Category Archives: Pseudo Meals

Steak-umm vs Steak-Eze

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Steak-umm used to be one of my sister and I’s favorite after school snack.  We’d just cook these up and eat them as-is, no bread or cheese, just some Lawry’s seasoned salt – and so easy a pair of fifth graders can make them!  I recently saw Steak-Eze in the frozen food section at the store and just had to see if they were comparable to the only quick-cook-pan-fry-freezer-steak I’ve ever really known.

Steak-Eze:
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I was surprised that this product was so unlike Steak-umm’s shape in the way that it’s rounded and about 1/2″ thick.  The directions are to cook about a minute on either side and then “lightly chop” with a spatula.  We added a little seasoned salt and swiss cheese.  Some of the notes we took included “not terrible”, “not a lot of flavor” and “I guess it’s juicy”.  Really not overly impressive but I guess to be fair it might be to par with something you would get a mediocre diner.

Steak-umm:
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Steak-umm, it’s been a long time my old friend.  For anyone who is unfamiliar, Steak-umm is basically  two wafer-thin sheets of “steak” that cook up in about a minute. Like with Steak-Eze, we cooked these with a little Lawry’s and swiss cheese.  Ethan thought these were “so bland, they’re offensive”, and “gross”.  I also found these bland, but not quite offensive, although they did seem greasier.  These really are just a vehicle for seasoned salt and cheese.  The texture is something that I would recommend for anyone with any  sensitive dental work as the steak-umm is so mushy and soft that you really don’t need to use your teeth all that much.

Wrap up:
Steak-umm-yeah-no.  While we both have a nostalgic loyalty to Steak-umm,  it was really just much less enjoyable(?) than Steak-Eze.  Ethan only had a few bites of his Steak-umm but ate the whole Steak-Eze.  I did feel like I could get into Steak-umm  if I had to,  more so than Ethan but since I didn’t have to, I didn’t finish he umm either.  We both agree that incorporating melted cheese with both of these is mandatory and seasoned salt is highly recommended. Really, both of these are not something we’d ever buy again, but if given a choice we’d go with Steak-Eze.

Steak-umm or Steak-Eze

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Kraft Macaroni & Cheese vs Double Takes

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We’ve had a couple of mac & cheese showdowns here, Stouffer’s v. Michelina’s, Chef Boyardee v. Hormel, but haven’t done the microwave version that includes mixing the packet of orange powder.   I love making baked macaroni & cheese from scratch, grating 2 or 3 kinds of cheese, panko crumbs, the whole deal, but there really is something awesome, almost memorizing,  about the orange powder of  the boxed mac and cheese I made as a kid.  I would love watching it dissolve into the melted butter and pasta to be come the tangy, cheese sauce that went so well with watching The Dukes of Hazzard.  We’ll be reviewing the boxed versions but couldn’t resist trying the microwave cups, just to know if these would be a good option for some reason.

Kraft:
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Ethan thought there was more cheese powder-to-pasta ratio than he remembered being in the boxed version (which he always thought should have have more cheese. The powder packet is mixed into the pasta once it’s cooked in the cup, no butter needed to add but some how the sauce is still kind of creamy.  Personally, I thought it was a little “slick” feeling so I looked to see if there was xanthan or guar gum but there’s not, just modified food starch, so maybe that was it.  Still the flavor was decent for orange powder and had the familiar tanginess from what I remember, not 100% but okay.

Double Takes:
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Only two notes for this:
A) The cheese powder is more of a yellow than orange
B) Tastes like absolutely nothing, totally void of taste.

Wrap up:
It would seem obvious that Kraft would be the winner just because it’s a name brand but I have to say I’ve liked super market versions (that were probably the same thing in a different box) but this…  They must call the brand “Double Takes” because you have to do that to make sure you actually ate something.  Between the two of us the only adjective we could use to describe the taste was “nothing”.   I guess it’s mildly impressive they managed to create something that tastes like actual nothing so, bravo on that Double Takes.

