Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Could it be? A steamer product she doesn't like??

It might seem as though I’m a sucker committed entirely to any “steamer” meal Healthy Choice or Marie Callendar can offer me.  Well, I’ve found one that is not a favorite, proving that I may not be as much of a sucker as you think I am!

The meal of which I am speaking is Healthy Choice Café Steamers Chicken Pad Thai.  Now, I love pad thai, as a general rule.  But this meal doesn’t taste like what I expect pad thai to taste like; it tastes of more ginger, basil, and curry and no peanut flavor.  This experience caused me to second-guess my expectations of pad thai, which led to my search for pad thai recipes online.  What I learned was: a) pad thai does include peanuts and b) I am happy to just let the frozen food companies and Thai restaurants make pad thai for me – don’t think I’ll be cooking it anytime soon!  So many specialty items that could only be found in an Asian grocery store! 

In addition to the flavor, another unexpected, unwelcome element to this chicken pad thai is the type of pasta.  On the ingredient listing on the package, the pasta is identified as linguini, and this pasta definitely does have a thick, linguini texture to it.  It seemed to me like pad thai noodles are usually thinner and perhaps even glassy.  A quick glance through some of the online pad thai recipes indicated that the pasta generally used in pad thai is identified as “rice stick noodles” or “Thai rice noodles.”  I would certainly frefer the Asian noodles over the linguini. 

So there you have it.  My first not-so-favorable review of a steamer product. 

Calories:  270
Fat:  3.5 g
Sodium:  540 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  40% Vitamin A / 35% Folic Acid
Notes on cooking:  one 3 ½ - 4 ½ minute single shot
Notes on packaging:  clear bowl and colander, reusable/recyclable

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another complaint about pasta types in frozen meals

Today’s meal is the Smart Ones Angel Hair Marinara.  My problem with the experience of this meal is that it got cold quickly.  Usually this is not a worry from those of us eating on-the-go and yet sometimes I get caught up in some project while I am eating and the meal getting cold becomes *exactly* the worry.  I believe the problem with this meal becoming cold so quickly is because of just how thin the angel hair pasta is.  I seem to recall having this kind of problem with other pasta offerings in the past.  It’s as if there just isn’t enough density to the pasta for it to hold the heat for a sufficient period of time.  I have no idea if there’s any actual science to this; it is just my observation and recollection. 

The pasta is tossed with marinara sauce, spinach, and yellow and green zucchini.  All in all, very healthy but not particularly flavorful.  However, it is the heating problem that will prevent me from purchasing this meal again in the future.

Calories:  230
Fat:  4 g
Sodium:  640 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  15% Vitamin A / 10% Iron
Notes on cooking:  3 minutes, stir, 1 minute more
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable

Monday, December 6, 2010

I will buy this one again!

This meal, the Healthy Choice Ravioli Florentine Marinara, was delicious, starting with the delightful pillows of spinach-stuffed ravioli.  I have lamented in the past about ravioli not always cooking well in frozen meals.  Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the squared-off corners of most ravioli varieties, which have a tendency to become tough due to overcooking.  This product has rounded ravioli, and it cooked quite well. 

The marinara sauce has both visible spinach and onions in addition to tomatoes; it has a distinct, better-than-your-typical-frozen-meal flavor.  I was surprised to read that the meal only provides 15% of RDA Vitamin A and no other vitamin mentionables, and yet is said to provide 30% of your daily vegetables.  I sense some nutritional research is in my future in order to better understand the nutritional content of these meals and to better plan my daily diet to best include these meals. 

All in all, this was a great meal, and at only 230 calories, I will definitely be buying this one again. 

Calories:  230
Fat:  4 g
Sodium:  540 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  20% Calcium / 50% Manganese / 30% Selenium (What *are* these two things?  I don’t have time to investigate right now!)
Notes on cooking:  2 minutes, stir, 1 ½ - 2 ½ minutes more
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Office Microwave Etiquette

Last week, I cleaned the office microwave.  If you’ve ever worked in an office, been to an office, or merely observed office life on television, you have some idea about the importance of – and potential problems caused by – sharing an office microwave. 

