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Swanson Flavor Boost. Chicken, Vegetable and Beef. $3.99 per box of eight packets.
Bonnie: When preparing food from scratch, occasionally the cook will need to add something to boost the flavor to bring the dish from ordinary to sublime. That addition could be a splash of vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, some salt or broth. Broth works only if additional cooking to reduce the amount of liquid won't ruin the dish.
Enter Swanson Flavor Boost. These are concentrated broth packets in three flavors. According to soup king Campbell's, which owns Swanson, these are "100 percent natural, with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and no added MSG, just a small amount of glutamate that occurs naturally in yeast extract." There's no need to reduce the liquid after adding a packet.
Like all but low-sodium broths, these add sodium (770 to 830 milligrams) to whatever you are cooking. Be sure to taste your "boosted" dish before adding a finishing salt.
I like the flavor of the chicken variety best.
Carolyn: Swanson Flavor Boost's name and advertising introduce it as a culinary life preserver.
"Elevate your everyday dishes instantly with new Swanson Flavor Boost concentrated broth, a kitchen essential that adds flavor to any recipe," reads the introductory copy on its website. Having thrown out any recipe I've ever made that seemed boring, I decided to make the grape tomato and mushroom chicken skillet dish prominently displayed on Flavor Boost's web page. It was bland, as I should have suspected, given its ingredients and product-promotional reason for being. Adding Flavor Boost gave it the flavor of chicken soup, which, it could be argued, is itself a bit boring. I like chicken soup, but not in a skillet dish.
The Flavor Boost boxes say these packets can also be used to make broth. And current broth products have their issues: Broth in cans takes up lots of cupboard space; cubes are space-saving and cheap, but take time to make.
Could Flavor Boost be an easy, moderately priced space-saving alternative, with the potential to be as useful to savory cooks as packets of softened unsweetened chocolate are to sweets bakers?
Yes, but Swanson needs to better promote and instruct on this product's use. All you have to do is mix the contents of one of these packets with 1 cup of room-temperature tap water to get the 1 cup of broth called for in my non-boring recipes. I confirmed that with the company's 800 number, since the box and the website didn't say.
Flavor Boost is broth in a better form. Buy it for that reason, not as culinary first aid.
Oscar Mayer Sandwich Combos. Southwestern Style Chicken, Oven Roasted Turkey & Cheddar, and Honey Ham & Swiss. $3.49 per 6.6- to 7.7-ounce package.
Bonnie: I've got to give Oscar Mayer credit for trying to improve the nutritional profile of its sandwich kits. These new Sandwich Combos contain real cheese (Swiss and cheddar) and whole-grain bread, plus turkey, ham or chicken.
In addition, each of these kits contains a sugar-free (artificially sweetened) Jell-O gelatin or Mousse Temptations, and a salty snack in lieu of candy.
These kits have about 370 to 390 calories (a reasonable lunch amount), 6 grams saturated fat (which is 30 percent of the daily limit), 4 to 6 grams fiber (a decent amount) and 880 to 980 milligrams sodium (a bit hefty, at 37 to 41 percent of the daily limit). My suggestion, if you do eat these, is to eat lots of fresh — unprocessed — foods the rest of the day.
Carolyn: Oscar Mayer has just added low-cal snacks and desserts to its Lunchables-like adult lunch kits. Too bad it didn't just add them to its existing, quite tasty cold sub sandwiches. Instead, the company decided to put the meat on some high-tech, newfangled "multi-grain thin sandwich bun," the weak link in this otherwise fine idea.
If calories were the concern, why didn't Oscar Mayer use Pepperidge Farm's reduced-calorie but still tasty Very Thin Sliced Bread? Until and unless it does, not-easily-embarrassed adults might want to buy Lunchables Sub Sandwich Meals with water and several small desserts for the same or fewer calories, instead.
Nestle Toll House Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. $3.49 per 16-ounce package yielding 24 cookies.
Bonnie: The combination of peanut butter and chocolate remains popular almost a century after H.B. Reese first got the idea of combining them in his Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. These new peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies from Nestle are proof.
Nestle previously combined those flavors for Nestle Ultimates, a decadent cookie with peanut butter cups, peanut butter chunks and chocolate chips. At first glance, these new chocolate peanut butter cookies would appear to be much lower in calories and fat, but that's because Ultimates are scored to make 12 giant cookies, while Nestle Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough makes 24.
In fact, the calories and fat of two of these new cookies and one of the Ultimates are pretty comparable (these have 160 calories and 3 grams saturated fat of 9 grams total, while one Ultimate has 180 calories and 5 grams saturated fat of the same total 9 grams).
As for taste, these cookies are full of chips, but quite light on peanut butter.
Carolyn: I hate the way so many packaged cookie companies make peanut butter cookies: by throwing peanut butter flavored chips in a cost-saving, generic cookie-dough base.
Nestle's new Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, by happy contrast, makes actual peanut butter cookies dotted with an impressive number of real Nestle Toll House milk chocolate chips. I only wish (like Bonnie) that they contained more peanut butter. Peanut butter is sixth on this ingredient list, whereas it's third on the chipless Pillsbury Simply Peanut Butter Cookie Dough I have previously praised.
People who like chocolate as much as peanut butter need look no further. Big peanut butter fans might be happier buying Pillsbury Simply and peppering its uncooked peanut butter cookie dough with lots of their own Toll House chocolate chips.
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.
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