Friday, December 14, 2012

Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken & Bacon Pot Pie

Made By:  ConAgra Foods
Required to Prepare:  Microwave, OR oven, baking sheet, and aluminum foil
1180 calories per package

A while back, I mentioned that my partner rather liked these Marie Callender's pot pies.  I think I've also mentioned at least once that I rather have a thing for trying new products that pop up in the store.  Today while shopping, I noticed that Marie Callender's had a couple of "New!" pot pie selections on the shelf, so it seemed like the kind of thing that would appeal to both of us.  So tonight, we shall have pot pies!

Like last time, I use the oven directions since I want to prepare two at once:  We remove the pie from the box (but not the little paper pie pan), protect the crust edges with strips of aluminum foil, put them on a baking sheet, and put them in a 400° oven for 65 minutes.  Then they have to cool for about five minutes, and we remove the foil and serve.

Oh man, this is the STUFF.  The pie is filled with a thick, rich cheese sauce; it has a wonderful flavor and texture, very smooth and creamy.  In addition to the advertised chicken and bacon pieces, the pie also contains broccoli, and I'm pretty sure there were some chunks of potato and possibly a carrot slice or two as well.  It was a little harder than usual to identify the components, since they were all thoroughly smited with delicious golden cheese sauce, so there may be some minor ingredients that I missed.  Not that any of that matters, because all I could really taste is bacon, cheese, and crisp buttery pastry.  And if that sounds like a bad thing, well... it just wasn't.

This is pure decadent comfort food, but isn't that what pot pies are supposed to be?  Not only would I say this is definitely a worthy addition to Marie Callender's lineup, I might also say I think I have a new favorite pot pie. ^_^

Friday, November 9, 2012

Newman's Own Complete Skillet Meal for Two--Chicken Parmigiana & Penne

Made By:  Newman's Own, Inc. [USA]
Required to Prepare:  Skillet and Range (or 2qt casserole and microwave)
490 calories per 1/2 package

For dinner tonight, we are looking to the freezer for one of the convenience meals I try to keep available, and we ended up choosing this Chicken Parmigiana penne pasta dish from Newman's Own to try.  I'm not sure I have the usual anecdote about how we arrived at this decision today, but I will say that, as is usual for me, I purchased this while it was on sale with a coupon, so instead of the shelf price of (I think) $8.99, I gave $4.99 for it.

Anyway, we are hungry, so let's get on to the review.  Inside the bag we find par-boiled penne pasta, frozen sauce chips, some things that look like little cubes of white cheese, and six chicken nuggets.  To prepare, we simply empty the contents of the bag into a large non-stick skillet, cover, and heat on high for 4 minutes, then on medium-high for 6 minutes while stirring occasionally.  After the ten-minute cook time advertised, everything is bubbly and hot, and the sauce has thickened nicely, which is frankly more than I was expecting based on my experiences with these bag meals.  Since it doesn't seem to need extra cook time, it looks like dinner is ready to serve!

On first taste, my partner said to me (and I agreed) that it seems to be "missing something."  The sauce seems to be a bit on the sweeter side, which is something I am not used to with a chicken parmigiana.  Another thing I am used to with chicken parmigiana is for it to actually be made with parmesan cheese, which this isn't--the little bits of cheese I saw were mozzarella, according to the ingredients list.  I try adding some shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano of my own to try to rectify this situation, which helped but didn't completely solve the issue with the sweet sauce.  The three chicken pieces we each got were very soft and the breading was quite soggy, naturally; I didn't mind them and sort of enjoyed the salt-and-pepper seasoning of the breading, but my sweetie was a bit put off by the texture.

Overall, it wasn't bad, but it didn't seem especially good either, and really didn't seem to be quite as quality a product as we were expecting from Newman's.  I still have respect for the brand and will be trying some of their other offerings, but I doubt we'll get this one again. :|

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

El Monterey All Natural Shredded Steak & Cheese Burrito

Made By:  Ruiz Foods [USA]
Required to Prepare:  Microwave (or Oven)
280 calories per package

And now for something really different!  After this, we'll get back to ramen for a while, I promise.  (A trip to Uwajimaya is overdue and is in the near future.)  I'm going to admit up front that this isn't the type of thing I normally choose for myself, and that it made it into my freezer, and into the review queue, for one reason only--there was a coupon in the Sunday paper to try one free.  It should go without saying that this was a price the Ramen Butterfly was incapable of passing up.  So for today's lunch, a frozen burrito it is!

