Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of 2020, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation toward.
The previous Takeout Draft: Best pantry staples was a decisive victory for Allison Robicelli, who nabbed delicious picks in early rounds to secure a formidable team of pasta-adjacent staples.
This week’s topic continues on in the spirit of home cooking: Best frozen foods. This is anything you purchase frozen, not something you buy fresh and freeze for later—otherwise, we’d just be listing 15 different types of frozen candy bar, obviously. Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Allison Robicelli, Marnie Shure, and Aimee Levitt. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Now, on to the freezer aisle.
Marnie Shure: Well, I think we can conclude from the results of the last draft that folks really like Italian food. But you know what? I stick to my choices of hot sauce and beans.
Allison Robicelli: Damn! Look at me go! That’s two drafts in a row for me. I’ll try to do a half-assed job this time.
Aimee Levitt: And I stick to mine. I cannot live without flour and sugar.
Allison: We all had good choices. It would be a sad world if we were only limited to five things.
Marnie: That’ll be doubly true for this draft, in which our frozen food choices might not comprise a balanced meal, but will be debated on merits of tastiness and necessity.
Allison, kick us off!
Allison: Wow! I have never gone first before! I wasn’t ready for this.
Marnie: Oh good, that might scare you into a bad first pick!
Allison: Well, my first pick is ice cream, so guess again. I was preparing myself to not get this pick, because I knew it was going to go first, and now I kinda don’t know what to do with myself. This is highly disorienting.
But, yeah, half my freezer is full of ice cream right now.
Aimee: I never should’ve asked whether ice cream counts before we started this draft.
Allison: Like I wasn’t thinking ice cream during the pregame!
Marnie: We gave up our heaviest hitter!
Allison: Seriously, if my freezer wasn’t such a disaster I’d show you: 50% ice cream, easily.
Marnie: I will say that a point AGAINST ice cream is that I get tired of it, and can only eat it about four months of the year because I’m too cold the rest of the time.
Allison: You can wear a sweater, Marnie.
Marnie: It’s a soul-deep cold.
Aimee: That’s how we all feel right now.
Allison: Ice cream is one of those things that I’ve driven two hours for. When you find a good ice cream shop, you don’t care about gas and tolls.
Aimee: You don’t?
Marnie: But we’re talking freezer aisle stuff. That’s an important consideration.
Allison: True. But I’ll still give it up for Ben & Jerry’s. There’s always a lot of good ice cream brands!
You can reference our Ice Cream Draft from a few months ago to fully understand my feelings.
Marnie: Well, it’s a solid first pick. And the only thing that can up the ante is if I steal another great behemoth from the frozen foods aisle: frozen pizza
Marnie: It’s a lot like ice cream in that there’s lots of variation between brands, but the very worst frozen pizza is still going to be a boon to your kitchen stockpile.
Its greatest strength: it’s a a get-out-of-jail-free card when you don’t want to cook
Aimee: It’s excellent to have in a pinch, when you’re super hungry and can barely stand to wait 10 minutes.
Marnie: Yes, and when doing dishes sounds like hell
Allison: As someone who was born in Brooklyn, I have always found frozen pizza to be a shanda. But in the past few years, it’s really grown on me. There are some really good ones hitting the shelves now.
I have fed my kids so many frozen pizzas because I just couldn’t deal with them anymore.
Marnie: I’ll be honest, I don’t even like a whole lot of frozen pizzas. They never excite me. But I still always have them in my freezer.
Aimee: Last time I made frozen pizza, I broke the dish, which made it even better.
Marnie: Powerful pizza!
Aimee: When I lived far from Chicago, I was always happy when people sent me Lou Malnati’s frozen pizzas. Those were delicious.
Allison: There’s something to be said about the crappiness of frozen pizza, too, which is pretty delightful. Like, you don’t always want good pizza.
Aimee: I was going to pick both ice cream and pizza! Okay, I’m taking a deep breath. Going to regroup now.
Aimee: This is one of those drafts where there’s great picks up front, and then it’s going to go to hell pretty rapidly.
Aimee: I choose Trader Joe’s frozen Indian food. It’s really good!
Marnie: You came out swinging
Allison: I have never had Trader Joe’s frozen Indian food!
I still do not “get” Trader Joe’s. But I’ll try this Indian food if you swear by it
Marnie: Which items are best?
Aimee: I like the korma fish curry, which sounds disgusting, but it makes me so happy.
When I had a Trader Joe’s right in the middle of my commute, that was pretty much all I ate for lunch.
