Like many, when I don't feel like cooking, I will get take-out because it's fast and easy. Rarely do I get pre-packaged meals like frozen dinners or the packaged meals at Trader Joe's because well even though I like the convenience especially to bring food to work, most of these pre-packaged meals taste like crapola. Yeah, harsh, but I feel like I'm eating phood instead of food.
The game has now changed. Tomorrow, June 13, Fresh and Easy launches 150 new meals into their markets in California, Arizona, and Nevada as they transition from your typical grocery store to a "meal store."
What is a meal store you ask? Well, before I get to that, enjoy some Chicken Al Pastor and Beef Colorado mini street tacos.
A meal store is a wonderful place where you can get pre-made dishes inspired by chefs cooked with fresh ingredients from California farms with zero to minimal preservatives. In fact, here are the chefs. They are friendly real people not made up marketing figures.
All the meals are cooked and packaged in a new kitchen facility in Southern California and come cold like salads or are heatable like the Eggplant Napoli in a microwave or stove, so you get instant gratification. All meals go from the kitchen facility to the store shelf within 24 hours to maximize freshness.
The meal store is like having four restaurants under one roof: American, Italian, Asian, and Mexican. Healthier meal options will also be featured with Fresh and Easy's existing Eat Well line, but new dishes won't be out for a few more weeks.
With the meal store, Fresh and Easy will offer appetizers, sides, entrees, and family size dishes ranging from $1.99 to $9.99. That's some great pricing, and cheaper than getting take-out from a restaurant.
Fresh and Easy is taking pre-made foods to a new level. If you thought the pre-made dishes at Trader Joe's were good, you'll be blown away by the Fresh and Easy meals. I was!
My favorite of the samplings we got to taste at their preview event was this Garlic Shrimp and Caprese Salad on Arugula. I could eat a whole pound of that shrimp, which can be eaten cold or heated. I'd throw that garlic shrimp on top of some linguine for a dinner meal.
I was impressed that Fresh and Easy pushed some culinary boundaries like with this Texan Blueberry Pork.
And here, for Asian fare, we have some Eggplant Stir Fry, and a Kung Pao Chicken that is packed with Pow! (heat) Pre-made foods tend to stay mild to medium in spicy heat. Not this dish. For those who like hot, you'll dig this Kung Pao Chicken.
And there you have a quick sneak peak into the 150 new meals that Fresh and Easy will start offering tomorrow. For a company that is only 5 years old, I am impressed with what Fresh and Easy is doing with this meal store concept. Not all the dishes are great or will wow but that's okay, these folks are off to a great start with good intentions. They are incredibly open to feedback to make the meals better.
On a final note, the Fresh and Easy folks also shared that all of their store interiors will be redone to something more lively like this...
I was happy to hear that news because I never understood the cold warehouse feeling of the stores with the cheap looking steel shelving because it was off from their gorgeous product packaging and corporate look and feel. Well, that's all going to change too.
Head to Fresh and Easy, and try some of their new meal store meals, and let us know what you think!
Note: I took all the food photos on my iPhone 4 on one of the white table cloth covered tables in the large conference room at Fresh and Easy HQ where their preview event was held. It's amazing what the iPhone can do!
I have never tried to do anything for a year long before, so I decided that since I really love taking food shots on my iPhone I am going to take at least one photo everyday this year and post it on Instagram. I'm tagging each photo with each day number (#day7) and the hashtag #yif12.
If you're on Instagram, you can follow me at: stephaniequilao.
If you're not on Instagram, here are options for you to follow along:
It's going to be a foodtastic year!
Continuing in our week long celebration of Jack LaLanne, here is a 3min clip where Jack does get a bit preachy about sugarholics saying they are just as worse as alcoholics...in that both are consuming a product that is destroying their health.
What I found most eye opening in this video clip which was shot nearly 50 years ago, is that towards the end, Jack recommends 10 foods to cut out of your diet for just 5 days to see how you feel. I'd say that the entire list is something most RDs and health/wellness folks in present time would reccomend eliminating or hugely cutting down on today!
Jack really was ahead of his time or the Western diet hasn't improved one bit. It's kinda scary. In fact, back then I wondered what young Jack would have said about GMOs.....(pausing for thought) um yeah, we don't need to guess, we know what he'd say.
