It seems easy enough to toss some chicken with vegetables and pasta or rice and have dinner on the table. But many of us aren't doing that. Instead of defrosting, chopping, sauteing, seasoning and serving, we're dining out or ordering in. Grocery manufacturers are on to us. They have been busy packaging ready-to-cook meals that can go from the freezer to the frying pan (or oven) to the table in minutes. Taster's Choice tried eight varieties of these skillet meals, all with chicken as the common ingredient. Our judges were impressed with some of the options.
Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent
|Product/Score (out of 100)||T.G.I. Friday's Firecracker Sesame Chicken/77||Bertolli Roasted Chicken & Linguine/69||Gourmet Dining Chicken Stir Fry/66||Putney Pasta Chicken Alfredo Skillet/66|
|How'd it look?||Like Chinese takeout food with generous, well-charred chunks of chicken.||Deep orange colored, with a vibrant, herb-flecked sauce.||Inviting with large pieces of vegetables.||Tri-colored pasta with broccoli and thick, cheesy sauce.|
|Judges' comments||"Great with a nice Chinese vegetable munch," one judge said. Another liked the sweet and sour flavor, and a third noted that it was fresh, with plenty of heat.||The chicken pieces were tender and the pasta was firm but not quite al dente. A couple of judges said the meal could easily pass for homemade or a restaurant dish. The four-cheese sauce had a hint of flavor and the appearance of a vodka sauce. The Italian dish was packed with zucchini and Romano cheese.||Crisp bell peppers, broccoli and snap peas made these Asian noodles pop — but the flavor needed more kick. Judges said they would probably add soy sauce and ginger before serving the meal.||This had a mild, sweet cheese sauce and tender chicken with a little lemon flavor. "This has an especially nice appearance," said one panelist who gave the brand high marks.|
|Would they buy?||Three of the four judges said yes.||Two of the four judges said yes.||Two of the four judges said yes.||Two of the four judges said yes.|
|Shopping information||$7.14 for 2 1/2 servings at Wal-Mart.||$6.50 for two servings at Wal-Mart.||$3.98 for four servings at Wal-Mart.||$9.69 for two servings at Nature's Finest Foods in St. Petersburg.|
Panelists: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; Jim Yockey, aesthetician at Anu You Institute; and Times food critic Laura Reiley. All foods were tasted blind.
Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to food.tampabay.com.