I first came to work here ten years ago next month.  We have had the same microwave the entire time, and it is a dinosaur.  There is a property tag on the microwave indicating property of the institution name that pre-dates our current institution name - and we’ve had the current name for 15 years.  But I believe the giant Kenmore microwave is even much older than that.  There is no “popcorn” button and I’m pretty sure no one had even thought of a “popcorn” button at the time this machine came out of the factory.

About five years ago, I left my employment here for fourteen months.  At least one fellow employee is pretty sure that no one cleaned the microwave while I was gone.  Eww. 

There is much to be said of office microwave etiquette.  Perhaps the most succinct listing of such etiquette is here

And if individuals in your office are in need of some serious microwave etiquette overhaul, perhaps G.Neil’s “Microwave Do’s & Don’ts” sign will do the trick.  Personally, I think it’s more fun when bad behavior continues until the neat freak in the office can’t stand it anymore and explodes with a series of “your mother doesn’t work here” emails and posted 48-pt. font signs.  Sometimes I’m the neat freak and sometimes I’m not.  

A good, solid vegetarian meal

Today’s meal is the Lean Cuisine Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans.  This is a solid, moderately filling meal that I have enjoyed before.  There’s nothing particularly special about it but nothing particularly offensive either; I tend to gravitate toward meals containing beans and this one contains both black beans and pinto beans.  At the Lean Cuisine website, I noticed that one reviewer suggested a few spoonfuls of salsa be added to this meal to add flavor; I think that’s an excellent suggestion that I may try next time. 

Since we’re talking about microwave etiquette today, it is worth noting that this meal takes six minutes to cook.  At first thought, it seems like six minutes is a ridiculously long amount of time to consume the office microwave, but when you think about the fact that many dinners *do* consume the microwave for this amount of time, it’s just in smaller increments with stirring in between, then six minutes doesn’t seem so bad anymore. 

Calories:  290
Fat:  5 g
Sodium:  590 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  20% Calcium
Notes on cooking:  6 minutes - yes, 6 whole minutes – but in a single shot
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A fruit meal that doesn't measure up

Those who have become faithful readers of this blog will be able to immediately guess why the Smart Ones Fruit Inspirations’ Orange Sesame Chicken might get high marks from me.  I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it…Can you guess?...If you answered “because there’s fruit in it,” you are correct!  I’m a big fan of fruit in my frozen meals.  Fruit seems to raise the nutritional value and usually help counteract the saltiness of the meal.

However, the fruit in this meal is not a dominant enough flavor.  Though mandarin oranges are listed as the third ingredient (after rice and chicken), their flavor doesn’t seem to press through strongly enough.  Also, this meal includes one of my *least favorite* frozen meal elements: breaded chicken.  For the most part, breaded chicken just never seems to withstand microwaving and remain respectable, and the chicken in this meal proved to be no exception. 

This meal was so salty that I HAD to take a bite of chocolate immediately afterwards.  It won’t be on my “buy again” list anytime soon.    

This being the first Smart Ones meal that I have reviewed, I was surprised to find the packaging woefully lacking information.  Sure, the required nutrition facts were present, and a text box about Weight Watchers offered some details on the program’s point system, but compared to the helpful information generally contained on a Healthy Choice package, this Smart Ones packaging was disappointing. 

Calories:  320
Fat:  8 g
Sodium:  680 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  45% Vitamin C
Notes on cooking:  3 minutes, stir, 1 additional minute
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Worth it for the dessert

Today’s meal is the Healthy Choice Chicken Parmigiana.  It is in another one of those Old School compartmentalized trays.  Additionally, my meal had another endearing element to it; one broccoli floweret (the side dish) had made its way into the dessert compartment and since it was frozen, could not be removed until the cooking was completed.  As a child, this kind of contamination of one food by another was frustrating, but as an adult, I find it rather endearing to remember how it used to be so incredibly disappointing.

