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Healthy Choice's Cafe Steamers line does not have a good track record here at Dr. Gourmet. The first one, Cajun Style Chicken and Shrimp, we called "not edible." That was in 2007, when the line first debuted. Then just last year we gave them another try with their Lemon Garlic Chicken and Shrimp and the Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean.Those, while not inedible (I believe that's known as "damning with faint praise"), aren't worth eating, either. One was largely flavorless and the other had a sauce with a metallic aftertaste.
At the time I said that it would be another four years before we tried them again. I have to eat my words today, largely because these meals are right at 500 milligrams of sodium apiece. And the descriptions are intriguing: I love General Tso's chicken (or did when I could eat at Chinese restaurants, alas), and spicy foods seem to lend themselves well to frozen meals like these. A red pepper Alfredo sauce also sounded like it could be tasty. Maybe I'm too optimistic?
The panel started with the "Asian Inspired" General Tso's Spicy Chicken. It must be "Asian Inspired," because it doesn't look like any General Tso's chicken I've ever seen. The meal smells of garlic and ginger while it's steaming in the microwave, but the resulting thin brown sauce has little flavor but that of red pepper flakes - it's spicy but oddly sweet. While the diced carrots, red bell pepper, peas, and green onions benefit from the steaming in that they all retain their flavor and crunch, this also dried out the chicken. Unfortunately, the white rice in this dish looks like steam table cafeteria food (and the panel assured me that it tastes like it, as well). It only has 500 milligrams of sodium and a surprising 4 grams of fiber, but who cares? Don't waste your money on this glop.
With that disappointment, we turned to the Chicken Linguine with Red Pepper Alfredo. The amount of broccoli included in this meal was certainly encouraging, and like the vegetables in the other meal, they steamed perfectly. Once again, however, the chicken was a little dry and tough. The sauce has the electric orange color and scent of Velveeta cheese, but no cheese flavor - just the zing of red pepper flakes and a slight garlic flavor. I do wish that these companies would realize that whole wheat pasta would stand up to cooking far better than white pasta - these noodles are nearly mush.
Another 0 for 2 for Healthy Choice's Cafe Steamers. Just remember, our motto is, "We eat it, so you don't have to."