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Stouffer's Lean Cuisine Grilled Chicken Carbonara

Cajun Chicken & Shrimp fell absolutely flat. Roast Turkey and Vegetable was incredibly disappointing. These health-conscious meals are absolutely killing me!

When "health-food" (by which I mean food that's less likely to kill me instantly through a combination of my arteries hardening and all the icky fluids in my body spontaneously turning into a substance not unlike margarine) starts to get me down, my thoughts turned to bacon.

Bacon is good. I never got a chance to try out Hungry Man's Creamy Bacon Alfredo, which nearly made me cry. It's a damned shame when good bacon goes bad.

Carbonara is Italian for 'bacon + pepper = good'.
Carbonara is Italian for 'bacon + pepper = good'.

Enter: Stouffer's Lean Cuisine Grilled Chicken Carbonara. Stouffer's was the first company to start making healthier options for their frozen dinners under the Lean Cuisine banner, and is actually required by law to conform to some standards. They must have less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per portion.

I know we discuss the nutrition facts a lot, but damn...that's salty.
I know we discuss the nutrition facts a lot, but damn...that's salty.

This meal has 9 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat and 40 milligrams of cholesterol. For the most part it's just sneaking under the FDA's radar. Who can blame them though? Carbonara is hardly what you'd consider good for you. Generally the cheese-based sauce contains egg yolks and bacon. That's not exactly heart-healthy.

Regardless of it's health claims, the box says it contains chicken, and surprisingly the bacon is real. Like from an actual pig, and not any of that turkey, chicken or soy shit that people try to pass off as bacon. Hint: if you feed fake bacon to a man, he will eat it and smile. Afterwards, when you're not around, he will consume an entire live pig as way of an apology to his body for soiling it.

We've been focusing a lot on the sodium content of these healthier options. The grilled chicken carbonara contains 630mg. It's not as horrible as the Roast Turkey and Vegetable meal from last time, or even as bad as the Cajun Chicken & Shrimp meal from the time before that. It's still a lot, but it's not a ridiculous amount. Well, it's not a totally ridiculous amount when compared to similar meals.

Cheese sauce or a lonely factory worker with an issue of Penthouse?  You make the choice.
Cheese sauce or a lonely factory worker with an issue of Penthouse? You make the choice.

The meal comes in a small plastic container that looks like somebody either had one hell of a sneeze or ejaculated in it. The pasta sits neatly on one side, and the...interesting looking other components on the other. It's all very cozy.

Some therapeutic package stabbing and five minutes of cooking time and it's all ready to go, and you know what, when it's cooked and in a bowl, it doesn't actually look all that bad.

So, now it's time to tuck in and try it out. But first, before I get too carried away, here are the rules:

  • Rule #1:
    I must follow cooking procedures exactly as they're shown on the container. I will not deviate from those instructions in any way, and I must prepare food in the fastest manner presented to me.
  • Rule #2:
    I must consume everything that comes with the meal. No hiding of disgusting parts will be tolerated. (In the unlikely event of bones or other inedibles, allowances will be made).
  • Rule #3:
    To make sure my palate is completely free of obstructions, I may only be allowed either water or alcohol. Alcohol does not include fancy-pants fruity girly drinks.
  • Rule #4:
    All food will be graded by smell, taste and mouthfeel, with less offensive qualities receiving higher marks. At the end, each part is receives an average score. The full meal is graded by the average score of each component. Appearance of the food is not graded because, let's face it, they all look pretty bad.
This might actually pass for real food.
This might actually pass for real food.
Not pictured are the grill marks and other results of the Maillard reaction.
Not pictured are the grill marks and other results of the Maillard reaction.

The first thing I noticed about the chicken was that there wasn't a lot of it. "Well, that's good," I said to myself, "if it's really bad, at least I don't have to eat a lot of it."

I counted a total number of six pieces of chicken. The largest piece was about the size of a six-sided die. They do look pretty good though. They're a little pale compared to the picture on the box, but they still have those little grill marks.

The chicken has quite a bit of sauce on it, since they were encased in the carbonara glacier when frozen. They smell creamy, and slightly of bacon, but there's a slight undertone of chicken. It actually tastes pretty darned good too. The flavor isn't as muted as many frozen chicken pieces tend to be, and there's a slightly smoky quality to it. The chicken appears to have been made from whole pieces that were sliced up, which again is surprising, since most of these meals tend to use mechanically separated pieces.

The chicken that they use however is of pretty poor quality. The largest piece I told you about earlier? About a third of it was pure fat. Most of the pieces had chunks of fat in them, which was pretty disappointing, and not to mention quite disgusting. One huge black spot on this otherwise very decent meal.

Smell: 7/10
Taste: 9/10
Mouthfeel: 4/10
Total Score: (6.6/10)

Now that looks good.
Now that looks good.

Pasta is a favorite of frozen dinner makers, and for good reason. It's easy and cheap to make, it's an easy source of carbohydrates (read: it makes you full) and it usually freezes really well. That said, most of these dinners tend to really fuck up pasta. Sometimes it's overcooked, or more likely undercooked. Often it's drenched in sauce to the point that it falls apart.

This pasta is actually pretty good. It looks like pasta, it smells like pasta and it actually tastes like pasta too! I know, really surprising right? The impressive part is that the pasta is cooked perfectly and is neither over nor underdone. They get points for that, and points also for not tasting mouldy or like freezer burn.

Smell: 6/10
Taste: 8/10
Mouthfeel: 8/10
Total Score: (7.3/10)

Carbonara Sauce
The Yin and Yang of sauce and pasta.  It's almost Zen.
The Yin and Yang of sauce and pasta. It's almost Zen.

Carbonara is a sauce that's usually made of egg yolks, cheese, bacon and pepper. That's why it tastes so darned good. Well, I can't vouch for the eggs, but the ingredients list just about everything else in that list. So, it might not be totally authentic, but it has all the makings of goodness.

And again, surprisingly, it is good. It smells creamy and strongly of bacon and pepper. It tastes just the same, which is good. It's actually quite smooth, and not greasy nor watery. The best part though are the little chunks of bacon floating around. I'm really having a hard time believing that this is supposed to be a healthier option, but there it is.

Smell: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Mouthfeel: 8/10
Total Score: (8.0/10)

The Totals:

Smell: 7.0/10
Taste: 8.3/10
Mouthfeel: 6.6/10
Total Score: (7.3/10)

I woke up today, and the last thing I wanted to do was cram one of these meals down my gullet and write some semi-amusing diatribe along with the occasional dick or fart joke for variety. I just wanted to fall asleep on my couch while watching Cops. Instead, I dragged my ass to the freezer and pulled out something that surprisingly brightened my day.

I think that this is probably only the second or third time that I've said this but, I would get this again. I'm still dubious that this is supposed to be a healthy alternative, but then again I don't really care. It tastes good. It actually tastes good. Holy shit...I think I have something in my eye.

Bottom line is this: Sometimes you can find a diamond in a turd. Today that happened. Next time though, it's probably back to turds.

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