Supermarket Sampler: Steam n' Mash quick, from-scratch taste

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 19 2008 12:19 a.m. MST

Ore-Ida Steam n' Mash. Cut Russet; Garlic Seasoned; Three-Cheese;and Sweet Potatoes. $3.69 per 24-ounce bag.

Bonnie: Steam n' Mash are Ore-Ida's entry into the booming frozen microwavable steaming bag category. First, steam the cut potatoes in the bag and then mash them, adding milk, butter and seasonings to taste as you would with boiled potatoes. At least, that's the case with the Cut Russet and the Sweet Potatoes.

The Garlic Seasoned and Three-Cheese varieties contain their own seasonings, along with way too many other chemicals for me to find either one palatable or to consider recommending them. But the Cut Russet and Sweet Potatoes contain only the namesake potato, salt and disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, a sequestrant that prevents discoloration by binding the natural minerals in the food. I'd have preferred that Ore-Ida use the more natural citric acid (found in lemons) to do the same thing. Still, disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate is considered a safe additive.

I will still be peeling, boiling and mashing both my Idaho and sweet potatoes, as I find cooking for family and friends a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend the holiday. Those who think differently could do worse than to serve Ore-Ida Steam n' Mash Cut Russet or Sweet Potatoes.

Carolyn: Smart hosts concentrate their efforts on a few dishes that will make the biggest impression — and farm out the rest. And if you don't have a special Thanksgiving potato recipe, I recommend farming out your mashed potatoes to Ore-Ida Steam n' Mash.

Ore-Ida Steam n' Mash Potatoes come as pre-peeled and pre-cut frozen potato chunks that you microwave in a bag and mash with milk. In other words, Steam n' Mash provides instant potato convenience with from-scratch taste.

I agree with Bonnie that the unadorned Cut Russet and Sweet Potatoes are the best varieties, especially for Thanksgiving. Doctor them up with your signature touches, such as butter and marshmallow creme, and nobody will guess you didn't spend all morning cutting and peeling.

Kraft Stove Top Stuffing. Cornbread, and Chicken Quick Cups; and Cranberry Stuffing Mix. 99 cents per 2-ounce cup, and $1.99 per 6-ounce stuffing mix box.

Bonnie: Kraft has new single-cup and cranberry varieties of Stove Top Stuffing available in time for the holidays. If you're a packaged food user — and, in the case of the cups, are celebrating on your own or with just one other person — you might consider using these to save time on this classic turkey day side dish. I do like that the cranberry version includes the actual fruit — Ocean Spray dried cranberries — but I don't like how many additives are in all three.

On Thanksgiving, something more natural might be in order. Consider this simple apple-cranberry dressing. Just begin with fresh cornbread (that you could buy or make) or with any other bread that you cut into cubes and let dry overnight. Then cook two large diced onions, two large diced golden delicious apples and four stalks of diced celery in one stick (4 ounces) of melted butter in a large skillet over medium heat about 10 minutes, until softened. Remove from heat and place in a large bowl.

Toss in the bread cubes, 3/4 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 2 teaspoons sage, 1 teaspoon thyme, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Scrape into a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking pan, pour one cup low-sodium chicken broth evenly over it, and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until heated through and crusty. Makes 8 to 10 holiday buffet-size servings.

Carolyn: Stove Top has dressed up boxes of its regular chicken-flavored stuffing for the holidays with cranberries, the classic Pilgrim fruit.

But I think Stove Top's two new Quick Cups are even more exciting. They're perfect for tiny Thanksgiving celebrations but also for eating stuffing anyplace there is a microwave anytime, any day.

Over the years, Stove Top has probably spent millions on ad campaigns trying to get people to stop thinking about stuffing only in conjunction with turkey at the holidays. But these little cups — requiring only water and 45 seconds in the microwave, and no cleanup — make everyday stuffing-eating possible in a practical way.

Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers. Broccoli & Cheese Sauce; Super Sweet Corn & Butter Sauce; Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower & Cheese Sauce; Roasted Red Potatoes, Green Beans & Rosemary Butter Sauce; Cheesy Rice & Broccoli; and Asian Style Medley. $2.39 per 12-ounce bag.

Bonnie: This is one line of steamable-in-the-microwave foods I'm not wild about. There's too much unpalatable sauce for the vegetables. In other Green Giant renditions of frozen veggies with sauce, I was able to discard half the sauce pellets to make the dish more pleasing (and nutritious). But these bags won't work correctly if they're opened before they're microwaved.

Skip Green Giant's veggies and sauce, and reach instead for similar-sized plain vegetable Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers that include broccoli, green beans, corn, peas and mixed vegetables. Any one of those provides much healthier, perfectly cooked vegetables.

Carolyn: This appears to be a case of Green Giant using sauces to cover up some inferior vegetables — or cheapen some good ones. The inferior veggies include all those broccoli stems in the Asian Style Medley. The good ones include almost anything covered by Green Giant's plebeian cheese sauce (for three of these side dishes).

I agree with Bonnie that Green Giant's unsauced Valley Fresh Steamer products are much better and would be a much better addition to your dinner table on Thanksgiving or any other night. Just add your own salt and melted butter.


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. For previous columns, visit www.supermarketsampler.com, and for more food info and chances to win free products, visit www.biteofthebest.com. © Universal Press Syndicate