I find that I must start by mentioning the dessert in this meal.  The dessert is identified as “caramel apple multigrain crisp” and it is awesome.  I would be willing to buy this meal again solely for the few bites of dessert. I am smiling now as I reminisce about it…

Moving to the side dish, I found that the broccoli cooked remarkably well, but as it was only vegetables, without any sauce or seasoning, it was woefully in need of salt.  Of course, frozen meals already contain a large amount of sodium, so there is always a question about whether or not one should add additional salt. I found the meal much more enjoyable with the addition of the salt.

Finally, let’s take a look at the main course.  I have lamented about breaded chicken in past posts (breaded chicken seems particularly incompetent at withstanding the rigors of the microwave), but I think the particular breading and non-fried expectation of chicken parmigiana makes for an exception.  It was really pretty good chicken, and the accompanying pasta and tomato sauce complimented it nicely.  The burning question for me was how I was supposed to stir the pasta in the middle of the cooking cycle since it was underneath the slab of chicken???  Not to be overly dramatic about it, but with instructions like that, there is always the possibility of accidently slinging a portion of an already-small meal outside of its tray.  Wouldn’t that be particularly disappointing and frustrating?   

Calories:  350
Fat:  10 g
Sodium:  580 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  50% Vitamin C / 25% Manganese (what the heck is that?)
Notes on cooking:  3 minutes, stir pasta and rotate chicken, 2 ½ - 3 ½ more minutes
Notes on packaging:  black compartmentalized tray, recyclable

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

High hopes and disappointing return on a fall-flavored meal

On the menu today is the Healthy Choice Pumpkin Squash Ravioli.  As a general rule, I love the vegetarian meals that are pumped full of interesting vegetables.  I hadn’t tried this one previously, so I was oddly excited about it since pumpkin, squash, and asparagus are among my favorite cooked vegetables.  Plus, while there is no indication that the meal is only available seasonally, its flavors and colors are clearly indicative of autumn, and here in early November, the brisk scent of fall in the air is a welcome presence. 

Sadly, I was disappointed.  The pasta was very tough; I think I’ve stated previously that I believe ravioli to be particularly difficult pasta for a frozen meal to tackle.  Both the pumpkin inside the ravioli as well as the butternut squash were simply not flavorful and the texture of the squash was positively awful; I’m sure I was making a terrible face while I ate it.

On the bright side, the asparagus was just the right texture, flavor, and firmness, and I wish there had been more of it.  I was also surprised to discover a few welcome bites of apple, which hadn’t been particularly indicated on the box, only listed in the ingredients. 

For as many vegetables as this meal contained, I was surprised to read on the packaging that it was only the equivalent of 20% of the RDA of vegetables.  I would have expected more; without a larger percentage in this area, I can’t imagine why anyone would bother with this meal. 

Have no fear – other great, nutritious vegetarian options will be coming!

Calories:  300
Fat:  6 g
Sodium:  600 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  40% Vitamin A / 35% Folic Acid / 25% each Thiamine and Manganese
Notes on cooking:  2 ½ minutes, stir, 1 ½ - 2 minutes
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable

Friday, October 29, 2010

A note on the pricing of frozen meals

I am finding that the pricing of these meals is all relative.  Each time I walk into the grocery, some brand of frozen meals is on sale.  Watch those sales.  In order to maximize your spending, don’t have your heart set on a particular brand during a store visit, but know which meals you like from a variety of product lines and then buy whichever brands are cheapest during a particular trip to the store. 

So far, I have not spent more than $2.50 on any meal reviewed in this blog.  A few have been significantly cheaper than this, but $2.50 has been my top price, and most have seemed to land on or just under the $2.50 mark.  Judging from the price tags seen during my last few store visits, I should be able to maintain this top price and still have *plenty* of meals to review in the months to come.

