Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Product Review - Lean Cuisine Chicken Florentine

Like millions of other Americans, I am constantly looking for new ways to eat healthier, save money, and keep up with the growing food trends. I'm also dirt cheap and get tired of spending $50 a week on restaurant food. My good friend The DailyDimwit is also going through a "I feel fat! Must eat in more often!" phase, and my feeble attempts to introduce him to low cost, healthy eating are futile. I have tried to tell him which instant lunches taste the best, but of course, being a man...he doesn't listen.

With that in mind, I went to my local grocery store and stocked up on 'insta-meals': welcome new category!

My freezer's supply is getting low, but in my attempts to keep pinching the poop off the buffalo on a penny I dug around and discovered a loan box, snatched it up, and ate it for lunch today. Then I read the paper, RIGHT after I pitched the container in the trash. Oops.*

Today's experiment was Lean Cuisine's 13.25 ounce Chicken Florentine meal. No preservatives! Here are the nutritional facts they exploit right on the box:
  • Fat - 9g
  • Calories - 410
  • Vitamin A - 70%D
  • VCalcium - 35%DV
  • Vitamin C - 0%DV
  • Dietary Fiber - 24%DV
  • Weight Watchers® Points® 8
  • Vegetable Servings 1
  • Total Carbohydrates (g) 54 - 18% DV

I'm all about the high fiber content at this point in my life, and for a woman my age, that's a bit less milk I have to drink to get my calcium. The sodium content is a bit high at 840 mg, 35% DV, but that is easy to counteract with enough water consumption and eating acidic fruit with the meal. Calorie-wise, if you focus only on that, it isn't much for a meal within a 2,000 calorie diet. However, knowing my system, internal clock, and overall being in tune with my body (as all women need to be in their 20s and up) I knew that the carb content was enough to keep my engine burning through the rest of today. Me + no carbs = zonked out writer with no personality! That equals less reviews for you all. And yes, people do read this...especially my Rooms to Go! The hits on that are astounding!

Moving along...the recommended radioactive cancer forming (also known as microwave) time was about 5 minutes with a stop/stir in between. I chunked mine in my office fridge this morning about 9:30 when I stumbled in, late as always. It sat for about 2 1/2 hours until I remembered I brought my lunch and needed to eat. I nuked this bad boy for about 2 minutes, found the center frozen like a hot pocket, then nuked it for another minute. Give it a stir and off we go!

The pasta noodles are precooked and taste like plain pasta noodles. They aren't crunchy or dry, and retain the spiral shape pretty well. The chicken is impressive -all white breast meat that is tender, juicy, and no sign of frost bite. The veggies are good; the meal doesn't contain enough for my liking, but I'm someone who will sit and eat an entire head of broccoli and puts okra in everything.

The meal loses points for the sauce. With the freezing/thawing/nuking process, the sauce loses the creamy thickness people adore in pasta, and turns into a watery, runny mess. It appears and tastes as if it was made with skim milk, and in further review of the ingredients, my taste buds were correct. This is where the lower caloric content comes into play. I prefer at lowest, 1% milk within the sauce.

My tastebuds are also an the pro-savory side. The sauce in the meal is a bit bland and leans to the sweet side, so I had to season it severely to satisfy my salty desires. I also cracked some pepper over it, which helped.

The portion size for me is perfect (I am 5'3'' and on a good day weigh about 125 pounds; if you tell anyone I'll smack you), but I do supplement with fruit. I also have an afternoon snack to keep me from inhaling cookies or cake that our office loves to provide. It's a birthday! Let's have cake. Retirement! Cake! New hire! Cake! Someone had a baby! Cake! Someone has diabetes! with fruit on top!

Overall, I give this about a 3.75 out of 5 on my insta-meal scale. I will buy this meal again, but now I remember why it always finds it way to the no-man's land of my freezer. However, if you are craving some carbs, pasta, and just something different, rather than a PB&J or pizza, it's worth the $2.50 you spend at the store. Lean Cuisine also provides coupons, which, at this point in the economy, makes the addition of salt seem worth the 40 cent savings.

*Editor's note: I ate this meal despite the news that 3 of Lean Cuisine's meals have been recalled here in my side of Texas. If I die, now you guys will know why!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Store Review - Rooms To Go

I recently moved from my small shoebox of an apartment to a larger "boot box" a few miles up the road. However, my new living room is slightly smaller in square footage, as I gained a bigger kitchen and closet. The result was a frustrated woman (me) knocking into couches left and right, no matter which way I angled them. I eventually sold them on Craigslist, ready for a fresh seat (start?).

