Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Lean Cuisine Lesson

Look closely.  You can see the sadness.

I can’t cook.

This is a fact that is true, not because I am unskilled in the kitchen, but mostly due to the fact that I am lazy and never really try to cook.

Here are the only things I have ever used the stove or oven for:

-Eggs (sunny-side up).
-Hard boiled eggs.
-Bacon (once).
-Cooking a pre-made pizza from the supermarket.
-I have also used a George Foreman Grill to make cheese sandwiches.

This is it.  And this is not an exaggeration.

So what, then, do I eat?

Almost all of my food comes in the form of various Wawa delights, takeout, or other non-perishable rations that I happen to buy.

I am also a whiz at the microwave.  TV-dinners are a personal favorite because they are always ready to go.  My favorites are Swedish Meatballs and Lasagna. 

Actually, those are the only two I ever buy.

I know.  I put the “fine” in “unrefined.”

When shopping for my frozen delights, I typically offer no regard towards brands.  I simply grab whatever is cheapest.  The boxes often make me laugh. 

Some brands show a delicious representation of what is inside – a lusciously steaming hot meal, so bountiful that it can barely fit within the confines of a plate.  The meal is described in exquisitely rich verbiage that, in my head, is always spoken in the sensual voice of a seductive call girl.  “Fresh roasted chicken tenderloins,” she whispers into my ear, “cooked with a delectable, ssssecret sauccce…”  She giggles, then gets excited: “Prepared over a special blend of garden vegetables, Parmesan cheese, and-  and --- AND-”  She climaxes “VERMICELLI!!!”

But after I cook the meal and eat it, I realize that a more appropriate candidate to describe what I just consumed would be a bored DMV Clerk Receptionist.  “Ya got some chicken with some sauce on it,” she says plainly, not looking me in the eyes.  “And corn.  Next.”

Other brands take a different approach, placing a picture of a chef on the front of the box.  Despite what Stouffer’s wants me to think, I know full-well that this man did not personally prepare each and every meal.  He did not slave over a hot stove until this two-dollar meal was cooked precisely to his specifications.  He did not kiss his thumb, index and middle finger in satisfaction before carrying out the all-important final step of putting the meal into the freezer for a few months.


I understand that, despite however classy they try to make these meals seem, it is merely a means to an end for un-classy people like myself. 

It is simply the agent by which single, unrefined, and lazy people get from Point A (hungry) to Point B (not-as-hungry (See also: queasy)).

It is what it is.

*   *   *

There is only one grocery store on the island.  Being the sole provider of human necessities, it typically charges outrageous prices for everything.  This includes my beloved frozen dinners.

So naturally, when I saw that Lean Cuisines were on sale (10 for $10), I let out a euphoric screech of delight akin to those seen on Oprah giveaway shows.

You see, Lean Cuisines are the Cadillac of frozen dinners.  Why, you ask?

…Actually, I don’t know.  They are usually just really expensive, so I naturally assumed that they are better.*

*They aren’t.

Either way, I stockpiled on those babies.  I had my first Lasagna tonight.

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the way TV dinners are cooked, the instructions usually go something like this (subtext included):

1)      Put TV dinner in microwave (Yes, we think you are dumb enough to skip this).
2)      Cook on high for 2 minutes (During this time, think about all the sad things that happened to you today, and how unfulfilling this lonely meal will be. Haha!).
3)      Remove from microwave.  Lift protective seal.  Stir contents.  Replace seal.
4)      Put back in microwave (ensuring that none of your tears fall in with it).  Cook on high for 3 minutes.
5)      Let sit in microwave for 2 minutes, as contents are hot (You can’t sue us when you undoubtedly burn yourself)
6)      Enjoy (this temporary fulfillment.  It won’t last)!

Here’s the one big difference with the Lean Cuisines cooking instructions: Right before the second phase of cooking, it instructs the consumer to remove the protective seal.

And then that’s it for the seal.  It has served its purpose in phase one.  Just take it off and throw it away.

Apparently the fine people at Lean Cuisine don’t know what any seasoned microwavable-dinner-eater knows: the significance of that all-important step in the cooking process: Replace seal.

Heidi knows the importance of replacing Seal
Guess what, Lean Cuisine.  The funny thing about a microwave is that it makes things really hot.  It turns a frozen chunk of pasta, cheese, and sauce into an erupting volcano.  A volcano of red, molten cancer that can only be corked by that protective seal.

Red blotches speckled the inside of my microwave.

For a lazy guy like me, the cleanup was epic.  I had to use three, maybe four paper towels!

Can you imagine!

What’s worse is that it is in my nature to put off doing stuff until later, but I didn’t want the red sauce to dry and cake, so I had to clean it up right away.  And the microwave was still slightly warm to the touch!

What a disaster.

Didn’t the Lean Cuisine testers notice this?  They were so careful as to warn me not to burn myself after cooking the meal.  Surely they must test their microwaving instructions on self-insufficient cookers like me. 

