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Tuesday 20 September 2016

Birds Eye "Stir Your Senses" Tagliatelle con Porcini

Having singularly failed to note the sixth anniversary of this blog (12th September), despite setting a reminder in my phone and receiving several prompts from my girlfriend, I actually have a good opportunity for a quick post this evening. Courtney would normally be out at a Slimming World meeting on a Monday evening, so there's a good chance there will be several ready meal/quick snack posts coming up (not to mention an under-discussion post about Slimming World, if only so I can joke at length about how it comes across as some kind of cult whenever anyone I know talks about it, and there are quite a few Slimming Worlders at work).

The upshot of this is that I was recently vaguely organised and picked myself up one of Birds Eye's new "Stir Your Senses" collection - a range of seven ready-to-cook-from-frozen, bagged meals for one which take about ten minutes (or less) to cook. Given that I generally get home too late to start cooking anything substantial from scratch, that's a very tempting prospect, and I'm always happy to try out something that purports to go from freezer to plate in a very short time and by a very simple process. That is, after all, just one raison d'être for this blog.

According to the packaging, this particular bag invites one to "Be inspired by the truly magical tastes of Tuscany. Our chefs have combined ribbons of fresh egg pasta in a delicately light creamy sauce and the earthy richness of porcini and champignon mushrooms". The cooking process described is nothing more than emptying the contents of the bag into a non-stick pan or wok with two or three tablespoons of water, heating on high until the frozen bricks of sauce begin to melt, then turning the heat down for the remainder of the 7-8 minutes cooking time. The full duration depends mostly on how thick one wants the sauce to be or, at least, a fine balance between that and how hungry one is to begin with. The most complicated part is remembering to keep stirring once the sauce has fully melted, lest the pasta start to stick to the outer edges of the pan/wok. Once the desired consistency of sauce it achieved, the contents of the pan are simply decanted onto the desired receptacle for eating.

I have to say I was very surprised by this - not only was the process of cooking it precisely as quick and simple as the packaging suggests - granted, it's only barely more involved than simply chucking something into the oven for a few minutes at a particular temperature, but it's been a while since I've done much of anything in the kitchen - but it didn't take much effort to ensure it didn't go horribly wrong. I was worried initially that some of it might burn at (or to) the bottom of the pan before the rest had even thawed, but a small amount of stirring kept everything under control. Not only that, but it was a remarkably tasty meal - one tends to expect that mushrooms, in particular, cooked from frozen, will be soggy and pretty much flavourless, but the subtly nutty flavour was not overwhelmed by the plentiful and creamy sauce and their texture retained a certain firmness. The real hero of the dish, though, was the onion, which offset the sweetness of the sauce and added a pleasant bite. If I had a complaint, it would be that the size of this 'Meal for 1' was rather smaller than I'd prefer, but I know I tend to be a bit of a porker. It's likely a healthier portion size than I'd serve myself if I was cooking something like this from scratch.

Looking over the rest of the range, there aren't many others that I'm especially keen to try - "chef inspired" they may be (whatever that's supposed to mean), but they're not incredibly varied or imaginative. Four are Italian-styled pasta-based dishes, the other three involve chicken and one of those adds prawns - one of my culinary bêtes noires. Nevertheless, they have apparently been awarded 'Product of the Year' in a 2016 consumer survey of product innovation, and it's not hard to see why - the simple presentation (bagged rather than boxed, making them somewhat more convenient to store in the freezer compartment of an average fridge freezer) along with the fact that it's so simple to prepare and so surprisingly tasty mean that such plaudits are well-deserved. I'd certainly grab one of these again if I need a quick dinner, and may yet try other options in the range.

I'll also add this to the list of meals I'd like to try cooking from scratch, at some point...