Preparation is so simple, I hate to even call it that.  You open one end of the package, and then microwave it for 75 seconds if it was frozen, or for 30 seconds if it was thawed.  (You can also take it out of the package, wrap it in foil, put it on a baking sheet, and put it in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, if you're so inclined.)  I chose to let it stand in the microwave afterwards for a minute or two just to make sure all the cold spots would be gone, and then I take it out of the wrapper.

Okay, I'll start with the outside and work my way in.  The tortilla has a really odd texture... I worried it might turn out soggy and wet from microwaving in the wrapper, but it's not, really; instead it seems doughy, as if the tortilla itself were undercooked somehow.
And unfortunately, the tortilla is the high point, compared to the fillings.  I had a hard time figuring out what I was actually eating, because there was such a disconnect between the flavor and the texture.  As you observe the picture of the inside of my burrito, keep in mind that refried beans are not on the ingredient list.  This must mean that the brown paste you see must be, in fact, the "shredded steak."  Once I realized this, the flavor I was tasting--bland beef and mild cheese--started to make sense.  And there was, in fact, an occasional 'string' here and there to hint that I might be eating a meat product.  But it's certainly a far cry from the picture on the wrapper.

Well, it was free, anyway, so I suppose I got my money's worth.  But for the normal price of $1.29?  Not so much.
I do suppose it's possible it would have tasted a little better if I had thawed it first, or used the oven directions.  And, I'm certain it would have tasted a lot better if I had gone to Taco Bell and got a Burrito Supreme for roughly the same price.  :b

Monday, October 29, 2012

Birds Eye Voila! Three Cheese Chicken

Made By:  Pinnacle Foods Group LLC  [USA]
Required to Prepare:  Covered Skillet & Range (or Microwave), 1/2c water
420 calories per 1/2 package

We worked hard today, and so I'm making a convenience meal for our dinner tonight!  In the freezer I had this Voila! Three Cheese Chicken skillet meal, which sounded pretty good, so that's what I settled on.  These Birds Eye meals are actually very economical compared to some of the other brands--I think I gave around $4 for this, so if it's good, then I expect to be trying some of the other varieties!

Inside the bag is a mélange of broccoli, corn, carrots, radiatori pasta, and chicken cubes.  I don't actually see any sauce chips; I think the sauce might be frozen onto the pasta pieces.  Anyway, this one is very simple to prepare; we dump the contents of the bag into our skillet, cover, and cook over medium-high heat for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After I lifted the lid, the meal was hot, but still looked watery, so I gave it a couple of extra minutes uncovered to cook down a bit, which helped things quite a bit.  I ladle it out into two dinner-size bowls, and my sweetie and I are ready to eat!

For something billed as a Three-Cheese Chicken, I do have to say that the cheese and chicken, while present, are not all that prominent.  The veggies actually seem to be the star of the show; the broccoli and carrots are very nicely firm-tender, and the carrots and corn are naturally quite sweet, to the point of making the overall dish seem a bit sweet.  The chicken pieces do have a nice texture and flavor, as does the sauce, though I wish there were a bit more of both.

On the plus side, it was a reasonably good dinner for a very reasonable price, and it has the side benefit of making you feel like you just had a really healthy meal--we definitely ate our vegetables tonight!  That said, I'm not sure it's the kind of thing I would really get excited about.  :|

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Maruchan Akai Kitsune Udon

Made By:  Toyo Suisan Kaisha, Ltd. [Japan]
Required to prepare:  ~14 oz. boiling water
410 calories per serving

Available online through

Today is a cold, rainy day in Woodinville, WA, so a hot comfort food sounds like just what I need for a quick lunch!  I'm trying these noodles from Maruchan of Japan (who should not be confused with Maruchan USA).  Although there is english writing on the package in various places, such as the instructions and nutrition information, strangely there is no translation of the name on the package.  So, I have to resort to my extremely-limited japanese-decoding skills, and I make out the name as Akai Kitsune Udon, which seems like it would mean something like 'red fox noodles.'  Whatever they're called, I'm ready to try them, so on with the review!

The kitsune [fox] part of the name means that the noodles are topped with an abura-age, which is a seasoned fried tofu pocket thing, and which are the same thing used for making inari sushi.  Unlike other 'udon' products I've tried, these are dry noodles rather than being vacuum-packed fresh ones.  We also have a double-packet of seasonings, that has a basic-looking soup base in one side and what seems to be an extremely tiny amount of chili powder in the other.  We open the packet into the noodles, fill the bowl to the line with boiling water, close the lid, and let stand for five minutes.  Then after a quick stir we are ready to eat!

