May 10, 2006

Hain European Recipes Country Garden Vegetables with Delicate Seasoning

Hain Pure Foods, a division of the very large natural foods-and-products conglomerate Hain Celestial Group, has come out with a line of "European Recipes" microwavable vegetable bowls. I tried the "Country Garden with a Delicate Seasoning" version, which features cauliflower and broccoli florets and something they call parisian carrots which are like small, very round baby carrots that look like they were somehow made with a melon baller. (Sorry, there's no picture or product info on the web site, but here's the logo to help you identify it in the store.)

Let's start with the packaging, which is a small plastic bowl wrapped in a cardboard sleeve. The package touts the benefits of their proprietary self-steaming microwavable bowl, which they claim retains more nutrients than any other cooking method. Presumably the bowl is recyclable--I've sent off an email to the company to find out and will update this when I have the answer.

All you do to cook the veggies is pop them in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes, vent the steam by piercing the plastic covering, and serve.

This cooking method did seem to do a decent job of helping the veggies maintain some crispness. I also liked how mild, buttery sauce didn't overwhelm the taste of the vegetables. My one complaint taste-wise was that there was quite a bit of water (or perhaps watery sauce) left in the bottom of the bowl. Remove the vegetables from the bowl as soon as possible to avoid having them turn into a soggy mess.

Would I eat them again? I suppose I can see eating one of these when the husband's out of town and I'm too beat after wrestling the kids into bed to face washing and chopping a fresh alternative. I'd be more likely to do so if the veggies were organic. Also, the package notes that this is a "product of Belgium" so it won't do if you're looking for something with a minimal environmental footprint. I also don't generally eat sauce with my vegetables, but for those who like that sort of thing, you may want to give this product a whirl. The convenience, at least, can't be beat.

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May 1, 2006

Full Circle Organic Medium Salsa

I picked up Full Circle's Organic Medium Salsa at my local grocery store and served it to house guests this weekend. I love salsa (and Mexican food in general) and am always on the lookout for new stuff to try. This was a hit. Not the best salsa I've ever had, but better than the average brand. The medium variety has a definite spicy cumin-and-jalapeno fueled kick--more so than most "mediums." The consistency was nice and chunky. All the better for balancing on my Garden of Eatin' Red Hot Blues chips. Yum!

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April 21, 2006

Steaz Organic Green Tea Soda: Root Beer

Is it a horribly flat soda? Is it weirdly sweet tea? Those are the first thoughts that ran through my mind when I tried Steaz' Organic Green Tea Soda, Root Beer flavor. One thing's for sure: if you're expecting Barq's taste in an organic package, you'll be disappointed. There's a distinctive root beer flavor, but it's wrapped in a watery, decidedly un-bubbly package.


I suppose if you drink a ton of soda (or are worried about scurvy--Steaz adds 60% USDA of Vitamin C), it might be worth going for the organic brand. But if you're drinking a ton of soda, you're probably not too terribly concerned with your health in the first place. I'll give 'em credit for trying, but I don't think this product will make its way back into my grocery cart anytime soon. I'd say if you really want a root beer, go for the brands that are choc full of artificial crap. Life's too short!

To be fair, it's probably tough to make a green-tea based version of a soda that's been around for generations and with which people have strong pre-existing flavor expectations. I'd bet some of their less conventional flavors, like Key Lime and Raspberry, are probably quite tasty. If you try one and like it, leave a comment!

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April 11, 2006

Stonyfield Farm Light Banana Berry Smoothie

With all of the downer stories we've been covering for the past few days, I thought I'd kick off Monday with something a little more cheerful. I've discovered a yummy on-the-go grown-up treat--Stonyfield Farm's Light smoothies. I picked it up the other day when rushing through the grocery store in a cold sweat with two screaming, overtired kids in tow. (Let's just put it this way, people were outright laughing at me.) My family is in the process of moving to a new house, and I think everyone's stress levels are at the boiling point. A little Pirate's Booty was enough to stop the kids' crying jags at least temporarily, and I snagged one of these smoothies--the Banana Berry flavor--for myself. The cool thing is that it's got 60% less sugar than regular smoothies (and half the calories) but it achieves this without using artificial sweeteners. Instead they use a blend of sugar and erythritol, a no-calorie naturally fermented sugar that is also found in some fruits. The taste is still sweet but definitely less cloying and more "grown up" than regular yogurt smoothies. I also liked that it's less thick and more refreshing than the non-light versions.

True, a gin-and-tonic might have been more what I needed at that point, but this smoothie was a decent (and healthier) substitute.

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March 30, 2006

Kashi TLC All Natural Snack Crackers Original 7 Grain


My quest to find an all-natural snack cracker that actually tastes good has been akin to what someone tracking Big Foot must feel: after searching for so long, you begin to doubt that what you seek actually exists. I've given a number of all natural crackers a try over the past few years, and have never bought more than one box. Each one I've tried has tasted like stale cardboard. But I've now found cracker nirvana: Kashi's TLC (Tasty Little Crackers).

