Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Freeze! Step away from the Seasoned Diced Cooked Beef (Contains up to 10% Solution)!

...Or, How I'm Savin' Myself All The Way to Indigestion

If, like me, you are lured every Sunday into a love-hate relationship with the glossy, brightly-colored coupon ads in the center fold of the paper, you may have likewise been lured into purchasing one of Del Monte's new Harvest Selections entrees. The $1-off could have been too much to resist. In the world of coupon clipping, the $1 denomination is king: Twenty-five cents is rarely worth your time, 50 cents is the workhorse - one of, if not the most popular denomination - and the $1-off is what makes it all worthwhile. A whole dollar off! A crisp, clean Washington left to grow and mature in your money market account.

But, sometimes, you lose your head. Wanting so desperately to save, we end up spending on something we never would have spent on in the first place (let's not discuss the adult-baby-wipe debacle, or those lamb-and-feta links that I was sure would look more appealing once cooked and nestled in a bun). Enter the aforementioned entree. The $1-off coupon effected a half-off sale on this heavily-packaged shelf-stable new entry in the portable office lunch category. At only $2, it would have been cheap even without my little promissory note. And everything about the look and taste of the entree is worth the price.

Not having a microwave, I eschewed the “cut slit in film, nuke for 90 seconds” directions in favor of removing my “Beef and Vegetable Stew” into a saucepan to heat it the old-fashioned way. This was a mistake. I believe now that the opaque film cover is designed to spare diners the horror of seeing this stuff in its unheated state. I am not exaggerating when I say it looked like it emerged from a pet food pouch. But pate looks a little like doggie chow too – so I was not discouraged. At least, not yet.

After heating quickly to a bubble (which required the addition of two tablespoons of water, since I was going it range-style), I sampled for seasoning. The stew required copious amounts of salt and pepper to even register a flavor on my palate – strange, considering the 810 mg of sodium it contains as-is. Where did all that salt go? Is one of the ingredients on the lengthy list designed to mask saltiness?

Even with added seasoning, the flavor was, at best, lacking. At worst, you could say it was like the cafeteria day at school that you marked in red pencil on the take-home calendar so that you wouldn't forget to beg your mom to pack you a sandwich that morning. The globulous milky-colored mass that I encountered half-way through my stew also reminded me of school lunches....there was always something in there, somewhere, that just wouldn't go down. I really don't know what this teaspoon-sized rubbery blob was, only that it refused to yield to my molars and had to be removed somewhat indelicately with my thumb and forefinger. Luckily, my only dining companion was my beagle and she is not what you'd call a stickler for table manners.

The upside to this entree was that it contains two servings of vegetables, a fact touted boldly on the cardboard sleeve. Indeed, it's vegetable-rich. Considering the type and quality of the veggies, however, you'd be better off simply supplementing your Lean Cuisine with some baby carrots and an apple.