Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Trader Joe's Shepherd's Pie
Like most of my Trader Joe's purchases, this was one that I did not plan to make. I was looking for something else in the freezers when it caught my eye. A version of shepherd's pie is one of my favorite dishes to make for myself, so I was immediately interested.
I liked almost everything about it. The size was just right. Preparation was heat-and-serve. The shredded beef was great, tasting just like I remember Mom's pot roast on Sundays after church. The vegetables were crisp, brightly colored, and had individually identifiable tastes (unlike many frozen pot pies, in which everything assumes a weird sort of flavor homogeneity). And, blessed relief, I only know that onions are an ingredient by reading the label; their quantity is sufficiently small and their impact sufficiently subdued that I encountered no hunk or pocket of onion that would have spoiled the whole thing. (The unofficial motto of this blog: Onions ruin everything.)
So why not an unqualified endorsement? The one off-putting characteristic was that the potato layer on top was grossly overwatered. Not only were the potatoes mushy--almost slimy--but the wetness trickled down into everything else, creating an unpleasant potato-water puddle at the bottom of the dish.
I did follow the heating directions, but I think next time I'll try exposing more of the surface to the oven, rather than just loosening the plastic overwrap an inch, as the package instructs.
If I can solve the problem of sogginess, this will completely replace my purchase of any other frozen pot pies. (I consider this in the same category, because whether the basic ingredients are contained in a crust or topped by mashed potatoes doesn't matter much to me.)
Will I buy it again?
Yes. Must experiment with better heating methodology. There may be a winner waiting here.
After writing the above, I Googled to see if others had had a similar experience with excessive moisture. The first four reviews I found were these:
None of them described anything like the puddle I found, so I'm willing to assume that this was a one-off issue. The good news is that these reviews date as far back as 2006, which presumably means that this is a perennial good seller and won't suddenly vanish.
It's been a few months since I wrote the review above. (That's usually the case. I have such a backlog of posts that there's typically about four months between writing and publishing, except for when I push one to the front of the line for some reason, such as seasonal relevance.) I have purchased this item three more times since then. With the second pie, I cut off the transparent film corner rather than just peeling it back as the directions indicate. That did nothing, and the liquid problem remained--so it wasn't a one-off thing as I had speculated. For the third one, I removed the film entirely before baking the pie. That reduced the problem significantly, but did not eliminate it. For the fourth one, I did that plus I extended the baking time from the recommended 25-30 minutes to 35 minutes. That almost did the trick. Next time, I'm going to 40 minutes, and I think I'll have it licked.
I remain of the opinion that once the excessive wetness of the product is conquered, it's the best item of its genre I've ever found on the market.
Yep. 40 minutes made it turn out just right. I liked it mucho. I would buy and eat lots more of these, if it weren't for my sense of guilt over the beef. I'll keep their purpose limited to an occasional treat.