The broth is mild but quite flavorful; it has that dashi flavor that I really love, like in the Nong Shim Japanese-Style Udon.  I don't notice any sort of heat at all; if that really was chili powder in the packet, there wasn't enough of it to change anything.  The noodles are nice, but remind me more of an egg noodle than a true udon--the flavor is close but a little too rich, and the texture isn't quite right either.  Still, they are not bad by any means and accompany the broth well.  The abura-age has an interesting flavor, if you've never had one; they're mildly sweet and kind of remind me of a waffle.  It can also be a bit unwieldy to eat, especially (I would imagine) with a different implement than chopsticks--the outside crust is quite firm and tends to resist efforts to stab or cut it.  I can fold it in half and pick it up to take bites, but I'm not sure how you'd go at it with a fork or spoon.

Overall, I liked this one quite a bit; it seemed like another nice variation on traditional Japanese noodle soup. It might not be my absolute favorite in the category, but I'll probably buy it again. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MAMA Oriental Style Instant Noodles Artificial Tom Yum Pork Flavor

 Made By:  Thai President Foods, Ltd. [Thailand]
Required to Prepare:  Hot water (10oz)
270 calories per package

(Available online from

Today I chose another noodle from MAMA, just so I can remind myself how good their 'regular' noodles are compared to those 'non-fried' ones I had last time.  I've already reviewed two of these Tom Yum flavors--Shrimp, and Creamy Shrimp--so I'll also see how much different a Tom Yum Pork can possibly be from a Tom Yum Shrimp.

Inside the package is our lovely golden-brown block of noodles, along with three seasoning packets.  The pink one is the powdered Tom Yum soup base, but unlike the shrimp varieties, there is no chili powder packet--instead, the yellow foil pack has mostly sesame seeds in it, and rather than a bright red chili oil packet, the orange oil packet has a thick oil infused with minced garlic.  Preparation is the same, at least:  We place all the ingredients into a bowl, add 1-1/4 cups of boiling water, and cover and wait three minutes.  Then we stir it up and serve!

While the Tom Yum hot-and-sour flavor is still the primary flavor of the broth, the sub-flavors are indeed quite a bit different.  The garlic sub-flavor is subtle but blends with the Tom Yum flavor well.  Despite the absence of either chili oil or chili powder packets, it is not mild in the least, although it's possibly a little less aggressive than the shrimp versions.  I think it might be my favorite version of Tom Yum soup I've tried so far!  As far as the noodles themselves go, I'll just say that MAMA's firm, light, delicious oriental-style noodles are still my favorite.  I'm definitely going to be keeping this one in stock from now on!  :D

Saturday, October 13, 2012

MAMA Ramen Artificial Duck Flavor

Made By:  Thai President Foods, Ltd.
Required to Prepare:  Saucepan & Range, 1-1/2c water
220 calories per package

The Ramen Butterfly is back by popular demand!  Whoa, has it really been over four months since I did one of these?  I guess time flies when you get sidetracked, sometimes.  Thanks to the supportive commenter who reminded me I need to eat some noodles!

So, today I had these Artificial Duck Flavor "Oriental Non-Fried Instant Noodles" from MAMA; I figured the Thailand-style small serving was good for an afternoon snack.  I like most of MAMA's products quite a bit, but I'm also not sure what to expect from a non-fried noodle, so we'll just have to see what these are like!

Inside the package is a loosely-formed block of semi-translucent noodles, along with three flavor packets; we have a seasoning powder and a seasoning oil, along with the usual (for Thai noodles) small packet of optional chili powder.  We are supposed to bring 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil, add the noodles and cook for 3-4 minutes, and then stir in the seasoning powder--naturally, I add the entire packet of chili powder too.  The instructions tell us to put the seasoning "oil" (which is more of a paste) in the bowl and add the noodles on top, which I do, although why it matters how you add it to the soup is beyond me.  Give everything a stir, and we are ready to serve!

The main aroma I detect is of five-spice seasoning, not duck.  I wonder if that is a traditional seasoning for duck in Thailand?  In any case, the broth has a nice flavor of both duck and five-spice.  With the entire chili packet, I'd rate the heat level at around a 3/5, and of course that can be tailored to your preference by adding less or none of the packet.  The noodle texture is very different from MAMA's other noodle products; instead of being dark, firm, and flavorful, these 'non-fried' noodles are pale, quite soft, and don't seem to have much flavor of their own aside from what they pick up from the soup--a lot like the noodles in a domestic Top Ramen.  I wouldn't call them bad, exactly, but I do rather prefer the normal MAMA noodles.  Would I have them again?  Honestly, probably not, when I could probably find the same flavor with the nicer noodles for a similar calorie count.  I did like the flavor though. :|

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nissin Demae Ramen Five Spices Artificial Beef Flavor

Made By:  Nissin Foods (Hong Kong)
Required to prepare:  Saucepan & Range, 500cc water
460 calories per package

(Available online through

One thing about making the transition from unemployed to self-employed is that there are more demands on time--just because there is a lot of work to do for the business doesn't mean there's suddenly less housework to make up for it.  So where does the Ramen Butterfly turn when she wants a quick and easy lunch?  Instant noodles to the rescue!

