Sunday, May 31, 2009

Second Helpings 5-31-09

What rocked my world this week?

Jim channeled his inner Little Richard and showed us the Hotel Chocolat Tutti Frutti slab.

Bryan made us think of Rubbermaid storage container's in new and disturbing ways.

Cybele gave us the first Cranberry Raisinets review.

Abi tells us if Trader Joe's Fondue is a fon-DO or a fon-DON'T.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Twixels Triple Chocolate

Why is it that girls seem to like mini versions of pretty much anything? Little dogs, little cups, little candies, little...ermmm, wait...I just thought of one thing that girls definitely don't prefer in the mini-size...

(Brains! We don't like people with mini brains! And you probably thought I was going for a cheap dirty laugh here, shame on you. You know very well I would never do that.)

Anyway, Twixels are basically mini-Twix bars in a fancied-up package. They come in three flavors: Triple Chocolate, Creamy Caramel and Fresh Vanilla. I really wanted to try the Creamy Caramel because I wanted to see how different it from the classic Twix bars... but that would have been way too easy...because of course those would be the bars that my local Target is out of. And I just wasn't feeling the Vanilla, so that left the Triple Chocolate.

If regular Twix are the Dirk Digglers of the Mars cookie bars, then Twixels are like the Reed Rothchilds. A little bit smaller, a little bit thinner, but they are both ready to rock your world. (OK, one cheap dirty laugh. Shut up.) The Twixel in size is like a slightly longer jelly bar.

The chocolate is listed on the label as "sweet chocolate." I don't know what that means. Maybe it's a new way for Mars to label their lower-end milk chocolate? Or maybe, since the Twixels are manufactured in Russia, it's just an awkward translation? I have no idea. (Nor, for that matter, do I have any idea why Mars is making them in Russia for sale in America. If they were just trying to save money I would think China more likely.) In either case, the chocolate is sweet and kinda milky, and while the bar is fully enrobed, it is a very thin coating. It's cold on the tongue and a little waxy. It's not that it's bad, but it does taste different to me than the normal Twix coating.

When it comes to the innards, the caramel is pretty sparse. It's also a little stringy, but if you didn't see the tell-tale ribboning, you might not guess it's there.

The biscuit in these bar is also chocolate, and it's unremarkable. Not bad, not good, not overly chocolaty. Kind of like having a Ninja inspired bedroom (no wait, that would be pretty awesome).
The inner packaging consists of one large tray with three diagonal compartments. The sticks are not individually wrapped but I can live with that.

These bars aren't bad, all things considered. They just aren't very good either. They are really pretty average, though definitely on the low-end scale. And at just 35 calories per stick, if you just have to have chocolate and aren't very picky about what it tastes like, then this might be a great option for you.

Be sure to check out Cybele's review HERE.

That said, I am off to watch the sunrise (they are better than sunsets), and I leave you with the musical stylings of Dirk and Reed.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Snicker's Nougabot Bar

Don't get too excited about the Snickers Nougabot Bar.

While clearly a cool name, this is simply a regular Snickers bar that's been "transformed" with yellow nougat (à la the Shrek bar a few years ago) to tie in with the new Transformers movie.

Since nothing is really different, this isn't really a review. I just wanted to show off the new look. Everything tastes the same -- with the lone exception being that the nougat itself seems a little drier than normal. (I am guessing this is probably caused by the dye.) Otherwise, identical.

Sadly, any attempts to get the bar to transform my lame car into a cool car, or my DVD copy of Jason Segel into a real life Jason Segel didn't pan out (but at least my neighbors looked at me funny). And YES, I am well aware that Jason Segel isn't in either Transformer movie -- it's just that the thought of trying to do grownup things with Shia LaBeouf left me feeling icky in a Chester The Molester type of way, so I substituted Jason.

While this bar is perfectly OK, it does seem likes a waste of a good tie-in product. I am thinking of all the things they could have done working yellow into a bar -- for example, they could have done a bar with peanut brittle pieces. How good that would have been! Or they could have done something with lemon -- again, perfectly good.

I think they just missed out.

(Not really a review, so no rating.)

Albertsons Supermarket

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Carl's Jr. Orange Cream Hand-Scooped Shake

Oh, how can I be diplomatic about this?

Maybe it's the use of "whipped topping" rather than real whipped cream. Maybe it's that it tastes like something your Mom made and tried to pawn off as being from McDonald's (mine cannot be the only mother who tried that). Or maybe it's because about the only thing that might make this shake remotely drinkable is large quantities of vodka. But this shake seems like it crawled out of the dark, boozy depths of Sandra Lee's "mind."

