Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archives for Prepared Food

10/6/09 | F&E Big Lasagna

[ Currently Eating: Ham and Egg Sand Witch ]

Big Lasagna Fresh and Easy - Cheap Eats at Bloglander


If I had one word to describe this Fresh & Easy “Big” Lasagna With Meat Sauce, it would be:


But of course, I have more than one word at my disposal here. Therefore, I will say this:

You might recall that I’m a big Fresh & Easy fanboy. It’s just really convenient, and surprisingly cheap depending on what you get. However, I’ve had oodles of problems with their noodles. I mean their pre-packaged meals, specifically anything that has noodles and tomato sauce.

Earlier, I ragged (ragu-ed?) on their Spaghetti. I think one cause of the problem is that I always try to get these noodle meals at the 1/2 off price. If you can snag them at that price, they’re extremely reasonable. But they only offer them at the price when they’re about to expire, so they’ve been sitting around for awhile. And when you let noodles in sauce like that sit for a long time, bad things happen.

Bad, gluey things.

Their “Big” Lasagna has the same problems as the spaghetti, but in fact it’s worse because of the layered nature of the lasagna. In their defense, I’m not sure how they’d solve this issue. I also haven’t really tried the spaghetti-type meals when they haven’t been sitting around for more than a couple days. Maybe they’re better when they’ve just been made.

Big Lasagna Fresh and Easy - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

In any case, I ain’t expecting high end gourmet lasagna, or even something approaching Marie Callender’s. Just something palatable. This is a large amount of food – almost three pounds. If this was edible, two people would probably make at least 2 meals out of it. As it was, I had to toss it out because it sucked so badly.

The thing is – it actually looked VERY promising after I baked it in the oven. Geez, look at the picture. I figured it would come out better in a conventional oven than a microwave. Don’t bother wasting your gas. It’s just as bad, or worse.

Big Lasagna Fresh and Easy - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

A breakdown: The sauce is just “OK” – I still find it strange they put carrots in it, like their other tomato sauce meals. The melted cheese coverage on top leaves a little to be desired. Like more cheese. But it’s not a deal breaker.

The noodle texture is absolutely, positively horrible. It tastes like extruded wheat clay or playdoh. It has such a pasty texture that I can’t believe it. It also has a strange off-taste to it. I can’t really put my finger on it because it’s not really a “food” taste per se. (Scarier words have never been spoken!) It’s almost like a weird, bitter plastic bread taste.

The ricotta filling was doing anything for me either. I like ricotta cheese, so I thought that perhaps it would be a bright spot in an otherwise terrible meal. It tasted blah, and if anything, made the stickiness of the noodles worse. Major disappointment.

Lastly, for some reason there was a FISHINESS, a sorta seafood and ox-musk melange hovering around the entire meal. I don’t think this was because the food was near the expiration date. Actually, if it was because of that, I wouldn’t be as worried. I was just wondering what the heck that could possibly be.

That taste scared me a bit, so I stopped eating it after a couple of bites. Oops, $4 down the drain. Man, I haven’t had a pre-packaged lasagna that bad in awhile. For a better (and bigger) lasagna, I would think about getting the CostCo one, even at the much higher price. That one is light years better. I think you would also do much better with budget frozen lasagna meals if you’re concerned about cost.

I’m still wondering why F&E is so noodle challenged. I think it has a lot to do with me buying it from the bargain bin on the day it’s about to expire. At a MSRP of $8, I would rather go outside and graze on my lawn. At the cut rate of $4, it’s still not worth getting – although it did bump up the score to 2/10 just for sheer cheapness. I think I’ll stick to their other prepared foods for now.

Price: $4.00 for 2 lb 12oz. (MSRP $8)
Found At: Fresh and Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 2/10

[ Currently Eating: Turkey and Swiss Sando ]

Gazpacho - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

WTF. Cold soup.

I was actually going to take a pass reviewing this Gazpacho Soup from Fresh and Easy. The reason is that I’m not a huge fan of cold soups in general. To me, cold soup is like winning a weekend date with Gillian Anderson and not being able to ask her if Mulder ever touched her boobies on the X-Files. I mean, what’s the point?

But I know a lot of folks (and little green men) actually like chilled soups. All this Borscht B.S., Summer Squash Soup stupidity and veritably vain Vichyssoise, just leaves me… well, cold.

I think it may also be a guy thing. Most of the fans of cold soups that I know seem to be gals. However, it could also be that I’m an uncultured, unpasteurized (put me out to pasture already), Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer living in a 21st century cold soup world.

That actually sounds more like it, grunt grunt.

