Universal Press Syndicate
Emerald Cocoa Roast Almonds. $6.69 per 11-ounce container.

Bonnie: I'm an almond lover. I grab a handful a day both because I love their flavor and also because they're good for my heart. So I always look forward to trying a new almond product.

At first glance these new Cocoa Roast Almonds seemed like a fabulous idea. That is until I tried them and the aftertaste kicked in. The culprit? The two artificial sweeteners Emerald used to sweeten this otherwise natural product.

If you're looking for a chocolate-flavored almond that's truly decadent, I recommend Charles Chocolates Triple Chocolate Almonds. If you're looking for a flavored almond without artificial ingredients, try Blue Diamond Bold.

Carolyn: Emerald Cocoa Roast Almonds are an upscale version of Emerald's glazed Chocolate Brownie Walnuts I've always loved. Here Emerald is coating almonds in dark cocoa powder instead of coating walnuts in sugary milk chocolate. It tastes a lot like chocolate-covered almonds or a Hershey's Bar With Almonds but with a fraction of their calories. It should be loved by everyone but artificial sweetener-haters like Bonnie.

Stouffer's Lean Cuisine Seafood Selections. Parmesan Crusted Fish, Shrimp Alfredo, Szechuan Style Stir Fry With Shrimp and Tortilla Crusted Fish. $3.59 to $4.49 per 8-ounce to 9-ounce box.

Bonnie: Stouffer's has recently expanded its seafood choices for those who shop the freezer more than the seafood case or fishmonger. For frozen meals, these are flavorful, with my favorite being the crunchy Tortilla Crusted Fish, served with a tasty Southwestern blend of rice, corn and peppers.

But by following the instructions on the package, the seafood in the two shrimp varieties became overcooked. As you may know, the best way to ruin seafood is to overcook it. So if you try one of these, I suggest stopping the cooking process 15 seconds before the recommended time to see if the shrimp are cooked through, and then cooking at 15-second intervals until they are.

Carolyn: So your Lean Cuisine shrimp dishes were overcooked when microwaved at the recommended time, Bonnie? Mine were undercooked — in fact, I had to put the Shrimp Alfredo back in for an additional 45 seconds to get rid of the ice.

Microwave wattage problems aside, these are welcome — if not startlingly new — additions to the Stouffer's Lean Cuisine line. The Shrimp Alfredo, Parmesan Crusted Fish and Szechuan Style Stir Fry With Shrimp are basically just fish versions of the Alfredo, Parmesan and Ginger Garlic Stir Fry chicken dishes that Lean Cuisine already offers. The Tortilla Crusted Fish is the exception that Bonnie and I agree on. With the fish's unusual corny coating and "Mexican risotto" rice accompaniment, it's the best of the new fishy four.

Bush Brothers & Co. Grillin' Beans. Steakhouse, Southern Pit Barbecue, Bourbon and Brown Sugar, and Smokehouse Tradition. $1.89 per 22-ounce can.

Bonnie: To help celebrate its 100th anniversary, Bush Brothers & Co. recently launched a new line of baked beans purported to feature bold flavors and thick sauces. What they really feature is a new smaller can that will cost you more.

Seriously, this new squat can contains 6 fewer ounces of beans than Bush's own 28-ounce, large baked beans and at a premium price.

As for nutrition, beans are incredibly good for you. A half-cup serving of any of these provides a decent amount of protein (6 to 7 grams), fiber (5 to 6 grams), and vitamins and minerals, with minimal (a gram or less) fat. In this new line of Grillin' Beans, all that good nutrition is served up a bit salty and sweet. These half-cups include 20 percent to 25 percent of the recommended daily sodium limit and, in the Steakhouse recipe, almost 2 tablespoons of sugar.

So if money is tight, stick to Bush Brothers regular Boston Bean recipe in the larger can. It also contains a bit less (40 to 130 milligrams) sodium and up to 10 fewer grams of sugar per serving compared to these.

Carolyn: How do I know that the epicurean food thing has gotten out of hand? When a company comes out with a line of four higher-priced variations on the baked bean. I mean it's one thing to feel inadequate in front of a line of artisanal cheeses or fine chocolates. But it's quite another when beans are the object of epicurean scrutiny, and I'm not feeling up to the task of identifying and reporting on all the subtle differences.

Still, I'll take a stab at it. All four of these are quite sweet: the Bourbon and Brown Sugar variety is the sweetest, with no bourbon flavor discernible above its smooth, soft, dry, clean (to borrow a few terms from the wine crowd) brown sugar taste. I also didn't taste any steak sauce in the Steakhouse, but rather a dark, molasses sweetness that made this my favorite. The Smokehouse Tradition resembles conventional Boston-style baked beans. The Southern Pit Barbecue is tomato-y Campbell's with a little bit of added hot sauce.

Yet Campbell's Baked Beans is the product I'd recommend both to people who want to save money and the public humiliation of not being able to fully appreciate premium baked beans.


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