Tampa Bay Food Monster

...eating food since 1985.

Michael Angelo’s Microwavable Meals

ahhh the TV dinner. the most convenient way to enjoy a full meal, and the reason the microwave was invented. how many countless evenings were saved by opting to nuke one of the many varieties of frozen foodstuffs, rather than consume whatever else was at hand (cats, for example)? yes, truly the best alternative to eating cats were tiny trays of frozen food, preferably presented to you by a penguin and his polar bear chef friend:

…i don’t know exactly what the relationship between those two was, but i’m assuming they were partners in every sense of the term. oh, and of course they were retired at some point and replaced with younger, cooler, more extreme/radical versions of themselves (i think the bear died in a snowboarding accident). alas, my love affair with those kooky anthropomorphic cartoon animals ended the day i entered puberty, and went from being a mere hungry boy to a full-on hungry man.

it went on like that for years, until eventually my tastes became far too refined for the likes of hungry mans and kid cuisines, and i began eating real food. hell, i began cooking! and thus, my transformation into a “grown-up” was complete. surely there is no frozen meal authentic enough, fresh enough, high-quality enough, home-style enough to be fit for mature adult consumption. surely not!

…or is there?

michael angelo chicken parmesan box

i was contacted by renowned artist and literal (in the literal sense) renaissance man michelangelo, who is credited not only as the sculptor of david, but with the invention of the microwave dinner. his company, michael angelo’s, pioneers the “microwavable meals that may pass for real food” category, priding themselves in using fresh, real ingredients, small batch preparation, and using only recipes written by michelangelo’s mom, sara.

michael angelo baked ziti and meatballs box

true to their word, quick perusal of their dish’s ingredients reveals really boring stuff, like eggs, onions, garlic, and tomatoes, missing out on family favorites such as delicious high fructose corn syrup and yellow 5. really, what it looks like they’re trying to do is send you leftovers, which you could easily just find in your grandma’s fridge. why microwave something that you already might have available to you, when you could just have THIS??

chicken parmesan frozen

so michelangelo sent me some coupons to pick up a smattering of his frozen delights, and i did just that. our first sampling (my senior assistant/PR specialist and myself) consisted of the chicken parmesan and the baked ziti with meatballs. pictured above is the frozen chicken parmesan, in all its glory.


now, we were given the option to go with either microwave or conventional oven as our method of heating. being a busy man about town, i clearly have no time for such things as a conventional oven. even the microwave is pushing it, what with their additional 5 minutes standing time. had this not been for review, i would have just tackled the beast frozen, but i am sure that’s not their preferred method of delivery, so i went ahead and…


nuked that bastard back to the hell from whence it came.

chicken parmesan cooked

this was taken directly after cooking, and i believe it shows. note the signature tiny holes burnt into the sauce and cheese, a hallmark of microwaving technology. mysterious. but after a good stirring, it’s as though it never underwent such treatment, and could even resemble something prepared by a real human!

baked ziti and meatballs frozen

baked ziti and meatballs cooked

the baked ziti was cooked the same way, resulting in what you see above.

now, again, michael angelo’s strives to present you with that home cooked feeling in every meal. the preparation is there (well, on their end, at least), so all that’s left is the presentation. with a bit of effort and a few simple touches, VOILĂ€!

romantic dinner for two

accompanied by my father’s fine wine, we have ourselves a romantic dinner for two, and a potential date is none the wiser! WHY, YES. OF COURSE I AM AN ACCLAIMED ITALIAN CHEF. I THOUGHT YOU KNEW! *looks at camera, winks*

as for the meals, they were better than your average TV dinner fare. the sauce michael angelo uses is actually quite good, with noticeable effort put in it. there’s a clear, almost fresh tomato taste that somehow survives the harsh barrage of microwaves, which is pretty impressive. the cheese is good, though the mozzarella cubes occasionally don’t cook all the way through. but the meat and pasta is where you realize this is still a microwaved dinner.

the pasta tastes like something you might find in stouffer’s box. the ziti less so, but the spaghetti packaged with the chicken parmesan was not impressive. it was not tough or anything, but it just had that not-quite-real feeling to it. and the meat – the meatballs were lackluster, which i mostly attribute to their being microwaved, but also think that their consistency was not quite meaty enough. too much ball. the chicken parmesan, too, was much as a standard microwave chicken patty might be. there’s no way to prepare anything fried properly in a microwave; it just doesn’t work. the flavors were there, though, which is a plus.

i think perhaps these meals would have turned out better had i bit the bullet and oven cooked them, but i figured this is the most likely way a consumer will make them. i actually have had michael angelo’s lasagna before, cooked in the oven, and it really did turn out quite well. just something to consider.