Today's rescuer is this Five Spices Artificial Beef Flavor ramen from Nissin of Hong Kong.  For those unfamiliar, the five spices in Chinese five-spice can actually vary a little, but the main flavor note is always a cinnamon-clove-anise blend of some sort.  (It's actually not that far removed from an American pumpkin-pie spice blend.)  It's an interesting flavor, but one that can be overpowering if used irresponsibly, so we'll see how it translates into a ramen flavor.

Inside the package we find a very typical block of ramen, and two seasoning packets--a soup base, and a small amount of seasoning oil (which has kind of a french-onion thing going on).  We boil our 500cc [2-1/4 cups] of water, add the noodles and cook for three minutes, then add the flavorings and serve!

The noodles have a nicer texture than I had remembered Nissin Demae noodles being; they actually have a very pleasant mouthfeel.  The broth is a very nice balance between a beef broth and the five spice flavor; the five-spice is definitely noticeable but it isn't too strong.  Being a Nissin Demae product, there are of course no vegetables or faux-meat bits to review, but those can be a distraction as easily as they can be a feature anyway. I would have to say that out of the three Nissin Demae products I've reviewed so far, this one is probably my favorite!  I certainly wouldn't mind having this one again. :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Paldo Green Tea Chlorella Noodles

Made By:  Korea Yakult Co. Ltd (Korea)
Required to Prepare:  Saucepan & Range, 550cc water
510 calories per package (?)*

(Available online through

It's noodle time again!  This morning I'm going to get adventurous and try these Green Tea Chlorella noodles I picked up at Uwajimaya Bellevue last time I was there.  For the uneducated (like myself before I looked it up on Wikipedia), chlorella is a type of edible algae that was originally discovered as an inexpensive protein source and has more recently gotten a following as a "superfood."  I'm actually not that concerned about the health merits of chlorella--I'm interested to find out how it tastes when you make noodles with it!

Inside the package we find our block of green-tinted noodles, along with two packets--one with dried veggie bits, and the other with a powdered soup base that has an aroma of dashi [fish & seaweed] stock.  We bring our 550cc (around 20 oz.) of water to a boil, add our soup base packets and noodles, and cook for four minutes, and then our soup is ready to serve!

The finished soup does look a bit strange, with the green-tinged noodles in the brownish-colored broth.  Despite the unusual appearance of the noodles, their flavor is fairly unremarkable; it may be that chlorella is a bit like tofu where it doesn't have a significant flavor of its own when you cook with it.  The texture is quite nice though; the noodles are firm, just a shade softer than al dente, and not sticky or slippery.  The veggies seem content to avoid the spotlight; there are bits of kombu seaweed, some green onion, and a couple of chile-pepper rings, none of which stand out either positively or negatively.  The broth is a fairly typical Japanese-style dashi broth, which I happen to love--it's very similar to the flavor of the broth in the Nong Shim Japanese-Style Udon.  If there is a 'green tea' flavor element present, it's very subtle to the point of being totally overpowered by the dashi flavor.

In other words, despite the odd appearance, the flavor of the soup is actually quite tame, though not in a bad way.  If you enjoy Japanese-style ramen soup, I'd recommend this one as a worthy option in the category!  And who knows, that green stuff might end up being good for us. :D

*:  According to the nutrition information, there are 510 calories in half the package.  I'm convinced this is a typo, though, because the entire package is only 120 grams, and 8-1/2 calories per gram of food seems rather implausible.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion

I'm going to start this entry with a little backstory about me...  Before my current "career" as a homemaker, I had been a computer tech and database designer for twelve years, working at the same employer from 1997 until I was 'let go' unexpectedly just before Christmas of 2009.  A little over a year later, in March of 2011, I finally found work as a personal caregiver for a man with cerebral palsy, which was a big change, but I felt needed in ways I never had in IT and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, after less than a month I suffered a serious back injury on the job and was no longer able to perform my duties.  This left my left leg permanently impaired and left me unemployed again--but now my job search was limited to jobs I would be physically able to do, and employers who would take a chance on an applicant with a physical impairment. 