I love these things. The first time I tried them, I was eating them at a family gathering and didn't know what they were. I had to track down my mother-in-law to ask where she got these delicious crackers. Now they're a regular staple in my home.

What makes them so good, in my opinion, is that they taste so hearty. Kashi's foods revolve around their blend of seven whole grains and sesame which forms the basis of most of their products. The blend includes hard red winter wheat, buckwheat, oats, long grain brown rice, rye, triticale, barley, and sesame. The sodium content is quite low compared to other crackers (160 mg for 15 crackers--the crackers are snack size). But there's so much taste due to the whole grains that you won't miss the salt. The crackers are also pleasantly crunchy with the slightly sweet taste typical of whole grain products.

TLC crackers are a good match for hearty cheeses and peanut butter. Don't pair them with anything delicate like smoked salmon. Kashi also has several other varieties of TLC crackers: Natural ranch, Honey Sesame and Country cheddar cheese. I was somewhat disappointed in the cheese flavor--they don't have the same hearty texture and were rather tasteless.

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March 23, 2006

Eat Well Be Well Whole Grains and Almonds Cereal Crunch


There's a lot of information on the Eat Well, Be Well Whole Grains and Almonds Cereal box. The entire back of the box is dedicated to lengthy information about the product's healthy whole grains and lack of sugar and sugar alcohols. Oddly enough, nowhere does it say the word "Splenda." Which it should. If you read the ingredient list, you'll notice the word "Sucralose." Sucralose is Splenda, an artificial sweetener. Not that there's necessarily anything "wrong" with that, but if they're going to be so darn informative about everything else, they should make this fact a little more obvious. They do mention the actual word "Splenda" on their web site, but it's hard to find under all of the talk about how unlike their competitors they don't rely on "smoke and mirrors" to produce sugar-free foods by relying on "sugar alcohols or refined carbohydrates" which "provide no health benefit at all." Um, last time I checked, Splenda wasn't sitting next to the wheat germ on supermarket shelves.

Ok, enough ranting, let's get to the actual product itself. I gave it to my husband to try, and the first comment out of his mouth was, "Is this bird food?" This was based simply on the texture. The cereal contains little tiny whole wheat corn flakes, rice crispy-like brown rice (without the fun of snap, crackle, pop) , and thinly sliced almonds. As for the taste, it has a very sweet, brown-sugar-like flavor, with a lingering and unpleasant artificial sweetener aftertaste.

The bottom line: I might throw this in some yogurt for a mid-morning snack over the next few weeks, but I won't be buying another box. Unless you need to severely restrict sugar in your diet, I wouldn't recommend this product--especially because I don't like the way the company seems to be trying to downplay the fact that it contains an artificial sweetener.

I'm also a little annoyed that I found this in the natural foods section of my local chain grocery store. If you're diabetic or need to control your sugar intake for any reason, it's great that these types of products exist. But they're not really natural!

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March 20, 2006

Boca Original Chik'n Nuggets

I myself am a fan of no chicken nugget. Since I saw "Supersize Me" and was given the visual gift of where the original Chicken McNugget comes from, I decided that it wasn't worth the effort -- much like my feelings towards hot dogs. You could say that my imagination has gotten the best of my eating experiences.

As a general rule, in households with children, chicken nuggets tend to be a life staple, much like air, water or apple juice. They are easy to prepare and children love to eat them with their favorite side dish, ketchup. Having just such a household, I was in pursuit of a decent vegetarian option and something I could quickly prepare during a screaming meltdown, I found the Boca Original Chik'n Nuggets.

Remarkably, these little nibbles are quite tasty. Best prepared baked in the oven, they have a breaded coating that crisps up nicely and the soy "chicken" part definitely tastes like chicken. Clearly it doesn't have the texture of real chicken meat, but then that might freak out the vegetarians. And in a pinch you can even cook them in the microwave, but if you don't want rubber pucks this takes a bit of practice.

As stated, I'm not the biggest fan of any nugget, but these work. But if it is any testament to their tastiness (if not completely chicken like), my kid won't let her father touch any of her Boca Chik'n Nuggets, but he always gets to eat most of her Chicken McNuggets.

Boca Original Chik'n Nuggets are made with soy and wheat proteins and have no artificial flavors or preservatives. While there are a couple of Boca products made with organic soy, these aren't one of them.

About the Boca Foods Company:

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March 17, 2006

Stonyfield Farm Organic Creme Caramel Low Fat Frozen Yogurt

In keeping with this week's junk food theme, I gave Stonyfield Farm's Organic Creme Caramel low fat frozen yogurt a try last night. Here at ReallyNatural, it's tough to follow a St. Patrick's theme this week as there's nothing natural about green food coloring, and I'm not sure how enlightening it would be to review frozen peas and spinach. But I'll bet there's a heck of a market for organic green beer!