Now don't get me wrong, Aunt Sandy (as she likes to call herself) is probably that cool, yet scary relative who sneaks you booze at boring family functions, while telling you in way-too-graphic detail about the time she stuck her tongue down your Dad's throat. It's not that I have anything against her. It's just that I would choose starvation before eating (or drinking) any of the many crimes against humanity she calls "food."

Sadly, I have to wonder if she was the consultant for this flavor. You've really got to be trying in order to do Creamsicle (aka orange and vanilla) badly. The ice cream itself is thick and smooth. The vanilla is artificial but not unpleasant. No, the problem lies entirely with the orange flavor.

I can't imagine how they created, let alone approved this flavor. It's like a citrus Chernobyl. It's as if orange-flavored sulfa medicine and an orange Tic Tac took too many street drugs and had a deformed, one-eyed love child named Blinky. It's grotesque, frightening, and just plain wrong. If only they had used some orange juice, or even some orange soda.

And there is an aftertaste best not talked about...

Truly vile.

Carl's Jr.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mrs. T's Potato and Cheddar Pierogies

If you're not familiar with them, pierogies are basically a sort of Slavic ravioli. They're hugely popular in places like Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Belarus etc., and in all areas of the world where immigrants from Eastern Europe have settled.

A pierogi is a pasta pocket that can be filled with pretty much anything that appeals to traditional Eastern European tastes -- i.e., shredded meat, cabbage, mushrooms, onions, sauerkraut, and so forth -- and not surprisingly, cheese and potato is also a popular choice. Tonight I had Mrs. T's Potato & Cheddar version. You can cook them a number of ways, but I chose to steam mine and use only a splash of olive oil, so I could get a taste of it "pure." (Yeah, I know, butter would have been more "authentic" sue me.)

The pasta cooked perfectly. It came out al dente, was not gummy, and was well proportioned to the center. The pasta itself doesn't have a lot of flavor -- but the filling more than makes up for it, and with a sauce or a garnish I don't think it would be an issue at all.

I give them extra points for not exploding or leaking during cooking, as such pasta pockets are prone to doing.

The center is a smooth mashed potato that is flavored with Cheddar. Aside from the fact that the potato is a buttery yellow, there is no visible evidence of the cheese, but you can taste it in the slightly grainy potato. The potato tastes more like boxed mashed potato than "real" mashed -- but in what is probably NOT a shocking confession, I actually really, really, really like boxed mashed potatoes (just like Mom made!). I'm sure I just lost some foodie street cred there, but I don't care. Everyone has some low-rent, processed, questionable food that they like, and that's mine. Hell, even Tony Bourdain professes love for KFC. If you have ever had those microwave twice-baked potatoes found in the freezer section, then you know what the filling tastes like.

For a fast meal, these were pretty good. I know that you could make homemade version with much better quality ingredients, but for frozen these are definately tasty and I will be having them again.

Also, check out THIS review over at Heat Eat Review.

Albertsons Supermarket

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gigi's Strawberry Chocolate Ice Cream

I haven't pulled out the ice cream maker in a long time, but I had some nice fresh strawberries and some great chocolate and I felt inspired.

As the base of the ice cream I used Alton Brown's Serious Vanilla recipe, with the following changes: I roughly chopped 5 large berries, liberally covered them in sugar, and left them to macerate over night in the fridge. I then used my Bullet Blender in the morning to puree them. I used 2 cups of cream and 1 cup of half-and-half. I also omitted the peaches, using my fresh strawberry puree instead.

I let the whole thing sit until very, very cold, but not so cold that it set -- setting before churning is bad! (Think of it as feeding Gremlins after midnight. You can do it...but are you really going to be happy with the results?)

At that point, it was into the ice cream maker. I have the Ice-25 model from Cuisinart. The instructions say to churn for 20 minutes, but I find I get better results if I churn for 30 minutes and then add the mix-ins.

For mix-ins, the first thing I added was small, rough bits of Vosges 74% dark chocolate (review to post tomorrow). It was the perfect chocolate to use because it took some of the sweetness of the berries down, but at the same time it wasn't bitter. I let that churn just enough that the chocolate was well blended in.

Then I added the berries -- which were simply cut and kept cold beforehand so some of the juice would seep out -- but no additional sugar was added. As with the chocolate, I only churned long enough for the berries to be well mixed in.

