Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Special Product Focus: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Fan Blogger Reviews Some Ready-to-Heat and Ready-to-Eat Chow

Oakmonster, who founded the "Temple of Fresh & Easy" fan blog, and who we've written about before, recently took on a partner, Amy, at the blog, where the two food mavens -- Oakmonster, also known as Oakley, and Amy -- review various fresh & easy store brand products in various categories sold at Fresh & Easy fresh food and grocery markets.

Oakmonster and Amy use a cute and fun rating system to rate the fresh & easy brand products they review. Below is their rating system, from best -to- bad:

Nirvana: Nothing else better
Heavenly: Impressive
Earthbound: So-so.
Purgatory: Could improve
Hell: Can't be saved

Amy recently reviewed a number of fresh & easy brand fresh, prepared foods items. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market makes its prepared foods items in a central kitchen facility, then ships them under refrigeration DSD-style to its 96 stores in Southern California, Metro Las Vegas, Nevada, and in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan market region.

The fresh & easy refrigerated ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat fresh, prepared foods items are created by the retailer's in-house chief, Mike Ainslie.

Below are Amy's recent reviews (October 9) of a number of fresh & easy ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat (or grab-and-go) prepared foods items. Remember the ratings guide above when you view her ratings in the reviews. All of the items were purchased by Amy at a Fresh & Easy store in Las Vegas, Nevada.

1. (Ready-to-heat) Penne Pesto: This dish was delicious, light and flavorful -- which is perfect in the Las Vegas heat. I was so pleasantly surprised when the F&E pastas microwaved and didn't dry out. Fresh vegetables in this dish complement the pesto without overwhelming it. If I had one less positive comment it would be that I wanted my pesto heavier. But, disclaimer: I like a lot of pesto. My mom split the dish with me and it was the perfect proportion of pesto to penne for her.

Verdict: heavenly

2. (Ready-to-heat) Penne Arribiata: OMGBBQ. SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO YUMMY. Spicy without being painful, with deliciously tender red and yellow and green peppers in the dish that add an aesthetic as well as aromatic appeal to this meal. (hey! I made a rhyme!) I've bought this dish a few times now. It is a perfect entree, late night snack, lunch idea.

Verdict: Nirvana

3. (Ready-to-heat) Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce: First of all it is only $1.99! You can find it in the sandwich and sushi display in the front of the store and it is the perfect amount of pasta for one person. Fresh diced tomatoes are throughout this dish and the sauce is the perfect shade of pink. I usually add some olives to it for my own personal perfection. This is what I'm having for dinner tonight.

Verdict: Nirvana

4. (Ready-to-Eat) Tomato, Basil, Mozzerella Sandwich: The roll used on this sandwhich is delicious. Somewhere between a ciabatta and french roll, it is the perfect complement to the fresh buffalo mozz, fresh basil and tomato slices with a sprinkle of lemon juice/pinenut mixture on it. The ratio of bread to cheese to tomato to greens is DIVINELY PERFECT.

Verdict: Heavenly

5. (Ready-to-eat) Ham & Swiss sandwich: I've had this sandwich 3 times and it was delicious all three times, although once the bread wasn't the greatest--just passable. The next two times the bread was good, but not as good as on the tomato/basil/mozz sandwich and not as good as the individual french demi baguettes in the back of the store. The Ham is sliced thin enough for a gal like me who likes her lunchmeat wafer thin. The swiss is creamy. The dijon mustard has just the right amount of bite. This is the sandwich I'm tucking into my carry on for my flight to Aruba tomorrow.

Verdict: Heavenly

6. (Ready-to-heat) Chicken Escallopes and Rosemary Garlic Red Potatoes: I'm listing these together because together they take about 10 minutes to make and presentation and taste wise appear like you slaved in the kitchen for hours. Chicken fillets are in a crust of spices including rosemary, thyme, basil and garlic. Pan saute them in extra virgin olive oil for 10 min, turning frequently. Red Potatoes are in olive oil, rosemary and garlic mixture and microwave for about 3 1/2-4 minutes. OMGBBQ I could eat this everyday, for real.