The one thing you'll notice right away about this product is that it is very, very sweet. The yogurt itself is caramel flavored, and there are caramel swirls throughout. This gives it a very rich, yet slightly overwhelming, taste. Don't eat this unless you're really enthusiastic about caramel. I think it'd be great as a complement to a fruit tart or apple pie, but I'm not sure I'd buy it again to eat straight up. (Note: the only picture I could find on the Stonyfield site was of the ice cream version--the low fat yogurt has a blue top.)

In terms of texture, it has the consistency typical of a good high-quality frozen yogurt. It ain't ice cream, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to make considering the inordinate amount of fat in regular hard ice cream. Check out this article if you want to know the staggering truth about how many calories and fat grams you're getting with a typical ice cream shop concoction. (Warning: it's depressing reading, as indicated by the title: "Ice cream shops serving coronaries in cones." Personally I wish I'd remained blissfully ignorant!)

That said, this frozen yogurt is low fat and organic, but it still packs a good 25 grams of sugar per serving. And who really eats a 1/2 cup (1/4 cup of the pint) serving? (C'mon, I know I'm not the only one!) As Mikko said earlier this week, these types of organic or "natural" foods are fine when viewed as what they really are: a treat that should be indulged in sparingly.

Stonyfield carries a wide line of low fat, non-fat and full fat organic ice cream and yogurt products including Javalanche, Minty Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Raspberry Swirl, and an ice cream version of Creme Caramel. For the full line, including nutritional information, click here.

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March 15, 2006

Cheetos Natural White Cheddar Cheese Puffs

I love the concept behind this product. To me, Cheetos Natural Cheese Puffs signifies the explosion in the healthy food market. Nothing like taking one of America's least nutritional snack foods, sprinkling in a decent ingredient or two, add a couple of marketing buzz words in 48 point font, and voila! Instant health food!

While the idea of natural cheese puffs greatly amuses me, I have to confess something... they taste pretty good. Much like their "unnatural" version, they are light and crunchy and full of cheesy taste. However, these natural cheese puffs don't stain your fingers neon orange, apparently another beneficial side effect of cheese puffs found in the wild (even the signature cheetah character is paler on the natural packaging!)

Yes, we are a fan of Cheetos Natural White Cheddar Cheese Puffs in our household (as of this writing, I'm still looking for the opened bag that I was supposed to review), but I believe this is a VERY dangerous and VERY telling product to hit consumer grocery store shelves. Whether or not this food uses organic materials (it does, organic corn meal) is besides the point of eating healthy. I believe the average consumer is already miseducated and misinformed about what it means to eat healthy, and labeling Cheetos Cheese Puffs as a "natural" food, only leads to the confusion. Just as there once was the obsession with the "no sugar" food products and the "no carbs" food products, we are now seeing the "natural" obsession.

So, should you buy them? Of course! If you are eating a well balanced diet of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains, there is no reason why Cheetos Natural White Cheddar Cheese Puffs can’t grace your pantry as the occasional treat. But if you feel relief now that Cheetos has gone organic and is actually good for you, put the bag down, back away and go buy yourself something that really is found in nature.

About Frito-Lay

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March 8, 2006

Wolfgang Puck Organic Tortilla Soup


Before I even begin telling you my impressions of this soup, I must get one thing off my chest: Wolfgang Puck annoys me. I'm not sure exactly what it is that rubs me the wrong way, but I think it has something to do with his over-the-top self-promotion vibe. The bio on his soup web site, discussing his path to becoming "the most famous chef in America and arguably the world," breathlessly exclaims "Fame and acclaim quickly followed - a combination of a dynamic personality and a culinary brilliance that bridged tradition and invention." Well, that's tootin' your own horn, ain't it?

Anyway, all of that aside, I do have to say this soup was a winner. Based on a vegetable stock base, the soup's texture was thick, thanks to the tortilla flour, and chunky with black beans, corn, and tomatoes. My husband noted that the veggies were "surprisingly crunchy" compared to the overcooked mush of many canned soups. There was a mild spicy flavor but nothing to be afraid of. My one complaint was that is was a bit too salty for my taste. Like most canned soups, it contained an outrageous amount of sodium (980 mg per cup!), which means if you down the whole thing in one sitting you'll need to be pretty much salt-free the rest of the day to stay within daily values.

Wolfgang's line of organic soups currently has at least 8 varieties on the Web site, including minestrone, butternut squash, and chicken with wild rice (I say "at least" 8 because the one I tried isn't up there yet--so the picture above is of the non-organic version). I might even give a few more a try, even though it means I'll have to be subjected to Wolfgang's smiling mug sitting in my pantry (yes, his picture's right on the front of the can).

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