At this point, the ice cream is just harder than the "soft serve" stage, and is ready to be packed into small containers. I like to use little Rubbermaid twist-top containers -- but additionally, I press plastic wrap onto the top of the ice cream so that you don't get a nasty layer of ice.

Tasting it straight from the drum it was great. The berries were vibrant and sweet. The chocolate was crisp and woodsy, and the mouthfeel was very creamy and rich. Once the ice cream hard sets, the flavor is going to change a bit. If things have gone well, it will have taken everything that was already good and deepened it. If it goes bad, or if was not cold enough prior to churning, you can end up with large ice crystals which will cause the flavor to seem watered down, and the texture will become gritty.

Everything came out great. The base ice cream had just the right amount of strawberry. The chocolate took the edge off the sweetness. The texture was creamy and smooth. Loved it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Vosges Organic Dominica Noir 74% Dark Chocolate Bar

Vosges is one of the companies that I love. I think that no matter what they do, they always produce a high quality product. This bar is a single-origin bar made with cacao from the Dominican Republic (Criollo & Trinitario beans, to be exact), and the bar is organic.

The bar is divided into little squares that feature either the Vosges logo alone, or a cartoon sketch of a girl carrying a shopping bag with the Vosges logo on it.

I decided it'd be fun to release my inner Hannibal Lecter, so I started with a square that featured the girl.

Aroma-wise, it's like opening the world largest bag of chocolate chips. Great smell. The squares have a crisp snap, but the chocolate is easily bitten into.

I was worried that I might find the 74% to be too dark, but this bar straddles that line very well. Yes, the chocolate is bitter -- but not so bitter that that it's unpleasant. In fact, it's sort of like good black coffee. It seems like there is a touch of cherry. It's woodsy, but there is also a hint of vanilla-like sweetness.

I was also surprised by how rich and relatively creamy the bar's melt was. One of the things I dislike about very dark chocolate is that it tends to be lumpy as it melts. No such issue here.

All around, everything about this bar was damn near perfect. If you have never tried a truly dark chocolate and want something mild to start with, this would be a great choice.

Vosges NYC (Soho location)

Trader Joe's Apricot Dried Fruit Bar

Fruit leather is one of my work snack staples. I had a stash of Matt's Munchies fruit leather, which I have since gone through. But my local go-to brand is Trader Joe's.

While not organic, Trader Joe's fruit leathers are unsweetened and come in a huge variety of flavors.

The package contains two nori-like strips of leather that are roughly the thickness of a U.S. quarter.

The color is a rich shade of chocolate brown. The leather has a great texture. It's got enough tooth to it that it bites off in a clean snap, but there is still enough moisture from the fruit that it becomes juicy in your mouth rather than dry or gummy.

I normally love apricot anything (in fact, there are fresh apricots on my counter as we speak), and as much as I like the texture of these bars, it's the taste that I have a hard time with.

Have you ever smelled Demeter's "Dirt" fragrance? Well, this fruit leather tastes exactly the way that smells. (Now don't get me wrong -- I absolutely LOVE that scent, and I in fact do own and wear it.) It's a rich, earthy taste that's slightly grassy, vaguely herbal, salty and watery all at once. Imagine a very rich, very fertile potting soil and you'll get the idea. But while that makes for a wonderful scent, I'm not sure it's the best thing to taste. And somewhere in there, it's like the whole thing was kissed by a perfectly ripe apricot. (Well, more like platonic peck-on-the-cheek rather than a passionate tongue-down-the-throat type of kiss.) The apricot flavor is there, but just barely. I have to be honest, I prefer my apricots to simply be sweet and kind of peachy.

From a foodie standpoint, this fruit leather is clearly superior to the sugar-and-chemical laden stuff aimed at kids that tastes more like candy than fruit. Nonetheless, I would actually prefer that "fake" kind over this one.

It's difficult to rate this, because while it is clearly a better, healthier product than the highly processed kind, in the end I am drawing the line at taste alone.

Trader Joe's

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Second Helpings 5-24-09

This is the first of the weekly review roundups I am going to start doing. There are so many great review blogs out there that it's time to spread the love!

Jim over at Jim's Chocolate Mission got to have what looks like a killer marzipan loaf.

Marvo wrote what may be the best, yet most disturbing review ever of Pepsi Natural over on The Impulsive Buy.

