Monday, November 30, 2009

Pop Rocks: Candy Cane Flavor

Who doesn't love Pop Rocks? OK, maybe not that dumb kid who ate like 12 packs and washed them down with 2 liters of soda and then exploded like a human hand grenade, maybe not him, but any self respecting candy lover probably has a bubbly place on their tongue for Pop Rocks. (What! Snopes says that never happened?? Say it ain't so! It's too good a story!)

Pop Rocks, should you not know, are small pieces of sugary goodness that, due to the magic of better living through chemistry, sizzle on your tongue from the mixture of spit in your mouth and carbon dioxide in the candy. They come in an array of allegedly kid-friendly flavors, and while they will not in fact cause you to explode into meat confetti, they will give your tongue a good zap or two. I personally think the greatest moment in the history of Pop Rocks was when they were added to the fantastic (but now gone) Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor, KaBerry KaBoom. (Ice cream and Pop Rocks is just a great combo, and in that case the Pop Rocks were sealed in a white fudge which kept them from popping before they got to your mouth.)

So, here I am with Candy Cane flavored Pop Rocks. How's that working for me? Ermmmm...

Looking at the Candy Cane Pop Rocks, they did indeed look like broken up bits of candy cane. This was promising. But upon giving the freshly opened packet a good sniff, I began to get the sinking feeling that something had gone horribly wrong...oh no, could it be...?

Dang it, I done got Rick rolled!

You see folks, apparently I'd assumed too much when I picked up a packet of CANDY CANE flavored Pop Rocks and thought that they would, I dunno, taste reasonably close to CANDY CANES. And in my little corner of the universe, candy canes are by definition peppermint flavored -- and I am not alone in this opinion. The all-knowing Wikipedia entry also describes candy canes as being traditionally peppermint (or cinnamon, to be fair). Even the website All About Candy Canes backs that up. So what's the problem with the Pop Rocks version? What's the Rick roll here?

The Rick roll is this: Somehow, Candy Cane flavor in the Pop Rocks universe is not peppermint, or even cinnamon -- but CHERRY! Yes, you read that right. You expect mint and you get cherry, fer cryin' out loud. And a really bad cherry at that. Take the cheapest, sourest, most vile artificial cherry flavor ever...well, that is still probably better than this.

Wait...why did I just describe this as the candy equivalent of a Rick roll? I take that back. Rick Astley, after all, is bland plain vanilla, white bread, predictably middle-of-the-road. You may not be a fan, but you know he's safe for Grandma. But this stuff is somehow darker, more sinister. It might cause nightmares in small children and wimpy adults. It conjures up visions of eerie alternative worlds, superficially similar to our own, but not as brightly lit. In other words, it's more of a Nomi roll:

Now, I was willing to believe that maybe somehow I just got a bag that had the wrong flavor put into it. But a little Googling turned up other reviews, including this one from Candy Addict back in 2006, which proved that no, it was not in fact an error. The Candy Cane flavor really is (a frightening, mutated, artificial) cherry.

Yeah, the popping sensation is just as great as I remember. But when you are expecting peppermint and you get something even slightly worse than generic cherry cough drop flavor instead, you have to ask yourself is it worth it? For me the answer is NO.

Really, Pop Rocks? Really?!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Junior Mints: Peppermint Crunch

Junior Mints are one of those candies that I like, but I never seem to actually eat, just because...uh, I dunno why. Any candy awesome enough to make it in as a reference in a Jimmy Buffett lyric is OK in my book. (Bonus points if you can name the song without Googling!) But somehow, I just never seem to think of them.

This holiday version of Junior Mints features the classic dark chocolate outside, the mint fondant center, and -- purely based on the name and the picture on the box -- one would assume crushed up pieces of actual mint hard candies.

Reality, however, is a harsh mistress. And just as I have had to accept certain truths as I've gotten older -- i.e., that I will never be over five feet tall, that my hair will not outgrow its natural tendency to form a Seth Rogen style 'fro, and that my best friend will never admit that Kirk in fact WAS the better Captain (this debate has been raging for more than 15 years) -- I have also had to accept that there are not really little crushed up bits of hard peppermint candy in the Junior Mints Peppermint Crunch.

