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About a month ago we discovered Banquet's so-called "entrees." As I remarked at the time, Banquet was a company I didn't expect to ever review. I learned better, however: the Queso Mac was given a thumbs up as being "better than evol," while the Fettuccini Alfredo was aptly described as tasting like "their first white sauce:" bland, thin, and near-complete waste of our time (and yours, dear reader).
Honestly, far better than I had expected. So we return today with two more from Banquet. Once again, these are accurately described as "entrees" as opposed to "meals." What the difference might be isn't quite clear except for the entrees being lower in calories and sodium than many of Banquet's meals.
This week our tasting started with the Three Cheese Ziti. After cooking for two minutes or so we pulled back the plastic to stir, and at the scent of the meal all of the tasters looked at each other.
"Smells like the pasta from the caf in middle school," said one.
"Not a good sign," said another.
After another couple of minutes of cooking and allowing to sit, we tasted cautiously. Was the sauce too sweet? The tray went around the table twice while the panel tried to decide. Final verdict: no, but close. This is a slightly-sweet tomato sauce with a lot of basil and oregano, which is responsible for the sweet aroma. The cheeses save the dish by giving it a savory note. Almost like a vodka sauce - without the vodka. Surprisingly, the ziti have almost enough bite "to please you, Dr. Harlan," which probably accounts for the meal's 5 grams of fiber. Along with 260 calories and 470 milligrams of sodium, this is a good pasta dish for those days when you eat at your desk. Or serve it at home with a big side salad.
The next "entree" was the Cheesy Rice and Chicken. This has the highest level of sodium in the Banquet meals that my wife brought to us to review, at 630 milligrams of sodium. Not outrageously high by comparison with other meals we've tried, but with only 190 calories and 2 grams of fiber, that's one strike against it from the start.
Another strike against is is the white rice, which one taster said "looks an awful lot like Uncle Tom's." It has that parboiled rice quality of having every grain appearing perfectly white and having no stickiness whatsoever. Another, more discouraging issue with its appearance is that there just doesn't seem to be very much of this meal: granted, it's only 190 calories, but having a scant cup of volume isn't likely to encourage satiety. This meal doesn't even fill the tray halfway.
We also saw a lot of parallels to the Fettuccini Alfredo. Once again the broccoli was easily 90% stem, although there were 5 1/2-inch chunks of chicken instead of the 3 in the Alfredo.The cheese sauce here has rather more flavor than the Alfredo, but not much more - it's a lightly cheesy flavor instead of the bolder cheddar flavor you might expect from the sauce's bright yellow color. The broccoli stems are crunchy and the rice not overcooked, but it's hardly worth writing home about, especially in comparison with the Ziti.
Of the two we tasted today, the Ziti is far, far better. Better numbers, more volume, better flavor - skip the Cheesy Rice for the Three Cheese Ziti. You'll be more satisfied all around.
First posted: September 12, 2014