I ventured out into the furniture shopping world, cash in my pocket, to hopefully find a smaller set. Clutched in one fist was the dimensions of my apartment, and in my other hand a tape measure. Determination and claustrophobia were my motivations.

Have you heard about the newest craze, Rooms To Go ? The premise of this place is that you can buy an entire room of furniture for a steal of a deal, and have your home instantly decorated - EXACTLY how their underpaid designers laid it out within the store - with little to no effort!

Like that denim couch set with the saggy lazy boy? It can be yours for only $2,000, and it comes with the coordinating geometric rug! For added dramatic effect, paint the railing on your staircase a delightful electric blue. It's just an accent, not an overwhelming addition to your already shabby pad with a picture of a window to look at. I'm sure you'll get LOTS of ladies with this set. (Is it me, or does that whole set look like a slipcover set purchased from the clearance rack at Wal Mart?)

Or this cheeky little number, which I had to see in the store to believe:
The color, which reminds me of mashed peas in baby vomit, is called "Silhouette Pear Green" A 7 piece set, yours for only $1700! And yep, you're stuck with the 1974 lamps and coffee table, which looks as though it could be knocked over by a gust of wind at any moment. The oh-so-comfortable sofa is also a sleeper. Perfect for torturing your husband to unfold when guests arrive! You can find the same set in other colors, such as Galveston beach sand, rusty nail orange, and retro-powder blue. Cindy Crawford must be proud to have her name associated with this beautiful set. I love how one of the lamps is eco-friendly - it's growing its very own plant right out of the shade!

There's also an accent chair! Stare at it for a few minutes, and the geometric shapes adjust before your eyes. It goes with all 4 of the collection's colors...

Ok, time to refrain from laughing. I found three sofas on the website, and in my determination to find a set sooner rather than later, I went in on a whim to check out the place.

Disclaimer: This review is of a local store near my new dwelling. This does not reflect the overall customer service of Rooms to Go and its affiliates. Your store may vary in selection, size, and employees.

I have visted 3 times to this particular location, and each time have been more than disappointed. On each visit, I was well-dressed (usually having been on my way home from my real job, which pays me real money to write). And each time, I was given a 'hello', then passed over for a married couple or a non-English speaking family with 27 kids running around. Each time, aside from my last visit, which is written below, I left without being helped. I suppose the salesmen figured I could simply write up my purchase, pay my money, and leave a copy of my receipt on the desk on my way out, couches strapped to the tailgate of my sedan. No bother.

I continued to make my way around the store, then saw a clearance section in the back. What they don't tell you in the clearance section in the back:

1. We are not here to help you, as we are making absolutely no commission off your cheap-ass purchase. Therefore, see number 2.

2. We aren't delivering this furniture to your home. Better get your UHaul flat bed trailer and load this on your own. That's right, we don't even help you load it up!

3. These prices are not the cheapest around. Like a liquidation sale at Linens n' Things, we have jacked the prices up 175%, then 'slashed' them by 50%, resulting in you paying twice as much for clearance furniture, and no that is not a stain on that microfiber couch, it is a shadow.

I meandered my way through mismatched pieces, a few dented sets, a rather rude sales guy who reminded me that there was no way in Hell he'd help me load up the pieces, and if I have questions to read the back of the cards pasted on the furniture. He then took off to the bedding section to assist a rather busty woman select a sturdy headboard to attach her handcuffs to. Interesting...she didn't look like a police officer...

I gave up in clearance and headed back to the main showroom. I laughed at a denim 'country style' set up, complete with fuzzy cow hide rug, 'iron' (spray painted plastic) accents, and 'wood' (composite shavings) accent tables. The lamps were complete with Texas stars, horseshoes, and cowboys. I sensed a pile of manure was all it took to complete the effect, but due to health codes, R2G was forbidden and had to return it to the dude ranch. The poor decoraters instead threw a large picture of a steer above the loveseat.
Finally, despite being ready to spend money, no one offered any help whatsoever. I caught one sales guy snoozing in a massage chair. I asked him if I could get him some coffee, and he gave me an irritated look, however did not heave himself out of the chair. He rested in the chair for about another 15 minutes before a young kid approached me, asking if I needed help. Finally, service!

Wrong. I attempted to explain my size requirements, which I already knew he could not fulfill (take that any way you want it, kids.) He pretended to understand my decorating needs, and stuttered that no couch in the store was going to fit. Ok, I'll leave. Good job, kid. You just blew a sale.

