Back in September, “Paleo Nick” Massie showed up on one of my favorite shows, Shark Tank, to pitch his frozen-meal company Ice Age Meals. A trained chef and avid CrossFitter, Massie fell in love with paleo eating as so many of us have, but he took it a step further. For those of us who lack the time and/or energy to cook fresh, healthy meals every day, he worked to perfect individual-portion frozen meals that anyone could simply pop in the oven or microwave.
As I mentioned yesterday, I had a teensy bit of trouble moving to an apartment with limited counter space and (especially) no dishwasher. In the past, I would spend part of my weekend batch-cooking meals for breakfasts and lunches, but I would make a fresh dinner from scratch every night. Easier said than done when the meal is followed by dish duty (instead of just shoving them all in the beautiful, indispensable dishwasher). Adding insult to injury, as those who know me personally or have been longtime readers of the blog (no overlap in those categories) know, I had wrist surgery in 2009 that left me with less chronic pain than I once had, and it’s exacerbated by wrist-intensive activities. Ahem. Like washing dishes.
Because of that, I’ve taken to batch-preparing all meals on the weekends. Remembering Ice Age Meals and appreciating the concept, I decided to buy a 14-pack of the amusingly named “Beef Me Up, Scotty!” sampler, which I’ve consumed alongside my usual meals over the past several weeks.
For those too lazy to click the link, the “Beef Me Up, Scotty!” includes three Mexican Meatballs meals, three Grass-Fed Tri Tip with Yams meals, four Pastel de Papa meals, and four Butternut Squash Lasagna meals. The cost is $159.99 including shipping, making the per-meal cost a little less than $11.43—cheaper than all but the shittiest restaurants, for a higher-quality meal. If you have the money, freezer space, and ambition to order in larger quantities, the per-meal price goes down; the 48-meal pack averages to less than $10.94 per meal. But before you dive in whole-hog (or cow), maybe you want to hear a little about the meal quality.
Ice Age Meals Special Edition!!
Let me start with a general observation. Every package I received has a cardboard sleeve with cooking instructions:
Upfront, I don’t have much experience with frozen meals, so maybe this problem is on me: I found these directions vague to the point of confusing. Was I to bake the meal for 30 minutes and then transfer it to the microwave for 6-8 minutes, or were these instructions for the oven or the microwave? If it was the latter, did the “remove plastic wrap and poke center with a fork” directions apply only to the microwave directions, or to the oven, as well? When it suggests thawing “before reheating,” what does it mean by “reheating”? Is it suggesting the cooked meals can be frozen and reheated, or is “reheating” Paleo Nick’s way of indicating these frozen meals have already been prepared and merely need reheating? If so, then why are all of these directions headed “HEATING INSTRUCTIONS” and not “REHEATING INSTRUCTIONS”? If not, the entire section on “reheating” needs clarity.
If it sounds like I overthought the directions, I should add that it only came to this when, after 30 minutes in an oven that usually overcooks, my first meal was barely thawed. From there, I assumed I’d fucked something up and questioned everything.
Seeking additional clarity, I found this page on the Ice Age Meals website. Off the bat, it clarified what he meant by “reheating.” It also gives more specific instructions for the microwave versus the oven, and even includes a video to hear about it from Paleo Nick himself.
All that said, I still never managed to cook a single meal in under 40 minutes (I never attempted one in the microwave). I found 50 minutes to be a good time for it to be done but not overdone—25 minutes with the plastic on, 25 minutes with the plastic off. And again, this is in an oven that usually cooks things in 50 minutes that the recipe says should take an hour, meaning the time required to cook is almost double. An important factor, however, is that I never bothered to thaw them overnight. I pulled them straight out of the freezer when I turned on the oven.
With that in mind, I understand Massie needs to cram instructions into a certain portion of the cardboard sleeve, so they can’t drone on and on like I do on this blog. However, if Mr. Massie happens to read this blog (and I’d say if Rick Perlstein could respond to a critique within half an hour of me posting it, Massie must have a similar Google Alert for his name and/or product, because that’s the only way anyone would ever hear about this thing nobody reads), I would have to suggest both a rewrite and a slight package redesign.