Verdict: Nirvana

7. (Ready-to-heat) BBQ Chicken Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza and Pepperoni Pizza: for $4.49ish, they are a bargain and easy to pop in the oven. I did not add any extra spices to them and they were alright. They tasted like frozen pizza despite being fresh take and bake style. DiGiorno is better. Now, that said, some fresh garlic and tomato added to the pepperoni might have elevated its rating. My main criticism of the pizzas is that the crust was cardboard like.

Verdict on all 3: Earthbound

8. (Ready-to-eat) Fruit and Cheese Plate: Do you have to bring an appetizer to book club? For $4.49 this is the ticket. About 6 small rounds of bread with a small piece of brie, some white cheese that seemed Havarti like, a few cubes of cheddar, sliced apples and dried apricots. This also makes a great snack and will also be in my carry on on the flight to Aruba tomorrow.

Verdict: Nirvana

9. (Ready-to-heat) Beef Fajitas: Oakley rated this a Nirvana, so I will give it another go after my vacation. I think perhaps the issue I had with the marinade/spices is cilantro. I'm not a huge fan. But the beef was tender.

Verdict: Earthbound

10. (Ready-to-eat) Pro-Yo Berry Crunch, Dark Chocolate Pudding and Vanilla Banana Smoothie: I AM ADDICTED to all three and my F&E is STILL out of them. HELP!

Verdict: Nirvana

11. (Ready-to-heat) Chili Marinated Chicken Tenders The plastic container melted in my microwave and the odor--oh good god the odor. This was a freak incident as no other F&E plastic container has fared a similar fate. I didn't eat them obviously and now I am (irrationally) afraid of them. Have you tried them? Should I give it another go?

Verdict: Purgatory for now, subject to change.

Review Synopsis

Amy reviewed 14 fresh & easy fresh, prepared foods items. 11 items but 3 pizza varieties.
7 of the items are ready-to-heat foods. 4 are ready-to-eat items.

The Review Scale:

Nirvana : Nothing else better
Heavenly : Impressive
Earthbound : So-so.
Purgatory : Could improve
Hell : Can't be saved

The Breakdown:

Based on the review scale above, this is the breakdown of Amy's 11 reviewed items:

Nirvana = 6
Heavenly = 5
Earthbound = 2
Purgatory = 1
Hell = zero

Since 6 out of the 14 items Amy rated were given the top score of Nirvana (nothing else better). That means she ranks nearly half of all the items reviewed as superior.

Additionally, 5 items are rated as Heavenly (impressive), meaning 11 out of the 14 items achieved either a superior (Nirvana) or excellent (Heavenly) ranking. Well, Oakley and Amy are self-professed Fresh & Easy fan Bloggers after all. In case you are asking. But the reviews are thoughtful ones.

Only 2 items received a "so-so" (Earthbound) review. And only 1 out of the 14 items needs improvement (Purgatory), according to Amy's palate and reviews.

Lastly, none of the 14 prepared foods items reviewed were sent to hell, which based on the ratings system suggests any items receiving that rating would likely be sent to the microwave oven with the setting set on high and the timer set for "burn baby burn."

You can read more reviews from Oakley and Amy at the Blog here:

[Fresh & Easy Buzz Note to Readers: Please feel free to offer your comments on these or any other fresh & easy fresh, prepared foods items you have tried.

Did you like them? Were they good (Nirvana or Heavenly), nothing to write home about (Purgatory) or pure gut bombs (Hell). Feel free to offer any comments using the "comments" link below.]


OakMonster said...

Hey F&E Buzz, thanks for the re-post. Y'all can come by and comment with us too. Amy goes to the store often so she reviews a lot of stuff.

Come on down to the Temple!

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

You are welcome Oakmonster. And thanks for the invite.

Anonymous said...

I've had the first 2 penne pasta dishes reviewed. I would give them at best a C-. They were too salty and rubbery after being heated. The sauce was ok but no better than an inexpensive canned or bottled sauce. Shows how individual such reviews can be I suppose.