Oh, don't get me wrong -- there are little hard bits of something embedded in these Junior Mints. That's inescapable. As you can see from the pictures, the surfaces of the not-exactly-an-orb candies are freckled with what look like little candy zits. But are they teeny-tiny bits of broken candy cane or Starlight mint? I tried my best to isolate the little zit-bits and about the only answer I can come up with is that they are simply red-colored hard sugar. And about the only flavor I could pick up was the bitter aftertaste of the food dye.

Let's be honest: the chocolate on even the standard Junior Mints is nothing great. It's waxy and not exactly complex, but it does hold its own with the mint fondant. With this version, maybe it's because the proportions are different (these are a bit bigger than standard Junior Mints), maybe it's the little crunchy zit things...but the chocolate outer shell is worse for the wear. It seems more crumbly. And the aftertaste from the zit-bits is so strong that it overrides the chocolate flavor.

The mint fondant center is still the best part. It's slight grainy and yet weirdly smooth at the same time. It's cool on the tongue and tastes more like peppermint oil than candy.

Overall, I think the addition of the crunchy pieces make this candy a fail. The aftertaste from the red dye is the strongest flavor next to the mint. It makes the overall texture strangely gritty. It takes everything nice about classic Junior Mints and makes it funky -- and not funky in the good way. I don't think Jimmy will be writing a special song about how great this version is.

And neither will I.

Albertsons Supermarket

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mint Fudge Covered Oreo Cookies (Limited Edition)

Many of you (well, I hope it's many of you) may remember that I loved last year's Old Fashioned Candy Cane Oreo so much that not only did I rave about them in my review, but I also hoarded them and worshipped them at a shrine that would have even the most hardcore Twihard look at me like I was a little crazy.

Sadly, I have not seen the Candy Cane Oreos in my local WalMart, although Twitter follower SherryPys did mention them in a tweet so perhaps they are out there. What I was able to find -- and is widely available, rather than a WalMart exclusive -- is the Mint Fudge Covered Oreos.

There are a couple of major differences here. First, the Candy Cane version was a regular sized 12 ounce packet of Oreos. The Mint Fudge version is a box of 12 cookies, for roughly the same price. This is standard protocol for all of the Fudge Covered line.

Second, in the Candy Cane edition it was the creme center that was mint flavored, leaving the classic cookie wafer "normal". In the case of the Mint Fudge, you may have guessed it: it's the fudge covering that is mint flavored.

OK, so how does it taste?

Like the best Thin Mint cookie you've ever had, that's how.

The fudge is liberally infused with mint flavor -- which is a good thing, because it distracts from the otherwise cheap fudge. The fudge layer is thick enough that it contains the crumbs of the cookies pretty well.

The cookie and the creme filling are both the same as classic Oreos; it is simply the addition of the mint flavored fudge that sets it apart. Part of what makes this so good and so different from say, a Thin Mint, is the quality of the cookie. Love Girl Scout cookies as I do, the chocolate is oily and the actual wafer has an oily aftertaste if you really pay attention to it. (Note that this does not keep me from eating my body weight in them once a year.) But this Oreo has no such issues.

Since the cookies taste so good, the big question for me is how would they hold up to the dunk test. While I don't dunk actual Thin Mints, I do dunk Oreo's. So I bit into the cookie first, because I figured the fudge would act like a little cookie condom and keep the moisture of the milk from making the cookie soggy. And I LOOOOOVE me some soggy Oreos! Unfortunately, in that respect, the fudge coating makes it a fail...because, just as I'd feared, it seals the cookie so well against the milk that dipping it really doesn't do much other than make the outside kinda wet. So have them with milk if you like, but maybe don't bother with the dipping.

Marvo beat me to reviewing these -- be sure to check out his review here.

Albertsons Supermarket

Mint Week!

We're doing another theme week!

Now before you get worried that I have gone off the deep end and am going to do breath mint week, fear not.