In his realization that he just put his foot in his mouth and lost his potential new pair of Abercrombie jeans, the kid blocked me from the exit and lead me over to a sagging set that would no way fit my needs. This 7 piece set was on sale for $1788. I explained I didn't need the whole set, that unfortunately the color isn't espresso (aka: dark brown, people) and that those cushions would not hold up to my liking. He ignored my rebuttals and asked me which pieces I was interested in. I told him the loveseat, chair, and ottoman, fully knowing I would not be purchasing the set. He quoted me $1500.
Am I the only one who sees a problem with that? I looked at him, dumbfounded. For $200 more, I get lamps, a coffee table, and a sofa?
"Uh, yes ma'am." he must have thought I was crazy, not seeing the amazing deal for a fantastic furniture set of the highest quality. Der...
$1500 for 3 pieces of furniture is not going to sell me. He made no attempt to cut a deal, instead unzipping one of the pillows to show me the double-layer of fabric they use to keep the foam insulation secure and look at the pretty colors it comes in and do my pants make my butt look big?
I thanked him, reluctantly took his card, asked the other sales guy if he'd like a massage with a happy ending, then said he should get off his lazy butt, as I'm not allowed to do that at my job. "Sucks to be you," he said.
My overall opinion of Rooms To Go? Fail.
The sales staff is biased, probably due to their extensive sales training from corporate, who explains that couples are more likely to spend money than a single person. True, but again, don't sell all of us single cats short, as I had lots of money to spend, had I been stupid enough to take 3 pieces of furniture for $1500.
There is no negotiating prices like individually owned stores (Gallery, Bi-Rite, even Star Furniture in Houston, TX will allow you to negotiate). I was unable to see financing terms. What you see is the amazing deal of what you get. No mixing and matching. You'd better like that snazzy pickled pink coffee table with your room or know how to use a can of varnish. Otherwise, go find another set.
Their version of 'clearance' and the average shopper's view of 'clearance' are entirely different. Full priced furniture is less expensive than what I saw there. I saw a set on clearance that was the exact same set I owned several years ago, for twice the price of what I purchased it at - on sale.
My vote? Go somewhere else. I have a list of good furniture stores to shop at in the area, so feel free to drop me a line and I'll fire it over.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Product Review - Nutro Brand Dog food

I own a dog.

Correction, I am owned by a dog. That seems more truthful.

My family has been in the "Owned by a Bulldog" club for several generations, all the way back to the 60s, in which my grandmother raised a champion Bully. Today my brother and I each are graced daily by our Bulldogs, Zeus and Cyrus.

Nutrition is a key factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially for the Bulldog breed. With my first Bulldog (Betsy, owned by my father), it was all a learning experience, and I believed that I had all the answers when I purchased Cyrus almost 4 years ago. For the past year, I have been feeding my dog this food:

For your history lesson today, Nutro has been around for approximately 80 years, specializing only in dog and cat nutrition. They take pride in ensuring your pet is fed only the best quality kibble available. They are even proud enough to display the ingredients in each bag of kibble that they display it right on the back of the bag.

Why is that such a big deal? Well, fellow pet lovers/owners, I have a great little secret for you. Pet food manufacturers are required by the FDA to post the ingredients of the food somewhere on the product's packaging. They do not specify the exact location, but what has become a growing trend is the following:

Ol' Roy, Kibbles n' Bits, Alpo, etc: post their ingredients on the bottom of the bag.

Grocery store brands, such as Purina, Pedigree, Science Diet: post their ingredients on the side panel of the bag. They aren't thrilled with the ingredients and know that any intelligent pet owner will realize the garbage in the food is not healthy for their pet, but it's better than Ol' Roy, who ground up chicken feed and horse hooves in theirs!

Don't believe me? Check out this little morsel of information:

"....there is no mandatory federal inspection of ingredients used in pet food manufacturing. In all but two or three states, the law allows pet food makers to use “4-D sources,” that is tissues from animals that are dead, dying, disabled or diseased when they arrive at the slaughterhouse. Another shocking fact is that before meat even arrives at the rendering plant it has already been saturated with chemicals. To comply with government regulations all meat rejected by slaughterhouses must be “denatured”-- a procedure designed to make it unpalatable to humans, thus ensuring it cannot be resold as human grade meat. "
Special thanks to this website:

Sounds tasty, eh?

Here is a sample of what is in something that most people feed their own dogs: Purina One:

Lamb (natural source of glucosamine), brewers rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal (natural source of glucosamine), oat meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), lamb meal, animal digest, potassium chloride, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, salt, caramel color, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, copper sulfate, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin B-12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Add Videogarlic oil, folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, calcium iodate, biotin, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), sodium selenite. (Special thanks to

Looks good, right? Meat, rice, etc.

