Wolfgang Puck All-Natural Frozen Pizza. Uncured Pepperoni, Four Cheese, Barbecue Chicken, Spicy Chicken, Margherita, and Cheese. $5.99 per 12.3-ounce to 14.75-ounce frozen pizza.
Bonnie: I needn't tell you what a wonderful chef Wolfgang Puck is. Who hasn't heard about Spago, seen him on "Good Morning America" or tried a gourmet pizza at one of his many franchises, including Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney World? Through my job as a food writer, I've been fortunate to enjoy his creations firsthand many times. But like other celebrity-chef creations, his do not easily translate into mass-produced food.
The pizzas are tasty but nowhere near as delicious as his gourmet restaurant ones. These taste like frozen pizzas and aren't even as good as the rising-crust Freschetta pizzas also made by Puck frozen pizza-maker Schwan. The flavor of Puck's touted honey-infusion is imperceptible in the over-doughy crust. The toppings — though unique for supermarkets — aren't always of top quality. The stem was still attached to the sliced fresh tomato on my Margherita pizza, for instance.
Wolf, have you tried these from the supermarket freezer? I'm guessing not, or you would have your name removed.
Carolyn: I've never had a Wolfgang Puck restaurant pizza, so I can't make that comparison. But I agree with Bonnie that these new frozen ones of his are only OK.
The best thing about them is their fresh, good-quality ingredients. (I didn't find a stem on any of my tomato pieces but, unlike Bonnie, I see that as a positive sign of unprocessed ingredients.) The problem is that it's all kind of plain.
The toppings aren't that much different or any better than DiGiorno, Freschetta or California Pizza Kitchen, all of which have more delicious and flavorful crusts. Puck's pepperoni, which the box hawks as uncured, tasted just like regular. The one exception and the only variety I can recommend is the Four Cheese, with its one-two gourmet punch of pesto sauce and the flavorful and unusual (for a frozen pizza) goat cheese.
Pillsbury Bake-Off Refrigerated Cookies. Oatmeal Scotchies, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. $2.50 per 15.5-ounce roll.
Bonnie: For the first time, Pillsbury has launched refrigerated slice-and-bake cookies based on finalists from its Bake-Off, the biennial cooking contest that currently awards a million bucks as top prize. One hundred of these finalists travel to a selected location to compete (a k a cook) for that money. This new Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip cookie is based on two of those finalists' recipes: Mrs. Marvin Duncan's Chocolate Nutbutter Cookies (from 1951) and Sandra J. Westline's Choco Peanut Butter Snaps (from 1977). Cindy Schmuelling's Milk Chocolate Butterscotch Cafe Cookies (from 2002) inspired the Oatmeal Scotchies.
In terms of nutrition, these are similar in fat and calories to other slice-and-bake cookies, with some saturated fats in both of these versions and 1.5 grams of trans fats in the Chocolate Peanut Butter. As for flavor, they're just mediocre. Like the cookies they're based on, neither is a top prize winner.
Carolyn: Call me a cynic, but I think linking these two new limited-edition refrigerated dough cookies to the Pillsbury Bake-Off is a marketing gimmick. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip flavor, for instance, is much more likely inspired by Chips Deluxe's new packaged version of this same cookie than a 56-year-old Bake-Off entry. The more unusual and unique Oatmeal Scotchies have a strong butterscotch flavor but are too weak on oatmeal.
Similarly, the chocolate cookie base of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip isn't chocolaty enough. Keebler's Chips Deluxe Chocolate Peanut Butter packaged cookies are actually much better.
If Pillsbury is going to continue with this line, it needs to use better-quality ingredients and provide a resealable package and toaster oven directions. The idea for these cookies may date back 50 years, but today's families are smaller, have more upscale tastes and are more worried about gaining weight and wasting energy.
Near East Whole Grain Blends Wheat Couscous. Original, and Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil. $2.28 per 5.8-ounce to 7.6-ounce box.
Bonnie: Couscous is my idea of a convenience food. Just add to boiling water, cover and let stand for five minutes. I generally saute some vegetables — fresh or refrigerated leftovers — and mix them into this precooked pasta along with some seasonings for a great side dish. This side dish will be even healthier if you select one of Near East's new Whole Grain Blends Wheat Couscous as your base, because you'll be getting one of the three servings of whole grains that our government's health agencies — and I — recommend you eat daily.
Both the Original and the Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil versions contain 3 grams of fiber per serving, where the original non-whole grain versions contain 2. Oddly, this new Whole Grain Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil variety contains 2 percent less iron, calcium and vitamin A than its non-whole grain counterpart. But you can easily add those back by mixing in some steamed or sauteed veggies such as broccoli, carrots and chopped spinach.
Carolyn: I'm also a couscous fan. Not just because of its fast and easy preparation but also for its bead-like appearance and light-as-a-feather texture and taste. The addition of whole wheat obviously darkens the taste of couscous a bit, but not too badly. In fact, the difference between Near East's regular couscous and these wheat ones parallels the difference between white bread and wheat bread. To look on the bright side, these whole grain couscous dishes might finally make couscous a side-dish option with heavier sauces and meats that would otherwise totally overwhelm regular nonwheat versions of this delicate micro-pasta.
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 supermarketsampler.com. © Universal Press Syndicate