Cheesy Italian-esque Hot Pocket

Stouffer’s Stromboli

By: Nestlé

I Paid: $3.39 for a 6-ounce Stromboli (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 2stars


Marketing: 3stars

Stromboli was originally an island off the coast of Sicily, then it was a calzone-type invention from Philadelphia. Now it’s a doughy sack with heated filling, compliments of Stouffer’s. To the company’s credit, it has found an elegant and efficient way to get the frozen food evenly heated: Each stromboli box folds back on itself to make a heat-reflective platform that sits in your microwave and brings your dinner efficiently up to temperature.

The Chicken Broccoli Cheddar variety was almost completely dominated by its garlicky crust. The chicken was markedly flavorless, and so was the gooey mass of cheddar, which just tasted like generic processed cheese. The Pepperoni & Provolone wasn’t much better, with too much of its flavor coming from a red sauce that was an oddly discordant clash of sweet and spicy.

Stromboli has never been (and likely never will be) an elegant entrée. Instead, it’s a simple, accessible, American interpretation of broadly “Italian” flavors, served hot and melty for the appreciation of the indiscriminately hungry. That said, real stromboli has the potential to pop with flavor and contrasts; the Stouffer’s version is merely soft and lumpy.

Cranergy

By: Ocean Spray

I Paid: $3.99 for a 46-ounce bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 3stars


Marketing: 2stars

Give Ocean Spray an A for effort: The company is constantly trying to figure out new stuff to do with cranberries. Those tricky little fruits have an astringent tartness that can overwhelm a taster, so there’s a never-ending struggle to correctly sweeten the damn things so that they’re delicious but not neutered.

This new effort is so ambitious that it smacks of desperation: Ocean Spray has hit cranberry juice with Splenda, green tea extract, B vitamins, and (in the case of one flavor) a dose of the übertrendy/übertired pomegranate juice.

The impact of Splenda is oddly variable. The Cranergy Pomegranate Cranberry Lift initially tastes delicious: clean, light, refreshing, and not overly sweet or tart, with a bright surge of fruit flavor. Then comes a Splenda hangover, a vaguely sawdusty aftertaste that spoils all the goodwill built up by the beverage. The Cranergy Cranberry Lift takes the pomegranate out of the equation, and you get the same basic beverage—again, delicious—but this time minus the artificial aftermath. The contrast is puzzling: It’s strange that two such similar drinks should differ so much on the finish, but that’s the state of play.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.