Mint Week is going to feature different mint flavored products (none of them breath mints). Since mint is kind of Christmasy I thought this would be a good lead-off into the holiday season...and if nothing else, I am going to have great minty fresh breath all this week. Now if only I could say that about George...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dreyer's/Edy's Slow Churned Light Ice Cream: Pumpkin (Limited Edition)

OK Dreyer's, I am giving you a second chance on the Pumpkin. Earlier this fall I did a review of the no-longer-ice-cream "Fun Flavors" Pumpkin replacement. (That was before my self imposed ban on the "Fun Flavors," aka "frozen dairy dessert.") And to be fair to the Fun Flavors version, it's not that it was bad -- it just was not as good as the previous actual ice cream flavor had been.

This Slow Churned version has the advantage of actually being ice cream...even if it is light ice cream.

However, this version tastes remarkably close to the Fun Flavors version. The actual pumpkin flavor seems to take a back seat to the spicing. In the Fun Flavors version it was the cinnamon that stood out. In this version it seems to be more about the nutmeg. It's not excessively sweet, which I liked, but it does go a little overboard on the seasoning.

The texture is what you would expect of light ice cream. It's very soft. Actually, "fluffy" might be a good way to describe it. For a light ice cream it's not a bad texture.

All in all, still not as good as the standard ice cream version of the past. In terms of taste, I think I actually preferred the Fun Flavors version to the Slow Churned Light version. But I like the Slow Churned texture more.

Don't know what else to say about this one, other than...

Albertsons Supermarket

Great Vosges Chocolate Sale Thru Dec 31!

It's Black Friday, and I know for a lot of you that means you're out buying your Christmas/Hanukkah/Just for Scuz gifts (Ahem...Gigi would reeeeeaaaaalllllly like a new iPod classic. Hers is so old it's the Butabi Brothers' model now.)

And I've got a nice surprise for you: My friends at Vosges Haut Chocolat -- makers of some of the finest high-end chocolates you'll find anywhere -- want to make your holiday shopping that much easier by offering my readers 10% off of orders placed between December 1st and December 31st, 2009. Woohoo! How cool is that!

Be sure to use the following code when checking out to get your discount: BLGF09

Don't miss out!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

George wanted to send extra special Thanksgiving wishes to his minions...whoops, he meant fans.

And remember, Gigi says there is always room for one more slice of pie!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Carl's Jr: Parmesan Chicken Sandwich

Going to New York City? Well, deep in the largely-ignored borough of the Bronx, there is an Italian restaurant you will probably not find in a tourist guide book for New York City -- not because it isn't worthy, but because the people who write guide books treat the Bronx as if it doesn't exist. And let me tell you, that is a shame. Because Fratelli serves food so good that I spend the greater part of the year craving it (should you go, do not miss the calamari!). Every time I visit New York I make sure to eat at Fratelli least once...and you should, too. I've never had their Chicken Parmesan, but I am certain that it is nothing other than ethereal...

(*insert deliriously happy Fratelli-inspired sigh here*)

Eh...returning to real life here in Southern California, where good Italian food is as rare as an honest politician...I'm now reviewing something vaguely, somewhat, remotely Italian-style: specifically, Carl's Jr's Parmesan Chicken sandwich. Is there any chance it is going to compete with Fratelli's? Pfffffft, yeah, on what frickin planet???

But, could it prove to be a good fast food option?

That's a different matter, so let's find out.

Nestled inside a sesame seeded bun is a fried chicken breast slathered with marinara sauce on the top and the bottom, with a slice of melted Parmesan cheese.

The bun, eh, it's a fast food bun. I happen to like the buns Carl's uses. There is nothing special about them, but they do hold up well to sauces and are tasty enough.

I am sure this is the same fried chicken breast that Carl's uses on other sandwiches. It's got that "country chicken" type breading on it. A little too peppery, but that's the worst I can say about it. The meat itself is moist and lean.

The sauce is...well, it's generic canned tomato sauce. Fans of canned sauce may consider this their lucky day. It also tastes strongly of red bell pepper. I hate red bell peppers, so for me this was not a good thing. And it is needlessly sweet in the way that I find nearly all pre-made red sauces to be.

The cheese...what, that was cheese? Really? When did Goodyear start making cheese?