Marnie: Trader Joe’s makes the most sense when you’re buying frozen and premade stuff
Allison: I would never actually make korma fish curry for myself so having something that good available frozen is pretty tempting.
Aimee: The butter chicken’s also good, but it takes longer to zap in the microwave, and if there’s a line, people start to hate you.
Marnie: That’s an important consideration.
Allison: Do you have to eat it with a bunch of other stuff you have to cook, or is it fine as is for a whole meal?
Aimee: It comes with a side of rice.
Marnie: That’s huge
Allison: What vegetables are in it? I hate it when they use crappy vegetables, like peppers. Peppers do not freeze well, no matter what anybody says.
Aimee: It doesn’t have vegetables, which is one of the reasons it’s so great.
It’s hard to get vegetables and meat and starch to all cook at the same rate, so they don’t even bother.
Allison: Screw vegetables!
Aimee: My next pick is frozen potatoes. Particularly tater tots.
Tater tots are the right shape so when you cook them they get crispy instead of mushy.
Marnie: GREAT PICK WOW
That was the first thing I stocked up on in the current.....situation
Allison: Brilliant pick. I like tater tots because they’re more exciting than fries. Not better, but more exciting.
Aimee: I love them because you can put cheese and sour cream on them and it’s like nachos.
Marnie: So much more dimension and topography
Aimee: Yes. I also enjoyed them when they were on top of hot dish.
Allison: Like you’re used to going out to eat and being told you get a side of fries. But when you’re told you can have fries or tater tots? I mean, that’s a huge freaking deal.
You can also throw tater tots into someone else’s mouth really easily, which you can’t do with many cuts of fries.
They’re the ping pong balls of potatoes. It’s a food AND an activity.
Aimee: Why would you want to waste a good tater tot like that?
Marnie: Yeah, I’m with Aimee; I’d rather throw something less valuable, like a peanut
Allison: I think it’s easier to choke on a peanut! I think with Tater Tots at least some air could get through so you don’t die.
Tater tots are also the safest potato to eat. So that should give it more points.
Marnie: The idea is to make sure our opponents have FEWER points
Allison: Yes, but I can respect Aimee’s pick and the number of levels it works on. I shall never disparage tater tots.
Sweet potato tots can go fuck themselves, tho.
Marnie: I will probably earn no votes with my next pick, but I am drafting it for utilitarian reasons: green beans
Allison: Yes, zero votes. That is correct.
Aimee: That’s a better utilitarian vegetable than peas, though. And you can use it like an ice pack.
Marnie: When you cook them into a stir-fry or whatever else, they’re so nice and crisp. You truly can’t tell they were frozen!
Allison: NO! NO! NO! They are slimy and gross.
Marnie: CANNED green beans are the slimy ones. The differential between frozen green beans and canned green beans is so vast as to be taxonomically distinct.
Frozen ones integrate well into any dish
Allison: I refuse to acknowledge the very existence of canned green beans.
They’re sort of an olive drab color. Frozen ones are nice and verdant.
Allison: Frozen green beans, I shall try at your recommendation. Though tbh I’m not crazy about green beans, but I’ll still try.
Aimee: As long as you can disguise them, I guess it’s okay.
Marnie: Yeah they’re not going to sit plain as a side dish. But as a supporting vegetable, absolutely
Allison: Now I can’t stop thinking about how anybody ever found canned green beans acceptable. Like they tried them and were like “These are good. We should eat these regularly”
Aimee: Well, canned food came before frozen, so... maybe that was the only way to get green beans out of season for a long time?
Marnie: We’ll do a Best Canned Foods draft just to make sure we exclude them.
Aimee: Maybe they prevented scurvy?
Allison: I’m going to try to snap out of it with my next pick...Hot Pockets. Solely because I now feel like I have a moral obligation to pick them.
If I don’t pick Hot Pockets, I’ll hear about it in the comments.
Marnie: That’s never a good reason to do anything, but I’ll allow it
Allison: Hot Pockets are fun just to think about.
Aimee: Thinking? or flashbacks?
Allison: I think of it more like a cultural delight. As for the flashbacks, you can’t be haunted by what your brain has blocked out.
Marnie: Do you consider them a valuable addition to your freezer, though? The portion size doesn’t make any sense to me. Too big for a snack, too small for a meal.
Allison: I think Hot Pockets are just the right amount of Hot Pocket. They’re not a snack or a meal. They’re a Hot Pocket for Hot Pocket Time.
Marnie: Dogmatic, but fair
Aimee: The fourth meal.