Ok, time for your daily TMI moment:

Did you know humans cannot digest corn? Ever eaten some tasty corn on the cob one night at a barbeque, then the next day (or next bowel movement, depending on how regular you are) you notice the corn chunks in your stool? Well, there's your proof in the proverbial 'pudding', my friend. So if humans cannot digest corn, why feed it to your dog? While corn is a 'vegetable', stuffing it down your dog's throat isn't going to keep him full for long, and will create more 'land mines' in your lawn. And who doesn't want additional animal fat to pick up? There is a list of other delicious sounding products that I cannot pronounce, but I guarantee you aren't good for your precious FiFi.

Back to my original topic, as I could moan, groan, and gnash my teeth for hours on the ridiculousness of grocery store and Wal Mart brand dog foods....

With a Bulldog, who has a highly sensitive tummy, this stuff is sure to keep their life spans in the 6 to 8 year range. However, Betsy, rest her little soul, lived to be 11.

ELEVEN years old. The dog had hip dysplesia and regular $300 vet bills. But how did she live to be so old and still kicking right up to her last day on Earth?

We discovered premium dog food. Nutro.

I have fed my little bulldozer Nutro dog food products since I can remember. When we first adopted Zeus, my brother's rescued Bulldog, he was being fed grocery store brand dog food, and a bit of the BARF diet , a new age way of feeding, that really isn't necessary. When comparing the two bullies, Cyrus was visibly in better shape. Cosmetically speaking, he had a light layer of fat on his body (ribs still able to be felt, of course) well defined muscle, a shiny, glossy coat, white teeth, clear eyes, and little mucus on his nose. Energy-wise, he outlasted Zeus easily.

The first thing we did was rip any raw meet and bones away from Zeus, who seemed eager to do the same - by ruining several sheets, a blanket, and almost a rug with his bouts of diarhea for about a week - before he went home to his new family. We switched him over to a Nutro product, and the change was nearly immediate. Today, he has more muscle, clear eyes, energy, and is a happier dog.

Ingredients in Nutro: Chicken meal, whole brown rice, ground rice, lamb meal, rice bran, soybean oil, sunflower oil, poultry fat, salmon meal, flaxseed. (More thanks to While soybean oil isn't the best (I vote for sunflower and olive oil,) it still aids in a healthy bully. Also note the missing filler ingredient: CORN.

Some more facts about this particular brand of dog food: While I have used it for about a year (this type, not the brand...I love Nutro), it is considered the second-rate version of the original Nutro food. I think this product was created for a dog owner that doesn't want to feed grocery store garbage, but just doesn't feel comfortable paying a little extra cash for premium dog food. The large bag that I feed costs about $25.00 and lasts me a little over 2 months. Cyrus is fed two cups of it a day.

Raves: It is low odor, keeps his teeth pure white, and has the best ingredients for the price, plus it lasts longer, is filling for my extreme eater, and comes in different sizes/flavors.

Rants: I think it also has food coloring, because Cyrus's stool is a little more orange compared to other dogs. And it stains if they decide to puke on your white carpet. (Mix a little bleach in your steam cleaner detergent, and go after the stain a few times!) Also, while this may not be related to the product, I have noticed that Cyrus has been shedding a little more often than usual. This could be the amazing changes in weather we continue to have.

Overall, if you want to have your dog around for a few extra years, I vote you try Nutro brand dog food. One bag makes a huge difference. Spend an hour on a Saturday at your local Petco or Petsmart, where Nutro experts are available to chat with. And enjoy the lowered stress - avoid less 'presents' around the yard. Less 'filler', more 'food', means more energy, and less poopie. And, if you are a Wal Mart shopper like myself and have some extra time, check out the ingredients in some of the dog foods, like what we found in Purina's Beneful (gee, yummy...)

Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, sugar, sorbitol, tricalcium phosphate, water, salt, phosphoric acid, animal digest, potassium chloride, dicalcium phosphate, sorbic acid (a preservative), L-Lysine monohydrochloride, dried peas, dried carrots, calcium carbonate, calcium propionate (a preservative), choline chloride, added color (Yellow 5, Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 2), DL-Methionine, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, Vitamin A supplement, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin B-12 supplement, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, copper sulfate, biotin, garlic oil, thiamine hydrochloride, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, sodium selenite.

Sounds so....tasty, doesn't it? Just because the bag has pretty packaging doesn't mean it is going to make pretty poop piles for your dog.