The Taste of Progress

Who knew precooked meals could actually taste like food?

In the old days, prior to the advent of the digital universe and 24/7 shopping, people barely had time after work to run to the store, pick up a pound of ground beef, rush home, slap it on the grill, and cram it down before falling into bed.

Today we have computers so powerful they can levitate small buildings and so compact they get lost in our coat pockets. We can fax, e-mail, instant-message, download images, and drive around in our cars at the same time. We can make phone calls with our eyeglasses yet still barely have time after work to run to the store, pick up a pound of ground beef, rush home, slap it on the grill, and cram it down before falling into bed.

Isn't progress wonderful?

So, recognizing that no matter how much we advance we always seem to be marching backward, a bunch of smart food types created something called home meal replacements, a smarmy marketing term for dinners that replicate what you might cook at home if you weren't digitally wired, eternally connected, and perpetually exhausted.

This is where Miami's premier upscale market — Epicure — comes in with its impressive array of replacements for that homemade meal you never have the time, energy, or culinary chops to cook. They're inexpensive, require only brief reheating, can be nicely complemented by easy-to-prepare side dishes, and, best of all, taste like real food, not unpronounceable additives.

Okay, this is progress.

Epicure's home meal replacements come in two varieties: freshly made and frozen. Stick with the freshly made. The frozen meals lose too much in translation from freezer to oven to table.

Frozen chicken cacciatore was the product of a struggling home cook, a smidgen of thick, tomatoey sauce with onions, mushrooms, and peppers served over a tender but flabby-skinned quarter chicken with mushy penne and undercooked peas. Braised brisket was the concoction of a terrible home cook, slabs of bland meat smothered in an oddly gelatinous, murky-tasting brown sauce with unpleasant overtones.

Freshly made meals are much better. New England-style clam chowder was damn good, nothing like the fish-flavored paste served at many local restaurants. With a simple salad and a hunk of French bread, it would make a mighty fine dinner. Same goes for pasta e fagioli, the robust Italian soup of cannellini beans and pasta, made with rich chicken stock and plenty of beans and vegetables.

Lasagna was hearty and pretty good too — ground beef, lots of cheese, al dente pasta, yet not quite enough rosemary-scented marinara sauce. Chicken potpie was a little light on the chicken and a little heavy on the dried herbs, but underneath a golden, modestly flaky pastry crust were plenty of carrots, peas, mushrooms, and onions in a savory roux.

You could do a lot worse than finish with Epicure's bread pudding. It is a bit heavy but quite tasty, even more so if you flame a jigger of bourbon and pour it over the top.

If you're not already exhausted, that is.

 
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