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The last time we reviewed something from the Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers line, it didn't fare very well. Okay, it was awful. But that review was way back in 2007, so when I spotted today's offerings I thought it would be only fair to give them another chance, especially considering how well their other lines have been received recently here at Dr. Gourmet.
Our first offering actually caught my eye because it contains seafood, which tends to be few and far between in the frozen meals aisle. For those who haven't run across these meals, they're served in what Healthy Choice calls a "DuoTray Steamcooker™." This is basically a plastic bowl with sauce in the bottom below an inner plastic colander that contains the food. Microwave the meal and the food steams in the colander over the sauce, then remove the meal from the microwave, peel back the plastic and dump the food out of the colander into the sauce and mix it all together.
If that sounds like a lot of plastic, that's because it is. A LOT of plastic. And if it sounds like a great way to burn your fingers on the steam escaping from the heated meal, I can assure you, it is.
Nevertheless, overpackaging and the risk of burned fingers could maybe be worthwhile if the food's good. But it's not. The Lemon Garlic Chicken and Shrimp smells great - nice and garlicky - while cooking. The whole grain pasta actually holds up well to the steaming and retains some body, although the broccoli gets a little overcooked. The shrimp (all four of them, each the size of a quarter) are well and properly cooked as well. The chicken, on the other hand, gets somewhat dried out, even in the largest pieces. Unfortunately all this fairly good work gets undone by a thin, oddly sweet lemony sauce with no hint of garlic despite the smell. The other ingredients billed on the package (spinach, onions and tomatoes) are visible but make no dent on the flavor. It isn't bad.... but it isn't great either.
I was more hopeful for the Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean. This one has a spicy tomato and red pepper scent as it's cooking. It includes grilled eggplant, broccoli and garbanzo beans, although the eggplant is cut so small as to be hard to identify, not to mention taste. (I initially mistook the eggplant for sliced mushrooms.) And flavor is something this meal doesn't lack, unfortunately. The brown rice (BROWN rice! I couldn't believe it!) and barley (barley? In a convenience meal?) give it good body and even a nice crunch, but the flavor of the spicy red pepper and tomato sauce overpowers everything. Definitely not worth the waste of plastic.
Did I mention that it didn't lack flavor? The metallic aftertaste of the sauce stuck around for a good fifteen minutes (long enough for a big cup of coffee) after taking just a few small bites. We'll likely wait another four years before we try these Cafe Steamers again.