Allison: Exactly. If there was more Hot Pocket, it would be bad. If there were less, it would be a pizza roll.
But I shall not pick pizza rolls for my next pick, because they do nothing for me. Frozen White Castles sure as hell do, though.
Marnie: Their biggest asset is also their greatest failing: they taste identical to the ones you get at White Castle.
Aimee: That’s very diplomatic of you.
Allison: As you may know, I have a very deep relationship with White Castle. I had them cater my wedding. I was nominated for a James Beard award for writing about them. They have played a huge part in my marriage.
Marnie: But that doesn’t mean you want your house to smell like them
That’s why we have dine-in White Castle locations
To sequester the odor
Allison: Um, it means I ABSOLUTELY want my house to smell like them. I mean, c’mon. It’s what you crave.
Now that I live in a White Castle-less state, I understand their importance.
Aimee: I have never craved a White Castle. But I respect your right to eat them and stink up your own house.
Allison: I’m not the one microwaving fish.
Marnie, you’re up!
Marnie: I guess I’ll take up the “impractical fun party time sleepover feel good food” torch with Bagel Bites
I like these for exactly one reason: the weird-ass texture of the bagel.
Aimee: A bite is not a bagel!
Marnie: Whether you microwave or oven-toast them, they have a gooey, glutinous top and a hard, plasticky bottom.
It’s like you’re getting an ombre textural experience.
Allison: Yes! It’s not a “real” bagel, but whatever it is, it’s damn tasty.
They need to be microwaved. I’m not waiting 20-25 minutes for Bagel Bites.
Aimee: If it’s sleepover food, you’ve got plenty of other things to distract you while you wait for these.
Marnie: The oven keeps the bagel a little more malleable, too.
And then, of course, the tiny sausages are each a feat of engineering.
Aimee: I have to admit, I’ve never had one.
Marnie: Aimee, we should film you eating Bagel Bites for the first time.
Aimee: Will it change my life? I am prepared for my life to be changed.
Allison: We should all do that. I’ll eat Chef Boyardee for the first time. What can we make Marnie eat?
Marnie: Your life will change in exactly one way: You’ll rue not selecting them for your draft!
Aimee: Very true. Instead, I am selecting shrimp!
Allison: That’s a damn good choice.
Sometimes Harris Teeter runs a buy 2, get 3 free sale on shrimp, and it forces me to eat all my ice cream so I can fill the freezer with shrimp.
Aimee: A shrimp sale is a thing to be cherished.
Marnie: What do you make with your frozen shrimp??
Aimee: Oh, all sorts of things! I saute them with garlic and olive oil. I put them in butter chicken sauce (without the chicken, obviously). I wasted some on shrimp wiggle, which I would never do again.
Allison: Goddamn shrimp wiggle.
Aimee: They’re great with pasta and in stir fries and curries.
Allison: They’re a 15-minute dinner most nights. They’re stupid easy to cook.
Or you can make them a production like the shrimp croquette thing I did.
But really, you don’t have to do too much to shrimp to make it taste good.
Aimee: It’s true.
Marnie: There are folks who decry frozen shrimp, which might ding you in the votes, but I respect this choice
Aimee: If I didn’t live in the Midwest, I might feel differently. But I do, so I eat the shrimp I can get.
Allison: I only buy frozen shrimp. A lot of the “fresh” shrimp at the market has been chemically treated, or it came frozen and was thawed.
I’m also fine with frozen precooked shrimp. Instant shrimp cocktail!
Aimee: My next pick is chicken nuggets. Even though they don’t taste right baked in the oven, they’re better than nothing. Or maybe there’s part of me that’s still four years old.
Marnie: Be honest: do you get the Tyson dinos
Allison: I know I sound like a broken record, but chicken nuggets in the air fryer are fantastic. It’s just a tiny convection oven, so it’s brilliant at reheating frozen foods.
Marnie: Dino nuggets earn 10,000 points in my heart
Allison: I like biting the heads off the dinos and then making them fight each other.
Marnie: I haven’t purchased them in years, but I have to think they’re as versatile a protein as frozen shrimp, no?
Toss THOSE with any sauce, saute them in garlic and olive oil.......right?
Aimee: There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.
Garlic and olive oil can only improve them.
Allison: Chicken nugget parmesan is no slouch next to shrimp parm.
Marnie: Ack, I’m seriously reaching for my next pick. But I’m going to go with frozen raspberries.
Allison: You keep making such responsible choices.
Aimee: Why raspberries over any other berry?
