Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Michelina's Harmony Chicken Caesar

Last time on Horrors of the Ice Box, I tried Stouffer's Lean Cuisine Grilled Chicken Carbonara, a bacony pasta, that beyond some small problems I had with it's composition, was actually pretty darned good. The first of the healthy options that actually tasted good and didn't make me feel like I was eating wet sawdust.

I decided to try for a two-fer and grabbed Michelina's Harmony Chicken Caesar. Surprisingly enough, it isn't a frozen Caesar salad. What would give you that idea? The name? Well, it's not salad. Inexplicably enough, it's pasta, with broccoli and chicken. Wait...what in the hell does broccoli have to do with Caesar salad?

I'm so confused right now.
I'm so confused right now.

In this case, it's probably a good idea to go back in time to 1924, when a young chef named Caesar Cardini threw together a salad in order to feed his restaurant's patrons during a rush on the Fourth of July.

The salad contained romaine lettuce, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, coddled egg yolk, Parmesan cheese, croutons and some salt and pepper. It would be prepared at the table, then eaten as whole leaves, held by the stem.

Michelina's Chicken Caesar is a bit different. It contains olive oil, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, Parmesan cheese and salt. Beyond the five missing basic ingredients, Michelina's version also contains anchovy extract. Anchovies don't belong in Caesar salad. They never have and they never will. That's what the Worcestershire sauce is for.

So, after that's all said and done, and before I even start in, it's clear that this is kind of but not quite Caesar salad flavor. It does not bode well.

It also doubles as slug poison!
It also doubles as slug poison!

After going through the ingredients with a fine-toothed comb, I decided to perversely turn the package over and look at the sodium content. Here's where we currently stand:

Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamers Cajun Chicken & Shrimp
570 mg
President's Choice Blue Menu Roast Turkey with Vegetables
720 mg
Stouffer's Lean Cuisine Grilled Chicken Carbonara
630 mg
Michelina's Harmony Chicken Caesar
670 mg

I figured that rather than writing a long paragraph to recap the healthy options items I've reviewed, it would be easier, on me and on your eyes to make up a quick little table to show you. As you can see, the Chicken Caesar meal now ranks 2nd in the race for the meal that will harden your arteries quickest, a mere 50 mg from the top spot.

This isn't my first run in with Mama Michelina. Oh no. We've tangled before. Her Zap'ems Taco Bites were my first review and later I tested out her Zap'ems Three Cheese Pizza. The taco bites were horrific, but the pizza graduated to edible. I'm anxious to see how this one does.

Like all of Michelina's foods, this one comes in a waxed cardboard container, and comes with waxed cardboard container instructions. Why do I care about instructions? (segue way)

  • 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.

I'm starting to think that all these pasta dishes are just making you work extra hard. It's ridiculous. Peel back the top, cook for three minutes, open container, stir, cook for 1-1/2 minutes, remove, let sit for 1 minute. I thought these were supposed to be convenience foods! What ever happened to set and forget?

The things I do for you people...

So, one monstrously challenging cooking process done, and my results, are somewhat less than expected. I know that it's pasta, and supposed to be filling, but I've come to expect more in these meals. Where are the fillers? Where are the compartments? Where's my fork?

I used smaller dishes to make the portion appear larger.
I used smaller dishes to make the portion appear larger.


Whoa whoa whoa! Hold the fuck up! This just isn't any chicken you know. I've been informed differently. I should pay proper tribute to the chicken.

Grilled Cooked Glazed Chicken

There, that's better. It's important to note that this meal doesn't have just any old chicken. It has grilled cooked glazed chicken! That's three more adjectives than chicken. Seriously though, that's a really pretentious name for a protein source. Gets you thinking though.

It's grilled, but I don't see any grill marks...
It's grilled, but I don't see any grill marks...

Not only is it grilled, but it's also glazed. That means that after grilling it, they coated it in reduced stock. Frozen food often loses most of it's flavor in its preservation. Glazing it would help it to keep its flavors. Now, here's what kills me. Not only is it grilled, but it's also cooked.

Well holy fucking shit! Stop the presses! We've got a goddamn miracle on our hands! Michelina's has managed to figure out a way to grill something without cooking it! I've got to see this! They're going to cook something without cooking it, then cook it! I have become a believer!

