Universal Press Syndicate
DiGiorno and California Pizza Kitchen For One. DiGiorno Traditional Crust (Pepperoni, Supreme, and Four Cheese), DiGiorno Thin Crispy Crust (Pepperoni, Supreme, and Grilled Chicken & Vegetable), DiGiorno Garlic Bread Crust (Pepperoni, Supreme, and Spinach and Tomato), California Pizza Kitchen Regular (BBQ Recipe Chicken and Four Cheese) and California Pizza Kitchen Crispy Thin Crust (Sicilian Recipe and Margherita). $2.99 to $3.29 per 5.5-ounce to 10.2-ounce frozen pizza.

Bonnie: I'm not a frozen food fan, but I've been known to rave about some varieties of both DiGiorno and California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizza. The former for its delicious rising crust; the latter, for its crisp crackerlike crust and decent pizza nutritionals. In fact, both brands have been listed on my end-of-the-year top picks. So is it any wonder I was looking forward to trying DiGiorno and California Pizza Kitchen's new For One pizzas?

Although both lines are microwavable, I also tested these in a conventional oven to give them every advantage. Both ways they were inedible: The dough was neither like regular rising-crust DiGiorno or fresh pizza, nor crisp like a CPK or a brick-oven pizza, and the toppings were mediocre — no flavors stood out.

And these aren't really "For One." They have way too many calories and too much fat and sodium to eat in a single sitting. That's up to 850 calories, more than two-thirds of the daily recommended limit for fat, up to 80 percent of the saturated fat limit and up to 60 percent of the sodium. That would only be suitable "for one" lumberjack or wildly growing teenage boy.

Carolyn: Rising-crust technology opened up a new era for frozen pizza. Afterward, frozen pizza actually had some quality. California Pizza Kitchen did something similar for chain-restaurant pizza. But these new microwavable, single-serve versions denigrate both these good brand names.

The DiGiorno name, in particular, used to be synonymous with rising crust but is now being put on all sorts of unexceptional pizza. Based on the very mushy, bready texture of its crust, I'd say the tradition referred to in the Traditional Crust variety is the school cafeteria.

I don't often make blanket statements, but I will here: It's not possible to get good pizza from the microwave. Even preparing these pizzas in the regular oven (as per the box directions) didn't help much. Which leads me to my second blanket statement: If a frozen pizza box doesn't feature the words "rising crust," don't buy it.

Progresso Panko Crispy Bread Crumbs. Plain and Italian Style. $2.49 per 8-ounce box.

Bonnie: Testing these new panko bread crumbs on boneless chicken pieces reminded me of cooking meals for my roommates in my first college apartment. I'd cook chicken and eggplant cutlets by dipping them into flour, then egg, and finally coating them in bread crumbs before frying them in oil. That method of cooking has long since disappeared from my repertoire, with lower-fat versions replacing it.

The results of this testing were delicious. Was it the old-time cooking method or the new crispy crumbs? I think a bit of both.

Panko bread crumbs have a coarser texture and crispier crunch than traditional American ones, and that was apparent in this taste test. They also contain similar ingredients to make-your-own crumbs from crustless bread, with 110 calories, 2.5 grams of total fat and just 50 milligrams of sodium per quarter-cup of the Plain. The Italian Style contains an additional 20 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 350 milligrams of sodium.

Carolyn: I remember Lily Tomlin once complaining about how bread crumbs cost more than bread. It does seem wrong — sort of like rags costing more than clothes. And she wasn't even talking about panko bread crumbs that cost even more because they come from the soft center part of the bread rather than the crust.

Panko bread crumbs are also not as finely ground as regular and so lend a crunchier texture. At least that's the hype behind these new ones from Progresso, which I tested by making chicken cutlets in my usual fashion — by dipping some boneless chicken breasts in egg and then rolling them in these crumbs. This worked pretty well (for the most part, the crumbs stayed on). The cutlets made with the Italian Style bread crumbs were particularly tasty without being too salty, as traditional Italian bread crumbs can be. I guess I should have known that the Plain Progresso Panko would be, well, plain and without any seasoning, but I didn't. And the box doesn't tell you to add anything.

I guess that's because this is a fancy food ingredient for people who know how to cook, rather than a food product for people like me, who don't.

Altoids Creme De Menthe, and Dark Chocolate Dipped Creme de Menthe Mints. $1.99 to $2.49 per 1.76-ounce tin.

Bonnie: As a chocolate mint lover, I looked forward to trying these new Creme de Menthe Altoids — especially the dark chocolate-covered ones. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Although the dark chocolate coating is delicious, the mint is not. It's curiously strong, like other Altoids, but with an even more curious note of milk of magnesia. At least, so said my weekly bridge "focus group," whom I tested these with.

This new flavor tastes nothing like its namesake peppermint-flavored green or white liqueur. If you like another flavor of mint Altoids, stick with those.

Carolyn: How many mint Altoids does the world need? I think the three offered before these two new Creme de Menthe flavors were enough.

That's mainly because I don't like mint. This might provide an entry point for those who like mint a little bit because this is mellower — more of an after-dinner mint flavor than the typical Altoids' "I dare you" strength.

The Dark Chocolate Dipped Creme de Menthe mints have the same problems as Altoids' chocolate-covered cinnamon, ginger and peppermint ones: Namely, they must be chewed, don't last as long as regular Altoids and are not as refreshing.


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