Before we get to the vegan pizza and meatballs, shall we take a moment to gawk at a mini tower of pizzas. Two are vegetarian and the other two have meat. Ummmm-yeah!
When I go to restaurants, I often order a vegan dish and then ask them to add a side of chicken. As you can imagine, I get the one eyebrow raise of confusion look back at me. I can't have cow milk because of allergies.
Believe it or not, I have been in restaurants where when I ask whether a dish has dairy in it or not, I've gotten back, "Oh no, it doesn't have dairy in it. We just use a little butter." You would think that everyone knows that butter comes from a cow, but um, unfortunately, no.
So, I have found it more effective to ask for vegan choices because I guess the term vegan is a bit more clear - no animal or anything from it at all in the dish.
Last week, fellow foodie @dragonflytweet and I ventured to Happy Valley (yes, this is a real area in Phoenix. I love the name!) to visit Mellow Mushroom, a franchise pizza chain with a definite hip quaintness which raises it above a Pizza Hut kinda thing in many, many ways like the fact that they have interesting vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian choices...which is fantastic!
Owners of the Phoenix Mellow Mushroom are Jay and Diana Beskind, two of the nicest people you'll meet. Son Jason Beskind is the culinary influence in the kitchen. I have a special <3 for family owned businesses.
Another quick side note, each Mellow Mushroom franchise is given an art budget to decorate their place with art from local artists. Supporting local art most definitely scores huge brownie points with me.
I love Mellow Mushroom's tagline, "Happiness as expressed in pizza." I would most certainly agree with the statement that pizza = happiness!
At Mellow Mushroom, I found happiness right away in the fact that their pizza dough is vegan, and I could order a vegan pizza with cheese on it. Hurray! Normally, I order my pizza cheeseless. I got a simple tomato, black olive, and artichoke hearts pizza.
Mellow Mushroom uses Daiya vegan mozzarella shreds on their vegan pizzas. The fact that Mellow Mushroom uses Daiya is HUGE because tell me how many pizza places do you know that serve regular pizza and also have a vegan cheese option? Not many...I know 'cause I ask every time I go eat pizza out with friends. Typically, you'll see Daiya used in vegan or vegetarian restaurants that have pizza on the menu.
I have to say that the pizza dough at Mellow Mushroom is really tasty and I love the thick crust ends. Their dough is made with Georgia Spring Water and molasses. Besides pizza, they make pretzels out of the dough. If you want a vegan pretzel, be sure to ask specifically because they normally apply butter on the pretzel.
Mellow Mushroom also offers a gluten-free pizza as well. Woo-hoo! You see why this place just continues to dazzle me. I really appreciate the fact that owners have considered widening their options so that those like me with food allergies or intolerances can enjoy pizza like the rest of our family and friends who don't have restrictions.
The only thing with the gluten-free pizza dough is that it is not vegan, as they use egg in it. (I have an allergy to chicken eggs as well.) That was a bummer for me because I was really curious to try the gluten-free crust.
Besides the wonderful vegan pizza I had, the best part of the meal for me was the meatballs. Typically, the meatballs come like this all sandwiched and covered in cheese. I thought it clever how they cut the meatball in half and stuck a slice of mozzarella in the middle. Looks gorgeous!
I was able to order the meatballs without cheese. The bread crumb sprinkles was a nice crunchy touch. I also really like their tomato sauce. It has a nice sweet tang to it which is how I dig my sauce. I took an extra meatball home with sauce and mixed it with gluten-free spaghetti from Trader Joe's for lunch the next day.
Their was five of us at the table with five pizzas, and the one pizza that stood out for me was a pizza that is unique to only this Mellow Mushroom. The pizza is called the "Fun Guy" which has 5 different mushrooms: Shiitake, Crimini, Button, Portobello, and Oyster Mushrooms which sit atop Mozzarella with a house-made Grilled Mushroom Vinaigrette sauce.
I did take two bites because I am a mushroom fangirl, and how often do you see shiitake, crimini, and oyster mushrooms in your typical pizza joint? Yeah again, almost never, so this mushroom presence gets five stars in my book. Woa! For you vegetarians or mushroom lovers, I highly recommend getting this pizza.
Other Noshtopia goodness you'll find on the Phoenix Mellow Mushroom Menu include:
Continuing our celebration week of Jack LaLanne, in this 3min. video clip from his show, Jack talks about the importance of the "fuel" you put into the machine that is your body. Such simple wisdom, and a good question.