Best chicken meat consumed so far

Today’s meal is the Healthy Choice Café Steamers Sweet Sesame Chicken.  This is a steamer in the same packaging style as my favorite Marie Callendar’s line; it cooks in a single shot, not even requiring the puncturing of the top film, and the bowl and colander are reusable or recyclable.  What was immediately notable about this meal was that instead of small chunks or strips of chicken (frequently the delivery method for chicken in a frozen meal), this meal contained just three fairly sizable pieces of chicken.  I believe it was the steaming cooking technology that gets credit for heating these sizable pieces sufficiently and for keeping the chicken moist and tender.  It really didn’t taste like chicken from a frozen meal!  I will have to eat more of this line to determine if the hefty-sized chunks of chicken are the norm or if it was just a fluke of this particular package.

I was less impressed, though not entirely disappointed, by the vegetables and the flavor of the meal overall.  The snow pea pods seem as though they’ve been intentionally flattened by an iron and they definitely have a “wet noodle” quality to them.  The carrots were fine.  The mushrooms were quite flavorful, though they were tiny, tiny button mushrooms (not sure I’d ever seen mushrooms that small before).  And in terms of flavor, the photo on the box clearly shows the meal swimming in sesame seeds, but I couldn’t identify any sesame seeds in my meal and the flavor of the sauce was not particularly distinctive, though not unpleasant. 

All in all, this was a good meal and I would buy it again just to enjoy the chicken again.  I noticed on the box that it represents 30% of the RDA of vegetables, so that even without too much in terms of vitamin content, it is still a pretty “healthy choice”. 

Calories:  340
Fat:  6 g / 0 g trans fat
Sodium:  330 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  40% Vitamin A / 25% Vitamin E / 20% each Niacin, Folic Acid, and Phosphorus
Notes on cooking:  4-5 minutes, single shot
Notes on packaging:  clear bowl and colander, reusable or recyclable

Monday, October 25, 2010

Frozen meals' nutritional report card

I have to tell you that I am woefully disappointed in the nutritional content of most frozen meals.  I am discovering more and more that “lean” does not necessarily equal “nutritional”.  Most meals can boast only mentionable percentages of one or two key vitamins.  That said, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  1. Take a multivitamin.  I don’t know that I need to say anything additional about this.  You know it’s a good idea.
  2. Consider thoughtfully how you will supplement your frozen meal.  Especially for those of us who consume our frozen meals for lunch at work, it is fairly unrealistic to think that we won’t need to eat anything else the remaining hours we work.  While the frozen meal may be good for giving us some calories, protein, and carbs, but may not suffice when it comes to nutrition, why not consider a piece of fruit?  What about some yogurt (again, preferably with fruit)?  Or my favorite from the past few days – some celery with peanut butter?  Yum, yum!  In addition to well-planned supplements providing you with additional needed nutrition, they might also prevent a 3 p.m. trip to the vending machine.
  3. You really should opt for the frozen meals that boast healthfulness.  I cannot even imagine the contents of those that do not claim at least “lean” or “healthy” and you likely won’t find me blogging about them.  Of course, these are marketing claims only; I will try to cut through the fat and call them like the contents read here on the blog.
  4. Consider your breakfast.  I know it doesn’t really have anything to do with this blog, but please eat breakfast.  You’ve been told by a million sources just how important it is.  In the past year or so I picked up a couple tidbits about breakfast that have stuck with me.  Unfortunately I don’t recollect the source of these tidbits, so take them with a grain of salt and/or look them up if you want to:  one tidbit was that sumo wrestlers do not eat breakfast because this helps them pour on the pounds later in the day.  The other was that if you ate a breakfast that contained *eggs*, you’d likely consume about 300 calories less over the course of the day than if you didn’t.  By consuming early in the day, you avoid some later-day mistakes! 

Have I mentioned fruit?

