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There was a time when all frozen food was all terrible, with pot pies and bad fried chicken the best one could hope for. Then Stouffers, the hotel chain, began marketing a line of upscale convenience foods that were a huge step up from the ordinary. One of the breakthrough products was their spinach souffle. It came at a time when Julia Child and Jaques Pepin were bringing French cooking into American homes, and the dish helped establish the Stouffers brand. Eventually the company exited the hotel business and is now focused on frozen foods. (Lean Cuisine is one of their brands.).
Fast forward 25 years with a plethora of meals in the freezer case and our review of Garden Lites souffles about 3 months ago. They were OK, and their spinach souffle was better than their zucchini version. Not great, but as good as the Stouffers, with fewer calories and less sodium. We decided to give Garden Lites another try when I spied two other souffles in the freezer case – Butternut Squash and Roasted Vegetable.
The cooking instructions are a bit odd, calling for baking on high in the microwave for 3 minutes covered, resting, and then baking for another 30 seconds on 50% power. Not all microwaves have this option, so it might be a challenge for some. The aroma of both products coming out of the oven was quite good, promising a fresh veggie flavor.
The panel was, as is so often the case, disappointed. Just like you can't judge a book by the cover, you can't judge a dish by aroma alone. The Roasted Vegetable version had a very strong taste of broccoli - but not in a good way. Overcooked broccoli is what most people don't like – it turns very bitter and acrid and that is exactly the flavor of this dish. The 550 milligrams of sodium is not overpowering, but it can't save this dish from tasting like over-boiled vegetables. The texture is that way as well, with a wateriness that makes it even blander.
Butternut squash is hard to mess up - and they don't - but the souffle is just boring and is basically just pureed butternut squash that is barely held together with some egg whites. The texture is good, but one taster said, "Who cares? – you would be better off just roasting a butternut squash."
And that is really the take home message. These little guys are $4.00 each. For four dollars you can purchase a lot of veggies. Roasted butternut squash takes less work than cooking these in the microwave – cut in half, scoop out seeds, put in oven, eat. Not much more work for steamed or roasted broccoli, either, and the flavor is just so much better than these products.
One might think that this could be a quick solution to a side dish at a dinner party, but you don't want anyone to think that you cooked either of these souffles.
I like the premise of this company, however, and we'll keep an eye out for other products.
First posted: September 4, 2015