Keep in mind, Mr. Massie, I neither know nor care a thing about package design or marketing; if I did, I’d have a lot more money. So feel free to take these suggestions with a grain of salt, and also please keep in mind that I’m sure a great deal of thought and agonizing went into these packages in the first place. Don’t take it as me shitting all over something people worked hard on; I’m just trying to help, because I actually do believe in this product and the company’s mission to make paleo eating easier and more accessible. Disclaimers aside, here it goes…
First, I’d suggest taking the entire “KEEP IT PALEO!” section and shrinking it to fit in the section of the package where the heating instructions currently reside. This will give additional space to add clarity to the heating instructions without shrinking the text, which is already a good size.
From there, I would adjust the text to read:
In the oven, place meal on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated 375° for 30 minutes or until hot in the center. Midway through heating, remove plastic wrap and poke center with a fork.
In the microwave, heat on high for 6-8 minutes. Midway through heating*, remove plastic wrap and poke center with a fork.
Allow meal to rest two minutes before eating. For best results, thaw meal overnight under refrigeration before heating. Heating from frozen may significantly increase cooking time.
Adding a line break between “In the oven…” instructions and “In the microwave…” instructions makes a clear distinction between the two, as does the repetition of the “remove plastic wrap” direction. Adding a statement about the extra cooking time needed when heating direct from the freezer will also calm dumdums like myself who will get confused when it fails to cook in a timely fashion. In addition, consistent use of the term “heating” or “reheating” (your choice, as long as it’s the same in all instances) will make it clear whether the instructions refer to reheating a partially eaten meal or cooking a fresh meal.
That’s the end of my “general observation.” My three regular readers must be thrilled I’m back!!
Of the four meal types provided, the Mexican Meatballs were my second-favorite. Three small, seasoned meatballs served on a bed of calabacitas (roasted zucchini, bell peppers, and onions) and some sort of spicy-sweet tomato sauce. Every part of this meal is delicious, and moreso than the others, this one feels like a full meal: protein, vegetables, sauce. The other meals contain the same constituent parts, but they’re combined in ways that make each part less distinct.
The Tri Tip meal is a good example. Although the picture shows the sliced tri tip on a bed of sliced yams, the meal itself contains puréed yams mixed up with the “Paleo-Q Sauce,” and this combination smothers the meat during cooking. As a result, the separate parts of the meal feel more like a shepherd’s pie than meat, veggies, and sauce. In addition, while I generally liked the taste of this, I found the meat itself a little bit tough. Based on what I wrote above, it might sound like I overcooked it, but by sight the meat comes out medium-rare. It might come from grass-fed cows, but I’m sorry to say it doesn’t appear to come from a superior cut of tri tip.
Speaking of shepherd’s pie, Pastel de Papa is billed in most places (including Ice Age Meals’ website) as a South American form of shepherd’s pie, only it uses puréed sweet potatoes as its base. Ice Age’s version of this is quite good, but try to keep in mind that it’s essentially mashed sweet potatoes with some other good stuff mixed in. It’s a nice, quick meal that cuts out all that pesky chewing.
Saving the best for last, I find the Butternut Squash Lasagna remarkable. As a longtime paleo eater and cook, I often find the recipes designed to replicate “normie” foods never come out quite right. The flavor and/or consistency is always off, either slightly or drastically. To toot my own horn, I’m a pretty good cook, and I’ve made a lot of great paleo stuff. Even the recipes meant to simulate something else are good—they just rarely taste like what they’re supposed to. (For instance, everyone jizzes their pants whenever I make Elana’s Paleo Samoas, but nobody has ever said, “Wow! These taste like those Girl Scout Cookies!” They’re just good cookies.)
Here, Massie has used his culinary skills to maximum effect, somehow managing to combine minimal ingredients (essentially ground beef, butternut squash, tomato purée, and spices) into something that really tastes like lasagna. I’ve eaten butternut squash in various forms, in various recipes, and it still confounds me that he’s managed to make it both taste and feel like lasagna’s unique layering of pasta and cheese.
My goal with Ice Age Meals is to work my way through their “samplers,” cataloging my favorites so I can eventually “build a box” of meals I love. Butternut Squash Lasagna is definitely on that list.