Yes, I believe I mentioned it in my last entry.  Fruit, I believe, is the nutritional saving grace of frozen meals.  Today's meal, the Healthy Choice Pineapple Chicken, contains 50% of the U.S. RDA of Vitamin A and 25% of Vitamin C.  I attribute it primarily to the pineapple, but it could also be the yummy addition of carrots and red peppers.  Additionally, this is a brown rice meal – kudos to the whole grain power of brown rice!  And there are only 190 mg of sodium, which seems amazingly low compared to what I’ve noted in other meals (560 mg in my most recent entry). 

Where this meal stumbles is in the chicken.  The chicken is defined in the ingredient list as “fried tempura fritter chicken breast chunks.”  Ew.  I’m just not sure that any kind of frozen and reheated tempura could ever be good, at least not when cooked in a microwave when it is already mixed with cooked vegetables, rice, and sauce.  Not a fan.  A few bites of it were tough and difficult to chew.  I believe there are better textured, better tasting meals of a similar recipe available and I intend to uncover them in the coming weeks.

Calories:  380
Fat:  7 g / 0 g trans fat
Sodium:  190 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  50% Vitamin A / 25% Vitamin C
Notes on cooking:  3 – 3 ½ minutes, single shot
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Compartmentalized Tray

Today’s meal is the Healthy Choice Roasted Monterey Chicken.  This is part of the “Complete Meals” line from Healthy Choice, and it is easy to understand why.  More than any other meal I’ve reviewed thus far, this reminded me of the TV dinners of my youth.  What I mean by that is that the entrée, side dish, and dessert were each compartmentalized in the (recyclable) tray and I got the distinct feeling that I was indeed consuming an *entire meal* and not just an entrée that would likely need supplementing in order to fill me up (note: the package weighs in at 11 oz.).  But also, I believe it reminded me of the TV dinners of twenty-five years ago because even though it was named “Chicken Monterey,” implying a flavorful, distinctive dish, I found the flavor of chicken, mushrooms, and rice pilaf in a cheese sauce to be rather unmemorable, leading me to feel like it could have been named “Baked Chicken,” as it probably would have been named twenty-five years ago. 

The vegetable side was a dry concoction of corn, black beans, poblano pepper, and cilantro, although you could have fooled me on the cilantro because it had absolutely no flavor.  One would have to actually add some salt to bring out some flavor in this side, and I think we’ll save the discussion about sodium and these frozen meals for another day. 

The peach dessert, which contained whole grain rolled oats, caught my attention.  I do love both peaches and rolled oats, so this made it a winner in my book.  It cooked well too.  Additionally, I am starting to suspect that the addition of fruit is what makes the difference between a frozen meal having absolutely no nutritional value and starting to be worthwhile.  This meal has 35% of the RDA of Vitamin C, and 15% of Vitamin B12.  So, that’s something…?

Calories:  320
Fat:  8 g / 0 g trans fat
Sodium:  560 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  35% Vitamin C / 40% Folic Acid / 15% Vitamin B12
Notes on cooking:  4 minutes, stir, 1-2 minutes more
Notes on packaging:  Old School compartmentalized tray, recyclable

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Introducing the addition of labels

As a result of a reader suggestion, I’m adding some labeling tags that will make these blog entries sortable in a way useful to all readers.  By selecting any of the labels listed to the right, you can pull up all reviews that have been labeled in a particular way; I've gone back and labeled previous entries.  As you have suggestions about improvement of this labeling, or additional labels that should be added, please let me know.  

Another Marie Callendar Steamer…yum!  

I think I’m in love with Marie Callendar’s Fresh Flavor Steamers.  So far, I think that if I could only have one line of frozen meals for the rest of my life, this would be the line I’d choose.  Of course, I base this gut reaction solely on flavor and overall experience with the meal.  In the final analysis, issues of nutrition and calories must be incorporated into the assessment of the product, and that’s when I get somewhat bummed about these meals.

