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Stouffer's Bistro meals are a bust

Stouffer's Corner Bistro. Seafood Scampi, Monterey Chicken, Sesame Chicken, Grilled Rosemary Chicken, Garlic Chicken Pasta and Chicken Carbonara. $3.99 per 12- to 14-ounce box.

Bonnie: Having recently given a rave review to Lean Cuisine Spa Cuisine Lemongrass Chicken frozen entree (something I do to a frozen meal about once in a blue moon), I looked forward to testing Stouffer's latest line of restaurant-inspired meals. That was a mistake. Most were way too salty, especially the chicken breasts in the Grilled Rosemary, Monterey Chicken and Chicken Carbonara (although, I must admit, the Carbonara could pass for homemade).

I was also put off by the horrid, fishy odor from the Seafood Scampi, the cafeteria look of the Monterey Chicken, the watery and chewy mushrooms in the Garlic Chicken Pasta, and the separated fontina cheese pasta sauce in the Grilled Rosemary Chicken.

The only one of the line I could recommend? The comparatively good-tasting Sesame Chicken.

Carolyn: I don't eat Stouffer's Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice TV dinners because I'm worried about weight. I eat them because they're more interesting than full-calorie offerings from Swanson, Michelina's and even Stouffer's. Like Swanson, red-box Stouffer's has long been stuck in a time warp of macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and meat loaf.

This new Stouffer's Corner Bistro line is finally giving "regular" TV dinner eaters a taste of the more innovative, ethnic-influenced dishes that restaurant diners and diet dinner eaters have been enjoying for years. In the case of the Corner Bistro Sesame Chicken and Carbonara Chicken dishes, this is true because these dishes are virtual clones of Lean Cuisine Cafe Classic meals. The difference? The calorie count, the serving size, and the more convenient and attractive presentation. Corner Bistro meals come in classy, black triangular dishes with a thick plastic cover that you don't have to cut before cooking. (You also don't have to open up and stir the dish mid-cooking, as with most other TV dinners.)

As for the brand-new recipes, although the shrimp in the Shrimp Scampi is a bit overcooked and the garlic butter sauce nothing unusual, it's still delicious. I also liked the Garlic Chicken Pasta, although not as well as the late, great Stouffer's red-box Roasted Chicken With Mushrooms that it resembles. The barbecuey Monterey Chicken and Grilled Rosemary Chicken were less distinctive, although OK. One way in which these best all other red boxes is their fresh-tasting and crunchy vegetables.

Would I buy the Corner Bistro version of the varieties that also come as Cafe Classics? Probably not, because I'm usually satisfied with the amount of food in a 200- to 300-calorie Lean Cuisine meal. But these 400- to 500-calorie Corner Bistro meals would be great for the many people who are not.

Emerald Glazed Chocolate Brownie Walnuts. 99 cents per 1.5-ounce single-serve tube, $2.69 per 4-ounce canister or $3.39 per 6-ounce foil pouch.

Bonnie: I prefer eating walnuts without artificial flavors. Still, these Chocolate Brownie Glazed walnuts are tastier than I thought they'd be. If they satisfy your hunger for a walnut-topped brownie, I'm all for them.

All walnuts provide a delicious source of omega-3 fatty acids. Supportive, but not conclusive, research suggests that 1.5 ounces of walnuts a day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease when eaten as part of a heart-healthy diet. That's only if you don't increase the number of calories you eat. Since 1.5 ounces of walnuts provide 275 calories and 27 grams of fat, that means you'll probably have to give up eating something else to enjoy these.

Carolyn: These are the best new sweetened nuts since Eagle's original honey. That's because the chocolate flavor goes so well with walnuts, as anyone who's ever had brownies with walnuts well knows. It's also because Emerald has not overdone the sweetness, as it did with its Apple Cinnamon and some of its other glazed nuts. The walnut remains the star. The chocolate powder just enhances it in a way that transforms the walnut from baking ingredient into snack.

Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh Shaved Slow Roasted Roast Beef. $3.29 per 7-ounce package.

Bonnie: If you're used to buying packaged luncheon meat, then you might not mind this new deli-style, shaved roast beef from Oscar Mayer. It's packed in a reclosable package — just be sure to finish the four servings of meat within a week of opening it.

A 2-ounce, six-slice serving contains a modest 60 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, with 1 gram of saturated fat. But it also contains a whopping 520 milligrams sodium, which home-cooked usually does not. That high sodium content is from the curing solution (a k a salty water) Oscar Mayer uses to preserve the meat, a more common practice with ham. That's also why this tastes closer to ham than roast beef.

Since that's the case, you might prefer buying one of Oscar Mayer's more economical shaved hams (its packages of ham offer an additional 2 ounces for the same price as the roast beef).

Carolyn: Oscar Mayer's Deli Fresh Shaved Slow Roasted Roast Beef looks like roast beef and has the texture of it at its most tender, but it tastes like ham or chicken.

Call me Bonnie, but I think this might be just a tiny bit overprocessed.


Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat (Quirk). Each week they critique three new food items.


© Universal Press Syndicate