Japanese Snack Reviews made the Western world aware of the existence of Apple Cider Vinegar Kit Kats.

And last, while not a review, Cake Wrecks reassures us that creepy clown cakes will continue scaring small children for life for the foreseeable future.

More next week!

Jelly Belly Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream Parlor Mix

I don't review jelly beans often, because I don't eat jelly beans as a rule. But even though I am not a huge jelly bean fan, I do like Jelly Belly's flavors and I thought the Cold Stone mix would be pretty good.

The five flavors in the mix are:
* Chocolate Devotion
* Our Strawberry Blond
* Birthday Cake Remix
* Mint Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip
* Apple Pie a la Cold Stone

I won't lie to you -- opening the bag did NOT smell good. It was as if a Yankee Candle store had exploded like a modern-day Alderon, leaving little jelly-filled, artificially flavored meteorites behind.

So how did the jelly beans taste? Read and weep...

Chocolate Devotion: The package blurb describes it as "chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips, brownie and fudge." In real life, it is more like the bastard child of a tube of chocolate Bonne Bell LipSmacker and a Cocoa Puff. The first flavor is an overwhelming strong, waxy cocoaesque flavor. Chocolate ice cream, chips, brownies or fudge, it certainly is not. I couldn't get past eating two.

Our Strawberry Blonde: "Strawberry ice cream, graham cracker pie crust, strawberries, caramel and whipped topping." It's funny that this was the flavor I thought I would like the least, and I liked it the most. The first flavor reminded me most of generic "pink" sulfa medication. Fortunately, that flavor quickly fades once you are through the crusty panned sugar top. After that, as far I am concerned, the flavor was exactly like cling peaches in heavy syrup. I didn't get strawberry, graham cracker, caramel or whipped topping at all. It fails as a strawberry flavor, but it's great for peach.

Birthday Cake Remix: "Cake Batter ice cream, rainbow sprinkles, brownie and fudge." I am not even going to try to nice this up. The only good part was when it was over. It's like eating a candle, and a cheap one at that. Actually, no, it's not even that good -- this stuff tastes exactly the way Johnson's Baby Powder smells. Birthday Cake Remix is my favorite Cold Stone ice cream flavor, and it's been massacred.

Mint Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip: "Mint ice cream, chocolate chips, brownies and fudge." Sorry, no. Cheap mint mouthwash meets envelope paste meets LipSmacker meets chocolate Slim Fast is more like it. 'Nuff said.

Apple Pie a la Cold Stone: "French vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, graham cracker crust, apple pie filling and caramel." This reminded me exactly of apple oatmeal. It's got that fake dried apple flavor, but it's so fake it's actually good. The cinnamon comes through and even the caramel is there (just a little tiny bit).

Where did these go so wrong? Jelly Belly flavors are, as a rule, pretty close to whatever they are trying to taste like, and these beans just weren't. Next time I want Cold Stone, I am just going to get the ice cream. And if I want the beans I will stick to the Toasted Marshmallow that I love.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Morinaga Black Sugar Choco Balls

A big thank you to my friends over at J-List for sending out this candy for me to try. In case you don't know, in a nutshell (or a choco ball in this case), black sugar is the Japanese equivalent of brown sugar.

And, as I have written about 493795 gillion times, I am a huge fan of brown sugar.

I loved the packaging. Japanese candy in general tends to be presented in fun ways, and this was no exception.

The candies themselves are little orbs that are slightly smaller then a Whopper. There is chocolate biscuit inside and a smooth, glossy chocolate shell. The outer chocolate is very waxy. (To be fair, because the label is entirely in Japanese, which I do not read, it is very possible that it is a "chocolaty" coating rather than real chocolate.) The coating layer is fairly thin and the chocolate doesn't so much melt as seize up in your mouth.

I think the black sugar flavor was meant to appear here -- there is a rather distinct taste, but it's not black sugar. To me it tasted sorta like rum extract...fake rum extract, at that. As you get to the end of the outer layer, there is a faint ending flavor that is sorta, kinda like brown sugar. Kinda. But not really.

Having never had Japanese black sugar, I am unsure if that is actually the normal flavor of black sugar or if this is just Morinaga's interpetion.

What I did like was the biscuit centers. The biscuit tastes like a cross between the chocolate flavored Pocky or Fran sticks and the 100 calorie Oreos. It has more of a cocoa flavor then a true chocolate flavor. It's malty and there's a hint of salt.

This biscuit with a Pocky or Fran covering would really rock.

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