michael angelo lasagna with sausage box

i also tried the lasagna with sausage the next day. of all the available products i found at publix when purchasing these meals, the lasagna with sausage was the one that had been clearly favored by the public, with a mere four boxes remaining versus the typical endless grocer’s freezer supply. i thought this was a good sign.

lasagna with sausage frozen

lasagna with sausage cooked

as it turns out, the public was right. this was far superior to both the chicken parmesan and the baked ziti, featuring the same quality sauce, mozzarella, and some ricotta cheese that i somehow enjoyed (typically, i don’t). the pasta actually came together well here, perhaps due to its stacking with cheese and merging with all around it. the sausage, again arguably the downfall of the dish, really appealed to me, carrying similar notes to sausages of all the greatest cardboard pizzas past. it seemed to lack that “real meat” quality, but still had good flavor. it was pork, as reported by the ingredients list, and it convinced me that all lasagna should be prepared with sausage. the overall result of the lasagna was quite solid, seriously reminiscent of a homemade meal, reheated in the microwave. just like grandma!!

what brought this opportunity to me in the first place was an upcoming celebrity chef cooking class, where the REAL MICHELANGELO (michael angelo) and his REAL MOTHER SARA (sara) will be imparting the ways of the force on all young padawans in attendance. it’s coming up soon, this thursday night (october 18th) at the citrus park publix on gunn highway. you can get more information here, and make reservations by calling 813-926-4465.

you should probably just do it. i mean, how often do you get a chance to meet one of the ninja turtles??

Indian Flatbread and Sadie’s of New Mexico

okay, look – i’ve been BUSY, alright?? get off my goddamn back about it!! we all have lives, okay, and sometimes that real shit gets in the way all the other bullshit we just loooove to do. get it? GET IT?!?!

oh god, okay, don’t… don’t cry. come on. buck up. i didn’t mean to yell. i just… i got a lot on my plate right now. but i care, baby! i care about you. you know i love you. come here. lemme nibble on your ear. no? okay okay! i’ll… can i just hold you? let me hold you. it’ll be okay. we’ll be okay. you know what? i’ll give you a little update. just… a little taste of what i’ve been up to. don’t expect much.

recently, my adventures took me out to the great state of new mexico, with air so dry it makes florida feel like the sweaty armpit that it is. it’s a beautiful area, with beautiful landscapes and scenery. and of course, i had some excellent food during my stay. my “tour guide”, sleep, suggested we pick up some indian flat bread, something he’s loved since his childhood.

indian flat bread hut

set in a ridiculously beautiful, scenic locale, along a long road, lies a small hut selling freshly prepared indian flatbread. delicious, pillowy fried bread, steeped in tradition and history.

indian flat bread

it comes out plain, but powdered sugar or honey can be added if you so desire. it’s really good as is, though. i advise you not to go overboard on the sweets. they also offer a “taco” variant, featuring a whole bunch of toppings (beef, beans, lettuce, tomato, etc) on the bread itself. i do not recommend this. the beef is greasy, and the bread becomes soaked and drippy. it’s a real mess to eat, and you lose the flavor of the bread behind mediocre toppings.

we also went to a mexican restaurant called sadie’s. it’s a wonderful place, with a friendly staff, and delicious mexican food. if you’re ever in or near albuquerque, do yourself a favor and check it out.


this site
sadie's holds a proud history.

sadies interior

sadies salsa

sadie’s makes their own salsa, which is delicious. perfect amount of spice to it. enough to get your nose running. easy to blow through it all very quickly.

sadies combo plate

my meal was a delicious combo plate, featuring a taco, an enchilada, and a chile relleno. all excellent.

big honkin burrito

sleep got the most amazing burrito i’ve ever seen. if i’m feeling lonely at night, i look at this picture.

so yeah, been BUSY. going on trips. working jobs. doin’ shit. i was even in the paper. so relax, baby. we’ll get through this together. you know i love you. now lemme nibble on your goddamned ear.

Sadie's on Urbanspoon

Thanksgiving 2010

thanksgiving spread

thanksgiving is an awesome holiday because it is all about celebrating food. what a great idea!

in honor of this sacred day, here are a bunch of photos from my family’s thanksgiving dinner.

delicious crescent rolls
green bean casserole
the essential green bean casserole
dat delicious dark meat
turkey separated out by white and dark meat. dark meat wins. flawless victory.
the stuffing
incredible stuffing
cauliflower casserole
a wonderful cauliflower casserole
sweet potato caserole
a new take on the sweet potato casserole, featuring bananas on the inside!
mashed potatoes
mountains of mashed potatoes: the essential slop building block.
perfect pumpkin pie
a perfect little pumpkin pie.


the fully loaded plate
and this is how we do it.