But you know what, I’ll give it a go. I’ll pretend to be one of the highly cultured, cold soup loving, non-caveman lawyers living in Beverly Hills making beaucoup moolah defending New Wave grafitti “artistes” who use their “lower appendages” to paint. Man, this city I live in is great…

Actually, this Fresh & Easy Gazpacho Soup (I think Fresh & Easy must hate me, for I have never given a “normal” review on any of their products), wasn’t half bad. Actually, it wasn’t half good either, but that’s a problem for Glass Half Full Psychologists to solve.

I’m actually a gazpacho newbie; the whole cold soup phobia has definitely hindered my appreciation of it. But basically, it’s a cold, tomato-based Spanish soup that incorporates fresh veggies and is usually eaten with hard bread. It’s right around here that I would like to make a Pixies joke or reference, but experience has taught me that most of my readers (no offense to ya’ll) wouldn’t know alternative or indie music if it bit them in the butt. It’s OK, I confess that I have to remain ignorantly mute whenever conversation turns to who’s on American Idol, or pretty much any popular music on the “radio”.

Beyond that, I can only guess at what it’s supposed to taste like. The funny thing is, this gazpacho tastes just like salsa to me. This gaz’ had a very, very strong garlic taste. It was more like garlicpacho. It had a blend of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and red bell peppers. I believe that it would have tasted a little better with more emphasis on the cucumbers and less on the onions. The cucumber slices tasted slightly pickled, but I guess that’s to be expected since that’s usually what happens when you put cucumbers in salted liquids. The onions were still a bit crunchy, which might bother some people. There wasn’t enough red bell pepper action to really notice.

Gazpacho - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Overall, the taste was just too strong for me. I think I could deal with the overpowering garlic, but the soup itself was just so acidic, vinegary and there was too much sugar in it. It could also use a hit of spice – it was pretty much silent on the capsicum front. I squirted some Tapatio in to it, much to the delight of my spicy taste buds. Hot sauce definitely made this more edible.

The price is pretty consistent with deli style fresh soups from most places – F&E has a bunch of these different deli soups, some that are quite good (and thankfully, not all are meant to be eaten cold). They’ll usually run you $2.50 to $3.50 for about 22 ounces, unless they happen to be on sale. I think it’s a little expensive, especially for soup that I’m not so enamored of.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t buy this again, unless I did become a highly cultured, cold soup loving, non-caveman lawyer living in Beverly Hills making beaucoup moolah defending New Wave grafitti “artistes” who use their “lower appendages” to paint. But I think gazpacho would be the last of my worries if that did happen.

Price: $2.50 for 22 oz.
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 5/10

[Editor's Note: Yes, I do like Gillian Anderson. And The Pixies. But not cold soup. Or Andalusian dogs.]

5/5/09 | F&E Spaghetti

[ Currently Eating: Yummy Things. Like Popcorn. ]

F&E Spaghetti with Meat Sauce - Cheap Eats at BloglanderGlue.

That would be how I would describe this Fresh and Easy Spaghetti with Meat Sauce if I could only use a single word.

On the subject of less words: I’ve noticed that my reviews here are often long-winded and gratuitously long. I was thinking maybe I should start up some sort of “25 Word Reviews” on Cheap Eats in order to both save my time and your sanity. Anyhow, that’s Cheap Food for thought.

Before I begin to give this spaghetti meal a well-deserved drubbing, I just want to remind everybody that I’m the latest Fresh and Easy fanboy to be converted to their prepared foods. I love Fresh and Easy so much that I wrote a love letter to them earlier. I just want to get that out into the open in case you think I’m backsliding there. One crappy meal isn’t going to change my love for them. Hmm…. that sounds like song lyrics. But I’ll spare you the horror…

Truthfully, a majority of their stuff is really good and cheap – especially if you can sneak in between the gargantuan whales who crowd the F&E discount bin. Luckily, I have skinny arms so I can snake my way in and grab some of the discounted food. On occasion, however, I’ve grabbed a whale flipper by mistake.

This meal is a refrigerated, fully cooked meal of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. I have to admit this wasn’t my first choice, but it’s what I was able to grab and it was fairly cheap at a dollar fifty for 12 oz. of food. So I went with it.

I somewhat regret it.

Now, I’ve had meals like this before – usually frozen, but sometimes fresh. And the biggest concern with pre-cooked spaghetti is that if it’s not done correctly, it deteriorates or gets clumped together. The taste of the sauce is usually not a problem – it’s the consistency of the noodles which is crucial.

This spaghetti tasted like glue.

It could also be because it was getting near it’s due date, but this spaghetti just tasted horrible. It was like someone got a bushel of hot cooked spaghetti and left it out for a few hours so that it congealed together. I know fricken Alton Brown and all the other fun-alicious Food Network chefs say never to rinse hot cooked pasta. However, if it’s going to be for a prepared meal like this, and you don’t rinse and cool it correctly, it’s going to turn into glue.

