By Kara Kimbrough
I can’t begin my annual list of favorite supermarket products of the previous year without urging everyone to shop locally for food. As an employer of thousands of Mississippians and boost to local economies, schools and organizations, locally owned and national supermarket chains need our support now more than ever. Ordering groceries online (I'm not including those prohibited from getting out) from companies that have no presence in our state might be an occasional necessity. But, let’s do our part to shop locally for food whenever possible.
Without further ado, my favorite new (and recently discovered) food items of 2021 include:
1. Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits – finding the frozen version of the seafood chain’s popular (and unbelievably tasty) biscuits in the freezer case got 2021 off to a great start. It’s not the healthiest item, but who among us hasn’t needed the comfort of a biscuit to ward off the after-effects of a bad day? Yes, it’s easy to make (recipes abound online) but popping a pan of the ready-made version in the oven simplifies the process.
2. Amy’s Vegan Broccoli & Cheeze Bake - A popular casserole has been reinvented by the innovative company, a transformation resulting in a vegan version that’s gluten, dairy, lactose, and tree nut free.
3. Snyder’s Twisted Pretzel Sticks - My favorite snack (ok, addiction), potato chips, are not the healthiest snack. However, I’ve found a solution to provide a similar crunchy, salty experience in a healthier way.
4. Cheez-It Snap’d Crackers - Also new in the snack aisle is this crispy, “snappable” cracker. Like #3, it's more reminiscent of a potato chip than the original Cheez-It cracker.
5. Town House Black Pepper Dipping Thins – Another winner in the crisp division is this paddle-shaped cracker that plays nicely with dips and spreads.
6. Ortega Mini Taco Slider Shells – Speaking of crispy, these smaller versions of regular taco shells are perfect for kids, scaled-down adult meals and appetizers when filled with your favorite Tex-Mex ingredients.
7. Bird’s Eye Sheet Pan Meals – In the freezer case, meals have never been simpler than grabbing a bag filled with everything needed for a complete meal, including meat and seasoned vegetables. My favorite is the Italian featuring sausage, seasoned roasted potatoes, sliced red and yellow peppers and green beans.
8. Nilla Pieces and Banana Pudding – It's almost sacrilegious to eat this Southern delicacy from a small plastic cup, but any qualms evaporate after sampling this tasty treat. Found in the dairy case, the single servings of banana pudding come with bits of Nilla wafers to spread on top. It’s a surprisingly good facsimile of your grandmother’s version.
9. Orville Redenbacher’s Made with Avocado Oil – Ending on a somewhat healthy note is easy courtesy of the popcorn guru who came up with a formula of microwave popcorn that’s least greasy without losing the buttery taste. If I’m not mistaken, it’s lower in fat, making it a delicious snack without the guilt.
10. My favorite food find of the year was one I consider to be a game-changer in the world of frozen pizza. Like most of us, grabbing one from the freezer case to pop in the oven is an occasional necessity, but the cardboard-tasting crust on many of them always left a little something to be desired. All that has changed with the launch of DiGiorno Croissant Crust Pizza. All the gooey goodness of cheeses, sauce and meat is supported by a light, flaky, buttery crust that takes frozen pizza to a new stratosphere. I'm not sure I can ever go back to any other variety after sampling this innovative creation.
Last, I'm still reminiscing about a 2021 trip to New York City. If you'd like my travel trips and restaurant recommendations in the Big Apple, drop me an email and I'll be happy to share. Sharing a pasta recipe from the northern state known for its outstanding Italian cuisine seems appropriate. Here's to a wonderful 2022!
New York-Inspired Pasta Bake
1 pound spaghetti
¼ cup butter
2 eggs, beaten separately
1 (16-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 links Italian sausage, cooked and sliced
1 (28-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce or equal amounts homemade
Cook spaghetti a little less than normal. Drain, add butter and one of the beaten eggs. Mix. Divide in two; put in 2 greased pie pans, lining the pan, coming up the sides. Mix ricotta, spinach, garlic powder, mozzarella and the other egg. Mix sausage and spaghetti sauce. Spread a layer of cheese/spinach mixture, then sausage, topping with grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. Let set 10-15 minutes before slicing. Serves 6-8 people.
Recipe adapted from “What’s Cooking at Stony Brook Cookbook” in “Best of the Best from New York Cookbook.” By Quail Ridge Press.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.