Entering the third month of 2015, it’s a good chance for me to take a step back and see how I’m doing with my new year resolutions. While I may not have a list stuck to the fridge door or on my bulletin board, I do keep a mental checklist of my goals: drink more water, consume less sugar, lose five pounds, and eat healthier.
How am I doing so far? I would like to think I’m not doing too badly. I’ve gotten used to carrying a water bottle in my bag and, with the exception of a one week sugar “binge, sodas and juices have become an occasional beverage.
I have also resolved to eat healthier this year. As a runner, I always try to eat balanced meals, but I have been known to to have weakness for candy, ice cream, pastries and chips. Like many people, I am constantly finding myself on the go – running errands, commuting to and from work, dashing off to appointments and more. When I’m too tired to cook, buying prepared foods, ordering a pizza, popping a frozen dinner in the microwave or getting fast foods are options I’m all too familiar with. At one point, frozen dinners had become a lunch staple for me, much to Don’s chagrin.
According to the media release Don and I received, Veg Pro (which already has a line of ready-to-eat single-serve salad kits) aims to continue its promotion of healthy eating by offering ready-to-heat individual meals, featuring fresh vegetables, locally grown and in season, in an effort to steer Canadians away from microwaveable meals in the frozen food section.
Now, according to the most recent edition (2011) of the Canadian Food Guide, about 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended for adults and teens and about 4-6 servings for children, depending on their age. While I assume these stir-fry bowls are likely aimed at the adult market (a quick pick-me-up lunch at the grocery store), these bowls are also ideal for busy families trying to put together a healthy meal. Sold under the Quebec-based company Attitude, each bowl contains 4 “servings.” One bowl represents almost half of the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables for one adult.
I like that these stir-fry boxes are a refreshing alternative from the typical salad kits widely available at supermarkets. You won’t find vinaigrettes or ranch dressings included. Instead, you can choose from sauces such as teriyaki, “sweet & sour,” “General Tao,” and “Thai.”
To help us with the taste test, Don and I invited my youngest sister and her best friend over for dinner. While Don was busy searing some steaks, the girls and I settled on three cooking methods: microwave, a wok, and a non-stick pan. Here are the instructions as written on the box.
To microwave, remove the cover and then remove the toppings tray. Peel the protective film from thea tray and add the contents to the vegetables. Stir and close the lid. Then, heat two minutes in the microwave. Mix and close the lid again. Return to the microwave for thirty seconds to two minutes, as preferred.
To cook in a pan or wok, sauté vegetables with a little oil for one to two minutes. Add sauce and other ingredients. Lastly, sauté for one more minute and serve.
Test #1: Thai
Cooking Method: Microwave (Total cooking time: 2.5 minutes, within recommended time)
Vegetables include carrots, spinach, napa cabbage, onions, and courgettes, tossed in Thai Asian sauce with sliced water chestnuts, almonds, multi-seed bites and Cantonese noodles.
Verdict: We all enjoyed the water chestnuts and the multi-seed bites for their crunchy textures. Our friend liked the slightly spicy and citrus-like dressing. However, the rest of us weren’t too keen on the dressing and we were unsure how it was “Thai” flavour. As for the cooking method, 2.5 minutes in the microwave was too long. The spinach was so severely overcooked that it was almost unrecognizable. Had we cooked it any longer, some of the vegetable would have liquified.
Test #2: Sweet & Sour
Cooking Method: Microwave (2 minutes, minimum recommended time)
Vegetables include napa, onions, red bell peppers, spinach, and sugar snaps, topped with small chunks of pineapple, roasted coconut and mixed with Cantonese noodles and sweet and sour sauce.
Verdict: While I liked the sweet and tangy sauce, everyone else found it cloying. As for the vegetables, we felt 2 minutes was enough cooking time. Though, once again, the spinach was overcooked.
Test #3: Teriyaki
Cooking Method: Cast iron wok
Vegetables include napa cabbage, kale, onions, carrots, snow peas, baby corn, and broccoli, topped with almonds, crunchy whole wheat noodles and mixed with Cantonese noodles and teriyaki sauce.
Verdict: A proper stir fry involves cooking over high heat in a carbon steel work. In our case, we used a well seasoned cast iron wok. Following the instructions, we dumped all the vegetables at once and used a metal spatula to move them around. Then, we added the sauce and noodles and cooked it for another minute before topping it with almonds and the whole wheat noodle bits. This time, the vegetables had a nice crunch with everyone commenting that it tasted better than the previous microwave tests.
Test #4: General Tao
Cooking Method: Non-stick skillet
Vegetables include spinach, red bell pepper, carrots, bok choy, snow peas, napa cabbage, and bamboo shoots mixed with Cantonese noodles, cashews, crispy noodles, and General Tao sauce.
Verdict: We felt this dish was cooked best with the non-stick pan. This one also ranked quite highly for its spiciness and variety of textures.
The winner, by a large margin, was the teriyaki stir fry, followed closely by the General Tao. The Thai flavour stir fry box was a distant third with the sweet & sour in fourth place.
Upon taking it out of the microwave, we were surprised by the sturdiness of the plastic box. Often times, the plastic trays from frozen meals are warped after heating/cooking. Not only did this box hold its shape, but it was not too hot to handle either.
We loved the variety of vegetables, Cantonese noodles, and the finishing garnishes, such as the pineapple, coconut flakes, nuts, crispy chips and crispy noodle bits as they all added some nice contrast in textures. We also liked that the vegetables could be eaten as a meal or as a nice side with some chicken or fish. [Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any photos showing the stir-fry as a side to our steaks as the girls ate them too quickly.]
The main criticism we each had was the cooking of the vegetables themselves. Though stir fries can accommodate many different ingredients, such doesn’t mean one should dump everything into a wok or pan at the same time, let alone in the microwave. Not all vegetables can be cooked simultaneously as was evident by the overcooked spinach compared to the just-barely cooked bok choy, kale, and napa. However, we also recognize that these meals are meant to be simple and convenient. As for the sauces, I suggest employing them sparingly as I found each rather strong and salty. But, that is more of a personal preference.
Fesh Attitude Stir Fry products are available for purchase in the refrigerated produce section of major grocery chains, including Sobeys, Foodland, Urban, IGA, Metro and Super C. in Quebec, Ontario, the Maritimes and the east coast of the U.S.
Many thanks to HK Strategies for providing us an opportunity to try a new grocery find!