I can imagine them standing behind a protective wall of glass.  They stand there, wearing white lab coats and holding clipboards, as a half-baked dude attempts to follow the instructions.

"Wow, I can barely see his self-confidence."

Surely they must know the unspeakable travesties that befall any microwave that grants warmth to their products.  Can’t they develop a method for cooking that incorporates the plastic covering so that my microwave stays (relatively) clean?

Or maybe they are trying to tell me something.

Perhaps the Lean Cuisine people are attempting to do something much larger than just feeding the lonely. 

Maybe they are attempting to make us better people. 

In their studies, they found out that after ten microwave cleanings, most consumers finally got fed up and learned how to cook real food. 

Yes, Lean Cuisine used to be a company primarily concerned with profits.  But then they pitied their sad, sad customers and decided to pull the protective seal out from under them, if you will.

*   *   *

The test subject has finally finished cleaning the red splotches off of the microwave. 

He sits down at the small table, picks up a fork, and cautiously digs into his microwavable dinner.  He does not use the plate that was offered to him, but instead elects to eat it right out of the plastic container that it came in.

He chews the food slowly and swallows.  He pauses for a moment, looking down at his meal.

He begins to whimper.

“My God,” says one of the lab-coated men behind the window.  “Mark em down to ten for ten dollars.”

“But, sir!  Our profits-”

“Screw the profits!” he yells.  “Just look at what we are enabling!”

The test subject has almost finished the meal, but is now openly weeping.  He wipes his face with sauce-riddled paper towels that he used to clean the microwave, leaving red streaks under his eyes.

The man with the lab coat can no longer look at this scene.  “Yes, make them buy in bulk,” he says, shaking his head sorrowfully.

“That’s the only way they’ll learn.”

-Youngman Brown

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  1. Their way of justifying the red splotches? "Microwave powers vary." They make an inferior product, then blame YOUR appliance instead.


    Dude, seriously. Learn to cook. Not for yourself, mind you. Keep doing what you're doing in that aspect. Save it for a 'time to impress' occasion. Cooking for a special someone, showing off for a boss, etc.

    I cook once a week, and I know how to make at least 6 high-class recipes off the top of my head. I have a signature dish. This stuff drives ladies wild.

    Yes, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But often, the way into a woman's pants is a well-prepared meal.

  2. YMB, seriously, if a chick came to your place for dinner, they'd get some Lean Cuisine?

  3. I ate those before I was married. Then I got used to better food and could not get myself to go back, even after the divorce.

    The anorexic chicken and aluminum flavored potatoes will have to be consumed by you. I have graduated to hotdogs. And on nights I am really feeling adventurous, I will buy a can of chili to put on them.

  4. Those bastards! And yea, haven't had many ladies over in a while, and I usually take them out to a really nice restaurant to overcompensate, but good advice.

    Twysted: No, they definitely would not get a Lean Cuisine. Maybe an already-made pizza.

    Just kidding :)

    Brett: Yea, most of my meals are usually take out... the Lean Cuisine's are usually saved for when I am too lazy or when it is super late at night.

    And you can keep your chili. Gross.

  5. I can't imagine all this fast food and fatty crap does your complexion any good Sir :/

    1. I don't think this dude gives a once of fuck about lean cuisine's ruining his complexion.

      All I know is I eat horrible stuff and my face is clear.

      I'm a BBW which is code word for fat, but my face is clear.

  6. I don't cook a lot of food in the microwave, but I always take that plastic seal off when I do because the idea of melted plastic toxins leaching into my food creep me out. I even put the microwave meal in a ceramic container when I nuke it, and cover it with a piece of paper towel.

    I love Stoffer's mac and cheese, so good. But I put that in a real oven so it gets nice and brown :)

  7. Twysted: Yea, you are probably right :)

    Tsaritsa: It is weird, I don't fear microwaving plastic stuff, but I am always afraid of plastic toxins when I leave a water bottle out in the sun, for instance.

    I should probably do some research...

  8. I cook with the microwave too! Seriously. I might have popcorn for dinner tonight.

  9. My ex-husband used to do all of the cooking, so I go visit him now around, it works. Everybody's happy.

  10. You shame all lazy people everywhere with your listening to the steps of lean cuisine! You must ignore the steps and modify the cook time (or not) so that you can just stick it in, hit the 2min, and eat it when done. This is what I do.

  11. Frozen pizza is under-rated. I am a kitchen-goddess when it comes to DiGiorno or California Pizza Kitchen! I also keep plenty of frozen veggies on hand. If I'm feeling healthy I'll steam up a big bowl of that in the micro - melt some cheese on top, and feel like Julia Child!

    I also add spices. To everything.

    Save the microwaveable meals for work.

  12. SirF: sorry for letting you down! But yes, I follow the instructions perfectly in fear of the aforementioned plastic poisoning.