Ahem...sorry about that. I went a little insane there for a moment. The redundancy of grilled, cooked chicken looks like it was an intentionally created for the purpose of making chicken seem more interesting than it really is. I don't blame them for that, but couldn't they write something like 'succulent'? Succulent glazed grilled chicken actually sounds pretty darned good!

Unfortunately the name is the most memorable thing about the grilled cooked glazed chicken. It's got a neutral, absolutely chicken-free smell. Luckily it tastes pretty good. The only problem is that the chicken is overdone, making it dry and tough. Shoe leather is more easily eaten than this pretentious chicken.

One more aside: the chicken itself is cut into extremely uniform rectangular pieces, like little boxes of meat. The perfectly square sides are strangely unnerving.

Smell: 5/10
Taste: 7/10
Mouthfeel: 3/10
Total Score: (5.0/10)

Broccoli: bane of kids since Ancient Rome.
Broccoli: bane of kids since Ancient Rome.

I still don't know what broccoli is doing in what's supposed to be a Caesar salad analogue. The touch of green is quite nice though, and contrasts nicely with the pale color of the pasta and chicken.

The broccoli smells only faintly of what it's supposed to. It's not pronounced, which is surprising, since veggies usually freeze quite well. Like the chicken though, it's far too cooked for its own good. It doesn't fall apart in the mouth, it crumbles into a mush. Since it's been cooked for too long, it's taken on a bitter taste, which is very noticeable and overpowers the other flavors of the meal.

Most times I'm gung-ho for broccoli, but seeing it here, lying limp on my fork, like it was boiled for hours on end by a British housewife, depresses me to no end.

Smell: 7/10
Taste: 2/10
Mouthfeel: 3/10
Total Score: (4.0/10)

This pasta is so funky looking.
This pasta is so funky looking.

Pasta has all kinds of funny names, one for each shape. I'm no expert, but I think these are Marziani. They're quite cool looking really.

The pasta is actually really good. Not because of what it has, but what it doesn't have. It doesn't have a strong odor. It doesn't have a strong taste. It's been cooked al dente, which is a welcome surprise after the grilled cooked glazed chicken and broccoli were both overdone. All in all, it's pretty darned good, and there's not too much more to say.

Smell: 7/10
Taste: 8/10
Mouthfeel: 9/10
Total Score: (8.0/10)

Parmesan Caesar Sauce

Oh boy, here we go. From the department of redundancy department, comes Parmesan Caesar sauce. Parmesan cheese is already supposed to be in Caesar salad dressing, so it would stand to reason that Caesar sauce would also contain it. It's like saying that you have a bowl of chicken noodle soup with noodles. The noodles should be a given!

The sauce has a mild, cheesy smell with a hint of black pepper. The texture is smooth, with small chunks of red pepper floating around for color. And, it's pretty good. It's mild, it doesn't overpower the meal and it provides a nice flavor that complements the whole.

What it's not is Caesar. It tastes nothing like what it's called! It could be any generic cream sauce with cheese, but if you give it a name that invokes the idea of a salad, it must be better for you, regardless of how big a stretch it is! It doesn't taste like Caesar the salad, Caesar the cocktail or even Caesar the emperor. All in all, it gets an A for effort, but a big fat F for the false advertisement.

Smell: 7/10
Taste: 2/10
Mouthfeel: 7/10
Total Score: (5.3/10)

The Totals:

Smell: 6.5/10
Taste: 4.8/10
Mouthfeel: 5.5/10
Total Score: (5.6/10)

False promises are a mainstay of frozen dinner advertisements. Most of them promise that they are 'delicious' for example. The absolute pretentiousness of the Michelina's Harmony Chicken Caesar has left a bad taste in my mouth, even if the meal itself hasn't. Overall, it's a pretty average meal, and not bad, but it's certainly nothing like that they're presenting it as.

If this meal had been named something like Parmesan Chicken Pasta, it would rank quite a bit higher, but it just doesn't taste anything like it should, and while the result isn't bad, it's not necessarily correct. A rose by any other name might smell just as sweet, but I can't call an slab of tofu a steak and not expect people to call me out on it.

I hate you, you lying fictional corporate-made stereotypical Italian grandmother you.
I hate you, you lying fictional corporate-made stereotypical Italian grandmother you.

Bottom line is this: the phrase 'grilled cooked glazed chicken' is going stick in the back of my mind and drive me absolutely insane over time. If I ever have a mental breakdown of Lovecraftian proportions, I blame the chicken.

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