I recently enjoyed the Fettuccini Chicken Balsamic for the first time. As with the previously reviewed Pasta al Dente Garlic Chicken, the cooking technology is impressive with satisfying, tasty results.  The balsamic taste is wonderful and offhand, I cannot think of another frozen product that boasts balsamic.  However, this product is somewhat lacking in vegetables, causing me to pay close attention to its nutritional labeling, suspecting that it might be lacking anything substantial in terms of vitamin and nutrient content.  Indeed, that proved to be correct.  The vegetables in this product are spinach and mushroom – a tasty combo, but not of enough volume to generate much nutritional content.  Fifteen percent of the RDA of iron and 10% of Vitamin E are the only nutritious elements it boasts.  

Despite my sadness at the lack of nutritional mentionables, there are other positives to this line of products, including this particular meal.  I love that the cooking takes place in one single 3 ½ - 4 ½ minute shot, not even requiring the puncture of the plastic wrap for venting, and the bowl and steaming colander are reusable and recyclable.  

Calories:  440
Fat:  18 g / 0 g trans fat
Sodium:  990 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  15% Iron, 10% Vitamin E
Notes on cooking:  One 3 ½ - 4 ½ minute shot
Notes on packaging:  the bowl and steaming colander are reusable and recyclable

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A poor meal in poor packaging

Today’s meal is the Michelina’s Lean Gormet Sweet & Sour Chicken with Rice.  Unfortunately, this meal lived up to the Chinese white rice meal stereotype; I was hungry again almost immediately upon completion of the meal.  The chicken is cut in tiny, tiny cubes, which might make it a good option for your grade school-aged child, but the small bites were not particularly appealing to this adult.  The vegetables were not particularly memorable, but as is often the case for me, the bites of pineapple added a welcomed dimension of flavor, though not as memorable in this meal as in others I have eaten. 

I realize it is a choice to be made, but I am somewhat puzzled by the use of white rice in this lean meal.  Health-conscious choices in the 21st century nearly always opt for brown rice, so much so that I’ve grown unaccustomed to eating white rice.  I never particularly cared for white rice even before today’s whole grain craze, and it certainly doesn’t appeal to me now that it’s almost non-existent in my diet.

What I really want to write about, though, is the packaging of this meal.  It frustrates me in more ways than one.  It is one of those cardboard boxes that the meal is right inside; you actually cook the cardboard box in the microwave.  Now, for those of you who are too busy or lazy to do any cleaning and recycling of your frozen meal packaging, this is probably *less* of a waste than most of the other products out there.  But for those of us who generally clean and recycle any plastic trays and accompanying cardboard boxes, this packaging is a real disappointment because this box cannot be cleaned and therefore cannot be recycled! 

Additionally – and here’s my real frustration – the meal instructions are on the bottom of the box.  Which goes into the microwave.  And then comes out of the microwave because I'm having a busy day and forget the instructions as soon as I stick it in.  So I look at the instructions again and try to commit them to memory.  But there are two rounds of cooking involved and I can’t retain the information that long.  So after the first few minutes of cooking, I have to pull the meal out and hold it up high so that I can look at the instructions again to know what needs to happen for the second round of cooking.  I simply don’t have time for this and I look ridiculous with the meal up higher than my eye level reading from an already-open box.  Sigh!  I know these may seem like ridiculous complaints, but there are a lot of meals out there, and I simply don’t have to put up with less-than-ideal circumstances, especially for a meal that is not particularly memorable.      

Calories:  330
Fat:  3 g / 0 g trans fat
Sodium:  640 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  30% Vitamin A, 20% Vitamin C
Notes on cooking:  I can’t even give you these since I had to throw the uncleanable box away, but I know it involved two rounds of cooking.
Notes on packaging:  Boo, boo, boo!!  See above!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fond Memories of TV Dinners

My mom cut this article out of PARADE magazine for me a couple weeks ago.  While it is about the TV dinners of old (heat in the oven in just 25 minutes – so simple and quick!) and the author’s childhood fondness of the TV dinner culture, one imagines that the sentiment could hold true for today’s frozen dinners, right?