Kraft or Double Takes

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Mac & Cheese Michelina’s vs Stouffer’s

As I’ve mentioned before I love making macaroni and cheese from scratch but I also like testing out pre-made versions as well.  Some are terrible and some great like the very hard to find Howard Johnson’s brand mac & cheese.  I’m actually not sure if it’s even still made, it’s been at least two years since I found it anywhere.  I remember the last time I had Stouffer’s mac & cheese.  It was 2001 and had been dating Ethan for a few months.  I came over his place after working late and eating a Stouffer’s mac & cheese and around 11pm started a vomit fest in his bathroom.  I couldn’t even go to work the next day, I was too exhausted from puking all night.  Someone said it sounded like it had been thawed out and then put in the freezer again so I’m guessing that’s what happened.  Somehow I put that memory aside and Ethan and I evaluated Stouffer’s against Michelina’s.

Stouffer’s:
Looks a little too familliar to my last experience but it tasted okay. Ethan liked that it had a lot of sauce and has a good cheese flavor. I felt like it was lacking a little sharpness to the cheese flavor but I did like the well-cooked pasta.

Michelina’s:
Ethan didn’t like the lack of sauce.  We both liked the flavor of the cheese but Ethan felt there just wasn’t enough  of it.  I like of liked that it wasn’t swimming in sauce and to me the flavor got to all the macaroni fine and tasted a little more realsitic than Stouffer’s.

Wrap up:
Split.  Ethan preffered the abundance of sauce of Stouffer’s and I liked the flavor of Michelina’s.  Both had pleasantly cooked pasta and neither of us threw up after 🙂

Michelina's or Stouffer's?

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Mini Raviolis vs Raviolios

I had only seen Raviolios in an old cookbook from 1981 and just assumed they were discontinued since I never see them.  As an open request, if anyone has an ad or photo of an old Raviolio can, can I have a copy?   I’d love to be able to use it on differentbutthesame.
The grocery store near me is terrible and is always out of what I’m looking for, or the person at the service desk is rude or all the lettuce is wilted etc… and they didn’t have regular Chef Boyardee Raviolo, just 95% fat free, overstuffed, Italian sausage and mini.  So I got mini and it actually worked out that they’re the same size as Raviolios!

Mini Ravioli:
We were surprised that the sauce was kind of watery. In general, these were pretty bland.  I do like how the pasta was mushy, for some reason it works so nicely in canned pasta. The meat in the ravioli was pretty much undetectable.  It wasn’t bad though and Ethan called it “acceptable”.

Raviolios:
These are a little prettier to look at with their scalloped edges.  They seem to be a filled more too and the meat filling has much more of a presence than the Chef’s version.  Also we liked that the sauce was thicker and in general this product had more flavor.  Ethan said it reminded him of pizza flavor so there’s probably a little cheese in there too.

Wrap up:
We both went with Raviolios.  I was surprised since we favored Chef last time we evaluated him against a Campbell’s product.  It wasn’t just the thrill of finding a product I thought was discontinued years ago but the Raviolios were much more satisfying consistency and flavor.

Mini Ravioli or Raviolios?

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Lunchables vs Lunchmakers

I’ve never had a Lunchable before.  The concept is okay but still, to buy something like this on a regular basis seems kind of needless when it’s so easy to put something like this together on your own.   But I guess they have a market because they seem to be very sucessful.
I found both Lunchable and LunchMaker varieties featuring bologna and American cheese.  I almost picked the turkey but remembered Ethan doesn’t like turkey and the way the meat sliced looked had everything I hate about cold cuts- the multi-colored pieces with a clear ribbon of gel that keeps the mismatching pieces of meat together.  Not that bologna is any less gross in that respect, but I do appreciate the uni-colored mass that has been pureed to the point that it’s just one texture.

Lunchables:
Lunchables have the big name of Oscar Mayer so they boast name-brand items like Ritz crackers and Chips Ahoy cookies.  We noticed that the slices of bologna were extremely thick (as far as cold cuts go) and that added to it’s rubbery texture.  Plus it had a weird taste to it, at first I thought it was peppery but then I really couldn’t figure it out.  The Ritz crackers were surprisingly non-Ritz like.  Ethan described them as having McDonald’s cookie taste/consistency.  These must be made especially for Lunchables and they cleary use a different recipe.
The cheese was the most processed tasting cheese I’ve ever experienced.  With very little flavor, it seems to be added just for filler.  The cookies tasted like the standard boxed cookies- not disappointing in that way.