    Red: Hell yes to the pizzas! I honestly prefer some of them to actual fresh-made pizza from an actual place.

    Speaking of, I have one for tonight!

    Crack You Whip: Best. Comment. Ever.

  13. This is so accurate... scarily accurate. I actually like the Lean Cuisine meals. Although I only like 2 flavors (2 of the pasta varieties). Would you believe that I actually have friends who do NOT own a microwave. My first thought upon learning this profound bit o'news was "How the heck do you heat up your Hungry Man dinners (or any dinner for that matter)???" These folks actually use that weird looking counter top - ya know, the area that looks all space agey with the dials and whatnot. 

  14. My life would be desolate without a microwave!  At the very least, it is necessary for microwave popcorn!

  15.  I cook every single day, mostly because I get weird about my food but also because . . . well, I'm not sure why.  The husband keeps trying to get me into the idea of buying premade or frozen food, but I resist. And now I see that I am right to do so.

    If it were feasible, you could come over for dinner.  Your salty tears would liven up my evening repast.

    [PS Thanks for the kind words! I'm feeling better and slightly witty.]

  16. Yes, salt and pepper are so last year.  Now I can't eat anything without fresh tears.

    Glad you are back!

  17. You have a VERY valid point, Lost. The night I met my husband he bought me pizza and I always say that's what won me over - the fact that he fed me the night we met. I'm like a damn stray, feed me and I'll keep coming back. 

  18. I laughed in my mind, and a little out loud as well. I love the Oprah clip, but I wish that Oprah had been stung in the fracas. Great post

  19. I also laughed out loud. And shed a tear for you.

  20. Dude! I barely know you. You hate laundry and can't cook... OK, technically very dude-like...

    I think every man should learn to cook. At least grill for the love of all that is good.

    I don't suggest you try to become that douchenozzle chef who yells at people. Pick something and make it, make it well. Think something you can take to football parties. I make wings, people ask for my wings. I know people who make chili. I also make really good spaghetti.

    Women dig a guy who can cook. In your defense, women also dig dudes who clean the microwave (I hate that chore)


  21. I still laughed at this the second time around. I love old posts. Now to go and cook a grocery store pizza. I love those things.

  22. I laughed...I cried...I wanted to buy you a cookbook!

    Here's a suggestion...sign up for a cooking class! I'm betting it will be mostly women, so if you need the extra motivation of meeting pretty girls in order to get yourself there, there you go :)

  23. You really should take up cooking. There's nothing better than enjoying a meal you yourself had to cook. Buy a grill. You wouldn't believe the amount of pride I feel when I grill up a nice juicy steak.

    You may burn your food the first couple times. The next few times your food may be under-cooked. But with enough practice, you'll learn how to cook your food just right. And when that happens....pure bliss!

    I'm now to the point where I now make my own BBQ sauce. When you make it this far, you'll want everybody to come and enjoy your fine cooking skills!

  24. I agree with Dan...shocking I know...learn to cook man! There are lots of reasons to do it...

    It's, I guess not when you can feed yourself for $21 a week.

    It's easier...nope, I was wrong again, the only thing easier to make than a tv dinner is pouring a glass of water

    It's better for you...wrong again, you can buy meals with less sodium and under 300 calories...

    It tastes better....there you go, it tastes better! Although some of the Italian meals are pretty damn scratch that.

    Ah screw it, what Dan said.....

  25. An interesting tale, for sure. And it should be that one that makes you find a way to cook a little. In college, I finally got sick of crap food and microwave dinners and realized how much cheaper and better it was to cook my own food. And so much tastier!

  26. YMB, man I thought I was a lazy cook. I think you may have me beat. I will share with you one of my signature "lazy meals" to make, that will be like baby taking cooking baby steps until you are ready to cook a fine meal on your own.

    Spaghetti: Boil some noodles. Heat up some sauce. That's it. If you want to be extra courageous (and less lazy) you can always fry up some meat to put in it too.

    You may be asking yourself, "But I'm lazy, why would I want to spend 15 minutes making Spaghetti when I can spend 5 minutes on a frozen dinner?" The answer is, once you have invested that 15-20 minutes, you can eat off of that one prepared meal for days! It's the ultimate lazy meal. Its the gift that keeps on giving all week long!


    Michael A. Walker
    Defying Procrastination

  27. For the love Of all that is good, please learn to cook. The ladies DO like it, and we think you are odd if you can't or don't want to. And you are way too awesome to be odd.
    Btw, I laughed out loud many times. Really enjoyed this post, Youngman. :)

  28. Thank God I still live with my parents. They were gone for a week and I probably spent at least $60 on take-out.

    Surprisingly enough, I actually have never had a microwave meal that I've generally disliked. Stouffer's Mac n' Cheese is beyond words it's so magical.

  29. I cannot eat those frozen dinners. They all taste homogenized crap to me.


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