OK, I can see where small children (and some adults) who are not picky about their Italian-style foods may like this. Me, not so much. In fact, I thought it was damned nasty. The chicken and bun were tolerable, but the sauce and the so-called cheese were absolutely horrifying. I couldn't finish even half the sandwich. When my chicken sandwich craving comes up (about once every three years) I will stick with Carl's Charbroiled Santa Fe Chicken sandwich, which is truly good.

Bottom line, avoid this one. Instead, go to the Bronx and have dinner at Fratelli. You'll be happy you did.


Carl's Jr


Monday, November 23, 2009

Carl's Jr: Chocolate Chip Hand Scooped Ice Cream Shake

Dear Carl's Jr:

That is an incredibly long name for a shake. However, as it does feature the words "cookie dough," I am willing to overlook it.

Carl's Jr milk shakes tend to be hit or miss. Example, the Oreo shakes are pretty tasty. The orange cream shake? Eh, not so much. So I tend to try their new shakes with lower expectations than I do with other chains (sorry, Carl's, the truth hurts). But I always give points to Carl's Jr for still using REAL ice cream in their shakes.

This cookie dough shake is a vanilla ice cream shake base with chocolate chip cookie dough, and topped with "whipped topping." I really wonder why Carl's is willing to spring for real ice cream, but real whipped cream seems to much to ask. I hate "whipped topping," and if not for the sake of review, would ask that it be left off.

So how does it taste? Sweet! But in this case I mean that in the best possible way. The shake really does taste like a liquid version of cookie dough. Yes, that is as awesome as it sounds. The little specks of blended-up dough add a nice bit of texture to the otherwise rich and creamy shake. There's a nice vanilla aftertaste. All around, very indulgent and very tasty.

You know what? Even WITH the dreaded "whipped topping," I really loved this shake!


Carl's Jr

Sunday, November 22, 2009

hint Water: Hibiscus Vanilla

I really like hint products. Sadly, until recently I didn't have a local source, so I only got to have it on my New York trips (now that's a heck of an excuse to go to New York!).

What I like about hint is that the flavors are really pure and clean. Even if it's something I don't end up loving (like the apple), it's hard to knock something that actually tastes like the natural version of what it's supposed to be.

That's what intrigued me about the Hibiscus Vanilla. Granted, it sounds like a faux-Hawaiian air freshener. It also sounds like some sort of exotic drink that would come in a bright color with way too many garnishes, probably including a little plastic mini-umbrella. It doesn't sound like a flavor of water. And that made it more interesting to me.

It's clear water, so there's not much in the way of color going on there. And since I spend my days garnishing drinks anyway, I wasn't about to do it at home. Besides, you wouldn't pull out little umbrellas just for bottled water, either. And if you do: WOW, just WOW. So, skipping appearances...

The smell is vaguely floral. I can honestly say I am not 100% sure what hibiscus smells like, but even if I were I don't think the smell is strong enough that I could pin it to one particular flower. There's another aroma in there too, and try as I might, I just couldn't place it. It was kinda like strawberry, kinda sweet and sort of like cheap candle. Not unpleasant, but not what I was expecting.

The taste: Also not what I was expecting. I had an idea of what it would taste like. I thought the vanilla would be the stronger flavor, and that the hibiscus would float in the background like a happy water fairy (or something like that). What I got was different.

First, much like with the scent, I couldn't really detect the vanilla. The water initially tastes vaguely like a Luden's cherry cough drop, and then there is a floral taste. I assume that's the hibiscus (cuz, y'know, it is hibiscus flavored after all). I reminded me of rose water, only a little more bitter. I know that doesn't sound like it would be the best tasting drink ever. And the first couple sips...well, it needs to grow on you.

Once you have had those first few sips, the flavor improves. It is quite refreshing, but it is distinct. Because it is an acquired taste, I am not sure how often I would pick this over some of the other hint flavors. (I love the cucumber! And I realize I haven't reviewed it yet, so watch for it). What I would love to try is making this flavor into ice and using the cubes in mixed drinks.

Great? No. Good, even? Meh, it's okay. Interesting? Yes.