What do you fuel your body with?
Personally, I do my best to fuel my body with foods, drinks, thoughts, and emotions which will help me be vibrant for as long as possible...and given my family history, I too could live up to Jack's age of 96. Wouldn't that be cool to be a hot granny? lol!
This week, starting yesterday with our fresh juice toast, we're going to spend each day celebrating the life of Jack LaLanne, a man who had so much impact on my views on health and wellness.
In my opinion, this quote has got to be one of the simplest yet most influential philosophies of Jack LaLanne when it came to his own food perspective.
In 2007, I started to adopt Jack's philosophy almost 100%. I started by cutting out all aritificial sweeteners namely drinking diet soda...something I've been drinking for years.
Slowly, I adopted the philosophy that no one makes food better than Mother Nature and really, when you start eating real whole foods, organic or all-natural, you will see a significant difference not only in taste and experience, but in your overall health.
If you have local restaurants that support a farm-to-table philosophy, check them out and try new dishes. As well, support local farmer's markets for fresh produce and helping out your local economy.
I am totally with Hippocrates in his saying, "Let food be thy medicine." I have never felt better in my self since eating more fresh whole fods.
One of my all-time favorite health role models, Jack Lalanne passed away yesterday at the age of 96 at his home in Morro Bay in California.
Honestly, they don't make 'em like Jack Lalanne any more. That man was truly one-of-a-kind, and his impact on health and the well being of others will live on for generations....seriously, I think the man is that great!
So, I say in honor of an amazing man and iconic health role model, have a glass of fresh juice and toast Mr. Jack Lalanne! I went to the juice bar at Whole Foods and got a combo of apple, cucumber, carrot and kale. Indeed you can feel the nutrients do their thing!
Jack was always ahead of his time. If you go to YouTube, you can watch some of his 3minute clips from his TV show where he would basically just divvy out pearls of wisdom. I thought it cute how he refers to everyone as "students."
Here's one of my favorite clips where Jack shows us an example of a simple lunch...which has protein, Omega-3s, raw vegetables, and no breads.
Thank you Jack for being a positive influence in the world to help us become healthier and stronger humans!
When it comes to drinks, most people focus on the calories and sugar but not really the sodium numbers. It's equally important to be concerned with daily sodium intake because too much salt intake can lead to high blood pressure which can then lead to a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.
Health experts recommend 1,100 - 3,300 mg of sodium per day for healthy adults. Your average American consumes 2,300 to 6,900 mg per day.
I was on the McDonald's website looking for sodium information for some food stuff but and then happened to look at sodium numbers in the drink section, and was surprised to see that plain old 1% milk has almost 50X the amount of sodium as a regular Coke. (Based on serving size, you have to almost double the servings of milk to be about equivalent with the Coke.)
And interestingly, milk has almost the same amount of sugar as the Coke...the number is only roughly 5g lower. And chocolate milk, holey cow, the equivalent serving size of Coke gives you almost 50g vs. 29g of sugar, and nearly 300g vs. 5g of sodium.
Clearly, in this comparison, Coke is nutritionally better than chocolate milk. How scary is that...because on common sense alone most of us would assume that milk is healthier than soda. Well, no it isn't if you look at these numbers.
It's stunning! Just to give you a little sodium perspective, a 1 oz (28g) serving of Lay's Kettle Cooked Original Potato Chips has 110 mg of sodium. The jug of plain 1% milk has more sodium than potato chips.
I was also surprised to see that Diet Coke has 3X the amount of sodium as Regular Coke. There may be 0 calories, but there is triple the amount of sodium.
Out of all the McDonald's drinks, the best of the choices sodium wise was the Minute Maid Apple Juice and a 12oz cup of Iced Tea which has 0 calories, 5mg sodium, and 0 sugar.
Next time you're ordering drinks, be conscious of the sodium content as well.
Note: all drink images copyright belong to McDonald's
I was very honored to be one of three guests on the local Phoenix PBS show Check Please Arizona where we suggested our favorite restaurant, and then checked out the restaurant choices of the other two guests.
My choice was Calistro Bistro up in North Scottsdale. Check out their most amazing beet salad and dairy-free and gluten-free rice pudding in my review of the place last year. OMG! That desert is amazing!
The episode was 30minutes long, and here it is in its entirety: