turns out, the public was right. this was far superior to both the chicken parmesan and the baked ziti, featuring the same quality sauce, mozzarella, and some ricotta cheese that i somehow enjoyed (typically, i don’t). the pasta actually came together well here, perhaps due to its stacking with cheese and merging with all around it. the sausage, again arguably the downfall of the dish, really appealed to me, carrying similar notes to sausages of all the greatest cardboard pizzas past. it seemed to lack that “real meat” quality, but still had good flavor. it was pork, as reported by the ingredients list, and it convinced me that all lasagna should be prepared with sausage. the overall result of the lasagna was quite solid, seriously reminiscent of a homemade meal, reheated in the microwave. just like grandma!!
what brought this opportunity to me in the first place was an upcoming celebrity chef cooking class, where the REAL MICHELANGELO (michael angelo) and his REAL MOTHER SARA (sara) will be imparting the ways of the force on all young padawans in attendance. it’s coming up soon, this thursday night (october 18th) at the citrus park publix on gunn highway. you can get more information here, and make reservations by calling 813-926-4465.
you should probably just do it. i mean, how often do you get a chance to meet one of the ninja turtles??