LunchMakers:
We liked that the bologna slices were much thinner and tasted better.  There was no weird flavor and I guess you might saw we appreciated that in comparison to Lunchables.  I thought the cheese tasted better, it actually tasted like cheese.  The crackers were okay, they did their job as being a vehicle for the bologna and cheese.  Ethan ate the Butterfinger which he reported tasted like a normal Butterfinger.

Wrap up:  We weren’t really crazy about either, but sided with Armour’s LunchMakers because of the thinness of the slices and the all-around slightly better taste.  Ethan even said it tasted more “natural” in comparison to Lunchables.   We expected more from Lunchables because this meal/snack format was their idea and they had the “Ritz” crackers.  The disappointment of the second-rate version of Ritz’s own product was a big demerit.  Plus being a leader in the cold cut industry I expected better taste and normal slice thickness from Oscar Mayer.

Lunchables or LunchMakers?

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Campbell’s vs Heinz

I thought I’d have a triple header here but Chef Boy-ar-dee only makes spaghetti with meatballs.  We found this British Heinz spaghetti in a store in Vermont (where you can still buy “Gee Your hair Smells Terrific“) but I’m guessing it should be in most import sections of your local grocery store- maybe not, I don’t know.  As I mentioned in my previous post, Franco-American was bought out by the almighty Campbell’s mega-corp, although the only product that they still allow to carry the Franco-American label is their slow roast gravy.  You’d think they’d keep F-A associated with their pasta products like Spaghettio’s but…no.

Campbell’s:
So what you’re looking at here is the most mushy pasta you will ever eat. Perfect for accommodating those who just got their wisdom teeth out, it’s like a micro-molecule away from having the consistency of pudding.
The pasta (besides from being mushy) had a very starchy taste.  The sauce was not very tomatoey and Ethan noticed there was a slight tin taste from the can.  Also the sauce was sweet.
Not much to care for with this product.

Heinz:
The pasta was slightly more firm than Campbell’s.  The sauce was disappointing.  I though the deeper red color would mean it was going to taste more like tomatoes but that wasn’t the case.  As hard as it was to believe, this actually had less flavor.  It might have had something to do with that there was no cheese in the Heinz version, like Campbell’s had, and as we all know cheese make everything taste better 🙂

Wrap up:
It’s funny when you think something is terrible and then you taste something that is even worse.  We actually preferred Campbell’s over Heinz.  There was just something so lacking in Heinz that made it hard to eat and not dip the fork back into the Campbell’s bowl. Mushy, startchy, tinny tasting spaghetti with cheese is better than slightly firmer spaghetti with bland sauce.

Campbell's or Heinz?

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Mama Celeste vs Mr. P


Pizza seems like a hard thing to mess up: dough, sauce, cheese – maybe a topping or two. But as we all know pizza CAN be messed up and the chances of this is greater when you’re buying a pre-made, frozen pizza.
My experience with frozen pizza started and stopped with Mama Celeste and the last time I had that was as an after school snack with my sister so…it’s been a while. I will do an evaluation at some point with a couple of the next generation like DiGiorno to see how frozen pizza has evolved but today we’re kickin’ it old school.

Mama Celeste:
This doesn’t look like anything any mama would make, never mind the sweet old lady on the package. Ethan and I found this to be pretty tasteless. I felt the only ingredient that had any flavor was the pepperoni. Ethan was more disappointed by the lacking crust.
As unimpressive as this was we did both agree that the distribution of ingredients were well balanced and I have to admit, I did like that it smelled like the pizza at rollerskating rinks, which brought back fond memories of skating around with feathered hair and playing video games, which was worth the $1.20 for the pizza.

Mr. P:
For all that Mama Celeste isn’t, Mr. P is less. Ethan found the dough kind of gummy, even though we cooked it according to the directions. The entire thing just lacked flavor all over and didn’t have enough cheese, although I’m not sure of that would have improved the product. No wonder he doesn’t show his picture like Mama does.

Wrap up:
Mama wins by a shred. It’s funny though how bland we thought that was and then after we tried Mr. P, we ate another slice of Mama’s just to leave this evaluation tasting some sort of flavor. But really, I think it’ll be another 20 years until I have Mama Celeste again, I don’t care how bad the recession gets!

Mama Celeste or Mr. P?

