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We have steamed meals again this week, but this time they're single serving offerings from Lean Cuisine. Last week's "steam meals" from Kashi (which served two) were really good, but I can't attribute any of their quality to the steaming: too many of the frozen meals that are designed to be cooked in, well, creative ways, like the Healthy Choice meals that come with the plastic steamer trays, are just terrible. Still, last week's meals left us feeling hopeful when we faced today's pastas from Lean Cuisine.
The panel decided to try the Mushroom Tortelloni first. The numbers look fair, with 310 calories and a pretty high level of sodium at 690 milligrams. That's right at our limit for acceptability, but the amazing 6 grams of fiber (quite a lot for Lean Cuisine) is what tipped me into bringing it home for tasting.
The first thing the panel noticed about this meal is that there are 6 tortelloni, which is to be expected at only 310 calories, but some felt this would seem miserly to those used to a larger portion size. They are overcooked and a bit mushy, but they do have a good mushroom and cheese flavor, which the panel quite liked. (That said, do eat them quickly, because like most tortelloni, they harden as they cool.)
There are quite a few snap peas which look wrinkled from overcooking, but they do have some snap - though not as much as the panel would have liked. It takes quite a bit of cooking to overcook peas and this dish is no exception; they're just fine in texture and flavor. The sauce, however, is rather nondescript: a light, creamy sauce with barely a hint of garlice, no detectable mushroom flavor, and the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes only when you actually eat one of the pieces. Overall, this is just fair in terms of flavor, and with the high sodium, one to skip.
Next we turned to their Garlic Chicken, which is another pasta dish with bow tie pasta and chunks of chicken along with broccoli, asparagus and carrots. It comes out of the microwave (and then the pouch) smelling fairly garlicky, which the panel took as a good sign (they do like their garlic).
The chicken chunks are juicy and have a nice garlic and black pepper flavor. The asparagus sections and julienned carrots are a little more cooked than we'd like, but also retain good flavor and still add a bit of crunch. Fewer broccoli florets are sprinkled about, but they were reported to have held up to cooking far better than the asparagus. That said, the farfalle (bow tie pasta) were only slightly overcooked and the sauce has plenty of garlic tang along with a smooth creaminess.
All in all, said the panel, a pretty good plate of pasta that would be a good lunch or even dinner if you added a side salad. Despite the fairly high level of sodium in this dish, at 650 milligrams, it doesn't taste all that salty. Combine that high sodium with 290 calories and 4 grams of fiber (also pretty impressive for Lean Cuisine), and it's not terrible for a frozen meal. Not great, either, in terms of numbers, but in terms of flavor it got a more definitive thumbs-up from the panel. A split decision this week for Lean Cuisine.
Reviewed: June 6, 2014