Sprouts Farmers Market

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Southern Comfort Egg Nog

In what many of you may find an odd twist, I am about to reveal one of what my eight-year-old nephew would refer to as my "deep dark secrets": I have never had spiked egg nog.

Why is that surprising or possibly a deep dark secret? Well, I have a publicly documented love of egg nog. Also, one of the many hats I wear is that of a bartender. With both of those facts in mind, you would think that somewhere along the line I would have had the grownup version of egg nog. But nooooooooo.

And I'm not exactly making the full leap here, either. Why not? Because Southern Comfort Egg Nog, while flavored with the essence of Southern Comfort liqueur, is non-alcoholic.

But believe me, it's all good...

The scent of the egg nog is spicy. There is definitely clove and vanilla. And a little cinnamon. It smells great.

It's a super-thick drink, which is nice, as I love egg nog when it's extra thick. The flavor is very creamy...again, with plenty of clove, especially in the beginning. Then the nutmeg that you would expect in egg nog kicks in. And I love the base, it has a fantastic liquid custard taste.

I've had Southern Comfort on more than one know, purely for professional purposes, of course. But while there was definitely a little extra somethin' somethin' to this egg nog, I don't know that if I didn't see Southern Comfort on the label that I would have guessed that's what it was supposed to be. And you know what? I don't care! This is so good that it could be thickened with reindeer snot and I would still drink it (probably in embarrassingly large amounts). It really is just that delicious.

You want this. You really do.

Albertsons Supermarket

Friday, November 20, 2009

Campbell's Select Harvest Chicken with Egg Noodles Soup

So it's late fall. Thanksgiving is almost here, it's a nippy 62 degrees in Los Angeles (hey, that's nippy by local standards!) and it was dark by about 5:00 P.M. Sounds like a soup night to me! Well, tonight's soup is one from Campbell's Select Harvest line. I chose the Chicken with Egg Noodles.

The nice thing about the Select Harvest line is that it features 100% natural ingredients, no MSG (should you be trying to avoid it), and the meat -- chicken, in this case -- is roasted breast.

First thing that I liked is that the carrots, the celery, the noodles and the chicken chunks were huge. We're not talking about some teeny-tiny little shreds here; we are talking serious chunks. It really made the soup look homemade.

There are some other noticeable differences between this Chicken with Egg Noodles and the classic Campbell's Chicken Noodle (or even the Chunk Healthy Request Chicken Noodle).

The first is the broth. It's a little thicker. The chicken also seems leaner and more like what would be found in a homemade soup. It's a little dry...but I personally like my chicken dry, so that's perfectly fine with me.

The broth overall has a taste that I can best call "roasty." Yeah, there's some sage in there (or something that tastes like sage -- the ingredients list includes "spice," but it doesn't specify which ones). There's also a little onion. But the strongest flavor just seems to be essence of roast. In theory, roasted chicken -- but it's not a complex enough flavor that I could really say for sure. It overpowers everything to the point that "roasted" is really the only thing you can taste.

The noodles were good, perfectly tender, and there's a very generous portion of them. I am sure that egg noodles are what my bubbe would have used...if I had a bubbe, that is. (My grandmother made clam sauce, not soup!)

But while I really liked the big chunks and the quality of the ingredients, I can honestly say I prefer the taste of classic Chicken Noodle or the Chunky Healthy Request Chicken with Noodles. If you like that "roasty" flavor, you may love this one. Sadly, I really didn't care for it.

Sample From Company

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Plats du Chef Escargot in Brioche

Yes folks, Gigi does indeed not only eat snails, but she really likes to eat snails. I know many people think this is just gross. And having watched the little buggers get my front stoop all slimy with their booger trails, I totally understand that.

But much like Brussels sprouts, sometimes things that are kinda gross can be unbelievably good when properly prepared. Honestly, I have never attempted to cook escargot on my own, and I don't plan on doing it from scratch any time soon. But I assure you...when I see them on a menu, I will always order them (sadly, that happens less and less).

