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Supermarket Sampler: Spice mixes really are inspirational

Published: Tuesday, July 6 2010 3:44 p.m. MDT

David Tuemmler,

McCormick Recipe Inspirations Pre-Measured Spices and Recipe Cards. Apple & Sage Pork Chops, Garlic Lime Chicken Fajitas, Quesadilla Casserole, Rosemary Roasted Chicken With Potatoes, Shrimp & Pasta Primavera, and Spanish Chicken Skillet. $1.99 per 0.26- to 0.41-ounce packet of six spices and herbs.

Bonnie: I'm for almost any product that gets people into the kitchen cooking. And that describes Recipe Inspirations to a teaspoon. Six packets of pre-measured herbs and spices are attached to a detachable recipe card. With four to eight more ingredients, you can make a wide variety of Latin-influenced and more traditional dishes.

These recipes are training wheels to help you realize how easy and rewarding real cooking can be. Then you may be "inspired" to buy full containers of the spices you liked, open a cookbook or visit an online recipe site, and leave all the processed, chemically laden food on supermarket shelves behind.

Carolyn: McCormick Recipe Inspirations is one of the rare new products that really is new. These are pre-measured spice packets attached to a recipe card. In other words, a paint-by-number-kit for food.

Among the many good things about these: They solve the problem of old, flavor-depleted spices and of having to buy lots of expensive spices you might use only once. The dishes get their flavor from herbs and spices rather than from bad-for-you fat and calories. And they force people to buy and cook with the fresh ingredients dietitian Bonnie is constantly touting.

Recipe Inspirations' success will nevertheless rest in large part on the strength of the recipes. The two I tried (the sweet Apple & Sage Pork Chops and Rosemary Roasted Chicken With Potatoes) were both tasty; the Rosemary Chicken was also easy.

Which is not to say these are perfect: The recipes are designed for four or more people, are light on veggies and not one is vegetarian. Most surprising, considering that most are meat-based main dishes and the modest cooking experience of those who would probably buy these: None of the cards offer suggestions for vegetable or starch accompaniments.

All these things could be easily fixed and do not stop me from calling this line one of the most interesting and promising new food products we've reviewed in several years.

Special K Fruit Crisps. Strawberry, and Blueberry. $3.09 per 4.4-ounce box of five pouches containing two crisps.

Bonnie: I looked at these new Special K Fruit Crisps in wonderment: With the icing swirls, they look a bit like Kellogg's Pop-Tarts. I guess Kellogg's thinks so, too, as the box and each wrapped bar warns, "Special K Fruit Crisps are ready-to-eat bars and should not be placed in a toaster or microwave."

So what are these really? Crisp pastry with either a blueberry or strawberry filling that I don't recommend, as they're chock full of chemicals, including preservatives, artificial flavors and artificial colors. Sure, they're low-cal, but so are unadorned real strawberries and blueberries — much more nutritious snacks.

Carolyn: The name "Special K Fruit Crisps" is misleading in more than one way. The one thing this new product has in common with Special K cereal is weight-consciousness. The fruit crisp in the name got me thinking about Seneca's dried apple snack chips. But Special K Fruit Crisps also aren't anything like that. They are, instead, a 200-calorie Pop-Tart slimmed down to 50-calorie bar size.

Anyone who's ever enjoyed a fruit-flavored Pop-Tart will recognize and enjoy Fruit Crisps' fruit jam filling and frosting drizzle; the pastry body, less so. Fruit Crisps are definitely not as indulgent or satisfying as Pop-Tarts, but then they're also not as stone-in-the-stomach heavy.

Baileys Coffee Creamers. French Vanilla, Original Irish Cream, Caramel, and Hazelnut. $2.49 per pint or $3.99 per quart bottle.

Bonnie: Despite the Baileys name and logo, these new coffee creamers don't contain any alcohol. What they do contain: some sugar, cream, artificial flavor and color, and lots of generally recognized as safe chemicals (such as disodium phosphate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, polysorbate 60). A tablespoon contains 35 to 40 calories and 1.5 grams fat.

I'd prefer just a drop of real half-and-half in my coffee to any of these chemically laden liquids.

Carolyn: Treats become less so if you get to experience them frequently. This is one well-known psychological truth that Baileys either doesn't know or chose to ignore when creating these new creamers that bring the Baileys-infused after-dinner coffee to the daily grind.

At least that's what the original Baileys Irish Cream-flavored one seems to aspire to. The others just seem like clones of Carnation's and International Delight's refrigerated flavored creamers and so hardly necessary. Like Carnation's, these are too rich and sweet to use more than a few days in a row — though the seven-day shelf life essentially forces you to do so.

That's why I'm waiting for Baileys to come up with a longer-lasting powdered creamer version of my favorite Original Irish Cream variety.

Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. She has an interactive site (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.