Celebrity chef and cookbook author Marcela Valladolid specializes in “simple and authentic recipes” on her Food Network series “Mexican Made Easy.”
Recently, she teamed with the Safeway supermarket chain to provide shoppers with a signature line of items. We rounded up a variety of tasters and sampled some of the “easy to prepare” Mexican-themed dishes — soups, frozen entrees and crunchy snacks.
In general, Valladolid isn’t afraid to be bold, using a free hand (sometimes a heavy hand) with seasonings and heat. Certainly, her dishes have more authority than many comparable brands we’ve tasted, which have ranged from wimpy to bland.
Here’s how hers fared:
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SOUPS (24 ounces for $5)
Valladolid knows her way around peppers, turning out four soups with varying degrees of background heat. Of the three categories of the dishes we tasted, we liked the soups best.
Crema de Pablano: “Loved the texture,” “Rich and smooth,” “Just enough heat.”
Pork Posole: “Well-textured hominy, not overcooked,” “Hearty, with deep flavor,” “The pork is perfect.”
Chipotle Chicken: “Got a little zip and personality to it,” “More like a weak vegetable soup,” “Could use more chicken.”
Lentil and Chorizo: “Tastes like soup you would get at a restaurant,” “Thin broth, but the smoky-pepper flavor saves it,” “The chorizo gets lost.”
FROZEN ENTREES ($3.29)
We sampled a trio, and thought the price is right for the 9-ounce serving. Cooking-wise, we’re talking basic frozen meals: Vent the film that covers the food tray, and pop the tray into a microwave oven. Cook for a few minutes, remove the tray, pull back the film and stir the contents. Back into the microwave to finish.
Beef Birria: seasoned beef chunks with tomato and guajillo peppers and well-textured rice; first place: “Lingering heat in the rich sauce,” “A lot of cumin and deep chile flavors,” “The beef chunks were relatively tender.”
Corn & Poblano Lasagna: lasagna noodles layered with poblano chile, zucchini and cheese, topped with creamy corn sauce; second place: “Not a bad Mexican-Italian mash-up,” “Very mild, lots of corn and zucchini but not enough chile,” “Liked the texture, but the lasagna noodles were a bit rubbery.”
Chicken Mole Enchilada: chicken-stuffed corn tortilla topped with mole sauce, with tasty red rice, third place: “The mole sauce was too sweet, resembling melted Hershey Kisses,” “The sweet mole sauce overwhelms what could have been a good dish,” “The rice was nearly perfect, but I couldn’t get into the enchilada because of the too-chocolate-y sauce.”
The tasters agreed that the Ancho Chipotle Chicharrones (fried pork skins, $3.49) and the Chile Lime Flaquitos (rolled corn chips, a hybrid of flautas and taquitos, $2.49) were way too salty, overheated and overspiced. Between the paprika, coriander, cumin, garlic, cocoa, lemon and lime powders, pasilla pepper and other flavorings, the crunchy chips got lost in a fiery flurry of competing flavors. The textures were fine, though.
The Adobada Potato Chips fared better, as the chipotle pepper powder and guajillo pepper weren’t in such competition with each other ($3.89). “They’re like spicy barbecue potato chips. I’d buy them to go with a sandwich,” noted one taster.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.