I found this offering from Plats du Chef in the frozen aisle at Trader Joe's, and I couldn't resist. Unlike my mostly hard-and-fast rules about frozen clams (and the rather bad results I got from that meal -- read all about it here), I have no such rule about escargot. I honestly have no idea how they come into restaurant kitchens. (For all I know they may be frozen.) And, as garlic butter is an essential part of good escargot, it looked fairly promising.

As a general rule, escargot is served in the snail shell. (You may remember the dinner scene from "Pretty Woman" where Julia Roberts flings one across the room.) Plats du Chef's version is served instead in an incredibly cute mini-brioche. If nothing else, these look really pretty on a plate. And since they are self-contained, they would make for easy party finger food.

The brioche itself is reasonably crispy. The garlic butter sauce clings to the inner sides...and who doesn't love butter and bread, especially buttery garlic bread? (The brioche on its own has no flavor beyond generic "bread.")

The butter sauce is sort of an alarming green that, in theory at least, comes from the herbs used in the sauce. Looks aside, the sauce is decent. Overly salty, perhaps, but garlicky and buttery. The duo combined made for a mini-version of your average supermarket garlic bread. Nothing wrong with it, just not special.

The snails? Meh. What I like about good escargot is that the snail seems a lot like a clam. The texture should be tender and just a little chewy. The meat tends to taste salty to me, and a little earthy. But these just tasted muddy. I understand that snails will taste like what they eat, and I do expect them to be earthy -- but there is a big leap from earthy to muddy. And in this case the texture is quite rubbery (perhaps from the freezing?).

All in all, it's not the worst thing I have ever eaten. The bread and the butter sauce were pleasant. The snails were just...yuck. No other word besides YUCK really works. To be fair, I was not expecting chef quality. It was under $3.00 and frozen, so expectations are necessarily lowered. But even with drastically lowered expectations, these snails were nasty.

If you've ever wanted to try escargot, please don't let this be your virgin attempt. Good escargot is nothing like this, and you would be tremendously missing out. If you are already a fan, this won't float your boat either. It may get you through if you simply have to have some but can't get another version.

But really, how often does that happen? All told...YUCK!!

Trader Joe's (I feel the need to stress that while I bought this item at Trader Joe's, this is not a TJ's branded product.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pocky: Kiwi Fruit

I love the seemingly endless flavors Glico pumps Pocky out in. No matter how many of them I try, there is always something new and different. I came across these kiwi Pockys on my last trip to New York City. I had seen them on J-List that same day, and was lucky enough that they pretty much fell into my lap while walking through Kam Man Foods on Canal Street.

These Pocky have the classic biscuit coated in what I am assuming is white chocolate (the label is in Japanese, so I can't be sure). The chocolate coating is a greenish shade that is indeed the perfect color match to an actual kiwi. The chocolate is also studded with little darker green bits -- bits of kiwi, I would assume.

The smell was a little off-putting. It smells like sour melon -- or maybe kiwi left out in the sun too long. It's the kind of smell that makes you wonder if it's something you shouldn't eat. But then a weird thing happens...that same smell starts to smell good. Not sure how that happens, but it does.

The Pocky in the box are divided into four individual pouches of five sticks each. Nice lunch box or Bento sized portion! I like when Pocky is packaged like this because it not only helps control portion size (OK, my self control is often not that strong, but it sounded good, right?) but it keeps the Pocky that you don't eat right away nice and fresh.

We now know what it smells like and that it's what does it taste like?

Believe it or not, it tastes like real kiwi! I have never dipped pieces of actual kiwi in chocolate, but I have a feeling that if I did, it would taste pretty darn close to this. The fruit has that nice sweet, yet tart edge that kiwi has. (Yes, it does sort of taste like a cross between a strawberry and a banana -- just as kiwi does.). The white chocolate adds a nice milky contrast. The biscuit balances everything by keeping the sweetness of the fruit from being too much, and keeps the chocolate from overpowering the kiwi. It also adds a nice crunch.

This may just be my favorite fruit flavored Pocky yet!

Be sure to check out Jim's review of them here.

I purchased mine from Kam Man Foods in New York City, but my friends at J-List also carry it... so be sure to check them out!