I find Ina Garten to be downright fascinating. Before she was a Food Network personality, she owned a specialty food shop in the veddy-posh Westhampton, New York; before that, she worked for the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) on nuclear energy analysis. She and her husband, Jeffrey, have no children and live a luxurious, jet-setting lifestyle. She gardens, cooks, travels, writes, designs and then invites us all along on these adventures via her television show, cookbooks and blog.
Given her reputation for elegance and luxury, it's an understatement to say that I was surprised when I saw Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa's name and face in the frozen food aisle. I was unsure how to feel about this -- has Ina simply found a way to reach a new audience? Or is she a huge sellout? -- but I definitely had to see how the Barefoot Contessa is translated into frozen meals for the masses. I picked up two options (about $7 per bag, each bag serving two): Shrimp Scampi Linguini and Sesame Chicken & Noodles.
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In our house we judge frozen dinners by one main criterion: Would I gladly eat this after getting off a plane at three in the morning? If the answer is "yes," we consider the frozen food in question a success. This goes back to our days in Alaska, where we had a very efficient airport round-robin pickup system with our friends. Picker-uppers would grab up the incoming friends and deliver them home (you try starting your car when it's been parked at the airport at 40 below for two weeks), but picker-uppers would also pick up a few supplies for the incoming friends to tide them over until they could get to the store the next morning: milk, bread, some fruit, some wine and a couple of frozen dinner options.
Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa frozen dinners answer my frozen dinner question with a "yes" -- though not in equal measure. I was expecting the Sesame Chicken to be a lot better than the Shrimp Scampi, but the scampi was far and away the better meal. Like most frozen chicken meals, the Barefoot Contessa sesame chicken suffers from that odd chicken texture -- too smooth and overly processed -- and the noodles were a bit too mushy, though that could easily have been operator error.
The shrimp scampi, on the other hand, was flavorful -- garlic, lemon and a spicy black pepper bite -- and the noodles were almost (almost) al dente. The shrimp -- well, it's frozen shrimp so let's not get too excited, but it was far better than the chicken in the sesame and noodle concoction.
There is no possible way that any frozen meal could conjure up the quiet elegance Garten imparts through her television show, so ultimately the frozen food line does strike a dissonant chord in terms of her Barefoot Contessa brand. But on their own, these are a perfectly good, just-got-off-a-plane-at-three-in-the-morning contender.