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Ravioli showdown: Chef vs Libby’s

Canned ravioli was my first introduction to ravioli as a kid and I loved it. As an adult I have an appreciation for home-made or restaurant quality ravioli but I have no problem saying there is just something about the canned stuff that’s just so nice in it’s own way. I forgot all about Libby’s as a brand, I haven’t looked them up but I know there was something else they made that I liked, I’ll have to do a little searching later but my only experience with canned ravs has been with Chef Boyardee so I was interested to see what Libby’s was like.

Chef:
This is so familiar, I have a hard time describing it but it’s the lovely mushy pasta squares with an even mushier meat filling. What provides the most texture are the bits of meat in the soupy tomato sauce. The sauce was lacking a little in the flavor department but provided a nice base for the raviolis to slide around in.

Libby’s:
Looks almost identical Chef’s but a little more sauce. The texture of the pasta and filling were the same but we both noticed there was more flavor in the ravioli and the sauce was more “tomatoy”. The bits of meat in the sauce were a little less than Chef’s.

Wrap up:
Both provide the same mushy, slurpy texture (which the 8 year old in me loves) but we were surprised that Libby’s had more flavor and we found our enjoying it more. We agreed that it wasn’t enough of a difference to shun the Chef, he still makes an enjoyable can of mush but since we were evaluating one right after another we did notice Libby’s has a little bit of an edge.

Ravioli: Chef Boyardee or Libby's?

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Iron Stomach Challenge: SPAM vs TREET

I really had to mentally prep before doing this, which meant voiding any thought of the processing plants for either of these products. I know SPAM has it’s fans and I can appreciate that, but to me it’s always been this nightmareish conglomerate of meats that isn’t really meant for eating so I had never even tried it. Today I saw the Armour product TREET and so it became the day to try SPAM and TREET.
Ethan was less than enthusiastic when I brought these beauties home but being the ever-faithful taste tester, he joined me in this canned meat adventure.

SPAM:
Pretty sick, a rubbery mold of smushed meat that is able to stand upright on it’s own. Another blow to the senses was the canned cat food aroma. In fact, Clyde (our cat) magically appeared in the kitchen thinking he was getting fed.
Time to taste: I first noticed how salty this was, very salty although Ethan didn’t think it was that salty. It has a very “porky” flavor. Ethan was most turned off by the texture and said it was too mushy and that his tongue didn’t want to touch this. We gave Clyde some, he ate a teeny bit and then walked away.

TREET:
Same unappetizing effort just to get out of the can. This was a little darker and more uniform in color but had some disturbing fat globules dispersed throughout the “loaf”.
The taste was less offensive to me because it was more recognizable and similar to cold cut bologna. Ethan described this as “beefy” (which I agreed with) but again, was mostly turned off by the texture which he said was “spongy”.

Wrap up:
No and no. We both can’t imagine trying either of these ever again. Like I said, I know some people swear by SPAM and maybe it’s a whole different ballgame in a sandwich or in macaroni and cheese (as suggested on the back of the can) but meat in this format is not for everyone.

SPAM or TREET?

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Microwave Mac & Cheese: Chef Boyardee vs Hormel

 

One of my favorite eats is macaroni and cheese.  I love making Alton Brown’s recipe and sometimes I’m in the mood for some old school boxed kit with bright orange powder.   It’s just one of those things that really hits the spot, so  when I saw these single-serving microwave versions, I just had to try.

Chef Boyardee:
This had a cheesy aroma and although the noodles were almost mushy and over cooked, I liked this texture.  It doesn’t look it, but the cheese sauce was kind of watery and bland.  It smelled better than it tasted.  There seemed to be an undertone of beefaroni- somehow, not even in a beefy way but it just did, Ethan and I both felt that way. 

Hormel:
The sauce was more orange, thicker and smelled pretty gross. I wish I could describe this better but we both thought this tasted very “Hormel” which I can only describe as “industrial”. The noodles are more “al dente”. It also somehow had faint trace of meat flavor, which was gross.  Maybe they made this in the same machine as one of their meat products or something, who knows.

Wrap up:
I actually went into this hoping I might be impressed with the concept of microwavable macaroni and cheese but it turns out that this is a terrible idea.  The lesser of two evils here would be Chef Boyardee but it’s hard to actually recommend it.

Chef Mac or Hormel Mac?

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