My "Moon Flower" test pillar
Meanwhile at home, my partner and I love candles--they are one of the things I am most passionate about (aside from food of course).  We had been using PartyLite, but had been finding recently that their quality seemed to be going off--less fragrance, and less consistent burning.  I also tried some from a couple of popular small, independent candlemakers, and while the fragrances were great, some of the candles just didn't burn right at all, and would either smoke incessantly or drown themselves out.  Not to mention that candles get expensive when one of us is chronically unemployed!  Since I had time on my hands, and since we weren't having luck buying candles we were happy with, we decided I should order some supplies and try my hand at making our own.  I did discover that crafting a quality candle is a little more complicated than it sounds--but I also found out that I very much enjoyed it and after a short learning curve, I was able to make lovely candles that we were happy with and that burned beautifully!

We even got pretty boxes for the
candles!  My computer background
came in handy designing the labels. :)
We shared a few of them with family and friends, who all agreed that they were very nice, and that is when we got to thinking that maybe I should make them into a business of my own.  So, after another learning curve for building an e-commerce website, Paradise Lake Candles was born.  The website is a work in progress, but it is very much a labor of love--we're having a great time testing new fragrances for the site.  (As of this writing, one of the ones that is currently in testing called "Moon Flower" might be a new favorite of mine!)  I'm hoping that soon I can start contributing to the household again with my candles.  If I could make a living doing something I enjoy as much as candlemaking, then Paradise Lake would live up to its name for me. ^_^

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ruffles Ultimate: Kickin' Jalapeño Ranch Chips & Smokehouse Bacon Dip

I have to admit, I do enjoy being one of the first to try the newest stuff, especially when it comes to food items.  I also tend to be adventurous when it comes to wanting to try all the "wild" snack flavors that come out--most of which don't end up staying on the shelf long, but hey, I was one of the ones that got to taste them.  So, that means that when I saw these new "Ultimate" Ruffles chips in the store the other day, there was no question that they were going to take a ride in my shopping cart.  I settled on the Kickin' Jalapeño Ranch flavor to try first, and I noticed that on the bag it suggested that they should be paired with the Ruffles Ultimate Smokehouse Bacon Dip, so into my cart that went as well.  I had to try the combo, right?

Ruffles Ultimate Kickin' Jalapeño Ranch Potato Chips
Made By:  Frito-Lay, Inc.
160 calories per 1 oz. serving (pictured)

The first thing I notice about the chips once I open the bag is that the shape is a little different than regular Ruffles chips; instead of the tiny "ridges" that everyone is familiar with, the shape and texture is very similar to Wavy Lay's chips, except the "waves" are a bit more angular.  I guess the sharp corners make them more edgy and cool or something.  The flavor is really quite nice!  The trend in novelty chip flavors recently had been to just make things extra spicy and call them "extreme," so I was kind of expecting something along those lines.  Instead, these are just mildly to moderately spicy, and the main flavor note is a fairly good rendition of the 'green' flavor of a jalapeño pepper.  I am pleasantly surprised!  :)

Ruffles Ultimate Smokehouse Bacon Dip
Made By:  Frito-Lay, Inc.
70 calories per 2 tbsp. serving

I'm just going to get straight to the verdict and say that the dip is another pleasant surprise!  In this case, the "Ultimate" factor seems to be the thickness of the dip; it is really rather thick, and loaded down with a generous amount of real bacon bits.  The sauce is very creamy, and seems to be somewhere between a sour cream and an alfredo-style flavor.  I actually had to warm up to it, but I think that's because of what I didn't taste more than what I did--my 'usual' is a Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix in sour cream, and I think I was used to the tartness of the buttermilk and sour cream, which is really not present in this dip.  After I got used to the flavor, though, I started really liking it on most things I tried it with, especially raw veggies like snap peas and baby carrots.  Even my sweetie, who is not really a big dipper, told me she enjoyed this.  I really only bought this because the potato chip bag told me to, but out of the two products, this one is the one that stands out to me--I don't feel like I would have to have more of the chips once the bag is gone, but I've already purchased another jar of this dip for when the first one runs out.  :D