BONUS: here’s my family’s secret recipe for post-thanksgiving “slop”!

1. grab all your leftovers; throw them in a large microwavable bowl.

2. nuke ‘em.

3. stir.

4. eat.

The Vet 2010 – The Black Swan

the vet, 2010

veterans day is my favorite holiday. it’s just the best. of course, i actively celebrate veterans day, unlike most people i know. unlike all people i know, actually, except one. in fact, my friend and i may be the only two people in the world who really celebrate veterans day.

oh and before i get too much further, this has nothing to do with veterans. except maybe veterans of veterans day.

it all started in fall of 2003. i had just started my first semester of college, and we were pretty far into it. i was in the middle of work for some final projects in a few classes, and i was getting burnt out. actually, i was always kinda burnt out… not a big fan of work. so when i noticed that we had the day off for veterans day, i was more than happy to take full advantage of the fact. i called my friend who also happened to have the day off, and we resigned ourselves to hang out.

and hang out we did.

we had no plan. we just got together and drove. away from the real world. to anywhere but there. we drove up florida, stopping when and where we wanted, whenever the mood struck us. we started north. we drove through gainesville. we drove over the st. john’s river. we ended up in jacksonville, hung around downtown a bit, and then went to neptune beach, grabbed some pizza, and walked on the beach. then we bought some techno cds and blasted them as we drove back home on i4, and ended our day. exactly 560 miles of freedom.

we decided then that each year we would take veterans day off, and just do whatever we wanted. follow our hearts, and just enjoy ourselves, totally free of obligation and worry. live in the moment, and take joy in the simple things. it was no longer veterans day – it was the vet.

we’ve done it each year since. no year is quite the same, some are more magical than others, but each is a unique experience and a reminder that life can sometimes be worth living. this year was no different.

we wound up in sanford, northeast of orlando. there we searched for someplace interesting to eat. we had consulted urbanspoon, and searched endlessly for the fabled burger bar. when we couldn’t find that, we hunted down riverwalk pizzeria, which we found, but was closed. disappointing. we were near the downtown area, and decided to check out hollerbach’s willow tree cafe, which tops the list of best restaurants in sanford. we got out of the car and found many people standing around the restaurant… which turned out to be closed.

god dammit.

but we asked a local dude if anywhere around downtown was still open, and he recommended two places: two blondes and a shrimp, and the black swan. when asked which he preferred, he stated “when you get to the turn for the black swan, flip a coin.” so of course we had to do this.

and so…

the black swan

it was the black swan by a tail. it turns out the black swan is pretty much just a bar. with karaoke. and crappy bar food! i looked over the menu and ordered the “drunken chicken” with buffalo sauce (they offered a variety of different sauces, including teriyaki and garlic), along with a “corn banger”(???) and a celebration ale. i was in for some surprises.

while we waited for our food, we drank some beer and i arm wrestled a couple old ladies. after i was swiftly beaten, i was informed to “never show weakness to a woman.” apparently it is a turn-off. note taken, scary drunken woman.

so the food came out, and i was a bit shocked to receive this:

drunken chicken with buffalo sauce

this is the drunken chicken. based on the assortment of sauces, i had foolishly assumed the drunken chicken was chicken wings. instead, it was a whole bunch of fried legs and thighs, drenched in sauce. wow. i tackled it, and i was not too impressed. the chicken was dry, despite all the crappy store-bought wing sauce (crystal?). it was somewhat well fried, though; it had that homemade fried chicken taste. its saving grace was that there was a shitload of it, for 7 bucks. not bad. but not good.

corn banger

annnd the corn banger. i had no idea what i was in for when i ordered it, i was just curious. it was basically a corn dog, with sausage instead of a hot dog (thus: “corn banger”). and it was strange as hell. the batter they used was a beer batter with actual pieces of corn in it, and i believe diced peppers as well; it was sweet and quite good. the sausage inside was very mild in flavor, but about your average sausage for taste. there was no spiciness to it, which i would have liked. but the combination of the two flavors, the sweet corn batter and the light sausage… it just freaked me out. i can’t explain it. it was good, but… just very different. i would eat one again, though.

i would not, however, return to the black swan. it really was just a pub, with pub food. nothing special. it was not hell, though the shame i felt when i was bested by that drunken grandma sure was.

PS: i slept with the grandma.

The Black Swan on Urbanspoon