Well, after I read the article and took a few moments to reflect fondly on my own childhood experiences with TV dinners, I considered the connection.  And there is definitely something lost in translation between the oven-cooked foil-packaged frozen TV dinners that became popular in the 1960s and the frozen meals of today.  In trying to put my finger on it, here’s what I’ve come up with:  it is generally not expected that you eat frozen meals *with* anyone.  Why is that?  Well, it seems as though oven-heated TV dinners could be cooked several at a time in the oven.  By contrast, most microwaves will only accommodate one frozen meal at a time and in the urgent, time-pressed world of 2010, most people simply don’t have time to cook two or more meals back-to-back in the microwave and wait for the second meal to finish cooking in order to enjoy the eating experience together.  Indeed, even when individuals at my office decide to eat lunch together, the experience that transpires is a constant rotation of microwave use and a standing and chatting while one person eats, generally finishing entirely before the other person’s meal has finished cooking. 

Is the missing collective enjoyment of frozen meals an indicator of greater ills in our society?  I certainly hope not, but only time will tell…if any of us have time to wait, that is. 

Do you have fond memories of TV dinners?  Please share them in your comments!

An old favorite of mine

I’ve been so busy trying new meals that I haven’t yet gone back to a favorite to write its review.  Today, though, my meal is an old favorite, Lean Cuisine’s Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Chicken.  Oh, how I love thee!  After pondering it for today’s writing, I believe I like it so much because of the following:

1)   Black olives.  Sure, there may not be many, but you can’t beat the magic of a bite of black olive.

2)   Tomato pesto sauce.  Frozen meals seem to do red sauce the best, but an endless parade of spaghetti-style tomato sauces is a bore.  This one has just enough of the sun-dried tomato flavor to make it interesting.

3)   Cavatappi pasta. There is something about this curly, hollow pasta that makes it a good size and shape for inclusion in a frozen meal – hearty, and never rubbery, in my experience.

4)   Just the right size. This is a lean meal that doesn’t leave me hungry an hour later. 

I have bought this meal again and again, and will continue to do so.  Here are some other details that might help you decide about whether it would be good for you:

Calories: 270
Fat: 9 grams
Notable good nutritional content:  Iron 15%, Vitamin C & A 10%
Notable bad nutritional content:  570 mg sodium
Notes about packaging: black tray, recyclable
Notes on cooking:  4 ½ minutes cooking with one stir after 3 minutes

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Food thermometers and your frozen meal

Let’s talk about frozen meals and food thermometers.  What?  Food thermometers??  Do I even own a food thermometer??  Well, according to many manufacturers’ cooking instructions, it seems as though internal temperature testing is a critical component of frozen food preparation.  Indeed, in the meal I just enjoyed, the final cooking instruction was: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by a food thermometer in several spots.”

Hmmm.  Read that again.  While still technically listed as an instruction, it is a passive statement that doesn’t make a demand of its reader.  It seems as though CYA tactics may be at work here.

But wait, this food has already been fully cooked, hasn’t it?  Well, yes.  But it seems as though a salmonella outbreak is still possible.  Earlier this year, the CDC reported that 30 people in 15 states became infected with an identical strain of Salmonella Chester, and many of the victims reported having eaten an identical Marie Callendar’s frozen meal in the week before they became ill. The CDC recommended testing frozen meals to assure that they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as a method to prevent Salmonella contamination. 

Do what you will with this information.  I’m considering a food thermometer for my pencil cup on my desk at work.  Maybe.  We’ll see. 

A frozen meal for the upper crust?

Today’s meal is the Healthy Choice Lobster Cheese Ravioli.  I believe it would only take one hand to count the number of times I’ve eaten lobster in my life.  Perhaps this is not an opinion held widely, but I sort of feel like lobster is a bit too rich for my blood.  So a frozen meal that contains lobster, albeit in a small, ground portion like in this ravioli, just *feels* sort of odd to me.  As I sat in my office, catching up on some emails from earlier in the day and pondering a financial spreadsheet, it just seemed like a weird thing to be eating. 