F&E Spaghetti with Meat Sauce - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

But you can see from the picture above that it looks pretty decent. The overall flavor of the sauce was: Meh, just OK. It had a normal tomato taste, not heavily spiced, and in fact a little on the bland side. Which is saying quite a bit for me, since I usually think things are too salty or spiced. The sauce featured ground beef, onions and interestingly – carrots. That sorta came out of left field. Although we sometimes do put carrots in our homemade spaghetti sauce, i’ve never really seen it in prepared sauces. That was actually quite different, and it made me want to try it again.

The noodles, as I mentioned, were pretty horrible. I actually had to add about 1/4 cup or more of water to the sauce, plus some olive oil to get it palatable. Spaghetti should not stick to the roof of your mouth in most universes.

Overall, this spaghetti survived a truly low score only because it was so cheap at $1.50. Still: I think I could make better Spaghetti in my sleep. I was actually a little disappointed because I’ve had some of Fresh and Easy’s other prepared noodle meals, such as the Chicken Parmigiana, and the noodles were fine. I believe with these company branded prepared meals, there are going to be occasions where you just get a bad one. So I’ve been meaning to try it again just to see if the one I got was a dud. But it hasn’t gone on sale in the discount bin again. I guess I’ll post an update if I try it again. Toodle-oo, Mr. Glue…

Price: $1.50 for 12 oz. (MSRP $3)
Found At: Fresh and Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 3/10

[Editor's Note: F&E Is pretty damn COOL. I only hope that enough people patronize the one I'm at so that it doesn't shut down. If it shuts down I'm going to be crying for a long, long time.]

[ Currently Eating: Refried beans and chips ]

Fresh & Easy Vindaloo - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

P.S. I wrote this letter a month and a half ago, but only published it today

Dear Miss Fresh & Easy,

You’re a relative newcomer in my neck ‘o the woods. Everyone says you’re the hot tomato (replace the word tomato with whatever scatological phrase you’d like). Straight outta Britain, via Tesco.

The question is, are you really Thee Hotness, or are you just another Jenny Come Lately Crouching Tiger Hidden High End Convenience Market?

Well, I made my first trip today to actually buy something off your shelves, after getting cart-blocked at the grand opening last week by thousands of raving mad Freshandeasyites. And so far, I’m pretty darn impressed. I only hope you can keep up the good times in these bad times. If I get really used to doing all my grocery shopping in your aisles, and you end up bailing on me in a couple years, there is going to be hot, hot hellbath to pay, baby.

Anyhow, more about you later. I’m gonna start off with a review of your Chicken Vindaloo Meal. I see that most of the stuff you keep on your shelves is your “own” brand. That’s nice, keep the prices down that way. You’ve got a lot of convenience style food that young professionals (or unprofessionals) can just pick up and go. But you also stock fresh veggies, frozen seafood and meat, dairy, breads, soups and pretty much everything I’d ever need. That’s hot.

Hey, I don’t need to drive to Trader Joes anymore.

Whoah. Did I hear a little bird just go potweet in your heart after I said that? I hope so. I really mean it, I will love you if you will love me. I mean, we should probably keep an open relationship – you know, we can see other people / supermarkets if you like. I’m cool with that. Check it out: I’m a 21st century dude all the way, babe.

Your delicious vindaloo is freshly made, but sealed so that you can buy a bunch and freeze them. While there, I saw other suitors fondling your wares in the 50% off special of the day section. I tried to push them out of the way to get to your goodies, but they wouldn’t have any of it. I finally got one of your sweet vindaloos, but most of the rest of that section of yours had been ravaged. Those animals.

Fresh & Easy Vindaloo - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your vindaloo was excellent – it didn’t have an excessive amount of heat, but it was still spicy enough so I didn’t have to add anything extra. Very redolent and fragrant with spices and coconut milk. There were big pieces of chicken breast in your vindaloo – I’ll admit it was a little on the dry side. Maybe you should think about brining? But at least it wasn’t salty like many other prepared chicken meals.

Medium sized pieces of tomato and onion rounded out your delicious dish. I think I would’ve preferred if you cooked your onions a little bit, they were still crunchy even after microwaving for 5 minutes. Your package had a full pound of food – no way I could finish the entire thing. You’re a whole lot of woman…

Overall, so far I’m smitten with your prepared meals – especially when they’re half price on sale. This vindaloo wasn’t restaurant quality, but you’d give any of the other markets a run for their money. I’m sweet on you, honey. For now at least. You keep this up and I might just buy you a ring.

