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 http://mypyramid.gov 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