03/11/2012BelVita Breakfast Biscuits. Apple Cinnamon, Blueberry, and Golden Oat. $3.69 per 8.8-ounce box of five packets containing four biscuits. (photo sm120311a.jpg)
Bonnie: There are those times when you're late, dashing out the door with no time to eat, but you're hungry. What to grab?
Nabisco is hoping it will be its new-to-America BelVita Breakfast Biscuits. These biscuits have been available in France for more than a decade and were just recently introduced here via the corny pre-Super Bowl ad showing two energized small-town cops chasing a bunny and timing a Little League pitcher with a speed gun.
BelVita is being touted as "sustained energy," as its 18 to 20 grams of whole grain and 3 grams of fiber are metabolized more slowly than simple carbohydrates. But these biscuits are also quite sugary. In fact, their 11 to 13 grams sugar per serving rivals Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks.
But BelVita is better than a sugary doughnut, especially if eaten as the company suggests, along with fruit and yogurt. Just make sure that yogurt is unsweetened.
Carolyn: What country does Kraft, the owner of Nabisco, think we're living in? Between the Gevalia coffee introduced to U.S. supermarkets last month and these new BelVita Breakfast Biscuits the company hopes you'll eat with it, I'd say Sweden. Both the "biscuits" in this product's name and their austerity scream Europe -- where, in fact, Kraft has been selling BelVita for about a decade.
These are like animal crackers (i.e., the least indulgent cookie sold in the U.S.) crossed with Newtons Fruit Thins, an odd little oaty, fruity cookie that Nabisco introduced here last summer. Fruit Thins have a limited audience and so too, I think, will BelVita.
Memo to Kraft: We are the same people who keep your company afloat with our vast purchases of bland, sweet foods like Cheez Whiz, Jell-O and Oreos. I'm not sure we're ready for this.
Jolly Rancher Crunch 'N Chew Candy. $1 per 1.55-ounce, $2.19 per 6.5-ounce, and $2.99 per 13-ounce bag. (photo sm120311b.jpg)
Bonnie: Bill and Dorothy Harmsen started selling hand-made hard candies in their Jolly Rancher candy store in Golden, Colo., in 1949. Hershey took over the brand in 1996. Today, the company is trying to please fans of both the hard and soft fruit-flavored candies with the new Jolly Rancher Crunch 'N Chew. In this new version, a hard, crunchy shell surrounds a soft, chewy center in four bold flavors: cherry, green apple, watermelon and blue raspberry.
Like the other Jolly Ranchers sold today, these are loaded with artificial colors and flavors. My Jolly Rancher experience began with an unmistakable artificial odor and ended with a lingering aftertaste, and so they are not for me. But if you don't mind that and the all-sugar calories, you might give these a try.
Carolyn: For more than half a century, Jolly Rancher meant hard candy in bold fruit flavors. In 2001, the candy also became Starburst-like fruit chews. Now Hershey's is bringing both forms of Jolly Rancher together in these new Crunch 'N Chew candies. They're hard Jolly Rancher candies surrounding a soft, chewy center.
This candy's multi-dimensions make it as good a personality test as food treat. The target buyer is either indecisive or wants it all. Patient types will suck until the candy shell gives way; the more aggressive will break through and start chewing right away. (Aggressive types will perhaps mellow out as they age, lest their teeth confront Crunch 'N Chew's quite thick, hard-shell test.)
The best thing about Jolly Rancher, in whatever form, are the strong flavors. Fortunately, these new Crunch 'N Chews uphold that bold tradition.
Lean Cuisine Culinary Collection Chef's Pick Frozen Entrees. Chicken Makhani, Chile Lime Chicken, Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli, and Ranchero Braised Beef. $3.59 per 8.25- to 9-ounce box. (photo sm120311c.jpg)
Bonnie: Either I've been writing this column too long and have gotten used to frozen entrees, or they've come a long way since the '80s when I had to start sampling them. Two of these new Lean Cuisine Chef's Pick entrees are some of the best-tasting frozen food I've ever tried.
I'm guessing the real reason is because they're products of a Chef's Culinary Roundtable (including my friends Pam Anderson, Michelle Bernstein, Paul Kahan and Elizabeth Karmel) that Stouffer's has formed to give it new cooking ideas.
These new entrees and reformulations of eight existing Lean Cuisine varieties are the result of that collaboration. I liked them all, but especially like the spicy Indian-flavored tomato sauce in the Chicken Makhani, with its turmeric-colored rice studded with almonds and veggies, and the tender meat in a spicy red chile sauce in the Ranchero Braised Beef with chipotle mashed sweet potatoes.
As these are under the Lean Cuisine label, they are all portion-controlled with 300 or fewer calories, which may have you craving another portion -- and not just because they're great tasting.
Carolyn: The celebrity chef culture that has overtaken TV and bookstores has reached your supermarket's frozen dinner case. First Healthy Choice and now Lean Cuisine are paying "name" chefs to create new foods or "improve" existing ones. Among other results: My favorite Chicken Margherita Healthy Choice Cafe Steamer entree now contains wimpy little pieces of minced garlic instead of the delicious whole roasted cloves it used to feature.
Did Lean Cuisine's "culinary roundtable" of seven chefs do any better? Judging just by their two new entrees, I'd give them three stars. The Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli is a gourmet-restaurant-worthy rich and filling pasta dish that is all the more impressive considering it contains fewer than 300 calories.
The Chicken Makhani rivals such outstanding Lean Cuisine offerings as Thai and Lemongrass Chicken in authentic Asian flavor, though I wish the chefs could figure out a way to keep the almonds from becoming soggy.
Though also credited as chef inventions, the Ranchero Braised Beef and Chile Lime Chicken seem to this longtime Lean Cuisine eater like retoolings of the dearly beloved Southern Beef and Fiesta Chicken varieties, respectively -- the Ranchero, with not quite as sweet a sauce and with smoky whipped sweet potatoes instead of Southern Beef's more boring cubes of plain white. The Chile Lime didn't seem quite as good as Fiesta.
But the most noticeable difference between these Chef's Picks and older Lean Cuisine dishes is the chicken. It is spongier, more gristly -- in short, less in quality than the chicken previously used in Lean Cuisine entrees. If this is the chefs' idea of an improvement, I'll take Lean Cuisine's old cooks any day!
(Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. She has a blog (www.biteofthebest.com) about products she recommends; follow her on Twitter: @BonnieBOTB. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book" (Running Press). Each week they critique three new food items.)