20 June, 2009

Banquet Smothered Burrito

You don't have to shop dollar stores to find some strange and unusual foods - thanks to ConAgra's Banquet brand, there's always something interesting in the freezer section of the grocery store. Like this lunch: Smothered Burrito. Doesn't the Serving Suggestion Enlarged To Show Quality look delicious? There's a plump "bean, beef and textured soy protein burrito" ladled with delicious "queso sauce" and a helping of "Mexican style rice" and refried beans. If it weren't for the queso sauce looking a little like that fake rubber vomit you can buy in novelty stores, the stuff would look pretty good. You can bet the food stylist in ConAgra's art department spent a few long hours carefully assembling that plate of grub for the photographer.

Of course, real life is never really the same as a painstakingly crafted food model.

Clockwise from left: Burrito smothered in queso sauce, refried beans, Mexican style rice.

Okay, so it's not much to look at. How does it taste?

Surprisingly, not as bad as I thought it would when I laughingly plucked it out of the freezer case at the local Shaw's. The refried beans were pretty awful. There were virtually no pieces or chunks of bean in the serving; it was a thoroughly pureed, drooly brown paste with very little flavor. The rice was similarly underseasoned, but somewhat better. I had expected overcooked mushy rice, but got surprisingly firm medium-grain rice with small bits of mild red and green bell pepper. There was too much sauce for the rice, of course - a gluey concoction of modified food starch, cumin, and turmeric - but at least there was a hint of spicy heat that kept my taste buds from falling asleep.

The burrito was kind of strange. Tortillas don't really microwave well, and heating the meal turned the tortilla into a tough and chewy membrane filled with a reddish-brown...filling. It tasted goodish, I guess, and vaguely south-of-the-border in kind of the same way that Taco Bell reminds you of Mexican food without ever really being actual Mexican food. And the queso sauce was not nearly as laughably nasty as it looked - it was actually cheesy and somewhat flavorful and contained ingredients such as real heavy cream, Monterey Jack cheese, and diced jalapeno peppers (along with other, more standard industrial food ingredients like locust bean gum, pasteurized process cheese spread, and dry nonfat milk.) I find myself almost surprised to say that I kind of liked it.

Not a gourmet meal by any means, but at $1.25 ($1 on sale if you time it right) it's an acceptable lunch on days you just can't get away from your desk for longer than it takes to work the microwave.

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