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Lean Cuisine Culinary Collection

Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta and
Ranchero Braised Beef

I know I've mentioned that both fish or shellfish and beef meals are few and far between. So finding two of these unusual main course meals to review for today seemed like it should be good news, especially since lately it's seemed like the frozen food companies have been improving - some of them quite a bit.

Both meals for today are from Lean Cuisine's Culinary Collection, which is billed as being created by actual chefs. Leaving aside for the moment the question of who was creating their recipes if they weren't actual chefs, these meals are supposed to be "as inventive as they are delicious." Our reviews of other meals from this collection have been mixed, ranging from really good to perfectly awful.

Lean Cuisine Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta ReviewToday the panel started with the Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta. Even before this goes into the microwave it looks promising, with a colorful mix of julienned carrots and chunks of red bell pepper in a light orange sauce. (230 calories, 610 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of fiber.) We were a little concerned, however, when after the first phase of cooking, at the stirring point, the sauce seemed a little too generous. Maybe it would thicken up as it cooked, then cooled, and it wouldn't seem quite so saucy.

No luck. This is an incredibly gooey dish. The six shrimp included in the meal come out cooked nearly perfectly, and the carrots and bell peppers retain some crunch. As we expected, the angel hair was thoroughly overcooked to the point of gumminess (using whole wheat pasta might have helped with this, as well as adding fiber). And there was so much sauce that the whole thing was soupy. Which is too bad; this is a creamy parmigiano and white wine sauce with a touch of spiciness. If there were only half as much of it. We just can't recommend this goop.

Lean Cuisine Ranchero Braised Beef ReviewWith our expectations suitably lowered, we turned to the Ranchero Braised Beef. This actually comes with mashed sweet potatoes (but only 3 grams of fiber along with the 240 calories and 540 milligrams of sodium). The sweet potatoes are whipped and have a mild orange flavor. I myself prefer my sweet potatoes with a little more body, but the panel agreed that they were well cooked and well seasoned.

Now for the beef itself. The ingredients list states that this is "seasoned cooked prime rib beef steak" - and I can tell you from looking at this meal that it just ain't so. It doesn't taste like it, either. While it is indeed braised, this is much more like the pot roast your mom used to make - stringy. What's worse is that there's hardly any of it to taste. Another case of "too bad," because the chipotle barbecue sauce is pretty good - medium-spicy with a touch of brown sugar.

Two we just can't recommend, when there are so many other meals on the market that hit the mark.