Cheap Eats

Price: $3.50 for 1 lb (reg. $7.00)
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 8/10

[Editor's Note: I know, I know. It's so Impulsive Buy to pretend-write a love letter to a supermarket. What can I say, I only imitate the best. Well, you should be thankful that I didn't pretend-write my letter to Carl's Jr. I'm going to have to keep a box of tissues and some Häagen-Dazs by the computer when I do that in the future.]

2/17/09 | Twinkie Bites

[ Currently Eating: Cheese Bread Experiment ]

Twinkie - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

You may have heard lately about the maker of Twinkies having just emerged fresh from bankruptcy protection. Yep, Interstate Bakeries, parent company of the Hostess brand had earlier tanked due to Atkins-crazy diet nutsos. (I can say that now, right? The Atkins diet was idiotic when everyone at my work was practicing it, and it’s still idiotic today.)

One of the good (or at least interesting) things to come out of it – they introduced Twinkie Bites. These follow the “burger buddies” concept – three mini twinkies in one pack. Each rinky-dink twinkie has only 33 calories. They also come in a Strawberry cupcake variety.

This sounds much better than eating a hamburger without the bread. Sorry, idiot friends, just have to rub it in more.

I haven’t bought any Twinkie Bites yet, but it’s on my list of “So Bad It’s Good” Food To Review. One thing I wish they would do is revert the filling of the Twinkies to a banana flavor. That would make me buy some right away – although it would make the monkeys living in my backyard slightly harder to control.

[ Currently Eating: MORE COUGHDROPS ]

Togo Wed 1.99 Sandos - Cheap Eats at BloglanderMan. The sandwich shop chain wars continue. Not a millisecond goes by without me being bombarded with ads for Subway or Quizno’s. For what it’s worth, I eat at Subway occasionally. But less often now that their 5 dollar subs are for a limited selection of sandwiches.

I categorically DESPISE Quizno’s, but that is a long, long story for another bright and shiny day when I’m not still feeling the effects of a lingering cold.

But Togo’s – I was actually a huge, huge fan of theirs, especially in college. The sandwiches they made were always slightly better tasting and looking than Subway’s. My friend refused to eat at Subway even if they were closer. He always said “That’s nast…”. I guess he meant short for nasty. We always had to make the trek to Togo’s.

And noooooo, they did not give me the keys to the company lamborghini in order to say that.

But anyhow, the reason for this post is that they are having a special 1970s Flashback Wednesday deal where you can get a featured classic 6″ sub for $1.99. The only thing is that it’s good on just one type of their sandwiches per week. This Wednesday, the sandwich is the #24 Turkey and Avocado. I guess I should also mention that Togo’s will be making a donation to the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation for each Flashback 6″ sandwich sold. Admirable.

And yessssss, they did spam me and that’s where I got all this information.

I still would like a ride in their company car, however, if the higher-ups would not mind…

[ Currently Eating: Something Light ]

Las Campanas Burrito - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Well, well, well. Time for frozen burritos again.

Truthfully, I’ve been trying to avoid buying these things and just make my own burritos. I try to keep some flour tortillas handy at all times. Cans of refried beans are usually in the pantry, and there’s always some ground beef in the fridge. Then it’s just roll up whatever produce is handy into the mix – lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, cilantro, etc.

But I have to admit there’s still times when you might want a faster snack. I picked up this Las Campanas Red Hot Burrito the other day at the market. It’s actually not a frozen burrito, it’s one of those that are sitting in the prepared food section next to the meats.

However, the shelf life seems to be rather long for a prepared burrito – it was nearly two months! Must be all the yummy preservatives in it…

Las Campanas Burrito - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

This is actually a much longer burrito than the usual frozen variety. In fact, because it wasn’t frozen, I nearly broke one in half by picking it up by the end (like a lightsaber, of course). It measures about 11 inches and weighs in at 10 ounces.

Interestingly, the serving size portion is 1/2 burrito. Who eats only half a frozen burrito? I have to admit that this was at least twice the size of the normal 33 cent frozen ones. But in that case, it’s not really a nuke ‘n run type of snack you eat in the car then. It’s a two-hander you have to sit down with. So in the back of my mind I was thinking, why wouldn’t I just make this if I’m going to eat it at home anyway?

Actually, maybe the other reason they suggest 1/2 burrito per person is that it lets them halve the sodium and saturated fat in the nutrition facts on the back. Eating the ENTIRE burrito will give you 1080mg sodium (46% DV) and 9g (50% DV) saturated fat. But then, I’m not hear to talk nutrition I guess.

Continue reading “Las Campanas Burrito” …



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