And finally, of course, I had to try the two of them together!  I would have to say the bag was right--they do pair together very well!  The flavors seem to combine to make something new; the creamy base of the dip seems to mute the jalapeño pepper flavor a bit, which lets the underlying ranch flavor of the chip come through more.  The result is a nice balance of creamy ranch and bacon, with the jalapeño becoming the undertone.  So I guess the bottom line is, if you do get the chips to try, go ahead and get the dip to go with them and you shouldn't regret it.  And if the chips don't sound like your kind of thing, the dip is really good anyway.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yamachan Shoyu Ramen

Made By:  Nippon Trends Food Service (Product of USA)
Required to Prepare:  Saucepan & Range, Boiling Water
360 calories per package

While I was browsing the aisles at Uwajimaya Bellevue on my last visit, I found a section of fresh noodles in the refrigerated section, away from the extensive dry-goods instant noodle aisle.  Since they are fresh and need to be refrigerated, they obviously have a shorter shelf-life than the 'normal' dry ramen, so I just picked up one to try this time.

Inside the package there is a styrofoam tray that holds the pack of fresh noodles, and a little foil packet of liquid soup base.  To prepare, we need to boil water in both our saucepan and our teakettle; we add the noodles to the saucepan and cook for 1-1/2 minutes (or 2-1/2 minutes if frozen), and meanwhile we mix 1-1/4 cups of boiling water with the soup base in our bowl.  Once the noodles are cooked, we drain them and add them to the bowl, and the noodles are ready to serve!

The noodles have a wonderful texture, much more like "real" restaurant ramen than the dry ramen everyone is used to.  The broth tastes a bit different than I was expecting from a shoyu broth; there is a strong taste of sesame oil which really overpowers the other flavors.  Overall, the soup is kind of plain, honestly, but I don't hold that against it, because it's clearly meant as a base for you to add your own ingredients (much like restaurant ramen).  So, although I think it is just okay on its own (and I felt obligated to review it that way), I am definitely looking forward to having it again--and adding my own green onion, crab stick, boiled egg, and other nifty ingredients to make this into a really awesome bowl of "real" ramen.  :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Little Cook TVP Curry Chicken

Made By:  Namchow (Thailand) Ltd.
Required to Prepare:  Boiling Water
500 calories per package

It's been quite a while since I've been making regular updates here, but I did have a good reason for it--I've been busy trying to get my new candle business off the ground!  The website is far from done, but at least things are started up now.  Yesterday I finally made another run to Uwajimaya, so there are new noodles to review!  So, for a light dinner tonight, I decided to have this Curry Chicken flavored big-bowl noodle from Little Cook.  I thoroughly enjoyed the previous Little Cook product I tried, so I'm hoping this one will hit the spot as well.

Inside the bowl is the block of wide noodles, a small packet of seasoning powder, and the foil retort pouch that contains our curry sauce and meat.  We open the powdered seasoning and add it to the bowl, fill to the line with boiling water, close the lid, and place the retort pouch on top to warm up.  Three minutes later, we remove the lid, add the contents of the pouch to the soup, and stir it up.  While adding the pouch, I find myself slightly taken aback by how much the contents resemble the canned "Kibbles & Bits" food that we get as a treat for our German Shepherd... but it does seem to have a decent curry aroma, so I try to stay optimistic.

Once the soup is all stirred up, I note that the meat bits bear absolutely no resemblence to chicken whatsoever; they also have an unpleasant and unnatural spongy texture.  It is at this point, far too late, that I realize that the "TVP" on the package must stand for "Textured Vegetable Protein."  Beyond the distastefulness of the "meat," the broth is much more bland than I expected.  I am not sure how this happened, because something with 2,080 mg of sodium in it really shouldn't taste like it needs salt.  The noodles have a decent texture, but don't even manage to pick up the small amount of flavor that is present in the broth.  As a final insult, toward the bottom of the bowl I encounter a lot of gritty stuff that basically makes the last bit of the soup totally inedible.  If there is a high point, I guess it would be the little bits of potato that were included in the retort pouch, I kind of enjoyed the bites that included those... but if potato is what I was after, I probably should have just eaten a french fry.  :b

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Velveeta Cheesy Skillets Ultimate Cheeseburger Mac

Distributed By:  Kraft Foods Global, Inc.
Required to Prepare:  1 lb ground beef, 2c water, covered skillet & range
350 calories per prepared serving (5 servings per box)

Just when I start thinking I've gone just as far afield from instant noodles as I was going to go... I end up finding a product in another new category that I'm excited about and want to review.  These Velveeta Cheesy Skillets were on my radar strictly because of their original TV commercial; I figure that if they're responsible for adding the phrase "until there can be no more smiting" to my vocabulary, then they probably at least deserve a try.  So from there, a 75¢ coupon (complete with picture of the Velveeta Blacksmith) was all it took to push me off the fence and pick this up with a package of ground beef.  Let the smiting begin!