Lobster strangeness aside, there are several good things about this meal.  The sauce is a thin but tasty “vodka” sauce, according to the package; there’s a lot of it, which is good.  The yellow and green zucchini (is the word “zucchini” interchangeable with “squash”?  I’ve never been too sure…) developed the expected mushy consistency when it was heated, but the flavor was good.  The ravioli was somewhat tough; as a rule, it usually seems to me as though ravioli is often one of the tougher pastas out there, but it could also be that the circa 1977 microwave in the office contributed to the toughness (more on that microwave in a future post…). 

This meal is not particularly notable as a source of key nutrients; 20% of Calcium and Vitamin B12 are the only nutritional contents worth mentioning.  In the end, I don’t think I’d put this meal on a list of personal favorites, but it is good to know that there’s a frozen meal option with lobster meat, given the seemingly endless parade of chicken entrees.  

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Frozen meals - from passion to suicide (actually vice versa)

While I certainly don’t subscribe to the idea being mocked here, I do find this clip from The Onion about a frozen food company printing suicide prevention tips on its packaging as hilarious as Jim Gaffigan’s “Hot Pockets” bit.  It seems as though it’s a necessary addition to a blog about frozen meals. 

If the embedded video doesn't work in your browser (I've found that it doesn't in some), click the link below the embed to watch from The Onion's site.
However, I am of the opinion that it is not so much loneliness that causes the consumption of frozen meals, but the need for speed.  Many times I find that I don’t even have the time for the 4 ½ minutes in the microwave required by the product.  Many times, while facing an impending 1 p.m. meeting, I’ve postponed my microwave lunch until 3 p.m. or later, sometimes even ultimately eating while standing up.  More on this later…

The favorite brand in the office

In our office, it seems as though Lean Cuisine is the single-serving frozen meal brand of choice.  That being the case, I can’t believe it has taken me until now – my fourth entry – to write about a Lean Cuisine product.  Today’s meal is the Lean Cuisine Ginger Garlic Stir Fry with Chicken. 

I don’t believe I’d ever tried this product before.  Primarily, that’s because of the broccoli.  Broccoli and I generally don’t get along, though we were able to be civil to each other on this particular Tuesday.  The other vegetables and the chicken were also good – moderately flavorful and of a good consistency – and the ginger sauce was a bit more unique than some of the other Asian-inspired sauces found in frozen meals.  The noodles, however, left a little something to be desired.  I am not well-versed in Asian noodles, but these seemed rather thick and spaghetti-like and not very Asian by my taste.  They are whole wheat, though, and that nutrition should be worth extra points. 

When I went online to find the official company information about this product, I was amused to discover that the Lean Cuisine website gives consumers the opportunity to review products.  I clicked on the link to read the customer reviews.  Well!  APPARENTLY, this product used to have brown rice in place of the whole wheat noodles and let me tell you, there are some consumers out there who are quite unhappy about the change!  I can’t help but repost some of my most favorite comments on the topic:

I kept looking for my fav dish and I just realized today that the rice was replaced with noodles!! Whyyyyy? It tastes weird with the noodles.

Sad indeed to have a great product with the rice and flavor then to change it. Guess you lost two customers completely. Seems the powers that be don't listen. 

I'm so happy i'm not the only one here who thinks the rice version was way better. Please Lean Cuisine change it back if you love ur customers! Honestly the rice one was my favorite... I miss it A LOT

I was very disappointed when they switched the recipe from rice to pasta. The meal just isn't as good anymore. Bring back the rice!

Do you guys read the reviews that we take our time to write? It seems everyone is asking for the rice and you guys are still producing this. Was the rice that expensive? Please bring the rice back!!

I fear I don’t presently possess this level of passion for my frozen meals. I think that's fine, and it's probably fine for you too!