Gluten Free Café frozen meals

By: Hain Celestial Group

I Paid: $5.99 for a 9.2-ounce meal (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 4stars

The Gluten Free Café line of frozen microwavable meals promises tasty food for those suffering from gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease. But though it delivers on the gluten-free promise (the entrées are all certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization), it only offers a baby step toward the “tasty” goal.

As far as I’m aware, there is no link between gluten allergies and decent-quality cheese- or cream-based sauces. And yet the “creamy cheese sauce” of both the Fettuccini Alfredo and Pasta Primavera meals tasted thin and insubstantial—the fact that cornstarch and canola oil are the first two ingredients in both “cheese” sauces may be the root cause of the trouble. The Lemon Basil Chicken meal’s supposed cream sauce called to mind skim milk.

Other aspects were hit-and-miss. The veggies in the Primavera (zucchini, carrots, red bell peppers, green beans) tasted soggy and overcooked, helping make it the least appealing of the three meals overall. Lemon Basil Chicken, with its somewhat dry but nicely seasoned meat, was the closest to tasty right off the bat, and the basil flavor was fresh and lively. The sauce on the Fettuccini Alfredo tasted the closest to a rich, high-quality cream sauce, although certainly not “bursting with bold flavor and rich herbs and spices,” as the box proclaims. The rice noodles themselves were an almost completely neutral medium, contributing little flavor or discernible texture. I added black pepper, and the dish tasted a lot better.

Verdict: With another round of revisions, crisper vegetables, and some more aggressive seasoning, Gluten Free Café meals could be desirable.

Amy’s Toaster Pops

By: Amy’s Kitchen

I Paid: $3.69 for a box of four 2.1-ounce pastries (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars

Marketing: 4stars

Before you run out and buy Amy’s Toaster Pops (which is not at all a bad idea, particularly if you’re battling a serious addiction to Pop-Tarts or Toaster Strudels), be warned: That four-star ranking you see up there for “taste” takes into account that these things are vegan and not hideously bad for you; if your morning ideal involves a thick coating of frosting and colorful sprinkles, seek your fix elsewhere.

Amy’s Toaster Pops look precisely like the kind of dour, sad-sack thing that would be pushed upon you by a Ralph Nader–voting aunt living on an Oregon commune, eager to bridge the gap between her morally untainted world of rain barrels and campfire sing-alongs and your desperately confused whirlpool of genetically-modified-corn-based waffles and iPhone apps.

Unfrosted and austere, Amy’s Toaster Pops are made with sunflower seed meal, a flavor curveball that dominates the less-than-sweet pastry portion. But the fillings turn it all around: In contrast to the corn-syrup-laden jam of their mainstream competitors, these Toaster Pops are made with an organic apple or organic strawberry purée. The filling tastes like—brace yourself—fruit. Actual fruit. The apple filling has a bright, clean flavor to it, and the strawberry is equally unadulterated and summery.

Overall, Amy’s Toaster Pops have around 25 percent fewer calories than Pop-Tarts, and derive far less of their bulk from fat and sugar. It’s a different and restrained taste, and a healthier package overall—if you happen to care about those things when seeking a toaster pastry.

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