Thai Kitchens Curry Simmer Sauces. Green, Red, Yellow, and Panang. $3.39 per 11-ounce jar.
Dear Bonnie: Just simmer one of Thai Kitchens' new jarred blends of coconut milk, lemongrass, chile, Thai basil and galangal (Thai ginger) with some fresh vegetables to create an authentic-tasting Thai dinner. How easy is that, I thought, as I began my testing.
I opened the Red Curry first and simmered it, as suggested, with a variety of veggies that included asparagus, spinach, peas, a potato, carrots and yellow squash. I added some chicken and served it over aromatic basmati rice. The results were delicious, if not quite spicy enough. At least that's what I thought before I tried the other, even blander varieties. They each needed a dollop of a spicy curry paste to heighten their flavor.
But I do recommend the Red Curry. Like the others, it takes only 10 minutes to make, and it adds a modest 90 calories, 6 grams of total fat, and a bit too much sodium (830 to 940 milligrams) to your own concoctions of meat and veggies. And it's certainly convenient!
Carolyn: I've spent the past 20 years trying to forget simmer sauces like Chicken Tonight. They were convenient, Bonnie, and as ubiquitous in the 1980s as 100-calorie snacks are today. But that convenience wasn't enough to overcome the unimaginative flavors and gummy consistency that eventually drove away consumers.
That's what makes these new Simmer Sauces from Thai Kitchens such a pleasant surprise. Although these are thinner than I expected (and wanted), if that's the price of not being gummy, I accept it gladly. And the sauces feature lots of interesting flavors without being too spicy for Western palates.
All are tasty, but the Yellow Curry is best. If these products are at all indicative of the quality possible for a new generation of simmer sauces, I say, my pasta and rice are cooking: Bring them on.
Nabisco Big & Soft Cookies. Chips Ahoy! Chocolate Chunk, Chips Ahoy! Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk and Nutter Butter Peanut Butter. $3.89 per box of eight 1.37-ounce individually wrapped cookies.
Bonnie: It wasn't until I opened one of these Nabisco Big & Soft boxes to find some pretty small cookies that I noticed the small print next to the huge cookie pictured on the front reading "enlarged to show detail." I'll say.
I'll also say it's actually a nutritional blessing that the cookie inside is about half the size of the picture. Any one of these three cookies is more than large enough, considering that each one contains 170 to 180 calories and 7 to 9 grams of total fat (of which 3 to 3.5 grams are saturated). By comparison, Pepperidge Farms' similar-sized Soft Baked Chocolate Chunk contains 150 calories and 7 to 8 grams of total fat, depending on whether it contains milk chocolate or dark chocolate chunks.
I don't like the taste of any of these, but then, I've hardly ever met a boxed cookie I liked. I do like that these are individually wrapped, both to teach consumers that one cookie is big enough and to make it easier to keep a serving to one (by leaving the other seven cookies at home in the box!).
Carolyn: Unlike Bonnie, I like lots of packaged cookies — but I like the harder ones better than the soft. Soft cookies taste more of chemicals and always seem to be worse for you. These new Nabisco Big & Soft, for instance, are only about a third larger than regular (hard) Chips Ahoy! but have about three times the calories.
In short, I'd much rather eat three Candy Blast Chips Ahoy! or Keebler Chips Deluxe Chocolate Peanut Butter cookies than one of these. (Tip to soft-texture fans: Hard packaged cookies can be made soft by zapping them in the microwave for a few seconds.
Consumers of Frito-Lay's similar Grandma's dual packs might want to try Nabisco's better-tasting Nutter Butter — although I would have preferred it with milk chocolate chunks rather its peanut butter ones.
Egg Beaters With Yolk. $3.49 per 15-ounce or $6.69 per 30-ounce carton or $2.99 for a package of three 4-ounce cups.
Bonnie: You'd think all Con Agra would have to do to make this new product was to add egg yolks to its original Egg Beaters.
That's not what it did. According to Con Agra, this is an entirely different product with very different nutrition. I'm not only referring to the extra fat (1.5 grams) and cholesterol (50 mg) from the yolk, but also the odd differences in vitamins and minerals. These new Egg Beaters With Yolk contain 16 percent less vitamin B12, 11 percent less vitamin A and folate, 6 percent less thiamine and panothenic acid, 5 percent less riboflavin and 2 percent less iron. But they contain 2 percent more vitamin E, 4 percent more vitamin B6, 10 percent more copper and 45 percent more selenium than regular Egg Beaters. On the whole, a fresh egg has more nutrients than either of these.
So those figures don't represent what's in the yolk, but the vitamins and minerals added to both the original and "With Yolk." Con Agra's explanation: "They're different products with different nutritional makeups."
This version of Egg Beaters tastes more like real eggs than the original does. You do save some fat (3.5 grams), calories (35) and cholesterol (160 milligrams) compared to whole eggs. But real eggs are an affordable nutritional powerhouse that are fine for all but the most restricted diets — and what I'd recommend.
Carolyn: I never realized how much richness yolks give eggs until I tried new Egg Beaters With Yolk side-by-side with regular yolkless Egg Beaters. Even just the little bit that's in this new product makes a big, positive difference.
You can get a similar effect for a lot less expense by breaking an egg over a bowl and catching the yolk in one of the shell halves or your hand. (It's not as hard as it sounds!) Then break the yolk and put a little bit into the bowl. Regular eggs also last longer than opened Egg Beaters, which last one week.
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