Sunday, May 15, 2016

Casa Mamita Fiesta Bake (Aldi)

A frozen Mexican entree that is actually pretty good.
There’s really only one thing that Aldi stores have to do to get me to buy something I normally wouldn’t go anywhere near:  Put it on sale.  There’s nothing quite like the excitement of looking around the store for red tags, then seeing what each one pertains to.

Enter Casa Mamita’s Fiesta Bake, a rather unappetizing-looking blend of cheese, rice, and just about anything else that can be considered “Mexican”.  I’ve passed up this entrĂ©e probably at least two dozen times over the years, without even a slight interest in purchasing it.  Until I happened to come across it when it had a red tag.  Even though the markdown was rather insignificant (from $7.99 down to $5.99, if I remember correctly), I figured that it would feed us for at least a couple nights, making it somewhere around $1.50 per serving, per person.  And who can argue with numbers like that?

After following the oven cooking directions to a “T”, which consist of putting it in the oven for a mind-boggling SEVENTY minutes, it came out way too soupy.  So I put it back in for another ten.  It was finally starting to bake, and “solidify” a bit more, but I was so hungry, I took it out of the oven and decided to eat it while it was a little softer than it was supposed to be.  I mention this because you might want to allot a few more minutes when preparing this, as it probably would have required closer to 90 minutes for it to get that proper cooked texture.

So after eighty minutes, dinner was finally served…in a bowl, its chunks of rice and corn surrounded in a brown “broth” more than slightly resembling vomit.  But hey, I figured as gross as it looked, it would still taste the same, so who really cares?  I added a little dollop of sour cream for some added flavor, and dove right in…

Even though I’m not a fan of rice in any capacity, I have to say that this was surprisingly delicious.  Not, “this is something I’m going to eat several times a year” delicious, but given its unhealthy-looking texture, it was a lot better than I was expecting it to be.  The rice combines with meat, cheddar cheese sauce (my favorite), peppers, and corn to form a delicious Mex-American taste that’s actually a notch or two above Taco Bell (granted, dumpster diving will get you something better than Taco Bell).  It’s certainly not an original casserole, but it’s something that’s a little different than, say, macaroni and cheese, or tacos.

My biggest complaint is the tortilla strip topping, which didn’t cook up very crispy in our oven.  Though the flavor was fine, there’s just something a little unappetizing about chewing on soggy tortilla strips, so that part didn’t win me over.  Besides, adding tortilla strips on everything considered “Mexican” seems to be a fad that I’m really hoping dies down soon.  I get it in some applications (I mean, tortilla soup wouldn’t be the same without it), but nowadays it just seems like it’s used simply to make Americanized Mexican dishes appear more “authentic”.  I highly doubt Mexicans put tortilla strips on everything, if they even use them at all.  Without that, this would have been even better.

Overall: 7/10. The tortilla topping stays soggy, which isn’t really all that appealing (or necessary), but the rest of this dish is actually quite good.  It’s got cheese, rice, meat, and tortilla strips coming together to form the kind of Mex-American taste that you would expect; I’m sure it’s far from authentic, but it’s about on par with what you would get at a popular “Mexican” fast food joint, and for a pretty good price, too.  A bit of caution: Even after 70 minutes in the oven (the recommended cooking time), it was still soupy and not quite ready, and we even have a newer oven.  So you may want to set aside some extra prep time, just in case.

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