We start off by browning and draining our ground beef; then into the skillet goes 2c of water and the powdered seasoning mix (which looks a lot like mac-and-cheese powder), which we stir it into a sauce.  We add the included pasta and return the ground beef to the skillet, bring to a boil, and simmer covered for around 13 minutes, stirring often.  Finally, we SMITE THEM WITH LIQUID GOLD UNTIL THERE CAN BE NO MORE SMITING (ahem) add and stir in the pouch of cheese sauce, and they are ready to serve!

Despite the passing resemblance to a Hamburger Helper dinner, which frankly had me a bit nervous, I have to say these are actually very good!  The cheese flavor is very rich and the sauce is nice and thick, coating the meat and macaroni well.  The ground beef itself might seem a bit bland if you get a bite that is heavy in meat, though--I might consider seasoning the ground beef with a little salt and pepper as I brown it in the future, but that is a very minor complaint.  The package claims that the box makes five servings, which is probably a little unrealistic, but it could be at least three helpings, and maybe four if it were paired with some generous side dishes.  My sweetie and I both enjoyed this!  We'll probably be trying at least two of the other flavors eventually (the Nacho Supreme and Chicken & Broccoli both sound good) and I could definitely see us having this one again too.  Smite me again, please!  ^_^

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Marie Callender's Creamy Parmesan Chicken Pot Pie

Made By:  ConAgra Foods Inc.
Required to Prepare:  oven, baking sheet, aluminum foil
{OR:  Microwave}
980 calories per package

This review is a special request from my sweetie!  We usually have my home cooking for dinners here, but before I came along, she used to have a lot of convenience dinners like this.  I can relate; when it's just you, you sometimes just want something easy.  Anyway, it had been a couple of years since she had one of these and the craving struck, so off to the store I  went to get dinner!

These can be prepared one at a time in the microwave, with a roughly 10-minute cooking time.  Since I was making two, we went with the "for flakier crust" oven directions--remove the pie from the box (but not the cooking tray), place on a baking sheet, shield the crust edges with a bit of aluminum foil, and bake at 400° for around 65 minutes.  Not exactly a quick dinner, but still rather easy and convenient.  I let the pies cool for around five minutes, and then we dug in!

Although the picture on the box shows the pie sitting pleasantly on a plate, I actually don't know how you'd get it out of the tray in one piece like that; we just left them in the little paper bowls.  The crust is really rich and buttery, and has a nice crisp texture.  The sauce has a nice flavor; the parmesan flavor is actually a bit subtle, I mainly notice a roasted pepper flavor, but it's definitely not bad.  The chicken is tender without being too soft, and the veggies were firmer than expected, almost a little too firm (but not quite).  I can see why my sweetie asked for these!  The calorie count is a little high, I suppose, but it's filling enough to be the meal all by itself, so it's not really too outrageous.  And, it's good enough to feel like a treat, at a really reasonable price. I don't think it'll be two years before we have the next one!  :D

Pagoda Express Chicken Fried Rice

Distributed By:  Schwan's Consumer Brands Inc. [Product of USA]
Required to Prepare:  Microwave Oven
680 calories per package

Last week I found myself in possession of a Safeway coupon good for $5 off any "New" frozen products.  So, of course I cruised the freezer aisles looking for "New" things to spend my coupon on!  I finally settled on three of these Pagoda Express frozen take-out style meals, and I am reviewing the first of them today!  I decided to try the Chicken Fried Rice first, as it seems like a direct competitor to the Tai Pei Chicken Fried Rice product that I've already reviewed (and enjoyed).

To prepare, we pull back the corner of the lid a little to vent, and microwave for four minutes; then we rip the lid off, give it a stir, set the lid back on top, and microwave for another two minutes or so.  Just like that, lunch is piping hot and ready to eat!

Comparing this to the Tai Pei product, I notice that the volume doesn't seem to have cooked down as much here, and the rice is a bit less soft, probably because this product doesn't use the steaming film.  Actually, I think I prefer the texture of this product; although the rice seems a bit on the dry side, the meat is much less soft and spongy--I think the lack of steaming is probably good for the chicken.  On the other hand, I think the Tai Pei fried rice may have been a bit more flavorful; I especially noticed the baby corn pieces being very bland and watery.  That is really my only real criticism with this, though, so overall I guess I thought it was good, if not memorable.  I'd probably get it again... if I get another coupon. :|

Friday, February 17, 2012

Nong Shim Chapagetti

Made By:  Nong Shim America, Inc.
Required to Prepare:  saucepan & range, strainer,  2-1/2 cups + 3 tablespoons water
560 calories per package

Available online through

Today we have a pack of Nong Shim's Chapagetti for review!  This is an instant version of a very popular Korean dish called chajangmyeon, which (according to Wikipedia) consists of noodles topped with a salty black-bean paste.  They should be interesting to try!