Marnie: GLAD YOU ASKED
So, trying to find good fresh raspberries at the grocery store monumentally sucks.
When you do, they start molding in the box on the walk home from the grocery store.
Freezing keeps them at their best point of ripeness until such time as I can actually use them.
Aimee: That makes sense.
Marnie: And it actually adds something to smoothies, etc., because the water content introduced by the freezing process adds a little texture to the final product.
Aimee: Ah-ha! I’ve never thought of that, but I also don’t make smoothies.
Allison: I usually just eat fresh raspberries on their own. If I’m baking or using in a dish, I’ll use frozen.
Frozen berries are consistently perfect. Fresh berries are a crapshoot.
Marnie: They’re just sturdier and less delicate.
Aimee: Yes, it’s really hard taking care of berries. The bottom layer in the container always gets moldy. It makes me sad.
Especially because the good ones from farmers markets cost a fortune.
Allison: Berries are like avocados: if they’re good the day you’re bringing them home, you eat them on the day you’re bringing them home.
Marnie: Fourth pick, Allison?
Allison: My fourth pick is something I restrain myself from buying, even though I always want to... Toaster Strudel
Pop Tarts are hot garbage next to Toaster Strudel.
Marnie: I can’t imagine anyone disagrees with that
Aimee: I cannot think of toaster strudel without thinking of the movie Mean Girls.
Allison: And fun fact: the Toaster Strudel is turning 35 this year. So happy birthday, Toaster Strudel.
Aimee: It can run for President!
Marnie: It has my vote
Allison: I also love the fact that I get to add my own frosting. That feels like a big responsibility when you’re 7 years old. Or in your 30s.
Marnie: I also never allow myself to buy these, but I do lack a toaster. That helps curb temptation.
Aimee: Wait. You don’t have a toaster?
Marnie: Nah, I don’t have the space
Allison: I don’t have a toaster either! Didn’t have enough counterspace. I use the broiler on my oven if I need toast.
And now, for my fifth and final pick... Nathan’s French Fries
They’re one of those beautiful foods that do not exist anywhere outside of Nathan’s, which is one of those restaurants that’s a big deal for me. I grew up about 20 minutes from the original one.
Nathan’s fries are what happens if a fry and a knish have sex
Marnie: Are we talking crinkle-cut?
Allison: It’s like crinkle cut, but thicker and unpeeled.
They are good with all condiments, but unlike many other fries, they are excellent with brown deli mustard.
Marnie: I’ll echo that “huh.” They look nice and crispy
Allison: They also make amazing hash browns and fritatas.
When I was a kid I got to go on a school trip to Nathan’s and worked the French fry press. They’re all frozen now, but they taste the same as the ones I had that day.
Marnie: I wanna work a fry press!
Okay, I’m going to match the specificity of Allison’s final pick with my own. Mini Eggo Cinnamon Toast Waffles. When I think of freezer delicacies, nothing taps into my appetite and my sense of nostalgia like these babies.
And I think you have to specify “Eggo,” because nothing else is going to give you that custardy center.
Allison: I love Eggo waffles, but have never had cinnamon toast ones!
Aimee: That sounds amazing, like everything good about a sweet breakfast in one food.
Marnie: That’s exactly right. The cinnamon sugar is a dominant flavor, but so is the… batter?
And the dots of cinnamon create little magma-like hot spots in the waffle
Oh man. I need to send you each a box of these.
Aimee: I’m so hungry right now.
Allison: I also like that they’re mini waffles, which are far superior to regular-sized waffles.
Marnie: Take us home, Aimee!
Aimee: Oh, this is tough! I think I will have to go with the whole line of Trader Joe’s proof-and-bake pastries. I swear I am not a shill for TJ’s, but the pain au chocolat and kouign amann are so good!
Allison: Never had either of these! I wonder what it’s going to take to make me fall in love with Trader Joe’s.
Marnie: They have a pain au chocolat???
Aimee: They do! Or they did at one point.
Allison: I rarely make laminated pastries at home, so this is exciting to me.
Marnie: The proofing step feels like the perfect bridge between folks who want to do a little cooking and those who want to do none. Just like the Jell-O recipes of yore!
Aimee: Just like!
If I lived, say, in Paris and could stroll to the boulangerie every morning, these would be completely unnecessary. But I don’t. And I don’t live near a bakery. So these will have to suffice.
I guess that’s the whole point of frozen food.
Marnie: Talk about a thing I DO want my kitchen to smell like.
Sorry, White Castle sliders.