I Paid: $7.99 for a 24-ounce meal (prices may vary by region)
Even though it’s owned by corporate giant Unilever and its commercials celebrate the destruction of independent Italian restaurants, you gotta hand it to Bertolli: The company makes a pretty good packaged meal. Following on from its microwavable Premium Pasta Sauce bags, Bertolli is now catering to the American desire to have our steak rigatoni and eat it too. This new series of frozen one-skillet meals is craftily marketed as healthy by way of the traditional Mediterranean diet: lots of veggies and olive oil, and less cheese and cream.
The nutritional comparison for the product is respectable. Regular Bertolli Chicken Parmigiana & Penne has 530 calories a serving, 43 percent of which are from fat; by contrast, Bertolli Mediterranean Style Grilled Chicken & Roasted Vegetables has 400 calories per serving, 37.5 percent of which come from fat. These Mediterranean meals also talk up their veggie content, boasting that each portion includes two complete servings of vegetables.
The Bertolli Mediterranean Style Steak, Rigatoni & Portobello Mushrooms was strong overall: The steak was relatively tender and had a decent meaty flavor. But the stars of the show were the cherry tomatoes, which despite being frozen and thawed in the skillet had a bright, acidic punch to them. And in contrast to so many frozen meals where mushrooms are tasteless specks, the Bertolli mushrooms were earthy and tasted like, well, mushrooms.
The previously mentioned Grilled Chicken & Roasted Vegetables was equally impressive: The red pepper had actual snap to it, and there was an herbal flavor that predominated. The chicken was innocuous but not flavorless or dried out; garlic was present but not overwhelming; and the olive oil used in the dish gave a fuller flavor than you might expect.
By: Tea Forté
I Paid: $6.78 for eight 1.8-ounce infusers (prices may vary by region)
I’ve recently become acquainted with an old-school mixologist, a guy dedicated to bringing back the Sazerac and Old Fashioned in their pure, austere forms. I can’t guarantee what he’d say if given Tea Forté’s tea-based Cocktail Infusions, but I have a feeling he’d let out a hearty laugh, twirl his mustache, and chuck them into the trash.
Despite the fluff factor, these are beautifully marketed products—perhaps no surprise from the same company that brought us the elegant Tea-over-Ice system. This time around, the lush, sophisticated photography and tasteful box copy promise “revolutionary” cocktail results by way of sticking a pyramid-shaped tea bag into your booze before you mix it. To test the infusions out, I tried three drink combinations suggested in the box’s accompanying booklet.
First up was the Bombai Chai Rum & Tonic, made with a Silkroad Chai infuser, two ounces of white rum, and four ounces of tonic. It began promisingly, like a gently rummed-up iced tea with depth. But it ended with a slightly astringent note that was evocative of heavy potpourri and whisked me away to the bathroom at Grandma’s house. It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t an inspired bit of mixology either.
Next I tried the Lemongrass Gin & Tonic, which was actually a nice (if modest) step up from the classic. Made with a Lemongrass Mint infuser plus two ounces of gin, five ounces of tonic, and a half ounce of simple syrup, a distinct lemongrass note was worked into the proceedings in a harmonious way. Do you think it’s worth a buck to upgrade your G&T to a slightly fancier and more novel version? If so, the Lemongrass Mint infuser is not a bad way to go—assuming, of course, you’re not up for experimenting with making your own lemongrass simple syrup.
Finally, the Cosmo de Provence combined a Lavender Citrus infuser with three ounces of vodka, two ounces of Cointreau, and an ounce of lime juice. It tasted heavy on the alcohol and light on the lavender; longer steeping might have helped the situation, but regardless it seemed like a modest improvement for all the fuss.
Overall—as you might fear—the Cocktail Infusions are a triumph of dazzling style over substance. Aspiring to mixology is fine. But step one is to chuck the tea bags and start making your own bitters.