Inside the package is a disc of the puffy-looking noodles like the ones in Nong Shim's Neoguri, along with a packet of dried 'Vegetable Mix', a packet of soup base, and a small pouch of oil.  We are supposed to boil 2-1/2 cups of water, add the noodles and veggie packet and cook for five minutes, then drain the noodles well.  We put the drained noodles in our bowl, add the oil, soup base, and 3 tablespoons of water, and stir thoroughly.  Since the soup base seemed a bit coursely ground, the stirring was easier said than done, but eventually the noodles are coated with a thick, dark sauce and are ready to serve!

The star of this show, of course, is the chajang sauce, so we'll start with that; it has a deep, nutty, almost coffee or cocoa-like flavor, and isn't nearly as salty-tasting as I expected based on the description of chajangmyeon that I read.  It definitely doesn't taste like it looks like it would taste, if that makes any sense.  The vegetable mix seems to be mainly toasted onion with some carrot and faux beef bits; they are present and accounted for but don't seem to assert themselves above the sauce that much.  The noodles are spaghetti-like in consistency (hence the "pagetti" part of the name), soft but not mushy.

I didn't find these all that exciting, but they do seem to have a comfort-food vibe going on.  Although I am a bit curious now to taste some "real" chajangmyeon to compare, I doubt if I'll be seeking them out on a regular basis. :|

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nong Shim Shin Ramyun BLACK

Made By:  Nong Shim America Inc.
Required to Prepare:  Water, saucepan & range (or bowl and microwave)
560 calories per package

Available online through

So, it's been a while... did y'all miss me?

Today I finally tried a package of the infamous "Shin Ramyun Black" by Nong Shim.  The infamy, by the way, stems from the fact that Nong Shim of Korea got hit with a false-advertising fine for stating that their new Shin Ramyun Black was nutritionally "the perfect food."  I was unaware of all the controversy when I purchased them (although I do find it amusing), and honestly I'm much more interested to see how the flavor compares to Shin Ramyun 'Red'.  So, on with the review!

Inside the package is a disk of noodles that looks just like the ones in normal Shin Ramyun, along with three packets; there is a "Beef and Vegetable Mix" which has the usual dried veggies but also some dehydrated beef chips including some dried mushrooms, a plain "Soup Base," and something called a "Sul-Long-Tang Soup Base" which is apparently a bone soup of some sort.  We boil 550cc [2-1/3 cups] of water, then add everything to the pot and cook for five minutes.  Then we just transfer the soup to our bowl and serve!

The broth is very creamy-looking, and the little chunks of beef mushrooms are easily visible.  Like the other Shin Ramyun, the noodles have a nice texture, and are flavorful from cooking in the soup broth.  The broth itself has the expected spiciness, although it does seem to be a bit milder than regular Shin Ramyun... maybe the creaminess from the Sul-Long-Tang stuff is toning it down a bit.  There is a much deeper beef broth flavor here than in the normal Shin Ramyun, too.  The rehydrated mushroom pieces stay a bit tough and don't seem to have a lot of flavor on their own, but I'm imagining they've contributed their flavor into the broth instead, and it's not like they really detract or anything.  It seems a bit more "premium" than adding powder mushroom extract, anyway.

I think I may have actually enjoyed the flavor of these more than regular Shin Ramyun; the extra flavors from the beef bone extract seemed to provide some welcome complexity to help the flavor not be quite so one-sided.  However, the premium price on these makes the question of value a bit harder to answer... but I will say that I'm more interested in having this product again than I am the regular Shin Ramyun.  :)

Soup it Up:  Most times we enjoy this soup, we do add a soft egg to it, to balance the spice level with a bit of richness and creaminess.  There's no huge need to add other items because of the 'premium' nature of the included add-ins, but some thin slices of beef could be a thing.
Also, my wife decided to try adding some sour cream to hers, as a different variation to 'cool down' the spice, and I thought that was a worthy option as well, the sourness brings forward a different set of flavors than with the ultra-creamy egg yolk.

{5/15/15 edit: I've recently realized that what I had thought were strange little pieces of beef were actually mushrooms.  They make much more sense to me now. ^_^; }